Last week I wrote about A.O. Spare, the British art world, and witchcraft. This week I'm bringing the witchcraft back to New England for a particularly creepy story.
It comes from Christopher Balzano's Dark Woods: Cults, Crime and the Paranormal in the Freetown State Forest
. I highly recommend this book if you like your folklore scary and weird. Balzano interviewed people who live near Massachusetts's Freetown Forest and also researched some uncanny occurrences that happened there. The result is a collection of spooky - and allegedly true - stories like this one.
Dave (no last name given) grew up in a rural area in southern Massachusetts. His backyard abutted the Freetown State Forest, and as a boy he and his friends liked to play in the thick woods. The forest has more than 50 miles of unpaved roads and covers more than 5,000 acres, so there was plenty of space for the boys to play.
There was also plenty of space for strange things to happen. One day when he was six, Dave and a friend were in the woods when they heard someone laughing at them. They thought they could see someone hiding in the trees nearby, but when they tried to get a closer look it seemed as though the light was refracting strangely around the laughing figure, making it hard to see. Both boys were terrified and ran home. They kept their encounter secret.
Dave didn't encounter anything strange again until he was ten, when he had a very vivid dream. He dreamed he was an adult male walking through the woods towards a small house. He carried an axe in one hand. When he entered the small house he saw a middle-aged woman with long gray hair making love to a Native American man. In a jealous rage he killed them both, but as he did the woman glared at him not with fear, but with hatred and evil.
OK. Let me just interject to say that's one freaky dream for a ten-year old to have. But more on that later. Back to David's story ...
|The Freetown State Forest.|
Things got really weird for Dave and the other boys in the neighborhood over the next few years. One day while the boys were out walking in the woods when they came upon the foundation of an old house. Dave recognized it as the ruins of the house he had seen in his dream. This discovery spurred discussion among the boys, and as they talked they all realized they had recently seen the same gray-haired woman. She often appeared outside their bedroom windows at night, begging to come in, while the boys hovered in the space between wakefulness and sleep. They all thought she might be a witch.
Only one of the boys had invited her to enter his bedroom. The results were disastrous. She forced herself on the boy, which terrified him. His parents had to break down the bedroom door to reach their screaming son, who lay in bed as if someone was holding him down. The family eventually moved away from the Freetown State Forest.
Dave had his own nighttime visit from the witch, which he claims happened while he was awake. He sometimes saw a white figure following him in the woods and heard the eerie laughter he had heard years ago. He also told Balzano that he had seen a large black cat in the area. Black cats aren't that unusual, but this one walked on its rear legs.
The witch definitely was scary, but despite this Dave and some of the boys became obsessed with her. They visited the old foundation repeatedly, and one of Dave's friends would wander through the woods trying to find her.
The witchy phenomena quieted down as Dave got older. He hasn't seen the witch for many years. He moved out of his parents' house, and has a girlfriend and a child. He still gets nervous when he goes to visit his parents at his old house near the woods, though.
I really like this story. Yes, it's spooky, but it reminds me of the stories I'd hear when I was just a kid, sitting on my back porch in the late summer. Plus, I love a good New England witch story.
First off, let's get something out of the way. Is this story true? I have no way to tell. Balzano says the Freetown Historical Society has no record of anyone living in the woods, but the ruins of the house seem to be real. I also don't recall any famous witch cases from that area, but that doesn't mean strange things don't still happen.
|The Freetown State Forest. |
Rather than trying to prove or debunk it, I think it's more interesting to look at what's happening in Dave's story, For example, it's interesting to compare this story with last week's post about Austin Osman Spare and Mrs. Paterson
. Both involve older female witches trying to seduce teenage boys. Austin Spare found the experience liberating and enlightening; Dave and his friends were terrified. Can it just be chalked up to Spare's artistic sensibility? Maybe, but perhaps the Freetown boys were just much more aware that even women can be sexual abusers.
If I were a Freudian analyst, and not just someone who read some Freud in college, I'd probably make a lot out of Dave's dream where he is an adult male killing the witch and her lover. That feels like some heavy-duty Oedipal symbolism to me. That dream also somehow kicks off several years of unpleasantly sexual witch-haunting as the boys work their way through puberty. The haunting seems to have stopped when Dave and friends reached full maturity. It all seems to make symbolic sense.
Finally, what exactly who or what was this mysterious woman? The boys called her a witch because of her appearance, and the black cat seems to support them. She's also a ghost. I've mentioned on this blog before that witches tend to live on after death, so that's not really surprising. She also reminds me of the rapacious succubi, seductive female demons that appear in Medieval folklore.
Witch? Ghost? Demon? Maybe the forest just shows us what we're looking for. Balzano writes that "the paranormal is often defined by the people who experience it," so it makes sense that teenage boys who lived on the edge of a big New England forest experienced what they did.
Tony and I have actually been to the Freetown State Forest. We didn't see any ghostly witches, but did find the woods there kind of unsettling. So if you go looking for the witch use caution. Who knows what you might find there yourself?