Pagan News and Views Since 1998
Upswing in Salem
By: Rev. Faemore Lorei
When one hears the words Salem, Massachusetts, images are conjured of pointy, black hats and arched back cats, spooky shops of dark delights and happy horrors all aglow with oranges and greens, and things that go bump in the night unseen. Silent buildings loom over streets, thick with ghostly atmosphere, heavy with haunted vibes. Mystery and fun play well together here. In fact, they are very old friends.
In reality the witches of Salem don’t wear any pointy black hats unless it’s actually October 31st, just like everybody else. Their arched, black cats are kept safely inside while they work their nine to fives, and all else is just gimmickry exploiting the well-established traditions of a historically-significant place. More important work is being done, and according to Al McCarthy of the WSI-sponsored PagansTonight Betwixt and Between radio show, it’s on the rise.
However, it is not without its share of adversity.
“For instance, getting a building permit or passing a background check is more difficult for a member of the witch community nowadays. And the businesses that are already established are also being held to stricter codes.”
In response, many groups are attempting the impossible - trying to thrive, business as usual … and actually succeeding.
“There is always a sense of magick in the air in the Salem area,” said McCarthy. “Where old shops have folded, new ones have opened, taking their place. Botanical shops and apothecaries are being used. In the face of politics, it's business as usual.”
And for those of us interested in travelling to Salem in this lifetime, those businesses are opened from 10:00 or 11:00 A.M., with the occasional 9:00 AM opening. Some will even open at night, specifically for night, and for particular events, mostly in October.
What is the magick trick to a successful witch business in Salem? Well, as Salem is primarily tourist-dependant it's all about the “flash” of the business. For example, employees and employers dress overtly "witchy" and provide products that harken back to days of yore. Aside from that they are managed like any other business. If the books are well taken care of and the numbers are good, the business will thrive.
As for those who manage the shops, according to Al McCarthy, most of the owners are middle-aged and hail from the older magickal community. However, they are taking a teacher's role and allowing employees from the younger generation of witches to manage the shops and interface with the community at large. All the magickal shop owners are experienced practitioners trying to integrate and educate the younger generations.
“What sparked this movement, in my opinion, seems to be the idea of the times: "Youth is valuable",” Al says.
McCarthy credits opportunity as the cause of the upswing in Salem activity, specifically the opportunity of spaces opening up around the city and ambitious folks snapping up the property to rent or own (mostly rent).
“I would call it "business as usual" because, knowing the political climate and seeing the shop owners thrive in the face of it, tells me that magickal folks are best at dealing with adversity.”
As a causal effect of this rise in activities, it seems younger and younger people are getting involved, looking beyond the flash of surface experiences, and digging deeply down for the roots that matter. Al McCarthy correlates this to Christianity’s oppression of expression, stating that conversely within the craft, there are many paths and options and an open attitude to exploration, all of which the current generations require to grow up healthily and happily.
Al McCarthy says he’s merely a vocal supporter of the magickal community in Salem. Having recently begun a career in the psychic field, specialising in mediumship and medical intuition, he is a staunch ally of the Correllian Tradition and a champion of the younger generation of witches from the wider magickal community. His tools of choice are tarot and tea leaves, and he works for the Original Tremont Tearoom in Boston. Many thanks to you Al McCarthy for the interview! And now, back to business as usual.