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“People don’t think a witch would ride the TTC”: Meet the millennial witch whose ancestors died at Salem

Laura Hokstad, whose exploration of the occult is featured in the new documentary Coven, talks #WitchTok, whether her forebears communed with the devil and reclaiming her powers in the modern era

“People don’t think a witch would ride the TTC”: Meet the millennial witch whose ancestors died at Salem
Courtesy of Hot Docs

Laura Hokstad always felt a strong connection to the world of witchcraft. As a kid, she made tiny altars in her backyard. Once, she told her mom that she’d been burned at the Salem witch trials in a past life. In her mid-twenties, she moved from North Bay to Toronto, where she felt increasingly drawn to all things occult: Tarot cards, moon rituals, crystals. Her journey, and the stories of two other millennial witches, are explored in Coven, a new documentary—premiering today at Hot Docs—about what it means to identify as a witch in the modern era (hint: there are no broomsticks, but there are some spells). Here, Hokstad tells us how she traced her family’s witchy roots back to 11th century Scotland and why dancing naked under the moon is not something she wants to do with strangers.


Have you always felt a connection to witches? Is that what you dressed up as for Halloween when you were little? As a kid, I was drawn to nature. I would go out into the woods and collect things like rocks, flowers and herbs, and I’d put them together into what I now see were little altars. I remember seeing The Craft for the first time and thinking, Wow, that is so cool. The movie is about a group of teenage girls who don’t necessarily fit in but who turn to witchcraft as a form of empowerment. I loved it. I was bullied in high school. People spread rumours that I was a lesbian and a witch—in the late ’90s, both of those things were considered insults. But it’s funny: today I am gay and I do identify as a witch. I don’t want to give the bullies any credit, but maybe they were picking up on something that I wasn’t.

What does identifying as a witch mean to you? The point of self-identification is being able to say you chose the term witch for yourself rather than it being a label that other people put on you. That’s a stark difference from the days when the term was weaponized against women who didn’t fit into society. There is power in reclaiming the word and being proud of it. What it means to be a witch today is different for each person. For some people, it means adhering to Wicca, which is a structured religion. For others, like me, it can be more about mindfulness and one’s relationship to self. I am what’s called a solitary witch, meaning I am not part of a coven. That was one of the reasons I was interested in being part of the documentary. I was put in touch with Rama Rau, the director of Coven, by a mutual friend. I liked how Rama wanted to explore the different ways of practicing witchcraft. We also talked about looking into my background. At that point, all I knew was that my family’s roots went back to Scotland, where, historically, there is a strong tradition of witchcraft.

So you didn’t know about your witchy heritage before you started filming? I promise you I did not know anything. In the documentary, I take a trip to meet my mom’s cousin, my aunt Kathleen. I had no idea what I was about to learn. I just knew that she was our family historian, so she seemed like a good person to help with my research. I was totally stunned when she told me that my seventh great-grandmother, Mary Eastey, had been convicted of witchcraft in Salem and executed in 1694. I saw a photograph of her, and we look alike—the same eyebrows, the same darker features. After that, I travelled to Salem with Rama and the crew to visit Mary’s gravestone. It was an incredibly powerful moment.

And then what happened? Of course I wanted to know more. Next, we went to Scotland to meet with a historian, a really interesting, eccentric man named Lord Moncreiff. He told me that another of my ancestors, a woman named Agnes Beveridge, had been persecuted in Scotland’s witch trials, also during the late 1600s. It was all extremely validating—like, Okay, this is why I have always felt this way. But, at the same time, I was so angry on behalf of my ancestors. They were not stealing children and hiding in the woods casting spells on people. Realistically, these women probably considered themselves healers. They were likely outspoken and intelligent—things that, back then, would have been seen as threats in patriarchal communities.

At one point in the doc, the historian you mention reads from an ancient text that says Agnes spent time in the company of the devil. Do you believe that? I think it can be hard to untangle these stories and what they would have meant at the time. Why were people sharing these stories about this woman? Were they trying to disempower or isolate her? Were they trying to get people to be scared of her? And why? And then, whom were they referring to as the devil? Is it somebody who also didn’t fit into that community? 

