For many, the word “witch” brings to mind images of green women with large noses, covered in warts and tall pointy hats. What most people don’t know, however, is those stereotypes are largely rooted in anti-semitism and misogyny, which doesn’t accurately represent the true history of witchcraft.
Four Cal Poly witches spoke about their experiences and relationships with the practice.
According to plant science senior Shannon Kerner, witchcraft can be described as manipulating the energy around you to manifest a desired outcome or result.
“It’s really about living your life with intention and being conscious of the effect that you have on people and things around you,” Kerner said.
Kerner and her roommate, city and regional planning senior Courtney Marchi, practice witchcraft together. They said they each felt discontent with the modern religions, and they sought out spirituality through the practice of witchcraft.
Kerner was raised in Hawaii, so she grew up learning about the Hawaiian religion, which is largely pagan-based and involves a lot of magical practices. This was the starting point of her spiritual journey, which would eventually lead her to witchcraft.
Marchi said they were first introduced to witchcraft when they began to read books about Wicca, a modern pagan religion.
Since then, the pair have discovered their own unique practice. Kerner’s practice revolves mainly around plants and nature. She uses herbs and other plants connected to certain astrological and philosophical properties to create teas designed to manifest certain desires and outcomes.
Marchi said they enjoy spellwork, which they explained as a type of strong manifestation that can employ the use of tools such as herbs or crystals. They also work with the fae, or natural spirits, said to keep balance in the natural world.
Kerner said her favorite thing about practicing witchcraft is the celebrations she has with others.
“Getting together at the start of every season to celebrate new moons and full moons, and just being in tune with natural cycles around you with other people is my favorite part,” she said.
Witchcraft has become somewhat of a trend on social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok, and Marchi said that can be both helpful and harmful to the community.
“It’s helpful in that it helps spread a lot of knowledge really quickly and to more people than would’ve been possible before,” they said. “It’s harmful in that people can spread misinformation or only care about the aesthetic.”
Sociology sophomore Katie Rose is a member of a coven — a group of witches all living together. Since a young age, she said she has always felt drawn to witchcraft after continuously noticing strange connections that she had with the world and the people around her.
Rose experimented with Wicca, but said she ultimately found that it was too structured for her. After some trial and error, she eventually found her identity as it relates to witchcraft.
“I would consider myself a green witch,” Rose said. “I feel like my identity is most fully expressed when I’m in nature.”
Rose said that a misconception people may have about witchcraft is that there’s only one type or that all witches do the same practices. She explained that there are many types of witchcraft, and individual practices are entirely up to them.
“I think witchcraft is super personal and depends on you and how you connect with the world around you,” Rose said.
Communication studies sophomore MW Kaplan learned about witchcraft through their maternal grandmother, who was also a witch.
They practice witchcraft in many ways, one of which being sigils — symbols that are created to manifest a certain intent. They also use of crystals.
Crystals are each associated with certain properties that witches use for manifestation, according to Kaplan
Kaplan said much of witchcraft revolves around manifestation and intention setting.
“My overall basic understanding of [witchcraft] is that everything is matter and energy, and to a degree, we can manipulate that,” Kaplan said. “Witchcraft is really just a set of tools that helps you do that.”
During the pandemic, Kaplan said that witchcraft has helped them to feel more in control of their situation.
“It’s good for helping you deal with stress and the ongoing traumatic experience that everyone is currently dealing with,” Kaplan said. “It can help you feel more in control of a situation where most of us are largely out of control.”
For people who are looking to begin practicing witchcraft, Kaplan said it is important that they do proper research and ethically source their tools.
Various cultures and groups have historically been persecuted for having spiritual beliefs related to witchcraft, and many are still experiencing ongoing persecution, Kaplan said.
“Especially for white people who want to get into witchcraft it’s really important to tread carefully and not appropriate aspects of cultures that don’t belong to you,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said that when obtaining tools related to witchcraft, it is important to purchase from people and stores that have ties to the craft and source their materials responsibly.
Despite the negative stereotypes that surround it, witchcraft is ultimately about setting intentions and manifesting desires using the different elements of the physical and spiritual world, according to Kaplan.
Kerner said that for those wishing to learn more about the craft, apprehension is the main barrier to knowledge.
“I think that there’s a lot of stuff in the witchcraft realm that is so unfamiliar in our daily culture that it seems really scary but it might not be as dangerous or scary as it seems,” Kerner said. “The more you can distance yourself from fear, the faster you’ll learn.”