The rise of modern witchcraft


Somewhere near you, in a cafe-bookstore, there is a witch. She doesn’t have green skin. There is no pointy hat. She arrived without a broom and no matter how much you ask, she can’t or won’t conjure a fireball in her hand. She sits down with a latte, not a potion, and she sips it quietly without even a chuckle. I know because right now I’m sitting across from her and I’m honestly terribly disappointed.

‘Go out’

The first friend of mine who came out as a witch left me really dumbfounded. My friend, a rational human being whom I had known for a few years, claimed to have magical powers. She might as well have told me she could grow wings or fart the alphabet, it would have elicited the same reaction. It all sounded silly, childish, vaguely delusional – and yet I was desperate to know more.

As the pandemic swept the world, more and more of my friends started to come out of the broom closet. I started to wonder if this sudden surge of Witch-mania was isolated from my group of friends. Was there something about me that attracted practitioners of the dark arts? Apparently not. I was heartened to discover articles popping up on the internet describing the rise of the “Hip Witches”.

So, as the world opened up again, I sat down with my friend in a cafe to ask the ultimate question: Why? What had possibly brought her to witchcraft?

“I’ve always been fascinated by fantasy books and historical stuff,” she tells me candidly. “But during the first lockdown, I got close to one of my clan girls. It is a very powerful thing in terms of self-confidence. The first lockdown I was very lonely and was looking for something that could give me a boost, which I did.

Suddenly, looking at this witch across the table, I felt a pang of solidarity. Hadn’t we all felt lonely during the pandemic; didn’t we all want to achieve something?

The magic shop

I started to delve deeper into the world of witches. I asked where to start? Where does the love of spells begin? I was told of a store in the West End of Glasgow. A witch shop that had been there for thirty years. So off I went, stalking the city in the rain. I expected to have to wander down a dark alley and slip into a dark, cave-like, dusty old shop filled with strange smells and animal entrails. I actually arrived on a rather nice street where Opal Moon was sitting.

A bright purple shop, with beautifully painted artwork in the window and a queue outside. I dutifully stood in line and glanced at my compatriots as we all waited for the store to empty. In the front stood a couple, occasionally hugging, behind me stood a tall, middle-aged woman who looked a little stressed. In front of me was Nicole. Nicole explained that she was a regular at Opal Moon. She had lived in the area for six years but had been coming to Opal Moon for much longer. She used to visit when the shop was in Ashton Lane. I asked how it started for her and she told me it was books. She had started reading something in Waterstones and over the years had gradually gotten carried away.

My turn to enter the store has finally come. The whole place smelled amazing; the incense burned in a strange symphony of cinnamon and sage. The shop was bright and friendly with soft music audible in the background. The place was tiny but they made enchanting use of every square inch of space. I spoke to Joan Morrison who has run the store for 32 years.

“I know it sounds small, but it started out small,” she laughs. She explains to me that the boutique was born out of her interest in jewelry. She started using crystals and became interested in their healing properties. From there, she embarked on a three-decade spiritual journey, and along the way, her store kept her company. She remembers the early days when people treated her with a bit of suspicion, hovering at the window, looking inside but not daring to cross the threshold. ‘I think they were afraid that if they came in, I would hex them! But it was nice to watch that gradually change and now, well, we’re hugely popular,” she happily admits as another customer approaches her to the checkout. I ask about the pandemic, and she agrees that since they reopened, it’s non-stop! She argues that this is due to many factors. In part, she thinks it’s a way for people to deal with their anxiety. In part – she leans forward and whispers conspiratorially – it may be a bit of a fad caused by a stir on TikTok. But she hopes what started out as a fad turns into genuine interest.

The Godmother of Witches

For everyone I’ve spoken to so far, the journey started with a casual interest, then a few books. So the next logical step for me seemed obvious – get a book.

I did better. I have an author.

Skye Alexander is for many young witches an entry point into the world of magic. His books as The Modern Guide to Witchcraft have sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. She herself is both a practicing witch and a wiccan (the former being a practice and the latter a religion). She explains that there are many types of witches who all experiment with spells that blend ancient principles with modern life. She also talks about the benefits: trust and community. Alexander agrees that the pandemic has certainly pushed more people into witchcraft and towards his books. “Sales have increased significantly in recent years. I’m only guessing, but it’s likely that people have been using a lot of protection spells and healing magic over the past couple of years. (For the pedants among you, that’s not a misspelling. “Magick” is a term used by witches and wiccans to distinguish their practice of Stage Magic.) His last words stuck in my memory:

“We all have magical power. We are all potential witches.

Despite my time with witches, I am not a convert. However, I understand them a little better now. See, in a world that constantly seems on the verge of collapse, where we have so little control over our lives and destinies; don’t we all have little rituals and practices that give us strength? Whether it’s the first cup of coffee in the morning, lucky underwear or a prayer before bed. Maybe it’s the movie we watch whenever we’re down, the TV show we rush to while we study, or even the Cross-Walk button we press even though we suspect it’s do nothing. In truth, we all have our comforting habits. Hobbies that may seem irrational to others, but make a real difference in our lives.

Perhaps witchcraft isn’t for everyone, but as we face pandemics, poverty and tragedy on a seemingly daily basis, and struggle to find a way to fight the doomsday clock – maybe a little magic would do us all good? We don’t all have to practice witchcraft, but we could all be witches.

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