Looking beyond the spells and stereotypes, and into the mystical world that continues to fascinate us and why
Would you be open to the possibility that everything we knew or know about witches and witchcraft could be inaccurate? Or that, at the very least, there’s more to them than broomsticks, black cats and pointy hats? Throughout the history of man, witches are often portrayed in a terrible light. In fact, the word witch itself is a misogynist insult, interchangeable with bitch and used on women who are deemed too much of something—too assertive, too outspoken, too strong, too powerful.
But I’ve always found them fascinating, from the characters I read about in storybooks to those I watched on the screen. Some were textbook wicked, like the witch in Snow White and the sorceress Maleficent pre-Angelina Jolie. Others were good, like the witches of Bewitched, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Charmed. But The Craft changed the game. It was the movie for girls, even young women, who didn’t fit the mold or couldn’t find a piece of themselves in mainstream media (am I really the only female that didn’t appreciate Clueless?). It showed women at their best, in their most vulnerable and at their worst, and told them what nobody else would at the time it came out: it’s okay to be different.
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The narrative of the witch continues to evolve in modern times told through pop occulture and fashion, and through movements that challenge or hold the patriarchy accountable.
Witches, witchcraft and covens; they can’t be all that bad. So to try and understand them better, we look into the occult, specifically the world of witchcraft.
The World of Witchcraft
One can’t just be a witch by wearing the fashion or wearing all-black, owning a bunch of crystals or having a black cat. To be one, you have to practice the craft, pun intended. Spells and magic sound like fun but they do come with consequences. For one, practicing witchcraft is taboo so much that mere suspicion can lead to persecution and sometimes abuse depending on where you live.
It’s Not A One-Track Path
There are, in fact, multiple types. Here are some we know of:
Ceremonial: by-the-book practice of witchcraft and its ceremonies and rituals. Deft execution highly encouraged
Eclecticism: mixes traditions based on preference
Paganism: is simply what religions other than Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are called. Focuses on earth and nature
Solitary: does not require a coven and follows the type of witchcraft one chooses. This could be a making of their own or a combination of different types of witchcraft
Wicca: founded on Gardnerian Wicca or the worship of both a god and goddess. It’s female-exclusive parallel is called Dianic Wicca, in which they only worship the goddess and in the presence of other females. It’s also been criticized for prohibiting transgender women into their coven
Witchhood is made official through an initiation or rite of passage. Meanwhile, coven is a gathering or community of initiated witches led by a high priest, high priestess or both. A familiar (yes, like Salem the cat) is a spirit that takes the form of an animal and serves as a witch’s companion and protector. And a pentacle, oft confused with a pentagram, is an amulet or talisman that appears on an altar. To eschew the association with the satanic, Wiccans have avoided using the pentacle.
The Core of the Witch
Witches are women who are aware of their power as women and take action. They take it to the next level through a deeper understanding of what they can do with it in the company of a coven or one’s own. In its simplest form, performing spells can mean setting an intention and fulfilling it through a ritual of one’s choice, like lighting a candle or meditation.
However, Hexes Exist
There aren’t necessarily good or bad witches, black magic or white magic. Just people who are capable of feeling angry or jealous, and choosing whether or not to act on those negative feelings. Magic meanwhile is a tool, which can be used to cast misfortune and hurt others through hexes and curses. Many, if not all, witches believe that “three times what thou givest returns to thee,” which means that magic cast for whatever purpose will come back to the person tri-fold.
The witch isn’t someone to fear or someone to defeat like in the tales of old. Her courage can bring inspiration, her coven could be a place of solace. Her ways may not be something we understand deeply or completely and maybe that’s part of its mystical charm. But now knowing a little more about who she is and what she represents—the feminine in her truest form—and her witchcraft—intentions and rituals that express her spirituality—she sounds just like someone you and I might already know.
Art Alexandra Lara