To ride on the witch’s broomstick
How the rising interest in the occult empowers women
November 12, 2018
Bad witches, akin to the Wicked Witch of the West and the Sanderson Sisters, presented a real threat my adolescent years. Was the vile, green woman going to come down upon my house and threaten my life over an ugly pair of shoes, or was I going to be forced to play friendly with those three godless and catty sisters? It turns out that these trivial issues were not as pressing as childhood entertainment made it seem, but it did one thing with ease: it supplied young girls with the image of a woman who is feared because of her power.
Recently, witches have seen warmer feedback than ever before with films and shows like Luca Guadagnino’s creepy remake of “Suspiria” and the nostalgia-inducing Netflix show “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” While the former gives us bone-chilling occultism by way of a secret coven looking to harvest young dancers, the latter is telling of the current desire for occultism, specifically witches. Sabrina navigates the series as a human-witch hybrid who must defend herself and her mortal friends against the dark forces that are coming for her. She struggles with her dual identity, and until she forwardly accepts it, she struggles as a powerful woman.
Not only are witches and the occult popular in media, but in culture as well. Young women, particularly those of Gen Z, have flocked to alternative forms of religion and spiritual systems. According to a 2018 research report from IBISWorld, the Psychic Service industry has grown two percent in the past five years, making it now worth over 2 billion dollars. The industry caters mostly towards women as its biggest demographic. In 2015, the approximate number of American women who spent over $10,000 for psychic readings was 285,000, whereas men who spent that much fell to a minute 325, according to data compiled by the American Federation of Certified Psychics and Mediums. This could be for a number of reasons, but almost universally, it is more socially acceptable for women to rely on emotions rather than logic, whereas men have been trained to do the opposite.
“To me and a lot of women like me, witches and knowing about them make you feel like a better woman in a politically charged moment like right now,” said Tavi Markovitz, a 22-year-old woman who expresses an interest in witches. “To me, even though I don’t practice it, witches represent the idea of a woman who is powerful and who can’t be controlled by men.”
More and more companies are realizing the potential money in women’s current obsession with the occult—Urban Outfitters, the “lifestyle” store that markets to the hip and the young knows their demographic so well that they sell both tarot decks and healing crystals. The trendiness of witches was bound to be met with the anti-feminist machine of capitalism, and this was not met without issue.
“It upsets me to see big corporations capitalizing off witchcraft when it’s not as much about the crystals or the dark, gothic and witchy look,” said Kiki Joy, a 23-year-old woman who practices Wicca, the Pagan religion that has now become synonymous with witchcraft. “It’s more so about standing in solidarity with women, believing them when they speak and understanding that we have been oppressed by men who were born into power. Witches and women aren’t born into that same type of power, but they can harness it by working hard.”
Historically, witches embody feminism, as their independence and righteous defense of their craft are constantly threatened. They are feared because of their otherworldly, or womanly, powers. Accepting of female capability for power that historical witches had could not happen in the power-hungry and patriarchal societies of the past, an ideology that has seldom changed. During the Salem witch trials, young girls and women desired freedom from their “womanly” duties, and they were accused of witchcraft when they acted on their urges. While it is likely that none of the women killed were actual broomstick-wielding, green-skinned witches, male domination persisted out of sheer fear that women had the capability to harness more power than men.
In the U.S. today, women are not accused of witchcraft and burned, but there is something to say about how men tend to react to powerful and defiant women. A casual walk down the street can turn deadly for a woman if she asserts herself over a predatory stranger. By directly defying male dominance, women are put at risk, which doesn’t sound that different than the powerful and defiant witches of the past.
Witchcraft and the occult give young women what they are searching for in our current political climate: power. Witches were always symbols of power, and while their image has been obstructed by male-dominated forces, they bring a positive narrative for female independence and solidarity.