Text and Picture by - Udita Bagchi
Relishing a weekend getaway in a riveting account of the legendary witchcraft in the city of the Witches drove me into an extraordinary and fascinating journey across time. Far from the mundanity, a 25-minute ride on the commuter rail from Boston’s North Station took me to the historic city of Salem on the Atlantic Coast of New England. New England is a region consisting of the six Northeastern states of United States-Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The story began when something so profoundly wonderful embodied me to experience a piece of Salem’s history. The house, which is believed to have been Salem’s oldest house, also America’s oldest home known by ‘The Pickering House’, located at 18 Broad Street, Salem, Massachusetts-home to a single family for over three and a half centuries; housed me in a captivating weekend abode. John Pickering, a carpenter from Coventry, England and his wife Elizabeth, built the house in the year 1651. Originally, the house was a two-room homestead encompassing what are today the Chestnut Street and the McIntire District. ‘The Pickering House’ was home to Colonel Timothy Pickering, one of the country’s great patriots: George Washington’s Quartermaster General, Postmaster General, Secretary of War, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, Congressman and more. Timothy Pickering’s son, John VI, was the world’s foremost linguist and a founder of Chestnut Street’s historic Hamilton Hall. I stood gaping in awe, appreciating the incredible delight. The Gothic Architectural marvels of the front facade and the unique neatness of the interiors with wooden floors and decorative finials mesmerized me in its grandeur. The distinctive fence encloses the two hundred year old English Oaks, the European Larch and the Tulip trees.
A walk around the 16th century dining room alcove out onto the living space with the historic fireplace and the oval-lidded roaster reminds the tourists of the 300 years of history.
Extending my stroll across ‘The Pickering House’ made me admire more and more. While exploring the library, the original room in the house, I saw a beautiful dinner invitation note written in cursive handwriting by President George Washington to Timothy Pickering and his wife, Rebecca. Further ahead, I passed through the middle of the main chimney of the house.
The utterly delicious experience of tasting creamy chowder embarked the beginning of my stay at ‘The Pickering House’. Chowder is a seafood or vegetable stew, often served with milk or cream and is mostly eaten with saltine crackers.
The city of Salem is a walkers delight with small and pretty lanes entwined all along the maritime Atlantic brimming with flotillas, far and near the coastline.
My hosts, Tim and Linda at ‘The Pickering House’ guided and provided me with few street maps. Tim is an accomplished investment banker, a philanthropist and a political critic. On the other hand, Linda is a versatile homemaker, an outstanding travel writer and the treasurer of ‘The Pickering House’ foundation. As I am writing this anecdote, I remember how Tim and Linda converted the bland and unadventurous taste of raw oysters into a mouth-watering spicy delicacy for me. An ordeal turned memento of my visit.
I walked along the roadway, between Cambridge and Chestnut Streets; yesteryear homes beautifully preserved and protected marked the civilizations of the town’s antiquity.
My destination was well off the traveller’s trails. Salem’s Red Line – or Heritage Trail – exists to guide visitors between historic sites and destinations. The free 27-minute film ‘Where past is present’, at the National Park Service Salem Regional Visitor Center, 2 New Liberty Street, was a perfect appealing start. I continued west onto Essex Street.
Without exploring the Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex Street, the oldest continually operated museum in the country, the visit to Salem was incomplete. The museum houses more than 1.8 million exceptional collections of art and culture from around the world, including Asian art, Asian export art, Maritime art, Native American art, as well as changing exhibits and programming. It is among the 20 largest U.S. art museums and features a 200- year-old, 16-bedroom house from China.
The reason to embark upon an itinerary, which was far from witnessing snow-capped mountains, waterfalls or breathtaking natural beauty ideals, was a result of a recurring thought to experience a completely different craft of finest minds on Earth. The time-honored spirit of the ‘Craft’ magnetized me to take a look at it. Before I unravel the mystery, let me facilitate this narration by a personal philosophy of mine. How does it feel when the world knowingly lays still about the hiding centuries of soul-searching magic? How naively the drama of the evolution propagates in slow motion under the myths and mysticism of ancient passed over wisdom? In Salem, spirituality centers on experience, not on faith. Paganism is celebrated and cherished, the harvest is calculated in terms of gratitude, where every gardener believes that fertility is born out of decay and every fallen leaf becomes part of the soil that nourishes the roots of the growing trees. People remain part of their communities, alive and existing in a different realm. Fear is countered with openness and truth, envisioning and acknowledging the concealed powerful forces operating everywhere around us. An empathetic renewal, a disguised blessing- I felt I was invited in this Holy World, entranced into the magic.
