I woke up early today, for a wonder, and started reading Twitter. I no longer keep up with the Christian calendar unless it’s Easter or Christmas. Those were our family traditions. Today is Ash Wednesday. I haven’t celebrated–or been forced to observe–Ash Wednesday since I was in private school.
A lot has happened over the last year, especially since September, to show me that Christianity is not my path. I’m on the outside looking in at people discussing getting ready early today to that they can go to church, and I’m reading tweets from countries in Great Britain where the Ash Wednesday celebrations are a much bigger deal that they are here . . . full of color, traditional costumes, and music.
The only reason I’m writing this post is that the happiness over Ash Wednesday is such a painful contrast to what happened today in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts.
Three women were interrogated on suspicion of witchcraft: Tituba, an enslaved woman, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. And thus began one of the most obscene episodes of insanity in American history: the Salem Witch Trials.
We know now (at least some of us do) that it is 99.999% likely that none of the 19 people executed in Salem for witchcraft were witches. I’m leaving that less than 1% chance open because someone may have been quietly practicing an old belief system. Maybe they escaped the hysteria because they kept to themselves. Maybe they turned their faces from their accused neighbors in order to survive.
It’s 2017 and Salem now exists on tourism fed by false accusations of witchcraft.
When I put away my Mary Magdalene paraphernalia last September and turned back to what had lain dormant in my mind for thirteen years–that’s weird, thirteen years, isn’t it?–I felt sad, lost, forsaken, as if I thought I had a friend but didn’t. That’s how close I was to this heretical version of Christianity. I didn’t mind being a heretic. It felt right to me . . . except that it was causing me quite a bit of anxiety trying to understand it.I remember reading something in the Bible attributed to Jesus regarding divorce and thinking, surely this doesn’t apply to me. I didn’t want to leave. I had to.
It’s all simply too hard to fathom. I was amazed at how easily I slipped back into my old ways and how much pleasure there is in being an adult and not having to disguise my altars or put away my Tarot cards.
Then I remembered where I was. In the South. Surrounded by neighbors who, instead of listening to me when I tried to explain the reason for my lifelong OCD, told me “you know you did something wrong” and told me to pray. Where people wave crucifixes and proclaim “my God is good!” even though their lives, from what they tell me, are not happy.
It’s a pretense. And I have to keep my altars and my Tarot cards and my books in my bedroom, because at least down here people have some scruples about just walking into your bedroom.
Which brings me back to the point of this post: pagans still can’t be as open about their beliefs as Christians. And today is a holy day for many Christians, but it’s also a day of remembrance for 19 people who fell victim to a hysteria much like what is burning across our country today:
Victims of Salem in Order of Execution:
George Jacobs Sr.
Samuel Wardwell Sr.
Several victims died in prison:
Mercy Foster (daughter of Sarah Good, born and died in prison)
This obscene part of American history is more than just a list of names of the accused dead. There were a few people who escaped from the Salem prison. You can start here to learn about the real people behind the names:
I’m going to spend Ash Wednesday in remembrance of all these many people who suffered and died as a result of hysteria, prejudice, and intolerance.
We would do well, when we turn on the news today, to remember that “witch hunt” isn’t just a catchphrase and, under the leadership of someone eager to harm those different from him in skin color, religious belief, and sexuality, it’s already happening again.