You consider yourself a solitary witch. Would you like to find a coven? Besides researching my lineage, that was one of the things I was most interested in exploring throughout the filming process. Rama introduced me to some really great people. I met a woman named Anne Marie who is a high priestess and runs her own coven outside of Toronto. I did a ritual with them: an initiation where they gave me a witch name, which was cool. And then I met another woman in Toronto, named Monica, who is more focused on a witch’s connection to nature—her approach is a little bit looser. It was nice to see these different, almost opposite approaches.

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You’re like a witch Goldilocks. Did either version feel just right? Personally, I appreciate a style of witchcraft that feels fluid and more spiritual than religious.

Laura Hokstad always felt a strong connection to the world of witchcraft and moved to Toronto in 2017 to investigate all things occult. Now, her journey is explored in Coven, a new documentary about what it means to identify as a witch in the modern era. It’s premiering tonight at the Hoc Docs festival
In a scene from Coven, Hokstad and fellow millennial witch Andra Zlatescu meet with high priestess Anne Marie-Lalancette. Stephanie de Bem

Are a lot of your friends witches? Most of my friends have witchy tendencies—I think of them as my unintentional coven. In one scene, which didn’t make it into the final cut of the documentary, I hosted a group of friends at my place. We discussed the word witch and how it has been used to keep women from claiming power. So, while they may not officially be witches, my friends know that talking about certain things—like dismantling the patriarchy—would have once meant persecution. In some parts of the world, that is still true: look at women in Iran.

How does being a witch play into your daily life? It’s small things. I’m a very intuitive person. I have studied Tarot for 15 years, and I do readings. I have certain pieces of jewellery that I feel are very powerful. So, if I wake up feeling anxious, I might grab my pentagram necklace to give me strength. Or, if I need to have a big meeting or a difficult conversation at work, I might grab a certain crystal—maybe a black tourmaline, which, if you believe in crystals, has very protective properties—to keep in my pocket. If I’ve had a stressful day, I might mindfully light a candle and spend a few minutes sitting with it and reflecting. Sometimes I burn sage.

I don’t mean this to be insulting, but what you’re describing sounds straight out of a Goop newsletter. Ha! It’s a good point. I would say it’s part of a broader issue of cultural appropriation in the wellness community. Witchcraft has become a lot more popular in recent years—you’ll see things like, say, a witch makeup kit at Sephora. I’m torn. For me, being a witch is about so much more than an aesthetic. Then again, that makeup kit may feel like a safe entry point into witchcraft for a nervous young girl. I’m wary about reacting to that stuff in a way that feels like gatekeeping. If you do a few small rituals that make you feel more connected to yourself, and that feels like witchcraft to you, then it’s totally cool to call yourself a witch.

Are you on #WitchTok? I am, but just as a viewer, not as a creator. It can be fun and also very informative. I watched a video the other day about a house-sweeping ritual that’s about getting rid of bad energy. I liked the broomstick connection.

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Are there other witchy stereotypes that hold true? Do you wear a lot of black? I do. I’m wearing all black right now. My co-workers make fun of me—it’ll be nice and sunny and we’ll try to go for a walk at lunch and they’re like, Oh, here comes Laura, she’s gonna melt.

What kind of work do you do? And do your co-workers know you’re a witch? I’m a graphic designer. I think people find it funny that someone who is a witch can also have a regular job. They don’t think a witch would ride the TTC. All my co-workers who know me personally know that I’m a witch. I actually had a co-worker join me for a new moon ritual.

Which is what, exactly? It’s something you do when there’s a new moon—it’s considered to be a good time for starting new projects, for manifestation. Energetically, in terms of the moon’s cycle, it’s a time for building. Or, if it’s a full moon, that’s a good time to let go of things that you’ve maybe been holding on to for too long. If you have a memory or a relationship that is stressing you out, you can write that down on a piece of paper, put it in a bowl of water and then pour it out, with intention, to let go.

Does it work? If you believe in it, it can be a very powerful tool, whether you want to call it a spell or a mindfulness exercise. It’s really just about intention.

At one point in the doc, an elder witch asks if you would be comfortable dancing naked under the moon. You seemed a little unsure. I said that, if I was going to do it, it would have to be with people that I really trusted. That’s still how I feel. I have actually done it with a couple of friends, after the funeral of a close friend of ours. It was a beautiful moment. But I’m still not sure about a group of strangers.

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Do you have a cat? I have two cats, whom I absolutely adore. Their names are Munchkin and LB. The latter stands for Little Butt, which is not very witchy at all. And she’s white! Which is a problem because I own so much black clothing.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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