Toil And Trouble


I was at secondary school before I’d ever set foot in a church. Having pacified my grandmother with a church wedding, my parents refused to christen myself or my sister, to more head-shaking than I imagine was really necessary. They wanted us to decide for ourselves what we believed in, and as a bookish, morbidly curious child, I don’t think there was much surprise when I sat my mother down and told her, aged 12, that I was going to be a witch. As far as I could see, witches were more interesting than any alternative; they always had the best lines (thank you Shakespeare) and the best hair (thank you Sandra Bullock).

In one of the drawers of the big wooden cabinet in the dining room of my childhood home was a small drawstring bag containing my mother’s tarot cards, which we weren’t allowed to touch. I used to open the drawer and look at the black velvet bag, intrigued but not rebellious enough for breaking any rules, let alone ones that might have Serious Occult Consequences. I collected crystals and made my own runes, painstakingly copying the meanings out of library books. I read about glamour spells, tried them out, got frustrated with the inability to test if they’d worked. At fifteen, a friend and I had a Beltane sleepover, complete with rituals and offerings and a rainbow of different coloured candles. Our knowledge was cobbled together from corners of the internet, and from books we pored over in corners of bookshops and never actually bought.

I tested out other things: eighteen solid months of Hillsong attendance, visits to Bhaktivedanta, too much reading for one person’s brain. The witching won out. 

Much as I understand that following any religion or rite depends on the person, and it’s a personal choice how involved to be, or how much of your life to invest, I think that there’s a certain type of seeking that comes with a belief in the occult. I’ve always been drawn to the work that comes with witchery. Tarot cards can’t tell you something you don’t, on some level, already know. Amulets can’t have power you don’t give them. There’s no devil to get you if you disobey, just your own choices (and perhaps that’s a more threatening prospect…). There’s constant learning, unlearning, and relearning (for instance, recent re-educating around the use of white sage). Witchcraft is feminist as fuck. It centres women. It’s POC and non-binary and trans and LGBTQI+ inclusive. It is not interested in old straight white men, unless it’s about binding them.

On first meeting my boyfriend, he asked if I believed in my horoscope. I replied “more than I should,” a phrase he jokingly reminds me of if I suggest something that’s a bit too woo for him. I read tarot, I wear an evil eye and a big chunk of onyx every day (I’m a big believer in jewellery as armour; I never take any of mine off, and I don’t wear anything that doesn’t have some Big Significance). A lot of the little things I believe in are superstitions which have been passed down from my mother and become embedded in how my worldview fits together. You should salute a single magpie, not because it’s bad luck not to, but because it’s rude. Never stop a black cat from crossing the road, because he might have somewhere important to be. Spin an engagement ring three times around the finger of its new wearer for luck, and never carry a purse without a penny in it. I love the creativity of everyday witchcraft, and how magic plays into my projects in a myriad of ways. I love the main tenet that your purpose is to not cause harm. It seems logical to me to try to leave things better than you found them. But, also… Midnight Margaritas, right?