My name is Anthony Ramirez; and I am a witch.
Disclaimer: In this piece, you will note that I do not use the word ‘magick’ as many modern, pagan witches do. Rather, I stick to the word, here and in my life, ‘magic’ as I do not attribute witchcraft to any religious affiliation or pagan practices. Witchcraft, for me, is an art, not a faith or religion.
When I was a child, I was fascinated with the ideas of magic, witchcraft, black cats, spells, flying brooms, bubbling potions, seeing the future, and every other archetypal trait that surrounded what it meant to be a witch. I remember going to the library in grade school, specifically looking for books that pertained to witches and magic: “Harry Potter”, “The Worst Witch”, “T’Witches”, “The Witches’ Supermarket”, “Wicked”, and so many more. It was the same with television and films: Charmed, The Craft, The Witches of Eastwick, Bewitched, Practical Magic, and anything else I could feast my magic-hungry little eyes on.
To some level of rationale in her Christian mind, my half-Mexican, half-white mother was, to say the least, concerned by this. She’d grown up in a household that took the whole “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” adage a bit too seriously. Her mother was the daughter of one Baptist pastor and the sister of another. At the time, I was too young to understand why they feared my fascination with witchcraft so much. I mean … if we were supposed to be praying to some unseen God in the sky for supernatural works to take place, wasn’t this God sort of a witch himself? I didn’t have the capacity in my imaginative, childish mind to comprehend the passages of the Bible I never cared to read from Deuteronomy and Leviticus and Revelations about how witchcraft was an unforgivable sin; I certainly wouldn’t until much later realize that these passages had held up historically into the present era. The Salem Witch Trials and mass hysteria hadn’t been explained until middle school — and even then I was uncertain as to why so many people would fear something that was all supposed to be make-believe. So, instead, I took my thirst for magic to the playground at school, gathering up girls — covens, almost — to reenact scenes from books and television series about witches and to create our own stories. In the 8th grade, I even spent two straight weeks without food or sleep writing my very first novel about witches and magic, which would later serve as the foundation for my 2014 published novel, Witches of the Deep South. But when my mother discovered my fascination for sorcery hadn’t evaporated with time — finding DVD copies of The Craft and all eight seasons of the original Charmed in my closet — she flew into hysterics, burning them in the fireplace and saying I was inviting spirits of Satan into the house my freshman year in high school.
Looking back now, however, I began to understand why she feared it so — what about it made her so skiddish.
You see, as far back as I can remember, occurrences I could not explain had been taking place and haunting me; and apparently they’d been haunting my mother, as well. When I was a child and the phone would ring — before we had the money for caller ID in the 90’s — I could look to my mother and tell her who was calling before she’d ever picked up the phone. When she’d buy me a cute Mickey Mouse watch from Walmart or the newest electronic device — Gameboys and eventually cell phones — I might only be able to keep them for a matter of weeks before the hands would stop ticking altogether or they’d short out for some unforeseen reason. When I would sleep, I would wake from dreams that felt more like memories, but those of which that hadn’t happened yet — then I’d shiver in the deja vu that came hours later when the events I’d dreamed had come to be. And soon I found myself lost in murmured chants, searching the dial-up internet for spells and potions before turning to the spice cabinet to find rosemary and thyme, stealing rose petals from our neighbors garden and pouring salt over the entrances to our homes to keep evil at bay. I collected hairs in labeled Ziploc bags from black cats and dogs, made certain to toss salt over my shoulder when it spilled, gazed into mirrors and glasses of water in search of images no one else could see. Soon, I could fathom a person’s emotion just by brushing up against them, overwhelmed by it as a piece of it latched to me and stayed there for hours to come. When my father and his second wife took me nervously to dinner — on two separate occasions and both times at Olive Garden — I hadn’t even looked up from my meal when my stepmother had said, “Well, we want to tell you something,” to which I replied, “You’re pregnant.”
I was correct on both accounts.
My intoxication with magic didn’t stop at playground games and cinematographic representations of witches or even with all of these supernatural circumstances. By the last of my elementary years, I was taking my preoccupation with witchcraft to another level. I was dissecting what witches in the media were portrayed as, and in turn I began to sift through these interpretations to understand what I believed to be true or not. I found myself wandering off into the public library’s more obscure sections to find books that proved that witchcraft was not just some fantastical cauldron-stirring, wand-waving spectacle resulting in puffs of smoke and bolts of lightning. Witches — all of different cultures, backgrounds, and histories — were real people who walked among everyone else. It was then that I began searching for the truth in the media about what witchcraft actually was, rewatching and rereading the films and texts I’d grown up on. Some presented witches as being associated with Satan — his minions on earth who did his bidding in exchange for power — I disagreed. Others claimed witchcraft to be part of a religion — Wicca and other neopagan faiths. It hadn’t been that for me. I was a half-Jewish, three-quarter Mexican who’d been raised by white Baptists. I’d never subscribed to any form of paganism. But as my research showed, some did. As for the fantastical parts of magic, it became clear that no one was really riding around the sky on broomsticks or sucking the lives from children to live to see another day. We were not green and we were not warted; we were not responsible for stillborn babies or cows that released blood from their utters during milking.
