HEATHER Blanchard is enjoying a Friday evening in.
But instead of pouring a glass of wine and firing up Netflix, the 34 year old writer is casting a spell.
The new moon makes it a crucial time for magic-making, so Heather lights a cedar incense stick, puts a yellow crystal in her purse and a heart-shaped trinket in the pocket of her jeans.
Her aim? To conjure up money.
During each step, Heather whips out her iPhone to post the moment on Instagram, signing it off with the hashtag #witchy.
A quick search online reveals she’s not alone.
In fact, over 398,000 posts are tagged this way.
Another half a million use the word #witches, while there are nearly three-quarters of a million postings of #witchcraft.
Each one accompanies filtered, stylised shots ranging from tarot cards to spell books.
That’s because Heather – and many like her – are modern-day witches or pagans, fuelled by social media.
“There are loads of us on Instagram and Facebook,” explains Heather.
“We chat daily, sharing spells and our experiences, and come from all walks of life. It’s a real sisterhood.”
But bearing in mind women like Heather used to be drowned for their beliefs – and in Tanzania, hundreds of women are still murdered for supposedly being witches – what’s behind this new out-in-the-open attitude?
“For a long time the topic was taboo and deemed sinister and dangerous,” explains spiritual life coach Jo Westwood.
“It’s only in the last few years people have become more comfortable talking about it because online forums such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide a safe platform for people to be open about how they live their lives.”
Jo adds that a desire for a more holistic lifestyle is behind this resurgence.
“We’re the most medicated, stressed-o ut, unhealthy society that’s ever existed,” she says.
“We’re always searching for ways to help us cope. Activities considered part of the wellness movement, such as rituals, meditation and crystals, are also found in the world of sorcery. The lines have become blurred. Witchcraft is whatever you make it.”
In fact, its popularity is now spreading beyond the digital world, with hip boutiques such as London’s She’s Lost Control and Hauswitch Home + Healing in the States popping up, selling crystals and spell books alongside sleek Scandi homeware.
There are also magazines, such as Sabat and The Numinous, aimed at modern witches.
Heather first became interested in witchcraft as a teenager.
“But I always thought it was the stuff of fairy tales,” she admits.
“However, when I watched the movie The Craft and saw girls my age doing it, it seemed attainable.
“I was a shy teenager and used to get bullied by a group of girls at school who’d knock into me and pick arguments. I wondered if witchcraft could help me make things better.”
Heather visited a shop close to where she lived in Bainbridge, Yorkshire, that sold crystals and books about magic, and decided to try a simple confidence spell.
This involved lighting a candle and some incense while repeating the mantra: “I am confident, I am strong.”
“At first I felt a bit silly, but soon I could sense a growing inner feeling of power and my confidence increased,” she says.
“The next time the girls cornered me, I told them to leave me alone, which they did. It was that easy. When I was 16, I did a spell before a waitressing interview. I lit a blue candle, looked in the mirror and repeated ‘I will get the job’ 25 times. It worked!”
After a couple of years, Heather drifted away from witchcraft.
But in 2013, while researching a young adult novel she was writing about sorcery, a spark was reignited.
“I started doing a few rituals, such as lighting a yellow candle and meditating when it was a full moon to conjure up creative energy to help me with my writing,” she says.
This time, Heather went online to see if she could find any like-minded women.
“I was surprised to see there was a really strong community on social media,” says Heather.
“One woman invited me to her magical retreat in Woodstock, New York, and I went last November. For four days, we shared spells – which always have a positive angle – and carried out rituals, such as writing down what we wanted to get rid of from our lives, then burning it on a bonfire. I wrote that I wanted to be rid of fear, as it had held me back since I was a child. It worked – when I came home I felt I could tackle anything.”
In the past year, Heather’s been back to Woodstock three times and also regularly meets UK witches at spiritual development workshops in London.
However, she does admit it was still difficult opening up about her interest to friends and family.
“I decided the best way for people to find out was through Facebook posts about the retreats or cool pictures on Instagram,” she says.
