First comes astrology, then comes crystals. Then comes witchcraft? It’s the seemingly logical and omnipresent order of supernatural techniques to bring sense into a world becoming increasingly hopeless and dystopian. In 2021, young people, including my hardly-young 30 year-old self, communicate through witchy memes, judge dates by their astrological sign, and lay tarot cards to find out when the next paycheck is going to come in. It’s our modern-day way of finding new truths in a paradigm that keeps serving up lies and tribulations.
It’s no wonder then that TikTok, Gen Z’s favorite app, is full of tutorials for spells, spiritual hacks, and even curses. Its prevalence is most noticeable among Berlin’s queer, hip, intersectionally aware community. I couldn’t help but wonder:
Is there a cross-over between witchcraft, queerness, or queer sex even?
While looking for an answer, I quickly encountered the cultural significance of witchcraft for numerous communities, which I, as your run-of-the-mill white cis gay, am not a part of. Other than moon sign readings, or cooking with the healing power of the rosequarz, witchcraft is tightly connected to various century-old cultures around the world. It thus understandably gatekeeps its knowledge and power from those who fall into the category of the caucasian coloniser. In order to explore my question further, however, I was lucky to meet up with Eli, a queer witch. Intrigued, we went for a (respectful) walk through the local Friedrichshain cemetery, and talked about all things witchcraft, queerness, and sexuality.
“What is your personal connection to Witchcraft?,” I ask Eli as we sit on an old bench in the sun, surrounded by green graves.
“Witchcraft is part of my culture. I’m Dominican and Colombian, in Latin America it’s completely normal to talk about it. However, colonialism brought Christianity to Latin America and many people there still call themselves Christians, although they also believe in other things and perform rituals. My grandma often talked about brujeria when I was a child and through her stories I began to create my fantasy world. I was raised very religious and through magic I was both able to detach myself from it and decolonize myself. I started with tarot cards, a manifestation with candles, and a small altar where I give my favorite liquor to my ancestors.”
“Did you break away from your religion at the same time you realized you were queer, too?”
“At 17, it was obvious that I was not straight, and through witchcraft I completely detached from my religion. I was already doing minor rituals then, like manifesting Law of Attraction, and building a queer life for myself through that.”
"It sounds like brujeria has played a big part in your life."
“Brujeria has been insanely helpful in helping me accept myself as a Latino, as a person of color, and as a queer person. Witchcraft is something that is considered ridiculous, and not accepted in society. Many still associate it with the devil. But it supports me in every aspect of my life. When I need a job, have problems with a professor at university, or anything else.”
“Palo Santo,” says Eli as he gets a pretty little stick of wood from his pocket. “I use it to draw positive energy towards me or to cleanse.”
I’ve seen palo santo on social media before, mostly in the hands of white women describing its use and where it comes from. It’s the kind of content that usually feels somewhat… L.A. An interesting practice, stripped of all its cultural significance. Still, most of the witchcraft content I have encountered online feels much more negative: solutions for curses or instructions on what to do with voodoo dolls placed in your apartment by someone else. I have to ask:
"Are there things witchcraft can’t or shouldn’t provide?"
“In theory, there are no rules. This new age spirituality, which is very big on TikTok, and where white people take up a lot of space, always discourages curses, hexes. But you can do anything you want, actually. You just have to be liable for it. Personally, I don’t like forcing people to do anything. E.g. I wouldn’t want a person to fall in love with me just because of a spell.”
“As a brujo, you always have to protect yourself and perform rituals for that purpose. If you deal with these energies permanently, it can go wrong and hit you yourself. You will never be a perfect professional. You will always keep on learning. Thus, before I do a spell, I first shield myself with a protective spell and cleanse my space.”
"Who can participate in witchcraft? At what point does it become cultural appropriation?"
“Cultural appropriation happens a lot on social media. There are certain things that are closed practices or no-go areas. It’s cultural practices like voodoo or santería that you have to be born into. On TikTok, I often see people performing such customs even though they don’t belong to the culture. I find that really problematic – you get a lot of clicks for something that people from the associated culture were killed for during colonial times.”
"I have the feeling that especially among the young queer community in Berlin the topic of witchcraft is very visible. Where do you think this overlap comes from?"
“For many queer people, our very existence feels like protest. In the same way, our society doesn’t accept witchcraft. So using it also feels like protest. I think that’s where the overlap stems from. A lot of queer people were raised religious, left religion behind, and now use witchcraft as a medium for self-discovery.”
From my personal experience, too, being queer means that I saw the world through a different lense from a very young age. I experienced things that people would say do not exist, or the other way around. Having a sexual attraction that is considered abnormal while experiencing daily discrimination certain people say do not exist. It feels like, sometimes, queer people exist in another dimension. In that sense, I consider witchcraft as a similar outlook on the human experience. It offers another dimension, more depth, and meaning to everything that is considered ‘real’ or ‘correct’ in Western culture.
"Isn’t witchcraft inherently queer, non-binary?"
“Before colonisation, there were no social norms like a gender binary or heteronormativity among the indigenous peoples in Latin America. People prayed to gods and spirits, gender and sexuality as we know it today didn’t matter.”
"Let’s get to the juicy bits. What role does Witchcraft play in your sex life?"
“Sex is also a ritual for me. When it’s good (laughs). Before sex you clean the room, set up everything in the room as part of the ritual, candles in the corners, etc. You can then use the energy from sex to manifest something else. I wouldn’t cast a spell on someone to make them want me, though. What I use are self-love spells only.”
"Does your spirituality empower your queerness?"
“Yes, because I use it to protect myself. When I talk to my ancestors, we talk about what we want to achieve. A world like it used to be, without transphobia, homophobia, etc. Queer people being free and proud. That’s why whenever I walk the streets, I never walk alone. My spirits are with me and I am much more confident because of that ‘You can’t touch me’.”
We walk to the cemetery gates where we started our conversation and then part ways. As Eli’s words resonate with me, I ask myself: Maybe it does take a spell or two to emancipate ourselves from queer trauma, and our restricted views on sexuality. Maybe it’s time to accept that our current paradigm won’t give us the answers we’re looking for and start seeing things from an alternative perspective. I feel much wiser, as I’m walking home. Thank you, Eli.