Celestial map from 1670, by Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Witchcraft becomes a political stance — and a booming business

(RNS) — Last month, I attended a witches' gathering.

Technically, it was a full moon ritual – an open-to-the-public event at Catland Books, an occult store in Bushwick, Brooklyn, designed to celebrate January's "Blood Wolf" Moon, to “gather under this powerful light and explore energy of the first full moon of the new year ... invoking the hungry wild nature, heightening instinctual senses, and inhabiting the archetypes of both the hunter and hunted."

Nearly all of the event's 30-odd attendees, who had paid $20 a pop to attend, appeared to be under 35. Most, though not all, were white and bore pink hair, Goth accessories or some variation of latter-day Brooklynite, countercultural style.

And while not everyone present was necessarily a practicing Wiccan or pagan — the proceedings certainly required no specialized metaphysical knowledge or affiliation — all of us were asked by the mistress of ceremonies to chant the names of ancient Roman moon goddesses Diana, Luna and Lucina (Juno), as well as to meditate to a poem written about a “wild god” whose attributes mirrored that of the Celtic horned god Cernunnos.

We breathed out “negative energy” into a Mason jar filled with the herb belladonna, picked from Catland's own garden. We received a blessing from the ritual's facilitator, Catland's co-owner Melissa Madara, who passed a moonlike selenite orb around the room.

As I went through the paces, I wondered: Was I attending a religious ritual? A guided meditation? A spell? A social club?

On reflection, I realized I was being given a pitch for social activism.

For the religiously unaffiliated, witchcraft is part and parcel of a socially progressive way of life, and at spaces like Catland, New Age spirituality is increasingly inseparable from social justice advocacy. "Witchcraft” is no longer the fringe spiritual practice it once was but a political marker of resistance.

You could see this over the summer at Catland, as the store hosted a "Hex (Brett) Kavanaugh" event during the Supreme Court justice's confirmation hearings. Or just go on Facebook, where several thousand self-proclaimed witches hex Donald Trump monthly.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

But at Catland, one can also buy a zine about the ethics of cursing by Dakota Stalkfleet — aka Dakota Bracciale, the store's other co-owner — that makes clear that curses may be used as the last resort of those without access to the criminal justice system. In other words, magic may be used to seek justice — or accountability, or plain influence — when the mainstream has failed or marginalized the practitioner.

“Folk magik is what arms the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcast,” Stalkfleet writes. “How could anyone fault me for cursing my rapist? ... How could anyone blame me, let alone shame me for seeking to be the arbiter of my own justice by cursing that evil made?”

According to Stalkfleet, contemporary witch culture is a reflection of wider transitions in feminism. While the New Age movement of the 1960s and ’70s tended to be largely white and geared toward a celebration of the “divine feminine,” contemporary witchcraft is more concerned with tearing down gender divisions altogether.

To the extent the female is celebrated at all, it is as a force to be wielded against the powers that be. Kristen J. Sollee, author of "Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive," told The Guardian in 2017: “To me, the primal impulse behind each of these contested identities is self-sovereignty … witches, sluts, and feminists embody the potential for self-directed feminine power, and sexual and intellectual freedom.”

If that sounds dark, it's meant to be: Insisting on “positivity” and “light” is for those who want to keep up the barriers of class and racial privilege.

“This demand for constant ‘love and light’ and ‘to do no harm’,” Stalkfleet writes, “is nothing more than the treacherous vile manifestations of misogyny, racism (specifically anti-blackness), classism, transphobia, and various other forms of oppression in the spiritual realm. Do not fall for it.”

It's unclear exactly how many witches there are in America. In his 2015 book,"Witches of America," Alex Mar suggests that the number of people practicing some form of witchcraft hovers around a million. (For comparison, there are about 1.2 million Buddhists, 2.4 million Hindus and 4 million Jews in America.) While still far from being a majority religion, these objectors to the "system" seem to be reaching some sort of critical mass.

So while witchcraft/witch culture has become an anti-capitalist platform for #resistance, it has also become a highly marketable aesthetic. As Corin Faife wrote in his BuzzFeed essay “How witchcraft became a brand,” the handicraft and vintage selling platform Etsy returns 28,000 results for the search term “witchcraft.” The Instagram hashtag #witchesofinstagram yields a staggering 700,000 results.

From subscription boxes offering spell supplies to online stores proffering decoratively spooky taxidermy, witchcraft is big business, albeit one that, in many cases, privileges the labor of small woman-owned businesses over that of big-box corporations.

But at Catland, the rituals felt less like Instagram fodder than like the building blocks of a new form of social interaction. The majority of the evening was spent breathing and chanting in unison, ultimately sharing food in a “feast” of country bread, garlic-and-onion broth and oranges. People passed food around, made conversation, drank Madara's homemade healing tea. My neighbor told me she'd been interested in magic for a while, but only recently had dared to “seek out community.”

While we were encouraged to take photographs of the altar at the beginning of the evening and, yes, they did later show up on Instagram, I recognized that Catland's post-ritual meal was as vital as the coffee hour that follows the Episcopal service I attend — the one that we Episcopalians only half-joke is "our real communion."


  1. Don’t even bother asking whether God is watching all this mess go down. Ya know He is.

  2. Sound and fury signifying nothing, but, if it pisses off the religious right scumbags, keep it going.

  3. People must be allowed to find Christ, their one and only true savior. That wouldn’t be kosher now would it?

  4. I find the greatest impediment to such things are the self styled spokespeople for Christ on Earth. 😀

  5. Ooooh my invisible supernatural sky Daddy will punish those who believe in other supernatural things besides him!

  6. Not quite kyke, the Jews, your kind are the ones promoting any and all alternatives and leading all away from Christ out of your insane hatred for Christ. WTF did he do for God sake to make you hate him the way you do? What is wrong with you psycho?

  7. My, my …. the look on your face at the end of the line if you’re wrong will be priceless.

  8. Thank you for proving my point with such a triggered response. I am surprised, I did Nazi that reaction coming.

    I will say this, you are as Christian as they come. Don’t let the usual fundies apologetics here deny that.

  9. Lol, if you grew up in NYC a long while ago you could well have gone into a witch store run by an ethnic witch – Italian/Sicilian or Caribbean mostly. No problem with “do no harm” in these places. You could everything you needed to put a nasty curse on someone although most sales and merc was to get rif of courses or put a love spell on someone. It would have been quite unwise to make fun of the strega rubbing the store.

  10. That’s the least of your worries, dude. The last thing you need around here, is for one of them stray puppies from that Catland supernatural store to follow you home.

    Here you are, happily doing witch meditations for some two-horned terror, or chanting to “Diana” (aka something else) and playing with orbs of unknown provenance, and then you go home and go to bed AND find out you got a new BFF in the bed with you!!

    (And they got sharp teeth PLUS a big appetite!!! )

    So if you don’t wanna hafta speed-dial Acme Exorcism Inc. in the middle of the night tonight, ya better leave them Stray Puppies and Cat-mess alone! Meow meow!!


  11. I believe God is striking me down for my evil ways….through old age, decent health, reasonable comfort, surrounded by family and friends. 🙂

  12. Logged into the second link.
    Read about Astral Projection. Tried the rope technique and managed to get to the end of my rope. I found the end of my rope to be Rachel Maddow MSNBC turned up loud no commercial breaks. The remote is sitting right next to me but I can’t pick it up due to the out of body experience. And that’s what happens when you get to the end of your rope.

    You should try it. I’d love to see you at church.

  13. There is probably nothing a leftie (or group of lefties) can do to cause a faster loss of everything that matters than endorse occult stuff and muddle around in it. This is the sure road to brain loss, spiritual loss, economic loss, logic loss, civic loss, academic loss, environmental loss, power loss, credibility loss, social loss, feminism loss, gender-rights loss, racial loss, karma loss, human rights loss—–all rolled into one stupid “plan”.

  14. “People must be allowed to find Christ, their one and only true savior.”

    Well, yes, people must be allowed to find a delusional savior, but should not be encouraged to do so. Thirty-eight years ago I found my “one and only true savior” . . . my wonderful husband.

  15. Jehovah’s Witnesses are real big on demons, Satan’s associates. A long time ago trouble in the household was believed linked to demonic activity through my valuable collection of record albums. Came home to find them gone. I also remember the panic when my girlfriend brought a Ouija board into the house….

  16. As for me, I do not advocate disrespect for any individual, regardless of their religion.

    But I’m seeing a common theme with some of our posts here, including yours and mine:
    Witchcraft is real, Witchcraft is NOT harmless (because 100% demonic entities, who work for Satan, are being contacted by the participants, regardless of the “good” or “bad” reason for doing so.)

    Contrast these with the RNS article, which gives no hint of the real deal.

  17. The most pathetic of it all floydlee , they think this is feminism; they’re being in control; their being sovereign, when all it is is satan putting thoughts into their heads, then he fulfills the thoughts he put there and they are really left sitting there being stupid to satan, thinking they have these “powers” and they are just a conduit for satan’s games.
    The entire thing to pull families apart; to lie to women they are empowered, and to draw more people from Christ, offering lies and deception,
    It truly is sad.

