magic

Witches Tell Us How They’re Making Magic Political

On feminism, environmentalism, and anti-Trump spells.

by Mica Lemiski
Mar 15 2017, 4:44pm

In the wake of the presidential inauguration, anti-Trump protests were wide and varied: marches, rallies, Twitter wars, and—yep—mass spells.

On February 24, witches across America and beyond performed the first in a series of rituals to "bind Trump." Among supporters was Lana Del Rey, who tweeted a picture of herself, decked in witchy attire, with the caption "Feb 24, March 26, April 24, May 23"—the ritual dates, which sync with the cycle of the full moon.  

Taking inspiration from these magical activists, we talked to four Vancouver witches about why they took up the craft and how they're using it to get political.

Justine Little, 31

VICE: How would you define magic?
Justine Little: To me, magic is feeling tapped into and aware of the connection we have to the land we're living on, and to the people and animals around us. It's the feeling that we're in this wild place and we don't really know why, but that we're here for an important reason. It's feeling connected to the chaos.

Speaking of chaos—what types of cultural turmoil are you and the larger magical community trying to sort through today?
A lot of people in my community are activists who are trying to make right the relationship that settlers have with this land. It's spiritual healing that we, especially as white people, need to do to move into a better relationship with ourselves, with history, and with the people who have lived on this land for much longer. Something Indigenous people have been asking us to do is to connect with our ancestors, and I think that's why witchcraft is moving into more and more people's lives. It's not being dismissed as easily as it was ten years ago.

With the mass spell on Trump, it seems witches are gaining a lot more visibility…
Yeah. But I did want to let you know that in terms of that Donald Trump spell, there was a bit of hesitation from my community.

Oh really?
Yeah. I know a lot of witches and spiritual people who were nervous about what impact that binding spell might have on the people performing it, especially those who maybe don't understand the risks or have never done a spell like that before.

What do you mean by risks?
Well, how magic has been taught to me is that you want to do it when you have a really safe container, which is what you build with practice, skill, and the creation of a safe energy around you. I think it would be very hard to have a safe container for that kind of magic.

So the risks would be for the magic-doers themselves, not for Trump.
Yeah, like potential negative impacts that spell might have on the individual if they're inexperienced. I think witchcraft is very political and can be used for a lot of good change, but like any skill, you want to use it in a way that is responsible and safe for you. In terms of my own approach to magic, I don't do spells on other people. The kind of magic I do is mostly directed towards myself or towards bringing about change in the larger, more general community.

Do you belong to a specific community of witches? A coven?
I'm part of the Reclaiming community, but that's not a coven. A coven is smaller, like 10 to 15 people. Thirteen is the witchiest number [laughs]. There are covens within the Reclaiming community, though.

What do you have to do to become a Reclaiming witch?
All you have to do is look at the Principles of Unity, and if you agree, you can join. No one can tell you otherwise.

Noah Thrush, 47

VICE: When did you first take up witchcraft?
Noah Thrush: My dad took me on a road trip to Salem, Massachusetts, when I was 12. I don't know if that sort of gruesomeness as a 12-year-old captivated me, but the magical stuff interested me too. I thought, what if I can make a potion or do a charm that, if I put my focus into it, will help me get back at the bullies?

You were bullied as a kid?
Yeah. Growing up as a gay boy, and not feeling understood by anyone, I didn't have many friends. I felt really isolated, and so I was excited by the idea of power and magic. I would look at books and spells because it was tantalizing to think that there might be some kind of magic, or something outside myself, to help me fight the people who were bullying me.

That feels especially topical considering recent politics. Are you using magic to fight back against anything today?
Today my politics as a witch are centered around trying to make better conditions for the earth and the environment. So, in our coven, we're all shareholders of an organic co-op farm in Abbotsford, BC. We hold our circles and rituals out there. We have a garden labyrinth made out of plants and we're also the beekeepers at the farm.

I love bees.
They're one of my personal animal totems, actually. Both my partner and I have bee tattoos. They're just such communal and hardworking animals.

You have mentioned that you'd like to take back the term "witch." Why do you think it's important for your community to own this word?
I really like the term "witch," but it's been used as such a derogatory word for so long, especially towards women who hold power. And so taking that term back and associating it with the positive, environmental work we're doing today is really important. The aim is to change a negative connotation to a positive one.