“Earlier this year, I posted a shot of the sacred altar I’d built in the spare room of my house. It looks more like a meditation room than something out of a Hammer horror film, and I wanted others to see it wasn’t weird or scary. Thankfully, everyone’s been really supportive.”
According to Jo, having such a huge social media presence has catapulted witchcraft into the realms of cool.
“With a good photo filter and a catchy hashtag, anything can suddenly seem uber-trendy and accessible,” she explains.
“Look at how much fashion brands have tapped into this. Social media allows something to creep up on us and become part of our psyche. It’s spell-casting in itself!”
Tamara Driissen, a 32-year-old hairdresser from Chelmsford, fits in witchcraft around her day job.
Under the name Wolf Sister, she focuses on spiritual practices rather than spell-casting and specialises in readings, crystal healing and tarot, charging clients between £65 and £150 a time.
“Instagram is definitely my main source of community,” explains Tamara, who also posts free meditations on SoundCloud.
“Initially I was just posting for myself, but along the way I’ve amassed over 1,500 followers, which is crazy, but just goes to show how popular spiritual and magical practices have become.”
Tamara’s interest started after she experienced a breakdown aged 27.
“I’d burnt myself out partying too hard and working long hours at the salon,” she recalls.
“I’d always suffered from depression and anxiety, but it got worse. I had panic attacks and bad insomnia.
“The doctor prescribed me antidepressants, but I felt that was just papering over the cracks, so I started exploring alternatives.”
As well as attending counselling, Tamara took up meditation in May 2012 to help combat her anxiety. She also decided to go for a psychic reading.
“I’m not sure what I expected, but the psychic told me I had the ability to heal people and I needed to develop it,” she explains.
Tamara read numerous books about healing and attended workshops in psychic development, crystals, tarot, meditation and reiki.
“I went to one class where we practised psychometry – we each held someone’s belongings to learn things about them. As I held one woman’s ring, a vision of her house popped into my head. I described her home and she was amazed by my accuracy. It left me with such a buzz, I knew I wanted to keep learning.”
In October 2013, Tamara took a two-month sabbatical from hairdressing.
“I found a healer who ran a retreat in Bali,” she remembers.
“She invited me to do an apprenticeship with her. It cost £1,000 from my savings, which I know some people would think was a waste of money, but I felt it would be worth it.”
At the retreat, Tamara learnt about shamanic healing.
“I go into a meditative state to tune into a person, then hold crystals and herbs above them to move their energy around and ease blockages,” she explains.
Once home, Tamara launched herself as a professional healer – another branch of witchcraft – and hasn’t looked back since.
However, that’s not to say that she and Heather haven’t experienced their fair share of sceptics.
“I’ve seen trolling where fundamentalist Christians will pop up and tell witches to read the Bible,” says Heather.
“I never get involved because I know they are just prodding for a reaction. Sadly, there’s still a lack of understanding where people link witchcraft with satanism. Films such as The Blair Witch Project don’t help, either, as they make it look so sinister. ”
“My boyfriend of three years was a bit freaked out when he found out I was a witch,” says Tamara.
“But he’s fine now and lets me have my own space.”
Heather says her husband Paul, 41, a director of a PR and reputation management company, is the same.
“I tend to only do rituals when Paul’s not home, but thankfully he’s happy for me to get on with it. I don’t mind as, for me, witchcraft is a very personal thing.”
And it’s not something that’s likely to fall out of fashion any time soon.
“The rise of the Insta Witch will continue,” assures Jo.
“Shows like Buffy influenced so many girls, and many of them have grown up to be today’s social media witches, further influencing others.”
“Those programmes were aimed at – and celebrated – women, which is what witchcraft is all about. It lets you break out of the mould and do things you’re not expected to. Best of all, it adds a sprinkle of fun to the everyday and stops life becoming mundane.”
And did that money spell work?
“Of course,” laughs Heather.
“Over the following week, I kept finding cash randomly in my pockets or in the street. But then I knew I would. I haven’t had a spell fail me yet…”
*Main picture posed by model
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