Witches have always been synonymous with mystery, piquing curiosity and often leading to fear. Those that follow the path have always found ways to be valuable and resilient, but now they are also finding their way back in greater numbers than ever before.
We all know the history; women were burned and hanged for being witches with little to no evidence and barely a trial. Women who worked as healers and midwives were accused of witchcraft and stories of men that couldn’t get women to give in to their advances claiming they only tried because they were bewitched. According to an article in Britannica, it is estimated that between the 14th and 18th centuries, 40,000 — 60,000 were executed for witchcraft.
Yet somehow, the idea survived. Like a seed, it lay dormant in the winter of time, waiting for spring, and it would appear that spring has sprung, and witchcraft as both a religion and a practice is blooming.
Modern witchcraft comes in many forms. Among them are Paganism, Wicca, Druidism, Norse Paganism and more. Many witches follow different paths referring to themselves as grey witches, kitchen witches or eclectic witches. These paths, which extend past the three mentioned here, signify how a witch practices. For example grey witches practice both light and dark magic, kitchen witches might do a lot of spell work with herbs, and through cooking up potions and eclectic witches adapt different traditions from different practices to create a path that works for them.
Each individual’s path seems as unique as the individuals themselves, but the path isn’t always easy to find when there is no map to follow. Teia Kennedy, a local traditional witch, says it took awhile to find her way to the path of Traditional witchcraft. Starting at 19 with Wicca, it always felt like something was missing for her until three years ago, “I stumbled across Traditional witchcraft, and it was a huge ‘AHA’ like where has this been for the last 20 years, this is what I have been looking for.”
Unlike the more common religions that come with an old guidebook on worship, witchcraft can be a melting pot of traditions carried down from generation to generation and harder to find material about. This is especially true for paths such as Traditional witchcraft. “I started reading everything I could, which wasn’t easy because you can’t really find it through mainstream publishers. You won’t find it at Chapters,” says Kennedy. After some investigating, she did find some resources, and in 2020, Kennedy came across a book that would change everything for her, leading her to start her own group.
Despite lower resources, the Witchcraft movement doesn’t seem to expect a slowdown. Since the pandemic started, the move to online appears to have only fanned the flames. On Facebook, a witch group titled The Wisteria Group began May 22, 2020, and already has over 38,000 members from around the world. On TikTok, #witchtok has been viewed 21.3 billion times. Even within the province of Alberta, the Alberta Witches Association started a Facebook group on Feb 12, 2020, and already has almost 3000 followers. Kennedy’s own group has only been around for about a month, and yet she says she is already surprised at the interest it has picked up.
This may not seem like a lot compared to other more mainstream religions. Still, considering how hard others historically worked to eliminate any trace of the old paths is quite a show of resilience.
There are a variety of reasons why people may turn to witchcraft and even more reasons to do so during times like these. Kennedy says a big part might be a need for connection which is lacking right now. “I think people are looking for those connections in a spiritual way but also in an ‘I miss people’ sort of way,” Kennedy says. However, Kennedy also says she thinks the ease of social media has really helped the rise in interest leading to the influx of members joining on a regular basis.
For Kennedy, witchcraft also offers a sense of control over her life and her destiny, along with a sense of connectedness to something bigger than herself. “Before, I would walk my dog, but now I am more mindful about it. I am keying into the nature around me. I’m feeling the crackle of the snow under my boots, and I hear the birds, and I am feeling the sun on my face, and it brings me an extra level of connectedness to the things that I do,” she says.
Kendra Humphrey, an eclectic witch shares some advice for those looking to get into witchcraft.
Kendra Humphrey, an eclectic pagan, was also always interested in witchcraft but growing up in a Christian home meant she couldn’t practice. A story many witches share, including Kennedy, who grew up Catholic. Humphrey feels that the freedom of witchcraft may also be a reason that people are turning to it. “It’s not something that you necessarily need others to practice. You can practice alone, and you don’t need to feel guilt or shame that you’re doing it wrong or that you’re not being the best witch I could be,” Humphrey says.
Contrary to other religious groups who heavily focus on group ceremony, many witches walk a solitary path meeting in groups only if they so choose with no judgment, making witchcraft a rather welcoming spiritual path even in a pandemic.
Another change that might be making quite a difference is how witchcraft is viewed. Humphrey says that although you might still get some people being fearful, for the most part, people are more open-minded, and they realize that witchcraft isn’t so scary. “There is a lot of misinformation about witchcraft, and it comes from a time even before Salem because this fear was very much rooted in misogyny and fear of women with power,” she says.
The one downfall of the increase in popularity is the possibility of bad sources that can spread misinformation and potentially leave curious people with a wrong impression. Kennedy says it is essential that you don’t just follow one person blindly if you go down this path. “Ask questions and look at different sources. Don’t just believe one person, especially when looking online,” says Kennedy.
As for Humphrey, she hopes witchcraft in all its forms continues to become more mainstream and says you shouldn’t be afraid to start or explore, “books are the best way to start, but don’t be shy to reach out to any [witch] you see online that you are drawn to and want to ask questions. A lot of practicing witchcraft is following your gut instinct, so reach out to the people you think could provide some great information, everyone in the witchcraft community, we are all very open, and we are happy to talk about what we do.”