Archives For Lori Bruno

salem

[Photo Credit: Mark Sardella / Flickr]

SALEM, Ma. — An investigation into a heroin dealing in Salem resulted in the arrest of two men August 7, including Richard Watson, a well-known psychic and member of the Wiccan community living in the self-styled “Witch City.” Reaction to the story was swift. Watson’s church revoked his credentials, and people took to social media to condemn his alleged involvement.

According to the Salem News, police received information about heroin being sold out of Watson’s apartment at 100 Bridge Street, and made some undercover purchases before obtaining a search warrant and raiding the premises. Inside the place, they found Watson and another man, Javier Pena-Abreu, sitting at a table on which there was reportedly a pile of heroin.

Pena-Abreu is no stranger to police encounters, and was free on a $20,000 bail resulting from another heroin-trafficking arrest last year. He invoked his right to remain silent. Watson, on the other hand, cooperated with police by showing them the remainder of the heroin in the apartment, totaling more than two ounces. Police allege that $10-15,000 of the drug was passing through the apartment on a weekly basis.

This was not the first time that Watson, or his apartment, had been touched by less-than-legal activities. In 2007, during the so-called “witch wars” over psychic licenses in Salem, Watson arrived home to discover a grisly scene. As was reported by the Salem News at the time,

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.

Graham was one of the people who later pleaded guilty to leaving parts of that raccoon on the steps of two psychic shops. Watson was a witness in that case, and claimed at the time that Graham had pressured him to not testify.

However, this time, it was Watson caught by surprise. He and Pena-Abreu have different recollections of what was happening when they were discovered at a table piled with heroin. Watson has asserted that he was allowing Pena-Abreu to keep the drugs in the apartment as a favor, while not profiting from the dealing whatsoever. Pena-Abreu’s attorney, at the arraignment Monday, claimed his client was only there for a tarot reading, and had no involvement with the heroin. Only Pena-Abreu had money on his person, although it is not clear if it was heroin proceeds or cash for a reading.

Reverend High Priestess Lori Bruno of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, where Watson was an ordained minister, issued a statement denouncing the news. She said, in part:

What I cannot stomach is one who would be a purveyor of death to the innocent. Therefore, after the news article I saw today and having also been directly informed about this, I and our clergy counsel have come to the decision to revoke the ministerial credentials of a trusted minister to humanity, Richard Watson. It is with much sadness that I do this, because I trusted Richard Watson to carry on the creed of our people.

I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.

Heroin is a growing problem in Massachusetts, and nationwide. The supply of the drug has increased since the United States took the Taliban, whose oppressive policies included a near total shutdown of opium poppy cultivation, out of power in Afghanistan. At the same time, drug manufacturers developed stronger and stronger prescription drugs to manage high levels of pain, many of which are opium derivatives themselves. The powerful prescriptions created more dependence among legitimate users, and also wended their way into the black market, increasing addiction.

Attempts to curb prescription drug abuse, together with the now greater supply of heroin, has led to more addictions and more overdose deaths. In 2014, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick declared this to be a public health emergency, with at least 185 suspected heroin deaths in the prior six months and 363 opioid-related deaths in 2011, the most recent year for which figures were available for that broader metric.

Courtesy of Flickr's jimmywayne

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Another Salem witch, Sandra Wright, had a somewhat nuanced reaction to the news. Wright is a third-generation Salem resident who is High Priestess of Elphame coven. Speaking only for herself, she commented to The Wild Hunt, “Wiccan priesthood comes with responsibilities” Wright said:

People of the Priesthood of the Craft of the Wise should possess leadership ability. Not everyone is cut out to lead. . . . and they need to display integrity, wisdom, and most of all, compassion. Compassion is the one that can be hardest to maintain, especially when lines are crossed. So I myself failed to show compassion to Rick Watson when this story broke because I believe that even though he claims he was just allowing others to deal drugs out of his apartment and that he himself was not dealing the drugs, he was allowing people to poison the community he claimed to serve. He was serving as a conduit for an epidemic that has taken lives left and right in this city and the surrounding area. And if he was actually dealing the drugs, he is even more directly responsible for ruining the lives of others, nevermind his own. And for this reason, I find myself hard pressed to offer compassion.

At the same time, Wright said, “my compassion kicks in” as a reaction to the Trinacrian Rose Church removing his credentials … and the local community trying to disavow him as a Wiccan. And, as for the broader community reaction, she observed:

And now everyone … he was close to is scrambling to distance themselves from him, and distance him from Wicca, because they don’t want to be associated with a drug dealer. They are making him a pariah because they don’t want the rest of the world to think that Wicca sanctions this kind of behavior. Of course it doesn’t! No faith of any value would approve of capitalizing on the addicted and afflicted. Anyone who thinks Wicca has anything to do with Rick’s decisions doesn’t understand Wicca. Like the Pensacola murders, the mundane media is trying to sensationalize the story by including the buzzwords they think will rile people up. Well, we are riled.

Another Salem witch and High Priestess, Penny Cabot had only these few words. “I feel that the shameful situation speaks for itself, no words are needed,” she said.

Watson’s bail was set at $50,000, but Pena-Abreu’s was set at ten times that. In addition, his bail in the prior case was revoked, so he won’t be getting out of jail before the September 2 status hearing in any case. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

 

As the United States faces its worst housing market crisis in history, some are starting to rely on services outside the usual bankers, inspectors, and Realtors in order to ensure they are getting the best deal when buying or selling a home. The Wall Street Journal profiles the rise of spiritual house cleansing services, focusing on Salem, Massachusetts, and local Witches Lori Bruno and Christian Day.

