Publicly Other: Witchcraft in the Suburbs

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I’ve never been a Witch in the woods.  The thing is, to be a proper Witch in the woods, villagers have to know where you live (no) or you need to do a lot of festivals which involves camping (no).

I started my business in ye olde 2010 because I was going through a painful and messy divorce.  Well, I started spinning yarn because I was going through a painful and messy divorce but I didn’t know how to knit or crochet and had zero desire to learn how to do either.  I was strapped for cash and feeling really at a loss in my life as to what my future entailed. I started doing local events, but I quickly realized I needed to have goods (besides yarn) that appeal to a larger audience so I started making more things.  As I started making more and more obviously Witchy goods, I started getting more questions.

But they weren’t the questions I was expecting.  I expected more of the do you think you can actually perform magic?  Where’s your broom?  Are you psychic?  What am I thinking right now? variety.  Initially, when people outside the obvious Pagan demographic (wearing an occult shirt, having an occult tat, wearing occult jewelry) asked if my fixed candles brought luck or magic, I gave a very hasty, “No!  NO!  They’re just candles!” answer.  Because I didn’t want my car keyed.   In other words, I was afraid.  After one or two times with that scenerio, I realized I wasn’t giving the right answer.  They didn’t want to bother me with stupid questions, they wanted magic.  Love, luck, money, career, protection.  What everyone wants.  If a candle could help with whichever issue they wanted help with and look pretty while helping, well why not?  If they liked the way one of my oils smelled and it could do something helpful too, then perfect.

It’s still hard for me when I’m asked directly if I’m a Witch.  I want to dissemble.  Anyone who’s done any kind of magic since we figured out that magic is possible (probably directly after we figured out the fire thing) has been taught to dessemble.  I will be at Pagan Pride events where the whole purpose is to show the local community that we’re just like everyone else and if I’m asked directly if I’m a Witch or about what ritual is going on, my immediate response is to want to water it down to the vaguest possible answer.  I have to work very consciously not to do that.

Being so out at public events has been a really vulnerable feeling but also really empowering.  (Suburban) villages still want cunning women and wise men.  They want someone they can go to and say, “What do I do about this problem I have that’s making me feel afraid?  Show me there’s more that I can do than just mundane work.  Show me that I’m still capable of magic, no matter what I believe in.  Tell me the words to say and how to fold my paper and I will fold it just as you said.  Give me a chance to still spark enchantment in my life.  If you will be vulnerable enough to be a Witch publicly, I will be vulnerable enough to tell you what I need and let you press small items in my hand to bring magic into my life.”

At the last event I did, I hesitantly brought my new vigil candles, which are unmistakably Pagan.  I had not done this event for a few years so I wasn’t sure what the crowd would be like.  At first, a lot of people looked at the candles and looked at my oils. Then they looked at me and quickly looked away and kept moving.  I was hopeful when I saw some young women with visible Hermetic tats, but they stood in front of my oils for a solid ten minutes whispering to each other, picking up the oil testers but not opening any of the oils and walked away.    Maybe I had misjudged my audience?  I was becoming nervous and uncertain, wondering if I should have stuck to my “safer” wares – scented beeswax candles,  silk chiffon scarves and handspun yarn.

Then a women looked at the vigil candles and looked at me and smiled.  “I need prosperity, which candle should I get?”

I said, “Oh Lakshmi, for sure.  She’s been great with my business.”  I then explained how to write a petition when she asked what she should do.

“Oh!  You’re a Witch!”  She said.  She appeared visibly pleased and excited.

Even still, I hesitated.  I took a deep breath.  “Yes.  Yes, I am.”

“I’m so glad I came today!  I wasn’t going to!  This is excellent!”

I realized that on some level, even living in liberal New Jersey, even with Witches in our military, even with my mom having come to accept me as a Witch, I still expect strangers to throw rocks at me.  Even though I only do events that have a loud and proud alterna-community, I still expect people to not buy things from me because I’m a Witch.  Over the last two years, I’ve learned that people are buying things from me because I am a Witch.  While many of the people who buy from me do consider themselves a Witch/Pagan/Occultist, many don’t.  And while I will always get band-geek excited to talk “shop” with my fellow Witches, I get really excited about all the people who aren’t Witches themselves but still want to find a place for magic in their lives.

I hear so many people’s problems and triumphs.  In VFW halls.  In Girl Scout camps.  In unheated machinist buildings.  In public parks.  In small shops.  People of all ages, genders and experiences lower their voices and tell me their innermost secrets and look to me for a small bit of help.  There’s something very sacred about that exchange, being trusted to help them with their problems because I am Other.  Because they can feel magic in me, they trust me to help them find the magic in themselves.  Building that connection, that bit of my star that connects to their star in a tiny constellation in a local event is really special to me.  Getting to hug, to hold a hand, to wipe tears, to laugh together is a really sacred part of my personal practice.  The money is nice, I need to pay bills just like everyone else, but it’s the connection to others that really lights me up inside and I’m ever more and more grateful to have these opportunities to recognize the sacred in each other.

As we get to the darkest part of the year, thank you for letting me be a small part of your life.  It’s what brings light to mine.

Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  

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2 Responses

  1. I’m just starting to explore the possibility of being more out and open and doing work for others. I live in the North where there isn’t much of a culture for it; when I’ve asked other people about doing work for others they tend to be shocked and dismayed at the concept. It seems like they think it cheapens the magick, and some express the opinion that no one can do magick for anyone else. Not that I pay heed to that.

    But it’s less religious bias than areligious bias that I have to worry about. Rugged materialists are far less likely to take you seriously as a person if you’re a magickal sort; they often consider religion to be fine as long as no one really believes in it.
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