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Photography Nicolette Clara Iles

What does it mean to be a witch in 2018?

We spoke to five witches about the realities of whitewashing, the beauty industry’s commodification of occultist practices, and what it means to identify as a witch in 2018

From the buck-toothed, backcombed, soul-sucking Sanderson sisters of Hocus Pocus, to the spaghetti strap tank tops and diamante crucifixes of 90’s cult classic Charmed; the green-faced, crooked-nosed Wicked Witch of Oz, to the bouncy blonde curls of Netflix’s latest regurgitation: the Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina – witches have been depicted in pop culture for decades. But are these representations accurate? 26-year-old holistic practitioner Grace Gottaredello doesn’t think so. “All of these depictions try to homogenize the perception of witchcraft to something that is centred to white Euro-American women,” says Grace. “But witchcraft is as diverse as we, the witches, are.”

Over the last few centuries, witches have faced many enemies: the church, the patriarchy, the burning stake, and the warped cultural representations that aim to whitewash their culture. And now they face a new one: the beauty industry. From impending Tarot collections being teased on Instagram by beauty giants to pastel-hued Starter Witch Kits, the beauty industry’s commodification of sacred occult practices is really starting to piss witches off, not least because this appropriation is based on pop culture representations of witches instead of real witches themselves. But who are these real witches? And more importantly, what do their practices look like? We spoke to Grace and four other witches – London-based herbalist Caroline RosalieNicolette Clara Iles, alchemist Kkingboo, and Herefordshire-based Malcolm Tearle – to find out more. 

Can you tell us a bit about the witchcraft you practice?
Grace Gottaredello: I am a holistic practitioner who uses witchcraft, astrology and social sciences to offer guidance in Shadow Work. I focus on other practitioners like light workers or astrologers, diviners and oracles and witches: basically, anyone who is of service to others. Sort of a therapist for witches, I make sure your local Bruja is 100% grounded and comfortable to help you to their best capacity. I'm biracial (white Italian and black Ghanaian) therefore my experience translates in the practice. My rituals and spells are a product of living within two traditions. I am not part of a coven, from my understanding Stregoneria has always been a family matter, making the tradition very localised and specific to places where it was practised.

Caroline Rosalie: I'm a herbalist. I identify as a being of love, an eco-feminist, an artist and a healer. I'm just starting to spend more time with other herbalists and would like to meet regularly with them. In the past I have been part of moon circles, gathering every new moon and full moon.

Malcolm Tearle: I don't have a coven at this moment, but I am holding meet-ups about getting one up and running. My coven practices traditional witchcraft, some wicca, and even meditation practices from Vajrayana Buddhism, and Shiva-ism.

Nicolette Clara Iles: My craft is eclectic and mostly solitary. My interests are in herbal witchery and divination. I’m a lone witch but adore my fellow witches and their respective covens.

Kkingboo: I practice alchemy. I'm a full-time creative manifestor (someone who can make ideas a reality) and managing director of The Othxr, a creative agency centring around POCs. Anyone I create with is a part of my "coven".

What does it mean to identify as a witch in today’s current society?
Nicolette Clara Iles: It’s a defiant, incredibly strong way of showing and being who you truly are. Identifying as a witch in today's society may be seen as ‘easier – considering we don't literally get burned at the stake – but witches of colour, disabled witches, LGBTQ witches all still experience persecution in different ways.

Caroline Rosalie: More and more people are reclaiming the word ‘witch’, though I think the word has different meaning and connotations for different people. Under a patriarchal society, it feels radical to reclaim power and learn about ancient practices such as healing, astrology and midwifery that were suppressed by the church, modern medicine and the patriarchy. 

Kkingboo: It seems like folks are feeling the collective pull to/of Motha, my nickname for Earth’s vibration field. Some don’t like that feeling so they fight it. Others — we choose to ride the feeling, not knowing where it will lead but fuck it, cause it’s got to be better than our current reality. Once you surrender, Motha will take you where she wants you to be. In my opinion, if you’ve chosen her, you’re a witch and that is a very intimate, indescribable life 

Grace Gottaredello: As somebody who was born within the practice, to identify as a witch, has been like giving birth to myself again. To me, a witch is a femme who recognises their power, their creation and their rage. Everyone can have access to the secrets within us, but just a few will answer the call to action. A witch stands for those whose identity is denied. The political and social implications of the role cannot be ignored. Growing up mixed race in Northern Italy, I went through a very traumatic childhood and my relationship with both of my families has always been strained. I was estranged from both of my parents, who loved me dearly but had no idea on how to deal with a mixed race child. After spending ten plus years decolonising myself and healing my relationship with my families and my parents, through study and research about my traditions, undergoing initiations and rituals, I understood that a new lineage was born with me. I am not my parents or my families, I am me. Thanks to the ones who walked this earth before me, I can say the names of the ancestors out loud and I can stand my ground. I can serve and protect my community with a knowledge that the white patriarchy thought was lost and with the bravery of one who has nothing to lose because my ancestors walk with me and my children will finish whatever is left undone.

Do you practice any beauty rituals that you can tell us about?
Grace Gottaredello: As a herbalist and alchemist I usually add my potions and my dusts to my beauty routines. I make my own scrubs and masks, for body and hair and there is always a magickal ingredient. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal my potions or dusts, but even a simple Google research can help with tracing a few Venus (One of this planet's domains is Beauty) ruled herbs that can be used in any beauty concoction. A simple salt bath with pink and red rose petals, hibiscus petals and calendula/marigold petals with few drops of cinnamon oil, is a tonic for the skin and it helps in PMS or postpartum, restoring sexual aura.

