You Seer, Say Hello
Tita Jones, rubbing elbows with the spirits for 15 years
of year, our thoughts tend to turn to those in the netherworld.
We’ll dress up as ghosts, witches and the like, and we’re
likely to find those little back-o-the-neck hairs standing
a bit stiffer as we tiptoe around a cemetery, seemingly feeling
the thinness of the partition between the world of the living
and that of the spirits.
psychic reader Tita lives among them daily. She can see them,
talk with them, summon them, utilize their talents. She’s
even in good with those of the malevolent variety. “I send
disruptive entities after the perpetrator,” she says while
discussing her crime-solving methods.
can’t do anything to me,” Tita adds. “They wouldn’t dare tread
on my territory.”
Antonia “Tita” Jones knew she had a gift for clairvoyance
as a young girl of 7 or 8, living in the Albany neighborhood
that was razed for the Empire State Plaza. “I could make things
move around the dinner table,” she says laughingly. But sending
the gravy boat sloshing along the tabletop didn’t raise many
eyebrows in her family, as a peek into her mother’s ancestry
reveals many generations of witches.
had one grandmother that used to heal everyone in town,” Tita
says, referring to her Italian progenitor. “She was an herbalist.
If anybody would step on a weed, she would have a fit. She
knew what it was, and she knew the medicinal potential that
Tita’s mother, however, shunned the craft, turning instead
to the Catholic church; and Tita ignored her skill for a time.
“My mother told me it was sinful,” she says.
Tita attended Catholic school, and her questioning nature
occasionally landed her in the hot seat, so to speak. She’d
inquire into the mechanics of hell, claiming that it just
didn’t compute, and her inquisitive mind spent a lot of time
mulling over the similarities and differences between the
Catholic religion and witchcraft. “I didn’t know why they
used rituals and incense and oils,” Tita explains, instinctually
believing that those rituals sprung from traditions other
than those found within the church.
But it would be years before Tita would realize her skill,
and use her powers for good; meanwhile, the life she lead
was definitely as colorful. She graduated from New York University,
won herself an audition for the Metropolitan Opera, and received
a Fulbright Fellowship that sent her to Rome for four years
to study opera and fine art. Tita returned to the area, however,
after her father died suddenly, giving up her singing career
as a result of the trauma.
Tita married Wally Jones 23 years ago, but it took three of
those years, and a pitcher of martinis, for her to get the
guts to come clean about her witchy proclivity. (The martinis
were for him, by the way.) When Tita finally decided to fully
embrace her Wiccan craft, she did so in a rather large way.
“WMHT filmed my coming out,” she says, referring to her appearance
on a TV show hosed by Nancy Barrow. Barrow went on to radio,
the Grego and Barrow show on PYX-106, and invited Tita to
share some airtime (“The rating went through the ceiling,”
Wally claims). While on the air, Tita described callers she
could not see, assisted people with various problems, and
offered spells of healing, matchmaking and the like.
She giggles liberally as she remembers seeing one phoner in
his blue terrycloth robe in his living room (all correct observations),
she says. “I said, ‘Would you close your robe please,’ ” Tita
says. He replied that he was holding his cat. “I said, ‘Your
cat’s not long enough.’ He forgot his question.”
Tita has some high-profile folks contacting her for services,
among them Leona Helmsley, a Russian double-agent (“He always
asks if he’s in any kind of danger,” she says), who spends
many of his rubles on weekly phone calls to the psychic, and
various law-enforcement agencies. She says she has helped
solved a few crimes, one in particular by doing a reading
for a cat that witnessed a murder (the memory of the state
trooper humbly seeking that particular deed elicits a hearty
laugh), and she’s now working on an abduction case.
Recently, Tita was contacted by the National Register of Who’s
Who in Executives & Professionals, and she is now included
in the 2003-2004 edition—the only one in her field—and People
wrote about her feats back in 1991.
Tita’s powers can be summoned quickly and unintentionally
at times: Some spirits just make themselves known without
an effort on her part. In the basement of Proctor’s Theatre,
she came across Fritz, a German immigrant who moved to the
states in the ’40s. “He thought America was rich and things
would be different for him, “ she says. “He was having a hard
time in Germany. . . . He committed suicide down in Proctor’s
basement. Shot himself in the head.”
Or her powers can sometimes be used for amusement, as she
can become a voyeur into the lives of the unsuspecting. “She’ll
tell me that the waitresses’ husband just left her,” Wally
remarks. But she cannot tell you the winning lottery number.
“If she could do that,” Wally muses, “we’d be rich.”
