While I was raised Christian, I currently do not have a spiritual practice. I have, however, always been drawn to all things witchy, magical, and metaphysical. I’m attracted to the darkness and power of witchcraft, and the subversiveness inherent in a practice traditionally attributed to rebellious women.
Unfortunately, witchcraft has a whiteness problem. From pop culture and Halloween stores, the prevailing image of “witch” is still a white woman in a pointy hat. In reality, witchcraft and traditional spiritual practices are a rich tapestry developed by people from people all over the world. In Black American communities, paganism has seen a resurgence in recent years. Black American women, in particular, have been fleeing the church in favor of ancestral spiritual traditions and many identify as witches. Like every sector of society, the witch community is subject to racism and white supremacy, but Black American witches have long been tapping into generational power in resistance to that which has been stolen from them by a violent system of oppression.
Anti-racism in witchcraft has become a major topic of conversation since the uprisings of last summer in response to the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, along with countless other Black civilians murdered by police. From actual hexes and binding spells, to the resistance inherent in practicing non-Abrahamic spiritual traditions, witchcraft continues to forge its place in the fight to dismantle white supremacy. Black witches are taking part in the resistance through a combination of ancestral practices, ideologies, and modern technology.
Tapping Into Ancestral Power and the Power of the Internet
Black witchcraft in the United States draws from ancestral West African religions and spiritual practices and exists in the intersection of Christian and West African faith traditions. Some of these traditions, while they may inspire and influence Black witches, are independent religions whose followers do not consider themselves witches. Followers of the Yoruba Orisha, with religions like Santería, Lucumí, Ifá, and Candomblé have an intertwined experience with Black American witches, who often draw from these traditions in their practices.
Two of the best known Black American spiritual traditions are Louisiana or Mississippi Valley Voodoo and Hoodoo.
Hoodoo, also known as rootwork or conjure, was first created by enslaved Africans as a way to regain power, protection, and comfort. Much of the spellwork in Hoodoo stems from the innate need for security brought on by necessity from the violence inflicted upon enslaved people and continues to draw from a protective power today. Hoodoo spellwork is primarily based in nature, deriving power from herbs, minerals, and animals.
Voodoo draws from similar roots to Hoodoo but is a standalone religion, while Hoodoo is often classified as a form of folk magic. Both practices, and many other African Diasporic traditions, draw from West African Vodun, which centers around vodun spirits and other deities and originates in what is now modern-day Benin.
Both Voodoo and Hoodoo also draw from Catholic and other Christian beliefs, both out of necessity from assimilation and through cultural diffusion, and from indigenous spiritual traditions. Hoodoo practitioners in particular are often also Christian. And much of Black folkloric traditions (like making black-eyed peas and greens on New Years Day) are rooted in Hoodoo and African traditions, even when our folks don’t realize it.
For queer Black witches, like Haylin Belay of Femiwitch, reconnecting with ancestral power is also a way to decolonize ideas about gender and sexuality that have been passed down through many religious institutions. Many Christian churches have had a devastating effect on queer folks, and witchcraft gives people an opportunity to connect with spirituality in a way that allows them to be their fullest selves. For folks living at an intersection of marginalized identities, the ability to forge a personal spiritual path is deeply freeing.
If you’ve been on a certain side of the Internet for a while, you’ve probably encountered accounts posting emoji love potions and ~*witchy aesthetics*~.
While I’m a sucker for a kitchen witch mood board, magic on the internet goes deeper than the glossy images and 1-minute videos, #BlackWitchTok on TikTok is a window into modern spiritual practices that, although the content is to be taken with a grain of salt (always do external research!), are helpful entry points for many people looking to build community and learn more about pagan practices. There are also many online communities for education, like groups on Facebook where folks can learn more and connect with other practitioners. While no replacement for real-life connections, these platforms are important for folks who have been disconnected from their culture through generations of oppression and suppression.
Though there’s been a harmful conspiracy theory from Right Wing internet circles that the queer Black women founders of Black Lives Matter are practicing an insidious form of witchcraft to enchant the millions of supporters they have gathered — there are Black witches who have created protection spells for the movement as well as hexes and curses to slow the police down. This spellwork has become amplified on TikTok and has its roots in African Diasporic traditions. Specifically, in Black witchcraft, the use of hexes — while they come with added risk and require more training — are not taboo the way they are in some Eurocentric witchcraft practices. This misconception has contributed to the racist idea of Black witches as evil or Satanic, but in reality, all forms of spellwork are a way for marginalized people to access power.
These Are a Few Folks Who Are Sharing Their Practice Online:
Rootworker and master herbalist Mama Sunfiyahh is a practitioner who is committed to educating folks about traditional Black spiritual traditions. She includes primers on everything from herbalism and spellwork to divination and traditional rituals on her TikTok.
