Halloween is upon us, and so follows many popular representations of witches and witchcraft in the media. But in the past several years, representations of “witches” cross-culturally have begun to change. Now the resurgence of witchcraft has been a hot topic in popular culture. This renewed visibility is due in part to the current political climate in the US, and rising tensions internationally. In Denver, this rise in popularity is clear in the success of local businesses and gathering places like Ritualcravt — an independently owned retail store and event space devoted entirely to witchcraft. With the popularity of the craft growing exponentially, stores like Ritualcravt are constantly finding ways to stay relevant, and are having no problem doing so.
In the past year, Ritualcravt expanded from a tiny 350 square foot store to a 4,000 square foot space just outside of the city, and would not have done so without the public’s piqued interest. We sat down with Missy Rhysing, owner and founder of Ritualcravt, to talk about this rise in the craft’s popularity, how it has affected her local business, and to answer the question: what (really) is a witch?
303 Magazine: How do you define the word “witch”?
Missy Rhysing: “Witch” is a difficult word to define because it can really mean different things to different people. The definition I would use for myself is that a witch is a person who utilizes plants, minerals, and other natural elements, and/or devotion to a deity, saints, gods, or other higher powers, to move and adjust the inner and outer realms around them to make the world a better place.
303: What does witchcraft mean to you?
MR: Witchcraft to me is the hands-on work of the witch. Its the practice and ability to work with nature, spirits, herbs, the moon, energies and more to affect change. This is the work we all do at Ritualcravt, each in our own unique ways based upon the studies and traditions that we are involved with. It’s the beauty of what we do to help others and help ourselves!
303: What is Ritualcravt? How are you involved in Denver’s community?
MR: We are a retail store of course, but we also hold lots of quarterly special events, we have a full in-store and online school of classes on a very large variety of topics ranging from herbalism to astrology, curanderismo to hoodoo, yoga to crafting. We have a full staff of readers who specialize in tarot, astrology, intuitive counseling, and much more! We also work together with our neighbors All Sacred Tattoo to do quarterly fundraising events at our building where we donate thousands of dollars to a handful of Colorado non-profits to give back. We receive a lot of community donations at our altars, and the shop doubles it and donates it quarterly to a community-chosen cause. We donate regularly throughout the year to uplift and support causes that are close to our collective hearts as well.
303: Do you think witchcraft as a spiritual practice has become commercialized?
MR: Yes, I would say that it has become commercialized. I struggle with this a bit as a person who owns a witch shop! While I think there are some negatives to it— like new Hollywood shows and films portraying witches as Satanists, evil or otherwise, or that it’s a Halloween-ish religion . . . I also think there are plenty of positives. Witchcraft, paganism and other traditions are growing in numbers every year. People are awakening to the folk practices that were in their bloodlines long before big religion sought to destroy them. People are becoming empowered in remembering and reclaiming spiritual practices that lack dogma, patriarchy, and oppression. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
303: How has this growth affected the store?
MR: The growth of witchcraft has certainly helped my store be successful, and I am so grateful. When I opened the original Ritualcravt four years ago, in a tiny 350 square foot space in Sunnyside, I had no idea people would be so interested in it! Folks really came out of the woodwork to support it, and I received so much feedback on how needed it was. I was so surprised and humbled, and I am still to this day. Now in our third location, with 4,000 square feet, a busy school and busy staff of readers, I still come in and can’t believe I get to do this. And I get to support a full staff of managers and employees, we are even able to offer medical insurance now! I’m in awe of it all.
303: What are some common misconceptions of witches?
MR: That witches worship “the devil” or are anti-Christian — which is so silly because “the devil” and hell are Christian inventions! That there are “white witches” and “black witches” or that witches perform white or black magic — the term “black magic” likely stems from outsiders using those terms to describe traditional African folk magic practices, and therefore it has racist undertones and should not be used at all in my opinion. Magic is neither black or white, good or bad! That all witches are women — witchcraft is open to any gender identity or gender-nonconforming person. That magic is hereditary — you do not have to have family that practiced witchcraft openly before you to call yourself a witch or to practice witchcraft! Although I would bet that most people, if not all, have at least distant ancestors that practiced forms of folk magic before big religions made their way through the world and so much folk magic had to go underground, was destroyed, or lost.
303: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start practicing?
MR: We get a lot of folks who come into the shop saying things like, “I love all this stuff, but I just don’t know where to begin.” I have two suggestions. The first is to set up a small and simple space in your home, an altar of sorts, to work with daily. This can be a small table with items that are sacred or special to you—stones you picked up on a hike, a photo of someone special to you who has passed, a statue of a saint or goddess, a candle, anything that represents something bigger than yourself. I recommend spending time daily at this space, tending it with love, leaving special offerings if you have a statue or photo, sitting in contemplation or meditation. Quieting your mind, and being open to listening to any messages that may come your way. You can build on this practice later. The other thing I recommend is researching your ancestry and heritage, and read the myths and sagas of your bloodlines. Connecting with the stories and traditions that run through your veins is a powerful way to re-establish the folk magic practices that have been historically lost in all of our cultures. And lastly, come into the shop! Our House Witches are always available to answer questions and to help you on your path.
You can find Ritualcravt at their new location— 7700 West 44th Avenue.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas