At 7:45 on a Thursday night, I light a candle and settle in for my Zoom meeting with Krysta Venora, aka “Pink Opal Magic” (who uses they/them pronouns). Earlier in the week, I’d signed up for one of Krysta’s spiritual readings. When I log into our video call for the reading, their room is dark green, and a menagerie of candles flickers in the background. The ambience is simultaneously comforting and delightfully spooky. Krysta, a beacon of positive energy despite the screen between us, radiates.
Located in Los Angeles, Krysta identifies as a queer witch. They’re one of many. Historically associated with power, seduction, old age, and otherness, witchcraft was traditionally a space reserved for women, but as the LGBTQIA+ movement continues to gain traction, more and more queer folks have publicly joined the ranks of witchcraft. According to a 2015 survey conducted by Pew Research Center, around twice as many queer adults as the general public say they identify as a member of a non-Christian faith group, including Wicca and paganism.
Google #queerwitch and you’ll find thousands of Instagram posts, tweets, and even TikTok videos featuring LGBTQIA+ witches engaging in their crafts. But queer witchcraft isn’t just about donning a Stevie Nicks-esque wardrobe and lighting colored candles — the practice is a venture toward empowerment.
“[Witchcraft] gave me a sense of my personal power,” says Krysta, who is gender non-binary. “In this world, Black, indigenous, and queer people are told they have no power. So, to have something that gives me power and encourages me to use my voice and my will is invaluable.”
Krysta was raised in a multi-religious household. Krysta is part-Native American, and at first, their mother was passionate about honoring that part of the family’s heritage, taking Krysta to pow-wows and speaking with psychics. But when Krysta was about ten, they were baptised in the Mormon church, and entered an entirely different, and a far stricter, approach to spirituality.
“I was having all these profound spiritual experiences,” Krysta says. “But I didn’t buy what they were trying to sell me. [The church] saw all these facets of my identity — black, indigenous, queer, survivor of childhood assault — as major sins. And I knew [that] was wrong.”
Still, spirituality was a crucial part of Krysta’s identity, and not something they could easily dismiss. (“The Spirit will take any opportunity to speak to you,” Krysta notes.) In 2013, they were introduced to the actual reality of “witches” through a proud Wiccan coworker, who gave Krysta books on deities and invited them to Sabbat celebrations.
“From there I borrowed every book remotely related that I could find at the library,” Krysta says. “When that wasn’t enough I went to the internet. Back then, YouTube had a close-knit collection of Wiccan and non-Wiccan witches practicing in many different ways.”
As they dove deeper into the myriad types of witchcraft practices, Krysta discovered that they could play with the rules of witchcraft, and develop a personalized practice outside of Wicca.
“That’s when I really blossomed into a full-on, spell-casting, goddex-worshipping witch,” Krysta says, humbly adding that though they saw truth in the practice, Wicca just wasn’t for them. “Being queer and specificially a person outside of the gender binary made their ideas and practices a little itchy for me.”
It took Krysta several years of channeling and ancestor work to develop a witchcraft practice that felt right. Now, Krysta says that reconnecting with and remembering their innate Indigenous wisdom is a crucial element of their witchcraft.
“It is the practice written in my DNA and passed down my ancestors, but it’s also something new,” Krysta says. “It’s the mixture of knowledge and practices that makes my work potent, and the personalization that makes it fulfilling.”
A spiritual childhood is prevalent among modern-day witches. Bobbi* (she/her), a cisgender, queer witch in Chicago, tells me that she grew up a pastor’s kid. She spent nearly every summer at “Jesus Camp,” and every Sunday participating in the ritual of communion. For a while, she loved it.
“I was one of those people at the front of the church, hands up at the altar in supplication, singing along with those guitar-toting ‘Jesus rockers,’” Bobbi says. “Holiness, after all, is ‘otherness’... and what's more relatable to a teenage girl than a desperate need to connect to something special?”
Mat Auryn (he/him), a Bay Area queer and cisgendered male witch, grew up attending a church that was a mixture of Pentecoastal and Evangelical Christianity. (For those unfamiliar, these are typically regarded as some of the more “extreme” forms of Christianity.)
“I think part of [my religious background] exposed me to magick at an early age,” Mat says. “Because while [Christians] would never use that word for what they do, it absolutely is. They’re raising energy through music, through singing, through ecstatic states, then directing and unleashing that energy psychically in what they call prayer to see the results they desire in their lives and in the world.”
