“I’ve moved on from vaginas to witches,” jokes Nancy Rafi, who used to produce the long-running Valentine’s Day production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues before turning her attention to the Witches of Wickford. “It’s been weirdly serendipitous.”
Rafi, a practicing witch since her teens, spent most of her life firmly in the broom closet. Struggling with the isolation of the pandemic, she decided to ask the Wickford Merchants Association if she and a few friends could participate in the annual Horribles Parade, a celebration of Halloween for the local kids that strolls through downtown during Wickford Wicked Week. Her idea was to gather a few like-minded women and do the “Witches Dance,” a five-step romp created by a group of witches for Walpurgis Night, a sort of May Day festival, in Germany.
“I thought I’d be lucky if I got a dozen friends to do it,” she says. Instead, 147 women showed up to the rehearsal. What Rafi didn’t realize was Halloween is the second-largest holiday in the United States. “People love to dress up and be silly, act like a kid again,” she says, adding, “and we needed it last year.”
With well over 100 witches bringing up the rear, the parade route turned into a mini block party as the spectators cheered while the witches weaved their spell. Word of the spectacle spread like wildfire, and Rafi’s phone blew up with text messages, phone calls, and emails the next day. “I got calls from strangers. I have no idea how they got my number!”
Rafi knew she needed to harness this energy, so she formed the RI Witches Guild, where towns have separate chapters and can host their own Witches Dance. “Guild is a medieval term for a gathering of like-minded people,” she says. “Ours happens to be dancing witches.”
With four chapters already established – Wickford, Newport, Providence, and Warwick – Rafi says even more are on the way. “Each chapter organizes their own events,” she says. “These can be flash mobs, or something more formal, and happen whenever. It’s all up to the chapters.”
The Wickford chapter is dancing again in the Halloween Horribles Parade. Joining the witches on the parade route this year are Circus Dynamics and the Providence Drum Troupe.
Anyone can attend the rehearsal, where the dance is taught, followed by a crafting session to bedazzle the brooms. “The ages are all over the map,” she says. “From six years to 82.” All gender spectrums are welcome as well, although women seem to have an affinity for the event. “Historically, Rhode Island was a sanctuary for witches,” Rafi explains, noting that part of the mission of the guild is to teach the history. “Twenty-seven people were hung during the trials,” she continues, referring to Salem. “There’s a responsibility to tell the history of it, to show what misogyny looks like. We dance in their memories.”
While acknowledging this tragic history, the purpose of the witches dance is to bring joy to both participants and spectators. “Everybody needs it,” says Rafi. “Palpable energy happens when women get together and dance.”
Witches of Wickford perform the Witches Dance at the Horribles Parade in Wickford on October 29 (rain date October 30). RIWitchesGuild.com
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