Washington Post Magazine: American Witch

During fall 2018 photo editor Dudley Brooks of the Washington Post Magazine offered me six pages to explore any topic that interested me on the theme of spirituality. I jumped at the chance - it was a dream assignment.

The Kavannaugh SCOTUS hearings were occurring and I had recently wrapped a three week street photography project for Kodak, during which I was incessantly harassed by men on the street. As I pounded the pavement alone with my cameras, they catcalled, followed me in their cars, and made me feel unsafe while I tried to work. Many strangers extended me kindnesses, but the negative far outweighed the positive. As a sexual assault survivor and proud feminist, I was fed up. I resented not being free to work unfettered, and hated that I wanted a break from unfamiliar men.

In that mindset, I approached Dudley’s assignment. What spiritual practices center and empower women? Paganism and witchcraft. I knew one self-identified witch and after enlisting her help dove deeply and obsessively into the community of witches that permeate every corner of America. Witches, it turns out, are everywhere.

You can read the article I wrote for the Washington Post Magazine and see the accompanying photos here. This is an ongoing project.

Our nation is at a moment of gender reckoning. Women across America are looking to defend their value through the #MeToo movement. Like others, I’ve found that I can no longer ignore my own history of sexual assault. That our society sees the experiences of so many women like me as acceptable fills me with rage. When that rage threatened to overwhelm me, I turned to the witches. I thought they might know how to transform my anger into something productive.

Witchcraft encourages practitioners to tap into their personal sense of power — their magic. That power, a balance of masculine and feminine energy — with special veneration for the feminine — allows them to connect with their intuition, manifest their desires and protect themselves. Throughout history, people have sought witches’ help when they’ve had nowhere else to turn. Today, some young women and LGBTQ people in particular are finding themselves drawn to witchcraft and the occult.

Through word of mouth and the Internet, I met witch after witch from different backgrounds and practices. The experience was deeply healing. I went to their homes and watched them work. I learned about the various tools in each witch’s kit and the ethics of witchcraft — and also about the ways that social media is changing the community: It’s driving the occult as both a trend and a spiritual practice, leading to an influx of witches who range from consumers to newfound practitioners. Established witches agree there is a “witch wave” bringing new energy to the community.

I watched witches perform magic in front of me and had spooky and moving experiences. I photographed with the intention of allowing each witch to represent the rituals, sacred objects and practices central to their most intimate spiritual self. The project became a spell for all of us, changing the way I viewed myself, my relationships and the world.

Whether it’s an Appalachian hoodoo witch, a multigenerational Brujeria priestess, a hedge witch with her herbs and tinctures, or a go-go-dancing glitter witch casting a spell in a cage at a club, witches light a path for others to walk through trauma and out the other side. The most basic ritual of witchcraft is one from which we can all learn. When witches “cast a circle,” they come together as equals, creating a sacred space where each can speak and be heard, acknowledged and cleansed. They check in physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, building trust as they share their vulnerabilities. In this divisive moment, we should all aim to do the same — to see one another’s raw humanity regardless of race, gender, orientation or culture.