Festival of the Dead in Salem, Massachusetts
 

Shawn and Christian were featured in Christine Wicker's HarperCollins book Not in Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic Is Transforming America. This delightful author included the following article on her Web site as a supplement to her book.

Shawn the Witch and the Salem Way Witches
By Christine Wicker
Web supplement to book Not in Kansas Anymore, October, 2005

Halloween was the night of the Official Salem Witches Ball. Exactly which official had declared it official, no one knew. It hadn't been the mayor. It also hadn't been the business leaders who owned Salem's many haunted houses and were certain to make a killing, metaphorically speaking, whether there was a ball or not. Neither had it been the leading Wiccans in town many of whom own the magic shops that line the streets of old town. They were scandalized by the idea that an upstart group of young witches, basically nobodies who own hardly anything, was charging $175 for the privilege of partying with witches.

These witches were calling their party Dante's Inferno, which was altogether out of order for a modern witch. Witches don't believe in hell and don't joke about it either. These young witches were the kind of people who gave Wicca a bad name, the older more established witches said. They were profiteers who used the religion.

The young witches, who had effrontery enough to take the name of the city itself, called themselves The Salem Way Witches and had been making money all week with their Festival of the Dead. They said they were going to celebrate death. They were going to laugh at it, cozy up to it, have a high old time with it.

They brought Mistress Tracy, Queen of the Vampires, in from New Hampshire to throw her annual Vampires and Victims Ball. They sponsored a Dumb Supper, where no one but the dead was allowed to speak. They brought a blonde who calls herself Bloody Mary in from New Orleans to do a voodoo workshop. Early in the week they held a psychic fair. Thousands of people lined up to pay $30 for 15 minutes with a stranger shuffling a deck of Tarot cards. After the fair closed, Shawn Poirier, the raven-eyed, long-haired leader of the coven threw off his cape and began to stride about the room in his worn buccaneer's boots and black clothes, singing like a pirate about to count his money. He was about to count his money, and it was something to sing about.

I laughed to watch their joy, unholy joy, some would say. Salem's witches go a little crazy every October as the month moves toward Halloween, which they call Samhain, pronounced sow-en, and consider their holiest holiday. One told me that it was the nearness of the spirits that made the witches stranger than usual. She could feel souls all around, flitting through the trees, flickering out of the jack-o-lanterns' eyes. "It's almost as though they're jealous of us for being still alive," she said. Shawn felt it, too. "The veil is thin," he told me one late September night when the season of the witch was just beginning. "Strangers are among us."

Maybe it was the spirits that spurred the Salem witches to such heights of competition and drama every October. Maybe it was the money. Or maybe it was the fame. "Most of these people who are so unhappy about what Shawn is doing are just mad because they didn't think of it first," said one wry witch who's been watching Salem's witchie shenanigans for some years.

Passions run high in Salem's magical community, it seems. But in October the whole world is watching. The ABC morning show was there. So was Fox. The Travel Channel was there. So were New Witches Magazine and the Boston Globe. Good Housekeeping had written a story about Witch City in its October issue. Each street corner seemed host to a graduate student with a video camera. Everybody and their granny were shooting some kind of documentary about the magical people.

For Shawn Poirier it was fame that mattered most. He liked the money. Shawn never apologizes for liking money. "Witches have always charged for what they do," he said. It was, in fact, his spirit guide, a Babylonian courtesan named Lady A, who told him to charge so much for Festival of the Dead events. He never would have believed anyone would cough up $175 just to dance at the witches' ball. But Lady A told him, "They'll pay."

Witchery was Shawn's only business, which is the case for a lot of Salem witches. October is an important month income-wise. But fame was more important to him than money, eternally important.

"I'm already a legend," he said. "I'm known as one of the witches of Salem. People will remember me." But he wants more. With enough fame his spirit could stay earthbound for a hundred years, maybe a thousand, he told me late one night as we drove through the chilly countryside with the wind whipping through the car. Shawn kept the windows down because the spirits were flying, and he wanted to hear them whispering through the car. His spirit would continue to have power and influence as long as anyone remembered him, he told me. That's why he wanted lots of people to be touched by his magic. "I want to make Salem the Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the whole country," he said.



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