• Image about Salem Witches
Lori Bruno and Christian Day
Carl Tremblay

Muggle or not, this Halloween, skip the usual haunted house and try communing with some real witches in Salem, Mass.

Business at Hex Old World Witchery in Salem, Mass., revolves around a 71-year-old maelstrom of energy by the name of Lori Bruno. Clad in black, arms and neck encased in jewelry, hair teased up (adding a good eight inches to her diminutive frame), she serves as both chief salesperson and living legend to tourists peering in through the shop window on Essex Street. The city’s main thoroughfare has no shortage of flash, from glittery T-shirts proclaiming the wearer to be a Superwitch to a bronze statue of Elizabeth Montgomery, Samantha on the television series Bewitched, grinning astride a broom. However, gaining a true sense of those who’ve transformed the city in defiance of the 1692 witch trials requires stepping off the brick-lined street — and into the domain of a high priestess of the craft.

Inside the Festival of the Dead

Oct. 21
Spectral Evidence: Ghost Hunting 101
Professional ghost hunter Ron Kolek teaches modern techniques of paranormal investigation and leads guests on a tour of Salem’s most haunted sites.$75 per person

Oct. 23
Messages from the Spirit World
SalemWitch Leanne Marrama conducts a genuine séance. Bring an object that was worn by the departed.$95 per person

Oct. 28
Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball
Join Christian Day and the Witches of Salem, along with musical guests Dragon Ritual Drummers and ­Kellianna, for a night of feasting and revelry. Costumes encouraged.$150 per personFor more information and to book tickets online, please visit www.festivalofthedead.com

“You’re not a victim, you’re a victor,” Lori says to a customer, pressing wolf’s hair into her hand as protection from harm. “I will not have victims,” she continues, speaking louder. Talk in the shop comes to a halt. Her voice is husky, the accent somewhere between Brooklyn and the Bronx. Her arms shoot up. “I’m a soldier! These arms are swords!” She looks slowly about the store, daring someone to disagree. “Am I a witch? Wisdom, integrity, truth, courage, honor — you better believe it.” Her eyes settle on me, her irises a rich shade of brown gone steely with passion. Panic floods my body. “I like you. You have sunshine on your face,” she says. And then she smiles, revealing deep-set laugh lines.

Being on constant war footing is a lesson carried in Lori’s blood. In the 14th century, with the Black Death sweeping across Sicily, her ancestor Donna Marietta, a healer reputedly able to cure victims through means of a magical knife, was burned alive as a heretic by the church, according to Lori. Two centuries later, Giordano Bruno, a rogue astronomer who posited that the sun was a star and the universe might contain an infinite number of inhabited worlds beyond Earth, met a similar fate. As a fellow outsider looking in, Lori understands better than most that Salem’s allure doesn’t lie in the winking darkness present on Essex Street, but rather in the modest stone courtyard set two blocks away, where the Witch Trials Memorial lies. The spot itself is sparse, with just a few spindly trees at its center, but it feels eerily appropriate. Facing in are 20 stone slabs, each inscribed with the name of a victim. The slabs are cool to the touch and inviting, yet no one ever dares to sit.