Sunday, August 16, 2015

Circe Rising: Witchcraft Revives, Again

You live long enough and you see the same patterns emerge, over and over again. A generation comes of age, falls under the spell of Rationalism but then leaves school and gravitates towards thought contagions that horrify the professors and teachers they once tried so hard to emulate.

And like so many other things that aren't dead at all, Witchcraft/Wicca/ Whatever is not only not disappearing like it's supposed to, it's finding an entirely new batch of converts. Just two years ago, Chaos magician honcho Peter Grey had this to say about the Craft:

“Witchcraft is already dead as a hag, as barren as the moon, as contaminated as the tar sands. Yet Witchcraft is born again in this sacred despoiled landscape, and will be despised as an abomination by those who cannot navigate by the candlelight of guttering stars. Those who seek to escape the fates and furies will learn that they are inexorable.”~ Peter Grey, Apocalyptic Witchcraft
But as mainstream religions now enter their final lap and conservative and Fundamentalist movements circle the wagons, a new cohort finds itself spiritually adrift. The atheist movement might have shamed some people into leaving religions they didn't believe in anyway but as Jung says you don't replace religion with no religion.

 And as many Evangelicals darkly intone you don't replace Christianity - or any other mainstream religion- with rationalism, you replace it with paganism. It may sound like paranoia, but History is on their side.

Human beings are religious animals. Scientists and sociologists will bore you silly with their theories as to why this is so. Of course, my explanation is that the spiritual world is a reality and it has its effect upon the human organism in the same way that many other ostensibly invisible forces do, such as gravity and radiation.

It's not something I need to argue, it's self-evident to me. Probably to most of you as well.

Seeing how human beings and societies function without spirituality-- which is to say they slowly fall apart-- is all the evidence I really need anyway. It's why even doctrinaire atheists like Sam Harris or philosophers of science like John Horgan are so desperate to find a spirituality beyond theism (you could argue that certain forms of Buddhism fit that bill already)-- they know the stakes.

Either way, Witchcraft/Wicca/Whatever is making a comeback at a time when the pundits had declared such a thing an impossibility. Hey, I would never have dreamed that Tolkienesque fantasy would survive the 70s either, but here we are, six Tolkien mega-blockbusters and x-number of seasons of Game of Thrones into it already.

Of course, the vanguard of this new pagan revival are the traditional early adapters, the groups that latch onto thought contagions long before they trickle down into the shopping mall crowd:

How Witchcraft Is Empowering Queer and Trans Young People

Over the course of the 20th century, the popular idea of the witch underwent a transformation. Gone is the baby-eating, Satan-worshipping hag of medieval Europe, and in its place has emerged the idea of female healers.
Second-wave feminists seeking a strong female subject latched onto the witch as the embodiment of feminine power. Witchcraft entered the feminist consciousness spiritually, though traditions like Wicca, and politically, as groups like WITCH—the Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell—publicly hexed everything from beauty pageants to fees for public transit. Yet while the revival empowered some, it excluded others, and many of the groups that emerged were reserved for women. 
But the idea of the witch has come a long way since then. Witchcraft is seeing a resurgence among queer-identified young people seeking a powerful identity that celebrates the freedom to choose who you are.
What was that mantra from Sex in the City? "First the gays, then the girls?" Well, it seems as if that were a truism, if this next article is any indication.
Meet The Witches Of Instagram 
Between the nascent popularity of tarot, Tumblr horoscopes, candle carving, a brief spike in the popularity of aura photography, and media coverage of witchcraft from Rookie to The Cut, we are in the midst of an occult revival. 
This was first heralded by Newsweek in a 2013 piece published two weeks after the premiere of American Horror Story: Coven, a season centered on a coven of modern-day Salem witches and drawing from such aesthetic interpretation as Pina Bausch’s “Blaubart”, and is going strong two years later with such Buzzfeed roundups as “19 Powerful Tarot Tattoos” and “13 Witchy Instagram Accounts That Will Charm Your Day”. 
Multiple factors are driving this resurgence; for one, tarot and the other tangible aspects of the occult are “particularly suited to the communication age’s current hypervisual incarnation”, according to Maureen O’Connor. “Tarot is, after all, a naturally social enterprise.”
 Then you have your city slickers, keeping an eye on the latest trends. It seems that the urbane sophisticates of New York City are not immune to this latest rebirth of the arcane. As with so many things it's very much the 70s redux, only without the quality pop culture:
How Tarot Became the Trendiest Party Game