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Hoodoo Matters 🎲 took this picture right before interviewing my 91 year old great auntie for Hoodoo Heritage Month yesterday for the podcast. And to let you in on a secret, she ain’t know what the hell a “Hoodoo” was by name, but she knew everything about Hoodoo at the same damn time. Can’t wait to share it with you all this Wednesday on @alittlejujupodcast ! Maybe challenge yourself to talk to some elders in your family (or any elders) this month. Ask for stories, ask about their lives, what they’ve seen, or how they’ve moved through difficult times. Ask them about love, healing, or sacrifice. Ask them how they’ve fought. Ask them about God, and family. I guarantee you’ll find an answer you’ve been looking for in their words. Bless y’all, I can’t wait until Wednesday😘 Hair: @hairstylist_patty Choker: @blackmadonnajuju Shirt: me, but I don’t sell them anymore lol
Sam, also known as JujuBae is a conjurer, Hoodoo practitioner, online metaphysical shop owner, and the host of A Little Juju Podcast, which covers “all things Black Ass Spirituality.” She is committed to Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks returning to ancestral spiritual practices.
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Surprise witches!!! @playboy asked ya favorite brujita to show off their new bunny costume! What a way to bring in 🦂#ScorpioSzn 😈🐇🧿 #bigwitchenergy #playboy #bosswitch #divinefeminine #darkgoddess #witchesofinstagram #brujasofinstagram #halloween #spookyseason #bitchcraft #witch #art #glamourmagick #empoweredwitch #sexwitch #OccultPussy 📸 by @lla.strange 🐇😈
Bri Luna’s The Hoodwitch is a blog and online store that covers everything from astrology to crystals and smoke cleansing. Her mission is to make witchcraft and mysticism more accessible to all people. Bri is one of the more well-known witches on the internet, and even launched a makeup line with Smashbox.
Fredericka Turner of Conjuria is a Caplata, Mambo and a Shaman in New Orleans Vodou. She has strong roots in conjure and runs Conjuria, her metaphysical shop in addition to educational Facebook groups Do You Hoodoo?, The Hoodoo Box, and Crystal Conjure.
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"Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc" ("We Gladly Feast on Those Who Would Subdue Us.")…without hesitation and with no compunction whatsoever 💯 #quotesforlife Images: Just a few old selfies. Except for the last one, that was taken at the library two days ago. 🦂#scorpioseason 🦂 #fbf❤️ #selfies #tayannahleemcquillar #halloweenbaby
Tayannah Lee Mcquillar is a rootworker who shares information from historical sources on her Instagram that relate to what she calls “stolen legacies” of Black folks in America including their history, ancestors, and spiritual practices. She has a perspective on Hoodoo and Blackness that differs from some mainstream perceptions and asserts that Black history in America goes back beyond slavery. She also posts helpful information about sustainability, racism, and decolonization.
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Soulangie Leeper, aka Òrìsà Child practices Isese, the traditional version of Lucumi/Santeria of the Afro-Cuban traditions. A Garifuna woman who grew up learning about the Motherland, she shared with me, “I am using it to love all of my blackness, to own it completely and unapologetically. I have seen the power of my ancestors, and I am never letting this practice go. Because it’s in my DNA, and I will decode as much as I can while having this experience on earth.” She offers protection oils, divination services, and a guide to ancestral reverence on her online shop.
Also, Deanna Sunshine created an excellent Facebook group, Seems like your Spirituality is just Cultural Appropriation: The ReligionTM that delves into the intricacies of cultural appropriation and racism in spiritual practices. I’ve been in this group for about a week, and I’ve already learned so much from the incredible labor that the members and admins provide. If you join, make sure you check your fragilities at the door.
It is also important to note that the term “witch” is a self identifier and not all practitioners of African/Black American traditional spiritualities consider themselves witches. In some spaces, ‘witch” is seen as a derogatory term. Always defer to the way the practitioner refers to themselves.
How To Spell Resistance
Interested in learning how to tap into your power? Here are a few tips to get started safely and respectfully.
- Read Up. Learn your history to begin to understand the ancestral practices that are open to you. Some of these resources are specifically for people in the African Diaspora. A few starter texts: Mojo Workin’: The Old African American Hoodoo System, Hoodoo For Beginners: Working Magic Spells in Rootwork and Conjure with Roots, Herbs, Candles, and Oils, Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change, A Practical Guide for Witches: Spells, Rituals, and Magic for an Enchanted Life, Orishas, Goddesses, and Voodoo Queens: The Divine Feminine in the African Religious Traditions, Enchantments: A Modern Witch’s Guide to Self-Possession
- Seek Community. Two places to start for learning and community are the Dawtas of the Moon Black Witch Convention and the Black Witch University. You can also check with your local occult or metaphysical shop, try meetup.com, or search for local Facebook groups.
- Start Simple. Witchcraft and spiritual traditions are not to be trifled with. These are sacred practices that folks spend their lives training in.
- Remember that while the aesthetics may draw you in, they are not what witchcraft is about. At their core, spiritual practices are about intentions and energy. Taking the time to honor sacred practices through learning, meditation, and introspection is ultimately far more important than finding the prettiest crystal.
- If you’re not Black, take care with cultural appropriation. Although there are a variety of opinions on culture appropriation in witchcraft, educating yourself on the roots of a practice you are interested in and consider how your place of power relates to practices outside your own culture. Closed practices, typically those belonging to marginalized people, have been criminalized and suppressed by colonization. If you are interested in a practice from a culture outside of your own, make sure to check in with people inside that culture to ensure you do not do harm to yourself or the folks within the group.
Black ancestral magic can be a key to finding freedom, connection and power for many Black folks. For so long, we have been disconnected from our heritages and reconnecting that tether is resistance. My hope is that all Black folks, especially queer Black folks, are able to find their path in a world that insists we ought to be powerless.