The magic behind Hocus Pocus

Michael Salem1851 staff 

Shoemaker shows off her bewitching collection. Photo by Michael Salem

Brennan Library’s Head Reference and Instruction Librarian Jill Shoemaker has been making magic happen for first-year students for over five years through her Honors 101 class “Hocus Pocus.”

The course begins with a look at Salem – the first place witchcraft broke out in America. “Every time you watch a TV show or a movie, and there’s a witch, there’s always an ancestor that leads back to Salem,” Shoemaker says. Once the topic of Salem is covered, her course examines witchcraft in a global context.  Currently, her students are reading the novel “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” a book  Shoemaker accredits the recommendation to Dr. Hortense Gerardo, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Performing Arts, that examines the witchcraft of Haiti and the clash of Haitian folk religions, Catholicism, and the Protestant religion. This year, her students are also helping for the Hope for Haiti fundraiser on Sunday, Oct. 28. 

Each semester the course is taught, the students go on an excursion to where it all began in Salem. Shoemaker takes them to the Witch Dungeon Museum or plays like “Cry Innocent” and then allows them to free roam the old spooky city. In the past, Shoemaker took her students to Salem to take local children trick-or-treating.  This year the excursion will take place on Oct. 24. 

Growing up, Shoemaker fell in love with the world of witches and fantasy. “Charmed,” “Bewitched” and “Mary Poppins” were some of her favorite spellcasters on TV. In late 2013, Shoemaker recalls her students banding together on a weekly basis to watch the new “American Horror Story: Coven.” 

In her personal life, witches are simply an interest. While she doesn’t practice the craft itself, she’s been to many solstice rituals and played Ouija with friends in her youth. The course’s namesake, Kenny Ortega’s 1993 classic, is admittedly one of Shoemaker’s favorite films to enjoy around Halloween. 

Shoemaker’s other favorite witch-themed films are Andrew Fleming’s 1996 “The Craft” and Robert Eggers’s 2015 “The Witch.” For those wanting to learn more about witchcraft, Shoemaker recommends books like “The Heretic’s Daughter” by Kathleen Kent and “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” by Katherine Howe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: