Weekdays, Mulysa Guerriero works at a Somerville tattoo parlor. Today through Sunday, she'll be at The Witching Hour, casting spells in the heart of WitchVillage in Salem. The striking 31-year-old, who's been a witch for eight years, will be doing about 33 15-minute performances a day. At the end of the night, Guerrerp, who is a high priestess, admits, "I'm exhausted.'' But one of the reasons she does this is to tell people: "There is no such thing of a Salem tradition of witchcraft that extends back to 1692. I'm here to offer an alternative to the Puritan story." There is, however, a thriving community of witches, about 1000, who practice many different strains of witchcraft, Guerriero's being Gardenian and Welsh.
Before her presentation, people file into a small basement room and form a semi-circle. Among candles (electric and real) and amidst much chemical smoke, Guerriero works her magic She references forces of nature, the earth and the stars; she explains "Halloween" is our holiday, not hers (for her it signifies summer's end and a fall harvest), and says she is "lifting the veil that separates the living and the dead. ... We don fear these spirits." She tells us to banish fear of what the outside world thinks and asks the full house to chant after her: "So mote it be."
Guerriero knows most people flock to Salem for the scary kicks or to be entertained by the 17th century witch hunt. She knows people drop a lot of cash on what she calls "tourist crap." She can live with that. She says "The whole idea behind The Witching Hour' is if 100 people walk into the room and 20 of them walk away and learn something and their interest is piqued, then I've done my job. If 80 people want haunted houses, that's fine too." (The small room in which she works actually holds 40-50.) "The whole idea of a priestess is to be a guide, you're there for the people. (The setting) is kind of a contradiction, but I feel the whole basis of my being there is to fulfill my duty. It's a job that's both a regular job and a spiritual teaching. As a witch, we truly walk between the worlds: You have to speak to people on the mundane level and deal with the magical world - you're kind of a translator, an interpreter of sorts, a mediary."
Guerreiro, who grew up in Melrose, visited Salem as a kid fascinated by the lore. At 16, she met her first real witch in Boston. She's lived and practiced in Salem since 1996. She says the witchcraft community may share common goals but it is not all one big happy family - there are eclectic and more traditional groups, and factions she says that push witchy product or are more desirous of recruiting numbers of people than nurturing their spirituality.
At "The Witching Hour," Guerrerio says, "is rooted in the basics of witchcraft. It's not to convert people, but to entertain, with an underlying current of teaching." Of her life: "I'm of a magical realm, but I live in the real world, and I think I'm pretty good at balancing the two."