Sarah Nurse is a super-mage and witch hailing from the town of Salem. Although she practiced witchcraft in safe anonymity for years, she recently competed in a contest within the witch community for the honor of becoming Sister Salem, the superhero witch. As a result of this competition, she has moved to Millennium City and become a full time costumed adventurer.
Witches in Early America
The Nurse family arrived in America in the 17th century, fleeing persecution in Cromwell's Puritan England. The women of the family were midwives by trade, helping in the delivery and care of children, as well as the diagnosis of common female illness and the proscribing of natural cures made from local ingredients. However, they were also witches in the "white witch" or benevolent sense: they used their knowledge of mysticism and the occult for the benefit of their community. They did not barter or bargain with demonic powers (such as the Dragon or the inhabitants of the Netherworld) and even became members of the church, attending services and becoming active in the parish. Their personal religious beliefs did lead them to see God as a female Goddess, however.
In general, the Nurses were able to practice their beliefs in peace and they were considered kind and valuable members of the community. In the late 17th century, however, an outbreak of mass hysteria erupted, and the witches of Colonial America became the target of intense and sudden prejudice which resulted in many injustices being inflicted upon them and other women who were accused of being witches. Rebecca Nurse, the matriarch of the family and an upstanding member of the church of Salem, was put on trial for witchcraft, found guilty, and executed in June of 1692 at the age of 71. Her sister Sarah Cloyce soon followed.
The Nurse family survived, though their practice of witchcraft went underground for a generation. Eventually Rebecca Nurse's accuser Ann Putnam, confessed to wrongfully accusing innocent women of traffic with Satan, and the government compensated the Nurse family for Rebecca's death. Although redeemed in the public eye, the Nurse family nevertheless felt the keen danger posed by paranoia and discrimination, and they continued to do their witchcraft in some secrecy, though over the years it became something known to the other inhabitants of Salem and the surrounding communities. If a woman was sick, expecting a difficult pregnancy, looking for a love charm, or wanted to avoid childbirth, a Nurse was sought. The witches of Salem performed card readings and other spells for the people of the community, helping mothers determine what the best future was for their children. They also acted as counsellors and amateur therapists, especially when marriage difficulty arose and the wife was unable to leave the marriage due to social pressures.
Sarah Nurse and the Contest of Witches
Generations passed and witchcraft slowly spread through the country, until by the 20th century there was a well established network of witches in covens throughout the eastern United States. Sarah Nurse was born in 1977, the youngest of three sisters all raised in the ways of witchcraft. From an early age she was precocious and talented in magic. She read voraciously and, while her sisters tended to see witchcraft as a hobby -- something to make their lives a little easier from time to time -- Sarah was a dedicated and aspiring student. She began to assist her mother in the family trade at the age of 14, learning on the job and making the valuable social contacts that would enable her to eventually take over her mother's role in the Coven of High Witches, a special group of key women who now made all important decisions for the growing order of witches.
In 2009 the federal government put out a call for super heroes from all fifty states to come together in the Statesmen project, the largest federal super team ever created. This caused a stir among the Coven of High Witches, which was eager to come out of the shadows and stand up to represent women throughout the country. The High Witches felt that this was an invaluable opportunity to shed the stigma of being a witch, at last. If the right candidate could be chosen, her excellent example as a superhero to the world would at last demonstrate that witches were an asset to the community, not something to fear. In order to find the right candidate, a contest was announced in which all witches of the world would be invited to compete. The winner would be granted weapons and knowledge which would help her in the fight against evil, and she would become the champion of all witches everywhere.
Sarah was very much a bookworm and did not consider herself "field agent material." Nevertheless, she had a deep-seated desire to compete in and win the contest. Her mother, who stood on the Coven of High Witches, knew how dangerous the contest would be and how risky the life of a superheroine could swiftly become. For this reason, she expressly forbid her daughters from competing. Sarah, however, resolved to enter the contest anyway. One of her good friends had recently become pregnant and was hiding her condition from her family; Sarah agreed to help her friend, on the condition that Sarah be able to adopt the other woman's appearance for the duration of the contest. Lynette Farmer went into seclusion to have her child, and Sarah used a lock of Lynette's hair to craft her magical disguise.
The contest was extremely difficult and lasted a fortnight. It included not only tests of spellcasting power, but also knowledge tests delivered by the High Witches, medical and pharmaceutical tests, and tests of character intended to ensure that the chosen champion was the best possible representative of witches everywhere. Sarah did not win every event, but she managed to out perform all other rivals so that, on the last day of the competition, she was awarded the Panoply of Witches and the title of "Sister Salem," the Witch Champion. It was at this moment that she revealed her true identity. Her mother was furious, but there was nothing she could do.