  18. You are one seriously antisemitic mixed up dude! You can’t hate something that doesn’t and never has existed. There was a man named Jesus but he isn’t the same as the Christ that Christians worship.

  19. Christ was the biggest anti-Shem there ever was. I am proud to stand with Christ against all who oppose him. You worship the anti-Christ don’t you, Moshiach lover? May I call you kyke, kyke?

  20. When is the truth inappropriate? When it offends evil? To hell with evil, is what I say.

  21. You are Jewish aren’t you? What is the promise of the Jew religion to the Jew people? Every religion offers a benefit as a way to draw people to the religion. It is the nature of all religions. What is it for Jews?

  22. Agreed, but, and people will say I’m the last to be telling someone how to talk, your comment was horribly offensive. The best way to deal with Spud is to ignore him.

  23. You have my condolences. Your ancestors were producing children with their sisters and cousins for centuries, in defiance of God and Gods will They made you what you are by polluting your genes. You, you poor bastard are suffering through no fault of your own. May God have pity on your soul.

  24. You do hate Christ that is a given. But you will never say why nor will any other Jew, so I will say why. The promise of the Jew religion to the Jew people is the subjugation of the non-Jew. Christ, Gods only son with all the powers of God, chose to die rather than fulfill Jew demands and expectations. Christ chose to die rather than enslave human kind for the Jews and that is why you hate him, isn’t kyke? You hate Christ because he wouldn’t obey you? Isn’t kyke?

  25. They are the enemies of Christ. I am sorry, it is in my heart to defend the weak and the innocent. What did Christ do to deserve to be killed? And why after 2,000 years have their hatred for him not subsided at all.

  26. Robert, Jesus came to be killed. He came to die for our sins – that was His mandate.
    Defending the weak is commendable, calling them filthy names is not. Christ would not want you to do such, I’m sure. – as He was a Jew.

  27. What is the promise of the Jew religion to the Jew people? Every religion offers a benefit as a way to draw people to the religion. What is it for Jews? Answer the question then you will understand the killing of Christ.

  28. Please stop. As a lifelong Heathen Witch, this article is incorrect as is the bookstore or pagan Capitalist your discussing. Stay out of our religion. Btw, it is a-political not on some side. And abide ye the law of 3. Curses are for the ignorant .

  29. No. Christ came here to die – it was God’s purpose for Him.

  30. When the Messiah appeared, the Jewish religious power structure became passe’ and irrelevant. He rendered them useless. That was His unforgivable offense.

  31. As Hebrews describes, Christ replaced the sacrifices in the Temple with the One Sacrifice.

    The earthly temple in Jerusalem was then superseded by the Heavenly Temple which the earthly temple was designed to foreshadow.

    The priests in the earthly temple were superseded by the one High Priest who offers for eternity the perfect Sacrifice.

  32. You are the evil Mr. Browning. Your antisemitism is unacceptable and a sign of how lost you are. I doubt that you will ever find your way out of the hell hole you have placed yourself in.

  33. Witchcraft is everywhere these days. The most visited website is Wiccapedia.

  34. It’s unsurprising that paganism is becoming more political. As the Republican Party grows more theocratic, they’re going to end up repelling non-Christians. And most pagan groups aren’t hampered by the social conservatism found in non-Christian religions whose growth in the United States comes mostly from immigration, such as Islam and Hinduism.

  35. LOL neo-pagans are a hilarious bunch of ignorant children.

    Most of them don’t even have a college degree and when they do it’s in things like child care and english.

  36. Nothing says “I flunked history” like being a neo-pagan.

  37. Christ was the biggest anti-Sherm there ever was. If I am the side of the son of God how then am I evil, kyke?

  38. Why is it unacceptable kyke? Because you say so? What reason do you have if any, you miserable disgusting Jew.

  39. Moshiach is coming kyke. And soon enough, you are going to get Moshiached like you have never been Moshiached before and kyke…..you are going to love it.

  40. This is a really horrible article that shows nothing but ignorance of Witchcraft. It is an embarrassment that such claptrap could be written in 2019. I hate it when folks go to one open ritual in one tiny corner of America and then become ‘experts.’ And the folks interviewed for this were off-base as well. In all religions – folks who want to talk but have nothing of interest or enlightenment to share. UGH.

  41. Thank you, Pepper. I am appalled by the nonsense in this article, and even more by the nonsense and hatred of all sorts being spewed in the comments here. Don’t waste your time – a bunch of hater trolls making up “facts” of all kinds. Don’t waste your good energy on this nonsense. Bright blessings to you.

