Spells in the city: why an increasing number of women are practising witchcraft

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Modern witchcraft is on the up, with professional women taking an interest in moon rituals, crystal-healing and tarot reading. Stylist explores why we’ve fallen under the spell

Words: Theresa Harold

At first glance, 41-year-old marketing director Sushma Sagar’s day seems pretty, well, regular. She gets up at 7am, meditates for 20 minutes, before heading into work for a team meeting. Working for a global fashion brand means that her days are high-pressured, spanning everything from financial budgets to client meetings. But the minute she gets home, she burns a smudge stick. That, FYI, is a bundle of Californian white sage used in spiritual circles to remove negative energies from yourself and the surrounding space, before sitting down to self-heal by meditating, often with a shamanic drumming CD if the day has been particularly taxing. “People find it hard to believe I do all of this in contrast to my day job, but it’s important to cleanse energies. When you’re out and about in the city, you’re picking up so much energetic debris off other people, alongside whatever else has happened to you that day... And it relaxes me.”

Sagar is one of the new breed of women who deal with the stresses of busy modern life with strategies and practices that could come right out of the craft or practical magic. Tamara Driessen, or Wolf Sister as she’s even better known, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, took a two-month sabbatical in bali nearly four years ago to enhance her spiritual magic practice. “I was apprenticed to a shaman there; it was amazing,” she recalls. Today, alongside her day job, she is a shamanic practitioner, reiki master, tarot reader and crystal healer with regular workshops in London and beyond – and, by definition a white witch.

Modern witchcraft

So what does that mean exactly? Well, “in the context of contemporary western women, I think the easiest definition of a witch would be someone who practises ritual magic,” says professor Denise Cush, recently retired professor of religion and education at Bath Spa University. White witches promote positivity through their practice.

So, whether that’s full moon ceremonies, which involve charging your sacred items like crystals or jewellery under the moon, or potions made from reiki-activated water that promote healing, it’s a highly individualised practice. Now, spell classes are seeing an influx of young, urban, professional women keen to learn white magic. Unlike Wicca (a religion founded in fifties Britain shortly after the last law outlawing witchcraft was repealed), white witchcraft is simply the practice of ritual magic – be it using crystals, candles, cards and so on – to cause a desired outcome. White witches also tend to worship Mother Earth – also known as the Goddess.

While exact figures are hard to come by, the last available data from the 2011 uk census showed people self-identifying as witches for the first time, alongside other options such as Pagan, Wicca and Druid. “the numbers are small, but significant,” says Dr Marion Gibson, associate professor of renaissance and magical literatures at the University of Exeter. “Official recognition is definitely growing.” In fact, “there has been a hidden rise in witchcraft over the past 10 years. But what’s changed is that these women are now willing to be more open about it,” reveals Christina Oakley Harrington, founder of renowned esoteric bookshop Treadwell’s. “there’s definitely a mystical movement happening within the fashion and beauty sectors, who are often the first to adopt more lateral spiritual practices. And it’s endorsed by celebrities, but the educated professional women have always been the secret mainstay of the esoteric world.”

Women like Sarah Starrs, a 29-year-old virtual assistant based in Liverpool, a self-declared white witch who turned to these ancient, magical practices to combat stress. “If I’m feeling nervous about a big project or a client call, I close my eyes and focus on sending that anxious energy out of my body and down into the ground. I then focus on breathing in fresh energy and calling in a blessing from the Goddess, such as, ‘May this call help foster a supportive and trusting relationship’.”

In the creative industries, those at the top of their game aren’t afraid to call in the big guns by harnessing a higher power. Victoria Beckham has rose quartz and black tourmaline backstage before her fashion shows, and Adele uses her crystals to help with performance anxiety (though, there is no scientific evidence suggesting crystals help with anything, other than decoration). They could just be hedging their bets, but as one senior account manager for a beauty PR company put it, “I used to work in a really toxic environment so I kept my black tourmaline crystal in my bag to ward off any negative energy. The days I didn’t have it with me, without even realising that fact, I’d feel much less able to cope with the negativity. So I know it works for me.”

Spiritual healing

Ruby Warrington, former magazine features editor, founder of The Numinous and author of the forthcoming book Material Girl, Mystical World (£12.99, HarperCollins), attributes this growing interest in magic to modern life’s information overload. “Any practice that taps into our own inner knowing, or helps us connect to the right choices, is becoming not only more appealing but also a necessity. In its essence, this is what witchcraft is. It’s particularly appealing to female entrepreneurs, since so much of running a successful business is being able to make the right decisions, and quickly, often in the face of multiple outside pressures.