But similar to Krysta, Bobbi and Mat found that their Christian faith created conflict when they started to discover their queer identities. Though they appreciated aspects of their religious upbringings, they grew resentful of their church’s black-and-white attitude toward sin and sexuality. Especially for Bobbi, a place that had initially been a source of comfort was now a trigger for shame.
“As a child, I found myself attracted to my same-gendered friends, and confused about what to do with those feelings,” Bobbi explains. “According to my faith, it was wrong. What's worse, I was choosing the ‘wrong’ thing because I also liked people of the opposite gender.”
Witchcraft, on the other hand, offered a spiritual space where queer folks like Bobbi, Mat, and Krysta could step into their personal power and explore otherness without shame, guilt, or fear. Though all of the witches I spoke to investigated magic (or magick) in their childhood, their crafts began to really come to fruition in their young adulthood, as they were granted more exposure to the variety of rituals and practices. Bobbi notes that discovering moon rituals was a major turning point in her witchcraft journey.
Furthermore, the idea of a coven — a group or gathering of witches — created space for community, another appealing aspect of mainstream religion. In addition to providing solace and support, Bobbi finds that her coven encourages her to be a better person.
“I've been fortunate to find community in overwhelmingly inclusive places where it's safe enough to be vulnerable, but also ‘woke’ enough for us to call each other out on our bullshit,” Bobbi says. “These spaces challenge me to hold a mirror to myself and consistently ask where I'm not supporting those with less privilege. They help me to heal so that my trauma doesn't hinder me from progress.”
Of course, part of practicing witchcraft means… practicing witchcraft. Depending on the witch, these practices might include tarot or oracle cards, crafting incense blends or spiritual waters, reading natal charts, communicating with spirit guides, praying, or casting spells. Bobbi describes herself as a “kitchen witch.”
“Ask anyone who's had my Breakup Recovery Brownies or a slice of my Heartwarming Apple Pie,” she says. “Taste and smell are so strongly tied to memory, it makes sense that using them in my craft leads to easier manifestation.” Most queer witches acknowledge that witchcraft is highly customizable, allowing each witch to build and change their specific practices depending on where they’re at in their lives.
“While I’m well-versed in spellcraft and operative magick, the tools of witchcraft are mostly just that — tools,” says Mat. “Tools are helpful and can make things easier, but the real magick, just like the real psychic ability, is within the soul of the witch.”
Regardless of the specificities of their practices, all queer witches seem to have one major thing in common: a desire to feel empowered and the freedom to explore their identities. Perhaps this is what makes the intersection of the queer community and witchcraft so natural — they are both expressions of otherness.
Claire (they/them), a queer and gender non-binary witch and host of The Word Witch podcast, notes that their queerness and witchiness have always been intrinsically intertwined. In high school, Claire romanced theater girls by day and dabbled in witchcraft at night.
Like the other witches I spoke with, Claire had an intensely religious childhood, and entered adulthood extremely skeptical of any person or group who claims to know “the one truth.” This encouraged them to do a lot of self-education, seeking out books like The Spiral Dance by Starhawk and Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler. Now their version of witchcraft adheres to no specific tradition or authority — rather, they paved their own path.
“For me, witchcraft is inherently queer because it’s built upon empowering individuals to live according to their own truth,” says Claire. “Historically, ‘witch’ was a title leveled at outcasts, iconoclasts, rebels, and anyone who threatened the status quo or refused to conform to society’s rules. Witches are outsiders. Witches are ‘othered.’ But witches also hold power.”
In a world where queer people, particularly queer people of color, are told over and over that their otherness is wrong, it becomes a daily struggle to take one’s power back. It requires ritual, affirmation, and community, and witchcraft provides all of these things. The magic (or magick) explored and created in witchcraft is more than just casting spells and seeing results; it’s about stepping into one’s power, and celebrating identities that society deems too strange to be valid.
“Just as Nancy says in The Craft,” says Mat, “we are the weirdos, mister.’”
I also ask Krysta about the future of witchcraft. And though they exhibit many traces of intuitive knowing, that is something they cannot yet predict.
“I cannot see the future for queer witches, and that is because are in an unprecedented moment of choice,” Krysta says. “Every decision we make is actively shaping our future. I have hopes and I have wishes. I want to see queer witches taking up space as healers… I want to see us offering our magic with ease and grace to bring people back home to themselves.”
In other words, queer witches are lighthouses guiding us to embracing our authentic selves. They are experts in finding freedom, because they’ve had to fight for it so hard themselves.