AUTHOR’S NOTE: This Q&A is published as an addendum to the 21stCentury Witches article published in DOPE’s 2018 December Women’s Issue. That piece misrepresented its subject Ylva Mara by not making a distinction between non-aligned witchcraft traditions like Dianic Wicca and the efforts of Mara and Cunning Crow to develop a more intersectional conception of witch that includes all marginalized groups within their community. To correct the oversight, this Q&A will allow her initial interview responses the space to stand on their own. Mara’s responses are hers and have only been edited lightly.
Ylva Mara began dabbling in witchcraft when she was 13, around the same time she started exploring gender.
Though raised in a staunchly Catholic household, Mara knew her grandmother as a reluctant psychic, and in adolescence started experiencing trances that lasted from six to 12 hours, during which she’d usually retreat to the swamps surrounding her childhood home in northern Florida for solitude. Not long after, she founded a coven.
Today, Mara is the transgendered proprietress and high priestess of The Cunning Crow Apothecary and Teaching Temple in Seattle, comprised of a small metaphysical shop and adjoining common room used for everything from seances to webinars and addiction recovery groups. She founded the space in 2010 to function as a community hub for witches and other local spiritualists, but never anticipated the groundswell of interest her faith would receive in the years that followed.
Between shows like “American Horror Story: Coven” and flashy #WitchesOfInstagram posts selling handmade magic supplies, pop culture portrayals in recent years have risked reducing witches to a trendy shorthand for female empowerment. Mara talks to DOPE about what the modern resurgence of interest in witchcraft is missing, and why definitions of witch must be broadened to reflect the many marginalized groups – beyond just cis white feminists – it represents.
DOPE Magazine: What do you think are the major reasons people come to witchcraft?
Ylva Mara: The witch has always been the steward of sovereignty for those most marginalized by the oppression of society. The witch has always been a safe place for those whose existence serves as a threat against the ideals of a forced majority… a refugee for those who do not subscribe to conventions. Witch has never forgotten the inherent power of nature. We are disrupters of status quo and I believe that as more and more people wake up to their responsibilities to one another and our work in the world [they will realize] that this power is theirs to tend. This power rises through the knowledge that the authority assumed by others, over another’s life, is a false authority. The power of accountability to our proximity to privilege, the power of voice and choice … is one of the only authentic powers we have. The power to align ourselves with magic, this power lives inside of them.
Many folx who come to our temple and our shop are hungry for a new way of being in their lives. They are looking for ways to honorably wield their magic in serving their communities. They are looking for ways to use those magic in empowering the changes we see happening in the world around us. Many folx turn to magic because magic is calling us home again. The beauty of our modern world is that so many people have access to this call. Our hope is that once it is answered they dig deeper and turn their craft to the service of others. Additionally, people are turning to magic and the spirit of witch to push through the static of our modern world, to break through the glamour of complacency. Ours is a hungry world, those turning to magic and witchcraft may also feel the desperation of this hunger. This is a hunger only fed through an authentic and personal connection with our inherent magic. We are so disconnected from ourselves, our roots, that it’s nearly impossible to connect through spirit to community. We have been kept so far from our magic and for so long by colonial supremacy, that as the systems that uphold the veil crumble … we are witnessing waves of remembering in would be witches.
How do witchcraft and gender/femininity relate, for you?
Witch has been a title given to those who hold wisdom and power. We know that in supremacy culture, particularly within colonial white supremacy, anyone who represents an identity outside of the culture of supremacy, is a threat. When those folx also possess wisdom and power, they become even more of a threat to the tenuous authority of supremacy. If we think about those who’ve historically posed the biggest threat to systems that perpetuate supremacist culture, they are black, brown and indigenous people of color. They are those who exist outside cis-gender and heterosexual centrism. They are non-binary and trans folx. They are queers. They are femmes. They are the disabled and the marginalized. The witch has always been the face and force behind movements of cultural change, including feminism. One thing to note however, is that Witch, like gender, is not limited to the binary of cis-centric, colonial, white supremacy. Witches CAN be women. Witch is NOT woman. Witch is revolution. Witch is genderless. Witch is a battle cry without constraint of language or allegiance to state. Magic is a faithless devotion belonging to everyone. Much like how our modern feminism must be intersectional to make any real impact … magic must also [be intersectional].
Why do you think the current resurgence of interest in witchcraft is happening now?
