Attend any gathering of occultists and Pagans, and you will discover that a very large proportion of those attending have at least one, if not more, protected characteristics. For starters, witchcraft is still strongly associated with women centuries after the Salem Witch Trials, and many Pagan practices are also derived (or in some cases outright stolen) from Black and Indigenous cultures. Additionally, there a great number of disabled and LGBTQAI+ practitioners. We’re a diverse crowd.
This paints a stark contrast to the predominantly white, male-dominated Christian communities I grew up in. While I cannot speak for other religions, Western Christian practices have well-documented themes of misogyny, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and just general xenophobia. That’s not to say that all Christians are like that as quite the opposite is true, nor is it to say that Christianity is the only faith to have these issues. Even witchcraft is not exempt from criticism on this front; our community has a racism issue, in particular. That said, witchcraft does seem to attract marginalised groups while Christianity often repels them.
The biggest difference between Christian and Pagan practice is that Christian deities are worshipped, and Pagan deities (or spirits) are worked with. A typical Christian prayer usually asks something of God without offering anything in return, whereas a witch’s spell invoking the power of a deity probably won’t work unless an offering of some kind is given in return. Contrary to popular belief, an offering does not mean sacrificing someone on a stone alter with a silver dagger, and more commonly means committing some time or resources to a cause that deity represents.
On the surface, this makes Christianity seem like the better deal, but I would beg to differ. Seeing a spell you performed succeed is far more rewarding, because instead of the result being purely attributed to an act of God, it can at least partially be attributed to yourself. You may have had some help, but had you not performed your part, it wouldn’t have succeeded. That’s empowering.
I believe it is for this reason that witchcraft attracts so many marginalised people.
Take it from me that when you deal with ableism, transphobia and biphobia on a daily basis, you would do almost anything to level the playing field. When you spend your days constantly fighting against a power imbalance and dealing with the impact of this oppression, having something to empower you is crucial. This holds true for all the other types of oppression out there too, not just the ones I specifically deal with. It might not exactly be a staggering advantage, but not being completely powerless is a powerful motivator.
The most controversial aspect of the use of witchcraft to deal with oppression is, of course, the hex. It is a common witch’s idiom that “what you do unto others will be done seven times unto you”, so some people avoid hexes altogether, and those of us that do use them do so with care. Very few witches would be foolish enough to wish significant harm or death on someone. That said, if someone is directly and blatantly contributing to oppression which causes harm, a basic hex wishing them a series of small misfortunes such as papercuts and spilt coffee is an impactful method of self-empowerment, and brings the opposition down a peg or two. Many practitioners find that it is actually a great way to relieve the stress and move on from unpleasant interactions, rather than continuing to dwell on the issue.
Whether or not you choose to use hexes, prefer a different approach, or think that all of the above is nothing more than superstition and perception bias, it is undeniable that witchcraft has helped many people deal with the unpleasant aspects of having a protected characteristic. It is my belief that witchcraft is a tool to be used in the face of unspeakable odds, such as dismantling a system set up to disadvantage all but a select few.