That’s right. I say not they, but we. And why? Because it was at that age that I realized that I was one of them. I was a witch. All those times I’d seen someone dropping by unannounced before they’d ever pulled into the driveway or studied for a pop quiz my teacher hadn’t yet told us about the night before began to make sense. All those silly potions I’d cooked up in the kitchen with no idea as to what I was doing or incantations I’d scribbled down in the margins of my school books weren’t just the delusions of some silly child. I had gifts — powers, even. And by the time I’d reached high school age, I reckoned it was time I learned more about them.
My mother’s fear of my interest in witchcraft only made more sense when I learned more about my family’s history. One afternoon when I was spending the evening with my father and his wife, we’d passed a little psychic shop in Willowbrook where my stepmother mentioned she’d like to have her cards read. My father — someone who didn’t really take to believing in much of anything when I’d known him — discouraged the idea, but not for the reasons my mother might have. He’d said, “Why pay for it when you can just go see my mom?” He was speaking of my grandmother, my abuelita — a Jewish Mexican whom I had not been around since I was a newborn. I didn’t understand what he was saying or why he’d said it, so I took to asking him to explain. “Your grandma is a witch,” he told me, half-jokingly. “She lives out in New Mexico and dances with wolves.”
I couldn’t tell how serious he was at the time, but I knew that there had to be some truth to it for him to even make the joke in the first place. I asked my aunt about it later, who provided little insight and acted as if she didn’t want to discuss it. Soon, I brought it up to my mother’s mother, Brenda, and asked her what he might have been talking about. She explained to me that my grandmother was, in fact, a witch — or a bruja, as I’d later come to discover was her proper title. She told me that my grandmother — whom her side of the family had never much cared for — read tarot cards and casted spells and had even told my Christian relatives when I was born that I, too, would share her gifts. But those gifts, as explained by my grandmother, Brenda, weren’t just gifts that came from my father’s side of the family. On my mother’s side, I descended from a long line of witch-like women, as well — only they didn’t call themselves that. They were more like seers — women who suffered random premonitions and were able to see souls trapped on the wrong side of the veil that had never moved on after death. Brenda was one of them; and many times as I got older and before her death, she recounted the stories of the spirits she’d encountered over the years, what they’d come to tell her, and the visions she’d seen and how she herself had scared the ones she loved with her spot-on predictions.
I don’t think I’d ever felt more validated in my life at that point. All those silly spells I’d been practicing when everyone had gone to sleep — all the late-night reading about the Witch Trials and the old magic few practiced anymore … it hadn’t been because I was some obsessive freak who needed something otherworldly to cling to because he couldn’t deal with what took place in this world. It was because I really was a witch; and it was because I’d come from a line of witches on both my maternal and paternal sides. And in the years to come, I made a commitment to myself: I was going to learn as much about magic as I possibly could, and I was going to live life as the witch that was always living inside of me — the one whose gifts yearned to be released, the one whose magic crackled and popped through cracks in the surface but could never quite shine through all the way. I took classes at metaphysical shops learning to read tarot cards — impressing women who’d been practicing divination by my natural ability to predict futures and surprising them with how I could draw the exact same spread after shuffling and reshuffling the cards time and time again. I learned how to properly cast a spell, what the history of magic was in some cultures, and more importantly what it was in mine. Brujeria was an old magic — much older than that of the white witches I grew up seeing on television. But all magics — no matter how similar they may have seemed at the surface level — were vastly different. Some witches worshipped the pagan gods and goddesses; some assimilated their magic with the religions they’d been born into; others worshipped the earth rather than an unseen force in the sky.
My magic was none of those things. It wasn’t Wicca and it wasn’t pagan. It was just witchcraft. Plain and simple witchcraft. I had no religious ties by the time I’d entered my twenties. I’d spent more time learning about my Jewish heritage, but I wasn’t a member of any synagogue. I’d renounced any ties with Christianity that I had the moment I’d come out as gay due to the church’s intolerance for queerness; and when I practiced magic and as I grew into it more, I wasn’t serving some ancient god or goddess; I was not a member of a coven or congregation; the furthest thing from what I practiced was Lucifer. I was just a witch who had a gift inside of him that he kept secret for a very long time because he was afraid that no one would believe him.
But as this Halloween approached — a Sabbath for witches of all cultures by many names — I decided that hiding my witchcraft was not how I wanted to live anymore. Slowly but surely — just as I had when I was coming out of the gay closet — I’d been letting more and more people in my life know about what I did while others slept under the stars and moon; or why I whispered short phrases under my breath in times of great anxiety; or why I kept a deck of tarot cards and a leather-bound book stamped with a pentacle tucked in my bag at all times. Many knew I practiced witchcraft and had known for years. But none of them had ever really seen it. And in 2018, I really began to let people see it.
