By Bellah Nelson/El Inde
Over 50 years ago, Ann Stewart, a 47-year old teacher from Flowing Wells, Arizona, was fired for allegedly teaching witchcraft to her high school English students. Stewart had long ash-blonde hair and a widow’s peak—a V-shaped hairline that is passed on genetically. Her eyes were blueish-green and her favorite colors to wear were shades of green between lime and chartreuse.
These were the physical attributes of a witch, according to the University of Arizona expert on witchcraft and folklore, Dr. Byrd Granger. Granger earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in 1962 with the dissertation title: “The Talk of the Place: Folk History of the Place Names and Legends of Places in Arizona” and was active in several folklore societies during her tenure.
Granger had come to Stewart’s school to give a presentation on the subject of witchcraft and folklore. Students noticed the physical similarities of how Stewart’s appearance resembled that of a “witch”—the ash-blonde hair, widow’s peak hairline, and blue-green eyes.
Back then, Stewart used this opportunity to engage her students by teaching them about witchcraft in literature and even voluntarily dressing up as a witch for presentations on folklore.
Students even began greeting her with “Hi witchie,” although Stewart allegedly never explicitly told them she was a witch: “I just said I had the physical characteristics of a witch, and the kids chose to believe I was one. It was more fun that way.”
Those traits had been laid out in Dr. Granger’s research and in presentations given to the students. But the witch trope has prevailed in the media throughout the years as an older lady who lives alone, maybe wears pointy hats and preys on lost children.
Stewart would attempt to regain her teaching job by suing the district, and although judges sided with her and required a re-hiring, there are no reports of when or if she returned to teach at the school. “I surely would have been burned at the stake by now if this had happened in 18th century Salem,” Stewart said to an LA Times reporter in 1971.
Five decades later, things have changed. There are thriving communities of spiritual femmes who base their work in witchcraft, herbology and connection to the spiritual realm through psychic work. The community stands to welcome all, empowering marginalized groups for healing and social justice.
At the University of Arizona, the Women and Gender Resource Studies student group Feminists Organized to Resist, Create and Empower, or FORCE, brought in a practicing witch this past fall for a community conversation on the persecution of women and femmes in the spiritual realm.
Haitian and Irish-American Fiona Fenix, practices hoodoo witchcraft and Kundalini yoga. She wore a tan jumpsuit, a dark blue and grey headwrap, snake earrings, and necklaces of skulls and seashells.
Fenix began the FORCE community gathering by asking guests to take their shoes off so they could get grounded into the earth as she started meditation. She burned rosemary, honoring the land of the Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui ancestors.
Alongside music and tarot, meditation is an important part of spiritual practice for Fenix. “Coming to understand witchcraft is when I came to understand being a woman.”
One specific space in Tucson has become home to many spiritual beings, whether a psychic, witch, pagan, or all of the above. The Ninth House is both a metaphysical shop and a space to rent for people to harness their extra-sensory perceptions and talents and spiritual beliefs by offering psychic readings and workshops.
Deriving from the Greek word meta ta physika—“after the things of nature”—metaphysics refers to an idea, doctrine, or reality outside of humans’ physical sense perception, and it’s seen as a philosophy rather than a science because the nature of metaphysics cannot be quantified through scientific methods.
Melisa Cole, the owner of The Ninth House, tends to walk throughout the shop fixing store displays, conversing with new or returning customers, and managing the inventory and cashier station. Cole’s light green eyes and brunette hair contrast against her olive skin.
Cole used to be a middle school social studies teacher before she opened The Ninth House in April 2018. She was an “in the closet” witch practicing tarot and other spiritual rituals since 2007 but felt like she had to be more conservative in the role of a teacher. Maybe she was afraid of becoming another Ann Stewart: the worst outcome of a modern-day witch persecution.
But on November 11, 2017, Cole woke up in the middle of the night with a clear vision of what The Ninth House would eventually become. Envisioning this space, Cole drew up an entire sketch of the shop, from where tables would go to what goods would be there, organized by crystals, herbs, incense, bath bombs, and bookshelves. Cole believes in “conscious consumerism” and uses locally sourced goods from independent artisans nationwide for herbs, incense and jewelry. With zero experience in retail or interest in starting a business, The Ninth House came to Cole “fully formed.”
Upon entrance, the store is magical. Outside, there is a garden bed of cacti and other succulents. Bright light floods into the shop through full floor-length windows. Inside and over to the right, there are bookshelves lined with colorful tarot card decks and books titled “Spellwork for Self-Care” and “Keys to Perception: A Practical Guide to Psychic Development”. Crystals line the displays along with herbal bath bombs, jewelry and incense that are said to bring their own energetic properties and emotional meanings.
Additionally, there is a space in the shop for learning and community connection. A green velvet couch with a Ouija board decor pillow sits at the far back left of the shop. Several young adult and middle-aged women are waiting for a reading from Rose Fatovich, also known as Tarot by Rose333.