In the last year, I’ve seen tarot advertised as a party trick at bottomless brunches. I’ve heard of it offered as parlor games at dinner parties; an opening gambit at gay raves (“Can I read you?”); pun-based entertainment at book events (“a close-read of your future”); and the central activity for girls’ nights in (who needs Netflix?).
Tarot has become a fixture in my Instagram feed, inbox, and girly group-texting threads. My old roommate got a tarot tattoo —  and her best friend got one, too — and both appeared in a BuzzFeed listicle about “powerful tarot tattoos” that the website labeled with a yellow sticker marked CLASSIC. 
Why tarot? Well, first of all, we are in the midst of an occult resurgencethat has turned crystals and smudging into trendy pursuits. But more important: Tarot is a great way for friends — and, it seems, female friends in particular — to talk about themselves.
But perhaps the olde wytchcraft is still very much with us. One ancient and venerable practice ascribed to magicians is dowsing, the art of finding underground streams of water. And just like New York, even tech-fueled California isn't immune to the lure of the old ways. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, perhaps there are no skeptics in a devastating drought:
Amid epic drought, California farmers turn to water witches 
LINDSAY, Calif. — Vern Tassey doesn’t advertise. He’s never even had a business card. But here in California’s Central Valley, word has gotten around that he’s a man with “the gift,” and Tassey, a plainspoken, 76-year-old grandfather, has never been busier. 
Farmers call him day and night — some from as far away as the outskirts of San Francisco and even across the state line in Nevada. They ask, sometimes even beg, him to come to their land. “Name your price,” one told him. But Tassey has so far declined. What he does has never been about money, he says, and he prefers to work closer to home. 
 Tassey is what is known as a “water witch,” or a dowser — someone who uses little more than intuition and a rod or a stick to locate underground sources of water.   
With nearly 50 percent of the state in “exceptional drought” — the highest intensity on the scale — and no immediate relief in sight, Californians are increasingly turning to spiritual methods and even magic in their desperation to bring an end to the dry spell.

A must-see doc on a previous occult revival 
As with the 1970s, you also have the reaction among religious conservatives. But with their power greatly diminished, it's highly unlikely that will have much of an effect. Still, they're watching all of this and don't much like it at all.
A Revival of the Devil's Witchcraft Is Rising 
In recent weeks alone, we've seen the devil pressing hard to bring witchcraft deeper into our schools, our homes and our entertainment venues. We reported on how a new witchcraft-inspired challenge is luring kids into summoning demons. It's called Charlie Charlie and it's sweeping the nation and the world under the guise of a carefree fortune-telling game. Faith leaders are sounding the alarm.
But maybe this time the reaction won't come from homegrown Christian conservatives. Remember we live in a world in which witch-hunts are still very much a reality and that people are accused and killed for witchcraft all of the time around the world. Remember also that borders are becoming increasingly theoretical to the powers that be...
Five women lynched for practising 'witchcraft' in Jharkhand, 27 arrested 
Police women march at the spot where five women accused of practicing witchcraft were beaten to death in a village of Kanjia of Mander block of Jharkhand on Saturday.  
Deputy Inspector General of Police Arun Kumar said the women between 32 years and 50 years were beaten to death with sticks by residents of Kanjia village midnight last night.
But we should also remember that there are many varieties of witchcraft and some are not as pleasant as Wicca and its offshoots. Witchcraft and magic can get very ugly in some parts of the world.

Or in these parts as well. If you think magical crimes and satanic ritual murder are just paranoid folk legends, try looking up the "Chicago Ripper Crew" sometime. 

