a witch explains how to use fashion as magick
Gabriela Herstik, author of 'Craft: How To Be A Modern Witch,' breaks down energetically cleansing clothing and how to use talismans as protection.
Still from 'The Love Witch' (2016)
The occult has been making a millennial comeback for a while now. Alternative ideologies always prosper during difficult political and financial times. Instagram witches sell tarot and crystals to a spiritually conscious generation of consumers. And high fashion has always fallen under witchcraft's spell, with designers like Vivienne Westwood and Gucci bringing ancient symbology onto the runway. But can fashion and makeup themselves be a form of magick? According to author Gabriela Herstik, definitely. She explains how in her debut book, Craft: How To Be A Modern Witch.
Witchcraft has always been a part of Gabriela's life. She’s no Wicked Witch of the West though, nor Bette Midler’s caricature in Hocus Pocus, terrorizing children and northeastern suburbs. Modern witches look different. They shop at Supreme. They eat at Chipotle. They have regular bedrooms just like you and me, albeit covered with pentagrams and dried flowers, and with prints of rope-bound goddesses hanging from the ceiling. During our interview, Gabriela is clad in a black "Satanic Feminist" tee and a charm necklace reading "KARMA," but using fashion as craft isn't just about aesthetics. She told i-D how to wear talismans as protection, why a shaved head is a powerful form of fashion magick, and how her Mexican and Jewish heritage is tied to the garment industry.
Where did your interest in the intersection of fashion and magick come from?
Fashion is woven into my ancestry. I’ve always had a family that fostered both my spiritual side and my glamorous side. My interest in the world of magick started when I was around twelve and got a faery oracle deck — that lead me to witchcraft. But I grew up in a very spiritual environment with a father who is a rabbi. He fostered my curiosity about God and the unknown. My mother fostered my spiritual side with breathing and crystals and yoga — and she is the most glamorous woman to walk the earth. My grandparents on both sides were involved in fashion and clothing. That validated the magic I found in fashion and made it apparent that fashion is part of my story. They didn’t practice magick, though. My grandparents were in the Holocaust, they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves.
Was there a moment when you realized that fashion was something that made you feel powerful?
When I shaved half of my head when I was 17. It was the first time I consciously rebelled against my parents with my style. I really just loved how it looked. I call it my initiation into being a fashion witch because, for the first time, I decided to express the way I felt on the inside, on the outside. My shaved head is my most tried and true form of glamour. It’s something I did for nobody but myself, and it led me down this beautiful path of self-discovery, not only with style but with magick, because it was a way to shape the way other people saw me — which is what glamour is.
Yes, in your book you talk about "casting a glamour." Is there a difference between a glamour and personal style?
To me, a glamour is being intentional with your style. It’s a way for you to take control of the way you’re perceived. It’s a way to disguise what is beneath. Personal style is exactly what a glamour is — it’s a way for you to shape how others see you. It should empower you. No matter what we’re doing we have to live in clothing, anyway. A glamour is a way to reclaim sovereignty and to be energetically intentional and embrace your individuality in a way that makes you feel more connected and protected. For women and femmes, every time we step out on the street there is a chance we’re going to get catcalled. A glamour is like protection.
Like using your clothes to shield and disguise yourself?
It’s less disguising and more... embellishing. But also, sometimes you do need a disguise — your glamour is something that could make you less seen. It’s something that can ebb and flow depending on what you’re feeling.
Is fashion magick political?
It definitely can be. For people who are going against heteronormative ideals, dressing how you see fit, regardless of what politicians and the fashion and beauty industry tell you, is totally political. Honestly, existing as your full self is political at this point.
How can someone who doesn’t care about traditionally feminine clothing and makeup use fashion magick?
I think it’s about — the term “personal” keeps coming up — it’s more about taking the time to see what you need in that day, in that moment, and wearing whatever makes you most comfortable and confident. If denim is your thing and it’s what makes you feel super sacred, then wear it. It’s about what makes you feel the most magical. It can be wearing different colors, using talismans or crystals, holding onto family heirlooms, anything! It’s more about intentionally dressing yourself.
Who do you look to for inspiration when you get dressed?
Number one, the women in my family. My mom has probably worn lipstick every day of her life. My grandma Rose was super beautiful and glamorous and dyed her hair red throughout her entire life. My grandma Tita, who is 80 and so, so fabulous, still wears her Hermès scarves like it’s nobody’s business. And Vivienne Westwood, my queen, my icon, my muse, has always been using fashion as a tool for political expression and activism. I love her more than most things and people.
Your grandma Rose has an incredible story of survival that's tied to clothing.
She was able to survive three years in the concentration camps partially because she is a badass and partially because she was a seamstress before being shipped to Auschwitz. She happened to have the same first and last name as the niece of the head seamstress of the camp. Someone called for the seamstress’ niece, and thinking someone asked for her, my grandma stepped forward. When the head seamstress found out that my grandma had sewing skills, she allowed her to stay in the seamstresses quarters.
I feel like as a Jewish person, with family who both survived and passed away in the Holocaust, I shouldn’t be alive. The fact that this skill with fashion is something that saved her is something that is always running through my mind with the work I do. I feel so thankful that I can openly talk about being a witch and share my practice because people in my family were killed for what they believed in.
You mentioned the idea of a cosmic team in your book. Is your grandma Rose a part of that team?
All of us have energetic spirit guides who accompany us through this life. I feel my grandma most when I’m writing or working with my glamour or working with roses — her namesake. Everybody has somebody they know that they feel really connected with when they leave. One of my favorite ways to work with that energy and presence is by wearing pieces they owned like necklaces and talismans. I’ll have things that belonged to them on my altar. I’m a very physical, tactile person so having something I can meditate with or wear is a very powerful form of connecting to my own spirit and loved ones. It’s something we can all do.
How would you advise someone who is looking to move from simply getting dressed into the more meaningful practice of fashion magick?
Personally, I like to pull my tarot cards and look up what sign and phase the moon is. I’ll match my outfit or makeup to a tarot card. But more than anything, it’s taking some time and being intentional with getting dressed. Just sitting and breathing and being intentional with it. Asking yourself, “What kind of energy do I need to bring into my day?” If you are stressed out you might want to wear something that makes you feel more connected to your heart and your breath. In my book I included a prayer to your ancestors to cleanse and bless your clothing. It’s just about taking the time to infuse a little magick into the routine.
Do you think people will notice a big difference from just taking that extra moment?
Fashion magick and personal style will manifest for everyone differently because we are all different. Magick is energy and it’s a relationship. It takes work. But more than anything, it’s supposed to be fun. When you’re a kid, magick is that thing that brings you to life. We have to live our life in clothing anyway! If we are going to do it then why don’t we infuse that task with a little more magick. Not only can it help you look and feel better - it’s fun. Playing dress up is joyful and blissful. When we take out the idea that our magick has to look a certain way to be valid and allow ourselves to manifest it in the way that it looks and feels the most delicious, there’s no way that can’t help us.