With millenial women embracing their witchy sides, Valerie Loftus talks to a real live witch to understand our fascination with the occult.
People are obsessed with their zodiac signs again. We’re constantly talking about ‘energy’ and vibes and how to banish bad ones. Shops are selling crystals and incense and guides to reading tarot cards. Have you noticed? It’s the season of the witch. You might argue that the season never ended, just got trendy. In Ireland especially, it’s deeply woven into our folklore and traditions – for example, we pretty much gave the world Halloween. St. Brigid’s Day, meanwhile, is the Christianised version of the pagan festival Imbolc, associated with Brigid, the goddess of spring, fertility, and healing.
And as people, we’ve always been open to a little magic in our lives. You’ve probably saluted a few lone magpies in your times, or touched woof to prevent bad luck. Your mam probably gas a friend who doe Reiki (for a country that spent so long under the thumb of the Catholic Church, we sure do love a bit of Reiki). But how do these ancient practices fit into today’s world? What is a modern witch?
Gabriela Herstik (Instagram @gabyherstick) is a writer and witch residing in Los Angeles, California, who has penned two books on witchcraft and magic. Growing up, she was always surrounded by mysticism – her mother was into yoga, crystals and energy, while her father was a rabbi who fostered her curiosity in religion and the unknown. “When I was about 11 I was gifted a deck of faery oracle cards, which led me to a book that talked about Wicca, witchcraft and paganism,” she tells STELLAR. “I had this very intense feeling of coming home.” Her parents assumed her new interest in the occult was just a teenage phase, but now, being a witch is not just a hugely important part of her life, it’s her career. “A big part of witchcraft is aligning yourself with your purpose, the universe, and what you feel called to do,” Gabriela explains. “I didn’t expect to be involved with magic in the way that I am, but the beautiful opportunities that come to me prove that the magic is real and it’s working.
For me, it’s less about the things that I have but the deep love I feel for this life, my community and my family, and the things I’m creating for myself. To me, that’s magic.”
So what’s a day in the life of a witch? Every morning, Gabriela lights devotional candles on her alter, meditates, then practices a ritual known as The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, which “clears out the space” of negative energies. She also connects with magic during the day through journaling, pulling tarot cards, and practicing emotional freedom technique (EFT), “a form of energy healing” that involves tapping the body on acupressure points.
She’s also a believer of channelling magic through sex and fashion, and has a community of witches in LA that she occasionally practices with. “[Magic] is a lens through which I view the world,” she says. “Every morning I align myself in this magical way, set an intention and really honour that. I’m not just a witch when I do a ritual or a spell. It’s everything from connecting to the earth as I’m walking or driving around, to being aware of the signs that the moon and sun are in.”
There’s no doubt that right now, mysticism is ‘in’. Many traditionally witchy practices have been co-opted by the wellness and beauty industries, from crystals to astrology. Sabrina the Teenage Witch has gotten darker, altogether more spooky reboot on Netflix. Lana Del Ray talks about casting spells to ‘bind’ Donald Trump. But what has us turning to witchcraft in the year 2020? Well, as Gabriela points out, people have always turned to the occult in times of political and social change, from the ‘mall witches’ of the ’90s (think the 1996 film The Craft) to the hippies and Satanic Panic of the 1970s.
“I think that whenever there is something going on where people feel unsafe or unsure, whether it’s what’s going on in the US or Brexit or climate change, you will see the counterculture reflects that through a re-emergence of traditions like witchcraft,” she says. “People look to find empowerment in themselves, to connect to something bigger. I think that witchcraft is one of the most ancient, most powerful ways of doing that.”
It’s also inherently feminine and feminist, fitting with the current wave of ‘nasty women’ feminism we find ourselves in. Witches, with their powers and covens and air of mystery, are the antithesis to the patriarchy. “It’s time to reawaken the energy of the Divine Feminine [the part of our consciousness responsible for nurture, intuition, and empathy] and find a balance in this very strong patriarchial energy. Unfortunately, right now the feminine is still very undervalued,” Gabriela notes. “Historically, most of the people that were persecuted for being witches were women. I don’t think you can really separate one from the other.”
Interested in introducing a little magic into your life? Gabriela recommends starting with creating an altar as an “energetic focal point” of your room and setting an intention. “You can put candles on it, crystals, photos, statues, whatever you want,” she says. “Have a ritual for yourself that you can do every day or as often as you can – maybe that’s a candle you light, a dedication you read. Meditation is in many ways the backbone of witchcraft and rituals, so taking even a few minutes a day to focus and have some time to yourself is really important.”
“Crystals are great, and I love using sacred herbs and having all these tools, but in truth, you don’t need any of that to be a witch. It’s just a connection you have to something that’s bigger than you – visualisation, meditation, ritual. When we have the practices that help us remember our innate worth and innate power, it’s so transformative.”
Listening to Gabriela, it dawns on me that modern witchcraft is not as ‘out there’ as it seems on the surface. Believing in your own power, relieving stress, and feeling connected to a purpose are things we can all benefit from, whichever way we manage to get there. If that means building altars and practicing rituals, more power to you. Bow down, witches.
Craft: How To Be A Modern Witch by Gabriela Herstik is out now