It started when my friend Will first saw my book of spells — a grimoire or a book of shadows, everyone calls it something different — while we were out at Rich’s one night. It was then that he confessed that he, too, was a witch. We began, over the course of our still-short friendship, talking more and more about what we practiced, how we practiced, and even practicing together a time or two. The only other person I’d really ever had that sort of relationship with was my friend Jessica, a woman I’d met during my classes who was also a witch that practiced her magic in solitude. And while my witchy relationship with Jessica was wonderful, having Will — another gay man who identified himself as a witch — around to discuss things with and to cast with was different. We had more life experiences in common. We were closer in age, we were both successful, we had similar desires, and we’d both been looking for a sister to practice our craft with.
The first time that we did this, we were on vacation in Austin to meet — fittingly — Holly Marie Combs who had portrayed Piper Halliwell in the original incarnation of Charmed. Just a few weeks before I’d learned that my best friend Wendy’s father had been diagnosed with leukemia. I researched and researched how magic could tackle cancer over those weeks, pulling together source materials as if I’d been preparing my dissertation for grad school. And after a few weeks of intensive study and some meditative solace to weave together a spell to heal my friend’s father, Will and I drew the blinds and closed the doors and performed our sacrament to cure Wendy’s father’s illness.
Neither of us were certain it would work, in spite of the fact that the fire burned for the better part of half an hour and the room filled with smoke and the entire next day the scent of violets and honeysuckle followed us wherever we went. But the energy in the room when we were casting was palpable, and the energy that it instilled within us in the days to follow was like snorting cocaine on top of Adderall washed down with a giant Redbull. Still, when three weeks later I asked Wendy how her father was doing and she responded, “Did I not tell you? He went back to the doctor and they told him that he’s in full medical remission”, I broke down into tears. This was the man who had only been diagnosed six weeks before, who had only been on therapy for a short portion of those weeks. And in that time he’d gone from having leukemia to full medical remission?
Certainly modern medicine was incredible — but so seemed to be witchcraft.
The spells that I’d been casting in the time that followed only seemed to keep up in their results. When my friend asked for a spell to help him find a job closer to home, he was a week later offered a new position that his boss explained would help lead him back to a job in Houston if he could stick it out a little longer. When another friend asked for a spell to inspire his boyfriend to figure out what he wanted so that they could get out of the rut in their relationship, only another week went by before said boyfriend sat him down to figure out how they were going to progress in their relationship. When I’d shared with someone that I was being berated by a person I didn’t like while at Guava one night and had to retreat to the bathroom to cast a spell to make this person stop talking to me, I woke up to a screenshot from my confidant the morning after that revealed the subject of my spell had lost his voice entirely. When I’d had my heartbroken just the night before writing this by the man I truly believed was going to be the one I spent the rest of my life with, I hadn’t even needed to light candles and chant incantations for the distraction of male attention. As soon as I’d thought of what I wanted, my Tinder matches began flooding into my notifications when I hadn’t used the app in weeks, Grindr messages popped up innumerably throughout the night, and old flames I’d not spoken to in years had somehow found my new phone number and reached out overnight until my phone finally died from all its buzzing while I slept.
This year alone — really in just these last few months — the culmination of my search for what was and was not real, my thirst for knowledge of the magic that had been kept from me for so long, and my desire to be able to affect change with the gifts I knew I had inside of me had all finally begun to pay off. And today, this Halloween, I’m coming out of the broom closet and sharing my bewitching ways with everyone. Before I feared people would think I was crazy or that I was lost in delusions of grandeur; but the fact of the matter remains now that I’m at a place in my life where I have focused enough on these powers and these gifts that I can properly show people what I can do. But to quote another very famous witch,
“I’m through accepting limits / because someone says they’re so. / Some things I cannot change / but ’til I try I’ll never know. / Too long I’ve been afraid of / losing love I guess I’ve lost. / Well, if that’s love, / it comes at much too high a cost.”
Unlike Elphaba, I may not be taking midnight rides across the skies or moving objects with my mind, but bhat I have done for others around me and what I can now teach to people like me searching for their truth is all the evidence I need. But the most amazing part is that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. Believe me or not, my magic is real.
And just like when I came out of the closet as gay years ago, I can now confidently say that this is just a part of who I am; and it doesn’t matter if people like it or believe it. What I believe is that there is magic all around — every set of words we speak is an incantation of its own, powerful enough to affect change in the world. Some of history’s greatest witches — lobbyists, martyrs, inventors, healers, feminists, leaders — have been witches without even realizing that’s what they were. But for those of us who have figured it out, who have tapped into it and learned how to direct it with our intentions, magic is much easier to conjure and use for the better.
My name is Anthony Ramirez; and I — for better or for worse at times — am a witch.