Kickstarter’s Season of the Witch
Past and current creators of tarot decks, esoteric books, and occult artwork reflect on why, during a global pandemic and uprising, magical works have a special resonance.
If you’ve ever longed for a tarot deck devoted to mushrooms, or a Lenormand deck that celebrates Black American spiritual traditions, or a reprint of an esoteric turn-of-the-century book that illustrates the various permutations of the human aura, there’s a Kickstarter project for that.
Makers and disseminators of tarot decks, esoteric books, occult artwork, and other magical projects have always had a home on Kickstarter; tarot projects alone number in the high hundreds. But in recent months “Witchstarter” creators are tapping into an especially strong showing of community support. Recent and current creators say these projects seem to have a special resonance right now, offering a sense of comfort, spiritual connection, power, and healing to people who need it.
The occult as a tool of resistance
For centuries, women, men, and gender nonconforming people who challenged authority or threatened the status quo have been branded as witches to disastrous, even deadly, ends. Now, it’s a designation people of all genders proudly and publicly adopt. Witchcraft also has a long history as a medium of queer and feminist resistance that continues to this day; witness the witches all over the world protesting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. This might explain, at least in part, the mainstreaming of magic on and off Kickstarter.
“I think what we’re seeing right now is a massive awakening to how we’ve been controlled by and complicit in hierarchical systems of oppression, and the resurgence of witchcraft and the occult arts is part of the resistance to those systems,” says Claire Burgess, creator of the Fifth Spirit Tarot. “Witchcraft, tarot, and astrology are all modalities that return power to the individual practitioner, rather than centralizing power in a gatekeeper institution. That’s also what makes witchcraft and other occult modalities so popular right now: A person who knows their own power is a person who cannot be controlled.”
“We’re living in a moment that is deeply questioning the notion of truth,” adds artist Lucy Lord Campana, who, along with the independent record label and publisher Sacred Bones, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to republish Thought Forms, a book of esoteric illustrations from 1905 depicting the effects of thoughts and emotions on the human aura. (“Self-renunciation,” for instance, looks like a blue lotus blossom; “sustained anger” looks like a jagged red spear.)
“When Thought Forms was written over a hundred years ago, society was shifting in very dramatic ways. Industrialization had completely disrupted traditional ways of life, advances in science were in conflict with religion, and a more global world was emerging,” she says. “Theosophy was founded as an attempt to better understand these changes—their motto was, ‘There is no religion higher than truth.’ This pursuit of truth continues today, and I think people turn to many different places to find answers, such as magic and the occult.”
Tools like tarot can also “give voice to those who feel they are unheard,” says Lauren Caddick, whose Home Base tarot deck, based on photographs of her surroundings during the pandemic, is live on Kickstarter now. “There’s a famous quote by the activist, feminist, and witch Starhawk from her book The Spiral Dance: ‘To reclaim the word witch is to reclaim our right, as women, to be powerful… To be a witch is to identify with nine million victims of bigotry and hatred and to take responsibility for shaping a world in which prejudice claims no more victims.’”
The Sacred Bones team took their commitment to social justice to heart when they decided to postpone the launch of Thought Forms from June 1 to June 15. During those two weeks, “we shifted all focus to community support,” says Sacred Bones Books manager and project coordinator Carrie Shaff. That included raising money for The Loveland Foundation and a nationwide bail fund via the label’s digital Bandcamp sales.
“We are now launching in one of the most vital times in our history,” Schaff says. “The systems of care in our communities necessitate art, and we hope this book finds the people who need it—but we are more aware than ever that it is only a piece of the puzzle.”
A medium for self-care beyond capitalism
In the Western world in particular, tarot and witchcraft also appeal to a desire for spirituality and self-discovery that isn’t bounded by the rigid hierarchies of mainstream religions or the exploitative demands of capitalism.
“I don’t think you have to believe in the occult or mysticism or divination to use and appreciate this deck,” says Beehive Books founder Josh O’Neill, who launched Botanica, an herbalism-inspired tarot deck devised and illustrated by Kevin Jay Stanton, in April. “It’s a tool for exploring yourself, your place in the universe, the arc of your existence as a living thing in a network of other living things. I don’t think you have to believe in literal magic or spirits to believe that the world is enchanted and holy.
“The draw toward magic, the occult, and ancient traditions [may also be] part of a larger attempt to untether from the material reality of life under capitalism, to reach back toward older modes of understanding the universe that didn’t leave us as automated, mechanized, and dehumanized,” he adds. “In a world where you’re so often reduced to your modes of production and consumption, the spirit gets lost. And I think people are trying all kinds of methods to reclaim it.”
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