Before I moved out of home, I forced my mum to buy me a cookbook. I was determined to prove that I wouldn’t lose my interest for healthy eating in becoming responsible for my own meals. Being jobless at the time (hence mum having to purchase it for me) sums up the amount of responsibility I actually possessed. I was certain the university student ‘two-minute-noodle’ lifestyle wouldn’t apply to me. And yet, for the first year I lived out of home, Hippies in the City: A Guide to Natural Urban Living by Rita Balshaw sat on my bookshelf gathering dust.
A few weeks ago, I decided to finally cook one of its recipes. It was both the best, and worst dish of my life.
I shopped for ingredients with constant contemplation of my shopping list. Organic extra virgin olive oil, organic Celtic rock salt, organic lemon essential oil.
Organic. Organic. Organic.
I was glad I’d selected ALDI as my choice of supermarket because no student discount could save my bank account from this one – and I didn’t even purchase the essential oil! My shopping trolley was beginning to become a replication of a performative ‘Byron Bay hippies’ pantry that I’d heard about. Balshaw’s recipe gave a strange unspoken pressure that expensive organic ingredients were the only option if I wanted this dish to taste good. Nonetheless, I shrugged this off and keenly waited for the remainder of the day to cook my salmon and goat’s cheese fettuccine, or more affectionately known as ‘Sunday Fettuccini’. I dug for the pasta through the conglomeration of diffuser oils and cuisine I thought only accessible in Europe. After the salted water boiled, in it went. And as it cooked, I was present. I ignored the oyster mushrooms waiting to be chopped up and fried with the salmon. I just stood there like an idiot stuck in a food paralysis staring at my drowning pasta. Finally, the oil, mushrooms, salmon, and water were placed into my frying pan, sitting so snug it was as if this was the dish it was made to cook. The finale was the addition of the spinach, goat curd and fettucine to the soft bed of fish and mushrooms. After a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of dill, and a scatter of lemon rind, I had teased myself with anticipation for too long and simply had to take a bite from the frying pan. Did the rich white lady’s version of the pasta’s flavour match the depiction in front of me?
Well, yes it certainly did. But that’s not the point. This was the first time I realised that cooking was more than just steps before the final product. It was more than trying to complete the next instruction halfway through the one prior. All that mattered was this fettuccine, at all its stages, in all its glory. Through this meal, I felt at peace, as peculiar as it sounds. However, I believe that a meal should not make people have to dip into their savings account just to be able to enjoy it. I was ashamed that such a simple, yet widely inaccessible dish made me remember the joys of food and slowing down.
What made this pasta taste so good? Had this orgasmic dish of fresh, creamy, lemony goodness put a spell on me? There I sat, eating it in my bedroom, all of the sudden realising how disconnected my life really was. A desk crammed with my printer, old coffee cups, and my diary with written to-do lists from the past week that were still not ticked off. To the very edge of it sat something that would make you understand why I would want to read a book aimed at so called ‘hippies’ in the first place: my altar. A box filled with crystals, witchcraft journals, sticks of cinnamon and string. The purpose of them all, I couldn’t tell you now. On my windowsill sat more crystals among my tarot card decks. I’d brought these charms with me when I first moved to Brisbane, after I’d claimed myself a green witch when I was still living with my parents in the small town of Warwick, Queensland. But from the moment I stepped foot in my boxed-up room with so little sunlight that you had to turn the lamp on during midday, I’d felt this part of myself dimmed as much as the light.
The period of collecting interesting leaves, bird’s eggs, and shells that most people had at six years old stayed with me until eighteen. My whole identity surrounded nature and an acute interest in the world around me. While most kids were playing with Barbie dolls, I was writing academic reports about saber-toothed tigers and making up fairy worlds in my dad’s garden. This eventually shifted into witchcraft amid the 2020 pandemic.
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘witchcraft’ outside of the magician pulling a rabbit out of hat meaning, witchcraft, specifically green witchcraft is concerned with one’s relationship with themselves, humanity and importantly, the environment. Their aim is to create harmony between these elements using the earth’s tools to create a kind of change. This can be fulfilled through spells, meditation, rituals, divination and so much more. In Warwick, I had extensive passion and knowledge for spirituality because, well, there was just nothing else I could spend my time doing. The slowness of living in a small country town allowed room to explore my relationship with nature, without the anxieties that moving to the fast-paced Brisbane and financially supporting myself introduced.
