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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.
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 [email protected] 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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?
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.
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.