The Witch Renaissance

Neerja Singh

Remember “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”? An American TV sitcom based on the Archie Comics that premiered in 1996?

Who would have known that the wickedly funny and recklessly brave Sabrina would herald the Witch Renaissance we are seeing today?

Our GenNext girls are turning to occult, they are pouring over astrology, crystals and tarot. Are the educationists, policy makers and parents paying attention to the mainstreaming of “Professional Witches”?

Remember? There was a time when spell work was confined to the rural hinterland, associated with an illiterate population. The word ‘witch’ meant “someone who causes harm to others by mystical means.” There has been a transformation since among the urban teenagers and the young. The word, witch, has come to mean someone who is “an embodiment of her truth in all its power”. From wicked devil-worshippers, witches have come to be repositioned and accepted as intuitive wise women.

Consider the possible reasons. Our young feel disenfranchised in the brittle and incomprehensible world they live in. The recent events, whether the pandemic, climate related disasters or humanitarian crises in different parts of the world, have shaken the foundations of society. The older generation does not inspire confidence. Instability is on the rise in the climate, politics, economy and society. The usual channels of institutional trust and dependability do not seem to work. It is against this backdrop that the potential of tapping into unseen, unconventional sources of power can have great appeal for people who feel disenfranchised or wary of the uncertain and broken environment.

In contrast, covens present a close knit, supportive alternative to anxious teenage girls. They find it easy to breathe there, out of the shadows of repressive patriarchies. There are no established figures of authority. There is a focus on female solidarity which gives young people the courage to reclaim their personal power that is suppressed due to societal conditioning. Witchcraft also offers a vocabulary of exploration without being dogmatic and prescriptive. The community structure enables them to teach themselves alongside friends and mentors. The values of group participation, communication and experimentation are encouraged in these loose structures. Many teenagers also find the magical exercises very powerful. It is reassuring to feel that there is something else that exists beyond our physical senses.

Even though it might come across like distant reasoning, witchcraft is perhaps an understandable and logical response to the environmental devastation and gender revolution. Against the ecological despair one sees and hears today, the pagan beliefs tune into nature. They uphold values of alignment with the earth rather than abusing it to serve human needs. Witchcraft honours the elements, the changing of season, the planetary cycles. It is a culture that recognizes and celebrates connectedness. As a matter of fact, it has been described as a feminine-focused, earth-centred way of living by its practitioners, which fits in nicely with a society that has been ripe for a female dominated, nature intensive movement.

This subculture is also integrating youth, gender, creative and digital culture. The reality is that witchcraft’s message of respect, when combined with its rich visual culture, makes it very suitable for social media. You may not care much about reconnecting with the earth or your inner goddess but it may feel nice to share a few well filtered photos of pretty crystals. When ideology and iconography stop agreeing, people find release and comfort in alternate beliefs. There hasn’t been a subculture lately with witchcraft’s ability to leverage the web. Esoteric and occult information is readily available. Grimoires are standing in for Google. No more those trips to out of the way lanes and specialist shops. A novice can sign into sites like thehoodwitch.com to share, research and connect.

Digital witch-celebrities like @bloodmilk, @nonalimmen and @_spirits flourish on Instagram, with tens of thousands of followers, many of whom are drawn to the aesthetic more than the craft. And there is choice! You could be a sea witch, kitchen witch, influencer witch with your own recipes for moon water and potions to manifest your desires. There is the additional appeal of there being no set criteria for being a witch. What could be more compelling to a teenager than a good-looking way of personal exploration and expression?

The casting of spells, hosting of rituals and marketing of crystals is lucrative business moreover. Urban teen witches are available to do magic on a client’s behalf. It is an urban practice that is reflective in a way of Vedic astrology and its related ritual remedies. There is a new found faith in one’s power to “manifest.” This is not to say that there are no contrary sentiments. The posturing by young girls on social media without actually practicing magic, the commodification of witchcraft and the cultural appropriation across continents are ongoing threads of dialogue, dissent and discussion.

Speaking of the history of witches, no culture in the world can claim a monopoly on witches. Humans have universally harboured a fear of the special ability of some individuals to cause misfortune and injury to another by magical means. The belief in witchcraft has been innate to being human. And the associated mores have made it flexible enough to incorporate various cultural traditions.

Despite this modern trend however, calling oneself a witch is risky even now. In some parts of the world the stakes can go as high as life and death. People fear embracing magic openly. It could involve them losing their jobs, even families. Witch-hunting is institutionalized in Saudi Arabia where witchcraft and sorcery are considered crimes punishable by death. UK’s Metropolitan Police by contrast has produced a 300-page guidebook, which includes instructions on how to deal with members of the pagan community: a ‘how to arrest a witch’ guide for cops.

The question to ask would be: is this a backlash against the scientific spirit of enlightenment that brought mankind to what we call “progress” today?

Witches believe that magic is inseparable from the mundane. And that what we think normal is actually magical. Magic is not in a wand outside us, it is inside of beings that live on a blue planet, spinning slowly in the universe, afloat and accurate.

A pentagram necklace, aura photography, tarot cards and a niche app industry…the occult is having its moment.

The author is a former teacher/journalist, published author and professional speaker on generational diversity with a background and training in media, having worked in advertising, public relations, documentary film making, and feature journalism. She can be reached at
[email protected] and https://neerjasingh.com.

Leave a Reply