Above:Warlocks Brian Cain, left, and Christian Day practice the religion of witchcraft. Here they celebrate their wedding at Hammond Castle. COURTESY PHOTO
By Shelley A. Sackett / firstname.lastname@example.org
For practicing Warlocks Christian Day and Brian Cain, Salem’s nickname, “Witch City,” is more than a marketing slogan and Halloween is more than a retail second Christmas.
“Witchcraft is one of the oldest spiritual paths that occurs in cultures throughout the world,” explained Day from the home he shares with Cain in New Orleans. “It’s a time when spirits walk among us. It’s a time when we remember those who have gone before who touched our lives in some way.”
Both Day and Cain stress that witchcraft is a religious faith, a belief system that includes magic, clairvoyance, and male and female deities. “We all see God in different images,” said Cain, who read the book “Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft” as a 15-year-old interested in the occult. The book was an eye-opener for the teen, who already accepted witchcraft as a source of magic. “It was a new way of looking at God and brought witchcraft into my life as a religion,” he said.
Born in Beverly to a “very Catholic, Democrat, Massachusetts family,” Day moved to Salem at age 4 and became a practicing witch at 18 after discovering Tarot cards the year before. Although his mother was “a little freaked out” at her son’s embracing witchcraft, his family understood that he was not doing anything harmful. Nonetheless, “people in our family will needle anybody about anything,” Day said with a chuckle.
After a traditional career in advertising at the prestigious Arnold firm, Day decided to leave that world in his 30s and practice witchcraft full-time in Salem.
Day became aware of a movement in the city that was trying to rid Salem of its witch identity. In 2003, Destination Salem, the city’s official Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, wouldn’t allow Day to join. “They said we didn’t fit their mission statement which, at the time, was devoted solely to ‘arts and culture,'” Day explained. This potential disenfranchisement was the impetus for his founding Festival of the Dead in 2003.
[When Kim Driscoll became Mayor in 2005, Day did join Destination Salem, ending up on the Board of Directors in 2010, a post he left after relocating to New Orleans.]
“Festival of the Dead was created to bring back the concept that Halloween is a sacred time of the year. We don’t want to get rid of the fun of Halloween. But we also want to show it has a spiritual side and that Salem has room for witches and their magic. There’s a place at the table for the magical community of Salem,” Day said.
During the month of October, the Festival hosts the Annual Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo at Museum Place Mall at 176 Essex St., Salem. Besides presenting an emporium of “magical gifts”, those interested can have a Tarot card reading, a crystal ball scrying or a private visit with a medium. Nearby, Enchanted Alley “magical marketplace” is chockfull of vendors selling crystals, jewelry, spell kits, voodoo dolls and more.
There are also more serious ticketed events such as “Hekate: Unveiling the Queen of the Dead,” “Speaking to the Dead with Laurie Cabot,” “The Horned God: Lord of Death and Resurrection with Brian Cain” and of course, the “Official Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball” on Oct. 31, featuring the Dragon Ritual Drummers and old-fashioned rituals and magic.
Day and Cain, who met on Facebook over a witchcraft discussion and then connected in New Orleans in person and “really hit it off,” were married at Hammond Castle in Gloucester on Nov. 16, 2014, a night sacred to the Witch Goddess Hekate. The castle was also the location of a music video for the song “Voodoo” by the band Godsmack; the video featured Salem’s Official Witch Laurie Cabot.
The couple owns two witchcraft shops in Salem, Hex and Omen. Day believes stores like theirs help people to understand what witchcraft is and to reconnect to their spirituality. He compares customers who buy a lucky charm or light a wish candle to lapsed Catholics who might visit Vatican City and look up at the Sistine Chapel and feel closer to God.
“They don’t necessarily want to become a priest or a nun, but they want to feel that connection. This is what goes on in Salem,” he said.
“People coming to Salem and going into a witch shop — most of them aren’t witches and they don’t want to be witches. What they want is to believe in magic again,” Day added.
Both Day and Cain turn serious when asked what their favorite Festival of the Dead event is and answer almost in unison: The Dumb Supper: Dinner with the Dead (so named because no one may speak throughout the event). “This is really the most spiritual event we have,” Cain explained. “It’s a time when we connect to our loved ones who have passed on and it’s a very specific experience.”
Day said his favorite thing about the Dumb Supper is that every year they get “the husbands,” those men dragged to the event by their wives. Although they weren’t interested in attending, after the evening they invariably approach Day and Cain with stories about seeing or touching their loved ones and ask the same question: “How is that possible?”
“These are the things that really inspire me. If someone goes in expecting nothing and then they get something, it so reinforces the idea of the spiritual world. It’s the most sacred thing a witch can do,” Day said. “Salem is the place to go if you want to believe in magic again.”
For more information, visit festivalofthedead.com.