19 1/2 N Washington Square
H/O: 10am-5pm; 10am-7pm July and August
Having lived in Boston, MA as a transplant (i’m originally from rural Illinois) for nearly three years, i’ve been to Salem a handful of times. The last time I went to Salem was mid-August of this year, I went with a friend and we decided we would check out some of the more touristy events in the area. This landed us at the Salem Night Tour (which you can read my review of, here), a number of little specialty magick shops (I’ll be listing my four favorites here in the future), and finally at the notorious Salem Witch Museum. The Witch Museum is at the intersection of Brown St, Washington Sq, and Hawthorne Blvd and down the street from the Hawthorne Hotel. If traveling down Hawthorne Blvd, you run right into the museum directly in front of you. There is a statue of Roger Conant [The founder of Salem,MA], towering to the left of the intersection and just behind him you’ll see the huge faux gothic exterior that houses the Witch Museum.
The Museum operates on a group basis, so upon entering the lobby and paying your entry fare ($9.50 for adults) you’ll have to wait for the next installment of the show.
There are no photos permitted within the museum and you’ll be given a small sticker (of a specific color which becomes important in the second installment) upon paying.
The admission sticker is important to demonstrate that you’ve payed, but also because the second room is too small to contain the number of people that the first room can hold. Thus, they break you into two groups based on the colors used for this time slot. The sticker can also get you discounts at different shops and venues in Salem, which you can pick up a flyer on your way out that explores this further.
The First Room: History
***Due to the inability to take photos within the museum, the photos present in this section are not my own. They have been credited.***
This room is very low lit and you walk up a small section of stairs to the (atrium? Open space?) full of benches. There is a glowing red disc in the center of the room, surrounded by the benches. This disc contains the names of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Upon entering you can see that the entire room is surrounded by life size figures stationed in diorama type stage scenes that light up and correspond with the voice over’s re-telling of the Trials in 1692. It begins with Lucifer’s eyes lighting up red as the lights go down low. The dramatic voice over begins with some of the background of Ann Putnam Jr. and some of the other girls directly accountable for the hysteria. It briefly mentions some of the potential social implications (being young girls they were discouraged from playing, for example), and the implied depression of Ann Putnam’s mother. The inclusion of such background information did a really successful job of setting up the series of events. Each stage lights up at an individual interval and depicts a specific scene (including John Proctor behind bars and Tituba singing in a cell). They go through the trials and the key individuals involved, culminating in the final hangings.
The Second Room: Evolving Perceptions
Upon the conclusion of the voice over, the lights come back on and you are instructed to exit through the left stairwell or the right- depending on what color your admission sticker is. This takes you to the second room, the ‘Evolving Perceptions‘ room. This room consists of three stages with voice over buttons provided on each display. You will initially be brought to a wall consisting of various ‘witch’ imagery, from the witches of Wizard of Oz and mideval woodcuts to Hocus Pocus and the like. Your guide will discuss a little bit about the historical presentation and social identity of witches. The first stage will light up and discuss the interlocking history of witches and midwifery. There will be a small display of dried herbs directly across from the Celtic Midwife, and each herb is labelled. The next interactive display is of a traditionally Hollywood green warty witch riding a broom. The voice over begins with a cackle and talks a bit about how Hollywood perceptions have helped to cultivate a ‘certain’ view of witches. To the right of this display is a timeline which carries you into the next display. This time line and final wall depict various atrocities that can also be credited as dealing either with witches or with groups of people that are used as scapegoats out of fear. The third and final display involves the Wiccan ‘Wheel of the Year’ and seeks to educate the viewer about the existence of modern day witches and the docile earth loving natures of some paths.
I enjoyed the first room a lot because I felt that placing the audience in the center and having the stage wrap around them is an interesting way of keeping the experience interactive. Especially considering that these are inanimate figures, but forcing your audience to move or at the very least crane his or her neck in order to get the full experience is a successful tool of engagement.
The second room, while I understood it’s intentions, I felt was more problematic. I thought it was positive that they mentioned the history of midwives and witches as overlapping, and that they sought to provide information about modern witches.
However, this display involves some conflicting information which could be more harmful than good in the end.
First off, due to the presentation of the Wiccan ‘Wheel of the Year’ and the mention of, “We are Wiccans…” it’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to touch upon Wiccans. Except, Wiccans are a very specific type of Witch and not all witches are Wiccan (to be completely honest i’ve met very few who are). Problems: The robes are more druid influenced, the staff he is holding has what appear to be runes depicted on it, and they mention “Native beliefs” and ‘Shamans’ in a really offhanded manner.
It’s not that you can’t be Wiccan and utilize Druidic motifs, especially considering how close their foundations are Geographically. However, they are not the same path.
Utilizing the term, ‘native beliefs’, is really really vague and by not expanding on that it becomes a meaningless phrase. Not to mention that the words ‘Shamans’, ‘Native beliefs’ have nothing to do with ANY form of Wicca and seem to be only used as buzzwords.
I think it’s problematic to paint modern witches as being Wiccan, especially considering that yes, Wicca deals with nature and the idea of a dual God and Goddess systematic structure. But not all paths do, because not everyone who identifies as a witch is automatically a follower of nature in a seemingly docile way. There are plenty of combinations of paths and some branch far enough out to fall closer to things like Chaos magick, Aleister Crowley, and ‘Hex magick’ than your herbalist next door. I think it’s somewhat of a problem to paint witches as being unintentionally two dimensional, yes they can be healers and herbalists, but they can also be practitioners of much darker things.
That being said, I understand the necessity to discuss modern witches as being ‘normal’ and ‘docile’ and focusing only on the more ‘mothering’ characteristics/perceptions. Especially considering how difficult it is for witches to be accepted in certain areas of America, for example. It’s just also potentially problematic to paint them this way, partially because you’re stripping the idea of the ‘powerful female’ (which is what witches have been throughout history, and more often than not the women who have been victimized were women who had or were at risk of gaining power and status), and stuffing it into the ‘mothering’, ‘nurturing’, ‘docile’ category which is much less unsettling and only a half truth.
A woman can be both, powerful and nurturing and therefore, so can a witch.