Witches and Whales

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 14 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

Before October 2021, I believed that visiting Salem, Massachusetts in October was a bucket list experience that everyone should have in a lifetime. I’ve revised my position: if I were to visit Salem again, I would not go in October – it’s far too crowded! Perhaps I might go on the 13th of a month instead, for superstition’s sake. The 13th: a jinxed number, paranoid with black-cloud cover and omens.

Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s gave rise to one of the darkest periods of New England’s history – an era that defined the concept of witch hunts that still take place today. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is an allegory that uses the Salem Witch Trials to illustrate its similarities to McCarthyism – and portrays how ridiculous accusations can result in people being “black listed” with no concrete evidence, often so illogically and outrageously that it shakes the rest of us to the core. Social media perpetuates the whole avalanche of mob mentality that can ruin innocent peoples’ lives.  

A gentle whale plays off the coast of New England, October 2021

Due east of Salem in the the Atlantic Ocean, the hunt for other innocent creatures was also happening, as Herman Melville describes in his iconic literary masterpiece Moby Dick (Nathaniel Philbrick describes the true events inspiring Melville’s novel in his book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex). If we were to walk back into Biblical times and cast an injustice-sweeping net across the globe and drag it through history, our fishnet would rip wide open with the ugly gut-wrenching truths that the most innocent among us have been persecuted since the dawn of time, even while singing songs of hope and praise from chambers of anguish. 

Tourist dressed as a witch on the streets of Salem, MA, October 2021

In the Salem Witch Museum, I read the names of those accused of witchcraft and their fate in the hands of swift Puritan judgment. From the deck of a tour boat in Gloucester, I admired the peace of gentle whales in the Atlantic Ocean, wondering how likely it might have been that their very own great grandparents were victims of Ahabs aboard Pequods. And I pondered the tremendous responsibility I have to be a vessel of light in a dark, unfair world -to journey inward to understand a person, a situation, an event – rather than to judge, to jump to conclusions, to throw jabs or join the fray.  

Journeys create moments of deep introspection like these that help us see the world and seek our place and purpose in it.

The streets of Salem are filled with those dressed as witches
A tender scene, filled with such irony in the history of this place: a man is working with this service dog and this blind woman on the streets of Salem. They were counting steps and learning commands. I sat eating a sandwich in an outdoor cafe, considering the stark differences between vision and discernment, between perception and reality.

Psalm 40:11

Take not away your gentle mercies from me, O Lord; let your mercy and your faith keep me safe for ever.

7 Replies to “Witches and Whales”

  1. Kim, I went to Salem some years ago. It IS a place where the weight of mob mentality weighs heavy – and we needn’t think we have outgrown it or have become too sophisticated for it, and we have no further to look for a reality check than social media, exactly as you said. On a lighter note, I enjoyed seeing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home. What I didn’t do and absolutely must: go whale-watching! With gorgeous lines and searing, haunting truths, you point to the scope of injustices throughout time – witch-hunts, whale-hunts, enslavement – and the grave responsibility to “be a vessel of light in a dark unfair, world” – as I write, thinking of the gentle, peaceful whales being attacked, Ukraine comes to mind. So many injustices, and so vast.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never been to Salem, but have been fascinated with the witch hunts. The kind of fascination that aligns with horror. This horror born out of fear.
    Your journey of thought provides much food for thought. A magnificently woven post with literary and personal reflections. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We took a brief sojourn into Salem in October, 2021 but didn’t stay long. The crowds amid the pandemic were too overwhelming, but we did visit the Peabody Essex museum where they were having a retrospective in the trials. I taught The Crucible often. A major project included research and presentations in various “witch trials” throughout history. It would be interesting to consider what is not a WT but gets called one.

    We went whale watching in Maui last April and chose a tour w/ an ecological mission. It was the end of whale season, but we did see some whales. We have a whale watching tour planned this summer during our Iceland trip. I really should read Moby Dick before going.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, the juxtaposition between whales (calm, innocent, unawares), and the atrocities of the witch trials (which, more and more seems to be coming out about how horrific it was), creates this beautiful weave of a story. The fact you noted and pointed out these contrasts makes it an enjoyable read.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for taking me along. I just finished listening to Moby Dick audio book. Humans think only about themselves. It was heart rending reading about the killing of whales. And so many innocent women stoned to death because they were thought to be witches.

    Liked by 1 person

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