By BARRY SHLACHTER Associated Press Writer SALEM, Mass. (AP) - Her eyes are heavy with bla

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By BARRY SHLACHTER Associated Press Writer SALEM, Mass. (AP) -- Her eyes are heavy with black makeup. Her dresses are flowing caftans of a satiny black material. And her explosion of long black hair covers her shoulders and much of her back. Laurie Cabot is a witch, if there were any doubt, and is more than proud to tell you so. A visitor to her house may be told of the jeers and threats she endured over the years for her unconventional appearance and her beliefs in the pagan witch religion, Wicca. Passing motorists would shout to her children that she should be burned. "When I divorced for the second time, I decided to live my life totally as a witch and I didn't care what people thought," she said, her fingers flashing 14 gold and silver rings. "And because I began wearing traditional witch clothing, I had to make a living as a witch." Now she is a local celebrity, cashing in on her notoriety and serving as a defender of others who share her beliefs. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis proclaimed her Salem's "official witch" in 1975 for carrying out civic good works. And lately she has spent much of her time rallying protesters against the state film bureau which secured the filming in Massachusetts of John Updike's novel, "The Witches of Eastwick." Ms. Cabot denounced the book as "anti-women, anti-Christian and anti-witch." Despite an appearance that seems to confirm the broom-flying stereotype, she asserts in a soft but insistent voice that witches are not followers of the devil but rather decent, law-abiding people you would want, and already may have, as neighbors. Witches believe, she asserts, "Do as you will and harm none." Pictures of witches as green-faced crones anger her and she tells of marching into shops to rip up Halloween decorations. She helped launch the Witches' League for Public Awareness in June to protect her community's battered image. In Salem, a historic town of 38,000 residents famous for its 17th century witch trials and where witchcraft now thrives as a cottage industry, Laurie Cabot claims there are numerous practicing witches. Throughout the United States, her "guesstimate" is several millions. The twice divorced, 53-year-old witch lives with her two daughters, five cats and 22 Teddy bears in an outwardly undistinguished New England frame "salt box" on a quiet lane down from A Pig in the Eye pub. She holds court around a broad table with legs made from the curving roots of a tree. "They are very quiet people who don't disturb anyone," said a neighbor, Kevin O'Neil, a former embalmer who is now an autopsy technician for Boston's medical examiner. Her hard times, except for a recent attack by followers of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche, appear behind her. The Anaheim, Calif.-born former night club dancer is branching out beyond her herb and potion shop, tarot card readings and lectures on psychic powers. She's negotiating her entry into the home video market with hopes to become the Jane Fonda of at-home witchcraft instruction, she said. Ms. Cabot teaches Witchcraft I, II, and III and other courses in Salem and travels to New York City frequently to counsel Wall Street investors at $200 for 30 minutes of her advice on what to buy and sell, she said. She hopes to profit from a book she is completing, "The Salem Witches' Handbook." But she accepts no payment for treating people through what she calls her psychic powers. "I don't charge for healing but I do charge for everything else," she smiled. Some patients come on their own, others are referred to her by area doctors, she said. One whose name she gave, Salem skin specialist Dr. John von Weiss, told The Associated Press that he sent Laurie Cabot "six to 10" people suffering from warts since the growths were known to disappear through the power of suggestion. "I had gotten a follow-up on a few people and it was good," Dr. von Weiss said of the witch's wart removal record. Despite her success, he stopped referring patients to Ms. Cabot in the late 1970s. Asked why, the Salem dermatologist replied: "The occult is a pecular thing, you know." Then, after a pause, he added, "I don't really want to give an explanation." Her high-profile marketing no doubt has created resentment, if not jealousy, within the witch community. "She does fit the media stereotype of the witch. But I changed my perception over the past few years," said Margot Adler, a reporter for National Public Radio who researched a book about contemporary witchcraft, "Drawing Down the Moon," and is herself a practicing witch. "Within the community, I think she has had a difficult road to hoe because she has been perceived by some as commercial. She has had more commercial flare. And anyone who does that in the pagan community gets that kind of reputation. But we have had to rethink that." Laurie Cabot persuaded her, she went on, by saying: "Look we've been in Salem for years, on the front lines. Now it's perfectly possible to walk the streets in a robe and pentagram (witchcraft symbol) and feel perfectly safe." "She has been fighting for the same things we have -- the freedom to practice our religion -- Wicca," Ms. Adler added.


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