The Craft. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Charmed. The late 90s was something of a televisual goldmine for witchcraft, making a practice so often maligned in popular imagination instantly cool. Kickass covens and powerful sisterhoods took the place of crone-like witches and marginal women burned at the stake. No warts in sight, no attempts to cook Hansel and Gretel, the witches of 90s television were true pop culture heroines. While this transformation was undeniably powerful, it was also remarkably brief. The fascination with witches in popular culture soon fell out of favour, replaced instead by lethargic zombies, sparkly vampires and emo werewolves. Once again, witchcraft went undercover. With a nostalgic nod to this bygone era, Sabat Magazine aims to reignite a popular passion for witchcraft with beautiful coffee table worthy issues.
Remixing ideas of witchcraft and feminism with ancient archetypes and instant art, Sabat Magazine feels thoroughly modern. What’s more, Sabat Magazine couldn’t have come at a better time. The covenant is ready to rise. As modern witches have increasingly sought connection online, Sabat represents a physical meeting place for feminist inspiration and empowerment. Launching with their first issue, The Maiden, Sabat is both a magazine and a movement. We sat down with Editor and Creative Director Elisabeth Krohn to dive deeper into the Sabat Magazine origin story. Welcome to the ethereal world of witchcraft in 2016.
Culture Stories: What inspired you to create Sabat Magazine?
Elisabeth Krohn: It all came out of discovering the witchcraft scene on Instagram. It was very decentralized but it felt like people were communicating similar ideas from California to Norway to Sweden, and in lots of different places. I was fascinated by the bedroom culture concept of it – that it felt like it was a new space for girl culture. It felt modern and interesting and also like an aesthetic that needed a bit of an update.
So it sort of grew from that, exploring not just girls experimenting with witchcraft and playing with symbols, it became a feminist thing as well. Considering literature and arts and other aspects of female archetypes – such as the femme fatale – and just putting that into a witchcraft context. I wanted to combine these dry old themes with something that felt like it was happening in the real or online world. And just make it more modern, and maybe not as academic or heavy as a lot of esoteric literature can be, more easy to get into and fun. Make it sexy in a way.
CS: You started from this desire to reinvent the witch, starting from 1990s pop culture references like Buffy or the Craft – can you tell us more about that?
EK: Sabat Magazine is a very personal project for me. I’ve put in the different things that I’ve been drawn to having grown up in the 1990s myself and seeing that revival happening. It made a lot of sense to put this into The Maiden issue that explores the young witch and being a teenage witch, what happens when you come into power in all kinds of different ways. All of a sudden you are a sexual being, a woman with all these things happening to you. And I think that the teen witch is a good analogy for that. I felt that this would appeal to this audience that existed on Instagram and online – that they would be my age group and maybe younger, and have the same frame of reference.
Now, for the next issue, we’re looking at The Mother archetype and I’m already seeing that it’s different – it’s not so much the sexy young Maiden vibe.
CS: Is that the plan for future issues, to move through different archetypes of femininity?
EK: We thought we’d do the triple goddess, the three phases of the moon – The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone as our issues and see if we keep doing Sabat after that. We can see a lot of sides to being a woman through those lenses.
CS: It’s a difficult climate now for independent print magazines, especially with the move towards online publication. Why did you decide to launch Sabat Magazine in print?
EK: Firstly I love print myself. I love a printed book that’s beautifully detailed and well thought through. Of course it’s expensive, but it’s something that you keep. I love the contrast between the fact that this community is largely online and there are very few printed things, aside from those that are quite old, as with traditional witchcraft writings. So I wanted Sabat Magazine to echo that. Perhaps it’s not very economical, but it’s a labour of love.
CS: What does it mean to be a modern witch?
EK: That’s sort of what Sabat Magazine tries to sketch out and answer. I started out doing a lot of indepth interviews with people who identify as modern witches, and I think it’s quite individual. It’s something that you identify yourself as, it’s something that you participate in rather than being controlled by. It’s a lot about aesthetics, about playing with femininity, sexuality, and that kind of imagery. But then again for other people it’s very much about being connected to nature and the physical world.
I see that variation in the different people I follow on Instagram. Some are living in the countryside in Washington State, photographing the woods and they love being outside and connecting to nature that way, whereas others are in London doing spoken word sexual performance things and they’re [also] witches. I think it’s very cool, that they can all share in being witches. People are not fighting over the title, they’re like, ‘okay, you’re a witch I’m a witch’. It’s hard to define, but it’s about embracing womanhood and the darker and lighter sides of being a woman.
CS: Do you think empowerment is a central theme in contemporary witchcraft?
EK: Yes, definitely. It’s about trusting yourself and not being told who to be. It’s very free and individualistic. When we spoke to Segovia Amil for The Maiden issue, it was immediately clear that the issue was about coming into power and owning the powers that you can have as a woman on very many levels. So empowerment is definitely a very big thing in Sabat Magazine.
CS: Can you say something about the aesthetic element to witchcraft that you’ve created in Sabat Magazine?
EK: We wanted to have fun with it. To make it very beautiful, but at the same time to poke a little bit at the clichés through the visuals. I come from a fashion magazine background, so I know that when you pick up a magazine you look at the visuals first. That’s essential, because you know that no one’s going to pick it up and read it if it doesn’t appeal to them visually. We wanted it to look different, and at the same time we thought it was fun to have a cover girl, because it’s so bad to have a cover girl. We had to play with these do’s and dont’s and try to make something that’s different but within an existing framework.
CS: Is there a way that we can all inject a little bit of modern witchcraft into our everyday lives?
EK: It’s all about trusting your instincts and your gut to know whether or not something is a good choice. I don’t have to listen necessarily to what society says I should feel or do or think about something. It’s really important to find out what’s right for me and just really feel it out. Because we live in a world where we’re supposed to make rational choices all the time and sometimes these aren’t the right choices, it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes the feeling has to be right as well. This feminine intuition thing is important, and it’s something we want readers to take away from Sabat Magazine.
CS: Who are some of your favourite fashion brands or digital influencers that play with the idea of modern witchcraft and femininity?
EK: Brands like Comme des Garçons and Ammerman Schlösberg have coven inspired collections for this Spring/Summer, so we have an article in Sabat exploring how witchcraft pops up in mainstream fashion culture, which I think is a zeitgeist thing that is happening. The kind of people who grew up with the Craft are in that nostalgic moment and it’s popping up everywhere.
One of our contributors, Fay Nowitz, has a great Instagram account called Nyxturna. I feel that she is a very good representative of the witchcraft scene – her aesthetics, her politics, and what she’s informed by.
At the same time you have the Hoodwitch. We interviewed her for the next issue and she’s like a community unto herself. She sells crystals and things that you can use in everyday magic. She’s also created a secret community you can join if you’re a solitary witch. She puts up these goddesses of the week on her website and has a very interesting blog, so she’s a maker of a community, parallel to Sabat Magazine.
CS: In your personal opinion, who is the Sabat woman?
She would love to watch everything from the Wicker Man to the Craft and to have an encyclopedic knowledge of films related to occultism. She would love the bad ones as well as the good ones! I think a lot of the people who follow Sabat see a strong correlation with vegetarianism, veganism and feminism. These are often connected values – being feminist, vegan, and spiritual.