I am friends with more witches today in 2020 than I ever could have imagined as a child. It tends to come with the territory when you’re a part of the LGBTQ community. At any given queer gathering, you’re almost certain to find at least one person who is into some form of “witchcraft” — astrology, tarot cards, crystals, the merits and effects of various herbs and plants, and of course, cats. It’s something of an in-group joke; all the boys who listened to My Chemical Romance as teens are now witchy goth girls.
It’s more than just an appreciation for a certain kind of Stevie Nicks-like aesthetic. Members of the queer community, and transgender people in particular, often find themselves at odds with the framework of traditional religion. “Witchcraft,” which is an umbrella term for a number of diverse beliefs and practices, provides LGBTQ people with a spiritual and community connection without the conflicts they can sometimes find in many Christian faith traditions.
“If you look at it historically, Christian colonialism and binary gender and enforcing cis-heteronormativity [the idea that gender is determined at birth and everyone is born heterosexual] go hand-in-hand,” says Nico Wilkinson, a 25 year-old nonbinary witch (and former Queer & There columnist). “So it makes sense that the opposition of that would be queerness and witchcraft and paganism.”
Just as Shakespeare’s archetypal witches in MacBeth confounded Banquo — “You should be women / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / that you are so.” — the witches of today also tend to defy conventional notions of gender. “Of course those things go together too,” notes Wilkinson, “because queer people, people who occupy the liminal space of gender, would often have a certain spiritual role.”
There are many parallels between queerness and witchiness. “I was fascinated with ghosts and the occult and Ouija boards,” recalls Wilkinson, “but I was Christian, so I always knew that these fascinations were something I had to keep separate. I realized I was a witch before I realized I was queer.”
While it is convenient for some people to think of witchcraft as something in opposition to traditional faith practices, it is simply a different way to tap into the same spiritual sense of belonging. Instead of prayer, Wilkinson uses tarot cards — a traditional form of “fortune telling” — as a kind of meditative practice. “It felt like I was getting these answers directly in front of me in a way that was similar to prayer, but I never got answers from prayer or questions at church. The answers I got to the questions I had in church never felt satisfying; they felt really illogical, and this wrathful God felt very at odds with my understanding of love.”
Not only is contemporary witchcraft a spiritual practice, it is also a force for community-building. Wilkinson hosts vegan potluck-style Full Moon Dinners at the Quail Club, a communal living space for LGBTQ artists in Colorado Springs. The gatherings provide a refuge for members of the community, who come to these meals to network, socialize and cast a spell or two. “I’m mostly a solitary practitioner,” Wilkinson admits, ”but I do like holding spaces for queer people to get together and participate in some sort of magic. I’ll do fire-cupping, and I consider that a spiritual practice, or we’ll have tarot readings. People benefit mentally and physically from accessing this spiritual power.”
Wilkinson’s interpretation of witchcraft is a broad one. They note that “Sometimes people say ‘Wicca’ and think they mean all of paganism or all of witchcraft. Wicca is a very, very specific brand of witchcraft that has a certain value system and certain deities.” Wilkinson considers themselves a non-denominational witch, but notes that a number of neo-pagan practices fall under the umbrella of witchcraft as well.
While the idea of “magic” may seem new-agey to some, Wilkinson points out that “a lot of things feel like magic. When I’m gardening, or interacting with animals; communicating with plants, animals, and the spirits.”