The Trials sent a wave of hysteria through the community instilling fear and suspicion, followed by a cull of 19 so-called witches, with over 200 people accused of practicing witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts.
While the fear has faded over the centuries, fascination with that disturbing era in US history continues, and Salem has become a popular visitor destination for people from around the world fascinated by the supernatural arts.
But where do the people of Salem go when they want to enjoy a really good scare? To Derry of course, where over 100,000 people gather each year for Europe’s biggest Halloween festival.
Joining the celebrations this year will be a small group of Salem residents, who have made the journey to Ireland, to explore the connections between the two cities, and their unique affinity with the ancient festival of Samhain.
Mario Marz is a high priest and psychic who runs his own psychic academy, and is one of the group travelling to Derry.
He’s also a member of the famous Cabot Coven – followers of the writer and self-professed witchcraft high priestess Laurie Cabot.
Cabot founded the Cabot Tradition of the Science of Witchcraft and the Witches’ League for Public Awareness to defend the civil rights of witches everywhere.
Known as the ‘Official Witch of Salem’ Cabot is an ordained High Priestess descended from Celtic ancestry, and is also a popular lecturer and teacher who has spoken on spiritual well-being and Celtic Witch mythology at several US Colleges.
Mario is convinced that the coven’s origins extend back to Celtic times, and that Ireland is a deeply spiritual place where the roots of magic and witchcraft lie.
“My wife has family from Derry which is part of the reason for the trip, and we love the city,” he explained.
“We are thrilled to be visiting during Halloween. Obviously we have our own celebrations in Salem, where we have the Haunted Happenings Parade, which draws pretty big crowds, but this is the biggest festival in Europe and we are so looking forward to it.
“It’s an honour to celebrate the feast in Ireland, and there’s something pretty special about Derry.”
Witches these days are no longer bound by gender stereotypes, and Mario is happy to call himself a Witch – or Warlock if preferred. And speaking before he flew in to Dublin – by plane, not broomstick – he was keen to dispel some of the Hocus Pocus about witches as a community.
“Witches feel a great affinity with Ireland and our coven has Celtic roots,” he explained. “We even have our own official tartan due to our links with Scotland as well. I don’t know if people are aware that there are seven vortexes in Ireland, so we are very much drawn to the energy here.
“It’s also incredibly beautiful and we feel very connected to the land in the same way that the Celtic tribes would have been.
“We follow the wheel of the year which follows the harvest in the same way that your ancestors in Ireland would have. We believe we all have responsibilities to the earth, and also to the wider community.”
After centuries of bad press, people may not be aware that witches are extremely active in supporting local charities and helping others, as Mario also revealed. “We’re really passionate about helping others and giving back to the community.
“We help organise food drives and Laurie herself started an annual toy drive every year for local hospitals and those in need for decades now.
“If you think about it, witches have always used their powers to help people, whether through clairvoyance or as midwives or herbologists.
“They were the shamans of their towns and villages. It’s such a shame that their work led to them being demonised over the years and this idea of them being ugly women with warts, so they became outcasts.
“Really the men in these communities did not like the idea of women being in such powerful positions of trust and knowledge where they were helping to treat illnesses and sharing their wisdom.
“Being a witch is more of a calling – we don’t advertise or recruit people. We share in a benevolent belief in grace – whether that’s God or the universe, there’s not much difference.
“Our community is growing and lots of people practice witchcraft but are maybe not doing it publicly. It’s just a return to the old ways, to doing things naturally again.”
So will Mario be donning his pointy hat for Tuesday night’s Carnival Parade? “I’m not averse to a pointy hat,” he laughs.
“But I’m better known for my trademark black fedora. I will probably be wearing all black, and maybe a cape.
“We do sometimes wear ritual robes so I might wear one of those. But I just can’t wait to join all the community groups who have been working with the North West Carnival Initiative for the celebrations.
“Samhain is our New Year, when the veil is at its thinnest between the two worlds, and it’s a time to connect, especially with people we have lost.
“But it’s also a time to connect with family and friends, so we are looking forward to joining with the people in Derry to celebrate and give thanks.”
You can join Mario at the Derry Halloween Carnival Parade on Halloween night from 7pm, followed by a dazzling drone display at 8.15pm and some fabulous fireworks over the Foyle at 8.30pm.
Derry Halloween is organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council with support from Tourism Northern Ireland, BT and The Executive Office.
Find out more about all the events taking place during Derry Halloween at derryhalloween.comTags: