Why We Are Witches: An A-Camp Roundtable

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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.

This year at camp we had not one, but two craft workshops that were witch themed. Cecelia and I led Witch/Craft, where we made votive candles featuring women who inspire us and give us strength and love, spellbooks and crystal pendants. Laura also led a witchy soap-making workshop.

Mey, Trans Editor and Bruja Femme

For me, identifying with witches started when I was young. Witches were these girls and women who were misunderstood or disliked by society, they were cast out, they were seen as weirdos and freaks, but they owned all of that and drew power from it. As I got older and queerer I felt an ever stronger connection to the idea of witches. I mean, pretty much as soon as I started actually identifying as a woman (as opposed to just wishing I was one, because I didn’t really realize that an amab person could be a woman) I felt like an outsider. As a trans woman, I felt like the kind of woman who would be forced to live on the outskirts of town, the kind of woman who mothers would shepherd their children across the street to avoid, the kind of woman who people would be intimidated by and afraid of. Basically, I felt like a witch.

Then, a few years ago, after I came out and started feeling out my aesthetic and gender presentation, I came back to witches once more. Going out in public as a trans woman made me terrified, and so I wanted to be able to terrify the world right back. I started adding black to my wardrobe, and bold red lipsticks and accessories that hinted at my witchiness — wide brimmed hats, skeleton earrings, Virgin Mary necklaces. I started defining my gender presentation as Bruja Femme. This new look gave me power and confidence that I had never had before. I started viewing my femme routine as rituals that gave me protection and strength.

Another area of my life where I’ve started identifying as a witch, or more specifically, a bruja, is in my spirituality and my faith. When I decided to actively pursue witchcraft as a practice, I talked to other Latin@ witches to make sure my practice was being grounded in a place that speaks deeply to my roots and my soul. I was raised Catholic, and being Mexican, the version of Catholicism that I’ve been drawn to has always been centered around La Virgen de Guadalupe and traditional Mexican religion and folk beliefs. I have a shrine in my house dedicated to La Virgen and some of my ancestors. I have close to a dozen candles with La Virgen or other saints on them. I always carry talismans with her image on them in my purse or in my pockets. When I do candle magic I dedicate it to her, when I write spells, she’s the one who I get my power from.

My recently planted Witch Garden. You can also see a smaller shrine to La Virgen (I have a much bigger shrine in another room).

My recently planted Witch Garden. You can also see a smaller shrine to La Virgen (I have a much bigger shrine in another room).

I’m also starting to stretch my curandera muscles by growing a witch garden full of herbs and plants that I can eventually use. I bought the book Healing with Herbs and Rituals: A Mexican Tradition by Eliseo Torres, which has given me a ton of great knowledge, insights and history about Mexican healers who have come before me.

Now, being a bruja is so much a part of my identity that I can’t even imagine my life going forward without it. In a world that devalues both my womanhood and my personhood, brujeria and witchcraft give me power that comes from that womanhood. My Mexican-ness, my transness, my queerness, my femmeness, they’re all things that I get power from. They’re all things that make me a witch. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Laura, Contributor

I’m not a witch who casts spells; I’m a witch who takes things people have cast aside and makes them new again. I use bad weeds like dandelion, burdock, and plantain to make healing salves and scavenge empty beer cans to make shiny aluminum jewelry.

Witchiness is in my family: my people are the original hilljacks (no joke: I have an ancestor named Mackalona Delp, which I’m pretty certain is the hillbilliest name that has ever existed). I grew up with stories about my great-grandma Fern who traveled around Appalachia holding seances where she raised spirits and tables. But Grandma Fern wasn’t a good witch. She abandoned my grandpa when he was a teenager and never loved him right before she left. My grandpa found a family in my grandma’s parents, who he says would have adopted him if he hadn’t married my grandma Jeanne.

Laura's Grandma Jeanne.

Laura’s Grandma Jeanne.

Grandma Jeanne is the Glenda to Fern’s Wicked Witch of the West. She showed me how to rub dandelion on my hand to see if I liked butter and dye Queen Anne’s Lace with food coloring, introduced me to her friends who could talk to our dead family members, and helped me grow pennies in the sugar bowl at her house. After my first heartbreak, my mom sent me to stay with Grandma Jeanne for three days. During the day, we drank endless glasses of raspberry iced tea and played cornhole; at night, we drank beers and played cards (I won 13 games in a row and she told me, “lucky in cards, unlucky in love”). My grandma claims she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body, but her ability to love people back to happiness proves otherwise. Maybe I couldn’t relate to Grandma Fern’s witchy side, but Grandma Jeanne’s version of witchcraft is something I love and aspire to. My witchcraft isn’t as powerful as my grandma’s yet. I can cure unwanted ailments – chapped lips and sore muscles – while she heals unwanted people.

Although my witchcraft is informed by my family and history, I’ve put my own big fat QUEER stamp on it. Being a queer person is about acknowledging our desires and needs, questioning social norms, and creating community. For me, being a witch is about paying attention to our bodies and the earth, rethinking what society tells us is valuable, and using all that knowledge to create well-being and sisterhood. Now tell me those two things don’t go perfectly hand-in-hand?

My main sources of knowledge are other witches and my own senses. Thanks for centuries of powerful people erasing women’s knowledge, so much of the reading material that’s available now is from people I don’t relate to or aspire to be like: evangelical christian moms, other white women who freely appropriate from cultures that aren’t theirs, and people caught in essential oil pyramid schemes. I signed up for a community herbalism class this summer (that I paid for through bartering!) and I’m looking forward to playing with some calendula seeds I have that are just waiting to be planted.

Witchcraft is a way for me to assert my independence and value as a queer woman, to honor my elders, to learn to trust my senses and intuitions, to create community, to provide and heal, and to love other people.

Beth, Tarot Writer

I don’t personally identify as a witch, but my queerness and my tarot go hand in hand. I think it’s radical how marginalized people seek out, embrace and actively create alternative spirituality and health/wellbeing practices, away from what we’re offered in ‘regular’ society.

The patriarchal approach is to turn spirituality and health into institutions. For example, organised religions with rules and regulations, clinical healthcare which regularly fails to see the full picture, and very straight, white, male definitions of what wellbeing or fulfillment look like.

The Collective Tarot.

The Collective Tarot

The concept of ‘witchiness’ for me revolves around seeing the shortcomings and dangers of this approach, and creating our own practices to complement or completely replace them. So that might mean learning about herbal medicine, practicing tarot, working with intentions (as in rituals and spells), meditation, doing cunt examinations with a group of friends or whatever– anything outside of the norm which gets spirituality and wellbeing back into our own hands.

But even within something esoteric like tarot, there are traditions, books that will tell you what the cards mean and how to read them, lots of dos and don’ts (you must keep your cards wrapped in silk, you mustn’t let other people touch your cards, and so on). Unless we reclaim it, tarot is just another institution!

My own tarot practice is all about finding my own interpretations for the cards, and using them however feels right for me…and encouraging others to do the same, through projects like Little Red Tarot and The Alternative Tarot Course (which help people to explore their own relationships with their cards) and The Queer Tarot Project, where people share stories of how particular tarot cards represent parts of their queer journey.

I also run the directory website Witchy Queers, which aims to be a resource for queer/queer friendly resources in the spirituality and wellbeing fields. I love seeing the amazing things people are adding there as the site grows!

Ali, Geekery Editor

Like Beth, I don’t identify as a witch. But an intuitive way of being in the world has always been present in my family. My mother always knows things a little bit before they’re going to happen. It’s funny, the kinds of things she can call: that her brother will throw a baseball through the garage window; the shape of the hole.

And in our family, a bit of witchiness isn’t incompatible with Judeo-Christian religion at all — I think it’s the Pennsylvania Deutsch part of us: spells in that context are half incantation, half standard Protestant prayer. It’s not a tradition that was taught to me (the magic parts — pie baking did get passed on, though I am not very good at crust), but the attitude is definitely there. Witchiness is just another set of things you believe that are entirely fit-able into your other ways of moving through life.

As a kid, I wanted nothing more than I wanted magic. I checked out book after book from the library. Witches were the coolest. I think I wanted proof that people don’t know everything; that there were energies out there not measurable by modernity. Already, perhaps, the anxiety of new versus old was taking root. I carry that anxiety with me always.

