Ranked atop Forbes’ 2016 list of “the world’s most powerful people” are Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, all of whom embody the dominant understanding of power as an invisible yet coveted allocation of authority and influence, possessed by few and exerted upon many.
As kids, we learn about power not in relation to nations or leaders, but in terms of fairy godmothers, troublesome genies, sorcerers, warlocks and, of course, witches. When viewed through an occult or supernatural lens, power is often discussed in the plural ― powers ― denoting its abundance and accessibility.
It is perhaps this view of power ― as something wild, plentiful and essential ― that continues to draw people, especially young women, to 21st century witchcraft. “Magic, and witchcraft in particular, is a way to exercise and recognize your agency in the world,” Amanda Yates Garcia, an artist and witch based in Los Angeles, told The Huffington Post. “The reason I’m doing this work is so people can feel that agency. So they don’t feel they are at the mercy of the world and the choices that other people are making for them.”
Although witchcraft has been gaining popularity among millennials for years, the 2016 presidential election has led to an increased interest in the occult as an alternative means of harnessing power for those disenfranchised and disenchanted with the established pathways toward empowerment. “It’s a way to be spiritual and feel connected to things that are larger without being bogged down in the dogma of a specific religion,” said Ana Matronic, a member of the band Scissor Sisters and a founder of Witches Against Fascist Totalitarianism, or WAFT, for short.
Matronic came up with the idea for WAFT during a trip home from the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., with a van full of women. Elated by the energy of the day’s events, the women brainstormed how best to channel the vitality of the march into a sustainable community effort. Raised in proudly spooky Portland, Oregon, Matronic was no stranger to the supernatural forces that lurk beneath the surface of everyday life. “My mother showed us the magic and wonder of our normal world,” Matronic said. “We used it as an escape, but it was also always there.”
As a kid, Matronic was drawn toward the darker characters that pop culture had to offer. Her favorite puppet on “Sesame Street,” for example, was The Count, and while watching “Sleeping Beauty,” she was most concerned about the well-being of Maleficent. In part because her mother was a horror buff herself, Matronic always felt more comfortable around images and stories that elicited goose bumps rather than butterflies. “I was born a witch,” she said. “Things that were normally sort of scary or dark reminded me of home.”
Pre-election, Matronic’s occult practices centered around Tarot cards, meditation and what she dubbed “wizard parties” ― costume parties with a mystical bent. Under President Trump, however, the itinerary has changed a bit.
By far the most publicized spell designed to thwart Trump’s agenda is called a binding spell ― meant to prevent an individual or an energy from causing harm. Witches around the nation organized, with help from the mystical powers of Facebook, to conduct a mass binding spell on Feb. 24 and every subsequent waning crescent moon. Fox News even cheekily speculated the spell was responsible for the failure of Trump’s Health Care Act. There’s a somewhat cheesy recipe for the binding spell floating around the internet, involving a shriveled Cheeto (or baby carrot) and an unflattering photo of Trump.
Yates Garcia leads monthly Magical Praxis workshops, in which witches conduct binding spells, in her Los Angeles home. The symbolism is less literal ― no Cheetos ― in part, because Trump himself isn’t the intended target of the spell. “We didn’t want to just direct our energy at Trump alone,” she explained, “but the spirit of greed, the lack of caring, the feeling of needing to dominate that has seized the imaginations and hearts of so many people.”
To counter the dark powers listed above, Yates Garcia guided her fellow witches in building poppets and effigies, which were then bound with cord. “It’s like binding the deeds of the person in question,” Yates Garcia said. “You clarify what you want to occur, and it must be for the greatest good of all concerned.”
As part of the magical procedure, each participant also establishes a specific, non-magical action she plans to take following the ritual, that will in some way contribute to the spell’s larger goals of empowerment and compassion. One witch committed to canvassing in conservative districts in anticipation of the 2018 election, another promised to educate herself more rigorously on the procedures of local government. “Part of the process of witchcraft is finding our power,” Yates Garcia said, “seeing where we can apply our energy and agency in order to make change.”
For Yates Garcia, magic is not a substitute for activism. Rather, the two coexist, nourishing one another, as viable modes of resistance. “I genuinely do think binding spells are helpful for people,” she said. “They help people feel that they are not just being operated on, they can respond. Women in particular have been really trained to go with the flow. They don’t feel like they have the right to change that or to impose their will on other people. In the situation we’re in now, if we don’t respond then the people in power will. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, it’s really important to connect with your power.”
This, Yates Garcia explained, is where meditation comes in handy. She recommended “grounding meditation,” or visualizing a cord of energy leading from your belly deep into the earth. “Then you breathe in your power and vitality,” she said. “It’s so important to feel grounded, energized and powerful. If we have to fight the long fight, we have to really practice self-care, by creating psychic and personal boundaries.”
Matronic, in lieu of binding spells, opts for protection spells, best enacted on a new moon. “There is an emboldened sense of uncaring and hate right now,” she said. “I think the equal and opposite reaction to that would be spells of love and protection” One method Matronic recommended is a Witch Bottle, made by placing nails, screws or any small shards inside a bottle. The tiny, sharp objects deflect negative energy away from the bottle and its maker.
Both Matronic and Yates Garcia also recommended rituals that included taking aromatic baths and attending town halls, exercises that aren’t traditionally associated with the supernatural. But witchcraft, they both emphasize, is as much about healing, caring and resistance as it is about magic. “I think it activates the spiritual along with the very earthly practice of political progress and change,” Matronic put it. “I think there is something really powerful about caring right now. It’s important to fight the good fight, but we need to care for one another, for ourselves.”
Whether you make note of the next waning crescent moon on your calendar, pick a neighborhood to canvas, or even draw yourself a decadently spooky bath, tapping into your own power can only help with the work ahead.
“I don’t think anyone is thinking there is going to be some kind of ‘Harry Potter’ thing taking place, where we whip out our wands and everything is transformed,” Yates Garcia said. “But we’re contributing our energies and focus to change the trajectory of the current political situation to the degree that we can.”
Matronic expressed a similar sentiment: “If we want things to change it’s time to do the work. That’s the good thing about witches is, they work.”