Archives For Laurie Cabot

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LC BookSeventeen years after the release of her last book, Laurie Cabot has returned to the world of publishing with a new title called Laurie Cabot’s Book of Spells and Enchantments. Produced by Copper Cauldron Publishing, her new book details the “nuts and bolts” of spell creation, including some of the recipes, rituals and secrets contained within her own family grimoire. In the book, Cabot also discusses the place of magic in life, a Witch’s apothecary, divine power and her own spell-making tips for both the beginner and lifetime practitioner.

Laurie Cabot is arguably one of the most well-known witches in contemporary American culture, outside of Pagan circles. In the 1970s, Governor Michael Dukakis honored her with the title “The Official Witch of Salem,” a name she accepted proudly.

Throughout much of her magical life, Cabot has owned and operated witchcraft stores in the historic New England town of Salem. Through those stores, she was able to do what she loved most: sharing the beauty, reality and power of Witchcraft. In 1973, Cabot opened her very first store, called The Witch Shoppe, and, as it turned out, it was one of the very first stores of its kind in the United States. At one point, she also owned the well-known Crow Haven Corner and, more recently, The Cat, Crow and Crown, which was eventually renamed The Official Witch Shoppe.

In 2012, at the age of 79 years, Cabot announced that she was finally closing the doors of the Shoppe. She explained to The Boston Globe, “The Witch City has dipped to the point where a brick-and-mortar store is no longer sustainable.” Despite the downward turn in business at its physical location, the store has maintained an online presence to this day.

During the 1990s, Cabot wrote and published four books including, The Power of the Witch (1989), Love Magic (1992), Celebrate the Earth (1994) and The Witch in Every Woman (1997). Writing books became another way for her to share the magic and joy of Witchcraft with new audiences and new seekers. However, after publication of the last book, she turned her attention away from writing to focus on other pursuits and didn’t publish again … until now.

We talked with Laurie Cabot about her new book, the current state of Witchcraft in today’s society and her future projects. At 81 years of age, she was enthusiastic to answer our questions and share her thoughts. Her passion for teaching and for the art of Witchcraft was very evident in her voice as she answered the questions. Please note that the conversation was not recorded and, therefore, will not be presented in a traditional interview format. 

After a 17 year hiatus, why suddenly return to print?

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

When answering this question, Cabot was very candid. She explained that writing books had become very cumbersome. She is not a computer user and, therefore, her books were all written long-hand with paper and pen in the old-fashion way. The task was enormous and, in 1997, she didn’t want to devote the time and energy into producing another one. Then, several years ago, she finally agreed to produce a new spell book because, as she said, “I had a wonderful person who could type as fast as I could talk.”

That person was Christopher Penczak. In the forward of the book he says:

…on a Beltane evening, while discussing the state of publishing, I suggested that she release a spell book because she loved sharing the majick. She agreed, but asked for my help in organizing it, along with her daughter Penny, and thus the seeds of the book you hold now in your hands were planted.

Cabot added that Penczak having his own publishing company, Copper Cauldron Publishing, “made it easy.” After the process was complete, she said, “I could have done three volumes because we have collected and created spells for over 50 years. But I wanted to do something that was easily understandable to all people.” The result of that collaborative work is this new book – a “how to” guide to spell making born from sixty years of Cabot magic.

The book is aimed at a general readership; not only Witches or magical practitioners. Why?

Cabot said, “There’s a little witch in everyone.” She believes that the science of magic is “what is vital” and, as such, “can be used by anyone.” She added, “Quantum physics tells us what we are doing is real.”

In the book’s introduction, Cabot says:

You don’t have to be a Witch to borrow majick. Some think you do, but I say absolutely not. Anyone can use majick. We teach the science and art of Witchcraft separate from religion, so you can be a scientific Witch. You can be an artful Witch too. And you do not have to practice the religion at all.

She went on to describe how she dervived at such a science-focused understanding of Witchcraft. She said that it was the “finding of science” within the spiritual experience that became so important to her development. As a child she had many psychic experiences, after which her father would always say, “There has to be a science behind it.” She said that it was those conversations that “led [her] in search of that.”

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Why the “j” in majick?

In the book, Cabot uses the term “majick” rather than magic or the popular magick. When asked what the spelling difference meant to her, she simply said that a “j” is used in place of a “g” to identify her particular system of Witchcraft with its focus on science. She has been using this spelling for over a decade.