Now known as Sister Salem, Sarah moved away from home and arrived in Millennium City, where she secured a small townhouse. She is now a reserve member of the Statesmen, a federal superteam which answers to the Attorney General and is funded through the Department of Justice. As a reservist, she is not obligated to attend meetings and her responsibilities are limited to those cases on which she is specifically called in. She receives a modest monthly stipend from the federal government, which is not enough to live on. When she is not working in her official capacity for the Statesmen, she does what witches have always done: she uses her knowledge, time, and magical powers on behalf of her community. Her additional financial needs are met by donations provided by those whom she helps; she has been known to accept virtually any kind of donation, including food, hand-crafted furniture, and services (such as the fixing of items around her home). When consulting for private companies or law-enforcement groups, however, she prefers cash.
Sarah has a particular weakness for women in trouble. Trained since she was a child to presume that a witch's job is to help her fellow women, Sarah can be relied upon to offer her help to women in need. As a super hero, this leads her to patrol parts of the city known for a high incidence of rape, and she is always on the lookout for women who are victims of domestic abuse or discrimination based on gender. While she does not fit the popular cultural image of a "feminist," Sarah does consider herself to be one. She does not personally demand equality for the genders in all ways, since she also believes that there are some things women are simply better at than men, and vice versa, but she will stand up for any woman who has been silenced or stripped of power.
In private, Sarah can be quite casual and even vulgar, but in public, especially when in her Sister Salem uniform, she tries to adopt a professional air and the demeanor of a potential role model. She is not impressed by macho behavior, including vigilante justice and the taking of human life, which she sees as the last resort in any situation. While, as a civilian, Sarah would often casually ignore the law when it was inconvenient for her, as a superhero she has a new awareness of her ability to influence others, and she toes a more careful line.
As part of her training, Sarah believes that there are things Man Was Not Meant to Know. That is, there are some mysteries in the universe which are harmful to human society. These mysteries, which include things like the true nature of the Dragon, of the Qliphoth, and of Elysium, are things which she, as a trained mystic, is meant to handle and watch out for in order that mundane society can go on blissfully unaware. For this reason, Sarah has no desire to share her knowledge of the Qliphoth with city authorities, for example, or spread the word about an occult invasion to ordinary police forces. She sees these threats as the sort of thing which only those trained in the mystic arts can safely anticipate and oppose. This leaves the vast majority of humanity to carry out its life in naive bliss.
Now that she has left her coven and her family, Sarah is contemplating the need to pass on what she knows to others. This might take the form of an apprentice, or of a coven of interested women devoted to defending Millennium City against arcane threats. She has not yet decided on any particular course of action in this regard however.
A born romantic and a woman with a keen sense of the aesthetic, Sarah has been actively looking to date since she arrived in Millennium. She has had only modest success however, since everyone she has so far met has also been in the superhero business and balancing two such schedules has proven all but impossible. Several of her romantic efforts have been rebuffed or ended in failure. Still, she continues to remain hopeful.
Powers and Talents
Sister Salem is a thaumaturge, theurge, and witch. In addition to a broad array of magical powers which she uses in battle, she is a skilled magical ritualist and she can cast nearly any spell which she can get a written copy of.
In the Champions Universe, battle magic is known as "Thaumaturgy." Thaumaturgy is distinguished by flashy special effects and is often accompanied by elaborate gestures, the invocation of named beings, and spells with alliterative titles. Sister Salem is an experienced Thaumaturge with a variety of spells at her command. These include:
- Akashic Eye: Sister Salem can manifest a "third eye" on her forehead which allows her to probe the memories and thoughts of a nearby subject.
- Astral Form: Sarah can project her Astral Form out of her corporeal body, giving her access to the Astral Plane.
- The Bindings of Bromion: Bolts of energy which bind and blind the subject. Sarah routinely uses the Third Binding of Bromion of her foes.
- The Cerulean Spells: Sparkling beams of blue energy. The Cerulean Spear is a single-target blast.
- Iskari's Intense Iridescence: One of the Iskarine Colors, this magic bolt both stuns and blinds its target.
- Deflecting Disk: A very common form of magical defense, the Deflecting Disk actually pulls magical attacks into itself.
- The Lights of Luathon: This useful set of magical lights can be used for a variety of purposes. The Third Light renders the foe unconscious without physical harm. The Fourth Light is deadly to mortals.
- Mantle of Mastery: Sarah's Mantle of Mastery shines as a golden light which surrounds her body. It protects her from mystical and mundane attack, and she can extend the Mantle to protect her nearby allies.