As eager as I was to forget the small-town lifestyle and see what the city had to offer, I was surprised to discover how much I’ve lost the effortless connection I used to have with my environment. My family’s diet contributed to this. My parents religiously purchased organic, local, MSG-free, and whatnot groceries on the regular. Every month, we’d drive to Gleneden Family Farm and Bullock Team in the beautifully dull mountains of Maryvale. Among the glowing river, squeaking pigs and somehow always luscious grass, despite the two-decade long drought in the Darling Downs, was where we purchased our meat. Gleneden Family Farm produces ethical meat where animals live naturally and happily and the farmers care for the farm as a living ecosystem. This act unintentionally aligned to my own spirituality, it being a more environmental option contributed to spreading harmony. Although most Warwick citizens purchase their meat from what was readily available at the supermarket, this experience was normal for us. And that 30-minute drive up the hill to find more ethical meat option was still far more accessible than from in the middle of the city. It also wasn’t unusual for my parents to spend ridiculous amounts on their organic, sustainably managed stew meat.
Packing my bags made me realise just how unattainable the standard of living I experienced with my parents at home is for a university student. If you hadn’t already guessed, I did not in fact escape the two-minute noodle dinners. Unquestionably, my relationship with food and where it comes from had a rather abrupt shift. And so did my passion for witchcraft, slipping away so naturally that it happened before I realised. I had both hoped and failed to continue in my reading of Hippies in the City. But why is this the case if it claims to have all the answers about connecting with nature while being surrounded by a concrete jungle? Can one still be a witch, or rather, hippie, without spending so much money?
First, I wondered whether the twenty-first century has brought about a simplified definition of witchcraft. Making it turn into a social media infused competition about who can wear the best flowery flares and know the most Fleetwood Mac songs, just as Hippies in the City seems to command. Recently a spirituality trend has blown up on TikTok through the nook #witchtok. Typically, videos fitting into this category present in the form of candle spells, deity worship or, my personal favourite, a one-minute tarot reading which is ‘meant for you if it came up on your own For You page’. While there could undoubtedly be no future more accurate than one told by a 14-year-old burning sage in their room instead of doing their homework, #witchtok has some problems. Witch hunts took place over the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries in Europe, forcing witches to practice in secret. Among people who were hunted were those actually practicing witchcraft and others were based on pure speculation. Luckily, they no longer occur. Nonetheless, growing up in a mostly conversative town did not exactly make me want to publicly declare my admiration for putting water out in the full moon, out of fear of judgement. A witch’s practice is in most cases a solitary one, and many practitioners do not share their craft. This makes me question the lack of concern those partaking in #witchtok have.
The openness of witchcraft online has led to the substantial colonization of Native American and Hindu cultural practices, just to name a few. Specifically, the Hindu term ‘chakra’ has been simplified into a Westernised trend tossed into Instagram captions and on body spray labels. The commodifying of ancient traditions has led to large companies profiting off them, throwing a big yellow price tag on practices that once needed to be hidden to stay alive. White sage being used for ‘smudging’ – a cleansing ritual sacred to North American tribes – is being abused by those who do not truly understand its meaning and significance. This has occurred so much so that white sage is becoming endangered.
All this threatens the many long-living cultures that rely on these tools for their practice. And this is a just miniscule amount of the damage caused. I was once an avid supporter of #witchtok. Upon first glance, it appears to be a wholesome space for people to share their love of spirituality. But after learning these aspects of it, I urge others to also consider the harmful sides of modern-day witchcraft and to do their research and find ways to practice in an ethical way.
