The odds of you having already met a real-life witch at least once in your life is higher in 2020, a.k.a the year WitchTok was born.
While most of the internet might not even blink at the mention of witchcraft anymore, real life is different with a lot of witches still practicing in secret. However, there’s a growing number of women who are reclaiming words such as “bruha” and using their practice in socio-political organizing and empowering.
I sat down with Filipino witches Belle Mapa and Gaetia Til Alexandros to talk favorite spells under quarantine, the moon hexing fiasco, witch media representation and what baby witches should keep in mind in their practice.
Hi, Belle and Gaetia! Before anything else, can you introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about your practice?
Belle: I’m a writer, creative coach and eclectic “bruha” based in Manila and Makati. By eclectic, I mean not tied to any particular practice or religion (such as Wicca and Paganism). I take from many places and apply them to my own personal practice and beliefs. However, I’m trying to re-align my purpose as a practitioner of magic to what we had before the onslaught of colonialism and the spread of Christianity. So there’s a lot of calling out to nature, the spirits that reside in non-living things and whatever’s out there in the universe.
I believe in astrology, practice tarot reading and collect crystals. I also like saying that there’s magic in creativity and making things from the heart. Occasionally, I’ll hex a government official or two in protest. (Laughs)
Gaetia: I’m a 26-year-old content writer and secular pagan witch based in Parañaque. My path is best described as eclectic, as my practice doesn’t adhere to a strict set of rules; I must only do what does not harm others or myself and what feels right in my heart. My goal in practicing is to weave magic into even the most mundane areas of my life and to extend that magic to those I love. I mainly work in cleansing and blessing rituals, divination through tarot and pendulums, crystal magic and intent manifestation. Incorporating witchcraft into my art is also important to me as I’m a visual artist, musician and writer.
What are witches like in 2020? What’s a media representation that comes closest to what witches are actually like these days?
Belle: There’s a whole spectrum in the media that tries to nail it—and it’s so strange that they’re still hung up on this narrative of black versus light magic. I think there’s value in using light magic to bequeath another person with positive energy. On the other hand, I think hexing and cursing people (so long as you know there are repercussions to your actions) is OK. And what’s with all the Satanism, guys? We worship goddesses and spirits too.
“The Craft” is kiiiinda OK with the circles and the rituals but then it gets weird with the possession (which doesn’t happen that way). “American Horror Story: Coven” at least shows you the hierarchy and system in a coven. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is just awful. I had a childhood “imaginary friend” named Batibat who was turned into a “sleep demon” in that show. They did her dirty. She’s a Filipino spirit but we didn’t get the representation we deserved.
My personal media pet peeve is how they [diminish] the Death card as a sign for when someone is about to die. It’s my favorite tarot card because it symbolizes reincarnation, transformation and renewal. Its meaning is so motivational but stupid show writers get stuck on the skeleton in the graveyard. So annoying!
Gaetia: “The Arcana” is a game I’ve played recently where one of the characters, Asra, is a wonderful representation of what witches actually are: people who take their magical gifts and use them to manifest a favorable outcome, while simply wanting love and acceptance like anybody else. While I’m pretty easy to spot given my strange fashion sense, I look very different from what people know witches to look like. We’re all hiding in plain sight!
Belle: There are witches IRL who do use wands and crystal balls for grounding. There are those who consult the tarot before making decisions. However, there are no flying feathers, no talking cats and no angry manifesting demons. But I do have a black cat familiar, a stray I named Bulan, who occasionally pops up on my window when I do heavy magic.
Witches in the Philippines, I find, are still relearning their roots and trying to find their ground. There’s a lot of tarot and astrology in the mainstream.
Abroad, there are movements from multicultural communities to reclaim their power as minorities. For example, the Latinx community is owning the term bruja as a means to resist neo-colonialism. There’s a whole movement of feminist witchery, women reclaiming their power and literally rallying to hex people in the government. Honestly, I want something like that here but I haven’t found people [to do it with yet]. (Laughs)
When did you start studying witchcraft? Was there a particular moment that made you consider yourself a bona fide witch?
Bella: I don’t really study it. I just discover magic when the time feels right. Stories have been passed along in my family that my maternal grandmother was a witch. She used to do weird things in the kitchen. She would talk to the dwende in her garden and she knew how to make gayuma. My family sees ghosts in real life or in dreams. So I always knew as a child that I did have magic in me. And honestly, when my Hogwarts letter didn’t arrive on my 11th birthday, I was distraught.
I loved astrology ever since I saw them in the W.I.T.C.H. comics. I’ve been collecting crystals since I stumbled upon an occult shop on a trip to a mountainside town in Australia. Tarot is something I picked up in 2018. I collect decks that connect with me and I’m trying to find replicas of historic ones. I can talk to spirits in the area through Mildred, my Marseilles Tarot. I also try to do what my lola did in stories I’ve heard and I collect spells in groups I’m in when the need arises.
