Witches freak me out. They’re the blue-haired weirdos who rock Demon Slayer graphic tees from Hot Topic. You know the type: the emo bitches that cake their faces with heavy eyeliner and fiddle with Ouija boards.
But who was I to fear? With my chestnut Uggslippers and AGOLDE 90’s jeans, I’m your typical girly-girl. You’ll often find me scrolling endlessly through Revolve scheming my next date night dress and spending hours blow-drying my hair. I like Panic at the Disco!, but I don’t think that counts.
So I surprised myself when I booked a $35 ticket to the Samhain Witches Ball.
Join us, as we celebrate the thinning of the veil between the worlds! Hosted by Jim “Raven” Stefanowicz, HP and the South Street Circle, our 2nd Annual Samhain Witches Ball will be a night of unity, community, celebration, and ancestral veneration.
Seems pretty harmless to me. With promises of a psychic reading, a food buffet, live music, dancing, and a costume contest, what was I to fear?
Adorned in black maxis, Doc Martens, and our $3 Amazon foldable witch hats, my two friends and I depart Luna on Pine to catch our ride. The moon casts shadows on the street as the wind slaps me across my face, catching me off guard. It’s the perfect night for witches to congregate.
Our ride drops us off at Haven Hall on 3528 Wharton St. I hesitantly step out of the car, giving the run-down brick building a wary look. My gut instinct is to tip my driver a twenty and hop back in. Should I back out? What if I get kidnapped? Why am I doing this? Madison jolts me out of my scrambling thoughts, pointing out the witch hat perched on a window on the second floor.
The wind tugs at my hair as my fingers dwell on the rusted doorknob, mustering courage to enter the dark building. My shoes squeak as I hoist myself up the stairs. As I walk in, a man in a jester costume introduces himself to me as Jim.
Jim ushers us to the dining hall, guiding us to a cozy corner with our table. The room is alight with the glow of pumpkin-shaped candles and twinkling mini trees adorning the five neighboring tables. A bar with an array of pink cocktails gleams at the room’s end, while the front houses the altar of the beloved dead. Jim invites us to place photographs of our dead on the table, amidst offerings of flowers, soul cakes, and fruit.
This scene strikes a familiar chord with me, echoing Korean jesa ceremonies. Following my grandpa’s passing at 40, we’ve honored him annually with his portrait, flanked by candles, rice cakes, and meat offerings. And I had a flashback to…
복음 학교, where good kids go. Good kids who listen to their parents. Good kids who follow the Ten Commandments. Good kids who dream of becoming pastors and missionaries.
I spent a month in a remote campsite nestled in the forests of rural South Korea, where our beds were the hard earth, showers were ice-cold, and services stretched on for 10 hours. As thirteen-year-olds, we confessed our sins and accepted Jesus Christ as our savior. I repented my struggles of being a self-idolizing overachiever. What a sin! My words elicited tears from the audience, and a pastor praised my strong faith.
Good girls don’t tell lies. Good girls don’t kiss other boys. Good girls don’t pocket dollars from the tithes box.
…To my surprise, the gathering at the witches ball is quite intimate, with about thirty people in attendance. The crowd is predominantly middle-aged. There is a sprinkling of young faces, perhaps in their thirties, but most are comfortably past forty-five. Far from the assembly of oddballs I had envisioned, these folks are strikingly ordinary. Yet their attire is anything but mundane. A scarecrow crowned with a vibrant green wig and centaur figures prancing about all contribute to the tapestry of the evening.
Ravenous, we head to the adjoining chamber to feast. The buffet lays spread with an abundance of dishes: hot chicken masala, grilled mixed vegetables, and fresh garden salad. This room also hosted the evening’s psychic reader, Lady Silver Wheel. In her corner, she was surrounded by flickering candles and water.
My friends and I keep our conversation to hushed tones, cautious not to utter anything that might seem out of place or offend the customs of the society. As the night progresses, a dance circle forms in the center of the room. Dancers sway rhythmically to the beat of pop tunes, their infectious laughter filling the hall.
We drift back to the psychic room, only to find a small line already formed. We brace for a bit of a wait.
Joy goes first.
Lady Silver Wheel asks her to choose between the candle and tarot reading. Joy hesitates, choosing the latter. The psychic then initiates the session, lighting the candles and pausing to observe their shifting form. She remarks on the strength of Joy’s flame, suggesting that she must have a strong sense of spirituality. Joy immediately deflects, as she is an atheist. The psychic persists, insisting that the flame hints at an unseen energy. The pulsing music starts to drown out their exchange.