  42. You’re sad that you can’t burn the witches anymore, right Sandi?

    ->” Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Exodus 22:18

  43. Theologians can make a remarkable amount of money.

    Day care workers never do.

  44. It’s all man-made superstition. The pot calling the kettle black.

  45. “Theologians can make a remarkable amount of money” by brainwashing gullible people.

    “Day care workers never do,” but at least they do honest work.

  46. “. . . your comment was horribly offensive.”

    I assume that you are upset because he managed to be even more “horribly offensive” than some of the other Christian RNS commenters, including you.

  47. By your use of words! Also I am curious as to why you think I am Jewish?

  48. On the contrary your daddy issues do not reflect reality.

  49. It is the stench that gives you and your kind away every time. The rancid, overwhelming, vomit inducing stench.

  50. Besides mocking people with religious beliefs, do you?

  51. Leviticus 10:20 … Kill adulterers, including pastors,God commands it.

  52. Aw poor Naziboy is sputtering and proving my point.

    How is anyone going to bother to follow your faith if you are lying and insulting people? Calling people slurs and making wild accusations about them. Not a very good way to find Christ.

    But bigoted mor0ns like yourself are as Christian as they come. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.

  53. So everyone who thinks you are a bigoted fool is somehow Jewish.

    Naziboy is seriously delusional and paranoid.

  54. You speak the language of of a Christ killer. Do you accept Christ and his teachings kyke? What about Moshiach? Does he make you hot kyke? You know Moshiach is a tranny don’t you? You are going to love your Moshiach and your Moshiach is going to love you to. It is going to be great kyke.

  55. Jews aren’t people. Jews aren’t human. You can live in your own lands with your own kind. Like on some sort of jungle animal preserve, far far away from us.

  56. I am getting tired of you kyke. It is like talking to an obnoxious parrot. Bye kyke.

  57. Then block me Naziboy. Your posts are garbage and you are a bigoted fool. The only purpose of engaging you in a discussion is to demonstrate to keep the Christian fundamentalists from denying you are one of them.

  58. Not denying or refuting what I am saying. Naziboys like you love violence and murder. The really spineless ones claim to do it for Jesus.

  59. I speak English in coherent sentences. That is the language you are talking about.

    Who would accept the beliefs of a person who goes around throwing bigoted insults and threatening violence? You really have to work on your PR there Naziboy. You are as Christian as they come, and doing little to bolster the PR of such belief.

  60. You are the only one that stinks around here. AND by the way I am not Jewish. I am an Atheist.

  61. You are the only one here that is miserable an disgusting. Time to grow up. Small and impotent men, and you are a prime example of one, can only make themselves feel BIG by attempting to bully, demean and belittle others. BUT you can’t bully, demean or belittle people that are BIGGER and more powerful than you are. You wimp.

  62. Christ named the Jews the Jews. Jew means those who reject the Gospel. Jew means those who reject the teachings of Christ. You reject Christ and his teachings, correct kyke? Christ says you are a Jew.

  63. Boy you really are totally ignorant. “Jews” refer to people that are born from a Jewish woman or Jewish parents. Christ was a Jew.

  64. Your vocabulary is extremely limited. You might want to check out a dictionary and try to improve your verbal skills.

  65. It is curious to me that there is a man here calling me a Kyke and no one seems to be bothered by his blatant anti-semitism. He has also threatened me with his remarks.

    I am reminded of the story: They came for the gypsies but I wasn’t a gypsy or I said nothing. Then they came for the mentally ill but I wasn’t one of them so I said nothing. Then they came for the Jews and I said nothing. Then they came for me and there was no one left to say anything.

  66. You gotta stop kyking off in public Jewbagger. Nobody wants to see that stuff.

  67. How was Christ a Jew kyke? Christ refused to fulfill the demands and expectations the Jews had for their messiah and chose to die instead. How TF was Christ a Jew nutjob?

  68. If you will go to the offending post(s) you will see just to its right a dim down pointer.

    Click on that and you will have opportunity to flag the offending post. A menu of reasons are provided.

    Otherwise, if you want to run with the big dogs, you’ll need to learn to kick high in the big bushes.

  69. The Republican Party also repells a hell of a lot of Christians who are not mired in hatred toward others.

  70. I expected more from an article than a reporter recounting one night at a bookstore. Shame on Religion News.

  71. For what it is worth, Alex Mar is a woman. The notion that all or most witches are progressive is common, but likely inaccurate. Last time I checked, most churches asked for a donation to cover space and other operating costs.

Leave a Comment