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This witch is here for the vibes

Oh, you’re obsessed with fall too? Let’s be friends.

Let’s talk—what is it about fall that gets the girlies going? And by “girlies,” I mean this girly, who’s been waiting to cozy up by the fireplace with a hot chocolate in hand, reading a good book or crocheting with her mom.

To me, August and September are just lead-ups to these moments and my trusty autumn playlist, featuring lots of moody Twilight soundtracks, haunting tunes, and nostalgic guitar songs (I’m looking at you, Noah Kahan). One might say it’s been summerween in my head for weeks now. I’ve been brainstorming Halloween costumes for three months.

Now it’s October, the pivotal month of fall. I’m ready to go apple and pumpkin picking, to witness the paint-splattered mountains along my beloved Laurentian roads. But beyond that, what is it about the spooky season that makes me crave the autumn vibes so badly?

Maybe it gives me an excuse to get into character instead of truly unveiling my inner witch. Something about tarot, astrology, crystals and herbal healing seems to give people the heebie-jeebies, which might prompt me to suppress some of my witchy interests. But in fall, it can all come loose, just like those gemstone leaves fluttering about. We can let ourselves be weird and witchy and indulge in pumpkin spice and everything nice. After all, we’re just matching the vibes, right?

The witch is one of the strongest archetypes that women incarnate. It represents the urge to stop withholding pure feminine power, the urge to unleash everything ugly and beautiful. In short, the urge to be authentic. The witch trials may be a piece of the past, but the fear remains—what if I say or do the wrong thing? I think our fascination with the autumn vibes stems from wishing we could be extravagantly colourful and blissfully uninhibited, while also being kind to ourselves when change is all around us.

The girlies who are in love with autumn are in love with the peace and the silence—a self-imposed break that nature gifts itself. They’re in love with the softness with which nature transitions from one chapter to another. They’re romanticizing something simple, yet inherently powerful: we can’t stop change, but we can admire it and resiliently look forward to the space it leaves for something new. No matter the changes, fall will always be a welcome return to comfort and tradition, with a dash of magic over the mundane.

As October waltzes in, I’ll be trying to embrace the (not so) dark academia season at Concordia with a creepy thriller in hand. Autumn is my yearly reminder to slow down and taste the apples, smell the fallen leaves, and feel the comforting breeze through my knit sweater—that’s what gets this girly going. 

This girly, whose dad always encourages her to wear her costume when she gets sad that nobody loves Halloween as much as she does. This girly, whose mom watches Practical Magic every October with her, soaking up how admirable empowered women are. This girly, who’s having a hard time adulting and whose baby inner witch is just waiting to come out and play.

Come on out now. Lana Del Rey says it’s the season of the witch.

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Opinions

Good Witch, Bad Witch, Will She Float Or Will She Sink?

The history of the witch: true tales of patriarchal terror

With today’s horror movies depicting their women protagonists as helpless haunted gals, I can’t help but reflect on the true feminist horror story: the origin of the witch.

While witch hunts stopped around the 17th century in America, the fear of the witch stayed in our culture, having a particular spotlight during the spooky season.

Although the topic has now evolved into popular culture, the real history of witches is much darker.

Witches were believed to be practitioners of the Devil’s work, calling upon spirits to heal or harm others. Although sometimes — and let’s face it — they were only practicing traditional medicine or sciences, but them being women made it a crime.

It’s clear that witch hunts were targeting women: more specifically, single, widowed women, or women on the margins of patriarchal society— women who stepped outside their assigned role.

Bridget Marshall, Associate Professor in the department of English at the University of Massachusetts who studies witch trials and the history of witchcraft, believes that most witches were women because of systematic oppression.

“This is why witch trials weren’t just about accusations that today seem baseless. They were also about a justice system that escalated local grievances to capital offenses and targeted a subjugated minority,” she says.

Indeed, out of the 19 people that were convicted of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials of 1692, 14 were women and the other five were guilty by association — either a brother or husband.

So, how did these witch hunts contribute to shape the feminist movement? 

It is only in 1893 that we see a critique of how the church treated women who were suspected of being witches.

In her book Woman, Church & State, Matilda Joslyn Gage, an American suffragette, reframed the witch hunts of the 1600s as a misogynistic attempt from the Christian church and state to police women’s bodies and keep gender roles in place.

Gage’s son-in-law, L. Frank Baum, author of the famous The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was inspired by her work to frame the character of the witch in his story in a more positive light.

The early 1960s TV show Bewitched centered around the life a white middle-class housewife, and coincides with the rise of the women’s liberation movement. The way the protagonist Samantha Stephens uses her magic around the house can be linked to early feminist arguments for agency and free will.

This set the stage in popular culture for how we view the figure of the witch now: from a clumsy Sabrina the Teenage Witch, to the clever Hermione, to the villainous comedic Sanderson sisters.

Although we can argue that most of them are portrayed as feminist icons today, we have to acknowledge that the real history behind witch hunts is rooted in patriarchal power and the fear of a woman challenging that power.

Whether by drowning or burning, marginalized women were murdered in barbaric ways under the broad crime of practising witchcraft.

I say “broad” because the offence included an array of subjects that men were also studying at the time, such as astrology, sciences, medicine, and divination.