“The foreclosure crisis has helped resurrect an ancient tradition: the house cleansing. Buyers such as Mr. Barletta are turning to witches, psychics, priests and feng shui consultants, among others, to bless or exorcise dwellings. Sellers, too, are adopting the trend to help move a property stuck on the market. […] Mr. Barletta heard about the pair [Bruno and Day] through his real-estate agent after his offer on the home was accepted. “I’m a spiritual person,” he says. “I just wanted to remove the negative energy first.” […] [Salem real-estate agent Janet Andrews] Howcroft attributes recent requests for house blessings in part to the economic picture here. She counted at least eight transactions last year that involved a house cleansing, compared to the occasional request in prior years.”

The WSJ article notes that foreclosures have been booming in Salem, and that house prices are dropping as a result. With the occult an everyday part of Salem’s culture, it makes sense that Witches would be employed. Since house cleansing traditions can be found in most religious faiths, there doesn’t seem to be much of a backlash against this new boom in the practice. The WSJ points out that neither Bruno, nor another local Witch who provides this service charge for it, with Bruno saying she doesn’t “want to live off people’s sadness.” That definitely isn’t a universal attitude among house-cleansers, and many are seeing opportunity for growth in this crisis.

“Elsewhere, others are viewing the rituals as a real business opportunity. Austin, Texas-based feng shui consultant Logynn B. Northrhip is teaming up with Scottsdale, Ariz., real-estate agent Jason Goldberg to offer a package of services to create better vibes in a home, either before sale or after purchase. The two met at a yoga retreat.”

Ever since the current recession hit, there’s been several news outlets who have done some variation of the “psychics do well in hard times” meme. This seems to be the latest permutation. Whether this new (or at least newly lucrative) industry continues once the housing market stabilizes remains to be seen. For now, whether they like it or not, Bruno and Day have become the faces of this trend. No doubt their phones/e-mails are going to be seeing some interesting messages in the weeks ahead.

The Salem Gazette published three Wicca/Witchcraft related stories yesterday, each one revealing different aspects of the practice of Witchcraft in the “Witch City” of Salem, and the different ways that modern Paganism enters the mainstream. The first article concerns a panel discussion taking place tomorrow featuring author/journalist Margot Adler and Pagan activist Jerrie Hildebrand.

“The city of Salem’s No Place for Hate Committee will host a panel discussion on April 12 that will focus on practices within the Wiccan faith and the everyday lifestyles of those practicing paganism. The objective of the event is to inform those in attendance about the religion, lifestyle and culture of those who practice Wicca while also touching on the history and its distinction within the Salem community.”

The talk will be opened by Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, a politician who has enjoyed support from the local Pagan community since she first ran for the office. The event is free and open to the public, and will be held Saturday, April 12 at 7 p.m. on the second floor of Old Town Hall, Derby Square.

The second story concerns the opening of a new Witch-themed shop called “Hex”. The store, co-run by Leanne Marrama and Salem impresario Christian Day, promises an “old-world folk magic” feel and approach.


Christian Day and Leanne Marrama

“A new witch shop in town aims to bring this form of old-world folk magic to Salem’s mostly modern pagan community. Hex: Old World Witchery specializes in voodoo dolls, spellbinding candles and European charms used to ward off evil. Shop owners Christian Day and Leanne Marrama, who both consider themselves clairvoyant, aim not only to supply the community with tools of folk magic, but also to serve as proverbial witch doctors, and practice what they preach…”

The ornately designed store is just the latest project from Christian Day, who has become a commercial force to be reckoned with in Salem. Running a tarot consultancy service, a psychic consultancy service, and a popular Salem festival.

The third and final story is a profile of Lori Bruno, a Strega Witch and folk-magic practitioner, who will be offering her services at Christian Day’s new Hex store.

“At 68, Lori Bruno considers herself a kind of real-life version of the storybook witch strega nona. Upon meeting you for the first time she just might call you little cucinella and invite you over for a cup of tea. She smells of warm clothes that just got out of the dryer, has long dyed black hair tied in a loose knot and wears 13 gold rings on her fingers. From her ears dangle gold ankhs and peace signs. Around her neck hangs an Egyptian scarab beetle. And above her kitchen sink, beside the coffee maker, hangs a large stone pentacle. Bruno comes from a long line of streghe, or Italian witches. Growing up in Brooklyn, her mother, a southern-born Italian, would give psychic readings to her Jewish and Irish neighbors, reading tarot cards or using a glass of water like a crystal ball to tell the future.”

These three stories help illustrate the ways that modern Paganism is slowly entering the mainstream. Through activism and education, through commercial ventures and public events, and through sympathetic journalistic profiles. Modern Paganism has utilized these three overlapping factors to slowly inch us towards acceptance since our emergence. Salem, with its large Pagan population (and Pagan tourist trade), represents a “perfect storm” of these elements.

In addition, the stories show how Witchcraft in Salem encompasses everything from the salacious to the sedate. You have practitioners in pointy hats and yards of black fabric wielding wands and brooms, and you have the more reserved wardrobes and methods of the Witches engaging in discussion with academics and politicians. Both serve a clearly defined purpose inside and outside our communities, and both are equally a part of the modern Pagan movement.