“In my first initial vision, there was a space for [community],” Cole said. The shop offers workshops on a variety of witchy topics like astrology and tarot card reading; it also offers the space for tarot and psychic readers to hold pop-up readings at The Ninth House.
Rose Fatovich, a tarot reader and energy healer, has been doing tarot readings at The Ninth House since the spring of 2021, after honing in on her spiritual gifts during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Fatovich’s grandmother and mother considered themselves spiritual healers. Fatovich recognizes the historical persecution of witchcraft and women in the spiritual world and is grateful for the modern world’s newfound acceptance of witchcraft. “I’m very open and transparent with my practice, and that’s certainly part of my magic. But to be transparent in my magic is a privilege that my elders didn’t necessarily have,” she said.
Her mother was a “very intuitive, very powerful witchy woman” and her grandmother used angel numbers—repetitive sequences of numbers conveying divine messages—to heal Fatovich energetically if she was cut or bruised as a child.
Reiki is another practice popularized in modern spirituality. Fatovich is a certified practitioner, using Reiki, the “essential life force,” as an energy healing technique while incorporating crystals, angel numbers and her own psychic channeling.
Pulling from a deck of the traditional 78-symbolic archetypes of the Rider Waite tarot deck —the most popular blueprint for many of today’s tarot decks — the card drawn stands as a symbol and interpretation of the question or situation at hand.
What Fatovich does is widely known as divination work, through which she determines the significance or cause of future and current events and personal life circumstances. Divination practice has been found in all civilizations, and in modern society, it has been popularized through horoscopes, astrology, crystal-ball gazing and tarot cards.
Oracle decks are also popular, interpreting different themes of spirituality or nature and incorporating artwork to create a variety of divination options suited for anybody’s aesthetic. Tarot and oracle cards are pulled according to a “spread” in which each card represents the answer to a different question or outcome.
Through these decks, one is supposed to channel the energy of their spirit guides, higher self or whatever force you may be working with, to reveal an answer to a question or set of questions. The work begins by going into a grounded, meditative, connected state. Then, metaphysical tools can be used to aid in the thoughts, visuals, and cards that Fatovich describes.
“I have been shown so many branches and mirrors of myself through this work that always leave me utterly in awe of the love that you can share between two people through holding sacred space for creative and spiritual work,” Fatovich said.
While 50 years ago Tucson was the stage for a modern-day witch trial, today The Ninth House stands as a powerful force in the metaphysical and spiritual community, among many other occult-inspired groups in and around Tucson.
The Tucson Area Witch/Pagan Association, although no longer active, began in 1988 and was founded by eight “priestesses”. The site displays a 2020 list of the networks of almost 40 Wiccan groups and stores in Tucson, including The Ninth House.
Across the country, interest in the metaphysical realm seems to have grown as the influence of organized religion has diminished among younger generations.
Generationally, millennials are less likely to attend church or be a part of a church organization. According to David Masci, a former senior writer and editor with the Pew Research Center who is an expert on culture war and religion issues, millennials “are more likely to have a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude toward religion.”
Fatovich benefitted from her familial line of energy work; “My elders encouraged spirituality to be something that was individual to you as a person.” This is why now, she can intertwine so many spiritual practices like Reiki, crystals, number healing, and psychic readings.
Within organized religion, there can also be many rules and restrictions on identity or who can connect with the higher power. Cole, The Ninth House owner, said that the space was created specifically to be open to different paths, backgrounds, and experience levels. This is the opposite of many religions where there is identity shaming and gatekeeping.
Another psychic healer at The Ninth House is Shoshana Schlauderaff, a queer nonbinary Reiki healer who uses themselves and their art as psychic mediumship. Their short brown hair waves down to their neck, showing off statement gold earrings, winged eyeliner, and smooth pale skin. Schlauderaff, who goes by Shosh, focuses her spiritual work on ancestral veneration and past lives.
According to Shosh, the new age spirituality movement isn’t necessarily anti-religious, as they have some Christian clients who use metaphysical tools for themselves and their own beliefs. At the same time, Shosh holds their own trauma of identity and gender expression, being raised Christian as a queer person, where gender constructs and heterosexuality were enforced in the conservative community.
Many different churches, not even just the Christian Church, use manipulation tactics to direct hate towards certain groups. These conservative religions can sometimes be associated with the “isms” and “phobias,” but in some ways, Shosh finds organized religion healing because it can provide community.
“When I no longer felt seen and held in that community, at a certain point, I left the church,” Shosh said. They have now been able to express their spirituality and identity within queer communities and spiritual work.
Spiritual work aligns with social justice work to bring healing to the collective community. This shift in spiritual practices and communities can be attested to Black and Indigenous peoples, who have been doing the work to critique colonialism and ensure social justice. This, alongside social media and the resources and visibility that it gives, makes for powerful spiritual work, said Shosh.
On a collective level, Shosh validates the Age of Aquarius, the astrological era we are living in that is associated with shifts in societal attitudes. Society has been opened to the effects of colonialism and capitalism, which is one of the reasons people turn to spirituality: to figure out how to create a better reality for themselves.
