5 Real Witches Set the Record Straight on What TV and the Movies Get ALL Wrong
Pop culture has always been full of witchy women — some of them even based on input from real witches — that, frankly, we adore. But movies and TV don’t always tell the whole story, and as much as on-screen depictions are obviously meant for entertainment, living as a witch is no joke for many people. We spoke with five different women who identify as witches, adhering to the strict requirements of witch life and even running businesses as witches, about their practices and some of the common misconceptions they face.
Jessie Susannah, 36, San Francisco, CA
Jessie says she tapped into her spiritual powers as early as her teen years, but a lack of like-minded community, combined with a focus on maintaining the traditions of Judaism she’d been raised with, put her out of touch with that part of her life for many years. It wasn’t until Jessie experienced pregnancy and childbirth that she began to reclaim her inner witch.
“I remember taking a hike with one of my best friends and saying to her that I was having a revelation that I was a witch, and she turned and gave me this really sharp look,” Jessie tells Brit + Co in an email.
Now, she says, if she encounters similar responses, she doesn’t feel an obligation to or interest in educating people. The most common misconception, she says, is that being a witch is somehow different from being a regular person. “To me, being a witch means being in touch with the energetics of places, people, objects, and nature, and taking conscious active ownership and interest in that aspect of being.”
Her practice is now primarily centered around altars, and she integrates essences, crystals, plants, astrology, meditation, divination, and prayer into the hour-by-hour living of her daily life. In the fall of 2013, she also started incorporating her practice into her professional life, turning her bookkeeping and tax services into an intuitive financial coaching business called Money Witch. She helps people study their problems with finances and to use energetic allies to help take ownership and control over their relationship with money.
Currently, occult-affiliated practices like tarot cards, crystals, covens, astrology, and even spells are more present in social media feeds than ever, but Jessie generously sees past the trend.
“I think that when people are attracted to something, there is value in digging deeper into why that aesthetic is interesting to them,” she says. “Part of me questions whether a lot of the people who are finding themselves attracted to or engaging in this aesthetic right now are really just in the beginning stages of opening up to a deeper relationship with the energetic realm.”
ChosenEyes (Leah), 34, Austin, TX
ChosenEyes is a psychic medium and tarot reader best known for her scrying — or mirror reading, a technique first made famous by the one and only Nostradamus — and is a fixture in Austin’s witch community, frequently holding events and teaching classes in tarot reading. She first learned about witchcraft in middle school, though prior to that, she had always been fascinated by, and felt a kinship with, stories she’d heard about Black women in the south who were “very skilled at healing and helping with herbs and had ‘the sight.’”
“Identifying publicly as a witch came much later in life for a couple of reasons,” ChosenEyes, who has been professionally practicing since she was 14, says in an email. “[One], the stigma associated within Black America for being anything other than Christian,” noting that it was accepted by her own family as long as it stayed in the house. “[Two], not really seeing myself in the mainstream,” she continues. “Usually, if a Black woman practices magic or is psychic in a movie, we’re the ‘evil one up to no good,’ a moniker not always bestowed upon our white counterparts. So feeling it was okay to go public was a bit scary.”
Her fears were justified. ChosenEyes said that, once she did go public, many around her reacted with fear and disbelief, and some even cut her out of their lives. “But, on a positive note, it put a lot about me as a person in perspective for many closest to me,” she countered. “I, as a person, made more sense once they knew this about me.”
As a busy working mom, wife, and medical student (she’s currently completing her doctoral fellowship for Oriental Medicine, focusing on herbal topical therapies for tissue regeneration and infection management in burn rehabilitation), ChosenEyes stresses that it’s not as glamorous a life as some people think — nor as uncommon.
“There are those who assume that if your spiritual practice is also your profession then you’re a gimmick, social degenerate, or uneducated,” ChosenEyes says. “Witches are quite scholarly, astute, passionate, self-educated, and/or formally educated people. Many of us (myself included) blend in quite nicely and remain undetectable in most cases. We’re your doctors, lawyers, teachers, Uber driver, checkout clerk — we’re literally EVERYWHERE!”
Monica Bodirsky, Toronto, Canada
Not unlike many women first coming into their craft, Monica Bodirsky was just a teenager when she began identifying as a witch, but didn’t say so publicly for a while.
“I neither had the time nor inclination to argue or try to convince people that it is a practice, not a nasty woman or a satanist,” she tells us via email. The artist, illustrator, author, and educator has, throughout her practicing years, seen a shift in the way people perceive witches — from assuming they’re satanists to assuming witches don’t believe in science — but still comes up against some pretty frustrating characterizations.
“It is a bit tiresome when people are condescending and dismissive about witchcraft’s very diverse beliefs and practices,” she says. “Often they are all labelled as ‘magical’ thinking and thought of as childish, naive, or primitive. I believe some of those people have colonized thought issues and need to look to their own fears of the immeasurable and unknown.”