What major observations have you made concerning the changes, beneficial or otherwise, in the practice of Witchcraft today as compared to past decades? 

When answering this question, Cabot focused on the retail experience, which has dominated much of her “majical” life. When she opened The Witch Shoppe in 1973, there were no witches anywhere. She said that the store was the only place where people could find a witch. Now, there are stores everywhere.

She said that, unfortunately, today, “it seems that people open stores to become rich.” She said, “You don’t become rich with one store. It may pay for the mortgage but you won’t be rich.”

Cabot also observed that the focus of modern Witchcraft stores has changed. In opening any store, her intent was always to “help people understand that Witchcraft was real.” She wanted to teach and share her passion. All her products, including incenses, spells, potions and oils, were handmade. She said, “I know the ingredients. I know how to make them real.” The store was an experience for the buyer that she created from her experience as a Witch.

Now, most metaphysical shops get their products from vendors. She laments this system saying, “the spells may not work. They may not have anything to do with the right energy.” This commercialization of the Witchcraft industry saddens her, and she added that people just seem to be “jumping on the band-wagon.” However, Cabot did acknowledge that the increase in stores has significantly helped with the sharing of magical practices, making them more widely accepted.

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

As awareness has grown over the years, Cabot has noticed a recent influx in the number of international students coming to her classes. She said that, just last week, 6 Brazilians flew to Salem in order to attended her Witchcraft 101 class at Salem’s magickal store, Enchanted. In addition, her online classes have been attracting an international audience. She said, “They want to learn the science,” which she thinks is “wonderful.”

What would you say is the most important legacy or message that you would like to leave for future generations, Pagans or not, as the Official Witch of Salem?

Cabot said, “I would like everyone to know that magic is real.” She said that there has been “so much propaganda.” She explained that, as children, we all know in our hearts that magic exists but we are told by adults that it is just imaginary. But it does.

She also wants more people to accept and learn the scientific aspects of magic. She said, “I want it to be used to better the world.” Then she added, “Isn’t that what the world needs right now?  A little magic.”

One would be hard pressed to argue that point.

Now that the book is finished and due to be released in digital and paperback formats later this month, what other projects are on the horizon?

Along with her teaching at Enchanted, Cabot has several new projects in the works. She enthusiastically shared that she is working on her memoirs. Although she does not have a time frame for it’s completion and release, it will be published by Copper Cauldron Publishing with the help of Christopher Penczak.

Cabot is also developing a Tarot Deck, one that she hopes to release in the spring of 2015. She said that it does not have a name yet, but the deck will be focused, as one might expect, on scientific and the numeric spirit in the occult system.

As the conversation ended, Cabot added, “I’m using my time carefully now. I want to make sure that I leave something for people to gain knowledge. I don’t know everything. There are people that know far more.” But what Laurie Cabot does know, she wants to share in ways that will foster a better and deeper understanding of the self, the outside world and of the art of Witchcraft.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

In Memoriam: Dennis Presser (1958-2013): Circle Sanctuary has announced that longtime Circle and Pagan Spirit Gathering community member Dennis Presser passed away last week from natural causes. In a memorial posted to their site, Circle Sanctuary said of Presser that they “honor his Nature-loving spirit, his devotion to sacred Rhythm, and the friendships he made so easily and widely.  What is remembered lives.”

Dennis Presser in 2009.

Dennis Presser in 2009.

“Thank you, Dennis, for friendship over the years.  Thanks for your environmental education and preservation work, your community drumming and celebrations, and for your wisdom, humor, and support.  Condolences, love and support to Laurie, Hunter, and Allegra, and to all of us mourning his death.  May we take comfort in knowing that this world is a better and greener place because of Dennis.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Friends and acquaintances are encouraged to post their own memorial remembrance at the Circle Sanctuary site. You can read his official obituary, here. You can read an editorial from PNC-Minnesota, here. What is remembered, lives.

S.J. Tucker Readies New Album: Singer-songwriter (and Pagan) S.J. Tucker has announced that she’ll be digitally releasing an album of new material on March 5th, with physical copies to follow. The songs were developed for the soundtrack of “micro-budget” fantasy/action film “Ember Days,” also being released on March 5th.

