From the cobblestone streets of Salem, Massachusetts to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, there’s no shortage of witchy gimmicks in the States, especially around Halloween. So much more than a green-skinned villain or leading role in a Disney Channel original movie, however, real-life witches throughout history endured harsh punishment. After all, they were among the first women to seek sexual liberation, and were often community healers and sexual health practitioners long before those became legitimate careers. As recently as 2014, it’s been reported that women have faced persecution as witches in parts of Tanzania, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Ghana. With that rich witch history, they deserve more than to be made into a once-yearly novelty coated in a thick layer of high fructose corn syrup, wouldn’t you say? If you’re itching to ditch the witch-kitsch this Halloween, here’s a list of the world’s best spots to get the real view on witchcraft (or Voodoo, the Mangkukulam, Brujería, or Obeah as it’s known in other parts of the world). Whatever double double toil and trouble you’re getting into this holiday, follow along for more about where to hang with some Wayward Sisters this Halloween.
Not just the land of incredible Instagrams and fluffy horses, Iceland is a fascinating country—socially, culturally, politically, and historically. For centuries, sorcery has been a common practice in this Nordic stopover country, tied to the ancient Icelandic mythology of Ásatrú. Today, the practice remains in use with Iceland’s active pagan community. Through spine-tingling displays of skeletal remains and “necropants”—the skin of a dead man’s legs worn by the living as pants—the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík village explores the history of witchcraft in this region in grave detail. Don’t worry, they adhere to a strict only-dead-guys necropants policy.
Tourists have long been drawn to this witch market located in a mountain clearing in La Paz, Bolivia—and if that locale alone isn't magical and mystical then I don’t know what is. If you’re in the area, don’t miss your chance to stock up on dried frog, turtle, or dog tongue sold to you by modern-day witches who still run the market. Easily missed among the mess of other stalls and vendors, El Mercado de las Brujas is an homage to the enduring culture of witches, witch doctors, and general folkloric mystery that remains a treasured part of Bolivia’s identity. Dried llama fetuses are regularly offered to Pachamama, believed to be a goddess of the Earth, to protect family members and loved ones from harm. As such, visitors to the market can expect a totally unique history lesson and the opportunity for some special souvenirs.
Most of the visitors to Museo de las Brujas in Zugarramurdi, Spain come with one thing in mind: the infamous Inquisition of the late Middle Ages. That dark period in Spain’s history is responsible for all kinds of lore surrounding the persecution of people who didn’t align with the Catholic church, including witches. Opened in 2007, this museum aims to recreate a historically accurate tribute to victims of the Inquisition, paying particular attention to the ways in which people lived in that time period. Before they faced widespread persecution in Spain, brujas were important community healers. Witch-lovers in search of some extra eerie medieval myths and legends (and an intimidating cave you can explore) should make the trek to this museum. Ghost story material abounds.
Because of its geographic positioning during the slave trade, New Orleans is easily one of the most culturally eclectic cities in the U.S., and is the country’s ground zero for witchy practices in the form of Voodoo. A product of the African diaspora, Voodoo (separate from “Hoodoo” and Haitian “Vodou”) as we know it in the States is an amalgam of West African Dahomeyan Vodun and cultural influences from African-Americans who spoke French, Spanish, and/or Creole throughout the state of Louisiana in its early years. Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo is more store than museum, but that doesn’t mean that a visit here won’t be thoroughly educational. As you stock up on incense, herbs, talismans, and mojo in the form of ritual bags, learn all about the origination of Louisiana Voodoo and the history of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau (the shop is run by members of her living family).
Witch enthusiast Cecil Williamson felt as though he was “standing on the edge of the beyond,” when, in 1960, he opened the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in a secluded corner of the English countryside. The museum houses more than 3,000 wickedly witchy objects and more than 7,000 books ranging in material from first-person accounts to historical fiction. Looking at the history of witches in Britain from ancient times to the present day, visitors are treated to the standard gruesome displays of mangled bodies and skeletons—perfect for the holiday—and can expect a few yearly rituals and celebrations, particularly around Halloween. This year, the fourth annual All Hallow’s Eve event took place a few days before the 31st and was a sinister smash.