Good and evil are locked in a tango everywhere you look. And to deny the reality of magical crime- or even the potential of it-- is to deny the power of witchcraft and magick and the hold they can have over the human imagination. It's equally misguided to assume all practitioners of the magical are good as it is to assume they are all evil. They are human beings like everyone else.

If we do see a serious and sustained revival of the Craft, we will have to look for more stories like this, whether we like it or not:

Wiccan Community Angered by Police Description of 'Ritual Killing' in Triple Homicide 
The Wiccan community is outraged by police characterizations that a triple homicide in Florida is suspected to be a "Wiccan ritual killing," calling it a "haunting" comparison to the now infamous West Memphis Three case. 
In a phone interview with NBC News, Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Andrew Hobbes called the murders, "Wiccan ritual killings." 
"The injuries to the victims, the positions of the bodies and also the person of interest right now is also a practitioner," were contributing factors to the Sheriff Office's determinations, Hobbes said. 
Some in the online Wiccan and pagan community voiced their anger at the officials' characterization of the killings, taking issue with the timing of the homicide — a few days before the symbolic blue moon. 
"My question is, what 'ritual' done a few days before a blue moon would they be attempting and why?" a user posted in a forum on 
Another user on self-described pagan forum The Cauldron, disapproved of the broad strokes with which local authorities painted the entire community. 
"I think if [the sheriff] is going to say that the crime is a Wiccan ritual, he should be made to point out exactly which ritual it was, and where it says in any authoritative work on Wicca that such rituals are permitted," the posting read.
Unfortunately, all communities are painted with broad strokes by someone else at some point. Never has a person risen up when another person has not risen up to oppose them. It's just a sad, simple fact of human nature. If Wiccans become more visible and numerous, they will have to deal with issues that obscure groups necessarily do not.

The question now becomes how resilient this latest Wicca wave will be? Wicca has never gone away, it oscillates in waves of popularity. Many Wiccans will eventually transition into New Age spirituality, which also seems to cresting again. Many will drop out. Who will stay? 

In the past many who became interested in Wicca eventually found their way back to traditional religions, liberal Christianity in particular. But with the latter slowly but inexorably vanishing, the question becomes if Wiccans will finally begin to create more established places and institutions to call their own. 

The next question becomes how will their religion change when it evolves from an informal collection of covens and circles to a more established proposition with budgets, real estate and press relations to worry about. 

These are no small things.

UPDATE: Gordon takes it to the next level, as per usual.


  1. I'm not at all surprised that LGBTQ folks are attracted to pagan/Wiccan-style things. The power and encouragement to choose what you are and be proud of that is very strong. :) I'd like to suggest that Fundies' and other's *real* issue with Witchcraft, Tarot, and the rest is that these things offer control over your life, and acceptance of self.

    I've had a few Tarot readings in my life. They were all rather uplifting, powerful experiences, really no negatives to them at all. I had the readings done years ago when I still considered myself Protestant, and before I came out even to myself about my sexuality.

    :) Maybe it's time to really investigate Tarot for myself.

    1. Anyone interested in Tarot is recommended to check out the Mythic Tarot, which you can get second-hand on the various sites. It's a very Jungian oriented take on the topic that goes into more depth than a lot of other texts. The Cavendish book is also recommended as a general historical text.

    2. Oh, thank you! I'll take a look. :)

    3. Have you ever read Meditations on the Tarot by Valentin Tomberg. Tomberg was a protégé of Rudolf Steiner.

  2. I've been collecting Tarot decks since 1996, and back then it was wise to keep such a secret to oneself until one was sure one was talking to someone... sympathetic. Careers could be ruined by such eccentricity.

    Now, in 2015? I'm selective about discussing my "hobby" if only to avoid the requests for readings!

    (How's that for a datapoint?)

    Thanks for this post, CLK. I've already weighed in on this resurgence from Ground Zero (Salem)... the changes over the past 12 years really have been pretty concrete. And judging by the number of Millennials showing at least casual interest in Paganism and Tarot, I do suspect that this is a long-term trend with staying power.

