Witchcraft Past and Present at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem


  • Helen A. Berger Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University




Salem, witch trials, Wiccans, Witches, museums, heritage, history tourism


“Reckoning and Reclaiming,” an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, located in the center of Salem, Massachusetts, ran from September 2021 through March 2022, bringing together materials from the Salem witch trials of 1692 with Frances F. Denny’s photographs of contemporary Witches and a video of Alexander McQueen’s’ haute couture fashion show that he claimed was inspired by the trials. The mix of old and new witchcraft was visually jolting. Although the new materials provided some relief from the main part of the show that documents the horror of the state supported terror that was the trials, the mixing and matching of the two did neither full service. It further-more served as its own form of commercialization of witchcraft; something that in the past that the museum has avoided.

Author Biography

Helen A. Berger, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University

Helen A. Berger is the author or co-author of four university press books on contemporary Pagans and editor of another.


Berger, Helen A. “Digitized Documents Can Not Take the Place of the Real Thing.” Letter, Boston Globe, February 4, 2018. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/letters/2018/02/04/museum-wrong-move/r6Od6O8oBPlWZgu39GFCVK/story.html.

Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Caporael, Linda R. “Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem?” Science 192 (1976): 21–26. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.769159. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.769159

Carlson, Laurie Winn. A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.

Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

“Don’t Slight the Salem Witch Trial History.” Boston Globe, January 28, 2018. https://www3.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2018/01/28/don-slight-salem-witch-trial-history/s7XQZeJRkj1CNLGxtYlFTN/story.html.

Edger, Goeff. “Peabody Essex Vaults into Top Tier by Raising 550M.” Boston Globe, November 6, 2011. http://archive.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2011/11/06/peabody_essex_vaults_into_top_tier_by_raising_550m/ accessed 1/16/2022

Fox, Alison. “Salem, Massachusetts, Scales Back its Famed Halloween Festivities Due to Covid-19.” Travel and Leisure. August 19, 2020. https://www.travelandleisure.com/holiday-travel/halloween/salem-halloween-haunted-happenings-coronavirus

Fry, Naomi. “The Many Faces of Women Who Identify as Witches.” The New Yorker, August 24, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/the-many-faces-of-women-who-identify-as-witches.

Kamensky, Jane. Review, “The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff.” New York Times, October 27, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/books/review/the-witches-salem-1692-by-stacy-schiff.html.

Karlsen, Carol. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987.

Kiechhefter, Richard. European Witch Trials: Their Foundation in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300–1500. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520320581. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520320581

Lorch, Danna. “The Peabody Essex Museum Prepares to Unveil a Thoughtfully Designed 40,000 square foot Expansion.” Architectural Digest, July 2019. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/the-peabody-essex-museum-prepares-to-unveil-a-thoughtfully-designed-40000-square-foot-expansion.

Matossian, Mary K. “Ergot and the Salem Witchcraft Affair.” American Scientist 70 (1982): 355–57.

Mitchell, Shane. “A Witches Brew of an Exhibit Enters the Modern Age in Salem.” New York Times, October 20, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/20/arts/witches-salem-peabody-essex-art.html.

Morrison, Heather. “Salem Halloween 2021: Are Masks Required, Do I Need To Be Vaccinated?” MassLive, October 16, 2021. https://www.masslive.com/news/2021/10/salem-halloween-2021-are-masks-required-do-i-need-to-be-vaccinated-against-covid-to-visit.html.

Norton, Mary Beth, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. New York: Random House, 2007.

Ocker, J. W. A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts. New York: Countryman Press, 2016.

Reis, Elizabeth. Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Rothstein, Edward. “Hysteria that Made History.” Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2020, A13.

Schiff, Stacy. “The Witches of Salem: Diabolic Doings in a Puritan Village.” The New Yorker, September 7, 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/07/the-witches-of-salem.

Spanos, Nicholas P. “Ergotism and the Salem Witch Panic: A Critical Analysis and an Alternative Conceptualization.” The Journal of Historical Behavioral Science 4 (1983): 358-69. https://doi.org/10.1002/1520-6696(198310)19:4<358::AID-JHBS2300190405>3.0.CO;2-G. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/1520-6696(198310)19:4<358::AID-JHBS2300190405>3.0.CO;2-G

Spanos, Nicholas P., and Jack Gottlieb.“Ergotism and the Salem Village Witch Trials.” Science 194 (1976): 1390. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.795029. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.795029

Starkey, Marion L. The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1969 [1949].

Wasserman, Judith. “Retail or Re-tell?: The Case of the Salem Tercentenary Memorial.” Landscape Journal 22, no. 1 (2003): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.3368/lj.22.1.1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3368/lj.22.1.1

Whyte, Murray. “Salem Witch Trials Exhibit Works Strange Magic in Modern Times.” Boston Globe, October 31, 2021. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/10/28/arts/salem-witch-trials-exhibit-works-strange-magic-modern-times/.



How to Cite

Berger, H. A. . (2022). Witchcraft Past and Present at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Pomegranate, 23(1-2), 186–202. https://doi.org/10.1558/pome.22069