At 14 I had a brief flirtation with witchcraft and magick, a phase that primarily consisted of hotboxing my room with various kinds of incense, attempts at writing spells and taking wardrobe inspiration from Stevie Nicks. I grew out of it relatively quickly and forgot about it until I recently noticed the resurgence of esoteric thinking. Is it another symptom of living in a “post-truth” era? Sure – but that’s an oversimplification that misses magick’s more profound appeal. In its contemporary incarnation, witchcraft helps reclaim the histories of repressed minorities and reveals new attitudes towards spirituality.
Look no further than indie perfume brand REEK’s Damn Rebel Witches scent to see how identity politics resonates with witchcraft today. Inspired by “the sisterhood of the coven,” and dedicated to those burnt at the stake, the perfume’s campaign reinterprets witchcraft and its history within the framework of the brand’s anti-retouching, intersectional brand ethos. Though the eroticism one has come to expect of perfume ads lingers in the images, the non-professional models of various skin tones, ages and body shapes featured are given a voice through interviews on Reek’s blog, which also covers topics such as period poverty, the Scottish queer club scene and the history of activism.
Notice the coven’s impeccably manicured talons. Key signifiers of ‘witchiness’ and attuned to Instagram beauty trends, they evoke the trademark nails of The Hoodwitch, one of Millennial witchcraft’s most prolific voices. Its founder Bri Luna has built a community around witchcraft that is fresh and exciting, evidenced by her significant social media following and interviews on mainstream media sites like Refinery29 and Vogue. The secret to her success? Pairing aspirational lifestyle imagery, cool graphics with meaningful content. The Store section of her website is a perfect illustration of how the sacred and the fashionable can be combined: Goddess totes, Mystic Eye enamel pins sit side by side with obsidian pyramids, amethyst clusters and Palo Santo. It resonates with contemporary aesthetic sensibilities rather than alienates with a ‘culty’ or worthy tone.
From witch tips, horoscopes to advice on picking Tarot cards, The Hoodwitch encourages spiritual practices that revolve around positivity, self-care and explores the implications of current political events like what it means to be a witch in Trump’s America and magick’s diversity problem. The latter is especially important, as excavating a repressed past is a key driving force in the resurgence of witchcraft. For people of colour, it offers a way to reconnect with their ancestors’ heritage and resist the current white, male, (predominantly) Christian status quo represented by the Trump administration. “I think that getting in touch with your family’s spiritual practice, there’s something very healing in that. Especially with being a woman of colour I think that Christianity played a huge part in the erasure of spiritual identity of African people and from Mexican people,” Luna states in a popular podcast about witchcraft, Witch Wave. This sense of pride and power is also expressed in Princess Nokia’s 2017 song ‘Brujas:’ (*bruja is Spanish for witch)
I’m that Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba
And my people come from Africa diaspora, Cuba
And you mix that Arawak, that original people
I’m that Black Native American, I vanquish all evil
I’m that Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba
And my ancestors Nigerian, my grandmas was brujas
The current interest in all things witchcraft and magick has been simmering for quite some time, marking changed attitudes to spirituality and the bounds of reality in a technology-oriented culture. Writer, curator and podcast host Pam Grossman named 2013 “The Year of the Witch,” citing the synchronicity of feminist anniversaries like Roe vs. Wade with pop culture moments like American Horror Story‘s Salem season. By 2015, Vanity Fair was dissecting the mainstream appeal of Reiki and crystals, while the trend-forecasting collective K-HOLE proclaimed ‘normcore’ dead in favour of ‘chaos magic’ in a characteristically sybillic report that declared:
“On a bargain basement level, Chaos Magic lives in the same realm as the cult of positive thinking. But it goes beyond making mood boards of high-end apartments you’d like to will into your possession. Belief becomes a technology that creates change.”
Belief becomes a technology that creates change – in retrospect, this sentence presages the surreality of a former reality-TV celebrity becoming US President amid hacking and fake news scandals. While K-HOLE’s report inspired some coverage of magick as a fashion trend, Trump’s election really brought witches out of the broom closet and aligned witchcraft with political resistance. Since then, the market for magick-related products and content has exploded; from esoteric subscription boxes, magazines that give the history of magick a contemporary edge, crystal dildos, fashion editorials, feminist films, television shows to classic reboots.
Witchcraft has also become popular because, as a ritualistic practice, it encompasses mindfulness and creativity. Setting intentions, reciting healing mantras, practicing gratitude are all becoming increasingly commonplace ways of coping with modern stress – casting spells therefore is no longer completely alien. The topic is starting to pop up on mainstream websites like Byrdie and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more how-tos over the course of this year.
There’s also something artisanal about the practice of witchcraft. From writing spells, arranging altars, concocting potions to making tarot cards, the possibilities for self-expression seem endless. As automated perfection looms on the horizon, handmade objects and services are due to be revalued based on their scarcity. We’re already seeing white-collar workers escape the dreariness of their offices and seeking fulfilment in working with their hands: notice how many craft breweries and distilleries, florists, candle-makers, coffee-roasters and even barbershops have cropped up in metropolitan cities over the last couple of years. Witchcraft, with its aesthetic and creative underpinnings, has a real potential to develop in what some are terming the ‘Artisan Economy.’
While back in the ’90s pagan practices like Wicca signified a return to nature, today’s social media-oriented visual culture enables witchcraft to be synergistic with technology through a highly individualistic yet powerful collective practice. Thanks to this paradox, indie and artisanal brands are mushrooming in the beauty and personal care space, while fashion brands like Gucci are tapping into witchcraft’s aesthetic allure and arcane symbol system. Though the latter might have an expiration date, with technology pushing the boundaries of what is possible and the nature of reality, witchcraft and magickal practices – in an updated shape and form – are here to stay.