    Looks like Crowley just might get his wish that a 'low grade earth paganism' become popular amongst the Commons, after all.

    And IMO, pulling the various Pagan movements together into some coherent, ordered whole would be like trying to herd cats. Which is a feature. Not a bug. (At least for those who are fans of distributed cultures over centralized ones).

    1. Well, there are Pagans and then there are Wiccans. Things generally have a tendency to move towards a center of specific gravity as they progress and the biggest dog on the block tends to be the beneficiary of that.

  3. Very well stated Anna. It's the same old story the Sun illuminated here - namely that gnosticism ultimately tells us that there is only one path, your path, that leads within...This uplifting of the discovery of the sacred as discovery of the self, or the great I AM, is certainly a threat to the current religious institutions that exist as appendages of control...
    I would hope that with the complete viability of crowd-sourcing, the youth could do some crowd-sorcering to sustain houses of worship for these new alternative spiritual outlets. I'd also like to see entheogens play a role as they, hopefully, become less illegal.

  4. @Michael - Indeed, my first reading was by a friendly acquaintance, in 2000, and he and our friends were still doing careful feeling-out before they offered to let me participate.

    @Gregory - :) Thanx. "your path that leads within" was well said by you.

    I wonder if alt-spiritual people could form a kind of federation, offering mutual support and spaces, while being respectful of the differences of beliefs?

    1. Wouldn't that be your standard Unitarian Universalist church?

    2. "alt-spiritual people federation" - wouldn't that be a standard Unitarian Universalist church?

    3. @Paula - I wouldn't know, are Pagans, Wiccans, and Satanists welcome to do rituals and such in a UU church?

      For myself, I wouldn't be interested in any of that. I'm a Lone Wolf, I guess. :)

  5. It's interesting to see that there is a massive upswing of discussion about Apocalyptic Witchcraft in the last few days. I've seen it mentioned in at least three polytheist blog posts, and then here. Oddly enough, I also posted about it a little while ago in an unrelated venue. Something in the air, as they say.

    1. Gordon's been after me to read The Red Goddess though I must say AW has a more eye-catching title. These things do tend to well up in the collective conscious now and again, don't they?

    2. There's a part of me that wants to "blame" the recently-concluded Many Gods West conference. I was an attendee, and saw a strong current of anti-authoritarianism throughout, with a large push toward the sort of "spirituality with teeth" that Grey advocates. And one thing is for sure: there were many gods, ancestors, and spirits of the lands present.

  6. Speaking of the spiritual world, I had quite a synchro-boo this morning:

    I awoke from a dream due to moderate shaking from an earthquake. As per usual I logged on to twitter to check QuakeBot for the magnitude. A few minutes later I was scrolling through the tweets, and a few links into my feed clicked to watch an innocuous looking film theory/video essay:

    1. We had an earthquake here the other day, speaking of synchery...

  7. Wicca is just the same as any other "religion." That's all it is, is another form of religion. The point is not to become a part of a religion, but to develop your inner potential. That's the entire reason behind religion. You start somewhere; religion...but you move along and begin to develop what it is that is inherently yours. And when beings can develop what inner powers they have, intelligently and responsibly, then the next step can begin, which is working with one another. So if people are just dabbling, it's not where it's at. Because even in witchcraft one can get into a lot of trouble, with spirit beings. So take it to the higher step, and you still have to deal with a variety of things that are going to come your way, but by that time, you're a responsible and wise person, and you can handle it correctly.

  8. Hi Chris,

    This is an excellent post and very timely as usual. All things ebb and flow and circulate, especially magical ideas and currents. For me the real power of magical/occult revivals is its potential for useful politicisation. Anyone who reads my blog or my comments here knows I'm all about the empowering of marginalised and oppressed groups through 'magical thinking' or 'depth psychology' -- be they LGBTQ or any racial/social minority.

    But we're also living in a time when the political consciousness of most mainstreamers and even many alternative-types has been blunted and exhausted to the point of inactivity. I hate to say it, and to sound like a low-rent Fox Mulder, but most people aren't interested in the truth anymore. Seeking it, living it, or speaking it. In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act, right? We are definitely living in such times.