At ten o’clock, it is time for the Samhain ritual.
Everyone congregates to the altar, all but a figure dressed head-to-toe in black cloth. Jim begins to chant unintelligible verses from an ancient book. Vincent anoints our left thumbs with oil, whispering blessings of “protection, health, and prosperity.”
Jim’s chants rise in a crescendo, his sword swinging towards the heavens in an unsettling fashion. A member of the audience reads a letter to their departed loved ones, and a collective stillness envelopes us as we take a moment of silence to reflect on our own beloved who are no longer. With no personal losses to contemplate, I stand there awkwardly, blankly staring at the wall. Sobs echo around me, and grief resonates even after the moment is over.
Lynchburg, Virginia, where I grew up, isn’t your typical college town. By the outskirts past the rusted gas station & half-lit flickering signs, we have the local dollar theater. Oh, and a McDonald’s.
Yet dotting the country roads is the striking red and blue flags of Liberty University: the Christian institution where girls can’t wear shorts and hushed stories of Falwell’s sex scandals saturate its pious walls.
The university’s influence overshadows all of Lynchburg. Children would often be found curled up with the Bible on the bus, and my friends would huddle in prayer over lunch every day. My mother’s theological musings filled every dinner table conversation, ramblings of Calvinist doctrine and tongues filling the air. My mother even pursued her second master’s in theology.
After battling colon cancer, my father’s single hope was for me to embrace religion. And so, dutiful daughter, I joined the herd of Lynchburg rednecks in donning flashy crosses and blasting Chris Tomlin. Yet when it came to talks of baptism, something tugged at me to resist rebirth.
My friend and I once discussed this matter in a late night call. “Do you believe in God?” It struck me with the same absurdity as if she had asked if aliens were real.
I mean, all the most brilliant people in the world seem to be atheists. The Nobel prize winners, the billionaires, the people with highest IQs. Steve Jobs. Charles Darwin. Elon Musk. It seems awfully convenient that those who face major life events, such as cancer or loss, are more likely to turn to religion. I had far too much pride to believe in a figure who I wasn’t even sure existed.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to burn in hell.
Jim’s voice fills the room once more, reciting “protection, health, and prosperity” repeatedly. He speaks of the protective powers of hazelnuts as Vincent distributes individual bags of them to the audience.
This feels all too familiar. My parents’ Korean church exudes a similar vibe, with chants of Bible verses and hymns saturating the air until their throats grow hoarse. What’s so different from a witch and a Christian?
The costume contest is a parade of crows and scarecrows, each busting out their slickest dance moves solo. Then the raffles are conducted. Eight prize baskets filled with witchcraft delights are distributed to the attendees. My ticket 00058 is never called.
When my mother used to tell me to avoid psychics, I would whole-heartedly agree. I mean, how is some old hag supposed to wield some cards that predict my future? All money making pyramid schemes, I thought to myself.
Madison and I return to the psychic room for my reading. Joy has departed, due to her early clinical the next day.
Lady Silver Wheel taps her fingernails on the worn table as she prompts, “What brings you here?”
I stall, then confess. “My parents are devout Christians, but I am experimenting. They’re not supportive of psychic readings, which has fueled my desire to get one done.”
“Well, elements of what might now be considered witchcraft were once more closely associated with early Christian practices, prior to the religion’s abolishment by the Roman Empire,” she says.
“Some depictions and texts illustrate a younger, beardless Jesus holding a magic wand, indicative of the miraculous acts he was said to perform. He was known for performing miracles alongside other witches. There’s a narrative that his disciples grew envious of the attention he received from prostitutes, leading to his banishment. The point is, Christianity used to be intertwined with witchcraft, and even in the Bible, certain miracles attributed to Jesus bear a striking resemblance to ancient practices.”
“Do you want a Christian or Pagan reading?” she asks, catching me off-guard. Does she still think I’m Christian? Am I a Christian?
“I’d like a more Pagan reading.”
“And would you like a candle or tarot card reading today?”
I opt for the candle reading.
Lady Silver Wheel pauses as she begins lighting the candles. “Take a deep breath in and out. Now do it again. Focus on the moment. Focus on peace, tranquility. Observe your flame; it’s quite faint. Take another deep breath…”
I breathe in and out, observing the gentle rise and fall of my chest, and for a moment I feel my vision blur, and my fingers shaking as I fixate on my suddenly racing heartbeat, my dissipating friendships, my sister’s college essays, my father’s surgery – all the things I possibly came here tonight in order to avoid.
…She stirs the molten wax, then shifts her gaze on me. “Has there been violence in your life in the past year?”
I am shocked. “Do you mean emotional or physical violence?” I inquire.
“Both are possible,” she says.
I nod. “I have experienced both in the past couple years, mainly from men.”
Lady Silver Wheel continues to observe the dripping wax as it clumps. “There’s hurt and turmoil within you. Many people have shattered your trust, and betrayal is a frequent shadow in your life. You have still not figured out how to heal from your past. Abandonment has been a recurring theme in your life, eroding your faith in others.”
Do I really have trust issues? That’s the consensus among my friends, and honestly, it rings true. Even in my current relationship I am that paranoid girlfriend, always on edge, still bearing the scars from my past: toxic exes, sexual trauma, parental abandonment…
“You are way too good to people. There are so many negative energies surrounding you that you must get rid of. They’re out to harm you. Your trust is a double-edged sword, often leading to being exploited and unappreciated. You are always on the giving side, never receiving. Notice these wax blobs? Tell me, do you currently have financial instability? Has something financially unstable happened two months ago?”
I pause. “My family cut me off financially two months ago, and has done it in the past.”
I suppose that I live in the shadow of the future, in constant fear of whether I will achieve my dreams of becoming a CISO and how much money I’ll make – all because I just want to be independent.
“You are very unstable. Your flame, though small, has been burning strong. It’s remarkable that you are still pushing through and remaining strong despite your fragility. You will work things out and push through this, like you have done in the past. But you cry and suffer alone because you have no shoulder to lean on.”
Then she offers a cleansing ritual to me.
“You must purge the malign energies to find your path to thriving and trusting again. On Wednesday, at dawn, before the full moon, scatter rose petals, a squeeze of lemon, a spritz of your favorite scent, and water over yourself. Start from your head, cascading down. Repeat come Friday at dawn. It’s a rebirth. The full moon harbors shadow, so finish before its descent. And carry black tourmaline. Wear it, place it by your bed. It’s your shield against the dark forces at play.”
I thank her profusely and tip her a $20.
As I wait for Madison’s reading to conclude, Vincent approaches me. “First time with us? What led you to South Street Circle?”
I tell him how I had found myself drawn to witchcraft recently, and had seen an article in the Philly Inquirer about their group. He tells me how he found the group himself back in 2017 after he graduated from Temple. “Journalism studies,” he says. “The circle’s always had this warm, inclusive vibe that really appeals to me. Jim tells me that South Street Circle was established as a safe space for witches to congregate, and it’s felt that way for me at every single event.”
I ask him how he would compare South Street Circle to other witchcraft communities? “I’m thinking of checking out a Theselis ritual this Saturday”, I say.
His expression shifts. A blend of wariness and concern emerging. “I checked out a Theselis ritual a couple years ago. Honestly, it threw me off – I left early because I felt unsafe. It was quite intense, almost cult-like, with people interacting in ways I wasn’t comfortable with. They were feeding and sucking on each other…”
I glance at Madison rising from her seat. “One last question. What books do you recommend for getting more into this space?”
“There’s a sea of authors out there chasing clout,” Vincent says, “and not all of them are genuine. But there are a few I trust: Scott Cunningham, the Three Initiates, Mat Auryn, Florence Scovel Shinn, and Neville Goddard stand out.”
It is almost midnight. Madison steps out from her session, bursting out in laughter. The psychic insists that her boyfriend has a baby mama; that there is a baby on the way that isn’t hers. The psychic recommends that she break up with him.
After chatting excitedly about our night, we part ways after stopping at Qdoba. I meet up with my boyfriend to recount the psychic’s words. He’s immediately dismissive. “C’mon, you know that stuff is all nonsense, right? It’s bullshit.”
But deep down, I wonder…is it really?
It’s Wednesday. The alarm blares at the ungodly hour of five in the morning. I groan, rolling around in my white sheets and stretching my back. The last thing I want is to get up. There’s a reason why my earliest class isn’t till noon. I am so exhausted, not to mention I have a stat midterm today. I weigh my options.
Option 1: I do the ritual, then carry on with my day.
Option 2: I retreat to bed and pretend that the whole talk with the psychic never happened.
