By: Emily Gibson
The "Kiss of Shame," or the Osculum Infame, is a witch’s supposed greeting with the devil, or how witches become involved with the so-called dark arts. An image of this interaction – a woman kissing the devil’s anus, or “other” mouth – is illustrated on a pin fastened to 28-year-old Jessica Beauvoir’s jacket. There are many pins there – a chaos wheel with a pentagram in the middle and a turtle bone encased in glittering lime-green slime, among others. “I’m like a walking billboard for Austin Witch Circle vendors,” she says, referencing the fact that local artists who participate in Witch Circle markets crafted all of her buttons.
Beauvoir is the “rock” behind the Austin Witches Circle, according to fellow-member Kristi Lewis, but she’s modest about it – “I feel like I just organize [the community], I don’t think I created it.” The collective is a group of occult vendors and practicing witches who meet at marketplaces citywide to sell their goods and spend time with like-minded people – most recently, they met at Hard Luck Lounge on October 29 for a Samhain celebration.
An herbalist by trade, Beauvoir moved to Austin in 2015 looking for a city where she could successfully run an apothecary. When she first arrived, she found the market for her shop, Eris Apothecary, which she describes as “herbalism with a witchcraft aesthetic,” wasn’t as developed as she thought. So when she met vendors similar to herself, she had an idea to create a market specifically for them. “It made me realize that there was a yearning for that sort of community here,” she says. “There’s lots of different pagan groups in the city, but there was this one niche that wasn’t being met.”
The first Dark Moon Witches Market, one of their recurring events, was held on December 10, 2015, at Drinks Lounge. It was a success. Lewis, a 28-year-old silversmith, said she earned more than $1,000, and it remains one of her highest-grossing markets. Over time, Beauvoir says, the crowds evened out and became steadier than the overwhelming response to the first few fairs, but the community itself is still going strong. “It’s still happening,” Beauvoir says, speaking on how she is still able to self-run Eris Apothecary without needing another job, “I’m still not employed by anyone else, how is this still happening?”
Beyond being a marketplace for the occult, Lewis and Beauvoir stress that the Austin Witches Circle events are safe spaces, where they stress equality, safety and open communication. “Our mentality and our ethic code is intersectional feminism first and foremost, and self empowerment through witchcraft – dismantling the hierarchy of any kind of religion or the patriarchy,” Lewis says.
Beauvoir points to a trend in witchcraft and goddess-oriented communities to be trans-exclusive because of what she calls, “just shitty bigotry.” In response, they ensure that any potentially problematic language is deleted from their event pages, and anyone exhibiting offensive behavior at their events is removed. The first item listed on their website’s list of collective principles is trans-inclusive feminism. “I think it’s important that anytime you emphasize that you’re a feminist collective to establish that you’re trans-inclusive,” Beauvoir says. “Otherwise, people might have doubts, and I don’t want there to be any doubts about what we stand for.”
"It’s about re-establishing your relationship with the earth and caring about the earth.”
There are many ways to practice witchcraft, both Beauvoir and Lewis stress during our interview at Epoch Coffee – Christian wiccans, satanic black-magic practitioners, secular earth-centric crafters, and infinitely more. “There’s as many ways to be a witch as there are people who identify as witches,” Beauvoir says.
They point to a shared connection between many, but not all, sects of witchcraft – reverence for nature. Beauvoir says that many witches have a desire to attune to the cycles of the seasons and the earth.
Lewis grew up in a small Florida town, surrounded by Southern Baptists. Her first response to her environment was to shirk any type of religious belief. “My immediate reaction was to be turned off by any kind of religion or hierarchy, or submitting myself to a higher power – the idea that my thoughts and urges and opinions, that I should feel guilty about them,” she says. “I was turned off by religion at a really young age. Paganism is nice because it means the absence of a higher power or a man who is supposed to be a god; it’s about re-establishing your relationship with the earth and caring about the earth.”
Now, Lewis practices witchcraft that centers on being self-empowered, doing no harm to the earth and accepting that there are factors beyond her control, like the moon and the tides, that affect her.
Beauvoir says she would label herself a secular chaos witch, “which sounds like a Dungeons And Dragons orientation.” She named her apothecary after Eris, the Greek goddess of strife and discord, who is the patron deity of Discordianism, a religious belief that Beauvoir calls a “parody of Christianity.”
She said that chaos magic isn’t a complex system of rules, but an attitude or philosophy towards magic. “One of the axioms is that belief is a tool, so I choose to think that I can utilize the tool of belief to my own benefit and I can pick and choose what I want to believe based on my whims, or based on the day of the week, or based on how I’m feeling,” Beauvoir says.
A main tenant of witchcraft is intention – where you put your intention is where you power is, Lewis says. She points to a blue, metal stool sitting by the bar; “That chair could be someone’s magic chair, it’s all about the intention behind it.”
“It’s actually a throne of enlightenment,” Beauvoir says.
“Yeah, and it makes my tailbone fall asleep,” Lewis says. “I’m feeling very enlightened back there.”
If magic is centered on intention and will, Lewis and Beauvoir say, a witch doesn’t need any specific, special tools. Yet, as is always the case with a capitalist society, shops have taken the trend and tried to make a profitable market out of it. “When people are first becoming interested in witchcraft, they think ‘oh, what do I need to buy?’ or ‘what do I need to do,?’” Beauvoir says, “But you don’t need to buy anything, you could walk outside and pick up a stick and that could be your magical wand if you want it to be.”
Austin Witches Circle held a marketplace October 29 at Hard Luck Lounge to celebrate Samhain, a traditional Pagan holiday that is known in the modern day as Halloween. Samhain is celebrated from October 31 – November 1, and is one of the Sabbats, or solar holidays, on the Wheel of the Year.
Beauvoir describes the Sabbats according to the wheel – there are four “quarter days” that occur when the wheel is divided into four pieces. Where the dividing lines meet the edge of the circle are equinoxes and solstices. The pagan “Midsummer” has become known as the Summer Solstice, for example, and “Midwinter” – or, “Yule” – has become the Winter Solstice.
If the circle is again divided into eight pieces, the cross quarter days are added to the calendar. The cross quarter days represent the sun’s halfway point between each equinox and solstice and are the four Greater Sabbats, when each season is at its peak energy. These, too, fall on modern holidays – “Imbolc” falls on the modern Groundhog Day; “Beltane” falls on May Day; “Samhain” falls on Halloween. “You can see the overlap,” Beauvoir says, referring to the similarity in holiday dates. “When Christian Imperialism happened and they converted everyone from Paganism, they used the same dates for holidays, and changed the names and pictures.”
Samhain in particular marks the time when the veil between this world and the afterlife is the thinnest and is, therefore, a time to celebrate those who have died. In that regard, Austin Witch Circle’s Samhain celebration included an altar to Santa Muerte, “Saint Death,” a Mexican folk-saint who has been condemned by the catholic church for being un-canonized. Beauvoir lives in what once was a Santa Muerte temple, which inspired her to learn more about the largely underground but rapidly-growing following of the saint.
Santa Muerte is the saint of death, healing and safe passage to the underworld, and though she isn’t largely represented in Samhain celebrations or Pagan traditions, Beauvoir says it isn’t a large stretch to include her. It speaks to the modernizing of Paganism, which Lewis and Beauvoir both emphasize is a largely personal and developing movement. Holidays, traditions and rituals are all diverse, unique and growing. Beauvoir says, “That’s the thing about modern paganism and modern witchcraft: you can blend a lot of cultures together and it makes sense.”