Which Witch is Which?

It is not always clear why Salem is known around the world as the “Witch City”. The connection can clearly by attributed to the Trials of 1692, but the popularity of works like Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, The Crucible and the “Salem Saga” episodes of Bewitched, which aired in the 1970s, along with the growth of Witchcraft as a Pagan religion are also contributing factors.

Witch Dungeon Museum. Photo by Jared Charney.

In 1692 hundreds of innocent people in and around Salem were accused of practicing witchcraft. 19 men and women were executed by hanging; one man was pressed to death. These tragic events served as the catalyst for the American justice system, and today you can learn more about the Salem Witch Trials at museums and attractions, historic homes, and on tours.

During the Cold War in the 1950s, author Arthur Miller used the Trials as an allegory for the blacklisting of celebrities and politicians by the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Social “witch hunts,” accusations of innocent people without evidence, continue to happen around the world and solidify the Salem Witch Trials as a relevant American story worth re-telling.

Bewitched statue in Lappin Park.

Did the producers of Bewitched realize the degree to which their show would dilute the message of the Witch Trials by infusing Salem into pop culture? Local lore tells us that a studio fire in California required some creative thinking to ensure their production schedule was met. Bewitched was one of many shows that would tap into the “Salem witch” theme, including Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, Charmed, Salem, Scooby Doo, and The Simpsons. And notably for guests visiting our historic downtown today, Salem was the setting of the popular Disney film, Hocus Pocus.

The green-faced witch, born of the Wizard of Oz in 1939 doesn’t have direct ties to Salem but she may be the connection to Halloween. The Wicked Witch of the West was a product of Technicolor. Today she has been reinterpreted as Elphaba in the musical Wicked. It is important to recognize the green-faced witch as a stereotype created by a fictional character that does not resonate with or represent modern-day Witches, who practice the very peaceful earth-based religions called Witchcraft and Wicca.

Not all Wiccans are Witches and not all Witches practice Wicca. Wicca and Witchcraft are forms of Paganism that worship the divine in nature. This ancient tradition is not evil and does not involve worshiping Satan. A variety of religions and spiritual practices can be found in modern day Salem, including but not limited to Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and more. Our community promotes the ideas of human rights and tolerance, as reflected in the words on the Witch Trials Memorial.

Modern Witches, fictional Witches, a history of people being accused as Witches – all of these things co-exist in Salem. It is no wonder this charming seaport is recognized wherever you go as “The Witch City”.