Shortly before her 30th birthday, a friend of sent me a tweet reading, “When women turn 30, they have to pick a subclass: sea witch, forest witch, fire witch, air witch, space witch,” to which I replied that her birthday would mark the birth of our coven. A few years ago, we wouldn’t have stumbled across that joke and exchanged it, however. It’s not so much that the two of us have changed from non-witchy to witch-curious of our own volition; rather, a cultural movement has snuck into the mainstream like seductively curling smoke from a cauldron. So, it’s not so much that we came to witchiness. Witchiness came to us.
As far as my friend and I are concerned, we couldn’t be more thrilled. The intersecting realms of the occult, including tarot and astrology, have opened our minds to a wealth of compelling narratives that broaden the way in which we express our own stories, feelings, and lives. Their mythologies have provided fertile ground for introspection and community. Thanks to various apps (hi, Co-Star) and online social outlets (especially Instagram), occult modalities are increasingly accessible to those not already initiated in them. But accessibility is only part of why the witch movement has taken off so powerfully.
Beginning with the surface, the aesthetic appeal is enough to lure the prospective initiate. A gilded Empress card here, a smoky quartz stone there…and before we know it, we’re swapping methods for divination in our DMs. For me, the entry point was natural perfume, particularly the blends of LVNEA, quite possibly the most darkly beautiful brand I’ve ever encountered, whose Ghost Pine answered the “subclass” question for me long before it was asked of me. Forest.
Of course, the aesthetic element is in no way divorced from the substantive heart of contemporary witchiness. Bazaar writer Carmen Maria Machado argues, “Modern witchiness reveals itself through fashion in clothes that articulate joy and express a healthy relationship with mortality while also being difficult for the male gaze. It’s not about dressing to please an amorphous other but yourself: Grey Gardens meets Wednesday Adams meets Stevie Nicks meets nuns. Luxe meets feeling yourself meet fuck off.” What a line-up.
Granted, there’s arguably a distinction between “witchiness” and “witchcraft.” Witchiness could refer to appearances, accessories, and attitudes while witchcraft can include anything from spellwork to divination to Goddess worship. Not everyone wearing black lace and amulets casts spells, and not everyone with a well-worn tarot deck looks “witchy.”
On the other hand, however, the definition of magic, per its modern iterations, is inclusive, and it’s not situated outside the realm of the ordinary but rather functions within the everyday to effect positive change for the individual and their community. In other words, who’s to say that thoughtfully chosen attire with the purpose of inwardly fortifying oneself isn’t a kind of personal magic?
“We use our magic, not to escape into an enchanted world outside the gates of the ordinary reality but to bring forth the magic from within ourselves and pour it into the world around us,” writes Amanda Yates Garcia, author of Initiated: Memoir of a Witch. For many of us, bringing forth our magic begins with choices that may seem trivial but ultimately keep us awake to that which inspires and drives us.
Everyone’s expression of witchiness will look different. For some identifying the witch movement, it may include any combination of traditional incantations, modern self-care using natural ingredients, journaling, meditation, creating altars, fashioning yourself per your own standards of beauty, and working to reject the influence of oppressive, damaging forces. Garcia reminds us, “Our magical practice encourages us to move toward liberation. It helps us create space and empower ourselves. The daily practices of witchcraft…all remind us that we have agency.”
Another compelling element of the witch craze is that is can remind us of our roots in the natural world. A quote by one of my favorite perfume writers, Barbara Herman, helps me understand why the magic of LVNEA is so dear: “smell is our underground sense and links us to sex, emotion, memory, and those messy things our allegedly logical culture tries to repress. In other words, scent is subversive…scent is a path to getting closer to our senses, to instinct, and to our bodies and the earth at a time when those attachments are threatened.” Replace every use of “scent” with “magic,” and the statement still rings true.
Naturally, the sweeping modern witch movement has received criticism that it’s a trend without teeth. Jessa Crispin, co-creator of the Spolia Tarot Deck posits, “The whole Instagram witchcraft shit bothers the hell out of me. I hate a dilettante…It’s okay to take things deeply seriously. But people treat tarot, astrology, and witchcraft like it’s okay to just dabble in it, and that bothers me.”
She continues, “I don’t think what we have is a true witchcraft revival. I think what we have is a fad. I do meet serious practitioners, but they are drowned the fuck out by dabblers. Tourists. In the way that everyone is a feminist while doing absolutely nothing to pursue or understand that ideology, everyone is a witch while doing nothing to pursue or understand that religion.”
Her critique reminds us that it’s never okay to casually co-opt something that is sacred to others, and for those of us who are new to any field or practice—especially one with a tortured past—listening more than speaking (or posting on the gram) can be the most respectful thing we can do.
Being a beginner at something is different than merely dabbling, however. Further, we don’t need to be a seasoned practitioner of a spiritual practice to take it seriously and treat it with the reverence it deserves. Like The Fool of the Major Arcana, we can jump into a new adventure with an open heart with a childlike sense of wonder—and come out better for having invested our time in exploration.
In my own case, anointing myself with my beloved Ghost Pine or silently counseling with my spirit guides help me connect to the dreamy, poetic, spacious world within myself—and connect those parts of myself to my ordinary world, which is largely defined by my suburban surroundings, academic schedule, and responsibilities at home (i.e., things that, largely, do not feel magical). Doing so makes me stronger, more resilient, more receptive and aware, allowing me to better serve my family and community.
Indeed, in thinking about where our power comes from, including the privileges we’ve been granted, we may be in a more thoughtful position to consider imbalances of power at an emotional, intuitive level (rather than from a solely intellectual perspective—though that’s important, too). And when our heart is in it, our action is more likely to follow. And action on behalf of others and the planet is needed now more than ever.
So there’s any practice that can help you birth kindness, creativity, and progress, it’s worth hanging onto and taking seriously because that right there is the magic our world needs.
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