Welcome back to Witch Hunt, a meeting place for witches of all kinds. We’re here with your monthly dose of witchy info, history, pop culture, ephemera and community!
Thanks for all of the love and the awesome feedback about our first installment of Witch Hunt! I, and the rest of us here in the coven (by the way, did you know there’s an Autostraddle coven Facebook group?) are really glad that you liked it. And I loved a lot of the ideas that you had for other things we can include in this column. In fact, some of your suggestions are included here in this month’s Witch Hunt and others will be coming up in future installments.
This month a lot of us on the Autostraddle staff got up to some witchy business. Florence Welch posted Molly’s artwork from last month on Instagram, how cool is that?! I was featured in this write up about queer and trans witches on Vice. Rachel wrote all about how to dry and preserve herbs in your home, a really helpful tip for any witch. I’m guessing a lot of you already know this, but Beth has a really great tarot column here on Autostraddle called Fool’s Journey that you should definitely check out if you haven’t already. Witchy, Ariel Ries’ brilliant webcomic about witches who get their power from their hair was nominated for a bunch of ASCA Awards. Also, is anyone looking for a new soap that is “good for clearing away any clouds or dirt that might linger on your body or spirit and bringing in the sun, definitely some smiles, and probably some sexy vibes as well”? Well, Laneia found this Witch Tits Organic All Natural Boobie Soap just for you!
How do y’all feel about horror movies about witches? Have you seen the trailer for the upcoming film The Witch? I, for one, am always up for a movie about a bunch of scared puritans, especially if they’re being scared by women. Do you have a favorite witchy movie? I mean, The Craft has got to be up there, I also love Kiki’s Delivery Service and the original The Wicker Man.
Anyway, let’s get into the meat and bones of the Witch Hunt by starting you off with a playlist.
Songs for Spellcasting
How to Become a Witch
If you’re a fan of traditional beliefs, you might have heard of some complicated rituals that one had to participate in in order to become a witch. You might have heard something about blood sacrifices, or meeting a goat at 3 a.m. (The Witching Hour) somewhere in the middle of the woods. If you’re into even more traditional beliefs (or you own a copy of The Encyclopedia of Superstitions by E. and M.A. Radford) you might have heard something about trimming or cleaning your nails and saying “I wish I was as far from God as my as my nails are far from dirt” or covering a plate with dirt and shaking it off while stating that you’re as far from Jesus Christ as the dirt is from the plate. You might have heard that you can get bitten on your back side by the devil where he’ll make a mark in the shape of two crossed horns, a ram, a toad or a circle or that you can also bring a spinning wheel (you have one of those, right?) to the top of a hill and give yourself over to the devil and wait for the wheel to start spinning on it’s own.
The truth is, no matter how fun all of that sounds, you don’t really need to do any of those things. Sure, the devil can be a part of your practice if you want, but you can also totally be a witch and believe pretty much whatever you want. I’m a catholic witch, with my practice heavily influenced by my devotion to La Virgen de Guadalupe, other witches are devoted to the moon, nature, another deity or spirit or no deity at all.
Many come to the craft by finding a mentor or elder who works with them, others discover it on their own. Some witches will join a coven, some will practice on their own. Some practices will have you perform a dedication ritual on your own, others might initiate you into their coven. If you just want to be a solitary witch, you can largely make up your own rules. One big piece of advice that I’d follow pretty much no matter what kind of witch you want to become is to do your research. Read books, check out websites, talk to witches that you know. You don’t want to get in over your head. If you want to become a specific kind of witch, maybe you want to convert to Wicca or join a specific neo-pagan practice, another good thing to do is to seek out people who practice that specific type of witchcraft. It’s better to listen to a Wiccan’s advice on how to become a Wiccan than to listen to mine.
I think it’s also completely valid to identify as a witch without attaching any sort of religious practice or faith to it all. Throughout history, many different women (and men and people of other genders) have been called witches, and even persecuted for being witches, for dozens of different reasons, many of them having nothing to do with any spiritual practices or beliefs. If being a witch or even having some witchy practices is something that gives you strength, comfort or inspiration, go out and be your best witchy self. The only thing I would say is not to appropriate anything from a culture that you shouldn’t be.
Words With Witches
Poppet (noun) – a doll made to represent a person, sometimes by being created in part using some physical object linked to that person, like a lock of hair or scrap of their clothing. They can be fashioned from a variety of materials and sometimes stuffed with something else, like herbs with magical properties, for the purposes of a spell or working. The functionality of a poppet is to use it as an effigy of the intended person, such that any actions for good or ill performed upon the poppet are transferred to the person it represents. Poppets can also be used as kitchen witches, a figure meant to represent a crone that is displayed in a kitchen to bring good luck and ward off evil.
Crystals have powerful energetic qualities, and depending on who are you and what you’re looking for, you might want to look at different crystals and cleansing techniques.
Witches Who Sing
Wheel of the Year
by Beth Maiden
The equinox on 23rd September marks the beginning of autumn. Also known as ‘Mabon’ in Pagan and Wiccan traditions, this is the eighth and last festival in the wheel of the year — and it’s my favourite.
At equinox (meaning ‘equal night’), day and night are equal in length — this is a crossing point, after which we move into the half of the year where night-time hours outnumber those of daylight.
In ancient traditions, the autumn equinox was the second harvest of the year, and a time of giving thanks to the sun and the gods and goddesses that brought abundance from the earth, providing food. Alongside this looking back on a fruitful growing season comes the understanding that the soil is dying, that a new season is coming in, that there is cold weather ahead.
I don’t work in agriculture, or even grow vegetables, and neither am I a Pagan, Wiccan or member of any other spiritual tradition. My personal approach to observing the wheel of the year is a simple one: to notice what’s happening in the environment around me, and within me, too.
Externally, here in the north of England, late September brings the most beautiful weather. I spend the last month of summer waiting for that first bright, misty morning, where the temperature drops distinctly and there’s a gorgeous chill in the air, and early sunshine breaks through that atmospheric, magical mist. Evenings feel hazy on my little boat, it’s cold enough to bring wood in and build a fire each day. I could ramble on for hours about the quality of light at this time of year…
One thing we all know about are the changing leaves. The first tree to change in my neighbourhood was a sycamore — I found it’s beautiful red and gold leaves littering the canal path one morning and knew autumn was close by. Which trees change first in your local area? The herbs and wildflowers I’m learning to identify are changing too, many dying off, leaving dry seed-heads to scatter for next year, some — like the purple Michalemas daisies that line the towpath — are coming into flower now.
Elementally, we are moving from the energetic, passionate fiery energy of summer to the watery energy of autumn. The element of water is associated with introspection, intuition, feelings — and I am always aware of that shift taking place within me at this time of year. Everything feels more… poetic, somehow. More meaningful. I notice the subtler shifts of feeling inside me, and am drawn towards emotional introspection.
Here are a few ways you might like to observe this unique and quickly-changing time of year:
- Reflect, then look forward. This is a time for appreciating all that summer has brought you, and also for looking forward to the coming year. What seeds did you sow last year, and did they bear fruit? What seeds will you sow this year?
- Gather dried seed-heads — poppies, wild carrot, angelica or whatever is growing near you — to create an autumnal bouquet.
- If you have an altar, nuts, berries, conkers and acorns are symbols of the changing season. Elementally, a glass of wine or water might represent the movement towards a more introspective period.
- Collect rosehips and elderberries for jam, wine, or cordial.
- Prepare for colder weather with an autumn-clean — tidy your home, put away your summer clothes and dig out jumpers and scarves, put a blanket over your bed, hang up your door-curtain and have a good old cosy-up.
- Tarot-wise, try a reading that encourages you to reflect, to look deeper, to tune in to those quieter messages that we tend to overlook in busier times. If you like to meditate with your cards or place them on an altar, try the Hanged Man, the High Priestess, or the Moon.
My Favorite Witch
I grew up in backwoods Georgia, so I was five years old when my Sunday School teacher at my Baptist church first introduced the concept of witchcraft to me. Obviously it was a tool of Satan. Obviously he used it to claw his way into your heart and kick Jesus out of there and turn you into a stone cold murderer, or worse! Like maybe you’re just going along loving the Lord but then one day on accident you get into witchcraft — people were always duped into being witches, according to my church — and next thing you know you’re having sex before marriage! Witchcraft and premarital sex were synonymous. Jesus wept for witchcraft. Oh, he wept!
These were the ways people got hoodwinked into being witches, according to my middle school Sunday School teacher:
- Watching the Smurfs
- Watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Playing Dungeons and Dragons
- Reading your horoscope
- Participating in Halloween
- Magic shows
- Yoga (or any stretching, really, since “eastern religions” invented it)
- Listening to Def Leopard or AC/DC
- Slumber party games (especially Ouija boards or the one where you say “Bloody Mary” in the mirror)
- Liking nature too much
But no one could have prepared the entire religion of my youth for the witchcraft sensation that would take over the entire world. I was a senior in high school when it happened. It was Harry Potter.
I left church forever when I was in college and the first thing I did was read Harry Potter. You’d think a twenty-something person could read some children’s books and other adult people would be chill about it, but oh ho, no! Right around the time I was knee-deep in Prisoner of Azkaban, my grandfather overheard me talking about the books and flew into a rage about Satan taking over my mind with witchcraft, stormed out of the room, and gave me over to the devil.