Continuing along Essex Street, after crossing the Summer Street, I saw the only building still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the family home of Judge Jonathan Corwin. It is known popularly as the 17th-century Witch House.
Adjacent to the Witch House is the First Church in Salem, which was the parish of many of the accused during the Salem Witch Trials. This church features stunning Gothic architecture and Tiffany windows.
History is often like living things, changing and evolving with each retelling. The infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692 have withstood the test of time, fascinating people since the panic first happened. The trials resulted in the execution of twenty people, mostly women, who were accused of witchcraft and the practice of magic. These trials illustrate the targeting of innocent people and describe nonsensical injustice. It was an era in which a new history was beginning to be composed, when religious inclusiveness was scarce, the genealogies of the Wiccan followers were being absorbed and gathered. Witchcraft, which has always been regarded as evil magic under factual and fictitious interpretations is deeply evered, honored and followed not only in Salem but also in New Orleans-the Louisiana city on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico.
Witchcraft is a clan-like institution where conceiving happens through inheritance and the knowledge is transmitted to enrich the clan’s identity as a gift from the ancestors. As the offspring of a particular master, raised in a wonderful coven family, witchcraft or ‘the craft of the wise’ manifests a distinct family life and lineage supplied by socialization and expresses timeless respect to humanity.
Keen to get an insight into the ancient wisdom, in the heart of Salem's beautiful Wharf District, a stone's throw from the sea-stood a beautiful store named Magika-the long-time vision of Lori Bruno, the owner and hereditary clairvoyant Psychic & Tarot reader for over 70+ years. I was bewitched to know that she is the oldest living legendary witch of today. Lori Bruno was born into a family of Sicilian Witches and was taught the oral "tradizione" of "La Famiglia,"—Python Priestesses who could see into the past, present and future. She has been featured innumerable times on The History Channel, National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal and numerous radio shows. Lori is the inspiration for New York Times best selling author Patricia Cornwell’s character “Nana” in her books At Risk & The Front. Established in 2012, Magika is now home to many other talented Psychics including her son and daughter who have been supervised and maneuvered by the lady herself. The word Magika itself is a magical concourse of the word "magi" meaning the wise men and women with "ka" the ancient Egyptian word for soul. The divinity herself coined the meaning of the word “Witchcraft” as ‘W’ for Wisdom, I for Integrity, T for Truth, C for Courage and H for Honour.
The history, diversity and the vibrancy of Salem community thrilled me. By the nightfall, the quest to participate in the impending adventure started emerging. I was profoundly tempted to experience this quaint culture of Salem.
A cold evening, with a slight drizzle and the only sound I heard that moment was the jingling chime hanging from the concave coved entrance of Magika. Profusely decorative in a scented tranquil, nestled close to the port ambience, uniquely spaced at Pickering Wharf on 63R Wharf Street is a newly refurbished store dedicated to Wicca folklore-related to pagans and their beliefs. As I entered, a tall young man dressed in black greeted me with a warm smile.
Unknown swirls of aroma incensed the air. Gems and stones of vibrant colours shimmered in the light. I caught a whiff of dried spices of healing and magic including cinnamon, cloves, cassava roots, exotic flowers and fruits. There were innumerable books on witchcraft and divination kept on the shelves.
Certain to discover the pathway to my well-being and curious to travel through my trysting reverie, watchful of the beguiling breeze, I patiently sat at the waiting lounge anticipating the clock to turn six. It was the Friday evening of May the eighth, two thousand and fifteen. The man in the black robe pointed me to an enchanting room inside, which was a symphony of auspicious symbols and sacred tunes. It wasn’t a fragrance that I had ever known or detected before nor the sanctity of her divine presence, yet there was something intricately compelling about her graceful stature. Lori Bruno, born in 1940, affectionately known by the name of ‘Strega Nona’ or the ‘Grandmother Witch’ kept looking at me, seated on the other side of the table in a flowing shadowy burlap sack. She is regarded as the High Priestess and the Elder of the Sicilian Strega line of the Craft of the Wise, world renowned for her innate psychic abilities, loved and respected by both her coven and non-crafters.
The purity of her soul and the brightness of her being disguised her age impeccably; there were no streaks of any wrinkles on her face. She haloed in the light, her elegance propelled away any ornamental embellishments. As we started the verbal ritual, her warmth and positive energy eerily spotted an incredible power to retrieve all the information about me and strangely enough, she also added the comfort needed with trusting such abilities. I was completely blown away by the details she just couldn’t have known, she named names and without asking me any questions or trying to pry anything out of me, she accurately stated my past and the present. Born in an ancient civilization like India, I was never skeptical about psychic readings nor do I ascertain beliefs out of logic, but this experience moved and mesmerized me to salute the Craft even more.