Gaetia: I’ve been interested in witchcraft for a long time, though I’ve only practiced in the last five years. I felt simultaneously disillusioned and guilty, [coming from] a very judgmental and conservative upbringing. I figured it was about time I tried it out since I was tired of praying to someone who didn’t want to hear me. On the 25th of December 2015, I consecrated myself under the full moon and vowed to develop my power and use it in a craft that honored me. It hasn’t been easy. It’s difficult to stay committed, but it was one of the best choices I’d ever made.
It’s a confusing and difficult time for a lot of people. Do you have a spell that you’ve been using more often under quarantine?
Gaetia: Spells work best when they’re tailor-fit to the caster. I like to meditate and focus on affirmations with words that are unique to me. I imagine a warm light cast over myself, my home and my loved ones. I speak goodness into this space. This is a simple spell that anyone can alter to suit them better. Protection is important in these times, so I make sure to light incense when I can and keep salt close by.
Bella: I don’t recommend this one for baby witches. But back to anger being valid, if you’re willing to hex the government: LET’S GO, GIRLS. Remember that curses come back to you, so cast a protective circle and pray to your deity.
I have my lola’s gayuma spell which I use as a self-love spell. On a piece of paper, write an affirmation or a grounding word. Dip it into your morning drink until the ink dissolves. I also like doing this with wooden stirrers. I write the word on the wood and stir clockwise in my favorite number. I feel energized and loved after.
I also have a spell for washing hands that is wonderful [for keeping safe against] COVID-19 and literally washing away bad vibes. It’s called “Out Damned Spot” which I named after the scene where Lady Macbeth washes her hands of her sins.
Are there renowned covens that novices can look to for guidance or do witches mostly keep to themselves?
Gaetia: I am mostly a solitary witch now, though I belonged to a few covens in the past. I haven’t heard of large covens, especially locally. Most witches I know practice in secret.
A coven should have witches with similar goals and practices, so their energies can work in harmony towards a certain goal. If any novices are looking to form their own, my advice is to develop your practice as much as you can before seeking out like-minded people. It’s important that [the members aren’t just out] to fulfill their own whims.
Bella: I don’t know any, unfortunately. I’m part of a lot of witchcraft groups on FB, though. They’re fun to get spells and advice from. The memes are also great.
Is witchcraft, or at least some aspects of it, scary or risky?
Bella: Super risky. I’ll admit I’ve made my fair share of mistakes when I was a baby witch. I kept forgetting to cast protective circles when doing my hexes and I think there’s an entity in my room now that needs banishing.
I’ve also talked to a white lady through my tarot deck Mildred. I made pagpag at a 7-Eleven but I forgot to do it to Mildred. I had to sage her so many times because she developed a weird attitude. She’s fine now. I realized her natural temperament is that of a sassy lola.
There’s also a debate around the rule of thirds that says what you cast comes back threefold. Witchcraft is a give and take with the universe so be careful.
Gaetia: Witchcraft can be super risky if you’re not sure of what you’re doing. Being secular, I don’t particularly tap into the power of deities. But spirits are everywhere in nature and there are some who want to harm you, so you need to learn to equip yourself to ward off their negative presence. Learn to ground and center yourself, cast circles of protection and be mindful of how you practice—that’s what responsible witches do!
There’s a growing online community of witches. Would you say that witchcraft is still taboo?
Gaetia: For as long as a conservative society exists, you can expect witchcraft to be demonized. People hate those who go against the norm, seekers of their own truth.
Bella: No. I think witchcraft now is a means for womxn to reclaim their power and whomever disagrees can burn me at the stake. Charot!
Back in July, there was a rumor about a group of baby witches on TikTok who tried to hex the moon and the fae. What are your thoughts on that?
Gaetia: (Laughs) Don’t hex celestial bodies or the fae. Not only will it disastrously fail, but you’ll be on the receiving end of their vengeance. No amount of protection will be able to save you. In your practice, be kind to that which you do not understand. Have reverence for the provision given to you by nature and the spirits within it. That’s not to say that hexes aren’t allowed towards those who mean harm, but you have to operate within your power and not beyond it. Safety first.
Bella: We laughed about this on all the witchcraft Facebook groups. Do you really want to piss of Hecate, Nyx and the engkanto in the year of our lord 2020? I do wonder though if it applies to western fae. I’m hoping it does, because if not, can you imagine the wrath of Asian spirits? Girl.
A lot of us witches are honestly pissed because many do worship the moon deities and make bargains with the fae. So if things suddenly go wrong because a group of idiots cursed them, that sucks. If 2020 or 2021 gets worse, I’m blaming it partially on them.
What should a person looking to get into witchcraft know or prepare before they start their journey?
Bella: Try to think of what magic means to you first. Don’t try to get into everything all at once because it can get overwhelming. You don’t have to be into all types of magic to be called a witch. Magic is in the little things too. Believe in your ability, your light and offer that out into the universe.
Gaetia: Research, research, research! This craft is as old as humanity itself and there are countless ways to prepare for your journey. Seek out the main branches and see if any of them call to you. If there’s something about the craft that interests you, make note of it. However, do not take from closed paths, religions and cultures.
Your intention is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Source your materials responsibly and have reverence for the world around you. Commune with those who understand, write down your experiences and and know your limits. Learn to pursue your path with mindfulness and love.