Written by Jessalynn Keller, Associate Professor in Critical Media Studies, University of Calgary
Using the hashtag #WitchTheVote, witch-identified folks are encouraging others who have an interest in the occult to get informed about political candidates and cast their vote in the U.S. presidential election Nov. 3.
Originally launched by a group of witches from Salem, Mass., during the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, #WitchTheVote is a cross-media initiative that identifies and promotes — as one witch tells us — “witch-worthy” political candidates: those who are progressive and social justice oriented. It’s fitting political activism in a town known for the Salem witch trials and contemporary witch tourism.
More than a hashtag, #WitchTheVote is also, according to the group, a “collective intersectional effort to direct our magic towards electing candidates who will push our country and our planet forward into the witch utopia we all envision.”
Here, intersectional feminist politics work alongside magic and creative media production to engage in political activism that includes advocacy around issues like affordable housing, reproductive rights and #BlackLivesMatter. #WitchTheVote runs a regular podcast and has also made and distributed zines with information for prospective voters, including how to register to vote and how to check to ensure your mail-in ballot was received.
This collective effort illustrates the ways in which “magical resistance” has become a popular, women-led form of mediated, political activism since the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
The resurgence of the witch
#WitchTheVote is situated within a resurgence of witches in popular culture over the past four years. Between Netflix’s teen drama The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, beauty retailer Sephora’s Starter Witch Kit (which was eventually removed due to backlash), the revival of the cult classics teen witch movie The Craft and TikTok spell trends, the witch is having a cultural moment.
Books such as Pam Grossman’s Waking the Witch (2019) have attracted widespread media attention, while public interest in astrology and tarot readings has also grown.
Esthetically, witchcraft and mysticism circulate easily on visual social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, where colourful crystals and elaborate altars make for beautiful photos and videos. From a branding perspective, the witch’s popularity makes sense within a larger cultural interest in spirituality, wellness and mysticism.
But there is also a case to be made for the very political nature of the witch. The archetype of the witch has a historical relationship with feminist activism. As an unruly figure and threat to the patriarchy, the witch is resistant, and has been used in feminist protest since the 1960s.
At a moment of regressive politics marked by a resurgence of white supremacy, xenophobia and anti-feminist sentiments, coupled with the uncertainty of a global pandemic and the looming climate crisis, it is unsurprising that women and other marginalized folks are turning to witchcraft as a way to make sense of — and act upon — our current political, social and economic milieu.
The digital coven
It is perhaps the collectivist sentiment of contemporary witchcraft — belonging to something bigger, together — that is appealing. Indeed, #WitchTheVote’s mandate as a “collective intersectional effort” suggests the force of doing something together, yet attuned to the different experiences, including those related to race, class, sexuality, age and ability, that participants may face.
And while not the only tool for mobilizing a collective, technology has become a significant connector for covens in recent years. Social media platforms, in particular, provide what some witches refer to as “globally accessible magic.”
By embracing technology while recognizing its limitations and inherent oppressions, witches are engaging in new rituals with the intent of keeping their channels clear for maximum revolutionary power on an individual and collective level.
For example, upon Donald Trump’s election in 2016, witches began a monthly ritual of casting a spell to “bind” Trump, preventing him from pursuing his agenda that many witches believe to be harmful. Some witches used platforms such as Facebook Messenger and Twitter to connect with other spell-casting witches at a designated time each month, ensuring that the “mass energy of the participants” is harnessed.
Spells and rites
Historically, spells often required very little in terms of commercial goods. Instead, witches relied on basic household items like candles and feminized rituals such as sweeping to engage in witchcraft. #WitchTheVote’s “A Multi-tasking Spell for Mutual Aid During COVID-19” lists a pen, paper and “anything else that makes you feel like a witch” as necessary materials. Other spells recommend candles of any size and colour and dirt from your backyard.
The emphasis is not on the materials themselves, but instead engaging with rituals that help witches feel empowered through practices that provide a sense of routine, stability and purpose in unpredictable times.
In the digital age, using the Internet as another avenue to practice witchcraft seems like a natural extension to the tradition of making do with the resources available to you. We may even think of emojis, shares, likes and retweets as possible technologies of magic when used with energetic intention to manifest social change.
And these practices are extensions of activist use of technologies such as feminist listservs, e-zines, chatrooms, homepages, feminist blogs and now, social media.
Casting spells and votes
In a political, cultural and economic moment in which many people feel a sense of hopelessness about the future, #WitchTheVote encourages activists to ground themselves through ritual and magical resistance.
They remind us of girls’ and women’s lengthy history in subverting repressive politics through focused collective action. In casting their votes along with their digital coven on Nov. 3, Salem’s activist witches hope to #WitchTheVote, one ballot at a time.
This article by Jessalynn Keller, Associate Professor in Critical Media Studies, University of Calgary, originally published on The Conversation is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International(CC BY-ND 4.0).