Witchcraft is pretty en vogue right right now, as you will already know if you are a feminist on Twitter. For the past year or so we have been digging back to claim memes from various 90s pop culture occultists, finding a rich resource of comebacks against sexism from films like The Craft, Hocus Pocus, and, of course, The Witches. Magic, commonly associated with unruly women, alternative healing, and religions in diaspora, is a good friend for the oppressed. Often throughout history witches have been oppressed themselves, and their general philosophy of healing, self-care, and affecting the world through creativity gives a way of fighting back even when one feels powerless.
Becoming Dangerous, a new essay anthology crowdfunded by Fiction & Feeling and edited by Katie West and Jasmine Elliott, explores what this sort of witchcraft might look like in the 21st-century. Through the lenses of “witchy femmes, queer conjurers, and magical rebels”, it places skincare regimes and sex toys alongside green candles and onyx crystals, showing how the everyday can contribute to a collective resistance.
What defines witchcraft, according to West’s introduction, is performing an action with “intent”, meaning that almost anything can become infused with a little magic. The anthology features all manner of different rituals, including glamour magic, fashion magic, trash magic, religious magic, and slut magic, each showing interpretations of gathering objects, creating new things, and embodying new (or the same, but more powerful) selves.
True to witchcraft’s origins, many of the rituals described in the book are linked to identity and attempts to survive. We learn about the self-affirmation that magic provides for those living with disability, or the cloaking power it gives to African-Americans existing in a racist country, the ways that it helps people connect with their ancestors in faraway places. West writes that these are “irrational” responses to what has become an irrational world, but by the end of the book magic seems like just as pragmatic a response as anything else. By focussing on self-care, and reading power behind each action, it instills self-confidence, self-knowledge, and a feeling that one self is strengthened by being part of a bigger whole.
At times, this collection feels a little on the nose. Not every essay is about a literal witch, and some are inspired more by the semantics of ritual, incantation, and power. This figurative approach to witchy traditions could be really effective, but is undermined somewhat by the reminders that this or that act is a spell or a ritual. More showing and less telling, enabling the reader to draw connections between personal rituals and magic, would have let the writing in this anthology sing much more.