The End of An Era for Salem’s Official Witch

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 13, 2012 — 16 Comments

On Wednesday the Salem News reported that Laurie Cabot, Salem, Massachusetts’ official Witch, would be closing the doors of The Official Witch Shoppe at the end of January, bringing to an end Cabot’s 42-year run of owning and operating Witch-related stores in Salem. The Salem News piece quotes a message sent out by Cabot on January 6th, detailing the reasons why Cabot is stepping back from personally running a retail establishment.

Laurie Cabot

Laurie Cabot

“Here I sit now, reflecting on my life as a Witch, my goals, challenges and successes both in the past and what will be in the future. My goals have changed, my focus must now change to meet those goals and it is to that end that I have decided to gear my focus to our temple, the first ever temple of Witchcraft in Salem, the Cabot Kent Hermetic Temple, what an event! In 1692 people in Salem township were killed in the name of Witchcraft, murdered when there is no evidence to support they were even Witches or knew what Witches were, and now today we have founded our temple in its place! We are working to replace fear and hate with hope, love and majick. My goal is to is to see this temple flourish, I want to see us have a building, a real place where anyone can come and learn about Witchcraft, the science, the art and the religion. A place where you can learn about your Celtic ancestors, our Gods and Goddesses, where we can use majick and cast spells to heal the world.”

Over the years Cabot has run and operated four separate stores:  The Witch Shoppe, opened in 1971, Crow Haven Corner (now under different ownership), The Cat, The Crow and The Crown, and finally,  The Official Witch Shoppe. Cabot and her growing family of initiates and students oversaw Salem’s transformation from sleepy New England city with an infamous history of killing accused witches, to a massive Halloween tourist draw that now boasts a number of occult, Pagan, and Witchcraft-related businesses. During that time, Cabot emerged as a prominent voice for an emerging Pagan movement in the United States, was profiled in National Geographic, appeared in documentaries, on talk-shows (including Oprah!), and wrote a number of popular books on Witchcraft and occult practices.

At news of this shift in focus for Cabot, hundreds of Pagans and Wiccans have expressed their thanks for her work, and wished her well on the planned temple project. Noted author and Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Christopher Penczak, who was a former student of Cabot’s, says that “there was always a special magick to learning magick in her shop.”

“I’ll treasure the time I spent in this shop in the reading room chatting with her and teaching there after hours. I’m sad to see it go, but know it’s part of her evolving work to manifest a physical temple in Salem for the Cabot-Kent Hermetic Temple. With about forty years involved in a shop in Salem, it’s time for a change and I”m glad to see her making that change.”

Green Witch Amy Blackthorn, a frequent visitor to Salem, added “you can always tell what the ‘temperature’ in the Pagan community nationwide” by entering her shop.

“I’ve been following Ms Cabot’s work for 19 years. My husband and I vacation in Salem every quarter, and though I don’t go to Laurie for readings, she is always a dear to talk to. You can always tell what the ‘temperature’ in the Pagan community nationwide by going into ‘The Cat The Crow and the Crown’ because it’ll feature in the shop. No matter what Laurie sets her mind to do, especially with her new Temple, I’m sure she’ll do it in her signature way. Pickering Wharf will be a bit darker for her absence. I’ll raise a Wharf Rat in her name on our next visit.”

While Cabot has been a polarizing figure for some in the Pagan community due to her flamboyance and willingness to embrace publicity, it was also these characteristics that helped slowly mainstream religious Witchcraft, Wicca, and modern Paganism.  For all the black capes, conical hats, and impressive eye makeup, we shouldn’t forget that Laurie Cabot was named Salem’s “Official Witch” by then-Governor Michael Dukakis for her work with special needs children. At Cabot’s root is a willingness to be healer and a teacher, to endure years of scorn and ridicule so that today’s Witches in Salem can largely party with impunity.  As for the future, the 78-year-old has no plans to slow down.

“I will continue to teach; my classes on Witchcraft and Tarot are still very much available as are my physic readings and workshops. The shops phone number will remain the same and continue to operate for more information on classes, workshops and readings as well as online at the shops website which will continue to operate, more information will be provided should the fate of that site change.”

You can follow the progress of the Cabot-Kent Hermetic Temple, here. You can also keep track of Cabot’s work at her official web site. We here at The Wild Hunt wish Ms. Cabot all the best in her future endeavors, and thank her for her ongoing service to our community.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    The first Pagan book I ever read, many years ago, was Laurie Cabot’s “The Power of the Witch”. My calling turned out to be Druidry and not Witchcraft, but I’ll always appreciate the introduction Laurie and her book gave me.

    I echo Jason’s thanks for her service and best wishes for her future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dsalisbury David Salisbury

    I’m so glad I got to visit her shop in September. I knew there was a reason I felt like I “had to” make it to Salem in 2011. Now I know why!
    One of the first books I read was Power of the Witch and I credit it for inspiring much of the path Im on now. I was lucky enough to get it signed when I went to visit.
    I’m sad to see the shop go but I also think its fabulous that she’s putting focus on creating a new legacy with her temple.