S.J. Tucker

S.J. Tucker

“I got you all a Valentine’s Day present.  It’s still cooking, but it’s on its way to being fully formed and tasty.  I have been a good little songwriter/producer this month.  Early in February, I went to work in my Pixie House and finished up the first project of this year.  Last week, on St. Valentine’s Day, I put that project into the hands of my mastering engineer, Mr. Mark Yoshida.  He’s working on it now.  When I get it back from him, and when Mr. Wiley and I settle on the album design, it will all go to printing and replication.  When that’s done, I’ll have it in my hands…and soon after that, I hope, so will you!”

According to Tucker this material will be a departure from her normal style, mining “goth/industrial or dubstep-influenced” sounds. Once released, you’ll be able to buy the album on the music page of her website. In the meantime, you can catch S.J. Tucker performing this weekend with Tricky Pixie at FaerieCon West in Seattle.

More Pagan Responses to Fox News Wicca Comments: The Pagan community is still responding to insulting comments made about Wicca on the Fox News channel by Tucker Carlson and others. While Carlson has issued an apology on Twitter and on FishbowlDC, many are still urging an on-air apology from the network itself. In a statement released this past Wednesday, the Clergy of Come As You Are Coven, an Interfaith Pagan community in Northern California, requested “that this issue be addressed by Fox News Network via an immediate, prominent, on-air apology.”

Lady Yeshe Rabbit. Photo: Greg Harder.

Lady Yeshe Rabbit of CAYA Coven. Photo: Greg Harder.

“We request that this issue be addressed by Fox News Network via an immediate, prominent, on-air apology; significant on-air retraction of specific comments with factual corrections; visible dialogue with practicing Wiccans and Pagans conducted in a respectful manner; and appropriate commitment by the Network to providing the individuals responsible with a mandatory professional course of diversity training in religious and sex/gender sensitivity.”

In addition, prominent Salem, Massachusetts Witches Laurie Cabot, Lorelei, Christian Day and Leanne Marrama issued a press release this past Tuesday on the matter. Day, who owns the Salem shops “Hex” and “Omen” said that “America is a bubbling cauldron of different peoples and faiths and it is to our credit that our nation goes out of its way to respect those days that are sacred to us. Witches believe in respect for all faiths and Carlson’s divisive rhetoric is out of step with American values.” Whether these, and other efforts, results in an on-air apology from Fox remains to be seen.

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 23, 2009 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Looks like all is not happy in the land of the Cabot Witches, it seems that Laurie “Official Witch of Salem” Cabot accused her daughter Jody Cabot (also a Witch) of forging a check in her name two years ago. A restitution agreement was made, but due to non-compliance and failing to appear in court, a bench warrant was issued for her arrest.

“Last year, Jody Cabot was granted a general continuance in the case on the condition that she pay restitution of $1,328 to her elderly mother. Had she done that, the charges would have been dismissed. But earlier this year, Jody Cabot defaulted on the agreement and the case was put back on the court’s docket, where it was heading for trial. Attorney Steve Reardon tried to convince Judge Richard Mori not to issue a warrant for his client, saying she had stayed home because she had a severe headache that was a result of a past head injury.”

However, this tale doesn’t end in tragedy, Jody Cabot went to court the next day and thanks to her mother’s current reluctance to testify against her daughter a new plea agreement was made. According to reports Jody, as her mother has in the past, appeared in “traditional witch garb” for the hearing. Now that this unpleasantness is done with for the moment, lets remember Jody from (seemingly) happier times when she posed for pictures with sister Penny (taken by photographer Stephen Muskie).

Two teenage female ringleaders of a racist gang accused of orchestrating a spate of brutal attacks against non-Slavic foreigners were sentenced to jail terms of up to ten years. The gang is believed to be an offshoot of a Slavic Pagan group called “Native Belief”, a group accused of bombing a McDonalds and murdering several people.

“The verdicts were the latest convictions of young people for racist attacks in Russia and come amid growing concern over the frequency of attacks on non-Slavic foreigners in the country. The presumed ringleaders, Yevgenia Zhikhareva – a 17-year-old girl linked to pagan sects that worshipped ancient Slavic gods – and Ilya Shutko, 19, were jailed for eight and 10 years respectively, Russian news agencies reported … Zhikhareva is also suspected of involvement in a series of blasts in Moscow between 2008-09, including at a branch of US fast food chain McDonalds, carried out by a pagan group calling itself ‘Native Belief.’ The gang members were accused of carrying out up to four attempted murders and one actual murder of citizens of China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan between February 12 and March 7, 2008.”