Ashley Aron, 33

VICE: Why do you think witches are so hot right now?
Ashley Aron: Culturally, I feel like things are pretty fucked up and on a mass level people are recognizing this. I mean, there are some people who like witchcraft just based on the aesthetic, which I think is fine, but there is also a "what else are we gonna do?" type of mentality. The need for action is more acute than ever. We need to think beyond what we already know, because what we already know is not quite enough.

Good point. And how did you get started as a witch?
I grew up Christian but left that when I was 16 or 17. Part of Christianity is that you're not allowed to explore anything else, otherwise you're going to hell. And so I stayed pretty immobile and stagnant in my spirituality for a while, but when I was in my 20s in a more radical feminist community, people started telling me I was a witch, and so I sort of felt that call.

And how do you practice magic today?
I'm an air sign [laughs] and so I like to do a lot of stuff in my own head. My own practice has a lot to do with thinking and a lot of it takes place internally. When I cast a spell or do a ritual, like when I make magic intentionally, I'm setting an intention. I'm attempting to open up mundane channels in my life to create the reality I want.  

Does that internal magic and intention translate to the external, political realm?
That's a tough question because I feel like it's all political.

How about in terms of stigma or oppression? Either that you face personally or otherwise?
First I'll say that I definitely hold a lot of privilege. I am a white person and a settler here. I'm cis-gendered and relatively able-bodied. My own personal experiences with oppression are mostly rooted around being fat, working class and femme. And so magic and ritual has helped me to articulate the shame that has come from those experiences, and it's also given me the ability to ask my community for space to express and heal from those things.  

Do you have any examples?
Yeah, so the other night I had dinner with a friend, and the tables were close together, and I was trying to fit my, like, fucking fat body into this space and my ass knocked over my neighbor's wine glass. It was so weirdly dehumanizing, and so I just filled up with shame. I thought, you're a loser, you're an asshole, you're disgusting. I wanted to go into a shame shell but I reached out my hand and my friend took my hand. And that skill, to reach out, is a lot about what feminism is to me, and what magic is to me. It's the fact that I can acknowledge a feeling and name it.

So practicing magic has enabled you to reach out?
I think so. And also just knowing that reaching out is an act of resilience. And naming shame is an act of resilience.

Anonymous, 34

VICE: You're a professor at a university. Does that have anything to do with the fact that you've chosen to remain anonymous?
Yeah. Some people in the academic community would see witchcraft as too kooky, not serious or professional. I guess I'm hesitant to have my name connected to the term witch because it's still something people use in a bad way, and that could do me harm as a teacher. I don't think you need to confess to being a witch. You can practice spells on your own.

Have you had much success with your own spells?   
Yes! I've had some amazing, cool results. Magic is tricky, but the more meaningful a spell is to you, and the more you put into it, the more effective your result will be. So for the full moon—which is the wolf moon—you might think, what am I hungry like a wolf for? What do I howl for? In doing this you really get to know yourself, and that is the key to getting what you want in life.

And what have you "howled for" recently?
It sounds greedy, but as a grad student I've asked for a lot of financial stuff. In 2014 there were five Sundays in August, which was unusual, and so on the full moon of the fifth Sunday I asked for three things: job, promotion, and financial stability for the next year. I got all three.  

Wow, that's amazing. And do you consider your witchcraft political at all?
Hmm. It's odd because one of the things that pulled me into witchcraft in the first place was the fact that it felt much less political than other religions, mainly because it's not a part of the state or the government. It's not tied to any laws, and there's really only one main rule, called the Wiccan rede, which goes "if it does no harm, do what ye will." It's a very tolerant religion. Very inclusive.

How have you seen this inclusivity in action?
Well, it was really cool at the Samhain ritual this year because there were men impersonating the goddess, as well as transgender people or people whose identifications I didn't even know. Anybody can be anything. The same thing happens in my goddess choir.

You're in a goddess choir? Amazing.
Yeah. We sing a lot of Celtic songs and traditional, earth-based music. And so in the choir, I can put on some horns and then, boom, I'm the god. The gender doesn't really matter.

That type of inclusivity feels very political to me.
I suppose it is. And I guess the other place I get somewhat political with witchcraft is in terms of environmentalism. The things I do, I always want to check back and see if they harm the earth. Because I share it with other people and I don't have the right to destroy it. Also, this is a religion that finally recognizes the feminine as a force, which is important.  

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