Witchcraft Can Ground Us in Dire Political Times


Our current understanding of witchcraft is as a countercultural movement to combat political polarization. (Courtesy of Facebook)

I was in the store “LightClub Curiosity Shoppe” with my mom a few weeks ago, where several containers of crystals and gemstones sat upon a display table straight out of a haunted house. I pointed out the tiger’s eye stone to my mom. A woman seemed to appear out of thin air. She approached us and said, “That’s a good sign, you know. That you felt moved to bring attention to the tiger’s eye for whatever reason. Confidence and success are in your future.”

I pointed out the gem because it was a reference to our favorite movie, “Practical Magic.” But okay, I guess. I’m not picky. I’ll take a good omen wherever I can find it.

Witchcraft has undeniably soared in popularity in the United States in the past few years. Though witches are hesitant to announce themselves as such, we can see this increase in popularity in how certain aspects of witchcraft, like astrology and tarot cards, have become mainstream. To see the grip that witchcraft has on modern society, one need not look any further than the WitchTok hashtag on TikTok, which currently links to videos with more than 33 billion views.

At its core, our current understanding of witchcraft is as a countercultural movement. It is a rebellion against what feels like an overwhelmingly Christian society. In fact, Wicca, a modern pagan religion that exists in the same vein as witchcraft, was an “underground movement” that took root in the United States at the height of American counterculture in the 1960s among “feminists, environmentalists and those seeking a nonstructured spirituality.” 

We are currently witnessing a rise in witchcraft for that same reason: people are looking for less organized forms of religion. This increase in covens has been on the rise in the United States for quite a while. A 2014 Pew Research Study found that the number of those practicing “other religions” outside of your standard Christianity, Judaism and Islam in 2010 would triple by 2050. This study predicts that 6.6 million people, 1.5% of the U.S. population, would be members of those “other religions” in the next 28 years.

I do not think that witchcraft or paganism will overtake organized religion in terms of popularity, but I do think that these two sects are emblematic of the spirituality movement. They also reflect our modern concerns for women’s rights and climate change.

Witchcraft has long been associated with women on the outside looking in on society, who decide not to be defined by societal expectations and instead live life on their own terms. There is something innately feminine about witchcraft, which has helped lead to a resurgence in the craft. 

In an age where women are simultaneously empowered and disempowered by traditional institutions, it makes sense that we are looking for a movement that does not grant us any empowerment or agency through laws, but rather through the power of nature. 

Practicing witchcraft today ties us back to generations passed who were met with deadly persecution for their proclivities. Given everything that has been going on for women in the past few years, like the attacks on bodily autonomy, I do not judge those who have looked to the practices and beliefs of our foremothers for solace. 

Yet witches of yore were not met with the harmless curiosity that we have for modern magical beings. These women were persecuted and murdered in the Salem Witch Trials and made to seem dangerous for their involvement in medical practices and midwifery. A witch was a woman on the brink of society, someone who did not meet the ideals of femininity. 

In her poem “Her Kind,” the poet Anne Sexton writes that “I have gone out, a possessed witch, / haunting the black air, braver at night; … A woman like that is not a woman, quite. / I have been her kind.” Sexton suggests that any woman who has felt society’s cold shoulder is a little bit like a witch.

It also makes sense that we as a society would want to return to practicing a form of worship that respects the natural world when our planet is currently dying. The first week of November in New York averaged around 70 degrees — it’s clear that Mother Earth is not alright. To return to witchcraft and paganism is to return to the earth. It is to return to practices that may have existed or have been inspired by a time when the world still retained its natural splendor.

I am glad that our modern perception of what it means, and meant, to be a witch is changing. Nevertheless, I think the rise of witchcraft is a passing phenomenon. It is a movement we return to when we crave a more extreme form of spirituality to ground us and connect our bodies back to the Earth, as we did in the turbulent 1960s. 

I believe in magic. I am not self-centered enough to believe that the only forces acting in the world are the ones that we can see. I believe in the strength of centuries-old communities that witches have built on the margins of society. For me, though, I think the magical, lucky moments happen when we’re not looking. I don’t think these special moments can be summoned through witchcraft. Regardless, it is nice to believe that just pointing out that tiger’s eye stone sprinkled a little luck on my path.