I moved away from the witchiness for a while into science and technology. Don’t get me wrong, the witch aesthetic was appealing to me when I was presenting more femininely than I do now. But the more spiritual pieces of it gave way to code and provable fact. In trying to make my own identity in the world, separate from my family, I think I forgot that I can contain multitudes. I resisted the witchiness because it didn’t gel with the worldview that I was building—and that was working so well for me, otherwise.

Then Beth started writing for Autostraddle. This isn’t the first time that my colleagues here have greatly affected my emotional life and wellbeing. Beth posted about The Wild Unknown tarot deck and my science brain went quiet and I bought it. For my birthday, actually. I’m writing this on May 23rd, which is my birthday, so that’d be exactly a year ago. I re-embraced my witchy intuition one year ago today. Funny, how the timing of such a roundtable works out. I began a journey that would allow the technical, facty parts of myself to comfortably exist and inform the witchy bits — science and code are magic, results of sets of words repeated to ourselves until we discover the deeper truth in them and they impact our world. I like to think I’ve done okay. I’ve still got a lot more doing to go.

These days, I begin my mornings with lighting a candle and pulling a card for the day, then journaling about it. I own two decks now, and I’m contemplating a third. I use my cards to influence my writing — I write fiction, so truly that’s about listening to my intuitive storytelling voice and clarifying what it wants to read. Then I simply write what it wants to read. It’s much easier than the traditional narrative of writers: that we have to painfully excavate our stories until sitting before a blank page is a self-indulgent self-flagellation. That somehow inventing worlds is anything less than well-shaped magic.

I also use my cards to help set intentions for the day, moon cycle, semester, year. It’s about plucking the all the strings available to me and listening for the music I can already hear. It’s about nurturing a voice I long ignored in favor of provable things. Isn’t it funny how a quest for truth can almost wipe it out?

Cecelia, Intern

I grew up in New Orleans with a Wiccan stepsister who would sneak away during family little league games to kiss boys and read tarot cards. It all seemed so wildly cool and dangerous. I thought: if this is what witches do, I want in. At eight years old I asked my father for a tarot deck. Being the liberal California-bred sociologist he is, he embraced this new witchy identity exploration of mine and took me to meet his friend, a television-icon-turned-magician who had recently retired from acting to open a magic and oddities shop in the French Quarter. When I walked into the shop, the magician showed me an entire glass case filled with rows of tarot decks. After looking over the cards with delicate precision, he chose a deck for me: The Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot.

Cecelia as a baby witch and the Phantasmagoric Theatre Tarot.

Cecelia as a baby witch and the Phantasmagoric Theatre Tarot.

I’ve grown up with this tarot deck. At eight, I asked the deck about what I would be when I grow up, where I would travel, who I would become. At twelve, I asked if I would ever kiss a boy. At twenty, I asked if I would ever kiss a girl. Now I am grown up — doing things, being things, traveling – and when I ask this deck questions, it responds to me with the held memory of all of the important questions I have ever asked in my life. The deck knows me better than any person ever could. And to me, that’s at the core of witchy practice: healing through self-reflection, enacted in a practice that is uniquely your own.

Back when I was a baby witch, this deck helped me form my own understanding of queerness in a really radical way. The first obstacle a queer person encounters in reading the tarot is how archaically linked to traditional male/female identities the cards can be. The artist of the Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot aimed to disrupt that way of thinking, so I never had to read the tarot in that way. The Lovers, which are usually portrayed as a cisgender heterosexual couple in tarot artwork, are shown in my deck as two matching gender-neutral characters with magnificent crowns on their heads. The characters have piercings, skull shirts, and unicorn horns. For most of my life, I rejected what I saw as the weird and ugly baby witch version of myself, complete with sassy sweatshirt, rainbow face and devil horns. But when I realized that baby witch is who I have always been, I had the cards right in front of me to reflect the same vision back to myself. I looked at the cards and thought: “this is who I am.”

