INFLUENCE: CONTEMPORARY WITCHCRAFT AND THE NEW MYSTICISM
Influence is a new regular feature that explores the power of influencers, micro-trends, and how social media is shaping the contemporary hospitality industry.
“A witch is one who dares to stand alone as an individual, who believes in her powers to evolve and change herself and her world. She encourages a sense of connectedness, yet is aware of her own boundaries. Trusting her intuition, she feels the smallest of vibrations and allows space for magic and mystery.”
Citing pop culture icons like Stevie Nicks, Courtney Love, and Marina Abramović as ‘witches’ she’d invite into her own coven, the contemporary witch Elisabeth Krohn (founder and editor-in-chief of arty witchcraft magazine Sabat) imagines is very different from the Halloween clichés who might knock on your door tonight. Krohn’s witch is an empowered feminist capable of channelling a power from within to create positive change.
Whether it’s finding something else to believe in thanks to the omnipresent threat of masculinity in the shape of Hollywood moguls; misogynistic online trolls and the deeply disturbing POTUS; or a tonic to whitewashed interiors and the overly fluffy world of unicorn and rainbow trends, the occult and witchcraft have been prevalent of late in worlds from fashion to food – and a rising army of goth influencers are pushing darkness to new heights.
From showy makeup-heavy gothic fashionistas like Charlotte Croucher (17.5k); Death Candy (125k); Kina Shen (631k); and Olivia Emily (243k) to the Sabat-style spiritualism of Bri Luna’s The Hoodwitch (190k); Fay Nowitz (49.3k); Tilly Garcia (35.7k); Ancient Hearts (52.7k); and Claire ‘Spookula’ Williams (23.4k), the dark side is well represented on Instagram; and its popularity has spawned a wave of photogenic homages to this new wave of gothic appreciation.
From black hot dogs achieved with added squid ink to black rice sushi and activated charcoal making goths; and everything from flat whites (blacks?) to ice cream and juices, the new witch needn’t search too far to find food to match that moody outfit. The darkness has descended, and it has never looked so good.
At Vespertine, a space-age Los Angeles restaurant where chef Jordan Kahn is taking avant-garde cuisine to the nth degree, a dish of halibut can be found (among many in a set menu the chef describes as ‘a dinner experience in four acts’) that LA Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold has described as having a “blackness deep enough to suck up all light, your dreams and your soul.” In Kahn’s creation, as Gold continues, the halibut has been “pounded thin, crusted with charred-onion powder, and pressed into the bowl over a kind of porridge studded with minced shallot, perfumy bits of pickled Japanese plum, and bright, crunchy bursts of acid that could either be finger-lime vesicles or chopped stems of the wildflower oxalis.”
Set to an ambient soundtrack from Texan post-rock band This Will Destroy You, Kahn’s cuisine is deliberately provocative, and backs up the notion that a new wave of darkness is challenging the sort of super-white, Instagram-friendly pleasantries that the ‘slow living’ set had brought with it.
Confronting ‘niceness’ and cutting against the grain might be a daunting proposition, but look around and there’s a surprising number of spaces where edgy moodiness reigns: Canberra’s A. Baker, an intriguing industrial interior where the scars of destructive fire have been embraced as part of its character by Melbourne studio DesignOffice; the blackened, ridged façade and rusting shutters of raw Hong Kong hotel Tuve; the muted austerity of Copenhagen restaurant Nærvær… “During recent years of stability and safety, we have had bright white spaces that are open for exposure”, high profile Swedish interior stylist Lotta Agaton told Dezeen. “But in darker times when the political and economic climate get more uncertain, you want to nest a little bit.” A darker aesthetic for darker times?
As is the case though, with Instagram witches like Tilly Garcia (aka @_spirits) – whose posts include subjects like ancient literature, crystals, wolves and taxidermy – this is a trend that extends beyond charcoal lattes and converse colour palettes: the modern witch is deeply ingrained in mysticism and spirituality. Not that this necessarily means a connection to religion: a study has found that 72% of millennials are ‘more spiritual than religious’.
“I was raised without religion and so I had the freedom to find my own path”, says Garcia, “but I enjoy the occasional full-moon ritual. It involves meditation, cleansing crystals in salt water, burning palo santo (a sacred wood from Peru). It’s like sage, in that it’s said to clear away energies. I also charge crystals with the moonlight and positive intentions depending on what I want to achieve that month. I do this just as I’d also partake in some elements of Buddhism.” There is a sense that this trend is intrinsically linked to wellness, a note that should not be overlooked by those in the hospitality world hoping to engage with those spiritual millennials.
Perhaps spirituality and our inner self is what is key to this movement. K-Hole, the trend-forecasting group famous for coining the term ‘normcore‘, has recognised the spirituality that surrounds contemporary witchcraft, the new goths and modern mysticism, calling it ‘Chaos Magic’.
“Chaos Magic creates realities that are temporary and subjective”, the New York-based collective writes. “It’s not a tool for changing others – it’s a tool for changing yourself. You opt into whatever belief system you think will help you reach your intended goals: Wall Street’s Confidence Fairy, your Fairy Godmother, or the Church of Agape. Chaos Magic isn’t just believing in The Secret – it’s deciding to whether to start believing in The Secret. Mixing your own Kool-Aid, deciding how strong to make it, knowing when to drink it and when to stop, is Chaos Magic in practice. It’s radical DIY that uses reality as the only necessary operating system. This is not to say that Kool-Aid will always take you on the path you intended. Drink too much and you might end up lost, alone, or dead.”
If there is one force in hospitality who has embraced each and every angle of this ‘influence’, it’s Beirut-born Londoner Rami Fustok, the debut hotelier whose lavish Fitzrovia hotel has been described as “Eyes Wide Shut meets the Gardens of Babylon”. The Mandrake (named after a mystical hallucinogenic plant) brings darkness and decadence together, embracing the ritualised spiritualism of our favourite contemporary witches and delivering high on occult symbology and 21st century psychedelia. The headline-grabbing Mandrake suite, with its black bedsheets and Bedouin-style answer to the traditional four-poster, harnesses hedonism and mysticism, and serves as a reminder that K-Hole’s ‘normcore’ has been well and truly replaced by Chaos Magic.
“A witch is one who dares to stand alone as an individual”, says Elisabeth Krohn. It is time to embrace your witch from within.