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Bewitching

Murphys Witch Walk drives tourism; celebrates Irish heritage, female empowerment

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11-year old witches Nyrah and Gia enjoy the festivities during the 5th Annual Murphys Witch Walk on Oct. 16.

 

High-pitched cackles, popping corks, and the sound of opening cash registers rang out in downtown Murphys this past Saturday, Oct. 16. The fifth annual Murphys Witch Walk went off without a hitch (and with plenty of witches!) Downtown Murphys became a blur of pointed black hats and corseted dresses, with a plethora of witches from all walks of life perusing locally-made crafts, magical offerings, and merchandise at vendor booths and shops along Main street.

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An elixir of mottled blackberries, rosemary, and lemon juice is topped with a sprig of smoking rosemary for added mystery.

With a new branding approach to this year’s Witch Walk centered on “women empowerment” and embracing Murphys’ heritage, organizers set out to charm attendees and local business owners alike.

The Witch Walk festival originated in 2016, when organizer and local shop owner Teresa Rodriguez brought the event to Murphys in an effort to drive tourism and business, especially to her store, The Potted Plum, and neighboring businesses at the east end of Main Street.

Now in its fifth year, the Witch Walk attracts “witches” and spectators from near and far. Participation and attendance for this year’s event seemed better than expected, with some shops such as Independent Mercantile, reporting a bigger turnout than previous events.

“For me, this seems like the busiest ever,” reports Independent Mercantile shop owner Linda, who has had the storefront in downtown Murphy’s for 11 years.

Up the street a ways, locally-owned boutique Jane & Jean was packed with shoppers, including a group of women wearing matching custom “Girls’ Trip Murphys 2021” t-shirts, clamoring over lacy bralettes and cozy sweaters in the corner of the busy store.

Shop owner Sue Richmond was busy behind the counter. When asked about the event’s turnout compared to previous years, Richmond replied “I won’t know until the end of the day, but we’ve been busy all day.”

After being canceled last year due to Covid, organizers Teresa Rodriguez and Christopher Buttner weren’t quite sure what to expect. It wasn’t until August of this year when they finally decided to go ahead with the event, albeit a “scaled-down” version.

Gone were the raffles, costume contests, and fashion shows of Witch Walks past. Attractions this year included three pop-up markets featuring witchy vendors and their crafts, live music, “spooky” specials at coffee shops, wineries, and restaurants, and even live tarot readings.

Concerns about the pandemic, on top of recovery from a fire at Rodriquez’ store earlier this summer, made the decision to scale back organized gatherings pretty obvious.

It still didn’t stop the droves of witches from showing up to shop, eat, drink, and wear their Halloween best last Saturday.

Creative director Buttner, who began working for the Murphys Witch Walk in 2019, was determined to make it happen, knowing that it could be a huge boost to the economy in Murphys.

“He has really spearheaded the whole thing this year,” Rodriguez explained, crediting Buttner for the event’s success, as she had been dealing with personal matters that limited her ability to be as involved as in the past.

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“Earth Witch” Christy made her headpiece from feathers, sticks, and florals.

 

Buttner, having a background in the entertainment industry with event production and publicity, saw the value in having a “women empowerment event” in Murphys, knowing that women were already the driving force of tourism in the quaint foothill town. Armed with this focus, Buttner set to work on rebranding, marketing and promoting the event.

Enter, Maeve Murphys, the festival’s cartoon “figurehead,” a sassy-looking wine-toting witch with skull earrings, orange and green striped stockings, and a leprechaun-like hat with a gold buckle atop a crop of fire-orange curls.

Artist Lullia Brovchenko is credited with creating the artwork for Maeve, described on the Murphys Witch Walk webpage as “the Wine Witch of the Sierra.” The artist collaborated with Buttner to create a magical female icon that merges elements of Murphys’ Irish heritage with the area’s plentiful wine industry.

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Desiree, a self-described “hair witch,” summons the magical properties of her hair brush.

Maeve is an Irish name, supposedly having roots in Celtic mythology as the name of a queen with ties to intoxication and even supernatural or goddess-like powers.

On their website, the Murphys Witch Walk team writes, “But, moreover, the name Maeve was selected due to the respect and admiration we have for those who love, support and visit Murphys, as well as love, support and attend the Murphys Witch Walk.”

Buttner also says that “every woman finds herself in Maeve.”

Costumed witches on Saturday, however, were dressed mostly in black and purple--not the kelly green and fire orange of the event’s new mascot.

Some costumes were more unique, such as the “Earth Witch” costume attendee Christy conjured up, with a homemade floral headdress of moss, branches, and peacock feathers.

“Everything came from my yard, except the feathers,” Christy stated.

There were also plenty of spirits, as wineries and other establishments were packed with customers.

At the Murphys Irish Pub, bartender/co-owner Anthony Delaney juggled credit cards, draughts of Guinness and plates of fresh pretzels and shepherd’s pie while catering to spirited patrons--some who’d probably had a few too many enchanting brews.

The pub’s kitchen closed down temporarily just before dinner time to give exhausted workers a break after the relentless day of business.

Pop-up market vendors at three locations along Main street were busy selling their wares, many with magical and mystical themes.

Near The Potted Plum, upcycled fashion boutique Peculiar Charm had black clothing, shoes, and handmade witch hats for sale, along with “love spell” charm bottles sealed in pink wax.

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Little witches pose in their witch hats near one of three pop-up markets at the event. 

 

Over at the Moss and Rust pop-up market, event-goers could learn about self-care with Sukha Self Care. Owner Desiree described herself as a “hair witch” who teaches clients “to break the bonds of unconscious grooming” through self-care rituals. She hosts events such as a New Moon Brushing Ritual at the Yoga Loft in Sonora.

Kelly Acosta, owner of Vulturess Findings, makes jewelry from natural elements such as leather, stone, and even small animal bones. She described her jewelry as “witchy” and stated, “a lot of intention goes into it.”

Other vendors had Halloween decor, handmade jewelry, crafts, and art for sale.

Outside of the Murphys Pourhouse, a tarot card reader from the area was set up to give 10-minute readings to witches and non-magical folk alike.

The reader, who goes by her trade name VVitch of the Hills, noted that many in attendance told her the Witch Walk was one of the first events they’d attended since the pandemic started, and added that “people appeared relieved and excited to be out of their homes and getting to dress up.”

She also stated that the most-asked question was what the next few years will hold.

“I see this as a sign of the times. People are starting to emerge from their homes and looking towards the future. Although I felt some trepidation from the individuals I read for, there was also an overwhelming vibe of playfulness and friendship.”

Organizers Rodriquez and Buttner are already looking forward to next year’s Witch Walk and also considering other themed or costumed events to bring more fun (and tourism) to Murphys.

Find more information about the Murphys Witch Walk at www.murphyswitchwalk.com or on Facebook and Instagram @murphyswitchwalk

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Marie-Elena studied creative writing, art, and photography at University of Nebraska at Omaha, graduating with a BA in Studio Art -Visual Media. She moved to California from Nebraska in 2019 and is happy to call Calaveras County her home.

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