She was exact about whom she sees around me, without me telling her whom I work with or spend my time with. Lori’s sincere honesty and
light-heartedness brought tears of joy to my eyes. She gifted a beautiful Rose quartz and showered her blessings on me. She was able to give out date ranges for certain events to take place in my life. Although it’s impractical to lay eyes on the future but after this divine encounter of phenomenal advice and clarity, I am looking forth to the days ahead.
Lori Bruno is very much in demand, and indeed it is priceless to get an appointment with her. I feel blessed and lucky to have met her and would whole-heartedly recommend Lori to anyone looking for a legit psychic reading. Salem certainly shall be on my “to do” list forever. There are some happenings, which happen and operate for all the right reasons and yet such experiences are symbolized intangible until and unless one has not perceived the energy and the light in the vicinity. Lori Bruno is culturally diverse with knowledge of many religions and is a merit to her craft throughout the world. After being consumed in the prodigious amount of trancedly states, I walked out dazed by her revelations, bewildered to have witnessed such pure vibes in my direction. My relationship with the city of Salem was born in the crucible of trying times and therefore a vast chronicle of my travel is my must reminiscence towards gratitude.
The drizzle by now had completely transformed into a downpour. Absolutely charmed by the city, I enjoyed a cup of freshly prepared cappuccino at a local café with a dearest friend of mine. Later surrounded by the beloved array of condiments at Derby Street, a hearty Mexican Taco platter with craft beers and local rock bands marked the final leg of my walking tour.
Getting there: Qatar, British, Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airways, American Airlines and KLM operate hopping flights to Boston Logan Airport from New Delhi for approximately Rs 40,000 one-way. From Boston’s North Station take a MBTA train connection to Salem via either the Newburyport/Rockport line or hop aboard on a harbor cruise at Boston’s Long Wharf and in less than an hour, you’ll be amid Salem’s toytown boutiques and quirky shops. Bus services from Logan Airport and Wonderland remains operative throughout the day.
Regional and Statewide Travel Information Bureaus: Office of Tourism & Cultural Affairs, 978.741.3252 | Salem.org; Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888.SEE.BOSTON | BostonUSA.com; Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, 800.227.MASS | MassVacation.com
Best time to visit: It is never too early to plan an October trip to Salem! It is the month-long celebration of Witches' New Year-Halloween and Fall, Wicca's most solemn and festive holiday season, also known by “The Day of The Dead”. More information can be found on
Where to stay: Budget friendly spacious rooms/suites with ample parking and in close proximity to historical attractions is offered in Clipper Ship Inn (ClipperShipInn.com). Also the iconic antique house-Hawthorne Hotel, established in 1925, now an elegant full-service luxury destination on the North Shore (HawthorneHotel.com) and The Tuck Inn Bed & Breakfast (the cozy 1790 home) renowned for breakfasts & exceptional hospitality with a scenic seaside village atmosphere, also rated the highest on TripAdvisor (TuckInn.com) complements Salem’s history remarkably.
What to see & do: With a festival or celebration every month of the year, a robust local theatre scene, active night-life and ever-changing museum programming, historical sites, contemporary art galleries, seafood corners with beautiful waterfront dining and live entertainment on the harbor in an ocean breeze, one can always find something to do and explore in Salem. Witch shops with Salem charms & pentacles, modern day Witchcraft books, locally crafted blown glass witch balls, fabulous witch hats and traditional blends of herbs, spices, essential oils and potions are a must first stop. Salem is the home to the only North Shore cider house. Information about the cider tasting rooms can be found at
FarFromTheTreeCider.com. The unexpected mix of unique all-American coastal theme women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories can also be browsed in Salem (ShopOceanChic.com).
Other tours: A ride on the Salem’s Original Red Trolley Tour, active since 1982 is the most famous narrated tour with same day shuttle service. The tour covers all major attractions including The House of the Seven Gables, Pickering Wharf, New England Pirate Museum along with the Witch Dungeon and Witch History Museums. Tickets can be purchased online on SalemTrolley.com or trolleydepot.com. Receptive tour operators like the Hawthorne Tours (HawthorneTours.com) and the Wolfe Adventures & Tours, LLC (WolfeTours.com) are specialized in customized day and overnight tours for small to large groups.