There’s nothing as enthralling, but misunderstood—and even feared—as the occult, specifically witchcraft. Images of black cats crossing your path or wicked women in pointed black hats and boils stalking the woods for children, and the urge to re-watch The Craft and Hocus Pocus seasonally emerge come October, but for the people for whom witchcraft is not just a mere 31 days of fetishization, immersion into the occult and mysticism is actually a way of navigating the spaces around them and finding some deeper understanding of and handle on life.
Here, I talk with Bushwick occult store Catland co-owner Melissa Madera, whose syncretic practice leans toward American folk (with influences from Christian, hoodoo, indigenous Shawnee, and Appalachian traditions), about reclaiming the word “witch,” what exactly she means by “Tinder magic,” and tapping into one’s inner goddess.
How long have you been practicing?
It’s hard to say because so much of it has been subtle. You can practice witchcraft without knowing it. People who kiss their lottery cards. People who pray to St. Anthony because they misplace their keys are doing witch crafty, spiritual work. So I will say that I’ve been doing a serious practice for five years. But I don’t go home and do spells all night. Me writing down my dreams is a part of my practice. Me servicing altars in my house is a part of my practice. Talking to people who have negative feelings towards my practice, is a part of my practice. It’s not just sitting at home with a crystal ball. And I think it’s important for people to know that.
I don’t have magical powers. I can’t move objects with my mind. I can’t talk to animals. No, I don’t have magical powers. We study the ways in which we can use objects around our internal world and us in order to affect change. That’s it. That doesn’t mean I have magical powers. A lot of people think it’s scary, a lot of people think I’m hurting people. Quite honestly, I don’t have the time, even if I wanted to. It’s not about that; it’s a spiritual journey that’s unique to every single person. There’s no way to make a lump judgment what people are doing with their practice.
Do you consider yourself a witch?
That’s a question I get asked frequently because people are aware that it is a slur. I think that it is a word that needs to be reclaimed because it’s a practical term for what I do. It’s not necessarily offensive. It’s a word that has been used to demonize women. In particular, independently minded women for hundreds and hundreds of years. People use to be killed for being called that word. Same way that “gypsy” is a slur.
My practice can be summed up as American traditional folk magic. It draws from voodoo practices, I have a family member on my father’s side who is a Shawnee Indian. So I studied that before. Because America has always been a cultural melting pot, a lot of these things blur. You see Pagan in the northwest draw Asian Buddhist traditions. So a lot of that factors into what I do.
So what is the difference between the craft and the term witch?
Witchcraft is what I do. Witch has been used to demonize independent women separate from witchcraft for hundreds of years. There was a book called the Malleus Maleficarum, it was a witch hunt manual that is a list of traits that make a woman a witch, which include being born of a Friday, being born of a Holy Day. Being born on any moon cycle. It’s basically a list of a million different things where everyone fits at least one of them. What this served as was a way for men in power to find an uppity woman, and be like “oh look, you match one or two of these, let’s hang you” they would use it as a way to justify murdering women. If you were docile, even if you matched one of those qualities, they wouldn’t kill you.
The word witch when it’s used to demonize women means very little to witchcraft. When people say Hillary Clinton is a witch, they don’t think she goes home to a cauldron.
It’s basically saying bitch.
Yeah, like look there’s this evil woman, and there’s the connection with evil and witchcraft. Just filled with stereotypes, that it’s really hard to escape from unless you patiently educate people.
Which is the logical and responsible route, but not so much the fulfilling route.
It is. When you watch people’s mind’s change, it is. Especially in this neighborhood where there’s so much interest in the occult. We get a flock of drunk, brunch bros who come in and buy all our rose quartz but we also get 15-year-old girls who come in afterschool, who are interested in buying a crystal and they come the next day for tarot cards and then they come to our tarot class. They came in here scared of us, but now they’re really interested and learning a lot about themselves in the process. So rewarding.
I feel like in the last year, there has been this allure towards mysticism in itself. Why do you think that is happening?
