Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman are a couple of basic witches, and they wouldn't mind a bit if you called them that. The two friends are co-authors of Basic Witches: How to Summon Success, Banish Drama, and Raise Hell with Your Coven, a "magical lifestyle guide for everything from powering up a stylish crystal to banishing terrible Tinder dates." Zimmerman—who admits to eating Soylent for breakfast most days (her co-author says, "I'd never judge")—deferred to Saxena to speak for them both about kitchen witching, community, and the power of a solid spell to get yourself through challenging times.
Talk to me about what you mean by witchcraft.
Neither Jess nor I are practicing Wiccans or Neo-Pagans, or in any way religious about this. There's a separate lineage of these women who have been accused of witchcraft, whether they were actually doing magic or not. The main thing is that they were pissing off someone in power—usually a man—whether they refused to be whatever the dominant religion was in their area (especially in America and Europe where they refused to be Christian), helping other women perform abortions ,or doing medical things for each other. Maybe they were lesbians or refused to get married or have children or the many things that women have been accused of witchcraft for doing. That's what we see ourselves as: the descendants of the women who were always questioning authority and doing what they want.
Have you gotten any pushback from Wiccans?
A little bit. We try to make it really clear in the book that this is where we're coming from. We say literally on the first page that we are not Wiccan, this book is not about any religious doctrine. There are many other places you can go to for that and we're not trying to step on toes. We're just doing our own thing over here. So far it seems the people that we wrote the book for have been finding resonance with it and enjoying it. It's up to the readers.
This particular social and political climate seems perfect for your message.
We'd been working on the book all through 2016, but I think that the election made us realize that it feels a little more urgent than it did before. Jess reminded me we added a spell in there to keep going. Literally just when everything is crap, and when all you see is more crap in the future, and it's exhausting, there's a spell to not necessarily to make anything better immediately. Just something to keep you putting one foot in front of the other.
She's got to persist?
Yeah exactly. The things that we're addressing in this book are relevant for a lot of marginalized populations. It's for anyone who identifies as a woman. It's really for anyone. Largely it's been women who have been accused of being witches, but also gender nonconforming people. There definitely have been men accused of witchcraft. If you have any marginalization in your life, it has been a rough time recently. We're hoping that this book can help remind people that there are others like you and there are ways to engage in this.
What is the role of community in your version of witchcraft?
It totally depends on the person, the spell or the thing you're trying to accomplish and whether that works better with people or alone. If a reader is anything like me and Jess, growing up they may have been a little bit outcast or introverted. You don't always want to get together with a huge coven to do things. There are plenty of opportunities for solo practice and self care in there. We have an entire chapter basically based on the idea of finding your coven—not just romantic relationships in your life, but how friendships can be be essential, especially when you're in a political climate like this, or just at any stressful point in your life.
This community can be virtual. If you're living in a place where you feel like you don't connect to the people in your immediate community, one of the best parts about the internet is that you can find people who have similar experiences as you. You can find support even if they're not physically around you.
Did you know were you looking to these sort of answers as as you were growing up or did it come to you in adulthood?
I grew up in Manhattan. I was not raised any religion. My mom was raised Unitarian and my dad was raised Hindu. They were not religious. Most of my best friends were Jewish. They had lot of a different things to look to for spirituality. None of them completely resonated with me, but I enjoyed taking different ideas. When I was a young teenager I first started thinking about witchcraft—I think I saw Practical Magic and went and found a book in the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble.There's something tempting about the immediacy and very personal nature of practicing witchcraft. I didn't have to read a ton of text or go to a church. I wanted community later, but I didn't have to be part of a big community in order to do something that just felt cool at first.
When you're a kid, you're the most powerless ever. Everyone is making decisions for you about you without your input. A lot of young people are drawn to this sort of practice because they feel like they can have power, maybe not over anyone else but at least themselves. They can start to think about the way they make decisions or the way that the world functions in a very tangible way.
Of course I have to ask you, because we're Extra Crispy: Where does breakfast fit in?
We have a whole section of the book about kitchen witching. There associations with ingredients. In any spell, certain herbs mean certain things during certain times of year. The seasonality of the vegetables can be very representative; around the autumnal equinox or Halloween you're using squash and pumpkin and those have particular meanings. And whatever you're cooking, you're putting a certain emotion into it.
If you're cooking something for comfort, you actively want to be comforted by it. Maybe something bad has happened and you're turning to these ingredients to help you through that. Maybe you really care about somebody else and want to show love and gratitude. With any spell there is an opportunity to take a moment and really set your intention of what you want to be doing.
Obviously breakfast totally ties into that. I would be lying if I said that every single time I made breakfast, I paid super close attention to all my intentions for the day, but it can be a fun thing to bring in. When I was writing the book, I was working from home so there was more opportunity to get creative with breakfast because I didn't have to be rushing out the door. I love eggs on everything.
They seem somehow resonant.
There's a whole life thing to it. This is not my goal but certainly fertility is an aspect of it. There is a lot of symbolism that goes into an egg. And if you're being trolled on Twitter cracking an egg and breaking it can be a nice thing.
Say you have somebody staying over who you know who you love, want to love, or had a really great time with. Is there like an emotionally resonant breakfast you can make to bind that?
It's probably very cheesy and obvious, but making anything sweet to literally bring sweetness into the interaction is something that you see a lot in traditional kitchen witching spells and recipes. If someone someone stays over, apples have long been associated with love and sex. So that's definitely something that you could incorporate into your breakfast.
Every single spice or ingredient does have a traditional witchy connotation, but so much of it is based off intuition. If you want to attract someone and you know what they like, that go with that. If they hate apples or sweet breakfast, don't do that. The act of cooking turns intimate very quickly.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.