Image: ambar del moral/mashable
Katie Karpetz is a business witch.
No, really. Karpetz, a Canadian who identifies as a bog witch because of her unruly hair, is literally in the business of selling products marketed specifically for other witches.
She sells everything from vintage amethyst tower wands designed to soothe insomnia, to custom-made "witch bottles" whose recipes are top secret. For the uninitiated, a witch bottle acts as a "recharging" agent for different parts of the psyche.
Her preferred medium for displaying and advertising her inventory? Her Instagram account, @WitcheryWay.
Karpetz is not alone. A quick Instagram search for the hashtag #WitchesofInstagram will garner you over 700,000 results, and many of them are selling witchy wares.
There is no one particular path of witchcraft all of these business witches follow. Some identify as Wiccan, while others ascribe to Paganism, and others still prefer the term “secular witchcraft.” A lot of witches don’t like to label their beliefs, and instead say what sort of traditions influence them the most, such as Germanic paganism, Hoodoo, root work (folk-based witchcraft), or Brujeria (Hispanic-based witchcraft).
The products the Instagram witches sell are as vast and diverse as their spiritual paths. There are magazines curated especially for witches, tarot cards with original illustrations, herbs and oils with various protection and healing properties, amulets and pendants, and, of course, an abundance of crystals.
What’s more, there exists a community among these Instagram business witches, in which the account owners often personally know and support each other with promotions, free of charge.
“Everyone’s pretty supportive, radical feminists, building each other up, and giving shout outs to each other,” said Christy Patton, founder of the New Orleans School for Esoteric Arts and operator of the witchy-lifestyle Instagram account, @NolaEsoteric.
“We buy each other’s products, and we put them on our own Instagram stories.”
Christie Patton and Josie Campos of Nola Esoteric (left to right)
However, many of these self-made business witches did not start their Instagram accounts with the intention of building occult business empires. Karpetz began her account five years ago as a private space where she could post all the “witchy stuff [she] was into,” as well as items she was making for herself.
“In the beginning it was just for me,” Karpetz said of her Instagram account, which now has over 50,000 followers, in an email to Mashable. “What started [the business] was a witch bottle I had created; after I posted it on Instagram people were asking where they could buy it.”
A community of online activists
The Instagram witches are mostly self-taught through books, art, and the internet; Patton was actually inspired to start her school because of the lack of esoteric art teachers in New Orleans. However, most witches agree that witchcraft is, by nature and history, a solitary venture. That is why having the Instagram community is so unique.
“We have become really close friends with some really amazing witches on Instagram,” Patton said. “We have friends all over the world.”
Instagram is also used for promotions and feedback; most business witches actually sell their products on an accompanying website or Etsy store. Mashable reached out to Instagram for comment regarding its policy on promotion.
The promised benefits of the products range from personal improvement, such as making oneself more focused, to widespread good, like destroying fascism. Instagram’s interface also allows customers to post a review as a comment right on the photo of whichever product is being advertised.
“We all make very natural products for spiritual people because we’re ethically radical,” said Josie Campos, Patton’s esoteric apprentice. “We want change.”
Campos said she noticed this “radical” shift in the Instagram business witch community following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The organization W.I.T.C.H. has seen a resurgence, a sizable number are signing up to “hex the patriarchy,” and, as an act of protest, Patton and Campos sold a special tea they created to “honor” the election results.
“We collaborated with another Instagram witch, @cattailapothacary, and created this tea blend called ‘This Tea Grabs Back,’” Patton said. “It was made of cat herbs.” (Don’t worry, the tea didn’t involve actual cats, just feline-named herbs and plants like pussy willow).
“It’s about how we as witches and as women could resist together,” Campos added. “And that even though we currently have to exist within a capitalist system, we can do it ethically.”
Patton believes the political climate following the election has led to a surge in witchcraft’s popularity as a whole, which she says she has seen, albeit anecdotally, reflected in her own business.
“Witchcraft has been a big thing because of that feeling of hopelessness,” Patton said. “Especially right now, now that hopelessness is more accentuated. Most people are looking for answers and looking for change, and they’ll keep practicing witchcraft if it helps them feel better.”
Commercialization: for better or worse
It’s hard to miss the recent commercialization and popularization of witchcraft in mainstream culture. Lana Del Rey has tweeted out the best dates for spell-casting and Urban Outfitters now sells crystals (and perfume with crystals in it), spell books, and tarot cards.
Many of the Instagram witches don’t take issue with magic becoming more mainstream. They do, however, have a problem with the methods mainstream retailers use. Campos and Patton wanted to stress that their products are created differently from those of a big-box chain.
“All our herbs are organic and fair trade; we grow them ourselves," Patton said.
Patton, Campos and the other business witches of Instagram are aware that many people who buy their products and “witchy” products from other stores are not interested in becoming practicing pagans. The idea of a “witchy” aesthetic has become something cultivated by many millennials, and they know it.
“It doesn’t bother us if they’re just interested in that. If you’re interested in the aesthetic, I hope you stay for the products,” Patton said.
Patton and Campos call these people “dabblers,” and warned that “dabbling” in witchcraft is not advisable.
“When you’re dabbling you’re not taking yourself seriously,” Campos said. “It’s dangerous and something people shouldn’t try; it’s not just fun, muggles, Harry Potter — it’s a spiritual belief.”
Some members of the community disagree; they do not see a danger in people trying on witchcraft for size. Sarah Telaar (Gwen Hawk on social media) who is from Germany and runs the popular Instagram account @ancient_hearts, said one of her products in particular is aimed at newcomers.
“I feel like a certain range of products, like my ‘Herb Witch Boxes’ that are really popular, go out to people that are new to witchcraft or want to start learning more,” Telaar said via email to Mashable. “Which is absolutely perfect because these products are designed as ‘starter kits’ for beginners.”
Not all Instagram witches, however, are okay with the appropriation of the occult as an aesthetic. Olivia McMaster, a practicing Wiccan who is active in the Instagram witch community, said she finds the idea of a “witchy aesthetic” irksome.
“I find it disrespectful to an extent,” she said in an email to Mashable. “While being interested in a faith or culture is great, using our symbols and traditions for your ‘aesthetic’ isn’t ok. It’s a culture and a tradition and something that I and other witches take seriously, and commercializing our religion is hurtful.”
McMaster did contend, however, that the commercialization did have some benefits.
“It gets the public’s attention to the truth about witchcraft,” she said. “It’s not like American Horror Story: Coven. We’re real people with an amazing and unique and diverse religion, and I wish people saw the real us, not the make-believe, Hollywood depiction of witches.”
Moving forward: the future of the business witch
The movement of magic into mainstream culture, Patton said, has allowed many older witches to “come out of the broom closet,” and be open and proud of their spirituality.
McMaster agreed that the public’s fear of witches and witchcraft has begun to dim in recent years. “We can be more vocal about our beliefs nowadays, and on social media, people are seemingly more accepting,” she said.
As for the future, the witches believe that, despite the current state of affairs in the world, the future is bright. Patton and Campos are even planning to open a physical store to sell their products and, presumably, advertise their wares on Instagram. They view their enterprise as more than just a store — they see it, and their social media presence, as a way to shape the future.
“It’s about re-educating the next generation,” Patton said. “All these old, white dudes will be dead in 15 to 20 years, and we have to be able to shape how the world will change. Instagram is just one tool to do that.”