CHICAGO – FOX 32, the local Chicago affiliate of FOX News, reported on a story last week titled “Witchcraft becoming popular quarantine hobby.” The story opened with “If you wish the year 2020 would just be over already, there’s a spell for that!”
While that may be true, the presentation of Witchcraft as a hobby sparked concerns within the Pagan community.
FOX32’s co-anchor, Corey McPherrin, introduced the story by weekend anchor and weekday reporter Natalie Bomke by stating, “Some people looking for an escape or a hobby have turned to Witchcraft.”
Bomke noted the popularity of the Witchcraft store during the pandemic, then went on to introduce the store owners and discuss the activities of the store.
The store is Malliway Bros. located in the Rogers Park area of Chicago and just south of Evanston.
FOX32 interviewed Blake Malliway, co-owner of the store with his brother, Wycke Malliway. They opened the store last year and identify it as a “witch shop” that is a “fascinating, alluring, and delightfully bewitching world of magic.”
They emphasized that their shop “offers a unique selection of goods and supplies for the magical practitioner. Whenever possible, we make or harvest whatever we can on our own, or work with small, independent suppliers.”
Both Blake and Wycke identify as Witches. They noted they were not Wiccans. “This is a practical path for us, but still has a deep spiritual side. We work a lot with the Other World, spirits, and the like, but also use magic for practical reasons and dealing with the matters of everyday life.”
Wycke said, “We view Wicca as a religion and Witchcraft as a practice meaning one can be a Witch without having any religious system attached.”
He added, “That doesn’t mean it is devoid of spirituality, but there are a growing number of people who place emphasis on the operative side of the craft instead. Witchcraft is so wonderfully versatile and can be used on its own as a magical practice or incorporated into any religion.”
However, once the story was posted on social media, all the expected rebukes against Witchcraft appeared in all caps. While some individuals attempted to defend Witchcraft and did so elegantly, the comments were overwhelmed by individuals expressing their concerns of evil infiltration, Armageddon, and Satanic panic. These comments engulfed the thread.
One person wrote, “There must be something wrong with it with all these demons coming at me with there [sic] comments an [sic] there is because I bonded an [sic] cast it down with that powerful name of Jesus a name satan [sic] is terrified of because there’s power in the Name of Jesus !!!! Evil is evil an it’s of satan [sic] !!! Is sorcery and sorcery is of satan [sic] !!!” adding a cross emoji for emphasis.
Another reader wrote: “Have fun in Hell.”
But the nonchalant treatment of Witchcraft sparked responses as well. Even some who self-identified as Christian raised concerns that Witchcraft as a spiritual practice was being treated indignantly. One person likened the presentation to taking up Christian communion as a hobby.
TWH asked Malliway Bros. to help us with context about the hobby characterization.
Blake and Wycke quickly distanced themselves from the McPherrin’s hobby comment. “Oh yeah we get it,” Wycke said, “we saw some people not happy with that.”
Wycke added “We’ve all been forced to be alone this year which can stir up a lot of unique interests, and witchcraft and the occult are certainly no exception. We personally do not view witchcraft as a hobby, but it can certainly start that way for some people.”
But they are serious about their practice of Witchcraft. He added “Some of our closest friends started practicing the Craft as a hobby but have grown into some truly incredible Witches in their own right. It’s now a way of life for them, as it is for us, and a part of who they are. We’ve definitely had people coming into the shop expressing interest in pursuing something mystical as a hobby, but we never leave it at that. We always chat with them more to understand their motivations before making any recommendations.”
As for FOX32, Wycke noted, “they contacted us.” He explained that the FOX32 story was originally planned to run prior to Halloween but that the pandemic and then the elections pre-empted the story.
FOX32’s story showed a workshop at the shop on building a broom was the usual light-hearted attempt to cover Witchcraft during the Halloween season.
But it is unlikely that they would ever refer to any other faith or spiritual practice as a “popular quarantine hobby.” In fact, it seems doubtful that they would refer to actual faith-adjacent hobbies, such as collecting different Bibles, with the same lighthearted approach.
One reader summed it up on Facebook: “Typical journalistic laziness — run out to the local witch shop for a fluff piece around Halloween and don’t do any research. Imagine the outrage if you called Christians’ spiritual practices a hobby, or if you treated Ramadan with humor. This piece is disrespectful and signals a complete lack of professionalism among your staff.”