An ancient holiday takes on a new
commercial life as Halloween goes global
Rebecca A. Morgan
Carassus was growing up in Lille, France, Halloween was never
part of her childhood. She’s never been trick-or-treating
or bobbing for apples, or spent countless hours figuring out
whether to be a ghost, goblin or witch on Oct. 31. But, now
that Carassus has a son of her own, she soon may be taking
part in the American way of celebrating Halloween, whether
she wants to or not. In the past few years, she says, Halloween
has become a big part of French culture. “Now it’s a big preparation,”
says Carassus. “All the store windows are decorated. They
have pumpkins and witches. The children try to find costumes,
the most frightening as possible, and they celebrate it in
While Carassus and her husband Mathieu Cooren do not plan
on dressing up their son this year, they know that as he gets
older it will be impossible to avoid.
don’t want to support this marketing operation,” says Cooren.
“But with the school, it will be hard to prevent him from
doing it. Children love it so much that the pressure is too
strong on the parents.”
While they admit that Halloween may have some positive influences
on the culture—for example, bringing neighborhoods together—they
also view it as an infiltration of the American way of life
and a frightening example of commercialism’s effect on other
cultures. “In France it’s purely a commercial invention,”
says Cooren. “There was no commercial event during this period,
so it was considered an opportunity by the stores to sell
France is not alone in catching Halloween fever. Sweden, Hungary,
Germany and the Bahamas all have gotten in line to take part
in this once-Celtic tradition. And many are quick to point
out that its origins are European rather than American. It
was in ancient Britain and Ireland that the pagan festival
was first observed on Oct. 31, the eve of the New Year in
both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times. It is on this day that
the souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes.
French people who celebrate it say that it is a Celtic celebration,”
says Carassus. “In other words, they justify their celebration
in saying it’s not truly American, but Celtic.”
Whatever they are using to justify Halloween, it seems to
be working, at least for the many corporations that stand
to make a buck off of the holiday. In 1996, Halloween was
virtually unknown in France, but now even the national telephone
company France Telecom advertises with orange billboards announcing
the pleasures of “Alaween.”
Marie-France Gueusquin, an ethnologist at the Museum of Art
and Popular Traditions in Paris, says that she has suddenly
been seeing pumpkins everywhere.
is emphatically not a traditional French festival,” says Gueusquin.
“My only explanation is that we have belatedly discovered
the power of marketing.”
is weird,” says Anne-Marie Carluis, spokeswomen for Hallmark
in France. “We suddenly get requests for Halloween cards.
We’ve shipped thousands. A new festival has been born.”
But has this new festival suddenly been born, or has it been
strategically invented in other countries through smart marketing
strategies? In the United States alone, Halloween has become
the second most profitable holiday, trailing only Christmas.
According to the American Express index, American consumers
will spend, on average, $98 per household this year on Halloween
candy, costumes and decorations. The U.S. Halloween market
generated close to $7 billion in sales in 2001, and estimates
are even higher for this year.
Deidre Parkes, spokeswomen for Hallmark in the United States,
says that the amount of money people are spending on Halloween
is up 40 percent from 1999. “We have increased our party wear
up 35 percent just from last year,” says Parkes. “Its popularity
has increased because Halloween is a reason to have a fun,
festive holiday. People are not required to participate. You
don’t have to get together with your family.”
But not all are taking this bait. Mark Grogan, who lived in
Germany for six years and now resides in Albany, said that
it is the manipulation and strategic marketing of advertising
agencies and big corporations that have imposed Halloween
here and throughout the rest of the world.
is not about people seeing Halloween as this cool celebration
that they think has some cultural benefits in their country,”
says Grogan. “This is about American TV, movies, and advertising
taking hold and destroying other cultures. It’s globalization
at its worst. When was the last time Americans adopted a holiday
or anything from somewhere else?”
Even so, others like Cooren find the success of Halloween
in France puzzling.
the U.S., it used to be a traditional celebration, and it
became a commercial operation,” Cooren says. “In France, it’s
the opposite: It used to be a purely commercial operation,
and it is now becoming an institution.”
A short history of the church’s persecution
of European ‘witches’
May Day and the two solstices, Halloween is one of the traditional
witches’ sabbats. The familiar sight of little girls in witch
costumes trick-or-treating, however, stands in stark contrast
to the gruesome story of the European witch-hunts of the 15th
to 18th centuries. Like the Holocaust and other horrors of
times past, the tragedy of countless lives lost to ignorance
and superstition is a lesson of history not to be forgotten.