Harry Potter is so many things to me, and represents so many things to me, and one of the main ones is breaking free from the deep South oppression of my first 24 years and summoning the courage to choose a life that sustained my soul. Hermione Granger was my role model. Smart and driven (but because she felt this urgent need to constantly prove herself), terrified of getting into trouble or letting down authority figures, deeply empathetic to the plight of the oppressed but unsure how to effect any real change, really scared but also really excited about the possibility of being loved for exactly who she was, not the most beautiful girl in the world (and even though she knew it shouldn’t, it kind of bothered her sometimes), occasionally vindictive, occasionally judgmental, ultimately triumphant.
Unlike Susan Pevensie, who C.S. Lewis kicked out of Narnia for starting her period, basically, Hermione got better and better the older she got. And she got braver too. And she learned what fights to fight and how to fight them. And but mostly she learned that the sweet spot of courage is between your brain and your heart.
I was deep in Harry Potter fandom from Goblet of Fire onward, and although everyone else I knew was invested in the shipping wars, I spent most of my time on the Chamber of Secrets forums contemplating the inner workings of Hermione Granger. The more I understood her, the more I understood myself. I came out the year she started S.P.E.W.
Everybody likes it when she wallops Malfoy. I like it when she whispers Potions instructions to Neville while Snape clomps around. I like it when she learns how perfect Luna Lovegood is. I like it when she’s a boss ass witch. I like it when she’s a gentle Pygmy Puff. I like that she’s the real hero of the Harry Potter books.
Practice of the Month
Preparation for any working/ritual is super important, both literally and esoterically. For the literal prep, it’s important to know what moon phase you’re working with and, if you’re working with multiple deities, that you’re certain their energies won’t clash. Prep your space. Pay attention to ventilation if you’re burning candles or incense. Have all the items you need prepared so you won’t have to break the circle or stop the working to grab a lighter, which would interrupt the energy you’ve harnessed.
Once you’re prepped with space and tools, you’ve gotta do some internal energy prep. This is generally referred to as “setting intentions.” It is very important to know “the what of the why.” If you’re casting a money spell, is it for personal gain? To help a family member stay afloat? Just for fun? Are you looking for a one-off manifestation of money or something a little more long term? It’s key to know why you are requesting help and directing energy towards a certain outcome. It helps to keep you grounded. Speaking of witch… ;)
For many Wiccans, “grounding” is what it sounds like: keeping yourself attached to something solid. When working with emotions/energy and all things witchy, it’s easy to lose direction, intent — or even yourself. “Grounding” helps to keep you focused and centered so you can move forward towards your anticipated outcome. Some people choose to meditate on their intentions while sitting outside. Others do a “muscle check-in”: a flex and release of muscles starting at your toes and moving up to your head. I personally listen to music that fits whatever work I’m doing and I breathe through songs for ten or so minutes. As long as whatever you’re doing brings you into your body and roots you to a solid headspace, you are grounding properly.
The Last of the Granny Witches
Evangelical Christianity (and the bigoted socio-political nonsense that often goes along with it) dominate conversations about spirituality in the South, and while I was raised as a Southern Baptist, my spiritual connection to the South — and oh, it is strong! — exists far beyond a church building. It isn’t something I can define or quantify. There’s an ancient energy alive in the woods in the north Georgia mountains. When I am there alone with the trees and the dirt and the moss and the squirrels and the creeks and the pine needles, I feel more at home than any place else on earth. I feel connected to everything that came before me and everything that will come after me. It was my mom’s maternal grandmother, a Cherokee woman who was run off her land time and again, who told me it was magic. True magic. I’ve never read anything that could begin to describe that feeling … until I stumbled across Anna Wess’ essay, The Last of the Granny Witches. It resonates with me in a visceral way. It reminds me of my people, most of whom I never even knew.
And these mountain women before us were not delicate flowers or distressed coquettes. In these old heirloom hills, the women are as tough as the men, and then some. There was only one person Papaw was leery of, and that was Mamaw. No, you are not a peach, never mind how long you’ve thought you were or the times your daddy said so. No, you’re not. You are not easily bruised fruit. The blood in our veins is laced with old magic and the secrets of the noble savants before us.
We are the last of the granny witches.
The old ones, the original Appalachian queens, were daughters of the Celts and the offspring of Druids and medieval mavens and the natives of the old world craft, and we are their children. And although we are indeed as mysterious as these old hills, we still have that Celt and Cherokee elder magic in our bones.
Witch Hunt will be back next month with even more Witches Who Sing, Words With Witches, a brand new Practice of the Month and more! Until then, you girls watch out for those weirdos.