Tag Archives: salem

Episode 1165: In the Haze of History

“I demand that counsel define the term ‘occult practices’.”

We’re going back to court for another witchcraft trial on Dark Shadows today, and once again, people have missed the entire point of the Salem story. The witch trials that took place in Massachusetts in the late 17th century happened in the actual real world, where I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s no such thing as witches. Salem 1692 is a story about a justice system perverted by superstition and mob panic, where innocent people were jailed and executed based on the claims of a pack of hysterical middle schoolers.

But in modern Salem, they’ve discovered that it’s a lot more lucrative to pretend there were real witches in the late 17th, and build a tourist trade by promoting Halloween parades and haunted house tours. Yes, they have a Witch History Museum that tells the real story, but on the whole, it’s more fun to build events around spooky fictional witches instead of focusing on the thing that’s really scary, which is putting Christians in charge of a legal system.

So there are a whole bunch of TV shows and movies that depict real witches on the scene of the Salem witch trials — Charmed, Bewitched, Hocus Pocus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I Married a Witch, The Vampire Diaries, that WGN Salem series with sexy versions of John Alden and Mary Sibley. This is basically like making a TV show about the Holocaust in which the Jews kind of deserved it.

Continue reading Episode 1165: In the Haze of History

Episode 1125: Things You Say to Otis Greene, Deceased

“What does it all mean? Why did you have to die before you could tell me?”

I kept telling them, death is only an extension of life. Then I killed them. Even then, they didn’t really get it. I guess it’s one of those jokes that’s only funny from one direction.

Continue reading Episode 1125: Things You Say to Otis Greene, Deceased

Episode 762: Dark Shadows’ Agents of THEY

“Who are ‘they’, Mrs. Trask?”

Let’s start at the middle, and work backwards from there.

Mrs. Minerva Trask — devoted wife and helpmeet of the celebrated Reverend Gregory Trask of Worthington Hall — arrives at Collinwood with a jar of damson plum preserves, and proceeds to make herself comfortable — or, at least, as comfortable as Mrs. Trask ever allows herself to get.

She’s come over to give the preserves to Judith Collins, because that’s what you give to a multi-millionaire who lets you operate a for-profit business in her back yard rent-free. But instead, she ends up talking to Judith’s dissolute brother Quentin, who’s currently dissolving in the drawing room.

Continue reading Episode 762: Dark Shadows’ Agents of THEY

Episode 438: Drag Me to Hell

“What really upsets you is the fact that you chose the losing side in this battle between the Almighty and the forces of Evil!”

At the top of today’s episode, vampire recluse Barnabas Collins asks his servant for an update on current events. Ben says that he was at Vicki’s witchcraft trial today, and stayed late to hear the verdict.

Barnabas pauses, and says, “I don’t like the expression on your face, Ben.”

Look, dude, you’ve had just as much time as the rest of us to get used to the look on Ben’s face. It’s a bit late in the day for constructive criticism in that department.

Continue reading Episode 438: Drag Me to Hell

Episode 412: You’ve Got to Believe Me

“I can see you know nothing about the power of witchcraft.”

The notorious Salem Witch Trials were a series of arrests, hearings and executions that took place from March to October 1692. Twenty people were executed, and more than a hundred people were held in prison for almost a year.

The story is often used as an example of the devastating power of superstition and the suggestibility of the mob, but more than anything, it’s actually the story of a pre-Revolution American colony trying to figure out how justice works.

This was more than seventy years before the Declaration of Independence, when the colonies joined together to form a more perfect union. At the time, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a Puritan settlement. There was no real distinction between civil law and religious law; the judges and magistrates mostly operated according to guidelines agreed upon by the senior ministers in Boston.

The accused witches didn’t have lawyers, or any representation. The charges against them were almost entirely imaginary, based on the “spectral evidence” of the possessed girls who screamed that they saw the witches’ shapes stabbing at them, and allowing invisible birds to suckle from the blood of their fingers. There were a lot of confessions, especially in the later months of the trials, but the confessed “witches” were mostly just answering yes to the magistrates’ leading questions.

And the hearings were just three-ring circus nightmares, day after day. While the defendant stood in the dock, the growing chorus of “afflicted girls” screamed and rolled on the floor, sometimes running up to the magistrates holding out their arms to show tooth marks where the defendant’s spectre had just bitten them.

The defendant would look at the girls, and the girls would fall down on the floor. The defendant would look away, and they’d get up again. That interaction on its own was enough to put somebody in chains for months.

During Martha Corey’s trial, one of the accusers threw her muff at the defendant. When that fell short, she took off her shoe and threw it, nailing Goodwife Corey in the head. The trial just continued after that, like that was normal trial procedure. Martha Corey was convicted, and executed. That’s how witch trial justice worked.