In Tucson, the social justice work of inclusion and providing space for others has been done in smaller communities such as The Ninth House or Fiona Fenix’s soon-to-be Sanctuary Southwest, a self-described “sacred space for spiritual seekers.”
These spaces give people a place of community that sees them and hears them, “that doesn’t think that spiritual work is silly or out-there. It’s grounded work that lets us expand the way that we are holding ourselves in community,” Shosh said.
Shosh feels that they have always been connected to the spiritual realm, though as a child it is deemed as “imaginary,” seeing fairies or other beings.
Energy healing and even psychic connection is something that most babies and children already know and remember from their past lives, according to Fatovich, who exposed crystals to her son at a young age and has seen how natural it is for children to participate in the energy exchange aided by the crystals.
In fact, Fatovich has a two-year-old son and boasts that he is a fourth-generation healer in the family: “He can walk up to a stone and consciously charge it” by setting intentions and honoring the stone’s natural healing ability.
College was the first time when Shosh was introduced to someone who identified as a witch. Seeing a witch’s altar, adorned with crystals, incense, and candles, Shosh immediately wanted to create their own space for meditation and manifestation. They began practicing witchcraft and then ancestral veneration, having vivid experiences of feeling their grandmother’s presence or smelling her perfume.
With a bachelor of fine arts in animation, Shosh sees their art as a form of psychic channeling. “Most artists create art by taking something intangible that exists on a different frequency. It exists in a different dimension in our brains, in our consciousness. We are channeling it through ourselves and our own individual gifts to physically manifest something,” Shosh said.
Their drawings, which began at the beginning of 2020, are branded “The Otherworldly Archive” and resemble customers’ spirit guides, ancestors, past lives or higher selves. The drawings are composed of characters ranging from colorful humans to aliens, fairies and animals.
The Otherworldly Archive is a way to connect more with that character or spirit guide’s energy and even include an individualized channeled message that comes to Shosh through their mediumship.
After getting consent to access the clients’ spiritual realms, Shosh receives messages of where, when, why it’s relevant and what they need to know now. Sometimes they receive names, clothing to draw or hints to what the customers’ spiritual tool or gift should be utilized.
“I don’t even need to meet people to do these drawings. I go into meditation and I ‘plug in’ to their consciousness,” Shosh said. Clients have responded with words of affirmation, saying that they have seen the character in their dreams, or seen resemblances to where their ancestors are from and other synchronicities.
To get a reading with TarotbyRose333, you have to first fill out a consent form, for her to be able to connect with your spirit guides and energetically heal you for the allotted time. Because energy healing can be such an unfamiliar or intense experience, some people experience an energy crisis, in which a certain emotion is brought to the forefront and cannot be pushed aside, explained Fatovich.
Before entering the reading room, Fatovich requested that I take my shoes off. Her’s were already laid on the floor outside of the door, so I placed mine directly beside hers. We entered the room and Fatovich first introduced herself, sitting down in a chair aside a bucket of various crystals and in front of a round coffee table draped in a deep red throw.
Fatovich asked about the situations at hand in my life, so I explained that I recently secured a full-time job and also went through a breakup. While I was explaining, doing my best to not give too much detail as to test her intuitive capabilities, she created a crystal grid personalized to my own energy and circumstance.
Once the crystal grid was placed, Fatovich asked me to close my eyes and take a deep breath in preparation for some grounding energy healing work. There is no touch involved since Rose specializes in Reiki energy healing, and merely stood and placed her hands in front of me.
She guided me to relax and close my eyes, with my palms facing upwards. As I sat on the couch inside the small reading room, my feet felt as though they lifted off of the ground. My body felt like it was floating above the couch, and my brain was buzzing, but not necessarily with thoughts.
Moving into the tarot reading, Fatovich pulled cards in the order of “Know, Grow, and Let Go”. Throughout the reading I was just nodding my head, agreeing with every insight that Fatovich had given me, of which she said “Spirit wanted you to know”.
Rose was saying exactly what I knew in my mind about my past as well as the hopes that I have for my future, without me ever having to explain more than the simple fact that I recently got a full-time job and also went through a breakup.
She was telling me what I already knew, but what I could not always say out loud. It was an amazing experience to realize that the cards were telling me exactly what I can learn from my life circumstances at hand, and where I can go from there.
There were moments when I was smiling whilst nodding, and moments when I was biting my lip to hold back tears. Though I had never gotten a tarot reading done before, it felt so natural to my body and my spirit, confirming the belief that I already had about the metaphysical world and its healing energies.
After the reading, as I put my shoes back on and walked back out into the store, I felt excited and energized by the space. While Shosh and Fatovich are often in the back rooms conducting psychic readings, Cole and other employees are seen bustling between the tables of crystals and shelves.
In a loose definition, The Ninth House could be labeled a witch coven, but not in the previously stereotyped, dark Wiccan way. To Fatovich, the space emphasizes individuality in spiritual practices:
“We are all our own healers in our own right. We get the honor of standing beside each other and walking next to each other in taking steps for our own healing, and holding space for other people’s healing.”