Magic as a modern practice has changed a lot from what it was even just a decade ago. From small pockets of ceremonial magicians, chaotes, and earth goddess loving witches we’ve now evolved into a huge, sprawling community. I mean, come on, witches now outnumber Presbyterians. It’s safe to say that witchcraft is having a moment.
This surge in popularity has some lovely perks, as our numbers swell it becomes easier to be open about our practices without getting the strange looks we used to get. It’s easier to find community, and it’s easier to find resources. There’s a dark side to this expansion though, a watering down of our practices, a misrepresentation of what we stand for, and an insidious attempt by external forces to control, declaw, and monetize our practices.
What Witchcraft Is
Witchcraft is many things but there’s been an unfortunate weakening of the word. Witchcraft has come to mean everything from sabbatic rituals held by covens in remote locations to vague self-care practices that may or may not involve any actual witchcraft. How do we actually define what witchcraft is? Who gets to put limits on it?
I am by no means the spokesperson for all witch-kind. We are a huge and insanely diverse group and what works for one witch will absolutely not work for another. I think we can all agree on one thing though. Witchcraft is a practice of magic and the point of doing any magic is to change your life. The change might be small, it doesn’t have to be an earth-quaking alteration to count, but magic is inherently designed to cause change.
This focus on magic as a means of change is vital. If we lose track of that then witchcraft as a practice is pointless. It becomes all ritualized self-care and new age sentiment and aesthetic. And sure, maybe those things can cause change, but are they actually magic? Is that just a bath with some candles and flower petals because that peps up your mood or is it actually designed to change something? Do you have crystals because they’re pretty or because you know how to use them to focus energy, work with spirits, and hone your spellcraft?
These are no small questions and yes, I accept that many people won’t appreciate my perspective on this matter. When we water down the meaning of what magic actually IS though, our words lose meaning. And as witches we know, our words hold power. When our words lose their meaning, we lose our power. When we can no longer distinguish between self-care and magic, then is our magic actually doing anything? Is that momentary feel-good sensation the only change we want to make in our world? Or do we want real change? Real transformation? Real magic?
Why Do I Hate Self Care?
Ok, let’s be real, I don’t hate self-care. Self-care is a totally necessary and really healthy practice for all of us to have and magic can absolutely be worked into your self-care routine. That said, I think it’s important for us to look at our practices and ask ourselves, “Am I actually doing magic? Am I actually trying to change my world? Or am I just going through the motions because self-care is easier and I’m scared to try to create actual change because I might fail.”
This self-evaluation is key. I cannot tell you whether your practice is magic or if you’re going through the motions. If you look at your practice and you discover that yes, you have been holding back because you’re too afraid to test the limits of magic, it’s ok. A lot of our hesitation comes from being told that in order for magic to work, we have to believe 100%. This is bullshit. Belief is nice to have because it’s more comfortable than uncertainty but belief is not necessary to magic. If something is only real when you believe in it, then that is called a fantasy. Magic is real, therefore it works whether you believe in it or not. This idea that we have to have an unshakable belief in our magic makes us timid, it makes us stay within the bounds of what can’t be disproven. If we never try to make big, real, tangible change then we never risk being confronted with big, real, tangible failure.
The thing is, magic is not a simple or straightforward practice. Every magician and witch experiences their fair share of spell failure. Sometimes things just don’t work. That’s ok! Witchcraft is complicated and just because something didn’t work, doesn’t mean that magic isn’t real. It just means that something about the spell, your execution, or your understanding of the underlying principles wasn’t quite right.
Magic as self-care is not what I take issue with, I take issue with people calling themselves witches when they’re too afraid to make an actual change in their world. Witchcraft is about reclaiming your power in a world that wants to take it away from you, we cannot let fear keep us small.
Magic As Transgression
This brings us to why witchcraft and magic seem to have become watered down and performative rather than being truly transformative. Plenty of people are happy to point the finger at witchy girls on Instagram or Twitter, posting aesthetic photos and making it seem like the whole practice is just one big ritualized self-care fantasy but I don’t think that’s fair. I mean, I like those pretty aesthetic photos as much as the next witch! And nothing about those photos being visually appealing makes them inherently shallow or magic-less.
I think the true problem lies elsewhere. I think the problem lies in giant corporations who want to monetize our spiritual practices. I think the problem lies in external policing of our morality structures, superimposing Christian moral ideas onto our spiritualities and making us feel as though we can’t make decisions for ourselves without risking the “law of three” or “karma” coming back to bite us. I think the problem lies in a society that would rather we be quiet, complacent consumers rather than empowered and conscientious individuals.
I stated above that magic is a means of reclaiming our power but you cannot reclaim something if it hasn’t been taken from you first. That is what we must be paying attention to in our crafts. Where do we feel powerless? What societal structures are keeping us from having autonomous power over ourselves? How are we going about dismantling those structures in our own lives and in the world at large?
Here’s the thing, self-care is cool and all but it’s exactly like the plastic problem. The plastic problem is billed as a consumer issue, we’re buying too much plastic, we’re not recycling properly, we’re responsible for all of this plastic pollution. That’s not reality though. In reality, the plastic problem is systemic. It’s downright impossible to avoid plastic consumption because it’s so ubiquitous, plastic is on practically everything you need to buy to live. Recycling is a broken system that ends up dumping more plastic into the oceans than it actually recycles. The problem is not our plastic consumption, the problem is wanton plastic production and the shameless companies that are trying to shirk their responsibility to our planet onto individuals.
In the same way, self-care is making a systemic problem the individuals responsibility. Have you stopped to think about why you have to make self-care such a conscious part of your life? Have you stopped to ask why you’re constantly feeling run down, beat up, and out of energy? It’s not because you’re not doing enough self-care. It’s because you’re living in a system that is working you to the bone, demanding every iota of your time and energy while giving you crumbs in return for your effort. It’s because you live in a system that is built on a foundation of keeping people in a continuous cycle of work-recover-work-recover so that we never have the time to flourish, so that we never have the energy to look up and say “this is not ok.”
Self-care is not solving the problem, it’s slapping a bandaid on it. I don’t care how much meditating you do, how chill you get, how many baths you take, you still live in a system that is taxing you far more than you deserve and just as fast as you can fill up your reserves the world is trying to strip them away from you again.
This is the real difference between magic and ritualized self-care. Self-care is accepting the individual responsibility for our exhaustion. Witchcraft is standing up and saying, “No, this isn’t right, this has to change NOW.” Witchcraft is reclaiming your power in a system that wants you to keep your head down. Witchcraft is deciding to make a change, not just in how you feel but in how the world treats you.
Causing change is not easy in any sense. It’s scary no matter how you do it. Witchcraft is no exception. Getting out of your comfort zone, trying magic that you’re afraid is too big, and learning how to make it work is hard. You will probably fail along the way. I know I have, more times than I really like to admit. But if you keep at it, eventually you’ll find yourself living a life that you could only dream of before. If you keep at it, you will find yourself with the power to effect real change rather than just trying to keep yourself afloat in a life you can barely stand.
Is it easy to change huge, pervasive systemic problems? No, absolutely not. But it is possible, and it starts with us refusing to be small and silent. It starts with us deciding that we DO have power damn it and we will use it to make the world a place that we actually want to live.