History Repeats Itself: Witches Still Outcasts in Salem

Norman Watne

When you think of Salem, Massachusetts, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Witches? goblins or perhaps ghosts?
This is the time of year when Salem explodes with all kinds of excitement—Halloween!—with parades and parties galore. But let me tell you, there is a part of Salem much darker than any ghost story.
Among the sands of the Salem Willows, I have come across a group of homeless people, most under the age of twenty-five, that seem to use the tenants of witchcraft to band together.
I have noticed that many homeless people seem to find something in common with each other (besides homeless) and use whatever that is to form a tightly-knit bond with each other. After all, we all know that there is safety in numbers, and for those living on the streets of Boston, safety is a major concern.
Within the Salem group there are thirteen members, all of whom are homeless. They call themselves witches. They carry among them a copy of the Witches’ Bible that seems to be worn from heavy use.
Like any other Witches Coven, they perform rituals and are closely bonded with each other. They consider themselves a family—a family doesn’t need a home, to love and respect each other.
Due to the witches’ beliefs and practices, they have learned that they have become targets for violence and ridicule within the local shelters and have decided that it is safer for them to live among themselves in tents wherever they can pitch them out of sight.
After making a promise to them not to disclose their location, I was permitted to the area where they normally camp. Their shelters, consisting mostly of one and two man tents, were situated in a semi-circle, surrounding a small fire pit. There were ritualistic symbols of protection spray-painted in red upon the surrounding trees and their tents.
I was invited to join them for a dinner of chicken which was cooked upon the open fire by a young girl who couldn’t be any older than fifteen years old. She had expressed to me that she had run away from home to escape a father who would abuse her at every given chance, and that even though she now no longer has all the comforts of a proper home, for the first time in her life she feels safe.
I have made several attempts to contact the director of the Salem Mission to try to learn why a city that is so openly acceptable to the history of witchcraft, does not offer protection to homeless people who practice witchcraft, only to have my calls go unanswered.
It also seems to be the general consciousness of the local “witches” that due to the fact that the Halloween season brings tourists to the city in droves, Salem has become a target for those that are homeless so that they can panhandle. It has come to the point where the local shelters are so overcrowded that many homeless people are being turned away, only to seek refuse within the commons or on the streets.
So far this year, the month of October has been extremely cold it is disturbing knowing that in a State like Massachusetts, we have people that are stuck on the streets fighting the elements with no place to go. Many of whom are not as fortunate to have a tent to shelter them, or even a dry, warm blanket for that matter. One does not plan to become homeless, sometimes it just happens.
I was under the impression that the “witch-hunts” were long over, but seeing how the homeless in Salem are being treated, it seems that history is repeating itself. In 1692 witches were considered outcasts, and now in 2009 it seems the same for the homeless. Let’s just be glad that the hanging days are over.
I think that it would be a wonderful gesture for the residents of Salem that see these homeless people on their streets to try to offer some kind of assistance to them. Remember, the homeless are people too, and they need your support.

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