Damn it. Paranoia overtakes me, and I catapult out of bed. I rummage around for my Chanel No. 5., then hobble over to the refrigerator, snatching my lemon juice en-route. I sluggishly snip my $10 Acme rose bouquet into segments.
The water hits me with an unforgiving chill. I let it run for a good five minutes, and a sense of dread begins to consume me as I reluctantly step into the shower, scattering rose petals across my body. I drizzle the mixture of lemon and perfume over my head. Am I supposed to chant? Is this a plunge into full-fledged witchcraft? I feel like someone else is watching. Is it God, perhaps? I can’t help but wonder what my mother would make of this.
The rose petals start to crowd the drain. I linger, anticipating some form of response. Sparks, maybe.
I race the full moon, repeating the rose petal cleansing ritual on Friday at dawn. My Amazon tourmaline stone sits on the edge of my nightstand.
In my Evaluating Evidence class, we learn how to defend a position on a variety of topics using the Socratic Method and Socratic Circle. Debates span multi-faceted issues like “Should the US implement Universal Basic Income?” and “Should NASDAQ Mandate Gender Diversity Quotas for Corporate Boards?” Weekly, the supporting and opposing teams construct arguments backed by three primary research sources. Members of the outer circle (the rest of the class) rigorously scrutinize argument validity, research flaws, confounding factors, etc.
Every weekly homework assignment includes the following question: Assuming you are an all-powerful but not all-knowing deity who is unconcerned with ethics, suggest an experiment and associated analysis that you could conduct to ascertain whether [insert topic of debate here]? Describe the experiment in detail and describe the statistical analysis you would conduct on the data generated by the experiment.
Following this structure, I’ve decided to design an experiment investigating whether witchcraft will help me get a job. With two upcoming interviews, one of which is for my dream job, I’m intrigued by the prospect of how witchcraft may contribute to my success.
In the teachings of Christianity, we are instructed to avoid being caught up in worldly temptations and materialistic desires. But I really want this job. And I want to make a fuck ton of money. Becoming a witch feels like a rebellion against every moral code instilled in me by my parents. I’ve always been taught to be humble, to not long for materialistic objects, and I know I’m treading on shaky ground, defying my childhood principles, and even the Ten Commandments. I grapple, I really do. But I’ll paint lamb’s blood on my door if that’s what it takes to get this goddamn job.
I’ve been conditioned for so long to believe that if I flipped to a page of a Merriam-Webster the definition of success would be scrawled across the page. I’ve been working my entire life to be something that I am not. I never take time to rewind, reflect, and breathe. It’s just push push push succeed grind grind succeed try try. What if I could have been a world-class golf player or car mechanic or screenwriter or yoga instructor? When I was a child I loved to paint. I was a little Picasso. The other day I sang in the shower and realized my voice isn’t too bad. I wish my mom had signed me up for voice lessons. I already play the part of someone who I am not in my day-to-day life. What if acting school could have worked out?
I’ve been taught that the only things that matter are to be good at piano & get all A’s & be funny & likable & hot & dress nicely because it matters so much what others think that I have never stopped to ponder what I truly like. I’ve rarely spent time trying something for myself – it’s always been for academic validation or for my parents or for you or for him or for her. I think that’s why it took me so long to finally figure out what I’m truly passionate about and what I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s time for me to dare to try, to dare to step foot into what’s impossible and cross the boundaries of what’s not because who the fuck should ever determine what I can do/not do.
Maybe it’s time to go back to being Picasso.
On the other hand, I should get back to interview prepping. Studying for my GMATs. Getting CompTIA Security+ certified. Learning LBO modeling.
Do you spend your wage before it even arrives in your bank? Are you sick of working to death on a job that pays peanuts? Or are you just fed up with being broke all the time and in need of a regular injection of cash? This spell will help you to land a job to suit your needs – whether it’s to pay for your everyday living expenses or go on that holiday you’ve been dreaming of.
Sounds like something I can use.
I gather my ingredients in my apartment: a piece of green paper, a gold pen, three mint leaves, a teaspoon of dried sage, one gold candle, a candle holder, and a lighter.
I’m supposed to cast this spell on either a full moon, Thursday, or a waxing moon. Since both the waxing and full moons have recently passed, I choose the following Thursday. I carefully etch a gold pentagram on my green paper, ensuring it resembles something like this: In the pentagram’s center, I inscribe the word JOB. Around it, I write descriptions of my dream job. NYC. Internship. Consulting.
