The rise of Modern Witchcraft in a secular society
Confessions of a twenty-something witch
by Jordan Stead
Content Pixie via Unsplash
Everyone has their own preconceptions when they hear the words ‘witch’ or ‘witchcraft’. Some people think of the Charmed sisters, Harry Potter, or the typical stereotype: an old, wily woman with her cauldron and broomstick, warts galore.
Others think of black magic, curses, or sinister forces. Witchcraft has been tugged and pulled with countless of labels and stigmas throughout the course of history. Nowadays, we luckily live in a world in which you won’t be sent to the gallows or the stake for practicing witchcraft.
In our ever-growing secular Western society, alternative religions and practices are on the rise. As a person who has practiced witchcraft for three years and considers it to be my choice of religion, I am one of many who have turned to crystals, altars, and spell work rather than a Bible and a church. Of course, the stigma still survives in our modern day. Many people still conflate witchcraft with bad magic, or Satan (which in itself is oxymoronic). When I tell people that I am practicing witchcraft, you can see their eyebrows raise or they produce an awkward laugh. Some are not so kind and probe with insincere questions or like to remind me that I am committing ‘sin’. Of course, this is not the entirety of my experience, and most people are genuinely curious or excited to learn more about this way of life. For instance, my Christian friends have all been supportive and keen to learn about the practice and where one would expect harsh judgement, there is respect.
In the current ‘Witchcraft Renaissance’, many have turned to this religion due to its freeing and healing qualities. Alex Neil, a third year Politics and IR student, stated that it was her scepticism of mainstream religion and major life events that guided her towards witchcraft. ‘Every step of my witchcraft journey has been a positive one,’ she states. ‘I came to terms with the bad things that happened in my life, learning they shape us into who we are and to teach us lessons.’ Alex utilised witchcraft as an outlet for self-healing and looking inward. ‘I enjoy how there isn’t one rule book to follow, but instead, you can use these tools to your own liking and create your own rule book.’ Unlike mainstream religion, witchcrafts only guideline is do what you must and harm no one. Far from the usual description of cursing and hexing which people are quick to attach to witches. ‘I have since been learning how to read tarot in depth and lean into the energies of everything around me. Witchcraft and spirituality gave me the tools to learn self-love and self-respect; it taught me what I will accept and not stand for.’ My journey towards witchcraft was similar to Alex’s. Disillusioned by what other religions had to offer, I found that witchcraft catered more towards my needs and world views. I found that its stark command for care towards the self and others and acknowledging our place in the Universe was particularly grounding for me. Perhaps one of the most beneficial factors of witchcraft for me has been its effect on my mental health. University is, of course, an exciting but precarious time. It was also the point in which I was beginning to fully explore the craft. I found that it helped me cope with life’s daily stresses and a place to reset the mind if things got too stressful.
Witchcraft has become more prevalent with Millennials and Generation Z with its focus on using spells for the benefit of the self. A whole community of young witches can be found on sites such as Tumblr or TikTok (labelled WitchTok), allowing the spread of information such as important dates to acknowledge, tips on how to assemble your altar and the sharing of spells.
Even more so since the pandemic, where connections through the internet mattered most. With those stuck in isolation, witchcraft saw a rise in its members as its self-healing and meditative practices would have been of aid in a very stressful and unfamiliar time. Its ever-increasing popularity can also be seen in the fact that it welcomes all, thus it’s no wonder why many of its members are part of the LGBT community. Anyone can be a witch if they have the right spirit.
Modern witchcraft has obviously evolved but its core values and practices remain. We work with the moon cycle, acknowledging the important dates each month, such as Imbolc or Samhain, and convene with the divine through our tarot. It is a way of life that works with the nature and energies around us, focusing on the good rather than the bad. In particular, I enjoy working with tarot cards and giving my friends readings and advice on any questions they have. There are many forms of witchcraft, such as neo-pagan or wiccan, green witch or kitchen witch, the list goes on. There is even a form of witchcraft known as armchair witchcraft, which aims to include those who may be unable to take part in usual witchcraft activities due to disability.
There are witches who worship multiple deities from across many religions, or those who are secular and focus more so on the practice than the religion. Regardless, an individual’s journey in witchcraft is solely unique to them and it is only a matter of finding the best path for you.