Continue reading Episode 412: You’ve Got to Believe Me

Episode 400: Playing with Fire

“Victoria Winters, your name is now known to fire!”

So here’s a way that you could open your TV show: start with a long scene of a witch chatting with her homemade tarot deck, as she assembles a house of cards in real time.

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it,” Angelique says, “since I’ve had work for you. You must see each other face to face, and watch that each of you obeys my least command.”

She’s always giving little pep talks to her props like this. It’s sweet, and it encourages them to stay engaged in the process. Also, she doesn’t have any friends.

Continue reading Episode 400: Playing with Fire

Episode 387: Truth or Dare

“Just how does one go about sensing an evil spirit? I’ve always been curious about that.”

We take you now live to the Old House drawing room, where an argument is already in progress.

Trask:  Miss Winters was bound securely to the tree. She could not possibly have freed herself. Someone must have untied those ropes for her.

Joshua:  Are you suggesting, Reverend, that it was a member of this family?

Trask:  I am saying that whoever helped her escape is also in league with the Devil, and that can mean only one thing. We are dealing with a coven of witches!

And that’s what Dark Shadows is like these days. Zero to sixty.

Continue reading Episode 387: Truth or Dare

Episode 386: Make Like a Tree

“I am defending the right of this girl to be judged innocent until she is proved innocent!”

In the Salem witch trials in 1692, the case for the prosecution mostly relied on what they called “spectral evidence”, which means basically that they believed whatever the screaming girls said. Other techniques included the “touch test” — i.e., having the witch touch a screaming girl, to see if she stops screaming — and looking for a “witch’s teat”, which is just as grim as it sounds.

But you know what they didn’t do in Salem, or in any other witch trial in history? They didn’t tie the accused witch to a tree and leave her there overnight, expecting that the tree would be dead by morning.

They didn’t use this technique for two reasons. For one thing, it’s pretty unlikely that the tree would hold up its end of the bargain. The other reason is that it’s a completely bonkers thing to do, even by the generally loose standards of witch trial sanity.

I’m bringing this up because Dark Shadows is a daytime soap opera, and so obviously a discussion of the Puritan justice system is going to come up at some point. Continue reading Episode 386: Make Like a Tree

Episode 385: The End of History

“I adjure thee, thou serpent — by the Judge of the quick and the dead, by thy Maker and the Maker of the world, by Him who hath power to put thee into Hell — that thou depart in haste from the flesh of this woman. Go out, thou seducer! Go out, thou transgressor, full of deceit and wile! Enemy of virtue! Persecutor of innocence! In the name of the Lord, I command thee to cast thyself back into the darkness from whence thee came, and where thy everlasting destruction awaits thee!”

For the last four weeks, we’ve accompanied Victoria Winters on an uncertain and frightening journey into the past, back to the year 1795. Sort of.

Because it certainly hasn’t been the 1795 that we expected, has it? We thought we were going to visit the 1795 where Jeremiah married Josette when he was an old man. Or the one where Josette and Jeremiah were very much in love. Or the one where Barnabas would have destroyed Jeremiah if he’d had the time. Or even the one where Barnabas gave Josette a special music box. Whatever happened to that music box, anyway?

So there have been a lot of inconsistencies piling up, impossible little gaps in time and logical sequence. It’s almost as if a really stupid and annoying person had traveled through time, and then done a lot of idiotic things, screwing up the timeline so badly that history isn’t working properly anymore. I wonder who that could possibly have been?

Continue reading Episode 385: The End of History

Episode 368/369: A Wicked Woman

“I am your servant. You are my master. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it is to be.”

Okay, let’s talk some more about The Crucible, the 1953 Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials. Everybody knows that The Crucible is the inspiration for the Collinsport witch hunt that’s coming up next month, but the influence goes even deeper than that, all the way down into the soul of Dark Shadows.

The play is a dramatization of the hysteria in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts. A group of young girls is found dancing in the woods, in defiance of the strict Puritan laws against dancing, music and anything that might be enjoyable. Horrified at being discovered, and desperate to find a scapegoat, the girls pretend that they’ve been seduced and tormented by witches living in the village. Directed by the eldest girl, Abigail Williams, they become a terrifying mob who accuse dozens of their neighbors. Guided only by the “spectral evidence” of the girls’ testimony, the court convicts and executes 20 innocent people.

Abigail is a terrifying figure in the play — self-centered and vengeful, taking a special delight in wielding the power that she’s suddenly acquired. Abigail was a servant of farmer John Proctor, and her tangled relationship with him is the emotional heart of the drama.

Over the last few weeks, the crucial new idea on the show is to introduce these narrative collisions, weaving characters from other fictional worlds into the story of Dark Shadows. There’s a beautiful woman from another story walking into the house today, and things are going to get ugly.

Continue reading Episode 368/369: A Wicked Woman