- Sorcerer's Stars: Another common form of mystic blast, Sarah knows the First through Fifth Star.
- Winds of the Zepharim: Although she usually relies on her Cloak of Flight, Sarah can use this spell to fly.
Although her battle magic is flashy and impressive, Sarah is far more proud of her ritual magic expertise. As a theurge, she specializes in Western Hermeticism, which has its roots in Jewish Kaballah, Neoplatonism, and the mysticism of Cornelius Agrippa, John Dee, and Hermes Trismagistus. Her occult knowledge is deep when it comes to traditional and neo-witchcraft, which involves the making of charms, the making and breaking of curses, the brewing of potions, and other forms of nature and fertility magic. Witchcraft of this sort follows a very traditional feminine strain, and often involves traditionally domestic tasks such as cooking, sewing, or cleaning -- all of which become symbolic magical acts used to perform ritual.
While she is well read on the subject of necromancy and demonology - topics commonly associated with the malevolent side of witchcraft - Sarah has sworn oaths never to perform such magic. She can violate these oaths in moments of extreme danger (for example, to save the life of another), but she would never do so casually or lightly. Many of these spells attract the attention of demonic or Netherworld powers who use the opportunity to try to turn the caster to evil, and Sarah is very conscious of this danger.
Recently, responding to increasing threats in Canada and Millennium City, Sarah has begun to research the Qliphothic Realm, its inhabitants and leaders. In her previous life as a quiet town witch, she had little reason to encounter such dire threats to mankind, but the Qliphothic threat is growing and as a self-professed occult expert Sarah has felt compelled to learn more.
Sarah previously flew around on a broom, which she still keeps in her Millennium City townhouse. However, city ordnances require that the use of any flying vehicle be permitted only with a pilot's license, and Sarah hasn't yet bothered to secure one. Therefore, the broom has been grounded. The broom expresses its displeasure with this situation by leaving straw in Sarah's bed.
The Witch's Panoply
When she won the Tournament of Witches, Sarah earned the right to bear the Witch's Panoply, a set of three enchanted items which make her work easier. The first of these is the Cloak of Flight, which has replaced Sarah's reliable broom. The Cloak of Flight gives Sarah modest but effective transportation; it responds to mental commands. Her second useful tool is the Amulet of Communication, which allows Sarah to mentally speak to anyone over any distance. The Amulet (which is worn on the forehead) also translates magical languages that Sarah hears, such as Enochian, Lemurian, and Qliphothic speech. The Amulet has no effect, however, on written words, which she must translate the old fashioned way. Finally, Sarah wears the Girdle of Preservation; this ancient and very powerful item is designed to trap Sarah's soul should her body be slain. While this will not sustain her life or heal her mortal injury, it will prevent her spirit from traveling on to Elysium, presumably making it easier for another mage to repair her body and restore her soul.
Allies and Enemies
As a member of the Statesmen, Sarah has had the opportunity to meet and befriend several of her colleagues on America's Superteam, including Dusk Owl, Foxhound, Moonchilde, Carapace, Sunbird, Locust and Lady Incendiary.
She is also friends with Zarp Draken and Psionistar, members of Meta-SWAT, and has often been brought in as a consultant when that group has needed someone with mystical knowledge. Most recently, she has advised them on the threat posed by the return of Kal-Turak the Ravager, and also on the dangers posed by the Qliphoth.
Sarah's most personal battles have always been of a magical nature, and for this reason she is often found fighting DEMON. She has confronted at least two members of the Inner Circle, and each time has triumphed only with great difficulty. In her pursuit of mystic foes who threaten mankind, she has tangled with both Necrull and Talisman.
In her role as magical go-to girl, she conducted a ritual which allowed the immortal vigilante known as Mr. Grimm to travel back in time through his astral form and witness his own conception. In this, she had the help of Mercy, Xin, and Eshtarra. Later, when her fellow Statesman Backlash was mysteriously rendered comatose, Sarah used her Akashic Eye to penetrate the woman's subconcious and then astrally projected into those memories in order to bring Backlash back to consciousness. Most recently she has been dedicating her time to the research of Takofanes, the Undying Lord, whose return seems imminent.
- The character of Sister Salem is inspired by many sources, but those sources include Dr. Strange (who remains, in the opinion of this author, the definitive super-mage), the Scarlet Witch (who was just fine until Brian Bendis got ahold of her), Hogwarts (with its emphasis on wizards and witches in a modern setting), Bewitched (for its sense of fun and suburban magic), and Wonder Woman (whose contest inspired Sarah's).