Photo credit: Sylvie Rosokoff
When we meet someone new, my husband likes to introduce me as, “My wife, Pam, Professional Witch.” He does this from a place of pride certainly, but also because he’s a rascal who gets a kick out of surprising people. He’s a priest’s kid — or “P.K.” as I’ve learned they’re called — and so the idea that he ended up married to someone like me still gives him a frisson of rebelliousness. (His father and I adore each other, for the record, and have both politely avoided discussing that whole “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” bit in the Bible.)
Besides, he is technically correct: though I’ve been a writer and curator who has focused on magic and witches for most of my life, within the last two years I’ve had the good fortune of getting to do it full time, thanks in part to my new book, Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power
. These days, I spend my time researching and writing about witches, and mulling over why they matter, what they tell us about ourselves, and what they mean to me as both a feminist and a practicing Pagan. I suppose you could say this witch has gone pro.
It wasn’t always so though, and it certainly isn’t the case for most people who identify as witches today. I know lawyers, chefs, marketing executives, college professors, fitness coaches, and drag queens, not to mention one mighty dominatrix, who have witchcraft practices. For them, as it is for many, balancing work and magical workings, vocation and invocation, can be a tricky thing to pull off.
I know because I did it myself for 14 years. Working as Director of Visual Trends for a stock photography company was pretty great as far as day jobs go. It was a creative environment, which meant I could dress how I wanted, and the people in my department tended to be relatively open-minded, as a lot of them were artistic souls with side gigs themselves. But I was all too aware that I was employed by a corporation, and so I was mindful about how much of my magical identity to reveal to the people with whom I spent most of my waking hours.
It’s not that I was entirely witch-cognito, as anyone who knew me knew that witches were an interest of mine, or most likely noticed my affinity for lunar jewelry and shadowy fabrics (though it’s true that plenty of Muggle Manhattanites dress much the same way). But my beliefs weren’t something I discussed at length with my coworkers for some of the same reasons I never asked any of them what they believe or who they pray to: spiritual talk is usually discouraged in professional settings, especially those with HR departments. And if I’m honest, I also wanted to be taken seriously, and not be dismissed as irrational or outrageous. The stigma about witches is still very much with us, and it was difficult enough to get respect as a female business leader without adding a pointy hat to the mix.
In casting off some of my own anxiety about how I might be perceived, I shape-shifted into someone stronger.
At times it felt like I was leading a double life. There were Mondays when I’d show up at my desk bleary-eyed after spending a weekend doing rituals in the woods with my coven, or moments when I felt distracted in a meeting because I wished we were talking about returning to wildness instead of ROI.
But there were also of times when it felt like each side of myself enhanced the other. My witchcraft was a source of focus and fortification which made me a more purposeful employee. And the work I did at my job sharpened my skills as a writer, a collaborator, and eventually, a public speaker about the importance of making images of female empowerment.
This work wasn’t “traditional” witchcraft perhaps, but it did have me casting a transformative, visual spell of sorts.
I didn’t speak in these terms with clients or colleagues of course. But as my witchcraft emboldened me to stand up for my personal values at work, so too did I begin bringing more of my witchly self to the office in other ways.
In my cubicle, I placed a small figure of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon, wilderness, and independence. I put out bouquets of flowers on certain Pagan holy days. I talked more about my fascination with witches and began inviting coworkers to my occult art shows and events. Even if I didn’t refer to myself as a witch outright in their presence, I think most of them got the gist. And I started to feel a bit less compartmentalized within the cauldron of my psyche, which was a relief. In casting off some of my own anxiety about how I might be perceived, I shape-shifted into someone stronger, steadier, and more self-possessed.
Even though I’m working for myself now, I still have to navigate people’s assumptions about what a witch is. I still have to put up with jokes from nervous acquaintances about curses and newts’ eyes, and reassure those whose only frame of reference for witches are the blood-lusty devil worshipers they learned about from horror movies or restrictive religious lore.
But identifying as a witch has actually made me fiercer in my love. It has increased my compassion for the outcast and the vulnerable. It has made me feel more connected to — and more protective of — the bodies and the earth that we dwell within. It has helped me learn to honor my shadows and my shine.
Writing about the witch has allowed me to delve deeper into why this archetype is so crucial to understanding the fears and fantasies we have about women. It has taught me that female power is scary only to people who seek to control it. But it has also shown me that those of us who choose to walk the witch’s path — whether spiritually or politically, figuratively or literally — are led to a new paradigm of feminine power. Witches are unapologetically complex and infinitely creative. They remake themselves and the world.
And that is necessary work indeed.
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is the creator and host of The Witch Wave
podcast and the author of What Is a Witch
. She is cofounder of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU, and her art exhibitions and magical projects have been featured in The New York Times
, and The New Yorker
. Her writing has appeared in such outlets as Sabat Magazine
, HuffPost, and her occulture blog, Phantasmaphile
. For her work as the Director of Visual Trends at Getty Images, she was chosen as one of Adweek’s Creative 100 and Marie Claire’s “20 Women Changing The Ratio.” She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two feline familiars.