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Are witches real? Of course they are. They walk among us. They just don’t wear pointy hats or carry brooms. But history has not been kind, given old wives tales and such. Take WGN America’s 2014-15 TV series, Salem, which offers its fictional and bizarre version of what caused the horrific Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, and life in the village. 

Terrible things occur there, not the least of which are gruesome tortures, unPuritan-like sex, and the odious goings on with the Witches who rule the town and the trials. They even bear the real names of Salem’s most famous victims. It’s not as if what really happened wasn’t bad enough.

The Salem witch trials, a true horror story in America’s past, was fueled by the Puritan’s belief in and fear of Satan and witchcraft, and ultimately by politics and greed. The volume of accusations and convictions generated one of the most infamous examples of mass hysteria in American history and the evil it perpetrated.

It’s hard to believe the witch hunt was sparked by two young girls, ages nine and 12, who behaved strangely after playing a fortune-telling game, which was regarded as sinful and strictly forbidden. A local doctor determined it was due to witchcraft because he couldn’t find another cause. To justify their behavior, the girls accused three women of bewitching them, which set off a chain of hysteria.

As a result, in this village of 600 people, 200 were accused of witchcraft, 19 were hanged and four died in prison awaiting trial. And Giles Corey, who refused to plead guilty or innocent, was covered with increased amounts of heavy stones until he was literally pressed to death. Thus the term, “pressed for an answer.” 

True fact: There were no witches in Salem. But the terrible events have provided endless fodder for writers and spawned a litany of Hollywood films, giving rise to both good and bad perceptions of witches and their Craft. Did you know Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was written as an allegory for Senator Joe McCarthy’s inconceivable anti-Communist witch hunts in the 1950s? Thank goodness we have our Disney witches. But we digress.

What is a witch? According to the Colorado Springs Witchcraft Society, “A witch is a person who has a firm understanding of the principles of the Craft, has been trained in the meaning and purpose of ritual, and the performance of ritual and magick.”

Witches worship Satan. That would be No. He does not exist in their belief system. They don’t practice black magic or perform sacrifices. All witches are Pagans, including Wiccans. Both are Earth-centered religions based on a reverence for nature. There were no Pagans in Salem

All Witches belong to covens. Many do, but others also go it alone as Solitaries. A coven is a gathering of witches who come together for spiritual growth and enlightenment, and membership is taken seriously. There were no covens in Salem.

All witches are female. No again. There are male witches, but they often refer to themselves as wizards. In Salem, the accused were mostly women.

Witches cast evil spells. In contemporary culture, a witch’s spell is really a powerful prayer for something positive. There is no hocus pocus.

On Halloween in 2001, Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift issued an official apology for the Salem trials, and a resolution proclaiming that all the accused were indeed innocent. 

Better late than never. Blessed be.