From Grimes and Stevie Nicks to Abbi and Ilana of Broad City, to your freshman year roommate who just had to sage your entire suite in LB, everyone seems to be calling themselves a witch these days.
This witchiness hasn’t been limited to Halloween either, since for the last year and a half the term has been popping up everywhere. When we think of witches, many of us probably conjure images of pointed black hats and broomsticks and women with warts gathered around cauldrons bubbling with mysterious brews. However, a witch, and their coven for that matter, are much more than that.
In the past, witches, and people who have been labeled as such, have tended to be women who fight against the status quo of the patriarchy, organized religion, and even governing bodies. Think Joan of Arc, Marie Laveau, and the Salem Witch Trials. So why have we seen not only a resurgence of the use of this term as a label, but the reclamation of the witch identity as well?
To find some answers, I chatted with Brianna Suslovic, an accomplished writer and busy student in the Social Work program at Smith College, who also considers herself to be a “witchy” person. Suslovic told me that although she doesn’t “align with the full identity,” she feels that there is a lot about the witch lifestyle that speaks to her. She defines witches as people who are “in some way connected to spirituality outside of dominant religious views,” particularly through specific hobbies, beliefs, and practices, citing the use of tarot cards, crystals, and herbs as witchy things that she feels have risen to prominence in recent years.
When asked about the use of witchcraft as a way for marginalized communities to reclaim power and control, Suslovic explained that to her, witchcraft is more akin to meditation, and that there isn’t necessarily, “a conscious pull to think about the supernatural as being something that takes power away from bad people and gives it to good people. There’s a part of me,” Suslovic said, “that wants to believe that and a part of me that believes, if that were the case, that we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in as a country.”
The age of fourth wave feminism, which is (in theory) the most intersectional wave of feminism to date, gives a new meaning and purpose to covens. Suslovic, a millennial, queer woman of color who was recently sworn in as Commission Member of The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, has embraced her witchy identity largely in the last couple of years. “In the current political climate I’ve felt especially grateful to have...a group text called ‘Coven Goals’ which provides a small group of people to vent to and process and share resources with. I think there’s something about, maybe not even power, but shared identity, experiences, and practices.”
As Suslovic described her Coven, who are often seen on Instagram reading each others tarot cards, I found myself thinking of groups like the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist lesbian organization that was active in Boston from 1974 to 1980. The Collective sought to address issues that they felt were not deemed important by white feminist groups of the day, with a mission statement that read “The most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identities.”
When it comes to Suslovic’s Coven’s own intersectionality, she said that, “incidentally, the crew that I am closest with, who believes in these sorts of things, are all women and all cis-women, now that I’m thinking about it, but I think that there is an acknowledgement of, ‘if you feel like you have been oppressed by patriarchal forces, this is probably for you.’”
It seems that “witch” is not just a name, but a lifestyle. It is a set of values and practices that connect people and create a community that many people, particularly those who have been feeling disenfranchised and perhaps disillusioned by both their government as well as organized religion as of late, might be drawn to. If that is the case, then anyone can be a witch. And if a witch is someone who bucks against the patriarchy by reading tarot cards and engaging in radical self-care, then it certainly doesn’t seem like a bad thing.
Illustration by: Eleanor Hilty