Witchcraft is finding new fans among the young: but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s about broomsticks and pointy hats. Prepare to be spellbound…..
By Gabriel Munroe | Photo by @JRKorpa
If someone called themselves a witch today, how would people react? A witch in the modern-day is far more complex than what’s on the surface. Understanding it more could open minds to see beyond what they couldn’t before.
The word witch derives from the Old English nouns wicca (‘sorcerer, male witch, warlock’) and wicce (‘sorceress, female witch’). Early witches were people who were known to practice magic, spells and voodoo; they also called upon spirits for help or to bring change. Many were called ‘natural healers’ and ‘wise women’, but it’s unknown why they became hunted in society. Maybe they were an easy target for people to blame when bad things happened?
The history of witches is deep and complex; we know witches have been around for millennia. The most famous witch executions began with Bridget Bishop in 1692 who was executed for witchcraft during the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Nineteen witches were hanged, and Giles Corey was pressed to death.
Witching permeates much of old folklore: the witching hour or devil’s hour is a time of night associated with supernatural events, where witches, demons and ghosts are thought to appear and be at their most powerful. This ‘hour’ is typically between 3 and 4 am. But Black Magic is thought to be most effective at this time, due to the veil between worlds being thinner. The phrase “witching hour” began at least as early as 1775. However, in the poem “Night, an Ode” by Reverend Matthew West, its origins may go further back to 1535, where the Catholic Church prohibited activities during the 3-4 am time frame, due to emerging fears about witchcraft in Europe. The era’s often hysterical propaganda against witches and their alleged powers would make anyone scared of them, and want them gone.
Within my research, I’ve spoken to many people who identify as witches. I wanted to understand what pressures and duties come with being a so-called witch in the modern-day. I spent time on one of many Facebook groups which gather witches to ask my questions. When I was looking around the group I noticed that many of the members were young people.
One of them was Sarah, who spoke with me and gave me insight into the world of witchcraft for a young person. What does being a witch mean to her? “To me being a witch means finding myself” she explained. Additionally, she believes that many people get the wrong idea about witchcraft. “I think most people just don’t understand what witchcraft is because mainstream religion has tainted minds” It’s known that Christianity was the religion to deem witches as evil beings. “To be a modern-day witch is to kind of be with nature and do spells, do readings and work with crystals”
Susan Finlay is a Nottingham-based artist and author whose 2018 novel Our Lady of Everything has belief, particularly ‘magik’ as a key theme. She agrees with Sarah on this “We live in a secular age, but we still have a basic human urge to invent higher powers” she tells me “Magik, witchcraft and spiritual esoteria are a fun way of allowing us to suspend disbelief”.
Many witches like Sarah are close to nature or want to reconnect with nature, witches are gentle people who are unfortunately misunderstood. In a world of technology and online communication, it’s refreshing to see people like Sarah who appreciate the beauty of nature that most would miss.
A “Coven” usually refers to a group or gathering of witches. The word “coven” remained largely unused in the English language, until 1921, when Margaret Murray promoted the idea that all witches across Europe met in groups of thirteen which they called “covens”. Thirteen, of course, chosen through its auspicious links to the negative.
Covens were supposedly created to protect groups of witches from being hunted by religious zealots, who were known to despise witches. This is why they are now a big part of Halloween. Online magazine The Tempest spoke to a witch who runs her own coven “Here’s what we do: support each other; lend magic to each other when one person speaking their needs and desires into the universe simply isn’t enough; communicate about our successes, failures, desires, and concerns; provide spell tips and tricks when we can’t spend time face-to-face working through things as a group” It seems being part of a coven in the modern-day isn’t as horrific as past folklore has lead us to believe, it’s actually vastly healing and positive in a witches journey.
Modern-day Television contains a huge portion of occult topics such as Witchcraft. Shows like American Horror Story, Sabrina and Vampire Diaries, give the wrong impression of witches today. They either play them off as evil or superior; playing with wands and magic, or a fantasy character from a storybook.
Chaiyne, another witch I spoke to, had her own feelings about occult TV; “Because of the media’s portrayal. Hollywood has made witches seem either evil or nonsensical or fictional. But the reality is the appearance witches have in the public is almost similar to that of werewolves and vampires”. When I watched these shows my opinion on witches was that I thought they were cool, although these shows didn’t show me what real witchcraft is like. If they did, perhaps people wouldn’t be as interested. It’s important to point out that modern-day witches’ dislike how they’re portrayed in the media and television; it rekindles that feeling of not being heard or seen; and being grossly misunderstood.
To combat this, the media should do more research on real witchcraft stories and make something great from it. Someone who has already understood this is Taylor Swift, who recently reconnected her love for nature and released an album: ‘Folklore’ with its sister album coming just months after: ‘Evermore’. The fact that a mainstream celebrity has introduced her fans to the topics of folklore and witchcraft is notable.
When speaking about Witchcraft, most wouldn’t think there was much beyond naming yourself a witch, but there are multiple paths to choose. There’s apparently a multitude of witch types, but a few stand out. Sarah, Chaiyne and Damian all told me they’re ‘Eclectic’ witches; it seems this is a common path to take. An Eclectic witch is someone who pulls from various witchcraft traditions for their spell work and rituals. They rely on a variety of different cultures, beliefs, and systems to formulate their own personal witchcraft practice which may change and evolve over time. Damian said “My path is eclectic and grey. My Goddess is Hekate (the mother of witches) and I believe in balance, so if I send out a curse or hex or anything I balance it out with good deeds” . It appears to be a loose topic, even though Damian follows the electric path, he chooses what he wants to do and what he doesn’t. Damian also told me; “I have met other witches but I am not in a coven. I am a solitary witch.”
A solitary witch is someone who performs spell work and rituals alone and without a coven. This may be by choice, or perhaps they just haven’t yet found a group of fellow witches they would like to work with. A solitary witch can incorporate various different paths based on their interest and may or may not use witchcraft as part of a wider spiritual path or religion.
There are also many ‘Traditional’ witches: a witch who takes a historical approach to witchcraft. They look at old grimoires (spellbooks), witch trials, folklore, and historical accounts to lay the foundation for their own spells and rituals. Often traditional witches focus on working with the nature and the history of the place they live and may work with the local spirits. The different paths were used to distinguish witches into separate covens, although now it’s used to create a deeper understanding and develop their personality to help them find more witches like themselves. It’s almost like creating an online profile.
Susan Finlay has a more cynical take “Everything is monetised now. I know so many places that sell bespoke tarot cards, crystals and the like, and so many people who see no contradiction into being empowered and spiritual and in tune with the earth and then casting spells for financial success…but maybe that’s not a new thing. People have always cashed in on every single thing that existed’’.
The reality of witchcraft for most is that the magic aspect isn’t the key aspect. Modern-day witchcraft is centered around alchemy, covens, old witchcraft, witch paths and the reconnection of nature. Most of the witches I spoke to told me it’s about finding themselves; most of them don’t fit in with the societal status quo so this niche subject is a way of letting go and finding a crowd who understands them. It’s about the beauty of nature and healing. Sometimes it can mean connecting or feeling at peace with spirits all around and bringing change. But whatever the case, witchcraft can be a beautiful experience for many.