Toronto witches gather in celebration and resistance
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Toronto witches gather in celebration and resistance

A recent resurgence in witchcraft’s popularity seems only fitting during these troubled times.

A healing altar promoting self-love and protection from gender-based violence. (Photo courtesy of Sabrina Scott.)

Under a full moon in the first week of October, the spiritual supply shop WonderWorks hosted the kickoff for Witchfest North. “It is the season of the witch,” declared organizer Monica Bodirsky, standing in the store next to vials of bladderwort essence and copies of A Practical Guide to the Runes. A few weeks ago, the federal government repealed laws that made witchcraft illegal; now, Toronto-based witches are celebrating with the month-long event titled “Out of the Broom Closet.”

Witches and witchcraft are creeping back into popular culture: Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade makes several nods to witchcraft, while Vogue’s “Witchy Week” in June featured articles like “How to Have a Moon Ceremony” and “The Most Enchanting Altars on Instagram.” A recent screening of The Love Witch at the Royal Cinema sold out, while Toronto artist and conjurer Cassandra Thompson uses magic(k) to protect, heal, and create popular mojos (a.k.a. charming bags).  

Thompson believes the reason witchcraft is seeing resurgence in popularity is because many people living on the margins need it. “How else are people going to win a war against people with guns? When you have no armour, you need magic(k).”

Today, witchcraft is being used more openly as a form of resistance.  Last year saw an organized, international hexing ceremony targeting Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault but given a lenient sentence, and a similar effort devoted to hexing Donald Trump. “I think witchcraft is especially relevant right now considering the absolute abuses of power we see with current world leadership,” says Bodirsky. “We see witches using their power to protect themselves against oppressors and resisting a so-called domesticity imposed by those who are frightened of women in positions of authority.”

Sabrina Scott, a Toronto-based witch, has been stocking Toronto shelves with their book witchbody, “A rambling and poetic auto-ethnography of Western occult magic as a pathway for environmental learning and advocacy.” Scott says that witchcraft can be a form of resistance, but is not inherently so. A protection spell may be resistance, a hex or a curse may be resistance, but buying expensive $50 crystals from a new age shop, or a shirt sporting a witchy slogan from H&M, not so much. “When it hits H&M, I don’t know if that counts as resistance anymore.”

Scott also warns against witchcraft’s complexities being “posi-washed,” as in, making witchcraft appear only to be about love and light—but resistance is not entirely love and light, resistance is about “fucking shit up” and levelling the playing field. “When the law is not on your side, when society is not on your side, because you are a woman, because you are marginalized in some kind of way, what is your option?”

Witchfest North will continue until October 31, at different places and events throughout the city; including craft fairs, music, art, food and drinks, spells, tarot, and vendor tabling.