Nabilah Mohamed Ali has always been able to see spirits. The first spirit she saw as a child was that of her grandfather, who, by then, had been dead for some years. Her mother had the same ability, too – but Nabilah's father didn't believe what they were saying.
People were always dismissive of the fact that my mom and I could see spirits, says Nabilah. I grew up in a really traditional household, where men were supposed to lead, supposed to make the decisions... So when my father said he disapproved of it, we had to shut out that spiritual side of ourselves.
It's why Nabilah wears her title of 'modern Hekatean witch' today with no small amount of pride. As a self-proclaimed witch, Nabilah says she uses her powers to help women gain clarity on the trajectory of their careers and love lives; abusive or unfaithful male partners are also fair game for her hexes. Witches have always been using their craft to reclaim their power against the patriarchy, says Nabilah, who has been actively practicing witchcraft for close to half a decade. And it's no different for me.
Academics say that witchcraft has long been used as a form of protest, a sentiment that is well and alive today: See Lana Del Rey in 2017, where she called on her fans to join a mass occult ritual and cast a hex against then-president Donald Trump.
For professor Catherine Spooner of Lancaster University, the modern popularity of witchcraft is an ironic – if unsurprising – shift. The witch has become symbolic of something bigger, says Spooner, whose research focuses on the history of gothic culture, especially within the broader context of contemporary culture. Of women's anger at persecution, at the miscarriage of justice, and of their right to determine the fates of their own bodies.
But for all the feminist leanings of the craft, much of it remains tangled in misogynist, patriarchal notions – notions that modern witches say they find hard to shake off.
BLACK MAGIC WOMAN
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