Written by Margo Skornia
Photo by Katherine Hanlin
Witchcraft is on the rise in America. A report from Trinity College found that the number of Wiccans in this country has nearly doubled since 2008. This is not the first time practitioners’ numbers have swelled. In times of anxiety and uncertainty, witchcraft has proved appealing to women who have lost faith in institutions and have instead turned to each other. Witchery, by nature and design, encourages collaboration. It is inherently anti-authoritarian and opposes dogmatisms. Witches and covens develop their own rituals as they see fit. They adopt what works for them and reject what doesn’t. Witchcraft is a deeply individualized practice, but also one that is strengthened by partnership.
This is why another trend I’ve seen is so disturbing. The girlbosses have found witchcraft, and they’re eating it alive.
Girlboss witchery is witchcraft reflected through the funhouse lens of the patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.
Girlbossery, as I see it, is a gross blend of capitalism and pseudo-feminism. Of course, capitalism relies on the unpaid labor that is traditionally left to women. It’s a lot easier to work a full 40 hours per week when you’re not doing your own laundry or cooking your own dinners. Because of this, capitalism and women’s liberation are inherently at odds. Girlbossery, however, pretends this contradiction does not exist. In fact, it argues, women have to embrace capitalism in order to become their loveliest, richest, and therefore best selves. Beauty and wealth are unnatural concepts. We are not born to be attractive, nor is our sole purpose to accumulate as much capital as we can. So how do the industrialists, capitalists, and (girl)bosses convince us the opposite is true?
Witchcraft has, for centuries, belonged to the poor, the ugly, and the lonely. Girlbossery tells women that to be any of these things is unacceptable.
One trick girlbosses have tried is to co-opt girls’ language, jargon, and practices. This theft of women’s rituals is nothing new. The transformation of self-care into #SelfCare is a phenomenon that has been well documented. Self-care, a term that has become so commodified and twisted that I am loath to use it, is a legitimate tool for empowerment, especially women’s empowerment. It teaches us to look out for ourselves and (this is important) each other. It promotes love under a system that thrives on fear and hate. However, it’s been stolen and weaponized. Self-care has become the attractive and Instagrammable #SelfCare. The well women drank from has been poisoned. Instead of taking action to genuinely better our mental and physical health, women are encouraged to purchase self-care kits, focus on beauty, and keep working. Buy stuff. Stay fuckable. Do your job.
Witchcraft has, for centuries, belonged to the poor, the ugly, and the lonely. Girlbossery tells women that to be any of these things is unacceptable. Girlbosses don’t associate their worth with their wealth, but still strive to Make that Moolah!They recognize and embrace their flaws, so long as those flaws fall within an acceptable range of beauty. The end goal is always beauty. Ugliness, and even plainness, are impermissible. Girlbosses are so focused on #NoBadVibes that real negative emotions like loneliness, anger, and fear are quashed. This has been proven time and again to be unhealthy. Beauty and commercialism throttle genuine love and self-advocacy.
But no cost is too great if it allows the Girlboss to get in touch with her spiritual side. Cleanse your room of evil spirits with this smudging kit from Walmart! Stop bad dreams with any of the dozens of dream catchers available on Amazon! Want to find out your spirit animal? Check out this quiz!
Still more sinister is the whiteness of it all. Girlboss witchcraft (and, to some extent, American witchcraft as a whole) has a major problem with whiteness. Namely, girlboss witches have a disturbing habit of thieving from Indigenous cultures and using or selling sacred or coveted practices, rituals, and goods. To pillage others’ religions, to rifle through cultures and pick out the shiny bits, embodies white nationalism in a way that cannot be underestimated. It drowns Native voices, destroys generations of knowledge, and in some cases, actively contributes to the eradication of sacred materials. The baffling thing is that this thievery is completely unnecessary, as American and European witches have long standing magical traditions of their own. (I recommend any of Eric Maple’s excellent books on the subject.)
But no cost is too great if it allows the Girlboss to get in touch with her spiritual side. Cleanse your room of evil spirits with this smudging kit from Walmart! Stop bad dreams with any of the dozens of dream catchers available on Amazon! Want to find out your spirit animal? Check out this quiz! As in the case of self-care, we see girlbosses stealing tools and practices which are deeply sacred and important the original practitioners. In the hands of the girlboss, however, they serve only to increase the health of the bottom line. Girlboss witchery is witchcraft reflected through the funhouse lens of the patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.
And worse, it’s for sale! The internet is full of goodies, packages, and gifts with a vaguely magical aura. The content of these objects is telling. The crone, for example, is notably missing. The maiden and mother, the younger, sexier, more desirable aspects of women, get plenty of attention. The wizened, sexless crone – the third stage of a woman’s life, in which she is no longer beautiful, but wise – is absent. Because, at its heart, girlboss witchcraft is not about representation. It’s about marketing. There are plenty of older witches in this country, but they are less likely to use Etsy or Instagram than younger women, and therefore less likely to encounter witchy advertisements or products. They’re not worth the advertisers’ time and, worse, they have no appeal in advertisements. Beauty and cash reign. Ugly women and poor women are worthless to the beautiful, wealthy girlboss. Above all else, stay fuckable and buy stuff.
The crone, for example, is notably missing. The maiden and mother, the younger, sexier, more desirable aspects of women, get plenty of attention.
Witchcraft is deeply, truly feminist. Girlbossery needs women to hate ourselves. Otherwise, how would the girlbosses sell us their shit? Eliminate your unsightly acne with this Magickal Face Mask! Your water bottle is worthless without a chunk of rose quartz! Witchery enables women to embrace our ugliness, our wickedness, and our fury. Girlbossery suffocates these under layers of the pastel velveteen of #NoBadVibes #SelfCare.
Witchcraft and capitalism cannot cohabitate. Let’s embrace the former and watch the latter burn. Witches have to rely on one another; capitalism forces us apart. The girlbosses can’t trick us into fighting each other or hating ourselves. Our magic is too strong for that.
About the Author: Margo Skornia is an MFA candidate in dramaturgy at the University of Iowa. She has written film criticism and other feminist work for The Cinegogue. Her other writing can be found here: https://firstname.lastname@example.org.