My business partner Brian [Oaster] has a really good idea about that. I think it has a lot to do with people who grew up with new atheism or a [shrug] approach to religion, and they’re seeking answers. A lot of Millennials are disenchanted with everything. This whole idea that you were going to have your life set up for you somehow, and none of that occurred. The government is crap. The financial system is crap. The housing market is crap, most renters are going to be renting well into their 30s and 40s, so this offers not only answers but antinomy. Through magical practicing, specifically witchcraft, you can effect change into your life, and that’s very alluring to people. Also, divination like tarot and stuff offer explanations, and hope for a means to get out.
And, at least from my perspective, it’s really big among women, kind of like a female empowerment thing.
Witchcraft has always been about female empowerment. It’s always been about female resistance to patriarchy, classicism, to all those forces that keep women oppressed. Why do you think that witchcraft was about women hunting?
How does one tap into their inner goddess, or god?
Or neither or. A lot of people are hyped up on the goddess because women are oppressed and it’s a great way to access that you’re a divine being, everyone is a divine being. You have to decide what is sacred about that to you, and explore that. For a lot of people, it’s feminine intuition and beauty and antimony and sexually power. The goddess exist in every space, sacred feminine across all , exploring it can pretty much take any form that any woman can, so deciding what’s sacred for you about femininity is the gateway to untapping it. I think that because female-ness is attuned with the element of water. A good way to monitor is be more in touch with your moon cycle to do magical work align with that, take ritual baths, and be naked in the rain if you can. Anything to do with water is a good mystical start.
Do you personally have some practices that you use or modified from common practices?
I think that a lot of the stuff that I do is rooted in common things. Like there’s this idea if you want someone to like you, you make a honey jar. You fill it with all sweet things, and you put their name on a piece of paper inside of it and you burn candles on it. I do a variation of that for love magic, but not for friend magic. It’s very intuitive. The cut and dry spells are not going to work for everybody, you really have to fill it out and see what works for you. Because basically, this is some next level witchcraft. This is step b. Candles, crystals and herbs don’t do anything by themselves. They are tools that you use to affect change here [brain]. Theoretically, if your practice is good you should get to a point where you don’t need that. I still need those things, but understanding that they don’t have any value and that you can basically use or do anything that you want to do as long as it works, it helps.
So kind of like the book The Secret?
The Secret is not the end of the discussion. It’s very much the beginning but if people get their introduction…I would say that the foundation of witchcraft of affecting practical change in the outside world is The Secret. In that way, I would be happy with that book. It doesn’t end there, and that has nothing to do with religious practice and spirit contact. But taking in intentions and putting it out there, that is witchcraft 101. People read The Secret and don’t think that’s witchcraft. We’ve been saying this for hundreds of years but nobody listens.
Can you explain intentions?
Anything that you want to happen. Your intention can be that you want to make more money this year, your intention can be that you want this Tinder date to go well. Tinder magic is a thing. I’ve definitely blessed my phone before going on Tinder. You can use magic for mundane purposes. I’ve used tarot readings in bars for people who are like “should I go home with this guy?” There is no such thing as a intention that is too mundane. You do this through objects like crystals, or if you’re good at meditating and getting your mind clear, and focusing on one thing that’s one way. You can ask or pray for it to a deity or whoever is listening. You can do spells.
Then where does the power come from?
Inside every single person is the capacity to do all of these things. It’s a matter of doing the self-work, which is like exploring your shadow side, the things that are wrong with you, the things that you do to hurt other people, your karmas and your bad karmas. So exploring all of that is in the way for most people. But doing all that stuff, and being able to develop your intuition, being able to work out your self-conscious. Write your dreams down. Being able to tap into your spirit contact, your ancestral one. That’s what help takes it from a lament power to something you produce everyday.
How do people tap into it?
It’s different for every person. Using those objects like the candles, and the crystals and the tarot is a great, easy way for beginners. And spending time with that idea, there’s a thousand different ways to do it. I encourage people to explore it. There’s a lot of information on where you should start, like burn a sage bundle and draw a circle, like, it didn’t work for me but I encourage people to do research and explore, see if there are other things out there, probably in your own family history traditions.