My sheltered expectations of how I’d be perceived for being a witch felt like a lie when I was greeted by every second person in Kelvin Grove wearing Tree of Life floral skirts, crystal bands tied to their Doc Martens, and were covered in pentacle tattoos. The rise in popularity for witchcraft meant that, along with my lack of financial resources for organic food, was my ability to pay for good quality essential oils, organic herbs, glass jars or even crystals. The higher the demand, the higher the prices; shocking those who remember the days where you could easily buy a crystal for a dollar (as opposed to a $6 minimum at most crystal stores in Brisbane). And for me, who practiced witchcraft out of interest and doesn’t have centuries worth of culture attached to it, I can only imagine the desolation for those who do and now struggle to continue it.
Because of this, I still felt the loneliness I was expecting. The portrayal of spirituality in the city felt different to my previous relationship with it. Everyone around me rages about their tiger’s eye stone and to watch out for the next new moon, but nobody seems to have a personal relationship with the nature around them. The city never slows down, not in the way I was used to in Warwick. No one I know goes for walks just to look at the trees and flowers. Not many people go to a river pool just to float in the water. Few know the native plants and insects of their area as if it’s general knowledge. Often, people sharing spirituality online impedes them authentically living a peaceful lifestyle, having to pertain to social media expectations. It’s as if peace is a reward – an accomplishment. It’s now a struggle to simply feel it every day and in every moment. Living in the city has led me to believe that my difficulties in continuing my love for witchcraft stemmed deeper than being unable to afford it. Instead, it’s how contemporary media has taught us to perceive it, not matching with my own beliefs. It’s as if my identity had been embraced as profitable, like I was an addition to the cult of plastic crystals sold in Kmart.
Back in the 1960s when the hippie movement began, there were still those who rejected parts of it. Intriguingly, they also inhabited cities. Many looked opposed to the rag-tag style of the original hippies who barely had enough money to feed themselves, and opted for more stylish, bohemian fashion. They were hesitant to embrace the full life out of fear of being cut off from suburban security. The current commodification of spirituality also comes down to profit and trends, despite the original hippies aiming to escape the bars of capitalism and society. But is it possible for one to live like this in the modern day when everything we know about witchcraft involves money?
Unlike for the 1960s casual hippies, suburban life has introduced a sense of insecurity for me. I, among many, must decide to buy meals over ingredients for a spell jar. Yet maybe Balshaw’s fettuccine is an opportunity for one to experience both, due to the slowness and peace felt while experiencing it. In the end, my spirituality never truly dwindled along with my thrown-out candles and mouldy cinnamon sticks, because my rejection for following the norm will always exist within me. That is because, for me, spirituality was never about tools or following a trend, it was about my state of mind. Though this differs for every individual, and every life experience. Nevertheless, I will opt for a cheaper version of a spiritual meal from now on.
Cichon, B. (2021). The Issue with Commodifying Witchcraft. The Gazette. https://www.thegazette.com/opinion/the-issue-with-commodifying-witchcraft/.
Joho, J. Sung, M. (2020). How to be a witch without stealing other people’s cultures. Mashable. https://mashable.com/article/witchtok-problematic-witch-cultural-appropriation.
Moretta, J. (2017). Introduction. The Hippies A 1960s History. (pp. 1-2). McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers.
n.a. (n.d). About Us. Glenedan Family Farm. https://www.glenedenfamilyfarm.com.au/our-farm/about-us/.
n.a. (2019, March 19). 10 Signs Show You Are A Modern-Day Hippie. Zenbear. https://www.zenbear.co.uk/latest-news/2019/3/18/10-signs-that-show-you-are-a-modern-day-hippie.
Yehuda, B. (1980). The European Witch Craze of the 14th to 17th Centuries: A Sociologist’s Perspective. American Journal of Sociology. 89(1). The University of Chicago Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2778849.
Author: Madeleine Litchfield is a second-year Creative Writing student, completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at QUT. She has a passion for exploring femininity, spirituality, environmentalism and the human condition from metaphorical and personal interpretations. Madeleine enjoys creating art out of everyday moments and has a fondness for poetry and non-fiction.
Artist: Sarah McLachlan is a third year Bachelor of Creative Writing student who likes to draw in her spare time. She wishes to combine both her art and writing skills to create a webcomic of her own one day, but she’s also open to illustrating for books and book covers. Sarah is also a major The Legend of Zelda fan and can be found drawing a lot of elves. You can find her at @hideriame02 on Instagram.
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz