Flagstaff and magic are two words that are usually not heard in the same sentence. But within the Ponderosa pines, there is mysticism that is not well known. Even on NAU’s campus, students and Flagstaff residents practice magic and witchcraft.
While it may be overlooked or completely unheard of, some students practice magic as a way of life and as a religion. What is seen on TV and in movies is not always an accurate representation of the practitioners and witches in real life.
In 2005, only 21% of Americans believed that witchcraft was present in their country, according to National Geographic. Since then the media’s perception of witchcraft has been prevalent, with movies and TV shows centered around the practice. From movies like “The Witch,” shows like “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and witchy characters like Melisandre of Asshai in “Game of Thrones,” witches have become a common character trope used in modern and historical plots. While these characters are fictional, there are real witches who live in Flagstaff.
Junior Raine Hurns bases her practice off eclectic paganism, which is her own personal form of witchcraft based on inspiration she has taken from her experiences.
“Out of the main sects or labels for witches, you could say I am more of a green witch because I work mainly with herbs and crystals,” Hurns said.
These sects refer to the several types of witches stated on many websites, including an article on Thought Catalog that explains different forms of practical magic. These usually include green witches, who focus on the Earth, sea witches who focus on the sea, eclectic witches and many other types that vary from list to list.
While a witch may choose to fit solely into one group, many witches choose to pull from each and incorporate different parts into their own practices.
Sophomore Aslyn Wright is a beginner witch who recently started her practice.
“[My practice] is pretty basic right now. I haven’t had a lot of time,” Wright said. “I started out doing little things here and there. Mostly I work with runes, tea and candle magic.”
With an increasing number of TV shows and movies placing a spotlight on witchcraft, Wright had mixed feelings on the representation witches receive.
“I feel sometimes if it’s just for theatrical purposes then they’re doing OK. It just depends on how [the media] portray them,” Wright said. “A lot of the serious media about witches and how they portray them is inaccurate, and I feel like they are making us out to be way more evil than we actually are.”
Hurns agreed that these portrayals can be damaging to the perception of witchcraft. However at other times, media coverage can be helpful in spreading the word about modern witchcraft and in helping new witches learn more.
“If it is witch-controlled media, I think it is totally awesome,” Hurns said. “It is super empowering and really helpful for guidance.”
From an outsider’s perspective, junior Emily Irwin was surprised to learn how many people practice witchcraft after taking a religion class focused on it.
“I kind of assumed people were into it just because we are so close to Sedona, which is such a cool, magical and spiritual area,” Irwin said. “I didn’t really know that this many people did. It really opened my eyes to how many people in such close proximity do.”
Irwin also agreed that witchcraft in the media can be hit or miss, with Instagram models pretending to be witches and inaccurate representations of the practice on TV.
“It depends on where you’re looking,” Irwin said. “A lot of people can go on social media and pretend to be doing it or not be doing it correctly. I think it is cool how many new shows are coming out about it, because it is educating and sparking interest in a lot of people, so more people want to learn about it.”
While the people who have no idea about witchcraft may not believe magic is real or might get a bad impression from the media, Hurns said it is more science based than some people may realize.
“As far as my personal practice goes, I think it is based in science in a way,” Hurns said. “Like confirmation bias — that’s definitely a real thing, because when you’re repeating thoughts to yourself and you’re in meditative trances and you’re inducing these spells and working on it, of course something is going to happen, and you’re going to notice them. You’re putting that effort in, because that’s what is required from spells.”
Confirmation bias, as explained by Psychology Today, is a way of motivation through wishful thinking that people use by believing something is true, thus causing it to become true. This is a form of science that some people like Hurns consider magic.
While magic may be hard to believe, there are many people who venture into the world of witchcraft and use spells, tea and other outlets to change their daily lives. What may be true to one witch may not be true to another, and like any religion or way of life, witchcraft is widely varied.