Present-Day Witchcraft: Seven Stories About Witches

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I’m in no way immune to the lure of the witchy, and honestly, I don’t want to resist. I bought a small piece of sunstone from my local metaphysical shop, because I read that sunstone encourages mental clarity.

When I arrived at the shop, I awkwardly browsed until I got up the courage to ask the saleswoman how to choose a crystal. She said to hold each stone and see which felt right—felt special. I was skeptical, but I swear the stone I ended up purchasing buzzed with warmth when I held it in my hand. It was inexpensive and pretty, and I think it’s on a bookshelf somewhere, now.

I wore a cheap hematite ring, too, until it cracked in half while I was tapping my glands during doula class, which sent me into a temporary existential tailspin: Should I get a new one? Was it just a cheap piece of jewelry? Was it a sign that doula work would disrupt my stability? Did I not need the ring anymore?

I can’t put it better than Autostraddle’s Trans Editor (and Bruja femme) Mey Rude, who wrote, “We’ve said it before (and so have other people), but we’re definitely living in an age of the Resurgence of the Witch. This feels especially true for queer women. We’re embracing our family traditions and our cultural heritage. We’re learning about herbology and tarot cards and candle magic. We’re dressing like extras from Wicked or The Craft. We’re forming sisterhoods and cultivating auras.”

1. “Why We Are Witches: An A-Camp Roundtable.” (Mey Rude and Autostraddle Staff, Autostraddle, June 2015)

Mey, Laura, Ali, Beth and Cecelia discuss building altars, using Tarot cards, learning their family histories, reclaiming religious rituals and so much more!

2.  “A Complicated Faith: Alex Mar & Leslie Jamison Discuss Witches of America, Spirituality & Writing Nonfiction.” (Alex Mar and Leslie Jamison, Electric Literature, December 2015)

Alex Mar’s book, Witches of America, kickstarted my interest in the neo-pagan movement in the United States. Here, Mar and Leslie Jamison (author of The Empathy Exams) discuss the essayist as player in her own story and capturing the waxing and waning of spirituality in real time.

3. “The Lord’s Supper.” (Kristen Arnett, Catapult, October 2016)

A lyrical essay about queerness, Ouija boards, and our Christ-haunted past.

4. “A Teen Witch’s Guide to Staying Alive.” (Alice Bolin, Broadly, October 2015)

Alice Bolin explores the intersection of the teen witch vibes espoused by Silver RavenWolf, Shirley Jackson and the ’90s.

5.  “24 Hours in Witch Country.” (Jessica Pan, The Toast, December 2013)

I learned the basics of the Salem witch trials in school, but nothing about the witch hunts in Pendle Hill (near Lancashire, in England) that predated Salem by more than half a century. Turns out King James VI was paranoid about the existence of witches in his realm and convinced their hexes would lead to his demise, and he proselytized about their dangerous powers to all lower-ranking government officials. Jessica Pan’s essay is part history lesson, part travelogue and completely wonderful. (SPOOKY TRIVIA FACT: The Pendle witches were tried on August 18, my birthday.)

6. “Who Is It That Afflicts You?” (Rachel Kincaid, Autostraddle, October 2015)

Rachel Kincaid considers the power dynamics involved in the Salem witch trials. I appreciated the following prescient point, with its stark implications demonstrated our contemporary political atmosphere:

But what rings most dangerously prophetic about Salem is the ideology that suggests imagining the most helpless and vulnerable in our communities as the most powerful, in a kind of 1984-esque doublethink that provides a rationale for causing as much harm as one wishes to that group. The kind of doublethink that would allow Samuel Parris, for instance, to believe that Tituba could be imbued with all the powers of supernatural evil and hold the life of his niece and many others in her hand, while at the same time believing that she was literally his property and could not even lay claim to the powers of full personhood.

7. “How Magic Helps Me Live with Pain and Trauma.” (Maranda Elizabeth, The Establishment, April 2016)

I found this essay via Mey Rude’s amazing column, Witch Hunt, and I’m so glad I did. Maranda Elizabeth shares their powerful experiences of integrating witchcraft into their experiences of chronic illness:

My cane becomes a part of my rituals, an ongoing presence, a wand and a sword all at once. It is a sword because I am angry about injustice and inaccessibility; it is a wand because I care about healing and liberation. Now it is adorned with stickers of the full moon, and the Moon card from a tarot deck: the dog, the wolf, and the crayfish crawling at the edge of the sea, carrying messages only I can hear. My cane emanates a magical energy, holding onto me as I hold onto it. My cane is my fifth limb. We have conversations. We carry each other.