Queer people know the power of building movements by creating, subverting, and refashioning new meaning for language. When I talk about magic, this is what I mean. I will never personally meet most of the many strong women who created me, but through magic, I understand them. Being a witch is a personal practice that weaves together identity with collective memory. My grandmother came from Japan and never talked about her struggle moving to America. I can see the legacy of her life in the mirror every day, but my only strong memory of her is the smell of the peach tree in her backyard. So I made a bracelet with several charms — a peach, a laminated drawing of her left eye taken from a photo, a drawing of my mirrored right eye, a glass vial with a small poem that I wrote on a scroll. I didn’t take this practice from any book. But I call the poem on the bracelet a spell, and wearing the bracelet feels like magic. It’s a kind of magic to combine memory, history and imagination in a resourceful way.

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Mey Rude is a fat, trans, Latina lesbian living in LA. She's a writer, journalist, and a trans consultant and sensitivity reader. You can follow her on twitter, or go to her website if you want to hire her.

Mey has written 572 articles for us.


  1. I loved this article! So much of it resonates with me. I think another factor is that so many witches in popular culture are above gender and sexuality’s boxes.

    • It is known through the Old Testament that Eosforos (Lucifer) was Gods archangel, He was the most beautiful of the angels and he was the most knowledgeable. Angels were created by God before creation and before man. His ungratefulness and greediness was shown when he decided that he could put his throne over the throne of creator God who created him. Lucifer and the other angels that followed him were send way from the presence of God because they were repent less. (Judah 6) “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day”. Their inner attitude of the fallen angels toward God and humanity is now known (reflected) on their outer bodies for all to know for all to visually see. Doesn’t a goat “bully” or “push” around with his horns other goats in order to dominate the entire herd? The fallen angels choice of attempting this blasphemous and distorted act of betrayal resulted to the withdrawal of the Grace of the Creator God having as consequence their inner ugliness and ungratefulness to be now known on their outer bodies for all to see. Be sure, an Ant blowing at the sun in order to try to put it out, is a good resemblance of the “power” of the devil against God! The word devil comes from the Greek word “diaballo” which means ~distort~ and in this case the word devil means to distort the truth. The devil has no authority on the will of man he merely looks to exploit the weaknesses of each person (Power Gold, Fame Sex) in order to get people to sin. Adam and Eve did not have to obey Satan they disobeyed on their own free will! They disobeyed because they wanted to. The devil is considered to be a Fool because he dared think he could put his throne over the throne of his creator God! The devil does not work free for those he collaborates with who are those who have the same passions of expansionism fame and power that he had that transformed him in an animal like existence as we know him today. At that moment of death the devil will show up TO GET PAID for his SERVICES RENDERED during these people lives. This is why his other name which is Satan means “the Accuser”! His SERVICES will be PAID with an EXCHANGE of the person’s eternal soul. This is what the devil is working for; these souls will be his precious trophies for ALL TIME to come! Those becoming Holy (His Saints) are those people (Christians) who were cleansed from sin and got to know God person to PERSON.
      The vision of Divine Light (God)

  2. I loved this. Cecelia’s comment about language resonated really strongly with me.

    Does anyone have recommendations for books about witches and magic that don’t feel weirdly appropriative? Looking for my history.

    • Its very difficult to find good books on actual pagan history (as opposed to neopagan) because Christianity and other religions took hold therefore history/writing was dictated by the “winners”.
      I have tried finding books on true history but a lot of it is the author using intuition and it just doesn’t feel right.

      a book I highly recommend (that does focus more on neopagan but is still interesting) is Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler. It is a very long read (over 600 pages but about 100 of those at the end are resources, notes, bibliography etc.) Its been years since I read it but I remember thinking it was well researched with lots of opinions/experiences from other people.

      • There’s a good book called Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici. It’s a marxist history that centers the witch as “the embodiment of a world of female subjects that capitalism had to destroy: the heretic, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dared to live alone, the obeha woman who poisoned the master’s food and inspired the slaves to revolt.” Highly recommended if you’re into a theoretically-inflected history.

  3. This was really interesting. When I read Mey’s article on making queer spaces more welcoming for transgender people I read the first item on her list over about 4 times trying to figure out if it was a joke and why such an important list would start with a joke. Reading the word “witch” I immediately thought of Hermione…. So, not quite the same thing. :p I had never heard of any of this before, thanks for sharing. :)

  4. Wow, Mey, this is so great! Amazing to read everyone’s stories and ideas and proud to be part of this article. <3

  5. Wow, interesting!

    So this seems like a good post to ask this… I’ve been looking for something “witchy” for forever.

