By Michelle Goldberg
On a Wednesday evening…I sat in on a class called “Witchcraft 101: Curses, Hexes and Jinxes,” at Catland, a fashionable occult boutique in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More than a dozen people, most of them young women, sat in folding chairs in the store’s black-walled event space. The instructor was one of Catland‘s co-owners, Dakota Bracciale, a charismatic, foul-mouthed 28-year-old former M.A.C. makeup artist dressed in flowing black, with a beard and long, lavender nails.
“If you’re not ready to admit that the universe is chaos, I’m not sure how far you’re going to go,” Bracciale said to the class, describing witchcraft as a way to exercise power in a world without transcendent moral rules, a supernatural technology for taking care of yourself when no one else will. Witchcraft, Bracciale said, lets you be the “arbiter of your own justice.”
I suspect that this assumption of chaos – the sense that institutions have failed and no one is in charge – helps explain the well-documented resurgence of occultism among millennials. Attempts at spell-casting are obviously not unique to today’s young people; the Washington writer and hostess Sally Quinn just published a book in which she boasts about hexing the renowned magazine editor Clay Felker, my former journalism professor, before his death from cancer. Still, magic and witchcraft have a renewed cachet, one that seems related to our current climate of political and cultural breakdown….
Theosophy, the mother of all new age movements, was founded in the 19th century as the discoveries of Charles Darwin undermined faith in Christian creation stories, which led some to abandon religion altogether but others to embrace new forms of mysticism. The rise of occultism among the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s befuddled scholars who assumed that American society was moving toward ever-greater secularism. The dominant sociological model of the time, a University of Chicago professor wrote in 1970, “cannot cope with the new manifestations of the sacred on the college campus and in the communes where the collegians go when they flee from the campus.”
Catland has held three packed ceremonies to hex Trump, which involve the use of “cursing ingredients” as well as the recitation of Psalm 109: “Let his days be few, and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg; let them seek their bread also from their desolate places.”