Curses and crystals: meet the modern witches

Wicked: Young witches are becoming increasingly popular on social networks like Instagram.

Should we take witchcraft seriously? A surprising number of young women are becoming witches, and not just for Halloween. What does magic and mysticism have to offer the modern world?

If you were to think of a witch, you would probably picture an old woman with a wart on her nose, cackling over a bubbling cauldron.

But perhaps not for long. A growing number of young women are embracing witchcraft and magick.

“A witch is simply someone who is aware of their own power and puts that power into action,” writes Sophie Saint Thomas, a practising witch. She says that witches can use their power to drive out negative energy.

Witchcraft can include reading tarot cards and crystal balls, and cleansing your home with herbs, but spells are best.

According to Thomas, a spell can be as simple as writing down your intention and performing a ritual like lighting a candle. Skulls, altars and spellbooks are optional extras.

Witchcraft “can bring yourself more positivity when you’re not given much power by society in other ways,” says 20-year-old witch Harmony Nice, who has more than 450,000 YouTube followers.

Black magick is discouraged, although not unheard of. In fact, a coven in New York recently put a hex on US Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh.

These women are reclaiming witchcraft from a dark past.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” reads the Bible. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII condemned witchcraft as heresy, triggering a violent wave of moral panic.

Between 1484 and 1750, around 200,000 alleged witches were tortured, burned or hanged across western Europe. Most of the accused were poor, elderly women on the fringes of society, but some men were convicted too.

Most modern witchcraft is associated with Wicca, a nature-based religion which emerged in the 1960s in England and the US. Wiccans often worship pre-Christian, pagan gods and goddesses.

In the 2011 census, there were 57,000 pagans and 18,000 Wiccans, Druids and heathens in the UK. By the next census in 2021, many expect these numbers to double.

Is it time to take witchcraft seriously?

Toil and trouble

Absolutely, say some. Witchcraft is a celebration of personal agency in a society where young people, especially women, feel disregarded by those in power. In addition, it offers us a way of reaching beyond the everyday and into the mystical unknown, without the need for traditional religion.

No way, respond others. If anything, it shows how disconnected and troubled our society is that young women are resorting to “spells” and “potions” to feel confident and gain a sense of control. Rather than mess around with self-indulgent hexing, we should seek practical ways to resolve our problems and fix the world around us.

You Decide

  1. Does witchcraft appeal to you?
  2. Do you believe in any form of witchcraft or magick?

Activities

  1. Research either the Salem witch trials or Matthew Hopkins, the “witchfinder general”. Imagine you are alive at the time of the hunts and trials, and write a news report about what is going on.
  2. As a class, make a list of as many common superstitions as you can think of. For example, it is bad luck to walk under a ladder. For each one, do a show of hands to find out how many people believe in the superstition. Is superstition the same as believing in magic? Why/why not?

Some People Say...

“The witches are rising — excuse me while I go and fetch my broomstick.”

Leonie Cooper

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There is a growing trend for young women, and some others, to practise witchcraft. Witchcraft typically involves attempts to banish negative energy and make positive changes in one’s life through rituals like tarot reading, crystal and herb cleansing, and casting spells. It comes amid a boom in films, TV shows and books about witchcraft, like Netflix’s new series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
What do we not know?
Why witchcraft is on the rise. One simple explanation is that the generation who grew up with Harry Potter have embraced witchcraft and paganism now that they have reached adulthood. Alternatively, others say that recent sexual assault scandals have made young women feel increasingly alienated, so they are turning to witchcraft to reclaim power for themselves.

Word Watch

Magick
Modern witches usually spell magic with a “k” to differentiate it from performance magic.
Coven
A group of witches who perform magick together. They can be formal organisations or just a group of friends.
Brett Kavanaugh
Kavanaugh was appointed to the US Supreme Court despite being accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford. The witches previously placed curses on President Donald Trump.
Moral panic
When the public becomes fixated on and scared of something that is presented as a threat to society.
Pagan
Pagan was a term used by early Christians to refer to earlier religions that worshipped multiple gods, and to suggest the superiority of monotheism — belief in one God. Modern paganism often focuses on worshipping nature, and celebrating the winter and summer solstices.
Druids and heathens
Different subgroups related to modern paganism.