    Here in Britain the recent Edward Heath child sex abuse 'allegations' have finally hit the mainstream, to no uproar and minimal public reaction. That a former British Prime Minister may indeed be personally involved in the sexual abuse and murder of children barely registers as news. I use this example because it is so vivid and horrific that one would assume it would rally folks to greater political action. But no, or at least not yet.

    Our political consciousness seems utterly exhausted and fearful. While there are many ghastly banking/corporate/criminal elites all competing for power, the mechanism of the Establishment itself is monolithic. We know all too well that unveiling a lie can get you killed or ruined in the 21st century. What can stand against such an entrenched criminal network and power-structure? The instruments of that same Establishment? No. Any real opposition is going to come from outside of the Plausible Deniability Songsheet. And I think occult/magical ideas are definitely part of that.

    Anything that promotes genuine self-knowledge and an appreciation of nuance/context can be USEFULLY politicised. And when I say politicised I simply mean the bravery to tell the truth in the face of overwhelming threat. People just need a better understanding of how to moblise the energies and powers of the human imagination. But this Establishment power-structure is so inhuman, so devastating, that any magical revival runs the risk of eventually being sucked into the hellish bureaucratic vortex where many other countercultural energies vanished. So it's a complicated and delicate situation. But I do believe that a greater comprehension of 'magick' or even High Weirdness in general holds many of the keys/tools for human emancipation, both Inner and Outer. But tools are nothing without the dexterity of those who wield them. So, Feed the Machine or Feed Each Other? One path is oblivion, the other is salvation. We will learn that, in time. Even if we have to pass through the fire to do so.

    Thanks for all your brave and lucid work, Chris.


    1. Raj, thanks for this great comment. You managed to elucidate something that's been bothering me for a while now. So many people seem to have given up, and don't even know that they have. It's understandable in some ways, because the power structures in place are so monolithic, as you say, and most people simply don't have the context to think outside of that. I think that may be (slowly) changing as the cognitive dissonance becomes harder and harder to maintain.

    2. Thanks Gus. Yeah, I'm a realist but I'm also an optimist, if you can believe that. For me it's all about how we measure success and integrity and lucidity. If I can learn and share and speak truth, offer my best, and help my proverbial tribe (I include all the Secret Sunners in that tribe) then I win as much as I'm ever going to. I think we the people are gonna 'win'. It's just about how long it'll take, and how much genocide and shit and roosting sins we'll have to crawl through before we get there. Optimist, I promise! :)

  9. Witchhouse / drag / rapegaze? Darkwave, gothtronica music emerging into the mainstream around 2010, with heavy occultic witch orientated vibe. Popularised the black triangle you might have seen all over hipsters until last summer. G/watch?v=y96ZT9CRcFc">†‡† Ritualz - Ghetto Ass Witch.

    White girl problems.

  10. This is interesting, as a good friend of mine began transitioning from male to female about 10 years ago. To those of us who knew him fairly well, her "sudden" intense interest in paganism, Wicca/witchcraft and goddess worship seemed strange. Of course, she may have been interested in that stuff as a man and simply felt it best to keep it to himself. I guess coming out as a woman in a mans body (though no longer that, for the most part) she figured there was no point in keeping any secrets anymore.

  11. Regarding the possible pushback against Wiccans and others, after encountering so many hateful, de-humanizing insults from people over my gender, sexuality, and beliefs, I advise everyone that is "alternative" in any way to be wary, and be ready to protect yourself.

    Just seeing how many voters agree with Donald Trump's fascist tirades should be illustration enough of how much they hate us all. Keep yourselves safe, and be prepared.

  12. I would like to know how to turn people into animals, it could be very handy. Charlie Charlie went around my kids school a few weeks ago.

  13. I believe the occultist will have stranger competitors then their ancestors have faced in the past. Where as their ancestors faced Christian competition. 2015 occultist face competition in the form of evil magic masters, Hollywood making churches out of "superman" and "Optimus Prime", militant atheism. Our worship is strange.