Hauswitch: The Salem Feminists Making Witchcraft Political

“It’s about questioning patterns and roles. It’s about doing something.” 

Aside from the name, little is overtly “witchy” about HausWitch Home + Healing. Unlike other witch-based stores in Salem, Massachusetts, there are no cauldron racks, no book-cluttered shelves, no windows bubbling over with fairy statues. Instead, the products on offer are of a far more practical variety: an array of magical cleaning products, soaps and face creams, and a line of Sister Spinster elixirs crafted from flowers and herbs. Reusable totes implore one to “Vote Witch.” HausCraft Spell kits in the shape of adorable cardboard houses offer tools for blessing homes and conjuring positive vibes, all with easy-to-follow steps and ingredients included.  

“I like to keep it simple,” HausWitch founder, Erica Feldmann, told me when we spoke at the end of September in the final, easy days before Salem kicked off the Halloween season. The HausWitch brand, she explained, was designed to weave seamlessly into people’s lives. The products suggest such simplicity (a home-blessing kit comes with 6 items). Aside from “hex the patriarchy” obsidian points, which made me wish I could go full-on Dark Willow, the products on sale were less about casting spells on enemies, and more about self-empowerment, reflection, and healing. 

Erica Feldmann. Photo by Dave Wells

Although I’d studied medieval religious heresies in colleges — which included a wide range of witch-based persecutions — I know very little about actual witchcraft. Witches, history had taught me, were often women who had transgressed some social boundary, such as daring to profess that they could receive God’s grace without intervention from a male-dominated Church or practicing herbal remedies. Rarely were they what we popularly associate with witches: pointy hats, warts, black cats.  

HausWitch falls more on the earthy-healing side of the spectrum, although midway through our interview, a young woman did walk into the shop wearing a sparkly pink witch’s hat. Billed online as a collective of business witches, HausWitch is now a thriving lifestyle brand — a more affordable GOOP with progressive leanings and a distinct “fight the power” edge. Products are ethically sourced, created mostly by local artists and designers who are witchcraft practitioners — the kinds of people who know just the right ratio of redwood to sage is needed to ward off feelings of isolation. Candles and wall hangings celebrate powerful female archetypes like witches and Furies. Then there are products with a more overt political edge, such as the Damn the Man crystal candles and a Simple Spell Against the Cis-hetero White Supremacist Patriarchy, complete with a protective soap for cleansing after.

 

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“I think of [witchcraft] like being empowered to make your life what you want to make it,” said Feldmann, who opened HausWitch in 2015. Feldmann, who studied Gender and Cultural Studies at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, is no stranger to historical presentations of the witch. The witch, she noted, offers an archetype of resistance against male-dominated social structures; she both rejects and is rejected by them. While people may be drawn into HausWitch because the store is pretty, Feldmann told me, once inside they see that it’s also a place of resistance.  

This resistance goes beyond patriarchal hexes. HausWitch, according to the website, is “an inclusive place for womxn, the LGBTQ+ community, POC, and anyone who feels like they are in need of a truly supportive and safe environment in this ever-changing world.” In addition to patriarchal hexes, HausWitch offers a place for witches and those with minimal knowledge of witchcraft to come together in a safe, accepting space. Monthly workshops cover topics for both self and political empowerment, such as “Intro to Witchcraft” and “Cat Magic: Harnessing the Feral Feminine.” There are also healing sessions and moon circles which, Feldmann says, were inspired by her interest in second-wave feminist conscious-raising circles. 

 

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Interested in experiencing this community, a few nights later I attended a tarot salon run by Feldmann’s wife, Melissa Nierman. There were about fifteen of us — all women — cross-legged on pillows on the floor, every one a salon veteran except me. After a quick Tarot 101 (probably for my sake), Nierman broke us first into pairs, then small groups, to practice reading cards for each other; the readings resembled a collaborative therapy session, with each reader interpreting the cards based on their abstract meaning (cards in the suit of “swords,” for example, represent “intellect”) and also the particulars of each illustration, which could vary from deck to deck. 

While we didn’t technically qualify as a conscious-raising circle — no collective thoughts or vibes were channeled toward any singular force — what did strike me was how the cards became a way for each pair or group to problem-solve, or at least talk through, whatever concerns might be on the mind of the person whose cards were read. Certainly there was something powerful in this kind of self-revelation. When I asked Nierman about this after the salon, she told me that for her, tarot is both a mirror for self-reflection and also a bonding experience that allows us to connect to others. “You can learn stuff about people you would never learn through conversation.”

Although the community around HausWitch, and witchcraft in general, is open to persons of all sexualities, “there’s an overlap,” Nierman told me, “between being a witch and being queer.” Both involve being part of a marginalized group, and both involve coming out, although being queer, she noted, currently has more cultural context. Still, sharing a part of yourself with others, she said, is a powerful thing for any person to do.   

“Witch has that political power behind it,” she told me. “It’s about questioning patterns and roles. It’s about doing something.” 

 

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Whether that something is buying a nice-smelling candle, talking out problems in a supportive group, or proudly declaring that one is a “Witch!” with a new tote, it’s both ironic and fitting that today’s out-and-proud witch resistance should find its home in the very place that was the sight of one of America’s most notorious persecutions. Once, the women of Salem (and a few men) were struck down by patriarchal forces on merely the suspicion of being witches. Today, the witches are here. They are out. And they aren’t going anywhere.    

 


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