Explore This Spooky New England City with a Modern-Day Witch
This tour of Salem, Massachusetts has all the sights and spells.
If you were to visit the seaside city of Salem, Massachusetts, in the winter, spring, or summer, you’d likely consider it the picture of a charming New England town, albeit not a particularly sleepy one. But each year, autumn descends upon Salem with wild, transformative energy, leaving it filled with a multitude of Halloween decorations and witch hat-clad visitors. To come here in the fall is to witness an exuberantly visible intertwining of past and present, the once-violent site of the Salem Witch Trials turned welcoming haven for modern-day witches. It’s an appealing place to wander on your own, but those who come simply for a few photos and magick shop purchases will miss out on the rich blend of stories that make up the city’s history—and explain what it’s become.
A better option, if you choose to visit Salem, is to book a guided experience. You can pick from a slew of cheesy-but-fun ghost tours or historical trolley rides once you arrive, but if you have any interest in witchcraft, I’d recommend scheduling a tour with practicing witch Skyler Ros via Airbnb Experiences, as I did on a recent Saturday afternoon.
Ros has a background in history and magick, and first moved to Salem in 2019 “to work in a museum in the Boston area and simply engage with my spells, rituals, and honor to nature in the backdrop of this city.” She did not, she says, expect witchcraft to become a career—but it did anyway, with magick shop jobs turning into providing healing, readings, and custom spells and potions for clients of her own. Last year, she added tours to her roster of services, hoping “to demonstrate a behind-the-scenes look at modern witchcraft in Salem while weaving it together with the history and lore of the city.” She accomplishes this deftly, sprinkling friendly, approachable rituals and facts about witchcraft into a comprehensive overview of Salem’s relevant history.
Ros’s Salem tours take place over 90 minutes, and she crams an impressive amount of sights, spells, and storytelling into that time span, taking guests on a journey from the Ropes Mansion (aka Allison’s “rich people” house in Hocus Pocus), through some of the classic Salem landmarks, to the city’s peaceful harbor. Throughout my tour, Ros made time for questions, jokes, and moments of appreciation for any black dogs that our group encountered (a symbol of the goddess Hecate, she explained). We emerged from the experience with a better understanding of the city’s Puritan past and magical present—and lavender-scented pouches we’d imbued with power over the course of the afternoon.
Our first ritual of the day took place shortly after we first convened in the Ropes Mansion garden. We gathered in a circle, the crowds ebbing and flowing around the garden paths in every direction. Late season flowers bobbed in the breeze. “We’ll attune to the energy of the earth and elements with three deep breaths," Ros said, then laughed and assured us, “We won’t be sacrificing anything.” Instead, there was something to gain here; we left the garden feeling grounded and ready for the rest of the journey.
We followed Ros’s quick strides to different sites around the city. As we walked, Ros reached frequently into her shoulder bag and unearthed, Mary Poppins-style, everything from tarot cards to tiny cauldrons, along with items to add to the celestial-patterned spell pouches she’d given each of us at the beginning of the tour. We stopped in front of the foreboding structure of the Salem Witch House, the former home of a judge who presided over the Trials in the 17th century, while Ros guided us through the house’s history. Here she pulled something new from her handbag—a jar of salt—and showed us how to sprinkle it on the ground around our feet, creating a circle of protection. “And that way,” she explained, “we stay protected every step that we take.”
On another afternoon, I might have wondered what exactly we needed to protect ourselves against, whether there was something I didn’t yet know about restless spirits wandering the streets. On this day, however, there simply wasn’t time to overthink the salt; before the thought had crossed my mind, we were off to see local classics like the Witch Trials Memorial and Old Burying Point. We got a good look at the city’s statue of Samantha from Bewitched, her bronze face frozen in an eternal grin before a steady stream of admirers. We even paused at the site of a grisly murder that inspired the game Clue for a lesson on occultism and the Parker Brothers (yes, the Monopoly guys).
By the time we reached our final stop of Salem Harbor, our spell pouches were brimming with symbolic objects. “This is actually the spot where us Salem witches will come to deliver offerings to our gods and goddesses,” said Ros, as we prepared to work a final ritual with the pouches, their lavender aroma mixing with the scent of ocean brine. Ros explained how to activate our magickal intentions and placed a drop from a self-made potion onto each pouch as we murmured, “So mote it be.”
You don’t need to have a background in witchcraft to enjoy Ros’s tour, nor do you have to take part in any of the rituals she leads, but I think this element of the experience (along with its smaller group size, capped at ten guests) sets it apart from other Salem tours. It can be difficult to focus solely on the city’s history when surrounded by its modern-day magick stores, psychic readers' shops, and covens—and Ros's tours provide an insightful account of the city's past while offering an interactive opportunity to learn more about what witches are doing in Salem today.
Giving people this opportunity, of course, is the whole idea. “Witchcraft is a type of personal empowerment,” says Ros. “By giving tours, I want to make it more accessible. It’s power for anyone who’s ever been oppressed.”
Skyler Ros goes by “Dulce” on Airbnb, where you can currently book her Salem tour for $28 per person.