A week before Halloween, young women gathered around a table in Toronto at a trendy downtown shop lit with candles and surrounded by crystals and photos of goddesses. The women were in their 20s and 30s, stylish, with a few tattoos poking through their sleeves.
They came for tarot card reader Liz Worth’s magic workshop and soon they were making charm bags sealed with intentions for prosperity in all its forms: wealth, love, happiness. In small hand-sewn pouches, the women stuffed citrine (a crystal believed to have cleaning energy), Frankincense (an essential oil said to relieve stress), a dark-coloured dust simply called “abundance powder,” mandrake root, rice and kernels of corn. After anointing the charm bags with dragon blood oil—which isn’t as medieval as it sounds (it’s a resin from the dragon tree that can be purchased at occult shops)—and saying a blessing aloud, Worth instructed the attendees to sleep with the bags under their pillows and then place them on their altars at home to help turn the intentions into reality.
Since Worth schedules her workshops around astrological transits, she chose that particular Sunday because the sun was moving into Scorpio and the moon was waxing, making it a fortuitous time to think about the future.
Worth’s magic workshop was part of Witchfest North, an inaugural festival in Toronto celebrating the “sacred feminine in the arts.”
During the month-long festival, modern-day witches, Wiccans, Pagans, Polytheists can get stick-and-poke tattoos of healing crystals, paint their own pentagrams at an art fair and dress-up in “peasant chic, hooded robes and witchy styles of olde” at a masquerade ball. The festival is for witches of all stripes—from those who have been honing their craft for decades to those who grew up watching The Craft—and even beginners who are just starting to dabble in mysticore.
The new wave of witches
Witchcraft is no longer on the fringe—as festivals like Witchfest North demonstrate, as well as the countless Instagram accounts and hip boutiques popping up—nor is it simply a spiritual practice. For some millennials, it’s a lifestyle.
Vogue’s “Witchy Week” featured stories like “22 Spellbinding Looks for the Solstice” and “How to Have a Moon Ceremony.” Apartment Therapy even proved it could become an interior-design trend, with women fashioning altars with beautifully intricate tarot cards and healing crystals. There are even subscription boxes available for the everyday witch, filled protection spell candles and smudge sticks.
So why is this revival of witchcraft—emboldened by fashion, design and American Horror Story: Coven—so attractive to young women? And how do long-practising witches feel about glossy magazines and lifestyle stores co-opting their spiritual practice?
Monica Bodirsky, an artist who has been practising witchcraft for more than 40 years, created Witchfest North to bring together Toronto’s witchcraft community, but also to serve as an entry point for the growing number of young women interested in the occult.
As the founder of the Dark Moon Coven, Bodirsky, 56, has noticed that participants are getting younger in recent years.
“[Witchcraft] places power firmly in the hands of young women who want to see positive change for the future and feel empowered,” says Bodirsky. “[Witchcraft] is a space where you have total freedom of expression as far as clothing and practice—you make it want you want. I can see why it’s appealing to young women.”
When Worth was 13 years old, she bought a book on fortune telling for 99 cents at the grocery store in her hometown of Etobicoke, Ont. and became obsessed with cartomancy, which is divination using playing cards. Later in her teens she started reading tarot, but didn’t delve into the ancient tradition until she was in her 20s when she felt like there was a void in her life.
“I was working as a freelance journalist, and I was caught up in chasing all these goals,” Worth explains. “Journalism is very rational. It’s not very spiritual. I didn’t have a strong spiritual connection in my life at that time. I’d walk around and think I want to connect to something again.”
Worth, now in her 30s, makes a living through her readings and workshops and says most of her clients are ambitious, career-driven women in their 20s and 30s. She can see why witchcraft is liberating for those who feel oppressed.
“Witchcraft brings you back to your intuition and connects you to your power, and that’s something a lot of people are drawn to right now because it helps them challenge some of the things that don’t feel totally right for them,” says Worth. “Anything that helps you recognize that you have control and authority in your life is really important.”
“Hex the patriarchy”
According to Bodirsky, the new wave of witches is less interested in having a passive, introspective practice; they use their magic for protest and activism. In the past few years, women have communed to cast hexes on men like Brock Turner, Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein. In February 2017, American witches performed a binding spell, a type of spell that restricts its target’s actions (and a key plot point in The Craft), in front of the Trump Towers in New York City and Chicago.
Toronto-based healer Cassandra Thompson’s practice is rooted in Afro-Diasporic folk magic and fully intertwined to her politics. “As a queer Black woman, [witchcraft] allows me to claim control over my body, spirit and emotions,” the 27-year-old says. Although she’s always been a spiritual person, Thompson started practising regularly two years ago while she was involved in frontline organizing for issues around anti-Blackness, Indigenous sovereignty and violence against women and femmes.
Thompson realized that despite all the work she and her fellow activists were doing, they didn’t have the time or space to heal themselves. Thompson started making plant-based medicines like teas for spiritual healing, as well as mojos, which are like the charm bags Worth demonstrated in her workshop. Thompson recently sent nearly 50 mojos with protective powers across North America to activists protesting police violence. Through her business Crystal Root & Conjure, Thompson offers one-on-one healing seasons and sells conjure oils and tote bags that say “Hex the Patriarchy.”
“To demonize the idea of a witch or someone who is a healer is linked to our struggles as feminists,” says Thompson. “As women and femmes, witchcraft has become a tool to not only fight the [political] battle, but to also heal our internal battles at the same time.”
Still, stigma surrounds witches—it was only this past summer that Canada announced it would update the criminal code to no longer include that practising witchcraft is illegal—which is why Worth isn’t offended by brands cashing in on the trend nor non-witches dressing the part. She believes these aesthetic wares could not only become a gateway to a deeper spiritual practice, but also represent how the perception of witchcraft is changing.
“It’s important to remember that there was a time when all of us would be dead right now just for being interested in this stuff,” Worth says. “So we have to appreciate the freedom of expression that we have. I don’t think we should take it for granted that [witchcraft can be featured] in Vogue with a fashion-focus. This is how far things have come.”
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