Bewitching History

The other day, I had an unexpected meeting with an older gentleman who told me many stories about his family history, including one story about the Salem Witch Trials that I, long-obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials, had never heard. 

Salem Witch Trials memorial.

Salem Witch Trials memorial.

He said that he had an ancestor who had been tried for witchcraft, convicted, and sentenced to hang—but who had then escaped before she could be executed.  I was stunned!  I thought, “Hmmm, I want to know more about the person who helped her,” then I texted the whole story to my best friend and headed home.  A few hours later, after I had gone to the grocery store and was frantically cooking some faux pho to eat for dinner, my best friend texted me a link to a Wikipedia entry on Mary Bradbury—a woman in 1692 Salem who was tried for witchcraft, convicted, sentenced to death, and then escaped before she could be executed.  So it’s true!

As we’ve come closer and closer to Halloween, witchy happenings and black cats have been in the news, Hocus Pocus has been playing nonstop on cable television, and pop culture recommendations have veered toward the spooky or paranormal.  In short, this has always been my favorite time of the year because both fictional and nonfictional manifestations of witchcraft fascinate me.  In recent months, a witchcraft museum opened in Cleveland – the Buckland Gallery of Witchcraft and Magick – providing a more permanent, more public home for a collection that’s been in development for many years.  I’ve been dying to go since I first read an article about it a couple weeks ago.

When I logged into the Ohio Digital Library to put a hold on the new John Green book (17 holds per each of 17 copies – who says kids don’t read…), they recommended three or four serious books on modern Wicca and Witchcraft for my reading pleasure.  One of them, Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, was written by Raymond Buckland, the man whose collection forms the basis of the new museum in Cleveland.  The other authors also sound familiar to me from years of reading about witchcraft and paganism in history and practice.

This is all to say – it’s important to me that history include the dark corners and address subjects that blur the line between fact and fiction.  It’s important to me that museums present topics that require a leap of faith on the part of visitors who need to trust the institution to give them information.  Whether or not Halloween is right around the corner.