    My ex had this deck of cards that weren’t Tarot cards (they had a different name, also the characters in the cards were different) but could be “read” to get some clues about present, past and future of a person (So i guess kinda like Tarot cards… haha)

    Does something like that resonate with you guys? I’ve been trying to google this for a while, but to no avail. Also, yes… my ex kinda hates me now, so I can’t ask her.
    Thanks a lot!

      • Yeah, I had a deck of cards based on the Lenormand cards (but they didn’t credit Madam Lenormand). Look at the names of the cards in the Lenormand deck. Was it something like that?

  6. Yes! I think I’ll be coming back to this article many times. Beth, as always, has the best resources. Super excited to check out the book Mey recommended. I’ve been wanting to learn more about my heritage in witchy ways for a while.

    But MAN am I kicking myself. I can’t believe I went to queer camp during a full moon and did not use the tarot deck I brought :( A-Camp fail

  7. I’ve been having conversations with QPOC friends in my town about identifying as a witch and being religious and the history of combining those two things in poc communities has led to a deeper understanding of our collective healing/histories and just yeah… This resonated a lot with me and I’m bummed I didn’t make witch crafts at camp but I’ll make them at home!!

  8. Thank you all for your interesting, inspiring stories! Like Ali, I too took a break from witchy things to embrace all things Theoretical and Critical – only to discover I could – and do – “contain multitudes”. Yes! This calls for some serious-playful Tarot time!

  9. I wanted to be a witch soooo bad when I was ten. I think it was more about female empowerment (and magic!) than querness for me. But witches are super gay – and I don’t care that Kidman and Bullock are sisters in Practical magic, that scene where Kidman is possessed and hits on Bullock is still hot (which matters to me because I loved that movie so much as kid).

    I’ve thought less about witchcraft later in life, but it had a small comeback for me last year. Thinking ritual on midsummer’s eve this year again…


    actually though, this post is so powerful.

    Such a great one to read, I am super drawn to the close connection (that other people see it too and are talking about it) between queerness and witchyness in my own life, it feels nice to see meaningful dialogue about it…. My head is swimming I am so happy after reading this.


  11. Thanks to all the contributors! This was an amazing read. You are all so lovely.

    It’s inspired me to get back in touch with my spiritual side. I really really wanted to be psychic when I was a kid and a lot of what ya’ll wrote about witchcraft and outsiderness/othering really resonates for me. Maybe it’s time to pull out my stones and cards again…

  12. Every time I read about witches, I think when I was 8/10 years old, and living in very rural France. There was this old woman living next door who was a witches. I entered one day by error in her house (okay, not by error, I had heard noise and was curious), and there was a fucking COW, like a BIG COW, slowly dying, because the old woman needed the heart of the cow, taken while the cow was still breathing, for I don’t know why. I still have the image of the poor cow in my head.
    The strangest things was that witchcraft was seen as a totally normal, every day fact, of life in this region. Your cow was sick ? Probably a witch. Go to see another witch to make the cow of your neighbour sick for revenge (50% of the time, witchcraft was about cow). When I was sick, it was totally normal for my uncle to take me to see next door witch, who would gave me plants & other stuff. While I don’t miss the “everybody hates everybody” state of mind of countryside, I really miss the “magic is normal” state of mind.

  13. Ali, it’s interesting that you talk about spirituality in relation to tech, because for me spirituality makes a lot more sense when coupled with technology. The sort of things people feel when they’re in nature, I feel when I’m near the whizz of a computer. The Internet is a hub of magickal energy which I feel most attuned to than most other typical pagany things.

  14. The Exchange
    Magic is pagan knowledge and it all works! However the devil who is behind it all who makes it all happen for you, will show up right at the moment of the exit of the soul from the body the moment of death and ask from God to keep it for himself for all eternity …for services rendered while alive! The word Satan also means the accuser and he will story one by one before God and all the angels his services to the magician in order to rightfully, legally and eternally keep him.
    Lord Jesus did not come to teach philosophically but THERAPEUTICALLY.

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