This article was originally published in Allure.
Are witches real? Well, have you ever had a vivid dream about someone, only for them to text you the very next day? Consider that your intuition was burning bright. When you’re overwhelmed and stressed, do you ever turn your bathtub into a cauldron by filling it with soothing salts, perhaps lighting some candles to further set the mood? That’s a self-love spell if I ever saw one. Or have you ever found yourself in an overly cluttered apartment thinking, “I just have to tidy up to change the energy in here”? Look at you, performing cleansing rituals.
Witches are real: They’re people who practice magick. Magick, which witches like to spell with a “k” to differentiate it from stage magic, is real too. The practice of magick is about raising and directing energy to fulfill your intentions, and if you haven’t noticed, witchcraft is in vogue. You may be wondering what in God’s (or the Goddess’s) name is going on, or even what you need to know if you’d like to practice witchcraft yourself. A very good place to start is by clearing up any misconceptions you may have about witches — here’s the truth about nine of the most common myths out there.\
1. Witches aren’t real.
Remember the evil witch from “Hansel and Gretel” who snatches up children to eat? How about Nicole Kidman’s sexy character in Practical Magic? There are lots of different kinds of witches presented in pop culture, but witches exist outside of films and fairy tales, as well.
In real life, you can be a witch and look just like yourself, no eating children required. So how do you know if you’re a witch? If you feel an urge to exert your will and get what you want (while fighting the patriarchy and practicing intersectional feminism, of course), you qualify. A witch is simply someone who is aware of their own power and puts that power into action. If that’s you, then congratulations, you’re a witch.
2. You need tons of training from established witches before you cast your first spell.
Researching and doing some homework is never a bad idea. If you’re looking for good starter resources, I recommend the website The Hoodwitch and the books Craft: How To Be a Modern Witch, by Gabriela Herstik, and Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, by Kristen J. Sollee. However, writing a spell does not require a coven, goat’s skull, and full moon, as fun as nights involving these can be. Performing a spell just means setting an intention and then conducting a ritual — be that lighting a candle or meditating in the bathtub — to fulfill it.
For instance, let’s say you want to wake up each morning filled with more self-love. Write an intention letter affirming how much you appreciate yourself as you honor Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. You can invoke the energy of any deity you personally connect with, so long as you show proper respect, but Venus is a great go-to for love spells. You can also work with an ancestor or inspired celebrity, like David Bowie (a personal favorite) or Rihanna. Light some pink and red candles, and take a bath while meditating on how loved you are. See? You’re doing magick. Simply writing out gratitude lists or repeating a mantra is casting a spell, as it means you’re injecting reminders of your self-worth into your life. Most witches believe that the universe is filled with energy. Casting a spell is just harnessing that energy.
3. Practicing witchcraft is expensive.
The upside to witchcraft’s recent popularity is that it’s becoming more accessible, and more people understand witchcraft isn’t synonymous with evil. It’s also allowed powerful witches to make money from their craft, which is demonstrative of the power of magick on its own. Some online shops are worthy of your money if you have some extra to spend. Witch Baby Soap, for example, sells lovely, vegan, cruelty-free beauty products infused with spells.
However, it seems like everyone is cashing in on the witchcraft trend these days. Do you need to drop $85 on Goop’s “8 Essential Crystals Medicine Bag” in order to engage in crystal healing? Nope. Sure, tools such as crystals, tarot cards, and incense can be handy in rituals and help sharpen your practice. But all you really need is yourself. You are the witch, you practice the magick, and you are more powerful than any crystal money can buy.
Before you blow your paycheck on overpriced accessories, simply begin sharpening your practice by adding daily meditation and learning to your life. The more you immerse yourself in witchcraft, the more you’ll notice that witchy tools are all around you: in your spice rack, your closet (hello, broomstick), and growing outside. Witches of all economic backgrounds have been practicing for centuries using the tools they have at hand.
