Modern-day witchcraft is alive and practiced more than we might think. Across Montreal, there are stores, schools, workshops, and more, that are dedicated to witchcraft and all its branches. Nowadays, the practice has been somewhat glorified with the popularity of shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, and The Good Witch. Twentieth century witchcraft is far different than what it was back in the 1300s, but for those practicing witchy-religions like Wicca, it is no joke, nor purely aesthetic.
Witchcraft has a deep-rooted history, widely known because of the dark and devastating events of the past. Take the Salem Witch Trials, for example. According to an article on smithsonianmag.com, they occurred in Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. Over 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, thought of as “the Devil’s magic,” and 20 people were executed.
According to historians on History4everyone’s website, the witchcraft craze extended from the 1300s to the late 1600s. Fearful and paranoid Christians believed the Devil gave people known as witches the power to harm others and cast evil spells. Historians estimate that, between the 16th and 17th centuries, over 100,000 people were prosecuted and over 40,000 were executed.
According to the same source, in the Middle Ages, the Christian Church was anxious about rebellion; new heresies (branches of Christianity) and printing information among the elites increased this paranoia. Over 80 per cent of victims were women and the suspicion of witchcraft often aligned with characteristics of being older, widowed or single, and poor. During the witch trials, the accused that were “tempted by the devil” would go through a list of elements that would “prove” to the judge that they were, in fact, a witch. Some of the elements would include an unnatural way of travel, odd behaviour, etc. The accused were subject to torture to elicit information/confessions. This would result in the victim inventing stories just to stop the pain.
Charme & Sortilège is a witchcraft store that has been catering to Montreal witches and the curious for over 20 years. Kim, who didn’t want to give her last name, is a witch and the director of communications at the store. She said it took a few years before their products were of a quality standard to sell to White Magic practitioners.
“After multiple tests in dowsing, we were able to establish that the majority of these products did not undergo any energetic manipulation and had not received the “charge” a practitioner would expect,” she said. This created an issue that can still be seen today in various stores, where fake items are sold with the idea that they will help you practice witchcraft.
“[The items] were all just ordinary items, often sloppy, and adorned with esoteric names designed for quick resale to customers more superstitious than the “connaisseur” with knowledge and needs,” said Kim. Their 600 products are “dedicated, lustrated, invested, consecrated, sanctified, energized, and prepared according to methods of High Hermetic Magic mostly with certain Druidic, Shamanic, and Alchemical additions for some.”
Most common witchcraft practitioners are Wiccan, a religion that focuses on the Spirit that exists in everything. According to the Wicca website, Wiccans celebrate the cycles of the moon, sun and seasons, and try to find harmony within nature and universal energy.
There are different paths and traditions a witch can choose from, like Druidism, Shamanism, and so on. For Kim, being a witch is a way of life.
“It’s a way of being, feeling and reacting to everything that surrounds us,” she said. Some witches start their days with meditations, others light candles and incense, some choose to do Tarot or Oracle readings, and so on. “A Witch’s spirituality is beautiful in that way — we are free to practice the way we feel is right for us, as long as nobody gets hurt along the way.”
According to Kim, Charme & Sortilège has seen an increase in popularity and/or interest in witchcraft. “Maybe it’s because of the movies, TV series, books,” said Kim. “But also, I find that more and more people are searching for spiritual answers outside of the ‘normal institutionalized spiritualities/religions.’”
There’s also an important distinction between the francophone and anglophone communities.
“A lot of practitioners in the french community are solitary practitioners and more practitioners in the english community are forming circles and groups,” said Kim. “We’re working very hard to unite the community and unite the practitioners.” Charme & Sortilège offers workshops, monthly full moon celebrations, and more.
Despite the increased popularity, the witch community is still working to combat untrue claims about their practice. According to the Wicca website, witchcraft is not a cult, Wiccans do not worship Satan or consort with Demons, they do not sacrifice animals or humans, witches do not “steal or control the life force of another to achieve mystical or supernatural powers” and they do not use forces of nature to “hex or cast spells on others.” These false claims are a direct result of fears from the past and those who practice black magic, which Wiccans do not associate with.
According to Wicca, “witches have a very strict belief in the Law of Three, which states that whatever we send out into our world shall return to us three fold, either good or bane.”
Graphic by @sundaeghost