I’m old enough to remember when New Age and Wicca were hot in the ’90s. Back then I was the type to roll my eyes at smudging and crystals. But I’ve become more curious recently as many of my friends join the surging ranks of those newly interested in sorcery. My sister recently told me that she’s an aspiring “baby witch.” She maintains a little altar in her living room where she’s amassing a collection of quartz and amethyst and other stones. Her Brooklyn apartment smells strongly of sage.
I visited her during 2017’s largest supermoon in December. She was making moon water.
She instructed me to set an intention and I found myself thinking surprisingly long and hard about it. I filled a Ball jar with water from the tap and placed it out on the rusty fire escape, surrounded by the cacophonous nocturnal Flatbush bustle of sirens and lights and loud voices. When I woke in the morning, I went directly to retrieve it, then gulped the whole thing down. The experience didn’t convert me, but I felt myself carrying that water—or the memory of my intentions at least—throughout the day. I still think on them.
Today’s cultural landscape is teeming with a new breed of witches whose interests go beyond armchair astrology and strip-mall palm readers. Professional brujas, healers, shamans and practitioners of magic are blowing up social media and the online marketplace with their wares. From Urban Outfitters to Etsy, the market for magical goods is booming, including starter kits of essential oils, handcrafted besoms (the traditional witch’s broom constructed from a bundle of twigs) and ritual tools like charms, crystals, salts and protective herb mixes, even magical dust packaged in stoppered glass bottles.
Commercial trends aside, a growing number of folks use salts and sage to effect a millennia-old disobedience. Together they’re forming a political movement and a sisterhood, a new wave of feminism that identifies, symbolically at least, with the many witches and wise women who have come before them who have wielded great power.
Seattle has always been a hotbed for mystical intellectuals who shun the overtly religious but don’t mind the spiritual—nature-loving city dwellers, Beat poets, hippies, those honoring Indigenous tradition and shamanism. Magic still thrives here today. The city is currently home to artists like Imani Sims, who blends the literary with the sacred; Elissa Ball, whose “Space Witch” horoscope column has run in Seattle Weekly for the last several years; Kat Larson, who integrates energy healing with her visual art; and Kate Ryan, whose Jakku House offers immersive ceremonial healing sound baths every week.
Among the most prominent figures in today’s magic renaissance is the Hoodwitch. Working out of a loft in Pioneer Square peppered with quartz-crystal arrangements and piles of rugs, the Hoodwitch has been running her business for nearly five years, publishing horoscopes on her eponymous website, along with articles about self-care, profiles of inspiring figures within the witchcraft community and advice for self-guided rituals based on the cycles of the moon.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, the Hoodwitch, aka Bri Luna, self-describes as “a witch, a bruja, a magic-maker, a living goddess.” She’s quick to laugh and look you straight in the eye. She’s covered in a web of tattoos—lots of eyes are visible, and snakes, she divulges, are buried somewhere beneath her vintage fur-collared coat. Her fingers are inked with small symbols: a pentacle, the five-pointed star-shaped symbol often worn as a protective amulet; the astrological symbols for earth, sun, moon. Her stiletto nails are like talons. Her current set, hand-cast by Peka Grayson, a nail artist in West Seattle, contains a small world within each, encrusted with crystals and miniature holograms. One has an actual scorpion embedded inside it.
The Hoodwitch counts 218,000 followers on Instagram as of press time, and the number grows by the thousands each week. Her tagline is “Everyday Magic for the modern mystic” and her images are a smattering of cheeky, empowering messages (“Did you know that 10–20 minutes of meditation per day can significantly reduce your risk of giving a shit?”), “witchtips” and horoscopes to help guide followers through the week, along with her signature nails clutching various crystals. Her site offers additional articles by a team of contributors including professional astrologers and witches, a blog filled with recipes and spells, a bookshop and an online forum, A-B-R-A-C-A-D-A-B-R-A, that hosts some 20,000 members who discuss everything from the personal practice of witchcraft to UFOs and psychedelics.
“I wanted to create a reliable place, a source of information that’s not dogmatic,” Luna says. “I try to create fun and easy rituals people can follow regardless of their traditions or past.” She’s critical of ’90s witchcraft and its exclusive adherence to white and Celtic traditions. Back then, no matter how much she sought out mystical literature or loved the counterculture offerings of Björk, Jimi Hendrix, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, the cultural gulf was gaping.
“Being a Black pagan in the ’90s—that was something,” she says. “It didn’t exist really.”
Indeed, the idea of a witch that has permeated the Western imagination since the Middle Ages is one of the white spell-wielding Weird Sister cruising the night skies. But magic and witches have existed since the beginning of civilization, rooted in many cultures all over the world, from the Old English to the Romans, the Vodun of West Africa to the Santería of the Caribbean. Barely a culture exists without some version of the witch, good or bad.
Variations of the magic arts are still practiced across the globe. Italian Stregheria emphasizes ancestor worship and appropriates Roman festivals. A small offshoot of Wicca, the Feri Tradition, was founded in 1960s California and focuses on experiencing ecstatic states and sexual experiences. In many African and Asian countries, witch doctors, healers, fortune tellers and shamans are highly regarded members of the community.
One of the most widely practiced contemporary forms is Wicca, an early 20th-century reinvention of polytheistic pagan spirituality that culls from a variety of traditions, nature-based rituals and magic practices. The term comes from Old English “wicca,” the masculine word for “witch.” Though Wicca’s defining characteristics have evolved, it draws primarily on Western esoteric traditions and looks back to the persecuted “witch cults” of early European history for inspiration.
Pop and religious cultures have vacillated over the years, at turns defaming the witch as a maleficent force or celebrating her benevolent healing powers. The recent increase in the popularity of the bruja (the Spanish-language word for witch) demonstrates the shifting perspective on the role of the witch today: Once used to describe someone who made a pact with the Devil, the term has been reclaimed in recent years by women identifying with the protective or healing arts—white magic rather than black.
Luna traces her practice back to the influence of her grandmothers and integrates their methods with others plucked from a smattering of cultures—from New Orleans voodoo to Scandinavian kitchen witch dolls.
Fascinated by magic from childhood, Luna started her own coven with a group of friends in the fifth grade. As a teen, she spent endless hours huddled in the spirituality aisles of LA bookstores, devouring any volume she could find on Satanism, witches, the occult. Meanwhile, her grandmothers—one Mexican, the other a Black matriarch whose family lived in New Orleans and Texas—were using herbs, candles and prayers, and casting blessings back at home.
“I just thought they were superstitious,” Luna says. “The irony is they were practicing real shit and I was just sitting in my corner of the bookstore wanting to do Wicca.”
Luna traces her current practice back to the influence of those grandmothers and integrates their methods with others plucked from a smattering of cultures—from New Orleans voodoo to Scandinavian kitchen witch dolls (handmade poppets made as good luck charms). She calls herself an “eclectic” or “natural” witch, gleaning ritual from across a spectrum of traditions.
“I grew up thinking of witches as white women who were very ethereal or Lord of the Rings. I never thought of my grandmothers as those archetypes,” she says. “They were loving and caring, making healing remedies and herbal teas. But as I began to explore my own roots and family traditions that were distinct to us, I realized, wow, magic exists all over the world and witches exist all over the world. There is no one umbrella for what a witch is.”
Becoming a mother led Luna to connect more deeply with the traditions of her grandmothers and their wisdom of self-care and healing, passed down over generations. These days she spends much of her time studying plants and minerals for their healing properties. She also finds ways to integrate the use of color, astrology, candles, oils and natural resins into her environment as a way to invoke healing.
Luna suspects that the state of the world is driving the growing popularity of magic in today’s culture. She sees magic as a means of empowerment during disenfranchising times.
“People are feeling depressed and anxious and we need to find alternative healing methods,” she says. “Women of color are learning their traditional practices, stepping into their power. All these things—taking care of yourself and your wellbeing—are connected. With the Internet, this information is becoming accessible to everyone, and you have voices around the world who aren’t just white women teaching methods that are foreign to you.”
Moon-inspired meditations are a core offering on her site.
“The moon is an entry point,” Luna tells me, “and if you’re a woman and if you still bleed, your body is in sync with the lunar phases. It’s a means and a way for people to understand their own bodies, create rituals around their bodies.”
For Luna, rituals around self-adornment and beauty are important aspects of empowerment, a component of her own practice that has become synonymous with her brand. (“I’m ruled by Venus, so I’m always going to love art and beauty,” she says.) Before she was the Hoodwitch, Luna worked as an esthetician and makeup artist in LA’s film and TV industry. She prefers the glittery camp of Anton LaVey, the mustachioed founder of the Church of Satan in 1960s San Francisco, to the granola vision of the cloaked, quiet witch. When she started her Instagram account, the notion of sandwiching images of nail art with crystals and witchy things was incongruous, even unheard of. It was an aesthetic Luna ushered in; now it’s commonplace in the iconography of modern witchcraft.
The marriage of glamor and contemporary witchcraft connects to the longstanding and complex relationship between feminine emancipation and makeup. From suffragettes to drag queens, augmenting one’s physicality has long been an act of defiance, a pointed expression of self-empowerment. For Luna, as for many contemporary practitioners, witchcraft offers a space where the art of performance meets power. Beyond art, beyond religion, she offers magic as a performative practice that becomes an intuitive way of passing through the world.
“Finding the power, the self-identity, and feeling less anxious and feeling more connected to your body: That’s what’s important and that’s what spirituality is for,” she says. “Why on the earth would I want to believe in a god where there’s no goddess, where I’m made to be ashamed of my body? Why would any woman want to be subjected to that?”
One of the contributors to the Hoodwitch site is Michael Cardenas, a trained clairvoyant, professional spell-caster and a practicing male witch with 15 years of experience. “Bri is integrating art and magic and mysticism and she’s kind of revamping witchcraft,” he says on the phone from San Diego. He and Luna share a desire to emphasize the art in witchcraft.
“Art and beauty are crucial; they conjure feelings and emotions,” he says. “It was different when [Bri and I] were starting down this path and people thought that in order to be a serious witch you had to be super earthy, not glamorous—because that signaled you were egotistical. Bri is tapping into the witches of the past, of the ’60s and ’70s, who were glamorous.”
Though the business of the Hoodwitch is booming, Luna acknowledges that the current fanfare around magic may wane, which is why she’s more concerned about passing along traditional knowledge than offering personalized tarot readings or horoscopes. Her shop is a stripped-down marketplace of crystals and sage and a few small enamel pins—the bare necessities for a baby witch.
“The resurgence in witchcraft is not just about trend,” she says, “but a kind of awakening on the heels of people being tired of dogmatic religion. People are more focused on freedom and feeling like they have the choice to heal themselves. You don’t need anyone else do to that.”