It’s only been two years, but 2015’s basic bitch has grown up and morphed into a beautiful new cultural subtype: the basic witch.
It might be strange to think that the pumpkin latte-sipping Lululemon-wearing Katy Perry fan of yesteryear now experiments with witchcraft. And in many parts of the country, saying that you’re a witch who belongs to a feminist coven is more likely to get you hatemail from your neighbors than faves on your Instagram.
The basic witch is still a baby little stereotype, more likely to be found in Urban Outfitters-branded cities than small town America. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Lifestyle brands have been working tirelessly to commodify bitchcraft culture for years now, before finally giving birth to the basic witch in recent years.
Now she is finally coming out of her cave — and into the world to hock candles.
The term “basic witch,” I know, reeks of a kind of glib internet-insular condescension. But screw it: this kind of witch does exist in nature, or at least progressive fashion circles in Los Angeles. And she’s mostly here to do good, not evil, even if her brand of witchcraft ends up being largely self-indulgent.
No need to go on a basic witch hunt. Here’s how to spot one.
To identify a basic witch, you need to look no further than her apartment: flush with light woods and feminist incense and anti-patriarchal throw pillows. Walk into her living room and feel your spirit lift next to the Angel Aura Quartz, available for $40 via online witchcraft superstore The Witchery. Take a deep breath as you pass the white quartz crystal mobile in the kitchen ($29, Urban Outfitters) and an even bigger one when you spray on witchy, crystal-based Tiger’s Eye fragrances. Light this limited edition $125 solstice candle, sold and produced by two Brooklyn branding professionals.
And if you’re just feeling down from centuries of oppression, you might want a dose of the $25 Witches, Bitches, and Hoes Elixir from online retailer Otherwild.
Not all witches are women, though most self-identified ones are.
Today’s basic witch doesn’t wear pointy black hats or long flowing capes. You’re more likely to find her in a hot pink queer witch tank, with some Craft-inspired heavy black make-up, floating as she glides under some sort of Stevie Nicks inspired shawl.
Full disclosure: I’m not making fun. I love this shit.
The basic witch refers to her main group of female friends as her coven. They’re likely to have a coven GroupChat or a coven Facebook group everyone finds slightly annoying. Together, they cast watered down spells at bachelorettes, cursing anyone who threatens to get in their best witch’s way.
Don’t know of any basic witches? Head to a juice bar where you’re likely to find at least one downing some kind of overpriced drank sweetened with moon dust (don’t ask). Or poolside at a party, reading from one of the hottest Tarot card decks of the season.
“Go ahead, be a witch this summer,” Vogue enjoined their readers in Summer 2016.
In 2017, anyone can become a witch — and many are, especially those with significant purchasing power.
We’re rebooting ’90s witch feminism
The commodification and lifestyle-ification of witchcraft isn’t exactly new. For centuries, the witch has been a powerful symbol for women seeking spiritual iconography outside of the patriarchy. Witches — sexually autonomous women who exercise control over men and who often operate in female-only species — were the ideal mascot for the Generation X alterna feminists of the ’90s. We have witches to thank for The Craft, Buffy, and the best sections of Hot Topic.
Millennial women are undoubtedly feeling nostalgic about the ’90s witch. Who can blame them?
They’re empowered. They’re skillful. They’re hot.
At the stroke of midnight
Feb 24, March 26, April 24, May 23
Ingredients can b found online
— Lana Del Rey (@LanaDelRey) February 24, 2017
“The witch is having a moment,” Kristen J. Sollée writes in her recently published book, Witches Sluts and Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. “Film and television with tales of witches and otherworldly women . . . and runways are replete with occult symbolism. For the newly anointed “generation witch,” empowerment is central to her appeal.”
Take a look at the numbers. Hoodwitch, a web store for the modern mystic, boasts 174,000 followers. Witchery Way has 41,900 followers. There’s also Gala Darling, a witch-identified Instagram influencer, with 58,900 followers and counting.
Anne Alexander, who founded the artist collective Witches of Bushwick in 2012, isn’t surprised that witchcraft has taken off as a spiritual practice as well as a feminist political aesthetic.
“The concept is powerful,” Alexander told Mashable. “It suggests that there’s always something to be feared.”
And it’s President Trump and the Republican Party, who spent the past decade calling Hillary Clinton a witch, who’ve probably done more than anyone else to contribute to the growth of modern witchcraft. Women, including different witch-identified activists, showed up in full force at women’s marches all across the country in January, and cast spells against the candidate during the election.
“It is no coincidence that in a time where bodily autonomy isn’t guaranteed for women or people of color or LGBTQ+ folks in America — and nor is basic healthcare — that witchy remedies and potions are trending,” Sollée told Mashable.
But as witches and witchy aesthetics move into the mainstream, some fear that she may lose the anti-corporate potion that gives her the most strength.
Forget what she may tell you. The basic witch is bourgie.
Still, don’t give up on the basic witch yet
What makes the “basic witch” different from earlier breeds of witches is her spiritual commitment to consumerism. If early generations of witches turned to witchcraft as as a spiritual practice or political aesthetic, the basic witch identifies with witchcraft as a lifestyle brand, nothing more.
It’s a tension all too familiar to the feminist movement, who want to see their outsider culture go mainstream without losing its heart. Any time a slogan becomes popular and marketable — whether it’s #NeverthelessShePersisted tattoos or a $75 Marc Jacobs safety pin ring — it risks severing itself from its spiritual and political roots. As Sellés argues, how radical can a “Witch, Please” beanie be if its made with sweatshop labor — a practice which liberates one class of women and virtually enslaves another?
You don’t need to fight for social justice or work for sexual liberation to pick up a witchy throw pillow. You just need a credit card.
After all, you don’t need to fight for social justice or work for sexual liberation to pick up a witchy throw pillow. You just need a credit card.
“With this level of visibility,” Alexander asks, “At what point does it become so watered down you lose your culture?”
To be fair, it can be hard to distinguish the basic witch from her more socially- and spiritually-minded brethren. The boundaries are tenuous. Maybe the basic witch doesn’t show up to protests or sign the Change.org petitions. She may just need the aesthetic to feel personally empowered — and assuming that doesn’t slip over into selfishness, it’s a beautiful thing.
And transformation is possible. Purchasing a mass market crystal doesn’t automatically turn you into a political activist or spiritual practitioner of the form. But that doesn’t mean some of these witchy candles and tarot decks can’t act as a gateway commodity for something more meaningful.
When a subculture is mainstreamed, it builds followers among whole groups of people who might not otherwise have access to it. The risks of mainstreaming are just as significant as its benefits it may bring.
The basic witch might very well be on a journey to become a more socially conscious kind of witch. Or not.
“These retailers are undoubtedly cashing in on witchcraft and tapping into the spiritual-industrial complex to sell spooky swag, but they can sometimes be a gateway into worlds your average kid might not have access to otherwise,” Sollée told Mashable.
The basic witch might very well be on a journey to become a more socially conscious kind of witch. Or not. Instead of shaming basic witches the way we once scorned basic bitches, we should hold them accountable when their consumerism slips into exploitation, then take time to reflect on our own seemingly basic behaviors.
Come on. Wouldn’t this facial cleanser go great in your bathroom?
Let’s all collectively cast a spell and hope for a world where the power of our symbols matches the power of our words. Aesthetics are sometimes the key to action. No matter how hard we try, we can’t wave a wand and wish the nuances away.