The Recurring ‘Witchcraft Fad’

Photo Credit: Jackie Wynn-Irwin

“In case you missed it, the witch – Wiccan and beyond – is having a moment in pop culture,” states a 2018 Fashion article, one of dozens of similar articles written about Wicca, paganism or witchcraft last year.  If you’re over thirty and you feel like you’re experiencing deja vu, you’re not alone. Witchcraft as a trend have been a common topic from publications for decades.  This poses a question: At what point does it no longer qualify as a fad?

According to Dr. Denise Cush, a professor of Religion & Education at the Bath Spa University in England, she’s noticed a steady increase throughout her career.  In the 2007 text, The New Generation Witches, Dr.Cush states: “Teaching in Religious Studies and Religious Education at a University level since the mid-1980s, I have been aware in my own practice of an increasing number of students who would identify themselves as pagan.”

If self identifying pagans were on the rise in the 1980s, it makes sense to look back a bit further.  Perhaps the fad actually started in the early 1970s, as posited by the Time cover story “The Occult Revival: A Substitute Faith” in 1972: “This recent scene — and many a similarly bizarre one — is being re-enacted all across the U.S. nowadays. In Oakland, Calif., when the moon is full, a group of college-educated people gather in a house in a middle-class neighborhood, remove their clothes, and whirl through the double spiral of a witches’ dance.”   However, the same author quotes Margaret Murray in her 1921 controversial publication Witch Cult in Western Europe,  in which the famed anthropologist describes the new witchcraft trend as a “vestige of the nature worship of Europe’s pagan days.”

The trend continues, with tones of hand wringing or mockery, to span decades. After an entire century of authors investigating witchcraft as a fad, it begs the question: Are we truly attempting to understand ‘alternative’ religious movements with these types of publications, or simply discredit them?

Plight of the Urban Pagan

Garfield Park Conservatory – Chicago, IL

I live in Chicago. I actually chose to move here specifically for the culturally robust big city, however, I feel this has created a sense of dissonance between my daily life and my spirituality.  

I grew up in the South.  It was hard to keep me in the house, as I was drawn to running around outside or exploring the woods I’d been forbidden to visit. Although I was an easily frightened child, the call of the woods would draw me in every time.  There was something about being surrounded entirely by trees and listening to the wind moving through the canopy above that filled me with that indescribable elation that is often described as a spiritual awakening. No matter how old I am, I get that feeling each time I find myself in the woods or on the beach.

Now, my interactions with nature are most commonly scheduled on my calendar in the way of camping trips or visits to the local Garfield Park Conservatory.  However, even those trips can be easily stripped of their reverence depending on how crowded it may be. I don’t mean to be an anti-social creature, but I do often find myself feeling claustrophobic around too many other humans.

I work on Michigan Avenue, right across the street from Grant Park.  However, I find that when I visit the park, the magic spark of the wilderness doesn’t seem to find me.  There are beautiful trees, but the towering buildings seem to dwarf them, reminding me that I am in the realm of man.  

It’s hard to remember my foundation as an Earth worshipper when my feet only touch cold concrete.  We’ve filled up the apartment with plants- small tropical trees, succulents, cacti and kitchen herbs in an attempt to bring the living world indoors with us.  It’s a small start, but perhaps it will get me through another cold winter as a Urban Pagan.