English: Advertisement from 1891 for the first...

English: Advertisement from 1891 for the first “Witch Spoon” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently had the opportunity to visit Salem, Massachusetts for the first time.  I have heard mixed reviews from enthusiast and skeptics alike, but I always take these things with a grain of salt until I can have the experience myself.   Home of the storied Salem with trials, Salem has been a sort of mecca for the curious, the morbidly fascinated, and those who actually identify as witches for a very long time.  If there weren’t actually witches in Salem in 1692 there are plenty there now, as Salem now boast a robust and flourishing community of practitioners of all kinds.  I had the good fortune to visit Salem twice on my recent visit to Boston.

My first visit was lead by friends who knew Salem well and were able to give me some historical facts and local legend.  We wandered around and visited some of their favourite hot spots.  A week later I did what I do best.  I took a train by myself and wandered aimlessly.  I listened, I observed, and I got a feel for the air around me.  I walked away from the busy areas, I took a closer look at some of the historical sites, and I let myself be immersed in even the “tourist trap” parts of town.  I got lunch, some souvenirs, and a tarot reading, and I left with a better understanding of the space that is Salem, MA than I had before.

I have always felt that Salem’s history was not accurately “witch” history, but our community has made it an extremely positive and enriching  place in which  to be a witch.  I’m sure some of the schools and classes are better than others, but anywhere a rose bush can grow so can a weed.  The trick is in telling the two apart and appreciating the roses.  The resources are there, especially off the beaten path.  Sure there are overpriced tchotchkes, dime a dozen ritual supplies, and “celebrity” fortune tellers riding the wave of tourists, but if you don’t mind doing a little digging you can really find genuinely useful things.  I searched all day before I made a decision where to get my cards read, and I was extremely pleased with my decision.

At the end of a tour about the portrayal and perception of witches throughout history I found myself taken aback at the oversimplification of modern day practitioners, and even more so at my reaction to hearing myself referred to as “they” in such an off the mark explanation.  I thought more about this as I stood in front of a statue of Samantha from TV’s Bewitched.  To some of the local witches the statue is offensive.  To me it is a reminder of a very strong reality.  Throughout history we have defined and taught about cultures, religions, and subcultures  not by how they are explained by the people who live them but by those who observe and report.  History may be written by the victor, but it is painted through the filters and personal biases of the witness.

No, Salem’s history is not witch history, it’s American history.  It’s human history.  It’s the history of what happens when people in power use “fact” and “science” to justify persecution and death of a less popular idea.  The history of hysteria and group manipulation is much much darker than any other history out there because it bleeds into the history of women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights.  It’s a blight felt by those with disabilities and those low on the socio-economic ladder.  This is not just our history, it’s your history, too.

All in all I’m glad I went to Salem,  not just because of some of the neat souvenirs I found, the insight I found in my tarot reading, or the wealth of historical gems found among the cheesy tourist attractions, but because it gave me a better understanding of how I look at people and how I connect with all my roots, not just the pagan ones, and reminded me that we all need to be aware of how we react to those with differences as well as how we absorb and react to blanket facts and data.  In the 1600’s science and the process of deduction lead to the deaths of innocent people.  Has much really changed since then?