Psychic Wars in Salem

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 7, 2007 — 1 Comment

Salem, Massachusetts has been a mecca of witchcraft for decades now, with much of the tourist trade stemming from the infamous “witch trials” that took place at the end of the 17th century. As a result of this witchcraft-related tourist trade it has become a gathering place for modern Pagan Witches, including media darlings like Laurie “official Witch of Salem” Cabot, who opened the first occult/witchcraft shop in the town. Today around 10% of Salem’s population are practicing Witches, the passing of prominent local Witches garners page-one attention, and the nearby city of Lawrence even spawned a Wiccan rock-star.

I explain all this to highlight the importance of the following story. Witchcraft and the trade it brings is big business in Salem, and it should be taken seriously when conflict arises because of it. It seems that a war between psychics is erupting in the town, on one side are resident Witches and other psychic practitioners, on the other are traveling psychics and psychic-fair organizers who come to the town around Halloween to scoop up business. During the end of May Laurie Cabot and other local psychics went to the city council in order to help create a new licensing procedure for psychics in the Salem area.

“City councilors, hoping to crack down on fraudulent fortunetellers, are trying to define exactly how a psychic can become licensed to set up shop in the Witch City. They want candidates to undergo a criminal background check and to either live or run a business in Salem for at least a year. But many psychics want the city to go a step further – make sure they’re actually qualified to predict the future. “It’s become a free-for-all,” said Laurie Cabot, the official witch of Salem. “Anyone who says they’re psychic can come into the city. We don’t even know where they come from. We don’t know their qualifications.” … Councilors are considering requiring pyschics to submit a five-year employment history and their educational background before their license is granted.”

On May 24th, a new policy was put in place that would essentially eliminate traveling psychic fairs (and limit local fair organizers) from legally operating inside Salem.

“City councilors passed new rules for fortunetellers last night, hoping to put an end to what Salem’s official witch has called a psychic “free for all.” Before being granted a license, fortunetellers must undergo a criminal background check and either live in or operate a business in the city for at least a year. Psychics must also wear a police-issued identification badge that displays their name, photo and address.”

A few days later its seems that some “outsiders” weren’t too happy with the law, and made their displeasure plain to two local psychics.

“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.”

Salem psychics are blaming local fair organizers (who bring in out-of-town psychics to work the fairs) for this escalation. A claim that at least one organizer denies.

“Though Christian Day, organizer of one of the October fairs, admitted he had some differences with the store owners, he called the gruesome act “absolutely disgusting” and hoped it wouldn’t cast a spell on his hometown. “As a business owner who draws his dollars from tourism, I don’t want to see this city associated with this,” Day said. Day, who said all his fortune-tellers pass background checks, said store owners’ opposition is misguided because his fair brings business to the city. “OK, they might lose two or three readings to me, but they make thousands of dollars from business I single-handedly bring to this city,” he said. “They should appreciate us, not accuse of murdering raccoons or whatever else they say we do.” As for what the future holds, the City Council will vote again on an ordinance that would boost the number of fortune-telling licenses while requiring background checks.”

Under the current ordinance, a local fair organizer can’t license more than twenty readers total, and can only have ten working at a time. A situation that apparently limits the profits of these ventures. Will we see further threats and intimidation between the warring camps? Will it go beyond a dead raccoon and venture in more hostile territory? It remains to be seen, but money and witchcraft seem to be turning into a turbulent mix in Salem.

Jason Pitzl-Waters