  • Anonymous

    There is a lot of derisiveness associated with the Cabot. It is important to keep in mind that while some may not agree with everything she has said or that the “black capes, conical hats, and impressive eye makeup” as Jason put it, is the best representation of our community, at the time when she first started becoming a figure in the media there was NO representation.

    Without the flamboyant way that she presented herself the main stream media may never have begun to talk about witchcraft. It is not as appealing of a news story to have a normal guy in a sweater vest that owns a witchcraft shop in Salem.

    The way I look at Cabot is not as a figure in the Pagan community how it is now but rather as a figure in the Pagan community as it was, and from that lens I think her contributions are worthy of much praise.

    -Andrew Lore
    http://www.paganinsider.com

  • Joshua Brothir

    Laurie’s book “The Power of the Witch” was also the first book that I read on the subject of Paganism. Her book started me on an intense quest that I don’t think will ever really end. I will always be thankful for introduction.

  • http://www.witchgrotto.com Ben Gruagach

    In the gay community things got kicked off with Stonewall, when it was the flamboyant gays, the butch dykes, the transsexuals and the drag queens who refused to be shoved back in the closet and told to stay hidden.

    In the Witchcraft and modern Pagan community, it was the flamboyant publicity seeking of people like Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, and in North America, Laurie Cabot as well as others like them who brought us into the light and triggered a blossoming of our community.

    Whether we feel comfortable with their flamboyance and out-there publicity or not, we owe them a debt of gratitude for their bravery and determination to help our community through its growing pains. They were the necessary midwives serving our communities.

  • Danacorby

    If that mark on her cheek is what it looks like — melanoma — there’s a lot more to her retirement than she’s talking about. I wish her wellness.

    • Kelly NicDruegan

      That mark on here cheek is actually a (badly done) spiral tattoo.

  • Crick

    And so another opportunist (snake oil salesperson) bites the dust. YAWN. She made a mockery out of “real” witchcraft to line her own pockets. Just like $ilverRaven Wolf and other Neo Pagan missionaries. How pathetic that Neo Pagans think that in some way this was a valid contribution to paganism.
    If only we could strain the Christian elements out of Neo Paganism we might see a valid belief system emerge. Good Luck with that…

    Crick

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D3RBKI6JAT6PAR3OFTQIFBWJ4Q MerryWic

      She is a lady who helped bring our religion to a world that hated and feared us…it is still here but sometimes you have to go a bit mainstream to reach the ignorant…

  • Obsidia

    Good luck to Laurie in her work with her Temple. Because of her willingness to spend her life in the public eye, Witchcraft and Pagan resources became more available to those of us who were seeking our spiritual path. Her book became a source positive identity for me when I was young, and the tapes of her Meditations gave me true spiritual practice. I even watched part of her rituals on TV! Like other figures who succeeded in bringing Paganism into the public eye, she sometimes overstepped, but she was a Pioneer in living her life the way she believed in. I send her love and blessings!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543961321 Peg Aloi

    The mark on her cheek is a tattoo.

    I heard many years ago that the reason Laurie was named the Official Witch of Salem by the governor was because she contacted the governor’s office asking for this honor to be bestowed; not because the governor’s office decided to bestow it and chose her above anyone else. To be honest, I think this “honor” was in part responsible for the fairly divisive competition that exists among all the witches in Salem and has for so long, with many people in the “community” there vying for top dog position in retail, magic, psychic business, media coverage and overall attention.

    • Danacorby

      Thanks for speaking up, Peg. That’s the impression I have of the situation there, too, and one of the main reasons I try not to pay any attention to Salem. Ms. Cabot and other ‘costume witches’ were also the main reason those of us who did public education in the Seattle area, back in the day, talked it over and decided to wear business attire to interviews & such, with perhaps a pentagram necklace. Very effective way to get out the message that we’re your neighbors, not some foreign & dangerous species.

    • RivaWitch

      What had happend was. Ms Cabot did some charity work for a local childrens hospital. It got some publicity. The Govenor gave it to her. But it was more as a “joke” or a light hearted jesture. Not to be taken serious.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D3RBKI6JAT6PAR3OFTQIFBWJ4Q MerryWic

    I am sad…she is wonderful and I loved going to her shoppe in Salem…Best of health and Brightest Blessings for a wonderful lady and Withc…

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    I used to have a copy of “Power of the Witch,” which I gave to a friend. I still have “Celebrating the Earth…” and this is an indispensible guide for me to this day! She has most certainly had a huge impact in the Witchcraft and Pagan Communities over these laste 42 years. Indeed, I admire her for following her heart and being true to herself despite the judgemental attitudes she has been faced with. The world would be very heard on those who don’t “fit in.”

    I, for one, have never really “fit in,” no matter hard I used to try, and find myself much happier not trying to beat myself into a monoscape of who others think I should be, and she helped to teach me that. Daring to be different most certainly applies to the axiom “to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent…” I would like to thank her for all the hard work she has done, despite criticism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GypsyRaine Gypsy Raine

    Good luck to Sister Laurie in her work with her new Temple. I send her much love and many blessings.