These dancing witches cast a spell over Rhode Island


The women laughed and fidgeted as they tried to follow. Darlene Sunday’s red and black dress swirled around her feet. Seven-month-old Lucille Kachuk giggled as a woman tickled her feet with a small black broom, while her mother Danielle Bessette danced beside her stroller.

They are the “Witches of Chase Farm,” part of the new Rhode Island Witches Guild, a collective of “chapters,” not covens.

They do not practice rituals or cast spells, and only a few of them are actually wizards. Instead, they came together to practice “Witch Dance,” a kind of witchy line dance that originated with a coven in Germany in 2016 and has since spread like dandelion seeds across the world.

The women of the Wolfshäger Hexenbrut (which translates to The Wolf Hunter’s Coven) were performing in late April 2016 at Walpurgis, a festival celebrating fertility, in a choreographed dance to “Schüttel deinen Speck”, aka “Shake Your Bacon”, from German reggae . -pop artist Peter Fox.

A YouTube video of the Wolfshäger Hexenbrut, dressed as colorful old women wielding brooms and shaking their buttocks, has caused a viral sensation, with more than 2.4 million views.

Rafi was captivated from the start. So last year, when she “came out” as a witch in her community in the village of Wickford, she decided to organize a “witches’ dance” for the parade of the Village Horribles in Halloween.

She’s organized for other events, such as the local Quahog festival, but wasn’t sure about the reception of witchcraft in this sometimes stuffy seaside community in North Kingstown – although that’s believed to be the setting from John Updike’s novel, “The Witches of Eastwick.

“I posted it on social media, ‘Wouldn’t that be fun?'” Rafi said. “And [the response] was crazy.

Everyone was welcome, whether wizard or not, whether or not he knew how to dance. Some also carried a banner to honor the memory of the women and men who died in the Salem witch trials – and correct the historical record of their persecution.

“When I first saw this I thought, what a great thing after two years of confinement,” said herbalist Susan Clements, one of the Wickford Witches and owner of Earth & Ocean Herbals from North Kingstown.

Joyce Leach of Essex, Connecticut, in a black dress on the left, and Nancy Rafi, the Wickford witch manager, on the right, dance inside the Chase Farm community center.

DebeeTlumacki

Eighty-three women showed up for the costume-making meeting. When Halloween arrived, the number had risen to 147, aged 7 to 82, dancing from the Town Dock to the main streets of Wickford during the Horrible Parade.

“We tapped into an energy where women were like, ‘I’m with a whole group of compatriots,'” Rafi said. “It gave us permission to be who we are and to be embraced by our community.”

Clements won the award for best witch. “When I got that trophy, it was better than Miss America,” she said. “I felt for the first time, holding this trophy, I felt validated for the work I’ve done in this village for the past 30 years.”

This parade captured the imagination of women from other communities who also wanted to do it.

And so the Rhode Island Witches Guild was born.

There are now five chapters in the Guild – Providence, Warwick, Wickford, Newport and Chase Farm in Lincoln – representing both the interest in witchcraft and the reality that Rhode Islanders are loath to travel more than 20 minutes for what whether it be.

Chapters plan events throughout the year. The Chase Farm Witches dance at the Memorial Day Parade on May 30 and will perform again at the BeWitched and BeDazzled Fall Festival at Chase Farm on October 1. The witches of Newport speak at Discover Newport! on flash mobs in October. The Witches of Warwick hold their first meeting on June 8th. The Witches of Providence are preparing their chapter for a big Samhain parade at the end of October.

And the Witches of Wickford will teach new Chapters the dance and make a comeback in the Halloween Horrible Parade.

“I’m excited to see this bloom,” Clements said. “It’s about women coming together to celebrate.”

Kathy Chase Hartley saw the magic of witches when Hollywood spotted Chase Farm, where her great-great-grandfather had settled in the 1800s, as the setting for Salem Village in the movie “Hocus Pocus 2.”

When the film set went up into the farmland near the old sycamore tree that was old when his great-great-grandfather was young, Hartley saw how thousands of people thronged the Great Road, trying to get a preview of the action. At night, people crawled across the fields and sent drones hovering over the plateau.

Hartley, who is the founder of the Friends of Hearthside, the iconic stone mansion that is part of the Great Road Heritage Campus in Chase Farm Park, then realized how stardust has brought real history to life for people.

So when Hearthside volunteer Kimberly Keene told him that she had seen the Wickford witches and offered to form their own group, Hartley was charmed.

“I don’t know if it’s the pandemic and the shutdowns, but now there’s this permission to go out and let go,” Hartley said. “And everyone loves Halloween.”

Tammy Robert from Lincoln, Rhode Island waits for the start of the dance lesson outside.DebeeTlumacki

“It’s contagious, this witch dance, it’s a worldwide phenomenon,” said Keene, a descendant of a woman accused in the Salem witch trials. Her daughter, Emily, was an extra on the set of Hocus Pocus in Newport and joined her in Witches of Chase Farm.

“You have the people who love all things wizarding, some are self-proclaimed wizards and have a coven, and then there are people who love all things wizarding and Halloween,” Keene said. “Especially now with our country, in the state it is in and with everything going on, we need something like this.”

While training at Chase Farm on Saturday, a few miles south, hundreds marched in Providence to protest the leaked U.S. Supreme Court bill to strike down Roe v. Wade.

And in the draft opinion leaked by Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., there were heavy references to the scholarship of 17th-century English judge Sir Matthew Hale – including the death sentence for two women accused of witchcraft later laid the groundwork for the Salem Witch Trials. .

Just like that, the past is present again. “It shows that the story isn’t quite linear,” said Rachel Christ-Doane, director of education at the Salem Witch Museum.

The museum has noticed a resurgence of interest in modern witchcraft, particularly as a religious identity, linked to women’s issues, she said. “We saw it in the 1970s when women were addressing issues like rape, child custody and racial inequality. These spiritual communities, you could see them doing spells or ritualized group experiences for victims … as a healing tool,” Christ-Doane said. “You can see the last few weeks with people looking for community, with women’s rights under attack once again.”

The young witches are active on TikTok and other social media, but the viral power of the witches’ dance was not something Christ-Doane anticipated.

“Until now, I thought it was a pretty dark thing,” she admitted. “I think people are only interested in witches and art, and dancing is a form of expression.”

Danielle Bessette brought her 7-month-old daughter Lucille Kachuk from Lincoln, Rhode Island to dance rehearsal.DebeeTlumacki

Women were primarily the targets of witch persecution in the 17th century, Christ-Doane said. “It has a lot to do with being a woman in a patriarchal society,” she said, “so that kind of solace in witchcraft as a symbol of women’s oppression, and women taking that back and finding empowerment, is something we see growing and growing.

As the women danced to the music in the community hall at Chase Farm, Lady Estelle Barada rose from her wheelchair, her hands in the air, and began to fidget.

A longtime reenactor for Hearthside House, Stages of Freedom for African American History and the Newport Historical Society, Barada was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in 2020.

She said doctors gave her six months to a year to live. They were wrong, and she’s going to be part of the witches’ dance in the Memorial Day parade, even if it means riding a float and shaking her bacon from a seat.

She said she wanted her community to know she’s still here.

“And I love anything that encourages women to be strong and to be together,” Barada said. “It is unity that makes us powerful.”

Nancy Rafi, a self-identified witch from Wickford, led the women through the dance rehearsal.DebeeTlumacki

Amanda Milkovits can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.

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