University of Notre Dame

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Which is Witch? Authenticity, Aesthetic, and Pop Culture Representation in the Witchcraft Community

posted on 2024-03-25, 02:00 authored by Carly B. Sherman

Witchcraft has exploded in popularity as a genre within entertainment media, as a fashion aesthetic, and as a lifestyle: crystals, tarot decks, and spellbooks are now sold at major retailers and these tools and information about witchcraft are easily accessible in ways that would have once seemed unimaginable. Only a few decades removed from the “Satanic Panic,” the moral uproar of the 1980s and onward that cast suspicion on a variety of occult practices and non-Christian spiritual practices, the trendiness of witchcraft is surprising, existing as it does alongside a real marginalized religious and/or lifestyle practice that is still stigmatized and discriminated against in many places. In this work, I examine how self-identified Witches respond to the mainstreaming of interest in the “witchy” and esoteric: given the proliferation and newfound visibility of witchcraft (and availability of information and resources), how do Witches navigate their own identity and feelings of authenticity within this context of Witchcraft-as-fad? How do Witches navigate this saturated cultural context, and what is at stake for members of the Witchcraft community? In conducting interviews with self-identified Witches across the United States, I show that two competing logics emerge in response to the popularity of witchcraft: one that embraces the mainstream trend and encourages “normalizing” the Craft, and another that advocates for preserving a degree of secrecy within what is ultimately a magical tradition. The former welcomes newcomers whatever their entry point while those in the latter camp are more critical of the kinds of information inexperienced Witches have access to, and thus more wary of the direction an influx of beginner Witches might take the community as a whole. Ultimately, I argue that the mainstreamers are better positioned to take advantage of opportunities to generate emotional energy in interactions given the fresh enthusiasm coming into the community, but in this they are equally exposed and vulnerable to situations that drain and dilute the emotional energy available. Those in the “mystery” camp generate less overall emotional energy, but are better able to protect that which they do have, and which is experienced as more intense than those who embrace the mainstream. I will further argue that this emotional energy matters because it has a direct effect on Witches’ ability to generate and sustain a sense of solidarity and community.


Date Modified


Defense Date


CIP Code

  • 45.1101

Research Director(s)

Erika M. Summers Effler

Committee Members

Terence McDonnell Abigail Ocobock


  • Master of Arts

Degree Level

  • Master's Thesis

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Program Name

  • Sociology

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    Masters Theses


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