Bodirsky is the woman behind Witchfest North, a Toronto festival created to unite Witches, Wiccans, Wise Women, and Pagans in the arts. It’s a community that consists of, and welcomes, trans, queer, and BIPOC magical practitioners from many cultural backgrounds and all ages. Bodirsky says that she was inspired to launch the fest after witnessing the flourishing witch culture in Salem, MA, and has gotten the thumbs-up from both Salem mayor Kim Driscoll and Toronto mayor John Tory.
“I think it’s the right time,” Bodirsky says of the growing cultural acceptance and representation. “I don’t think there is ‘bad’ visibility in a diverse and pluralistic community. Some witches are outspoken, some are quiet, some have degrees from educational institutes and others have learned from generations of practitioners. As Deborah and Rick Hamouris, who created the goddess chant say, ‘We are a circle within a circle, with no beginning and never ending.”’
(Photo via Becca Lemire Photography)
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Sarah M. Chappell, 31, Asheville, NC
Sarah M. Chappell knew she was a witch since the third grade when she’d sneak books home from school and perform rituals on the basement floor.
“I tried to avoid being baptized when I was in fifth grade by telling my mother I was a witch,” she says via email, still able to recall the look of confusion and judgment that came across her mom’s face.
After getting into trouble for talking about witchcraft at school, she let it slide away until, three years ago, she moved to Brooklyn and heard about IRL moon circles, herbalism, and other community-based activities she had craved as a child. “Except now they were cool!” she says, underlining a major benefit of witchcraft’s current place in the zeitgeist.
Chappell says that, when she made a decision to quit drinking, her intuitive connection came back intensely. It was then that she started the latest incarnation of her craft, which she defines as “a deeply personal spiritual practice [consisting of] daily meditation and journeying.” She now professionally practices tarot, energy work, and herbalism to facilitate healing, and is happy to report that, now, even her mother thinks her work is pretty cool.
Chappell, who holds a degree in molecular cell biology, isn’t territorial over the witchy life, stressing that one of the major misconceptions she encounters is that witchcraft is one thing and one thing alone. She prefers a more-the-merrier approach.
“If [the popularity of witchcraft-related practices] help people to find themselves, to connect with the world, to feel more confident, and to develop their own spiritual practice, then that’s amazing,” she says. “If it helps people like me feel less weird because when I say I’m a tarot reader the response is, ‘cool I saw a great deck in Urban Outfitters’ instead of ‘you’re going to hell,’ I’m fine with that too.”
And, like any good millennial witch, Chappell thinks fondly of The Craft. “I remember seeing it at the video store when I was a kid and being too afraid to ask my parents if we could rent it,” she admits. “When I finally saw the movie as an adult I was so so so so so pumped. Of course it’s not an accurate portrayal of witches, but it is amazing. The clothes are great, and I love anything with badass powerful women. I wouldn’t recommend using it as a foundational resource for your own practice, but it’s such a fun (and dare I say feminist) movie. I’m going to go watch it again right now!”
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Pinky Doll (Jessica Barajas), 32, Rialto, CA
For Pinky Doll, being a witch isn’t just a practice but a strict and sometimes difficult lifestyle. She details the long and unconventional hours, the struggles with acceptance from family and friends, and what she calls the “spiritual battles” that can ensue when taking on a client’s bad energy.
“Sometimes it’s not ideal, but it’s of great importance for me to keep the communication open,” she tells Brit + Co in an email. “Ultimately that’s the reason I do what I do. My desire and passion is to help others.”
Pinky, who is Mexican-American, grew up in a Catholic household, but as part of her Mexican culture, she says she was always exposed to healers, tarot readers, and witches. When she was honest with her immediate family about what she eventually came to define as her Paganism and Santeria practices, she says they were hesitant but accepting (the rest of her extended family wasn’t so understanding). She reassured her skeptics that she didn’t worship the devil and set about dispelling other misunderstandings surrounding her work in healing, cleansings, spells, and tarot (she also does readings on her YouTube channel).
“We take full self-responsibility for what we do which, in my opinion, is what differentiates us from every other practice,” she says. “We do not hide or conveniently make excuses. To the core of our being, we know that which we put out comes back to us, which is why we are so mindful about actions, how we treat others, and who we really are when in solitude.”
As for the occult practices and aesthetics that dominate the witch conversation in 2017, Pinky Doll says that it’s not up to her to judge who, or what, is right or wrong.
“Everyone chooses for many different reasons and that’s their business not mine,” she says. “There’s no such thing as bad press right?”
“There are endless streams of beliefs in this practice,” Pinky Doll concludes, “but in the end whatever it is that one chooses to practice or follow — so long as it brings out the best in you — then that’s what’s right for you.”
Do you or do you know someone who identifies as a witch? Share your story @BritandCo.
(Featured photo via Sony Pictures)