Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | Thursday, 26 February 2015

Are More 20 Something Women Turning To Witchcraft? We Asked An Expert

The Debrief: A new story out today claims that there's a surge in young women dabbling with Wicca. As a former Wiccan herself, Stevie Martin can sort of see why...

After Azealia Banks recently tweeted that she was a witch, and The Guardian ran a piece stating that more young women than ever are becoming Wiccan (the earth focused religion whose members – both male and female – call themselves witches), it looks like witchcraft is having a moment. 

Another one. After the last moment in the late 80s right through the 90s, when there was a huge growth in published books on Wicca and paganism, and everyone started quoting The Craft. 

I was part of that last surge. Bullied at school for being ‘clever’ and ‘weird’ and ‘Why are you wearing a tablecloth tied around your purple cords?’ (look, I made some bold fashion choices), as well as heavily into going on the internet for six hours at a time and researching world religions, it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across Wicca.

Mainly because, as much as I tried, I couldn’t quite connect with Jesus and God and the solemn male voices echoing off church walls telling me that I might go to hell if I did bad stuff.

Wicca basically ticked all my boxes: it was all about being nice to people (I am constantly socially guilt ridden), being good to the world (I still cry about climate change), involved old books (win), and celebrated individuality (I used to wear a table cloth). Plus, anyone could get involved – and it scared the shit out of my parents.

I was too scared of drugs, didn’t really drink, and really enjoyed completing schoolwork, so I needed something they could eye-roll at and refer to as a ‘phase’ so I could stomp about and yell about being misunderstood. Before promptly meditating in an attempt to send positive vibes to the universe. 

The only person you can take less seriously than someone who has an altar at the foot of their bed and owns a wand, is someone who used to 

It’s always been portrayed as something dark, something shadowy, or even something a little bit amusing. Everyone in the office laughed when I said I used to be a Wiccan, and I suppose the only person you can take less seriously than someone who has an altar at the foot of their bed and owns a wand, is someone who used to do that but doesn’t any more.

It’s also sort of scary. In the same way people laugh at horoscopes then quietly check theirs every month and feel panicked when they see something negative that strikes a chord.

‘Wiccans use magic as a form of self examination with a strong ethical guideline. If you’re angry at someone, you focus on yourself, or healing the situation,’ said Christina Oakley Harrington, a practising Wiccan and owner of Treadwell’s bookstore in London when I spoke to her earlier today.

‘An empowered person is not a person who goes around casting curses. Curses are ineffective anyway, as they’re being created by someone who is disempowered.’

Also, witches believe that whatever you put out into the universe comes back on you three times stronger, so you’d be a total moron for cursing someone anyway. You’d probably end up falling down a manhole or something.

And spells? It’s just a more targeted form of prayer. You use objects and chants to strengthen your focus, and while there’s the concept of a Goddess and a God, you can just pray to the universe if you like. It’s very open. 

Yes, it’s feminist and yes, it’s overwhelmingly female – but it’s actually more humanist. 

So, if more women are drawn to Wicca at the moment thanks to American Horror Story and a resurgence in 90s fashion (The Craft pioneered the 90s choker, and the outfits are to die for) then good for them.

‘It’s empowering for young woman, it addresses the sacredness of their individuality, it says that a woman is entitled to power, and the more powerful she is, the more healthy she’ll be. Psychologically. She is not a sex object and she is not a consumer object,’ says Christina. ‘She has the right to a place in society, but if she’s forced to the margins of society then she should stand proud of who she is.’

Yes, it’s feminist and yes, it’s overwhelmingly female – but it’s actually more humanist. Everyone’s invited to the party, provided they’re not total dicks. 

But, like me, it’s often a phase for younger women. And it seems like this ‘new surge’ isn’t really a surge at all. Tellingly, the articles claiming lots of young women are turning to Wicca cite no actual statistics.

‘I honestly think all the media hype about young people flocking to Wicca is incorrect,’ says Lucya, a Wiccan who regularly blogs. ‘Most of the people I meet at moots, pagan conferences and open rituals are not young. Some are, but most I would say are in the 30+ bracket.’

Christina agrees, saying that the majority of Wiccans are actually between 40 and 60 years old. And that she hasn’t really noticed a boost in younger women attending meetings or gatherings.

It’s possible, then, that young women might be more likely to dabble in Wicca as a phase, rather than sticking it out through adult life. I practised it for four years, quite seriously because I wasn’t the sort of teenager who messed about, and then when I went to university it all just... stopped. And I certainly didn’t tell anyone, or go to gatherings, but maybe I would have done if I’d have continued practising it.

In the 90s to early 2000s, when there was a great upsurge of young women drawn to Wicca, for many it was a short phase

This tendency to dabble, rather than commit, to Wicca doesn’t annoy Christina at all, though. In fact, she’s pretty much all for it. ‘In the 90s to early 2000s, when there was a great upsurge of young women drawn to Wicca, for many it was a short phase,’ she explains.

‘Most of the people I speak to now are in their 30s, and they say it was a good phase in their lives. It wasn’t a damaging phase, and that’s brilliant. The principles are for everybody, that girls should be beautiful and powerful and unique and themselves, and that is more important than making people continue to follow Wicca!’* 

A couple of months ago my dad called me, because they were clearing out my room – very understandable considering the fact that I’m 26 and haven’t lived at home for seven years. ‘I’ve found that suitcase underneath your bed,’ he said. ‘And there are lots of bottles with herbs and water in them. I just left them on the windowsill, in case you wanted them for anything.’

Well, no, I don’t want them for anything right now. But I still believe in karma, and I still believe in something bigger, and it’s still the kindest religion I came across during my ridiculously long hours spent in front of the internet. And while it’s not clear whether witchcraft is on the rise in the UK or not – if it is, that can only be a good thing. 

*Of course, it’s men too – but the religion was born in the 70s out of a lack of main world religions that catered for feminine freedom, hence the focus on the ladies. 

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Tags: Nostalgia