In Old Salem

Being a resident of New England, I have visited Salem numerous times.

Salem, Massachusetts; well-known as the scene of the seventeenth-century witchcraft trials; today, well-known for it’s waterfront attractions, which draw people to visit, shop and dine.

In this place, one can visit the building that housed the trials as well as several other locations that were prominent at that time.

But this place is actually Salem Harbor, which was not the actual residence of most of the principal figures in the witchcraft episode.

They lived in Salem Village, located some miles inland in what is now Danvers, Massachusetts.

This spot has been preserved as well, and it can be visited, although it is less well-known than Salem Harbor.

Here were the homes of the accusers and the accused, as well as their church and cemetery.

It is a place of relative quiet, a bit more conducive to reflection than the hustle and bustle of a major tourist destination.


I have long believed that there were forces of darkness at work in Salem.

But I do not speak of the accused and the murdered.

I speak of the judges and clergy who administered the theocracy that was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

More importantly, I speak of those who made the initial accusations against their neighbors.

For the research of the past decades has exposed the specific hatreds, envies, jealousy and land-grubbing schemes that were at the heart of a movement that put so many people “out of the way” and that put their goods up for the grab.

A shallow veneer, these accusations of witchcraft; accusations that were believed by some, perhaps, but that were hardly the driving force behind this particular version of mass murder.

Egged on by those who seized whatever platform they could lay hands on, whether that platform be a furtive conversation, a discourse, a sermon or a courtroom tirade.

The business had but little to do with witchcraft;  it revolved around matters of greed and matters of grievance.


In my memory, I retrace the steps of my last visit to old Salem, many years ago.  Autumn, and the leaves were falling.  There are old lanes there, along which you may meander; and historical markers, which call you to meditation.  In one place, there is a house that stands on the location of the old home of Rebecca and Francis Nurse; she who fell, he who mourned; both in old age; she, together with her sister, Mary Easty. 

Dear Lord.  In old age.

Would that I had balm to pour upon these grounds.

But what balm would our times provide  for Old Salem?


I ponder these things, as I look at our political climate today.

I consider some of the stances of the fringe side of the right-wing, and wonder how many of them truly believe in the particular issues that they are promoting.

Do the birthers truly believe that there is merit to their cause, and are the tea-party folks really angry at the current administration because of taxes?

Or are these issues simply a veneer that covers a darkness at the heart of a traditionally religious people?

Surely, some do believe in the face value of these issues.

But as for others, perhaps not so much.

We were recently treated to the open admission by a highly-regarded spokesperson for that movement, a confession that he does what he does for the money.

A remarkable admission, for he knew that his words would carry to his followers.

A cynical admission?  Perhaps.  More troubling, perhaps, the implication that he did not care if his followers heard his admission.

For that would mean that he did not think that his followers would be disillusioned by his admission.

Knowing, perhaps, that the overwhelming majority of his followers fully understood that issues were a mere pretense for their actions.

A pretense for…what?  Racism?  Hatred for the opposition, based on who they are?

And how much of the progressive response is an ill-considered automatic response to years of such attacks?

Where be issues now?


Or phantoms?


In Old Salem, there are lessons to be heard, and we have learned some of them.

Diminish superstition.

Separate church and state.

Allow freedom of religion, which protects those practioners of Wicca who visit and live in Salem Harbor in such large numbers, as if their living presence could pour balm on the wounds of the past.

But we have not learned all of the old lessons.

Old Salem bids us remember, stop and regard it, for each time we do, we find ourselves looking into a mirror.

It is a place of reflection.


I pause to pick up a small memento, a pinecone that has fallen near the memorial stone for Rebecca Nurse.  You will not find all of the victims here in this cemetery; in accordance with the dictates of the time, their bodies were removed from the gallows and stuffed in among the rocks and boulders of Gallows Hill, some for all time; some to be secretly reclaimed by family members at night and buried in unmarked graves on the family property.

Wanton abandonment of even the slightest token of humanity.


Unlike some of my Christian sisters and brothers, I do not turn away from the coming celebration of Halloween.

It marks the repudiation and reversal of an ancient horror.

Personally speaking, I think it’s preferable to present a child with a small gift than to haul them onto a sacrificial altar.

Some of my Christian sisters and brothers would turn down an invitation to visit Salem, perhaps because of a desire to avoid witches, or perhaps because of a real sense of shame that so much evil was committed in the name of the one who spoke for love.

Salem is, indeed, a representative of our murder for higher purposes.

Powerful enough on that level.

And something more…

I go back to regard that scene anew, to look into that mirror afresh, and will do so as often as required, for beneath that first level, Old Salem is a representative of something just as dark as murder for a higher purpose.

Old Salem is a representative of our murder for a lower purpose.

It is a representative of our Christian murder from hate.


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                                                                                                                                                              Rob Wright

Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over seventeen years.  In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities.  He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.