Monthly Archives: March 2012
Laurie Cabot, Samhain in Salem, and Hunting Pheasant
by Krista Schwimmer
We drove and drove in the dark, rain falling lightly. We drove past New Brunswick “Elvis”, a male dummy bicycling by a gas station that once scared Michael when he was taking a whiz beside the road. We reached the border around 2 am, and managed to get through without too much of a problem, largely due to my husband’s “Bat Hearing.” He said he has always had this ability, to hear conversations clearly that normal people cannot hear. When the immigration officers were in the back, he could hear them conversing about whether or not they should search our car, largely because we did not have a fixed time-frame for our return. When I told Michael I was worried they would make us take everything out of our car, he said he knew they wouldn’t. He could hear them talking about it and deciding against it. Sure enough, when the officers returned, they told us we were free to go. We had nothing to hide — I was simply tired and wanted to be on our way.
After 16 hours of driving, we arrived in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. We were planning on staying there with Don and Kathy,a married couple Michael had known for some time. From Sturbridge, it was only an hour and a half from Salem. We planned on visiting there, so it was perfect.
Nobody was home. A note on the door told us someone would soon be back. We took out our little lawn chairs and relaxed a bit in the sun. Kathy soon arrived and showed us to our room. It felt good to lie down on a proper bed, large enough for the both of us after crashing on our friend, Shane’s couch for the past three months.
The next day, Michael and I drove to Salem to attend this witch town’s famous celebration of Samhain. We arrived midafternoon; so, we decided to go over to Crow Haven. At that time, Laurie Cabot, the Official Witch of Salem, still owned that store. She happened to be there signing her new book, “The Witch In Every Woman”, which I promptly had her sign. Michael decided on having her other book, “The Power of the Witch,” signed. I had wanted to meet her so it was a wonderful synchronicity. She was dressed in her robes and had a spiral painted on her left check that day. When I told her how much I enjoyed the scientific part of her book, she replied that she had put a lot of her soul in that book. She immediately gave credit to her elders, too, saying she had merely added to what her elders had taught her. She also said she felt this part of witchcraft was very important. I was quite impressed with her sincerity and graciousness.
As evening approached, we made our way to Gallows Hill for the annual Samhain ritual. This was my second year in a row visiting Salem at this time. Just last year, Michael had organized a group of our friends to visit together. It was a wonderful trip. We managed to have time for both historical and theatrical events. We visited the Farmstead of Rebecca Nurse, one of the famous, elderly women accused and executed for witchcraft in the late 1600’s. We also attended a dramatization of Bridget Bishop’s witch trial, where everyone in the audience got to vote on whether she should or should not hang for witchcraft. That year, the audience voted against her execution by a single vote — so we felt our presence had purpose!
On the way over to Gallow’s Hill, Michael and I met another couple dressed in lovely capes who were from Ohio and also recently married. When we arrived, many others wearing robes, capes, or costumes were already there. We made our way to the North part of the circle just in time. The Temple of the Nine Wells, the coven performing the ritual this year, had carved all the rune signs on pumpkins, lit them, and placed them around the perimeter of the circle. There was also a beautiful arch decorated with cornhusks, which all of us danced through, hand to hand, weaving a spiral dance. Just as the decorations promised, this particular Samhain ritual turned out to be very moving. During the meditative part of the ceremony, where each person individual thought of his or her ancestors who had died, I was completely surprised by the spirit of Clark, one of my favorite childhood dogs. We had given him away when we moved to Ireland as my parents thought the quaranteen would have been too much for him. None of us had wanted to do this — he was one of those remarkable, sensitive, loving dogs. So, I was quite thrilled to feel him bound to me in spirit form.
After the ritual was over, all of us participated in the Witches’ Commemorative Candlelight Walk. We held our lit candles and lanterns, and respectfully made our way back to the heart of Salem. This was a walk to remember those women and men who died in the witch hysteria of 1692.
On Sunday, Michael and I returned to Salem one more time. I had decided to make a dream pillow to give to Laurie as a thank you for all that she had done to change the public’s perception of witches to a more positive light. Laurie had been one of the first witches to come out of the broom closet so to speak, during a time when it was actually dangerous for men and women to do this. A dramatic figure, she was known for wearing her witch garb publicly, and for speaking out for religious injustices perpetrated against other witches.
Michael left me at Crow Haven once more to give it to her by myself. I found her sitting in the back, signing books again, across from a great case filled with varying sized crystal balls. I gave her the pillow, made from fabric with an owl on it, and filled with lavendar, mugwart, sandalwood, and a crow feather I had found, explaining it was a gift to thank her for all she has given. She squeezed the pillow, smelled it, and then opened her arms to embrace me. She said that Owl was one of her totems, too, and that they had even come to her in the daytime. I was glad I had trusted my intuition and picked the Owl.
One of the goals of our trip was to find places to do some tarot readings as we traveled. So, of course, we inquired in Salem. We had no luck at all — one store owner was downright rude, saying how she wasn’t sure she liked our energy. Michael did have some luck, however, while sitting in a cafe one afternoon. Seeing his tarot cards, a woman asked if he could do a reading for her — he agreed, saying she could just pay with a coffee. She liked the reading enough to buy coffee for us both and give us a $20. On top of it all, she was from California and gave us some ideas of places we could go to in the Santa Cruz area.
Our adventures in Massuchusetts extended to Sturbridge as well. Michael’s friend, Don had two Brittany dogs which he would take pheasant hunting in a private range stocked with these birds. I had never been hunting before, but really wanted to see what it was like. Don gladly took both of us. We went to a wooded area where one of his dogs immediately began to find the bird’s scent. Whenever I go into nature, I truly lose track of time — so I don’t remember how long it took to actually flush out a bird. Eventually, she did. The bird shot up into the air, just long enough for Don to shoot it. It happened so quickly, that I barely had time to register it.
Oddly, I felt at ease with the whole process. The Brittany was truly happy to be hunting; the pheasant was killed quickly and cleanly; and, on top of it all, Kathy prepared and cooked several of the birds that night for supper. Hunting for them was not for fun; it was for food.
Our next stop was Woodstock, New York. We had decided on a southern route to California to avoid the cold as much as possible since we would be camping once we left New York. Woodstock was my spiritual stomping ground until I moved to Nova Scotia. My teacher, Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, was and still is the Abbot of this monastery. I had often gone there through my 20’s and early 30’s to participate in lectures, and retreats. In the 90’s, too, I had actually lived right in town, working at a lovely, spiritual bookstore called Mirabai Books.
While in Woodstock, we stayed with a dear friend, Lainey, and her family. Lainey, was the first person to introduce me to the Medicine Cards, as well as to one of my main animal totems, crow. Although she would probably never call herself a teacher, to this day I consider her one of my spiritual mothers, having learned much from Lainey through the making and waking of masks. There, we visited, did readings for her and her family, and met their new puppy, Namu. Before we left, she and her husband gave us $100, a big, plump, blue sleeping bag, and a road atlas — all of which proved invaluable.
On November 10th, Michael & I began the truly unknown part of our journey. Between New York and California, we had no friends. We still hoped to busker along the way. Perhaps that’s why we thought $600 would be enough to cover our expenses. It was a time, luckily, when gas was just around $1.00 a gallon. We left New York in high spirits. More adventures lay ahead for us — some not so pleasant — but though we were not physically prepared, we were mentally ready, open and receptive to the road ahead.