Why is everyone so obsessed with witches right now?
You thought you lived in a decent, god-fearing, Christian country.
So where did all these witches come from? They're suddenly everywhere these days: hexing President Trump, getting kicked off Square for selling "spell bottles," designing video games and hosting meetups at a rapidly growing pace. According to this book, witchcraft is on the rise. There might be 200,000 people in the U.S. who call themselves Wiccans — a religion related to witchcraft — numbers that make it one of the fastest-growing religions in the country.
Witches. They’re so hot right now. Witches.
Why? Why's everyone so into them right now?
The head of the Satanic Temple has a theory. He says the recent uptick in witches and the increasing public interest in them is a reaction to the recent popularity of the Christian religious right in Washington. Americans, says Satanic Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves, are "seeing the rise of theocracy" and reacting to it.
By that logic, every time transgendered kids have to use a bathroom they don't want to, or abortion gets de-funded, or Vice President Pence says he won't eat alone with a woman for moral reasons, or Christianity is in bed with racism — the more Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley start to look like examples worth following. Witchcraft and wizardry, says Greaves by phone, "gains more interest, and resonates for people a lot more strongly when the majority overplays its hand in an autocratic fashion."
Denver's M. Alia Denny is a wiccan and a witch who believes in magic and leads a one-a-month gathering of Wiccans. She’s seriously afraid of Trump and company.
"I'm a little concerned that he's going to come after us after he's done going after the other non-Christian religions like Islam," Denny says by phone. In recent years, she's seen witchcraft grow — and also face opposition — as her fellow witches experience discrimination online on sites like eBay and Etsy; those platforms, like Square, kick people off who claim to deal with the occult.
However despite the worry of increased persecution, Denny isn't hiding. She's out there witchcraft-ing and supporting her friends who are hexing Trump. "I want to do whatever I can to discourage this nonsense of making everybody be a cookie cutter person," she says.
In desperate times like these, the call of magic has historically been stronger, probably because folks don't know what else to do. In 1941, a boozy "Black Magic" party jokingly hexed Hitler. During the Vietnam war, peace protesters "exorcized" the Pentagon, and, in the 1999 Battle in Seattle, protesters said that each window they broke "broke a corporate spell." Did these hexes work? Well, Hitler's dead, the Vietnam War (eventually) ended, and it rains all the time in Seattle. So: hex success.
Witchcraft isn’t just for large-scale political takedowns, though.
Many witches use it because it functions as a belief system that offers some amount of comfort and control over the parts of their lives that are uncontrollable. In a time like this — where the slow death of the American ideal is becoming ever more apparent and democracy doesn’t work like it used to — that’s something that many people are interested in pursuing.
In this way, witchcraft serves the same purposes as religion (enter Wicca), only people are drawn to it instead of the Bible because it’s not associated with the sort of hate, dysfunction and historical mass slaughters the more common religions — like Christianity and Islam — are.
It’s helpful — in our current sociopolitical climate — to have an ideology like that. It feels safe and ordered and true. In that way, witchcraft itself ironically accomplishes the same thing as praying — it convinces you that you're affecting things, even if probably aren't. At least it feels like you’re doing something..
For example: there’s not a lot that you, as the average American, can do to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. But, if you can find a spell that strikes compassion into the hearts of public figures, you might find it cathartic and helpful to mix the requisite rat’s hair and lizard blood to make that happen.
That, more than anything, is probably why witches are so hot right now — because people really need something to believe in. Maybe more magic is what we truly need right now.
Denny — the witch — has one more thought about magic and the world.
"Magic exists but it's mostly very personal," she says. "I do things like working with the Democrats. That's not magic — but that works."