The list of rituals offered on the website of community-based healer, organizer, and ritual artist Dori Midnight seem to sum up her deft blend of the spiritual and the practical. There are healing rituals and fertility rituals, but also activist rituals and “queer magic and transition rituals.” Midnight, who has trained as both a clinical herbalist and an interfaith minister, grounds her work in a commitment to collective liberation, but punctuates it with a healthy dose of cheek: Her apothecary offers up elixirs called “Boundaries in a Bottle” (“Excellent for visits with family”) and “YES Liberation” (“for healing, strength, protection and support in the face of racism, neocolonialism and oppression”). In other words, she’s definitely a great mystic for the times we live in now.
What motivates you to do the work that you do—and how is our current political situation impacting it?
Love. I have always been motivated by wanting to be of service to who and what I love: my communities and extended web of artists, activists, healers, and dreamers; young and old folks; queer and trans people; people of color; my disabled and chronically ill kin; liberation movements; and the Earth itself. The current state of affairs is totally showing up in my work. The racism and injustices are nothing new; [they are] just getting more articulated and less veiled. But there are also many real ways that peoples’ lives are being impacted. I work with a lot of trans and gender nonconforming people; lots of organizers who are both energized and exhausted right now; and people who are dealing with personal, institutional, and generational trauma. In a way, it’s what I’ve been training for—to show up and hold each other through this.
Throughout history, women who act in opposition to the patriarchal status quo have been accused of practicing witchcraft, being possessed by demons, or otherwise having supernatural powers. What is it about feminine power and the supernatural that gets the patriarchy so freaked out?
That’s what patriarchy is all about and what it’s grounded in—being frightened of women and gender nonconforming people, as well as being freaked out by both the supernatural and the wild power of nature. Control and oppression/suppression of women and women’s traditional knowledge and magic has always gone hand in hand with control and dominion over land, all in the name of capitalism. I think there is deep magic in collective resistance. And when women—or any other traditionally marginalized and persecuted group of people—gather with shared intention, it’s a powerful force: We can feel into and experience the possibilities of dismantling oppressive structures like white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. The patriarchy should be freaked out.
In the capitalist United States we find ourselves in a time of “witch chic,” where Urban Outfitters is slinging sage and crystals and sacred symbols are co-opted and sold as fashion accessories. What do you see as the problems and benefits that come with a collective interest in witchcraft and the supernatural?
I’m so glad you brought this up—I have a lot to say! I mean, I love crystals and Stevie Nicks and serpent rings as much as the next witch, and I’m all for ornamentation and fashion as magical practice, but yes—this is a totally different time than when I was a teenage witch in the early ’90s! I was the weird lezzie witch who read tarot cards and tried to put hexes on date rapists; it was not cool to anyone else besides me and maybe the other weirdos. But yes, this moment of witch chic is interesting; obviously, when capitalism gets its hands on anything, it [can be] super problematic. It has everything to do with the white supremacy and settler colonialism that is inherent in capitalism. Capitalism relies on and perpetuates our feelings of inadequacy and disconnection, and offers us ways to feel better through purchasing identities, things outside of ourselves—and the more “exotic,” the more powerful. This speaks to the bereftness of white culture, if you want to call it that. [There’s a] kind of hunger that people of Western/Northern European descent have for meaningful traditions and sacred objects and practices. I want to see this collective interest as a desire for real connections to something deeper, but I’m definitely wary.
At its best, I hope that supernatural chic can be a way to connect people, especially young people, to a legacy of power and resistance—that it can be a celebration of those who live in the margins and between the worlds, and maybe even reconnect people to their own ancestral traditions. But we all know that it’s tricky when mainstream capitalist culture steals our shit and then wants to sell it back to us. And it’s so essential that we’re not just sitting at our altars praying for peace. We need to back up our spells and visions for justice with action, divestments, donations, solidarity work, and liberatory practices.
In my experience, the most profound medicine for that deep desire for magic and connection is looking to the traditions and practices within our own ancestry and lineages. Besides not participating in spiritual and cultural appropriation (e.g buying sage at Urban Outfitters), it’s also so powerful to connect with the stories, plants, traditions, and medicine that sing in your bones and blood. Everyone living in the United States who is not Native has got people that come from somewhere else—whether it was by choice, by necessity, or by force. It’s healing, not just for ourselves but for the legacies of colonialism, to reconnect to our roots.
I’m sorry to be the major downer at the crystal fair, but let’s face it—the business of mining sparkly stones from the Earth is not an awesome thing. We’re talking totally dangerous and exploitative working conditions for people of the Global Majority and tearing open the precious earth all for a chunk of amethyst. I work with a lot of stones in my healing practice and apprenticed a stone priestess for 15 years, so I too have a collection of beloved stones and really am grateful for their beauty and medicine. But honestly, I feel weird about it right now. I keep thinking I want to take all of my stones and put them back in the earth.
What are some of your favorite representations of witches in pop culture? And what pop culture are you currently consuming?
First of all, I’ve been so thrilled to see articles popping up that are like “Not all witches are skinny and white,” with people lifting up Tituba and other Black and Indigenous healers and witches of color. I have always loved Cher and Bette Midler and Anjelica Huston and older Jewish ladies who signify witchiness just with their noses and their meddling and their noncompliance with white beauty standards, and I admit I love so many of those delicious/disgusting teen witch like The Craft. But honestly, the whitewashing of witchcraft in pop culture breaks my heart.
Some things I’ve been loving right now: the Princess Nokia “BRUJAS” video is so gorgeous and those Bruja skate witches out of the Bronx are seriously magical. I love Hayao Miyazaki movies with their feral young heroines fighting against evil empires. I think people like Beyoncé and Rihanna and their creative teams—who in my fantasies are all queer witches—are bringing their witchiness right now too. I also have a deep love for Baba Yaga and other old, ugly, scary witches. Obviously [that’s] not hot in pop culture right now, but I’m so ready for hags to be cool. So maybe I’m just planting a little seed.
What advice you have for Bitch readers as we settle in for a long resistance against this administration?
This administration, and the architecture of oppression in general, feels like bad magic to me—violent spellwork done by scared old white people with money and power. So I think these times absolutely call for resisting with everything we’ve got, including magic. It seems to me that anything that patriarchy and white supremacy has worked to repress or destroy, like magic or our imaginations or connections with each other, are especially powerful. So let’s cultivate and nourish those things! The first thing I like to say to people who ask for advice is to look to what you are already doing and find ways that those things are magical and full of resistance: making art, moving your body, sharing your stories, daydreaming, forgiving yourself, just breathing and existing. Now more than ever we need to keep doing the things that feel good in a deep way. [These are] obviously different for all of us, but let’s keep moving toward pleasure, which is resistance itself.
We’re in a time of increased vulnerability for Muslims, undocumented people, Indigenous people, Black and brown folks, disabled people, trans/queer/gender nonconforming folks, poor people, and women, I’m working with a lot of [them] on cultivating a sense of protection. This is different than safety, which is not guaranteed. But creating a magical cloak of protection can be so helpful for those who are feeling porous and panicky. I like to do some kind of grounding and protecting practice every day. Here’s a link to a short and simple grounding meditation.