In her 38 years as a witch, Laurie Cabot has never once made her neighbors nauseous or called up a thunderstorm in a fit of pique. But these days, if she could, the 54-year-old divorced mother of two might turn both John Updike and the executives of Warner Bros, into toads for what she considers their callous and grossly inaccurate depiction of her calling in Updike’s devilish novel-turned-movie, The Witches of Eastwick. “People think we’re either green or vampires,” complains Cabot, who 12 years ago was appointed “official witch” of Salem, Mass. by Governor Michael Dukakis. “Witches are neither. They’re doctors, lawyers, politicians, the guy next door. Updike wrote his own psychosis. He’s a few hundred years behind the times.”
Cabot has been a witch in a snit for more than a year, ever since she first heard about the proposed movie. First she demanded that Warner Bros, attach a disclaimer to the film. No luck. Then she organized the Witches League for Public Awareness, wrote letters to the stars and led 45 placard-carrying peers (“Warner Brothers Unfair to Witches!”) in a march on Government Center in Boston. The offense is serious, says Cabot, because “there are six million witches worldwide today and 2,000 in Salem alone.” Easily verifiable statistics are not, alas, readily available.
The crux of Cabot’s argument is that Satan worship and the eye-of-newt-and-toe-of-frog days are gone—or, more properly, never were. “When people ask me how to worship the devil, I say, ‘You’re in the wrong place,’ ” Cabot reports, adding grimly: “I’ve had to explain that I don’t kill babies and drink blood.” Real witchcraft—at least the variety she practices at twice-monthly meetings with her coven, the Black Doves of Isis—is “pre-Christian, an Earth religion,” claims Cabot. “There are two supremes, a god and a goddess. It’s an art, a science and a religion.” Cabot uses spells and charms—and teaches courses in their use at her daughter’s Salem store, Crow Haven Corner, “to bring about health, happiness and prosperity for people, animals and plants.” She says she has used her psychic powers to help a Wall Street brokerage predict bond trends and a British chemical company screen prospective employees. Recently, Cabot notes, she wished for and got a Rolex watch.
Cabot says she knew she was different when she began reading people’s minds at age three. This alarmed her “very Protestant Yankee” mother and “very Victorian” father, who ran an olive-packing company in Anaheim, Calif. At 16, after diligent research and due consideration, Cabot decided that she was, in fact, a witch. “I felt a closeness to the earth,” she says of her realization. “The very word ‘witch’ rang a bell inside of me. It was a lovely feeling.” She had an early career as a showgirl—she was once billed as the “most undraped girl in Boston”—and moved in 1970 to Salem, where she has become a prominent figure. Says Salem Chamber of Commerce director Joan Gormalley: “Laurie is interesting, knowledgeable, appealing and nice to be with.”
Salem’s witch would like to see that kind of understanding on a larger scale. “We’re the last minority to say, ‘Let us explain ourselves,’ ” declares Cabot, who sees hope already in the next generation. “Thank the goddess,” she says, “more and more witch families have kids willing to stand up and say, ‘I’m a witch.’ ”