October 16, 2018

Peabody's Witch Rock: Occult Symbols Connected to The Salem Witches?

Do you have an extra $600,000 sitting around? Are you interested in New England history or witchcraft? If so you might want to purchase the house at 348 Lowell Street in Peabody, Massachusetts, which recently went on the market. The house was the home of John Proctor, one of the people executed during the Salem witch trials.

Proctor, who was immortalized in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, was a farmer in Salem Village. One of his servants, a young woman named Mary Warren, was one of the afflicted girls who accused dozens of innocent people of witchcraft. Perhaps if Proctor had played along he would have escaped the gallows, but he didn't. Instead he told Warren that she was faking her symptoms and if she didn't stop he'd beat her. He also threatened to beat John Indian, a slave and the husband of Tituba, when he accused Proctor's wife of being a witch. Needless to say, Proctor's doubtful and threatening attitude didn't sit well with the afflicted girls and they soon accused him of being a witch too.

Proctor was executed on August 19, 1692. His wife escaped the gallows because she was pregnant at the time and did not give birth until after the trials had ended.

The real estate listing for the Proctor house claims it dates to 1638, but the Peabody Historical Society says it is unclear how old most of the current structure is. It's likely that multiple additions and renovations have been made over the property's 300+ years of occupation. It does have six bedrooms, which is nice, and has a dining room "which can accommodate your largest holiday gathering." There's also an inground pool.

Image from Historical Archaeology, Vol. 15, No. 1.
This weekend as I was taking the train to Salem for Halloween festivities two friends reminded me of something I had forgotten: there is a large mysterious boulder near the Proctor House called Witch Rock. I wrote about it a few years ago in my book Legends and Lore of The North Shore (2014). The boulder is covered with occult symbols that may (or may not) be connected with the Salem witch trials.

The boulder was first discovered in 1978 by a group of archaeologists surveying Peabody. They were intrigued by the stone's faintly visible sigils which were done in black paint. (The photo above has been retouched to highlight them.) To quote one of the archaeologists who found the boulder:
The central symbol, which is over a meter in diameter, is a pentacle or five-pointed star with point downward surrounded by concentric circles. The appearance of the star has been heightened by infilling. Between the circles at the points of the star are poorly preserved cabalistic designs. The lesser symbols are a caduceus and a composite figure made from the sign for Aries (reversed) and the Cross of Lorraine or the Archiepiscopal Cross. (Richard Michael Gramly, "Witchcraft Pictographs from Near Salem, Massachusetts." Historical Archaeology, Vol. 15, no. 1(1981), pp. 113 - 116.)
When I first heard about Witch Rock I thought "Oh, that has got to be a fake." The archaeologists considered this a possibility too, but they tested the paint and discovered that it was not modern paint. It was made from hematite and either milk or egg whites. In other words, not something that you can buy at Home Depot and was probably not applied to the rock by teenagers who liked Black Sabbath. It was probably quite old and had survived the harsh winters and summers only because the rock faces south and had a very rough surface which held the paint.

But just how old are those sigils really? Archaeologist Richard Michael Gramly conjectured in 1981 that the boulder was the work of 17th century Salem Villagers who were afraid of witches. Although the reverse pentagram is often a symbol of the Devil, Gramly notes that it has also been used to avert the evil eye.
The entire composition would appear to be a warning against witches. Freshly painted and exposed to view the granite block with its pictographs would have drawn the attention of every passerby. If it were painted in the late seventeenth century, the composition would have sheltered nearby residents from all sorts of evil. The pictographs are not likely to be the work of witches but rather of people mortally afraid of their powers. (Richard Michael Gramly, "Witchcraft Pictographs from Near Salem, Massachusetts." Historical Archaeology, Vol. 15, no. 1(1981), pp. 113 - 116.)
There is one problem with this theory: there's no evidence that the people of 17th century Salem Village used these symbols for defensive magic or even used them at all. There's lots of documentation about the types of defensive magic Puritans did use, including witch bottles, horseshoes hung over entrances, daisy wheel carvings, and iron implements hidden in walls. Inverse pentagrams and the caduceus aren't mentioned in those documents. The Puritan clergy hated all magic, even the benign kind, so it seems likely a giant sigil-covered boulder at the epicenter of the Salem witch trials would have drawn their attention and ire. But it didn't, so perhaps the symbols didn't exist in 1692.

Gramly does briefly also consider the possibility that people may have painted Witch Rock in 1892 as parts of the bicentennial observances of the Salem trials. Lectures were held in the area at that time and witch trial souvenirs were sold so perhaps someone created the sigils as part of the commemorative events. He thinks the paint used is older than the 1890s though. 

Jeff Belanger points out in his book Weird Massachusetts that the symbols resemble some in Francis Barrett's 1801 book The Magus. Perhaps occultists painted the symbols on the boulder in the 19th century. But then again, Barrett used lots of older grimoires to compose The Magus - he was not the first person to use these symbols. They existed before the book's publication.

I don't think the mystery of Witch Rock will be resolved given the current information we have. It's just one of those weird and interesting things about New England. I have never been to Witch Rock, but my friends who have been say it is on private property and is surrounded by poison ivy. Salvatore Trento includes a map in his 1997 book Field Guide to the Mysterious Places of Eastern North America, but I do not know if it is accurate. Trento also notes that Witch Rock is in Danvers. It's an easy mistake to make and is one that I unfortunately included in my book Legends and Lore of the North Shore

There are several other boulders in New England named Witch Rock, including one in Rochester, Massachusetts and another (well, technically Witches Rock) in Bristol, Connecticut. Perhaps destinations for autumn road trips?

7 comments:

Unknown said...

Considering the symbol on the right is an alchemical symbol for sulfur that was adopted by Anton LaVey as a symbol of the Church of Satan in the 60s, I'd assume those markings aren't any older than that date.

On the plus side, you can see the same symbol in an old Scooby Doo : https://christmasflick.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ScreenShot221.png

Sue Bursztynski said...

Amaing, people have been living in that hoise for hundreds of years! Or, anyway, on that property, if it ‘s been through renovations and rebuilding.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Sue and Bret! Thanks for the comments.

Sue, I think the house has had many renovations but it is still quite old. A friend of mine lived in a house from the 1680s for many years. I was an amazing structure!

Bret, thanks for the Scooby Doo link! One of my favorite shows as a kid. I wonder how much occultism they snuck into those cartoons?

Unknown said...

Hi. Peter Muise
I'm from The Mić Mac Tribe.
Native American's
My Native name is Buffalo Walks.
Take care my freind.
Time for my "Scooby Snax"

Unknown said...

Hi! I was trying to research the history and origin of the symbol, or "hexmark", on the door of the Salem Cross Inn and came across this blog post. I was wondering if you have made any posts about the hexmark, which it seems is found on other houses in New England as well. I was unable to find any posts when searching your blog and have had a hard to time finding very much information outside of what is on the Salem Cross Inn website. I love your blog and thought this might be a topic right up your alley! Thanks for what you do!

-Robin

Jim said...

Interesting. I've been to this rock and it definitely is in Peabody.

mrb1090 said...

Hi Jim, curious where in Peabody Witch Rock is? Interested in taking a few pics of it....Mike B