After Europe was evangelized in the centuries following the
fall of Rome, pockets of pagan belief with goddess worship
persisted, and wise women skilled in the use of herbal medicines
were not uncommon. Christianity, though, had been developing
a contemptuous view of women ever since St. Peter pronounced
them “the weaker vessel.” In the second century, St. Clement
of Alexandria wrote, “Every woman should be filled with shame
by the thought that she is a woman,” and the sixth-century
Christian writer Boathouse declared in his work The Consolation
of Philosophy, “Woman is a temple built upon a sewer.”
Elements of the coming confrontation were already falling
into place by the eighth century as the Church legislated
against wicce-craeft: heathen practices such as evil
spells, sacrificing to demons, and divinations.
By the ninth century, women claiming to have flown at night
astride animals, in the company of many other women and the
goddess Diana, came to the attention of the Council of Ancyra.
The council, however, soberly dismissed these assertions as
products of dreams and officially dismissed them as illusory,
thus impeding the persecution of witches for centuries to
come. In his classic 1958 study Witchcraft, British
scholar Geoffrey Parrinder suggests that some of these claims,
a common thread in the confessions of witches, could have
been inspired by the use of the hallucinogen belladonna, and
that dreaming about flying is not unusual anyway, even while
not under the influence of drugs.
After rats on grain ships from the Crimea brought bubonic
plague to Europe in 1346, killing an estimated third of the
population within three years, a demand for scapegoats arose.
The Inquisition, which had been established to root out heresies
in 12th-century Europe, was armed with torture as a means
of extracting confessions, and began with Jews rather than
the as-yet-undiscovered bacterium Yersinia pestis as the plague’s
probable cause. In Germany, most Jews were executed, although
some fled to Eastern Europe. But with the plague continuing
to recur about once every 10 years, a great fear of witches
seized Europe. The Inquisition’s gaze then turned to those
it suspected of the banned heathen practice. And they were
The Council of Ancyra’s decree holding that there was no such
thing as night riding or nocturnal congregations of witches
stood in the Inquisition’s way, though. In an instance of
ecclesiastical chicanery, the old edict was circumvented in
1458 when an inquisitor named Nicholas Jaquerius held that
witchcraft was a new sect altogether different from that the
council had spoken of, and tied it to Satan by claiming that
women had confessed to consorting with the devil, appearing
in the shape of a goat, during their sabbats. And besides,
he maintained, even if the night riding was an illusion, these
women still clung to Satan during the day. The Inquisition
was only too happy to see it Jaquerius’ way.
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull declaring
war on witches in which both the church and secular authorities
were given full power to proceed against them. Within five
years, Germany’s two chief inquisitors, Fathers Kramer and
Sprenger, wrote a notorious textbook for conducting witch
trials, the Malleus Maleficarum, translatable as “the
hammer of witches.” Under the new rules, torture could be
kept up for days on end, children could turn in their parents,
criminals could give evidence, and even defense lawyers could
become suspect. A denial of witchcraft was seen as sure sign
of guilt. Convicted witches were to be handed over to local
authorities and burned at the stake. And conveniently, only
the inquisitors were somehow immune from the satanic influence
that seemed to be spreading like the plague itself.
With Innocent VIII’s bull in one hand and the Malleus Maleficarum
in the other, the inquisitors fanned out through Europe hunting,
torturing and burning witches. The popular belief was that
witches engaged in lustful revels with Satan, mocked the Christian
religion and, worst of all, ate unbaptized babies at their
sabbats. The hapless people accused by friends, neighbors
and relatives trying to save themselves from the stake were
expected to confess to all this. Only a steadfast denial of
guilt under torture could save the accused. Most, of course,
confessed to avoid the agony of the racks, thumbscrews and
other tools of the inquisitors’ trade. Estimates of how many
perished range from 100,000 to 1 million, with the greatest
loss of life occurring in France and Germany. Fortunately
for England, common law forbade torture in most cases, and
relatively few executions took place. In Spain, too, the chief
inquisitor, Frias Salazar, examined hundreds of cases and
found merit in none of them. But elsewhere on the continent,
entire villages were sometimes wiped out. With the Reformation,
Protestant inquisitors joined the hunt as well.
The witch-hunts were an orgy of misogyny—scholars estimate
that 80 to 90 percent of those burned as witches were women.
Of the male victims, many were simply trying to protect the
accused women from the hunters. Single women, elderly and
feeble peasant women, midwives, lesbians, and women who had
pets that could be brought into evidence as “animal familiars”
all became targets. And yet, through it all, history does
not record a single instance of anyone ever having witnessed
a witches’ sabbat. The phenomenon of witchcraft, Parrinder
writes, was entirely in the minds of the inquisitors. And
even though the Age of Enlightenment brought the witch burnings
to an end, history always seems to provide enough events to
prove that wherever ignorance and blind obedience to either
religious or temporal authority prevail, innocent people will
be in danger.