Sadly there is a strong undercurrent of racism and antisemitism within some Slavic Pagans groups, though that isn’t  universally true. However, it seems that the groups who do espouse racism are becoming increasingly strident and violent. No doubt economic hardship and social upheaval have much to do with this development, but these excuses don’t justify distorting pre-Christian beliefs for racist political causes.

Religion Dispatches brings us two interesting articles on African diasporic faiths, starting with an interview with sociologist Salvador Vidal-Ortiz concerning the recent animal sacrifice court victory for Santero Jose Merced, the place made for gays and lesbians within Santeria, and how perceptions of Santeria are (slowly) evolving in America.

“Generally speaking, when we are talking about racial and ethnic minorities, the United States’ racial (and racist) system tends to find much of what is non-white “suspicious.” That’s why Santería continues to be categorized as a cult by some, and why the media usually frame practitioners as somehow “criminal” in the coverage we see in the news. That tendency is mirrored in entertainment media. For at least the past two decades, portrayals of Santería practitioners in movies and television shows have resisted the opportunity to represent them as religious people and focused instead on Santería as a hypersexual space, recalling earlier representations of Africans as savages. That does seem to be changing, at least incrementally.”

Then, religion scholar Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado takes possession of a Vodou doll/poppet that had several seemingly rational faculty members at her university seriously spooked.

“The doll who sits in my office is not the type of doll you stick needles in. I am not even sure he is a Vodou doll. And yet, his black cloth skin and his scarf evoked feelings of fear and mistrust among a group of university professors. The mythology of evil surrounding Vodou, surrounding black religion, remains. I have nestled him between an image of the Mayan god Maximon and an image of the Yoruban orisha Bablú Ayé. I decided he would feel at home with other marginalized and often misinterpreted religious figures. He has been with me now for twenty-four hours. I am happy to say, as a type this reflection, that my computer is working fine.”

A simple rule to remember is that most mysterious dolls aren’t actually magical poppets, and even if they were, not every poppet is aimed at you. If it were simply some child’s toy I’m glad it ended up on her shelf, where it could be reclaimed some day, and not buried in a hole with rum and gunpowder as on faculty member suggested.

The Taliban are now targeting the Kalash in Pakistan, Indo-European pagans believed by some to be descended from a commingling of Alexander the Great’s army and local peoples, who have survived in prominently Muslim areas thanks to living in remote valleys. Now, an outsider who had been raising money for the Kalash has been kidnapped.

“While Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians were slowly driven out of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province by Muslim militants, the Kalash were free to drink their own distilled spirits and smoke cannabis. But the militant maulanas of the Taliban have finally caught up with them and declared war on their culture and heritage by kidnapping their most devoted supporter. Taliban commanders have taken Professor Athanasion Larounis, a Greek aid worker who has generated £2.5 million in donations to build schools, clinics, clean water projects and a museum. They are now demanding £1.25 million and the release of three militant leaders in exchange for his safe return.”

I don’t know if this is a sign of desperation on the part of the Taliban in Pakistan, or simply an escalation in their fervor to eliminate any group that theologically deviates from their extremist form of monotheism (or maybe both). Kalash leaders are attempting to negotiate a release, and it remains to be seen what the government of Pakistan can really do to help, especially amidst recent accusations that the government’s spy organization can’t disentangle itself from the Taliban and that US aid money has been going towards anti-Indian defenses.

In a final note, Boing Boing reports on a legal ruling that may make some Pagan festival/event organizers rest easier.

“The California Supreme Court has denied the appeal of Anthony Beninati, the Los Angeles real estate manager who unsuccessfully sued Burning Man organizers for failing to restrain him from walking into a fire.”

So if some idiot waltzes, jumps, or walks into a fire-pit, you aren’t liable for their stupidity concerning “obvious dangers”.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

A Cabot Witch* (The Rev. Rapid Cabot Freeman) is claiming religious discrimination in Connecticut after his local library canceled a planned Samhain ritual/presentation in their public community room.

“Freeman, who said he reserved the room four months ago with librarian Barbaranne Warner, and who has been advertising the party on his public access television show – “The Witching Hour” – for the past six weeks, said he believes it is a matter of religious discrimination. He said he’d been planning the appearance since he spoke at the library about witchcraft last year and members of the audience asked him to give a demonstration. While the town has allowed everything there from Christmas parties to christenings, he said, they are banning him because he’s a pagan.”