4. All witches are female.
Whether you are male, nonbinary, trans, gender-nonconforming, or anything else, you can be a witch. It’s true that there is a beautiful history of women and witchcraft, in part because women have been historically silenced and have used witchcraft to tap into their power and subvert the system. Think of the term “kitchen witch,” which means a witch who flourishes in the kitchen: When women were told their place was the kitchen, some simply focused their magickal energy there. Ultimately, though, magick is genderless.
5. Your ancestors have to have been witches for you to be one.
Like many other communities, the occult world has problematic members who insist that to be a witch, you have to come from a magickal bloodline. Remember how messed up beliefs about “Purebloods” are in the Harry Potter series? It’s not OK to shame or exclude based on lineage in our world, either. Some people do have witches in their families, and when you’re looking for spirits to work with, magickal ancestors are a powerful choice — but so are any ancestors. If you come from a non-magickal family, aren’t close with your family, or have severed ties with them out of necessity, that has nothing to do with whether or not you can be a witch.
6. Hexes aren’t real.
Sorry if this scares you, but hexes, cast to inflict misfortune on others, are indeed real. You may have heard of “the rule of threes,” or the belief that performing magick with ill intent will come back to you three times, turning the ill intent on you. (The neo-pagan religion Wicca holds that “Three times what thou givest returns to thee,” which can be applied to positive magick as well.)
But the rule of threes doesn’t simply mean, for example, that if you cast a spell to steal someone’s man and you and said man get together, he’ll cheat on you exactly three times. Hexes like this usually entail bigger blowback: If you’re performing magick to cause harm to someone, you’re probably in a pretty nasty, dark place. You likely aren’t exuding positive, loving vibes, but swampy, malicious ones. And it doesn’t feel good to be a mean troll. Performing magick to release yourself of anger so you can move on after you’ve been harmed can be healing. Using your craft to hurt someone, meanwhile, often just ends up making you feel bad, not to mention that positive energy is simply more powerful. Work with the universe, not against it.
7. There are “black” witches, meaning evil witches, and “white” witches, meaning good witches.
Speaking of hexes, you’ve probably heard about “black magick” and “white magick.” Some people use these terms, but they probably shouldn’t. To start, they have racist undertones: Rituals that are mistakenly believed to be “bad” and therefore labeled “black magick” often come from traditions such as Hoodoo, which is traditional African folk magick. Generally speaking, magick itself isn’t simply “good” or “evil”: It’s a tool. We can all act selfish, jealous, and petty from time to time, and honestly, that’s OK. We have good sides that are loving, too.
Often, the best way to get in touch with your loving side (and then inject it into your magick) is to recognize that you’re human. Negative thoughts are normal. Instead of acting on them, perform a cleansing ritual, dance around or go to the gym, or take a long, hot bath to soothe yourself. All such acts can be magickal rituals.
8. You must join a coven to be a witch.
A coven is a group of witches that meets regularly to perform magick and rituals. A coven can be traditional, with 13 members and a highly organized initiation process, or it can be more laid-back and designed by you and your witchy friends. As witchcraft has become mainstream, covens have become more casual. Some people enjoy the responsibility and framework of performing magick with a structured group, while other people perform better as solo artists. By all means, form a coven if it’s appealing to you. But if magick is something highly personal that you do alone, that works, too.
9. Your witchcraft should be Instagram-ready.
Explore the hashtag “#witchesofinstagram” and you will see a plethora of pristine, perfect-looking altars, clothing, and crystals. Social media can offer camaraderie and inspiration, and aesthetically pleasing rituals — such as cleansing your space with herbs like sage — have value. But your practice doesn’t have to be camera-ready to be valid. In fact, many of the most powerful witches prefer to keep their practices secret and their altars private. (A note about altars: They’re basically just areas set aside for devotion. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on yours for it to yield rich rewards, and you’re allowed to be a little messy — IMO, Joanne the Scammer is totally a witch and “polished” is definitely not her brand.) It’s OK to look at photos for inspiration, but your practice only needs to reflect one thing: you.