I think that our world needs magic. Magic needs witch to wield it … witch is one word for the keepers of earth honoring wisdom. Honestly, the witch isn’t the only force of spirit rising in the world. there is a surge of young folx turning to the Abrahamic faiths as well. There is a hunger for soul, for connection to source, Magic is a faithless devotion. It belongs to any person of spirit who walks with faith. I teach that magic has no affinity except to what lives in the heart of the one who wields it. I have seen many people of faith act with kindness and I have seen many people of faith act with cruelty. I think that the Witch is waking and rising in prevalence because of the things I’ve discussed above. There is a deep need for an anti-racist, anti-supremacist, anti-cis/het/sexist, anti-xenophobic, anti-ableist, intersectional cultural shift. Witch has the capacity to hold the cultural complexities and social justice narrative necessary to invoke a truly inclusive cultural shift.
What are your biggest concerns about witchcraft becoming more trendy, or tied to a specific political stance?
One of my biggest concerns is rooted in one of my biggest joys in regards to the rise of modern witch, which is social media accessibility. The depth of magic and the art of the witch is now available at our finger tips. This is fucking awesome. Anyone with a penchant and a curiosity for the craft can find almost anything they could ever want in regards to information about Witchcraft. What concerns me about this accessibility is that what can’t be so easily procured through social media is the soul and spirit of the Witch; we are not for sale. This can only be cultivated through personal practice. I know that a lot of witches have feelings about the fashionability of the modern witch … in my mind I say … well, however a witch comes home their sibling witches must welcome them. It’s my hope that burgeoning witches find the resources being provided by stewards rooted in the craft. That they seek out new opportunities to deepen and explore their craft with trusted leaders, teachers and communities. In addition to The Cunning Crow Apothecary and Witches Teaching Temple, folx whose work I love and are doing just that:
- The HoodWitch
- Olde Ways Apothecary
- The Mexican Witch
- Haus of Hoodoo
- Good Fight Herb Co.
- Dori Midnigth
- The Portland School of Astrology
- Kook Teflon
- The Full Time Witch
What’s your stance on casting curses or hexes?
I believe that our work as witches is first in for most to serve as stewards of sovereignty. In particular the sovereignty of those who are most underrepresented in common culture and those who are actively oppressed by systems of supremacy. As the craft of which becomes more popular and more accessible, folks are turning towards the power of magic in effort to reclaim their personal authorities and to reaffirm their sovereignty in life. With all of the work being done by activists and witches to dismantle colonial, cis-centric, white supremacy and its cultural legacy of violence against those it marginalizes. Those underrepresented in the conversations about change are beginning to reclaim our voices. We are starting to remember our power and as we do we are wanting to wield it in the further dismantling of the systems that silenced us.
My thoughts on hexing are that there are times for such workings but the cost to the witch and their community is high. There are much more effective and clever ways to accomplish the goals of a hex without casting them. I teach my students that a true witch can break the spell of another without compromising the integrity of their own altar. My default is to offer spells of empowerment to those fighting to abolish supremacy culture. My first response is to cast protections around those made most vulnerable by systemic oppression. My direct action usually involves a banishment of those perpetuating violence and harm rather than hexing them.
When I think back to the months following the 2016 presidential election, there were so many conversations calling witches to hex Donald Trump. When I think of the anatomy and physiology of a hex, the energy required to fuel the hex require the binding of life force. A curse affects not just the target but everything it is in relationship with, including those casting it. In regard to Trump, all those hexes were directed to him in relationship to his ill-appointment as president of a colonizing, white supremacist government. All the power associated with that title, all the energy and life force woven into the seat and title of president would have also been bound into those spells. The result being a doubling down of his violent regime … the consequences being an increase in volatile policies enacted against marginalized communities.
Hexes are necessary as a last resort. These times call for spells of banishment, rituals of empowerment and protection, and the ceremonies to break the staves of power being wielded by ill-anointed leaders like Trump and his legion of white supremacists. If your first impulse is to hex, or your understanding of the circumstances are limited, your actions will be out of desperation and likely the results they yield will be desperate. However, there most certainly are those witches whose altars, skills, understanding of the craft, relationships with magic, and spirits are deeply aligned to and able to navigate the complexities of hexcraft and curse work with ease. Those witches know who they are and they know what they are doing. IF a witch doesn’t know what they are doing … better seek out one who does and begin to learn the ways they are being called to.
What are the most prevalent forms of anti-witch discrimination you see today.
I can’t help but feel that in addition to all of the above…. witches are still being erased due to binary opposition. What I mean is that I hear a lot of folx say, “You’re a witch? oh, so you don’t believe in God/Jesus/Science?” What people forget is that the Witch invented God. We invented Science, and mystics like Jesus Christ served at the altar of Witch as they conjured a faith rooted in the magic of compassion, sovereignty and love. The Witch doesn’t exist despite or because of anything other than the Witch themselves. We exist as an embodiment of nature, wild and urban. The only other force of discrimination I think the Witch faces are those that give rise to opposition and binary. The same forces we are and have always been tasked with dismantling.