Besides the obvious religious hysteria around women, witch hunts were also used to establish dominance in these new male-only establishments.

The crime was ultimately that of being a woman.

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Student Life

The magic behind witchcraft

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

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News

Magic: Is it just a bunch of hocus pocus?

Concordia witches explain their faith, Halloween and the supernatural

Geena Papini is just like any other Concordia student. As a communication studies major, she goes to school, does her homework and hangs out with friends. You may have walked past her many times, but there’s one detail you would not be able to gauge by simply looking at her—she is a witch.

“I do practice magic,” Papini said. “Many people think of Harry Potter when they hear ‘magic’ and, while it would be so cool if I could turn a teacup into a mouse, that’s not the kind of magic witches are referring to when they talk about their practice.”

Witchcraft means different things to different people. It can be either a spiritual expression from a variety of religions, or a secular practice performed without religion. According to Papini, it is a customizable craft.

“Witchcraft, to me, is a way to be in touch with the universe, the earth and myself. It is something I came to out of curiosity and out of a desire for spirituality that wasn’t rooted in a specific, rigid religious practice,” Papini said. “For some people, it is a structured thing, following rituals and ceremonies that are passed down from one practitioner to another.”

Witchcraft, when practiced as a part of paganism, is often referred to as Wicca.

“I don’t consider myself Wiccan,” Papini said. “I think there is a misconception that to be a witch, you must be Wiccan. This isn’t true. There are many secular witches who do not incorporate the religion into their practice. There are [also] many pagans who do not consider themselves witches.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

According to wicca.com, Wicca is a nature religion that acknowledges the cycles of nature, the lunar phases and the seasons. For many Wiccans, witchcraft is a spiritual system. While witches do hold rituals and brew potions, their craft mostly involves healing and natural remedies. For them, witchcraft is not a cult—they do not worship Satan, consort with demons, sacrifice animals or people, or use their craft to ‘hex’ or cast spells on others.

“None of us have sold our souls to Satan,” Papini said. “I promise.”

Another Concordia student who identifies as a witch is Raken Howell-Slater. Howell-Slater is Wiccan. She specifically identifies as a hearth witch, which, according to her, means most of her magic is intended to make people feel comfortable and happy in her home.

“I work with internal energies and call on elements [as well as] my Gods and Goddess for help when I need them,” Howell-Slater said. “I deal with mental illness, and I find my faith extremely helpful in combatting it.”

Howell-Slater said she had her first spiritual experience when she was 12 years old.

“I was walking in the woods when I went into a trance state and felt an extreme sense of peace, power, connection and emotion,” Howell-Slater said. “My first taste of something transcendental.”

She began to look into paganism when she was 18. When she first began studying at Concordia, she became involved with the Concordia University Pagan Society (CUPS) to meet other pagans.

“It’s really nice to hang out with a group of people who you don’t have to explain terminology or justify your beliefs to,” Howell-Slater said. “I think it’s still finding its feet, but the group definitely has a lot of potential and is a great place for curious people to get resources or answers.”

According to CUPS’s vice-president Bree Stuart, approximately half of their members are Wiccan and many of them practice witchcraft or magic on their own time. She said most of the witchcraft practiced by pagans revolves around lighting candles, burning herbs or laying out offerings. As for Stuart herself, she said she has always felt a pull towards the supernatural.

“There are few events and places in Montreal where pagans can practice their spirituality and faith, therefore we try to accommodate the broad spectrum of Pagan faiths to make sure that everyone feels welcome,” Stuart said. “As for the Concordia community, I feel our mysticism brings about a different worldview as well as open-mindedness in general.”

On Oct. 27, CUPS hosted an event at Concordia’s Multi-Faith Spirituality Centre to celebrate Samhain (pronounced sah-win or sow-in), the Pagan festival honouring the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

“We celebrate the eight Sabbats in the wheel of the year. They’re open to the public, so anyone can pique their curiosity and come celebrate,” Stuart said.

It is widely believed, especially in paganism, that many Halloween traditions are rooted in the Samhain festival.

Photo by Alex Hutchins

“Samhain is actually the origin of Halloween,” Howell-Slater said. “It is the Wiccan New Year and one of the two most spiritual nights of the year, when supposedly the veil between this world and the next is the thinnest. I celebrate Samhain by having my friends over and doing a private ceremony in remembrance of my dead.”

Halloween is Papini’s favourite time of year. She encourages people to celebrate and dress up as witches, but warns them to be mindful when donning a witch costume.

“Many negative depictions of witches actually come from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, back when witches were thought of as people who had sold their souls to the devil in exchange for power, and are also rooted in anti-semitic prejudices,” Papini said. “The idea of a witch as someone with a hooked nose and green skin […] is something you should be mindful and aware of.”

Stuart agreed, and said she believes there is “no problem in donning a pointy hat and a broom.”

“That’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

To skeptics of her faith and practices, Howell-Slater has one message: “My beliefs and my gods are exactly as valid as any other god or set of beliefs you care to name. Mine just happen to be the ones that work for me.”

For more information about CUPS and their upcoming workshops on divination, herbs and the supernatural, visit their Facebook page.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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