The event, while approved by the president of the Friends of Sprague Public Library, was nixed by the library’s First Selectman, Catherine Osten (after complaints by board of trustees members), on the grounds that Freeman didn’t follow proper procedure to reserve the space.

“…Osten said, because the event was to be held not in the library proper but in the town community room upstairs, those planning it had to get a permit from her office to use the room. Since no one had sought a permit, or paid the $50 rental fee and the $50 cleaning deposit, she said, there would be no witchcraft there on Halloween. ‘This is about someone that doesn’t want to follow process,” Osten said. “They’ve refused to apply for the room, and they want me to say OK. Have we denied it? No, because it hasn’t been presented to us to deny.'”

This situation has since led to a bitter falling out between Osten and Linda Puetz, president of the Friends of Sprague Public Library. It also led to Freeman losing the rhetorical upper hand by describing Catherin Osten’s decision as “Hitleresque”. Was Osten being discriminatory? Most likely, but she was able to hide behind the rules and regulations due to Freeman and Puetz not following proper procedure. At this point, their only recourse seems to be the court of public opinion. It is possible that Osten will back down under the threat of negative publicity due to this article, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. This whole controversy seems to be a perfect storm of discrimination, poor communication within the library, and poor planning.

* There seems to be some confusion as to whether Freeman is still within the Cabot tradition or not. On his MySpace page he claims that he has left the Cabot tradition and started his own path (called “First Blood”). But that may be old information, and things could be patched up between them for all I know. For more about Freeman, and his public access TV show, head over to this page (warning: eye-straining MySpace page).

It has been known for years that Salem, home of the infamous witch trials, has become a mecca for Halloween revelers and modern Pagans (who purportedly make up 10% of the local population). But I think outside observers might be surprised to see how this witchy tourist draw has grown to Mardi Gras proportions. For example, did you know that thousands of bikers do a “Halloween Witch Ride” every year?

“More than 3,000 scary-looking cyclists got a jump on Halloween yesterday by participating in the 20th annual Halloween Witch Ride to Salem. Taking off from Bruce Rossmeyer’s Boston Harley-Davidson in Everett, werewolves, skeletons and other ghouls all shared a scenic route through the North Shore.”

This particular event has grown so large that Salem has opened its own Harley-Davidson shop this year, complete with a special Harley Salem witch shirt (which is apparently selling like hotcakes). Meanwhile, the city itself is coming up with grander closing spectacles to signal to the large crowds that the Halloween-season party is over.

“The city has hired Somerville-based Visual Design Associates — the company that created an elaborate indoor display at Jordan’s furniture in Reading — to design an eye-catching, end-of-the-night program that will both entertain and send the message to revelers that Halloween night is over … Around 10 p.m., the live music and DJ’s scattered throughout the downtown will wrap up for the night and direct crowds to the display on Washington Street. At 10:30 p.m., the 15-minute artistic program will start. Then, a scaled-back fireworks display will be launched near the North River at 10:45 p.m. … It involves an 8-foot wall, helium and giant dancing shapes, according to Kate Fox, the executive director of Destination Salem.”

Another article points out that Salem isn’t only drawing American revelers and Pagan pilgrims, but a growing international contingent of Halloween tourists.

“So far this October, more than 6,000 visitors have stopped by the booth, which is open on weekends. “There are so many people from other countries,” said information booth volunteer Grace Lamarre, a Salem resident.”

As for local Pagan groups, they are hardly idle. Witchy impresario Christian Day’s Festival of the Dead grows ever larger, with a Retro Zombie Ball, a Vampires’ Masquerade Ball, and, of course, The Official Salem Witches‘ Halloween Ball.

“Saturday, November 1, 2008, 7:30pm to 12:30am at the Hawthorne Hotel! Join Christian Day and the Witches of Salem with special guest Fiona Horne and musical guests Wendy Rule and Dragon Ritual Drummers for a night of magic at the event AOL CityGuide rated one of America’s top Halloween parties! Join us as in days of old when fires burned on every hilltop and Witches gathered to feast, rejoice, and cast spells for the new year!”

In addition to Day’s massive multi-week extravaganza, Pagan events are also being thrown by Crow Haven Corner, the Cabot Witches (for Cabot initiates only), the Witches’ Education Bureau, The Temple of Nine Wells, the First Church of Wicca, and several others.

Add in the seemingly recession-proof yearly increase in Halloween-related spending, and what began as a local tourist draw is gradually morphing into a nationally (and internationally) recognized seasonal festival. For better or worse, this change from cheesy wax-works and trial re-enactments into a massive cultural (and money-making) multi-week event is partially due to the emergence of Witches and modern Pagans injecting a sense of the sacred (and the psychic) into the proceedings. It may never be officially called a Samhain festival, but for all intents and purposes this is America’s tribute to Summer’s End.

The new game show “Opportunity Knocks” premiers tonight on ABC, and an upcoming episode will feature a segment where contestants will have to pick “which Witch is a Witch”. Why? Because the traveling game show was shooting in Salem.

Laurie Cabot

“Laurie Cabot took the stage with three witch imposters during a taping of a new TV game show in Salem Saturday night. They billed the segment “Which Witch is a Witch?” An ABC TV crew comes to Salem close to Halloween and sets up a stage in the middle of the Witchcraft Heights neighborhood. Of course, there would be a witch question.”

Considering how (in)famous Laurie “official Witch of Salem” Cabot is in Salem, it was probably an easy question to answer. I can’t wait to see how the “ringers” were dressed. No doubt this particular episode will be airing sometime in October.

Speaking of Laurie Cabot, she is apparently fending off some controversy after unintentionally posting some alarmist information concerning the Large Hadron Collider. It seems her assistant was having problems with Google that day.

“I wanted people to be informed about the experiments and sadly what we ended up posting was a very one sided alarmist position which was not what I intended and Google was not our friend this day either with the links it provided to my assistant.”

Meanwhile Cabot’s tradition (“The Cabot Tradition”) has initiated author Christopher Penczak and Sully “lead singer of Godsmack” Erna into their priesthood. I don’t know if they have formally changed their names, but the site now lists them as “Christopher Cabot Penczak” and “Sully Cabot Erna”. So congratulations to both of them.

In Other News

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 12, 2008 — Leave a comment

While the San Francisco Peaks story gets top billing from The Wild Hunt today, it isn’t the only story of interest to our communities happening right now. Here are some links to other stories of note.

The LA Times profiles Santero and activist Ernesto Pichardo who discusses his life, his 1993 U.S. Supreme Court victory, and his emerging role as a mediator between law enforcement and the Santeria community.

“By some estimates there are 100,000 Santeria worshipers in Florida. Some of them, inevitably, had difficulties, and Pichardo did what he could to come to their aid. He began issuing laminated cards “certifying” Santeria priests to help them avoid run-ins with the law. And he tried not to take himself too seriously. He showed up at one local celebrity baseball game with a rubber chicken tied around his neck. His religion seemed to gain a little more acceptance. Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina now calls Pichardo to help mediate the parking, noise and animal issues that arise from Santeria home services. ‘We’ve all matured,’ Robaina said. ‘We need to respect everyone’s religion.'”

The piece also provides a rather harrowing account of the ongoing Coral Gables saga that is worth reading.

The Salem News does a profile of Laurie Cabot’s reformulated Witches League for Public Awareness, now known as “Project Witches Protection”.

“Project Witches Protection has very little money, relies heavily on volunteers and promotes a message that often falls on deaf ears. But the anti-defamation organization trucks on, stuffing hundreds of envelopes at Laurie Cabot’s witch shop every month to send to authorities across the state. Inside the envelopes is literature designed to inform people about the civil rights of witches.”

In the article, PWP vice president Rick Carvino calls Wicca/Witchcraft “one of the most abused and exploited religions”. A statement that will be sure to start some heated debates as to how abused and exploited Wiccans/Witches really are. A copy of the materials the PWP mails out can be found, here.

Pagan authors Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits just did an interview on the Air America radio show “Clout” to discuss polyamory and the John Edwards affair.

“I got a chance to discuss monotheism and dualism, and to explain how and why mudslinging works in political campaigns. Richard Greene, host of the show, loved the fact that Phae and Joy and Tom and I were “getting together” on his show, along with a poet named Sara from New York City, and challenging the dominant paradigm not only about marriage and relationships, but the very roots of America’s dysfunctional schizophrenia about sexuality.”

I can’t seem to find a link to the podcast in question (and you seem to need a subscription to download podcasts), but perhaps something will be posted soon to the show’s blog.