For others, the yellow brick road to magic stems from a journey that starts with yoga, clean eating and meditation. As Helen Morris, founder of Samsara Communications, an agency which works with wellbeing entrepreneurs, explains, the wellness industry has paved the way for an openness to spirituality of all kinds. “I meet so many women who feel disconnected, whether it’s from working in an unfulfilling job or experiencing burnout. For them, witchcraft isn’t about witches’ hats and broomsticks, it’s rooted in the desire to create a richer life experience for themselves and others through the use of modern white witchcraft and its practices.”

Read more: Need more magic in your life? Why we're still so drawn to fantasy worlds

In fact, meditation – proven by Harvard University to have a measurable impact on the regions of the brain associated with memory, stress and sense of self in as little as eight weeks – is a core pillar in white witchcraft generally. But others like 36-year-old Indianna Hill, a successful nutrition teacher, turned to witchcraft seeking emotional solace after suffering post-natal depression, and now, magic has become part of her daily ritual. “In the mornings, I always put a crystal in my bra. I choose the crystals depending on my mood and what I need emotionally. Recently, it’s been a blue crystal called sodalite, which is really good for the throat chakra and clarity and wisdom in talking. I find that useful before meetings. And I use crystals for the gym as well; if I’m tired, I’ll have a particular crystal in my sports bra like carnelian for an energy boost.”

Digital witchcraft

But technology is changing things big time – and attracting new people to the ancient ‘craft’. Some white witches now cast emoji spells, believing that a witch should use the tools at her disposal. For the curious, this is done by choosing the emoji that best represents your intention and clicking send on the Facebook post/Snapchat/Tweet/Instagram story. There are also many digital covens on Facebook and modern white witches are being connected by hashtags like #witchesofinstagram. Much like traditional covens, the digital versions serve as an inclusive space for witches to share spells, offer tips and educate themselves. Collectives such as the Witches of Bushwick also provide a platform for marginalised groups such as the LGBT and BAME communities to meet.

“Women are looking to reclaim their power,” says Lisa Lister, third- generation practising witch and author of the upcoming book Witch: Unleashed. Untamed. Unapologetic (£10.99, Hay House). “They can feel that there’s something more going on, mainly because of the political and social climate right now. This kind of modern witchcraft is more about female empowerment than it is about casting a spell.” At the Women’s March on Washington in January, there were signs that proudly proclaimed ‘We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn’ that were then shared online. And a recent mass spell to Bind Donald Trump and All Those Who Abet Him garnered over 14,000 followers on Facebook and spawned a whole host of brilliant memes.

Taking back magic

From the personal to the political, it’s clear that being a witch is an important source of support and identity for the women who have chosen this label. “In a lot of the traditional religions, women have a lesser place. But the image of a witch is a woman who has power, not a submissive woman. If there’s something wrong, she does something about it,” says Professor Cush. Even those not signing up to it as a movement are recognising its power as a motif. Warrington agrees, adding that witchcraft has been embraced by a hip new breed of third-wave feminists as a reclaiming of ancient feminine wisdom. “To call yourself a witch now is seen as empowered and switched on.”

For others, the pull of witchcraft lies in its subversion of the status quo and reclaiming it. Throughout the ages, witchhunts have been designed to weaken women when they became too powerful. “But we’re reclaiming the word,” says Lister, firmly. And for the women harnessing their inner power through white witchcraft, that can feel truly magic.

So you want to be a modern-day witch?

Infuse your daily routine with these magical practices, which may or may not work...

Fertility spell

Grab an egg – the symbol of fertility – and write, sing or whisper your wishes into it. Then draw two interlocking triangles to form a six-pointed star on your egg – one of the most important keys in magic: as above, so below. Whatever you imagine, you can manifest on the physical plane. Now bury the egg in the ground and ask Mother Earth to help you to bring your wishes into being.

Career crystal

Chrysoprase is a powerful money-attracting stone. Combine it with meditation and focus on your new venture in your mind, to harness the energy needed to fulfil your potential.

Prosperous emoji spell

The important thing here is to set your intention by repeating it, and then send the energy out into the world. This can be posted as a WhatsApp status, Snapchat or just a message to a friend.

Make black salt

Black salt is used for protection, cleansing, and repelling negative energy. Make your own by grinding charcoal, cinnamon sticks, incense ashes, cloves, burnt matches, eggshells, sea salt and dried rosemary into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar. Sprinkle around your home to banish evil, or under your pillow to ward off nightmares.

Photography: Getty Images, iStock