By JOSEPH R. LaPLANTE, Standard-Times staff writer
March 22, 2007 6:00 AM
Mourners joined witches from around the state at Saunders-Dwyer Funeral Home in New Bedford last night to pay respects to Shawn Poirier, who was known as the King of the Witches. - PETER PEREIRA/The Standard-Times.
NEW BEDFORD — Shawn Poirier talked to the dead for a living. Now he is among them.
Death was Mr. Poirier's spiritual haunt and his livelihood.
Witches mourn their 'King'
"The spectre of death is one of your most ardent lovers who stalks you steadfastly," the 40-year-old wrote on his MySpace Web page. "Hidden at every turn throughout your entire life, he waits until the moment is perfect. Death will finally strike catching you only to give you his fatal kiss while enfolding you in bone arms forever."
Mr. Poirier got embraced by a heart attack in bed on Sunday.
The sun cast its paling light and the horizon darkened while his black-caped coven gathered around Mr. Poirier's bier in a West End funeral home late yesterday to sing incantations to the man they called the King of the Witches.
"Everything around him was magical," said Leanne Marrama of Salem in the afternoon in an unused parlor in Saunders-Dwyer Home for Funerals. "He touched a person and changed their life."
All 6 foot, 4 inches of Mr. Poirier was laid out in black clothing and a cape and surrounded by bright bouquets. His witch's hat sat unobtrusively in the parlor room across the hall beside Ms. Marrama's broom, the last one produced by her late grandfather's broom-making business in 1965.
Mr. Poirier moved to Salem 20 years ago from a small apartment on Sycamore Street in New Bedford, said his father, Louis H. Poirier.
"I remember when he was 20 and he told me one day, 'I want to be ... a witch,'" Mr. Poirier said. "At first I said, 'Whoa, wait a minute, not that stuff,' but he reminded me that I always told my kids, 'Just be happy and don't hurt anybody.' I asked if he was happy and he said 'Yes,' and he said that he wasn't hurting anybody. I told him, 'Go for it.' "
Shawn Poirier's life and his business were being a witch in Salem, where 315 years ago 19 residents convicted of doing what Mr. Poirier did for a living ended their lives dangling by their broken necks from the end of a rope.
Mr. Poirier, however, found more rewards in the business: appearances on television programs like the "Joan Rivers Show" and "Good Morning America," as a consultant to movies, including "Blair Witch II," and being recognized as the King of Witches to hundreds who paid handsomely for his witchcraft, like Tarot card readings, palm readings and spells.
His partner, Christian Day, co-founder with Mr. Poirier of the Festival of the Dead each Halloween in Salem, looks forward to talking to him at this year's event. He joined the other witches in the coven in a ritual at the funeral home last night to give the king the strength to make the trip.
"We will help to feed his spirit living in the next world from now until Halloween," Mr. Day said. "We will help to lift his energy from now until then. Shawn will exist in some form on the other side."
Mr. Day walks around in shin-high, laced, black boots with long, pointed toes, black pants, black shirt and a black cape. His cape is adorned with charms, two tiny silver vials that contain the ashes of two aunts, a small vessel filled with dirt he scooped from the yard of the house in "The Amityville Horror" novel and a wood chip blackened by a lightning strike in a graveyard.
"What is the point of being a witch if you don't look like a witch?" asked Mr. Day.
It is as important to the coven, as it was to Mr. Poirier, that what they do is not confused with wicca, a neopagan religion that claims roots to pre-Christian, pagan Europe that was popularized in the early 1950s by a British civil servant named Gerald Gardner.
"Being a Great Witch does require selling your soul," Mr. Poirier's MySpace page says. "But to whom and for what price is the question I want you to ponder. We are not wiccan and never will be, we are something else."
Is that 'something else,' the devil?
"You have to be a Christian to believe in the devil, because he is the antithesis of Jesus Christ," said Taisan Russell of Salem, who wore a less flamboyant robe than Mr. Day, although it was lined with maroon silk. "We are not Christians."
The witches look for the power within themselves and then they take action once they have the power, they said.
With Mr. Day, Mr. Poirier forged a career that was equal parts entertainment, spirit world, witchcraft and tourist attraction.
Mr. Poirier's MySpace credits him with creating "The Dumb Supper, The Annual Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo, and The Official Salem Witches' Halloween Ball."
"Shawn's Messages from the Spirit World is Salem's only authentic seance. This is a seasonal gem that is sought out by many who wait all year for the chance to attend this life changing event. Shawn Poirier is the most renowned (and infamous) Salem Witch and Salem's best-known psychic. Having taught other well-known psychics how to sharpen their skills he specializes in the gifts of mediumship and tarot."
Ms. Marrama sharpened her psychic skills under Mr. Poirier to the point where she now charges several times more than she once did to perform readings.
Losing a child is hard at any age, and Mr. Poirier will miss his son.
"The world is going to change with the loss of him," the father said. "His spirit will live forever."
Joseph R. LaPlante can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org