Day 6

Waking the Witch: Why more women are leaning into witchcraft

There will be lots of pretend witches this Halloween, but self-proclaimed witch Pam Grossman says a growing number of women are being drawn to become the real deal.

'The witch is a figure that really symbolizes ... the full spectrum of the feminine power,' says Pam Grossman

Pam Grossman is an author, podcaster and self-identified witch. She says that more and more women are looking toward witchcraft as a way of reclaiming power. (Sylvie Rosokoff)

Pam Grossman has identified as a witch since childhood, so for her "it's always the season of the witch."

There will be lots of pretend witches roaming the streets for Halloween candy next week, but a quick YouTube or Instagram search turns up plenty of people who say they're the real deal, year-round.

Grossman says that today more and more women are taking a serious look at witchcraft.

"That's both for people who are practicing some sort of witchcraft, as, you know, their spiritual practice, but also a great number of people who are identifying as witches for political reasons," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Host of The Witch Wave podcast, and author of Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power, Grossman spoke with Bambury about what it means to be a witch in 2019.

Here's part of that conversation.

That's interesting that you've identified [with witchcraft] all of your life. So when you were a little girl, how did that happen? What was it about that world that spoke to you then?

I think a lot of people, when they're children, really gravitate towards magic — if you think how many kids love fairy tales and love using their imagination. 

So in my case, how it manifested was playing in the woods, doing these very intuitive rituals, really having that deep, imaginative play that I think a lot of kids are so privy to.

I'm just very fortunate that my parents never socialized me out of magic. You know, I think a lot of kids are taught magic is foolish, magic is something that you grow out of. 

And instead, my parents just wanted me to be myself. 

But there was always — I mean, when you're a child, too — a stigma around the word, or the term, witch. As more people identify as witches, as you just told us they are, do you think that the stigma is going away?

The witch is a figure that really symbolizes, I think, the full spectrum of feminine power. 

And so as we collectively honour and value feminine power more and more, I think, we're collectively honouring and valuing witches more and more. 

That said, as we know, there are still plenty of people that do not enjoy feminine power at all. And so that stigma, I don't know if it will ever entirely go away.

Pam Grossman is the author of Waking the With: Reflections on Women, Magic and Power. (Sylvie Roskoff, Simon and Schuster)

You really are positioning the witch as a character in feminist iconography. Is that how you see it?

100 per cent, and there's a whole history of that. 

If you look at the first wave of feminism that came up in the 19th century, you had the suffragette movement who had people like the contemporary of Susan B. Anthony; Matilda Jocelyn Gauge, who were using the word witch, or the icon of the witch, as a disrupter of the patriarchy. 

The second wave of feminism used the iconography of the witch. There was actually a group of activists who called themselves Witch, who would do these public, kind of tongue-in-cheek rituals, where they would do things like hex the New York Stock Exchange. 

And, you know, they were both using the iconography of the witch in this sort of funny way, in the same way we might use the phrase "nasty woman" to certainly acknowledge the history of misogyny that's been targeting women for many, many, many years. 

What you're describing is political, outward looking. It's disruptive. It's definitely got an agenda. But there's also a kind of inward practice here, isn't there? I mean, what does your practice look like? How personal is it for you?

For those of us who identify as witches for spiritual reasons, our practice might vary from person to person, but there are usually certain things that we all have in common.

 Most of us believe that nature is divine, and so we have some sort of ritual or spiritual practice where we are honouring the cycles of the season, the cycles of the moon, our bodies. And then there's also spells and rituals. 

Sometimes we're doing it as solitary witches in our own homes. Some of us are parts of circles or covens, as I am, and do wonderful group rituals and group spell work and meditation. So it certainly varies depending on who you ask.

Whenever anything has a majority female audience, we either tend to sensationalize it or we tend to trivialize it.- Pam Grossman, author and podcaster

What about the black arts? What about hexes and curses and things like that?

So I do not condone hexes and I want to go on record as saying that. But there are other kinds of spells that are more protective. So sometimes you'll read about people doing binding spells, especially against certain politicians. 

And a binding spell is not actually a hex. A hex is a spell where you're trying to harm somebody, whereas a binding spell is when you are trying to prevent that person from harming other people. 

So I think binding spells are OK. Hexes, not so much.

Pam, there are probably some people listening to us right now talk about hexes and spells and they're rolling their eyes. They're thinking this is just some kind of hipster fad. What do you say to that?

I think that whenever anything has a majority female audience, we either tend to sensationalize it or we tend to trivialize it because I don't see casting spells or doing magic as that different from a whole bunch of other religious practices, such as prayer and so many other rituals that we've come to accept as "normal." 

But because it is primarily women who identify as witches, though certainly people of all genders do, I think it tends to be dismissed.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Pam Grossman, download our podcast or click Listen above.