It’s the season of all seasons. Pumpkin spice lattes, cookies, and candles galore. Fake cobwebs strung up around the supermarket, and carved orange faces on every doorstep you pass. Horror movie trailers jump-scare you whenever you try to watch a video on YouTube, and all of those sort-of-friends begin asking what your plans are for the big night. Halloween.
But for many practicing Wiccans, pagans, witches, and warlocks, Halloween is an important spiritual time of year better known as Samhain. Though the various denominations celebrate it differently, Samhain is generally believed to be the time of year when the distance between the physical and spiritual worlds is at its closest. Many who practice witchcraft believe this is the best time to try to make contact with their ancestors and to celebrate those who they have loved and lost.
In recent years, I’ve noticed an increase in my queer friends seeking out and participating in witchcraft-related traditions, all the more so at this time of year. My day job in a bookstore means I’m witness to many alternatively-dressed folks seeking out the shelves containing bibles of Wicca, tarot, and magick. More often than not, they usually have some kind of Pride pin attached to their person. At every Pride event, I’ve attended this year, there are always flags and stalls celebrating witchy powers. A quick scroll through Instagram and there's an array of rainbow crystals and incense spell recipes. I have to admit, I’ve been curious. What is the appeal?
It isn’t difficult to draw similarities between the experiences of the LGBT community and that of practicing witches. Historically, witchcraft has been associated with power, sexual freedom, and a safe haven for minority groups. However, there is also a strong sense of "otherness" that accompanies witchcraft which has led to the persecution of witches from the 14th century to (though far less frequently) the modern day. Sound familiar?
For many, practicing witchcraft is a way of seeking and reclaiming power for oneself. This is especially important to witches from historically shunned communities. One person I spoke to (who wished to remain anonymous) told me that for them, practicing witchcraft is integral to how they handle the daily challenges of biphobia and transphobia. “It’s a form of self-care,” they told me, “it grounds me, it helps me to process my emotions and to know I’m replacing the negative energy in the world around me with positive energy.” Another reiterated this: “Through spell-casting... What I do matters. I can make a change.”
All of the queer witches I spoke to in my research talked about how they felt respected and validated in their witchcraft communities, in comparison to other places in society. Practicing witchcraft as a collective, often called a coven, offers many of the same benefits as gathering for LGBT-focused events such as Pride. Both value the individual and gather with the intention of creating a greater sense of empowerment for those in the circle. They are places to become one’s authentic self, a safe recluse from the pressures and expectations of everyday society. In a world where otherness is ridiculed, judged, and punished, these spaces allow us to embrace our differences and create positive meaning of our experiences.
In 2021, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England held an exhibition called “Beyond the Binary: Gender, Sexuality and Power.” Part of the exhibition was dedicated to the connections between LGBT and witchcraft. Mara Gold, one of the curators, highlighted the importance of these links: “Histories of both the LGBT community and of witchcraft often have to be considered in relationship to one another in order to be fully understood. Whether it be queer astrology, lesbian witches on mainstream television [such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow and Tara] or real Wiccan practices, Esotericism and queer culture remain inextricably linked.”
As witchcraft gains a greater following in the LGBT community, more queer witches have become visible. Bisexual rapper Princess Nokia is a “bruja” (Spanish for witch) who practices Santera. In an interview with The Fader magazine, they explained how their beliefs helped them to feel connected to their family and culture. “My religious beliefs are my birthright [...] I like to honor my West African and Taíno ancestry, I consider it sacred and divine. A lot of practices of Regla de Ocha come with mediumship, clairvoyance, and healing abilities. I view these abilities as gifts.”
Another bruja, editor Emilia Ortiz, highlighted in an interview with Dazed magazine how witchcraft has enabled her to find greater self-acceptance. “[Witchcraft] can also be about finding your personal power [...] for me, being a bi woman, it has been so empowering to be a witch. To operate on a spectrum energetically, not just sexually? To be able to cast love spells on myself so I could fall in love with the parts of me that society tried to weaponize against me? That has been so powerful and healing for me.”
Whilst we continue to fight the good fight against anti-LGBT bigotry and search for greater acceptance of the queer community as a whole, it is reassuring to know that we have all these brilliant witches on our side. Witchcraft comes in many forms, and might not be for everyone, but it’s clear to me that regardless of how much belief you hold in it, it is ultimately a force for good. I wish you all of you to practice a very joyous Samhain.