By Doug Ireland firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — SALEM — Some may have thought it was a Halloween joke last week when they were invited to the Temple of Witchcraft for an open house.
It was no joke.
The Salem-based nonprofit organization is seeking Planning Board approval to relocate from its current home at 2 Main St. to a two-story, 19th-century home at 49 N. Policy St.
Representatives from the religious group are scheduled to go before the board Nov. 13 for preliminary site plan approval, according to planning director Ross Moldoff.
The temple wants to use the first floor to teach classes in witchcraft while the second floor would be home to three of the organization’s dozen ministers, according to co-founder and minister Steve Kenson.
Its teachings are based on neopaganism, he said.
“The work of the temple is both other-worldly and terrestrial, seeking to strengthen the connections between spirit and matter through inner transformation and public service,” the group says on its website, templeofwitchcraft.org.
The organization would renovate and use a barn on the five-acre property. The house was last used as a residence before the group purchased it in September for $420,000.
Approval is also needed for a proposed 18-space parking lot, Kenson said.
Selectman Everett McBride Jr. said he’s received a few emails from people who are worried about having the Temple of Witchcraft in their neighborhood. He has asked Town Manager Keith Hickey to look into the proposal.
“The neighbors are nervous,” McBride said.
Kenson said the neighbors have nothing to worry about. He said the “nature-based” organization has been in Salem for two years, renting office space at 2 Main St. It holds peaceful rituals on a regular basis at the Masonic Temple, he said.
“They have absolutely nothing to be afraid of,” Kenson said. “We’re certainly not a threat to anyone. We believe very strongly that our practice isn’t for everyone.”
The Temple of Witchcraft has about 100 to 150 local members, and approximately 300 to 400 total world-wide, Kenson said. Many take the organization’s online courses.
“We’ve been looking for office space,” he said. “We’ve been growing very quickly.”
Neighbors don’t have to worry about dark spells being cast upon them or objects suddenly soaring through the air, Kenson said.
The group’s teachings aren’t something you will see in a Harry Potter book, he said.
“It’s not really much like Harry Potter,” he said. “We don’t believe in what in some people refer to as dark magic.”
Prayer is a very important part of the organization’s practice, he said.
To help dispell the misconceptions, the temple held an open house at the proposed site on Halloween, distributing fliers to neighbors to give them a chance to learn about the organization and its teachings.
Only five people showed up. Some asked if they were handing out Halloween candy, which they did, Kenson said.
It didn’t help that the open house was scheduled only two days after Hurricane Sandy hit the area, knocking out electricity to more than 7,300 residents in Salem.
Moldoff and Kenson said they don’t anticipate the proposal to encounter any obstacles. The temple is a permitted use in that area, Moldoff said.
Kenson said the organization is working with the town to make sure it meets all requirements. He said he welcomes questions from residents who don’t understand their religion or would like to learn more about it.
Moldoff and Hickey said they weren’t aware of any complaints or concerns about the organization in the two years it has been on Main Street.