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Outside/In: Why Are We So Afraid of the Woods?

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Laconia Evening Citizen
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Wiccan Raymond Buckland's collection was on display in Weirs Beach from 1973 to 1976.

Scary stories are often set in the dark and wild woods, but why does nature inspire fear? We look for answers in the forests, cemeteries, and witch trials of New England.

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A visit to the cemetery with paranormal experts Rich Damboise (center) and Jerry “The Candyman” Seavey (far right)

Nature is a Haunted House
Maureen McMurray and Sam Evans-Brown

Sam visits a cemetery with paranormal experts and talks with Aaron Mahnke, host of the podcast Lore,  to find out what makes the woods so terrifying and to test his own beliefs along the way.

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Credit Logan Shannon
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One of the tools of the paranormal trade

“I think for a very long time the wilderness represented the unknown to us. I know we like to feel like we have a full understanding of what’s out there— we’re modern humans after all—but I think we’d be lying to ourselves if we said there was nothing left to learn or explore,” said Mahnke.

Featuring Rich Damoise, Jerry "the Candyman" Seavey, and Aaron Mahnke.

This episode was originally published in 2016. For more pictures and a print version of this piece, click here.

Finding the Devil in Indigenous people, nature, and women
Justine Paradis

"When English settlers come to New England ... they literally demonize Native people,"  said Dr. Tricia Peone, program manager at New Hampshire Humanities. She's also a historian of early modern history and magic, and the cohost of "The Real Witches of New Hampshire" series, a collaboration between New Hampshire Humanities and New Hampshire Public Radio.

"This serves a really clear purpose for the English because they are trying to take over this territory, so it just so happens from their perspective that Satan is colluding with their enemies, which are the French and the Indigenous people of New England, in order to overthrow their Godly new society that they're trying to set up here."

The demonization of indigenousness overlapped with a suspicion of unsettled nature and accusations of witchcraft, which was defined as a pact with the Devil.

"The English believe [New England] it's basically a supernatural or haunted landscape, because the Devil is physically present here. So that's tied with this view of nature as scary," said Peone.

"They see themselves as needing to be especially careful because the Devil is physically living here and working with Native Americans," said Peone. "Especially if you're a women who's conceived of as weaker, more likely to sin, more likely to want to go to parties with the Devil and have him buy you fancy things and sign his book... to join what they saw as—you could conceive of it as a massive conspiracy theory."

Witch trials took place across New England during the colonial era, including in New Hampshire and, most famously, in Salem, MA, in 1692, during which hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft and nineteen  hanged, one pressed to death, and five died in prison.

The Real Witches of New Hampshire: The Cutting Edge of the Occult
Justine Paradis and Dr. Tricia Peone

In fewer than three hundred years, New England moved on from witch trials and executions to become a place where people openly call themselves witches.

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Credit Sara Plourde and Justine Paradis
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But there are many ways to practice modern magic.

Featuring Roxie Zwicker, Rachel Christ, JW Ocker, Stephen Intermill, Erika Shoukimas, Veronica Light, and Knate Higgins.

This is the second episode of The Real Witches of New Hampshire, a collaboration with New Hampshire Humanities. Click here for a print version of this piece and more photos.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
Justine Paradis is a producer and reporter for NHPR's Creative Production Unit, most oftenOutside/In. Before NHPR, she produced Millennial podcast from Radiotopia, contributed to podcasts including Love + Radio, and reported for WCAI & WGBH from her hometown of Nantucket island.
Outside/In is NHPR's podcast about the natural world and how we use it. Click here for podcast episodes and more.

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