In a final note, September 8 looks to be a historic day. On that date, a new full evidentiary hearing will take place for the West Memphis 3.

“A full evidentiary hearing on this case is scheduled for September 8, 2008 and is expected to conclude on October 3. This marks the first time that the appeals from all three defendants will be heard together. Each is expected to get around a week to present their case. In an unprecedented move, the entire case will be presented in full, argued, and decided upon. Flaws in the original trials, recent DNA evidence pointing away from the defendants, and other new leads and information which invalidate the evidence used to convict the three are expected to take center stage.”

The initial trial has long come under fire for the sloppy handling of evidence, and the use of “Satanic Panic” to sway the jury towards a guilty verdict. This appears to be the best chance for a fair trial, and a possible reversal of the guilty verdict. No doubt the many members of the Pagan community who have long advocated for a new trial will be watching.

Last year I devoted several posts to a local struggle in Salem over the licensing of psychics. One group, led by Laurie Cabot, wanted to limit licenses and inhibit traveling “psychic fairs” (which they felt “poached” their profits), the other, led by Christian Day, wanted more relaxed rules that would allow for a greater number of licensed psychics. Eventually a compromise measure was reached, but in the process, remains from a dead raccoon were left on the doorsteps of two local metaphysical shops.

“The remains of a mutilated raccoon were left at the doorways of two of the city’s psychic shops. At 12:41 a.m. yesterday, John Ray of Salem flagged down police Sgt. Richard Gagnon and alerted him to a raccoon’s skull and a pile of intestines that had been left at the entrance to Angelica of the Angels, a shop at 7 Central St. While patrolling Essex Street about an hour later, Gagnon discovered more remains at the door to The Goddess’ Treasure Chest at 172 Essex St.”

Some Salem residents cast suspicion on Day, accusing him of working malignant magic, but it soon came to light that the perpetrator was psychic and Salem Witch Sharon Graham, who had been nursing a grudge against Christian Day.

“Richard Watson said he went back to his Bridge Street apartment on the night of May 26 to a disturbing scene: his roommate, Sharon Graham, dressed in black, surrounded by four young men, also all in black, standing around a jar. Inside that jar was the eye of a raccoon, police say. And in two trash bags in Watson’s refrigerator was the rest of the critter, which had been dismembered.”

Now, nearly a year later, and after further accusations of witness intimidation, it looks like we have some closure. Sharon Graham, in a plea agreement, has admitted to a judge that she placed the raccoon remains in front of those shops, though she claims to not know why she did so.

“A self-described Wiccan high priestess admitted yesterday that she had placed pieces of an eviscerated raccoon on the doorsteps of two local businesses last year. But Sharon Graham said she still can’t explain why. Graham, 47, formerly of Salem , admitted during a hearing in Salem District Court that prosecutors had sufficient evidence for a conviction on charges of littering and wanton destruction of property. Judge Dunbar Livingston called the case “certainly a somewhat bizarre and troubling incident” but agreed to go along with a plea agreement that called for the charges to be continued without a finding for a year on condition that Graham perform 20 hours of community service and remain in counseling. If she complies with those conditions and stays out of further trouble, the charges will be dismissed in a year. Prosecutors also agreed to drop the most serious charge against Graham, a count of witness intimidation.”

Graham has moved out of Salem, is receiving counseling, and is being supervised by a probation officer. Christian Day has gone on to become an even bigger fish in Salem’s pond, working with the city to promote Halloween season tourism, and co-running his own Witch shop Hex. Laurie Cabot continues to be as famous (infamous?) as ever, celebrating her 75th birthday in March with Godsmack frontman Sully Erna, among others, in attendance. So it looks like this matter is finally closed, and life in Salem, in all its Witchy glory, can continue.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

A conference of indigenous leaders from Mexico, the United States, and Canada met in Palenque, Mexico to discuss traditional solutions to environmental problems. The event, ‘Indigenous People to Heal Our Mother Earth’, gathered 200 leaders from 71 American Indian nations, and was supported by Mexico’s environment secretary, Juan Elvira Quesada.

“Our Mother Earth is being polluted at an alarming rate, and our elders say that she is dying,” said Raymond Sensmeier, a Tlingit leader from Yakutat, Alaska. “The way the weather is around the world … a cleansing is needed” … “I sometimes talk to scientists,” said Sensmeier, “and they compartmentalize things, put things in boxes and disconnect them, and doing so promotes disharmony and imbalance.” Kuetlachtli Texotik, a Nahuatl healer from Mexico whose name means “Blue Wolf,” agreed. “Our grandfathers taught us to have an integrated vision,” he said. “The important thing is to look for balance. We should take care of what does not belong to us, for the future, because it is only ours temporarily.”

Organizers hope that indigenous American leaders can become guides in “restoring balance and harmony in the world”. To “wake up the world” to the environmental problems surrounding them.

Reuters interviews David Domke, co-author of the new book “The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon In America,” who explains just how entwined (predominately Christian) religion has become in our political process.

“The reality is that in American presidential politics not willing to publicly emphasize your faith will mean you will not be a serious candidate on either side of the partisan aisle … the fusion of religion and politics is absolutely contrary to what the founders desired for the country. They fled religious sectarian violence, religious persecution and they set out build a new place where God would be part of the equation but there wouldn’t be a state, a national religion.”

A political atmosphere like this is decidedly hostile to religious minorities taking power, an exclusive “Christ-centered” politics that transcends the usual Republican party suspects to include Democratic presidential candidates as well. Can the wall of separation between Church and State remain strong when both political parties now “emphasize their faith” as a campaign tool?

The Boston Herald reports
on Laurie “Official Witch of Salem” Cabot’s 75th birthday-bash over the weekend. The extravagant affair included a dancing snake charmer, fire-spinning, and the attendance of Godsmack frontman Sully Erna.

“Godsmack frontman Sully Erna was among the 100 Wiccans who flew in from around the country over the weekend for a surprise 75th birthday party for Laurie Cabot, the Official Witch of Salem. “Before I met Laurie, I was in a really low point in my life,” Sully told the crowd. “I owe Laurie everything. (She) changed my life around.” Apparently, the headbanger and the high priestess of witchcraft have been tight for years … Cabot’s bewitching birthday bash was thrown by fun couple Tom Lang and Alexander Westerhoff at their Manchester-by-the-Sea stone villa.”

A happy birthday to Ms. Cabot, may she enjoy happiness and good health.

Kathryn Price NicDhana brings us the latest in the ongoing struggles to halt the M3 motorway expansion through the Tara-Skryne valley, the spiritual heart of Ireland.

“As bulldozers and chainsaws cut into the forest and hill of Rath Lugh – one of a number of ancient tombs and holy wells in peril due to the road work in the Tara-Skryne Valley – protesters have announced that they have dug tunnels under the proposed roadway, and are willing to risk their lives in defense of the land.”

While these new actions have succeeded in delaying construction, it remains to be seen if this expensive (and increasingly unpopular) project can ultimately be stopped. Irish Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney recently called the M3 construction a “ruthless desecration”, and the site has been declared an “endangered monument” by the World Monuments Fund.

In a final note, two recent legal decisions affecting modern Pagans have come to my attention. First, Tropaion reports that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Greece can not require a statement of religious belief as part of the admission ceremony to the state bar.

“Legal Court rulings are one of the few forums where precedents are truly set. This landmark decision by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Alexandrididis vs Greece (application number 19516/2006) will definitely make it much easier for others in the legal and other professions to follow suit. It will mean that people will not have to state their religious beliefs in what are clearly state matters.”

This is an important precedent for the small groups of Hellenic polytheists (and other religious minorities) in the Orthodox Christian dominated State. Further updates to this story are expected to be posted, here.

Meanwhile, another prisoner free-exercise case involving a member of the Asatru faith has made the news. A judge has recommended the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by inmate Darrell Hoadley. Hoadley, who is serving a life sentence for a 2000 torture-killing, brought suit requesting items he says are necessary for his faith.

“The penitentiary has allowed several Asatru items since settling a 2000 lawsuit – including a ritual drinking horn, wooden wand and wooden hammer – but Hoadley wanted more, such as horse meat and a plastic sword. In a motion to dismiss, prison officials said some requests are ‘too outrageous to merit serious consideration.’ U.S. Magistrate Judge John Simko, who was taken off the case in favor of U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol, said in a report filed Wednesday that the case should be dismissed.”

I can’t think of any Asatru tradition that requires a sword and the partaking of horse meat in order to honor the gods. Considering Hoadley’s security status (he is isolated from the general population), and the concessions already made, it doesn’t look like he has much of a case. The judge looks on solid ground for recommending dismissal.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!