Every full moon, Jessica Webb brings out her soaps.
The 28-year-old witch, also known as Jemathyst, brings her tools next to an herb garden in her backyard in Gainesville. Webb places a mirrored tray of soaps shaped like chubby goddess figurines on the ground. She lights a sage bundle to bless the space and her products. As the moonlight bathes them, she meditates and prays to bring good health to those who need it.
“Anything soaking up under that full moon has this really nice energy to it,” she said.
The products soon appear on Webb’s small apothecary business online, Three Sleeping Eyes on Etsy, or in the space she set up two months ago in the back of Blu Crystal, a metaphysical and CBD store on Northeast 23rd Avenue.
Webb is among 1 million practicing witches in the U.S., and one of several in north central Florida, who uses her knowledge and craft to make a living. Considered taboo for centuries, witchcraft and metaphysical beliefs have re-entered pop culture and the economy in America.
In July 2017, singer Lana Del Rey placed a hex on President Donald Trump. In October, Netflix premiered “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” an adaptation of the ‘90s series “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Meanwhile, pricey fashion brand Urban Outfitters sells astrology guides, cat-themed tarot cards and a practical spell book on its website.
By summertime, Webb plans to start teaching her own classes on plants and herbs in Blu Crystal’s upstairs loft. In 10 years, she wants to open another location in St. Augustine.
Like other young entrepreneurs, Webb looks forward to making a living off her passion.
“I don’t think everybody wants to work for anybody anymore,” she said.
The exact number of witches anywhere is unknown because the U.S. census does not track religious affiliation. Estimates are typically based on those who practice Wicca, a pagan religion with several traditions. According to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, the number of North Americans who practice “other religions” – particularly Wicca – is projected to reach 6.6 million by 2050. Although many Wiccans practice witchcraft, not every Wiccan is a witch.
Webb had worked on her Etsy store on and off for four years, but she struggled to grow it while dealing with depression and raising her infant son. She walked into Blu Crystal about two years ago. The owner, Linda DeLaney, 67, who now considers Webb a “surrogate daughter,” encouraged her to jump-start her business after getting through a difficult divorce.
“This has healed me,” Webb said. “By helping others heal themselves, I’m healing myself.”
Webb follows many Wiccan, Hindu and Taoist beliefs. While she enjoys seeing more people learn about paganism, witchcraft and spirituality, she is wary of those who use witchcraft as a fad or a quick fix for their problems. Witchcraft isn’t something to play with. It takes responsibility.
“Don’t just be throwing all this energy out,” she said.
DeLaney walks around Blu Crystal showing off Webb’s section to an old friend. The store owner smiles as she points out the new clothes, soaps and crystals sitting in glass counters. Both businesses, just like Gainesville’s metaphysical community, are growing.
“This is Gainesville,” DeLaney tells her friend. “People are into all this.”
On Wednesday nights, a small group of witches and spiritualists meet upstairs in the store’s small loft with notebooks in hand. Kami Landy, a 56-year-old witch, joins them and takes out her notes. She is a priestess in Odyssean Wicca, a tradition with origins in Canada.
The free class typically lasts two and a half hours depending on how talkative the group is. Odyssean Wicca teaches pagans how to worship deities without having to hide, Landy said.
In the old days, when paganism was condemned, she said, “if you wanted to live a pagan life, you turned over a whole lot of rocks” before finding other pagans to practice with.
Landy sticks to her notes as best she can while speaking. She swings her arms out wide to resemble the universe, then quickly recoils them to mimic the molecules that form humans. She rattles off names of gods and goddesses she has memorized from decades of study.
As Landy discusses spirituality, she sprinkles advice: Don’t rely on love spells to find a partner. (“Desperation isn’t sexy,” she said.) Not every household pet is an animal spirit guide. If you hear insightful voices in your head, they might be spirits. But if the voices tell you to do something dangerous, you should see a shrink.
“Just because somebody’s dead or disembodied, doesn’t mean they’re wise,” Landy said.
The pagan community has always had a strong activist voice, she said.
“The time when Wicca and Neo-Paganism came to the United States and just blossomed was the same time as the women’s movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and this whole sense of not wanting to be in the shadows,” Landy said.
Erin Prophet is a lecturer who teaches about religion, nature and health at the University of Florida. She said while witches traditionally had practiced in groups, they now tend to be solo practitioners who use the internet and social media to learn their craft and interact. As movies and shows about witches grow in popularity, so does public interest in paganism as a subculture.
“That’s probably why it’s been able to adapt as much as it has, and I expect that to continue,” Prophet said.
About a half hour away from where Landy discusses Wicca, Sharron Britton’s crystal collection sparkles as customers select smooth rocks to take home. High Springs Emporium, on Northwest Santa Fe Boulevard, is a yellow house turned rock and crystal store. Britton, the 68-year-old owner, said she opened the location 15 years ago after her old store burned down.
Britton noticed over the years that practitioners of different religions would come for supplies like crystals, candles and sage. She keeps a supply of Florida Water ready for those who practice Santeria, a Caribbean syncretic religion. A rainbow of candles is organized by color. Christians from a nearby church often visit, she said.
“We can say with absolute truth, God made the rocks,” Britton said.
Learning about crystals helped witch Teketa Shine, 32, of Gainesville, connect to her higher self. A decade ago, after an abusive relationship ended, she found peace while holding a quartz as she lay on her bedroom floor. Crystals are now organized by shape and size in one of her closets.
Every pocket and compartment in Shine’s car is stuffed with crystals and stones. She keeps a deep honey citrine rock the size of her hand in the front seat. Citrine is good for prosperity.
She runs her thumbs over the rock’s sharp edges and into its grooves as she recounts her journey as a witch and a small business owner. In her 20s, Shine worked at metaphysical stores and witchcraft boutiques in New York. She once worked at a store that was “straight up ripping people off” by selling 2-inch-long amethysts for $30. Today, Shine would sell that rock for $5.
“I wanted to get the stones into the hands of the people that could really appreciate them and could work with them,” she said.
Her Etsy store, The Crystal Mind, will someday have a storefront in Gainesville, Shine said. She wants a space to sell homemade candles and crystals and to host classes, workshops and events.
“That’s my vision that I’ve been working on,” she said, “but I’m just taking it slow until I find the right place, because once I’m in there, I don’t want to be budged.”
In the meantime, Shine’s weekends are booked and busy. On a recent Saturday, Shine drove downtown to a marketplace hosted by Swamp City Gallery Lounge, to set up shop for a few hours. Next to a box of sage and palo santo, a sign promotes: “Psychic readings. $1 per minute.”
Shine keeps a sage bundle in a coffee mug in her car for markets like this. She lights the already burnt end to bless her table. The sage smolders in the mug until it slowly snuffs. Shine closes her eyes behind Ouija board eyeglasses, her hands clasping a deck of tarot cards. She shuffles the deck with you in mind and spreads the cards across the table. Pick three, she says.
While religions like Christianity have portrayed God as an old white man for centuries, witchcraft allows women to connect with the divine feminine, Shine said.
“With the amount of trauma that a lot of women have been through from the masculine,” she said, “there needs to be sort of a feminine uprising, and witchcraft sort of allows women to step into that place.”
Those who want to explore witchcraft should determine their core beliefs, Shine said.
“We’re starting to trust ourselves; we’re starting to listen to ourselves when nobody else will,” she said. “And that in itself is an act of rebellion.”