By Kat Wells

 

Ah, Springtime…that magical time of year when the birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and we celebrate the anniversary of that one time in colonial Massachusetts when villagers settled into a tiresome year that would result in the execution of 20 people and two dogs, all in the name of stamping out witchcraft.

Okay, so maybe we celebrate in October, the inarguably witchiest time of the year.

Okay, so maybe we shouldn’t celebrate at all, because this stuff still goes on, all over the world, over 300 years later. But I’m approaching a point, so I should probably stop taking breaks to brainstorm witch puns and get on with it so you don’t fly off the handle. You know, of your broomstick? Alright, I’m done.

If you, like me, are an insatiable consumer of true crime documentary films, you might have come across the Paradise Lost trilogy. A three-part series spanning from 1996 to 2011, these HBO docs follow the citizens of West Memphis, Arkansas in the aftermath of the murders of three 8 year old boys: Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers. 30 days into a murder investigation and with no leads, the West Memphis police zero in on three teenage boys: Jason Baldwin (16 years old at the time of arrest), Jesse Misskelly (17), and Damien Echols (18). With no physical evidence linking them to the crime scene, police weave together a theory of satanism, witchcraft, and ritual sacrifice as a motivation for the killings, and the teenage boys are convicted: Baldwin and Misskelly are sentenced to life in prison, and Echols, the ostensible ringleader, is sentenced to death by lethal injection.

west memphis three damien echols

From left: Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin, aka the West Memphis Three

This kind of witch hunt is, unfortunately, a tale as old as time (or, rather, as old as the Bible), and Damien Echols was a useful scapegoat for law enforcement and for a community in pain and searching for answers. He wore black clothes, listened to Metallica, and read Stephen King novels. He was indeed fascinated by witchcraft and the occult. In short: he was kind of a weird kid. In the deep, conservative, south. Not a lucky combination. Damien, Jason, and Jesse became known as the West Memphis Three and a groundswell of worldwide support began to quietly and slowly build around them.

On August 19, 2011, Jason, Jesse, and Damien were finally released from prison after 18 years. They haven’t been exonerated for the crimes, for lots of stupid reasons, but they, along with their numerous supporters, are working on that. Damien Echols has always gotten the lion’s share of the attention throughout this case, but right now, almost 5 years after his release, life is a bit quieter for him. And, as we here at The Frog see it, he’s kind of living the dream. After years locked in a cage and fighting for his freedom, Damien is now living in New York City with his wife, Lorri, and spends his time writing, enjoying the city, making art, rescuing cats, and practicing Magick.

That’s right, you heard me. After being sentenced to death and spending almost two decades in the dank filth of prison as the result of a witch hunt, this man is a practicing witch. Well, sort of. In reality, Damien’s beliefs and practices are more diverse than that – it’s more about esoteric ritual, meditation, mysticism, and energy work, all of which helped him make it through his time on death row – but to those who put him away, all of this stuff falls under the blanket of black witchcraft. I’m not sure there’s anything more brave than continuing to live your truth, boldly and publicly, after you were almost killed for it.


The next time you’re worried about what your wheezy, beady-eyed Aunt Denise is going to say at Christmas about your choice not to have children, or you’re sitting around wondering whether you can still get away with wearing that Tool shirt from high school, maybe just go outside and take a walk because you can? Perspective, guys.

Anyway, we here at The Frog see you, Damien. And we think you’re pretty amazing.

Damien Echols, along with his artistic collective The Hand, has been working on a project called Salem that will open Saturday, March 19th, 2016 at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica. If you’re in the L.A. area, check it out!

Buy Damien’s artwork here.

Read Damien’s books Life After Death and Yours For Eternity.

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