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The Broadly Guide to Witchcraft

A few simple guidelines for practical magic.

by Cecelia White
Oct 27 2015, 4:30pm

Screencap from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Athame

The double-edged knife can only be handled by its owner. It's not sharp, but you're inviting pain if you mess with a witch's athame.

Bruja

Witches with a Mexican, Hispanic, or Latin American background. The easiest way to get on a bruja's bad side? Commit gringo nonsense and appropriate anything from Día De Los Muertos for your Halloween costume. If you're planning on putting some last minute flowers in your hair and painting your face like a sugar skull, maybe just buy some cat ears instead.

Coven

A coven is a group or gathering of witches who meet regularly. What a coven does can vary wildly depending on its members—in Seattle, it's a group of witches chanting in the moonlit forest. In LA, it's a collection of witches reading tarot and getting drunk next to a taco truck. What's important to remember is the desire for magical communion.

Deity

If you're looking for a higher power like the Goddess Sophia to sympathize with your insurmountable student debt, or need Dionysus to appreciate your love of drinking wine, you've come to the right religion.

Elements

earth, air, water, fire—c'mon guys, this so Basic Witch of me to have to explain this to you. When was the last time you truly appreciated a leaf blowing in the wind? Do you bless the water you drink before entering your body? California, I'm looking at you. Consider being a little witchier.

Feminist

You know what's threatening to a male-dominated society? A community of women who are deeply secure with their spirituality and individuality in a way that does not seem useful to the needs of men.

Watch Now: This Female Magician Is a Real Crystal Ball Buster

Gerald Gardner

Did you know that the person credited for popularizing the Wiccan religion was an upper middle class English man? Just saying.

Hex

Most witches don't believe in black magic. However, if a crow feather shows up on your doorstep, you could be fucked.

Intention

Is your heart true? Are you a pal and a confidant? The Golden Girls theme song is actually a great test of what it takes to practice witchcraft. Witches use magic to create positive change personally and in the lives of their loved ones. Similar to the idea of karma, Wiccans believe in the law of Threefold Return, which means that the amount of energy (good or bad) that you put into something will return to you with three times the power. Casting a spell takes deep emotional, mental, and spiritual concentration. You don't want to enter a magical setting with any negative energy if the outcome of a spell could be thrice as powerful as your intent.

Jack-O-Lantern

Some guy named Jack got drunk with the Devil in Ireland, and 90 percent of all Halloween facts similarly do not apply to the modern-day witch.

Kitchen witchery

Why not spiritually charge some herbs and upgrade that hungover omelet you're making to a magical hungover omelet? You deserve it.

Lunar phases

Hey friend, I love you and I'm happy for you, and I get that your outdoor wedding under a full moon was a "coincidence," but, like, I have spells to cast.

Magick

For modern witches, magic isn't about telepathy or flying or sprouting superpowers. It's simply a way to change your life using the energy of the elements and by practicing focused intention. The "K" was added to the word magic in order to differentiate it from card tricks and slight of hand. Don't confuse magick with your ex The Magician and their famous disappearing act.

New Year

Samhain means "end of summer," and it marks the Pagan new year that begins on October 31 and is celebrated through the first day of November. It's a time to figure out what's working for you, get rid of what's holding you back, and reflect on life. It's also when the lines of communication are most open between this world and the souls of the dead from the other world. This Samhain, take some time to participate in the true meaning of the holiday: talking to ghosts.

Oracle

Yes, I'm a witch. No, I can't tell your future. But if you want to interrupt my valuable time to ask, I can make a soft prediction that you won't be finding love with me anytime soon.

Pentagram

As a baby witch, wearing this symbol of protection is the quickest way to lose friends and isolate people in middle school (or, alternatively, a sure way to meet your new best friend).

Queer

I'm not saying that witch-on-witch sex is the best sex ever because sex isn't a competition, but a hypersensitivity to natural energies and a refined magic touch does make for a particularly transcendent experience.

Ritual

Creating a magical space is a ritual that each witch approaches differently. Usually, some level of purification is involved. This is where the stereotype of the witch's broom comes in—it's actually called a "besom" and is used to clear psychic clutter before spell casting. Wiccans draw a literal circle to perform spells in, which provides a boundary for energy. Many witches have altars where they perform rituals for gods or goddesses, with supplies like chalices that carry blessed water. Broke city witches like me cast circles by drawing a circle in the ground with a stick and summoning fire from Bic lighters. There's no authentic standard.

Spells

Spells have a mystifying reputation. They can help with love or money, the two most common spell desires, but they are also entirely practical. I was once on the top of a mountain with a friend at midnight and my friend was bummed about his missing luggage, which did not make it to the top of the mountain with him. A perfect situation for a spell: a missing object, out of my control, that could be attracted towards me using magic. I said a spell and five minutes later, there it was. A man carrying my friend's luggage found us on a mountain. Spells are the last option for a situation that is out of your control. Do you know what spells can't do? Your laundry. You should really do that soon.

Tarot

Tinder with Witches: Card-reading and chill.

Urban Witch

Appreciating the beauty of nature is essential to witchcraft, but this can be harder for city-dwelling witches who are shit on by pigeons when they transfer bus routes. The technopagan (or pop culture witch) solves modern problems with ancient practices, like invoking Mercury when her Wi-Fi is broken and chantings Nicki Minaj to boost her crystal's fire energy.

Voodoo

Vodun is a religion from Haiti with a deep tradition and practice brought to America by black African slaves. Many of the gods in the pantheon of Vodun are serpents, and speaking to ancestral spirits is a key part of rituals. Slaves were punished for practicing a religion that white Catholic masters feared, so slaves kept Vodun alive by cloaking it in layers of what appeared to be Catholicism. This forced mixing of religions is how the tradition of Voodoo began in the American south. It is not to be confused with Hoodoo, which is a form of folk magic and not a religion.

TL;DR Not all witches come from white, Celtic origins.

Wicca

All Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans, and many witches are neither! Is that confusing? Welcome to 2015.

XIII

The number 13 is lucky to witches because of a secret reason only witches can ever know. Just kidding—sort of—but that's easier to say than taking all day to unload the number's symbolism.

Yule

Yule is observed by Pagans on the shortest night of the year—the Winter Solstice—and celebrates the return of the sun. The entire evergreen theme of Christmas is copy-pasted from Yule. For practicing Pagans, plants like holly, mistletoe, and pine are symbols for life and growth returning to the Earth from the sun. It's kind of like Christmas, but better because you don't have to fuss about presents and you can watch the sun rise with your chosen family instead of watching TV with your drunk, racist uncle.

Zodiac

Muggles, please get on our level and learn your Saturn returns from your Mercury retrogrades.