Shredding the mint leaves into tiny bits, I arrange them along with the dried sage within the pentagram. Placing the candle holder atop the herbs, I ignite the gold candle.
As the flame dances, I softly utter the words:
“Goddess Morrigan, hear my plea
Send me a job to help my needs
Give me a job that I will love,
I send this message to you above.”
I let the candle flicker out and take the paper to the nearest window. I blow its contents into the air.
A couple of days before my final interview, I opt for a change in scenery. At exactly midnight, I stroll to Clark Park. It might not be the wisest choice, given it’s Philly, but it’s been my escape since freshman year. Seating myself on a swing, I sit in silence for a bit, gently swaying.
For this bay leaf ritual promising success, I’ve brought with me two bay leaves, ten grams of camphor, and a permanent marker. I minutely scrawl “Jenny Ham,” “July 4, 2003,” and “Cancer” onto the bay leaf. Following the instructions, I’m prompted to articulate my wish in the present tense. I inscribe “I have a new job” while strongly believing that I’ve gotten my wish. Swirling the leaf in the winter air three times I watch as it becomes one with the earth.
It’s getting chilly. I ignite my camphor with a lighter and set the leaf ablaze. As it burns, I chant protection, health, and prosperity over and over. I blow the resulting ash into the air.
I’ve always been independent. My mother tells me that I was holding my own bottle at three months of age. She’d hand me math workbooks to work on while she was at church meetings, and I’d breeze through them in a week. I’d read in the library alone until the security guard would kick me out at closing time. I taught myself how to hack a Raspberry Pi, how to perfect a ponytail, how to play clarinet.
Growing up in rural Virginia, I’ve had to brute-force my way into getting the things I wanted: Governor’s School acceptance. 1st place in hacking competitions. 1590 SAT. Valedictorian. Ivy League CS degree.
But my luck’s run out. I sigh, scrolling through another “We appreciate the time you took to apply for this position” email. It’s been a rough semester. I’ve been eyeing this job posting at my dream consulting firm for a while. I’ve been case prepping and networking for months, but I am scared I will screw up this interview. I mean, that’s what the other 7 companies I got interviews from seem to agree on: that under the prestigious degree and polished resume, I am a glamourized fuck-up.
It’s now 24 hours before my final round, and I’m freaking out. I haven’t slept in 35 hours and am on my second Monster. I recite my presentation for the 100th time and review my 20-page document of STAR interview responses. I’m ready, but I can’t trust that I will succeed.
I reflect on Lady Silver Wheel’s comment on my trust issues. I wonder what fuels this fear of trust. Is it my independence? Is it the fact that everyone, including myself, continues to let me down?
In psychology, the concept of internal vs. external locus of control comes into play. People with internal locus of control believe that they control their life’s outcomes, that they’re responsible for their actions, and that they are the main force in their life. People with external locus of control believe that external factors are the main contributing forces into how their life turns out, and that they don’t have the authority over what’s happening.
I embody the internal locus of control to an extreme degree. And now, I want to entertain the idea of relying on the external locus of control. For the first time, I decide to place trust in something beyond myself.
I trust that the rituals work. I trust in myself. And I trust in the future, allowing its magic to unfold.
And it works.
The first 60-minute interview flies by. I breeze through my presentation. It’s an energy rush like no other, and I’ve never connected with an interviewer like that before. We giggle about cloud security lingo, we bond over our favorite books (Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, by the way). The second interview proves more challenging due to its nature as a traditional case interview. Yet my interviewer and I find common ground in our love for running. He recommends Chris Goggins’ motivational podcasts.
I’ve secured the job. I feel it in my soul. And soon after, I receive a call from my recruiter extending the offer.
Witchcraft has helped me achieve success, but not in the way I was thinking. It has served as a catalyst for healing my trust issues and overcoming my past. For the first time, I feel at peace with who I am.
I reject my null hypothesis that witchcraft will not increase my success. I accept my alternate hypothesis: that as an all-powerful but not all-knowing deity who is unconcerned with ethics, witchcraft increases my success.
I’m woken up to the sound of my mom praying. Our fridge plays Christian piano hymns as I cook avocado toast before Sunday church. I pass my dad and my sister, who are hunched over her application to serve as a missionary in Jejudo for the next six months.
My crystals rest on my suitcase. I tuck them away. After all, I’ve got to keep my little secret.