SALEM — Witches are having a moment.
“Sabrina the Teenage Witch” is back on the small screen in the form of a darker, sexier Netflix series. A reboot of the witchy cult film “The Craft” is in the works. The phrase “witch hunt” hasn’t enjoyed this much ubiquity — thanks to President Trump and his allies — since, well, probably the 1690s.
While only about 1 million US adults identify as pagan or Wiccan, a staggering six in 10 Americans ascribe to at least one “New Age” belief, including astrology, psychics, or that objects like crystals contain spiritual energy, according to the Pew Research Center. Indeed, the “psychic services” industry exceeded $2 billion in revenue in 2018, following five years of steady growth, according to market research from IBISWorld.
Disillusioned by organized religion, Millennials and Gen Zers are more likely than any other age group to eschew traditional worship in favor of amorphous spirituality, or nothing at all. For these generations, raised on a steady diet of “Harry Potter” and a stable Internet connection, witchcraft and New Age practices are a source of comfort and spiritual fulfillment in increasingly fraught times.
“There’s a sense of wanting to be empowered and have control of one’s life and one’s destiny in a political climate where things feel very grim and hopeless,” said Mat Auryn, a 32-year-old witch from Leominster and author of the forthcoming book, “Psychic Witch: A Metaphysical Guide to Meditation, Magick & Manifestation.” “For me, witchcraft partially is a path of empowerment, so honestly that’s what I feel that gravitation is.”
Big Business has taken notice. Urban Outfitters carries several different varieties of crystals and tarot cards, including an on-trend millennial-pink deck, and $32 “ritual kits” of sage, incense, and of course, more crystals. Acolytes of Gwyneth Paltrow and her upscale lifestyle brand, Goop, can pony up $84 for a sleek glass water bottle encircled around a pillar of amethyst, ideal for infusing one’s beverage “with the power of crystals,” according to Goop’s website. For those eager to look the part of a modern mystic, Smashbox Cosmetics offers a line of makeup in collaboration with “witch influencer” Bri Luna, known as The Hoodwitch on Instagram, where she posts horoscopes and #witchtips for her 443,000 followers.
Chris LeVasseur, a practicing witch and proprietor of Enchanted, a witchcraft supply store in Salem, doesn’t mind witch culture going corporate.
“I think it’s helping to normalize it a little bit, so people become more open to it and receptive to it, so you’re no longer on the fringe,” he said.
LeVasseur recalled his lonely childhood in conservative, rural Maine, where, as a fledgling witch in the pre-Internet era, he would have welcomed the presence of tarot cards or crystal clusters in mainstream stores. “It’s kind of cool that they’re helping get this information out there,” he continued, “as long as it is done with the right intentions.”
To understand the rise of pop-occultism in recent years, all you have to do is turn on cable news. Political tumult. Economic uncertainty. Climate change. #MeToo. Everyone’s yearning for a little self-care, and maybe a cloudy-pink clump of rose quartz can help.
Sabina Magliocco, an anthropology professor at the University of British Columbia who studies magic and modern pagan religions, said interest in witchcraft tends to revive in periods of social upheaval. After World War I, for example, families who lost fathers, sons, and brothers in battle sought out mediums in hopes of connecting with their dead loved ones. The 1960s and ’70s saw the birth of the New Age Movement, in concert with the rise of second-wave feminism, the fight for civil rights, and the spread of counterculture. Nowadays, in the throes of the opioid crisis, Salem witches like Lori Bruno and Lorelei Stathopoulos say parents who’ve lost children to drug use have begun seeking their psychic services.
“Think about the current situation in the world — the social, economic and environmental crises that exist. Think about the political situation that exists and you can begin to see some parallels,” Magliocco said.
Indeed, the witches of today are a progressive, inclusive, and diverse bunch. They are environmentalists, animal rights activists, anti-racists and anti-fascists. Most of them are women, and they’ve reclaimed the archetype of the witch as a feminist icon. Needless to say, many of them don’t like the president. Every week, around the world, thousands of witches and activists, members of the so-called #MagicalResistance on social media, attempt to cast a binding spell on Donald Trump to keep him from doing harm.
“Witchcraft has always been a practice of the marginalized,” Auryn said. “We see a lot of queer people, a lot of people of color, disabled people. It tends to be people that witchcraft attracts that aren’t already embraced by our larger patriarchy, for lack of a better word.”
The witches of Salem, epicenter of all things witchy — past and present — also have reaped the rewards of this magical resurgence, especially in October, when, witches say, the veil between the spiritual and physical worlds is thinnest.
“It’s just been jammed,” said Stathopoulos, Salem’s “Famous Love Clairvoyant” and owner of Crow Haven Corner, the city’s oldest witch shop, on tourist-friendly Essex Street.
Of course, snarls of customers routinely snake out the door during the Halloween season. But this October, Stathopoulos said, has been her busiest in 25 years. In August, Stathopoulos started renting out rooms in her house above Crow Haven Corner on Airbnb. This month, visitors are paying $1,000 per night for the privilege of sharing quarters (and casting spells) with a modern-day witch, including one couple who arrived last week on their honeymoon.
Business is also booming for warlocks Christian Day and Brian Cain. They operate an empire of witch-related enterprises in Salem and New Orleans — where they’ve lived since 2012 — including witchcraft shops, Hex and Omen, in both cities; ghost tours; Hex Fest, a weekendlong witchery conference in The Big Easy; and the Festival of the Dead, an October-long event series in Salem that culminates with an extravagant Witches’ Ball on the Friday before Halloween.
This year, they expect their business ventures will generate $3 million in revenue, up from $1.3 million in 2015.
“The ebb and tide in witchcraft has happened many times, and we are in an upswing,” Cain explained inside a darkly lit room at Omen’s Essex Street outpost. In the hallway outside, a bevy of psychics read tarot cards and palm lines, and gazed at crystal balls. Meanwhile, a queue of customers, including a group of bachelorettes in matching T-shirts, wrapped around the crowded shop for the 5 p.m. seance. Day and Cain employ around 40 professional psychics at Hex and Omen as part of the Festival of the Dead’s annual psychic fair.
“Our Number 1 customers are regular, everyday people looking for a little magic in their lives,” said Day, Cain’s husband and business partner. “They don’t necessarily want to become witches, but they want magic’s power to help them change something in their lives.”
At Magika, a whimsical Salem witch shop on Federal Street, 79-year-old Bruno, a self-described “high priestess of the craft,” dripped with gold jewelry as she presided over a marble table, a crystal ball, a stack of tarot cards, and a handful of Starburst candies in front of her.
Readings with Bruno, Magika’s exuberant owner, book weeks or months in advance. On a recent Saturday, she had help from two other psychics while a throng of women, most of them young, bided their time with pizza and mozzarella sticks Bruno had ordered for them.
A preppy 28-year-old lawyer from Boston toting a Tory Burch purse waited for her 15-minute appointment with a clairvoyant on the steps outside.
“The idea of spirituality just feels more in line with the life that I live. I just feel traditional religion and things just don’t fit as much into the framework of my life,” she said. “But at least for us, we still want to feel like there’s something bigger out there, connecting everything.”
She declined to tell the Globe her name, fearing the reaction of her colleagues if they knew she dabbled in mysticism.
“It’s low stakes. There’s nothing negative in this type of approach to spirituality. It’s all just about like energy and the universe,” she continued. Visiting a psychic, she added, is like “a more fun version of therapy.”
Life feels less chaotic, unplanned, or unreasonable, she said. The world, a little more magical.
“What’s the harm in it?” she asked. “It’s just fun.”