Kkingboo: I self-care through intuition. There isn't any one regular thing I do outside of burying my (menstrual) blood in the ground – which has been a beautiful ritual I was called to do eight years ago.  It's not a monthly ritual, it's only when needed and I can usually hear or feel when that is. I listen for the place it's supposed to be in the earth, I dig, say a few mantras and keep it moving. My recommendation to any new witch thinking of buying a "witch kit" to start their journey is to bury their period blood first. It's probably the quickest route to the connection they're searching for.

Nicolette Clara Iles: A beauty ritual I shall say is creating a 'glamour' spell to your self-care or makeup kit –  which can be started by telling yourself something like 'I WILL show my inner beauty' as you apply a product. Through that, the process of the glamour coming ‘true’ can occur. Magical baths, rose water, and herbal teas are also all good self-care methods.

Caroline Rosalie: Lighting candles every night and reading tarot are good self-care daily rituals.

With beauty brands launching collections that are heavily influenced by the practises and symbols associated with witchcraft – do you personally consider this, as a witch, an act of appropriating of your culture?  

Caroline Rosalie: I think anyone can enjoy a witchy aesthetic for themselves, though they should learn about the cultures that they might inadvertently be appropriating. For example, people who use white sage and palo santo should consider choosing other herbs and plants to burn as these are being over-harvested which is damaging to the environment and the indigenous communities that use them in their sacred practice.

Nicolette Clara Iles: When we have Sephora/big brand shops trying to sell 'starter witch' kits, it's a slap in the face to those whose culture began these rituals. I think beauty is about way more than sticking important tarot card symbolism on a make-up palette. Who gets the profit from these products? Not witches.

Kkingboo: Can someone please send me a tarot-inspired palette? I think corporate brands selling "witch kits" is hilarious but low-key I'm really laughing with Motha. She's coy and she'll get to her children by any means necessary. Let's just say, her energy is keeping up with the times.

Grace Gottaredello: As a society, to commodify something is to make it accessible and less threatening and this is what is happening with Witchcraft. Everyone can put on some cool make-up, a couple of stones and burn some incense. But as I said before, a Witch is of service to the living as much as to the Ancestors. To commodify Witchcraft and all practices that have been tools of liberation is to deny our struggle (as many of us are people of colour) and the death of the ones that allowed us to stand proud today.

From The Wizard of OzBewitchedThe Witches of Eastwick, Hocus Pocus, The Craft, The Crucible, Charmed American Horror Story: Coven, to the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, witches have been represented in pop culture for years. What are your thoughts on this?
Nicolette Clara Iles: Representations of witches in media tend to be very one-sided, however, there are both good and bad edges to this representation.

Malcolm Tearle: The films are not at all representative of Witchcraft. Witchcraft is the 'Old Religion,' the craft of the wise.  This religion has been traced back to Ancient India, where the Hindu God, Shiva first placed horns upon his head to tell everyone that his spirit was within all mankind, all animals and all of nature. Shiva is better known as being the founder of Yoga. His teachings spread through a Shamanic route and arrived in Europe. Witchcraft has both a God and his lady Goddess and is known as the craft of the wise because Witches were the first healers..using Herbalism, and the first midwives. The Church killed over 9 million women, men and children, in it' s take over bid. Witchcraft along with Druids were the native religions of Britain and Europe, strange how we keep being painted in such a bad light. Witchcraft is beautiful, soft, caring, healing, and all-loving. Anything other than this is not us, and just the workings of bent human minds trying to sell a film at our expense. It’s time the truth was told.

Caroline Rosalie: I mostly enjoy these shows but they are fantastical and not accurate, they are for entertainment so everything .

Kkingboo: I have a lot to say about this but I'll sum it up in a question: Isn't it weird that most of these versions are created/directed by white men?

I understand Halloween within the witch community looks a lot different to how mainstream media suggests we celebrate it. If a Halloween enthusiast wants to change their appearance — what do you suggest is appropriate?

Nicolette Clara Iles: Something that is true to your own culture and not appropriative. Halloween/Samhain can be a time to send care to lost loved ones, yourself or current friends  – show that in your appearance. Think autumnal, be a shining light!

Grace Gottaredello: Personally I don't really care much for Halloween. The Veil (between our world and the spirit world) lifts on the following days and we celebrate the week with our past ancestors – honouring them with rituals and memorials. But as a witch, I would say: leave native people alone. Leave native traditions and paths alone. Leave people of colour alone. Dress up as a fantasy character and be done with it.

Kkingboo: Critique yourself by asking a simple question, will my costume choice offend anyone?

What does beauty mean to you?
Nicolette Clara Iles: Beauty means being comfortable in your own skin, your flaws, your good points, all of it.

Caroline Rosalie: Nature is beautiful. The moon is beautiful. Plants are beautiful. I am beautiful and you are beautiful.

Grace Gottaredello: Beauty is a medium of power. With beauty, I adorn my altars and my tools to honour my spirits and my rituals. My beauty honours my ancestors.

Do witches have certain visual codes that signify to other witches that you are a part of the witch community? For instance, is it cliche to assume all witches wear black?

Nicolette Clara Iles: I love witches who wear lots of black, but some of us are very colourful. What you wear (or don't wear) can be indicative of your craft, but I don't find there to be any strict way of dressing for witches. Having said that, the witches I know have great personal style. It differs from person-to-person, witch-to-witch.  

Malcolm Tearle: We dress just like you, and when working our way and craft, may wear many different coloured robes, or no robes at all, this is called 'Skyclad.' As to self-care, not really, some practice yoga, some jog, some do Karate, we are the same as you and everyone else. All of the Goddess creation is beautiful.

Caroline Rosalie: That all witches wear black is probably a cliche. Saying that I do look quite 'witchy', I have long hair and I wear green capes and lots of black, and a big crystal around my neck and most assume I am a witch.