“Witches don’t burn, honey,” Sabrina Villard, a modern-day shaman, tells me as we’re standing in a ceremony room inside her chic apartment on Robinson Road in Hong Kong’s exclusive Mid-Levels district. “We are not going anywhere.”
As a baby, Villard took her first steps in the Sahara desert, just south of Algeria, holding the hand of her great grandmother, a Bedouin shaman who lived to be 123 years old. It was from her that Villard inherited her craft. “She is still with me every day, guiding me,” Villard tells me as she looks fondly at an altar adorned with candles, flowers and a faded photo of her great grandmother.
By day, Villard is the project manager for APAC at one of the world’s biggest luxury fashion houses. By night, she guides clients on shamanic journeys, straddling the living and spiritual realms, and if some people might think that’s a little woo-woo, it turns out that there are a growing number of others who are tapping into ancient practices, witchcraft included, as a means to navigate and find balance in an ever-changing world. And Villard is among those who are approaching spirituality through a more modern lens.
“The traditional definition of a shaman is a seer in the dark,” she says. “I don’t know about anyone’s life when they come to me. I am shown what you are ready to see by your spirit guides, ancestors and your own memories. I have a conversation with your soul.”
As more people allow themselves to explore spirituality outside traditional religions, ritual magick (the preferred spelling in these circles) and witchy ways of healing that were once banished to the fringes of society now have people’s interest piqued. These include beginner-level basics like meditation and tarot reading, or more out there concepts such as reiki, aura cleansing, dream reading, moon worshipping or spell casting.
“Our lives are so chaotic and so much of modern life is designed to take us out of the present moment,” says Nathalie Kelley, an actress who appeared in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Dynasty, and a co-founder of Ritual Community, an online platform that provides resources to incorporate sacred practices into everyday life. “Rituals like meditation or tea ceremonies are ancient practices designed to bring us into, and ground us in, the present moment.”
The other co-founders of Ritual Community, based between Sydney, Australia and California, US, are Isis Indriya, who identifies professionally as a “visionary, creative director, experience designer, community leader, ritualist, culture maker and educator” and “a carrier of the Oracle Clan Fire and ordained Priestess of the Fellowship of Isis”, and Brooke Brash, who left an unsatisfying career in the corporate world to pursue wellness and ritual study three years ago.
“People are seeking a more sacred way of living,” Indriya says. “They’re seeking that depth of connection with the self, other humans, plant and animal beings and the elements; how to be part of the ecosystem again rather than sticking out of it. We need that equilibrium in order to help with this transitional time.”
As it turns out, there are many ways to witch. There are sea witches, plant witches, city witches like Villard, kitchen witches and the newer generation of digital witches. The coronavirus pandemic, in fact, might be one reason why we’re seeing a rise in coven gatherings, moon ceremonies and energetic healing sessions held over Zoom. The #witchesofinstagram hashtag, an amalgamation of cheeky witch memes, DIY spells and potions, and neo-goth outfits of the day, is more than five million posts strong and growing.
And of course, witches remain a fixture of pop culture, from the 2020 remake of The Witches with Anne Hathaway, which reset Roald Dahl’s story in 1968 Alabama, to so many television series—from the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to A Discovery of Witches—that bring their heroines to face challenges of the modern day.