On a hot, early-August night, a coven of women gathers at Catland, a metaphysical boutique and event space in Brooklyn, NY. They’re here to see Haleigh Schiafo, who is assembling her altar atop a black cloth emblazoned with intricate skulls, snakes, and arachnids. Placed between a gilded mirror and open ritual book, her offerings look familiar: a vial of perfume, rich face creams, powders and eyeshadows. It’s the first of Schiafo’s beauty-as-ritual workshops and everyone in attendance is armed with their own potions and mirrors, ready to explore how a red lip or strong brow can be as potent and empowering as any spell.
In a time when the correction of injustices hasn’t caught up to their exposure, it’s no surprise that women are finding something relatable in the archetype of the witch: she is subversive, self-defining, and sick of taking shit. But how does makeup come into it? Like a pro MUA, Schiafo blends the two and indeed, beauty and witchcraft have been long intertwined — witches always appear as extremes, whether extreme ugliness that scares small children or extreme allure that seduces (nay, bewitches) men.
Whatever a witch looks like is pronounced wrong by society, an experience with which any woman can identify. And as the last century has seen affordable, mass-produced cosmetics become widely available to the general population, women have used makeup to reject the acceptable in favor of the authentic. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture describes the movement as “a new mode of feminine self-presentation, a tiny yet resonant sign of a larger cultural contest over women’s identity.” Looking back at all the times when makeup practices were in direct conflict with societal and patriarchal norms, it’s clear that femme beauty rituals have never been for the explicit pleasure of heterosexual men.
Esoteric artist and teacher Pam Grossman defines magic as “symbolic action with intent,” and nothing is as deeply symbolic as adornment, where all elements — from packaging to the setup of your vanity or altar — can be imbued with meaning that recenters you hourly, like a spritz of a favorite perfume. Throughout Schiafo’s workshop, she reiterates the importance of doing makeup on your own terms. Colors and scents are talismans with transformative powers: earth tones ground, lavender soothes, and a daring lipstick puts your magic where your mouth is.
Later in the evening, after the lecture portion of Makeup Witchcraft concludes, Schiafo leads the attendees through a ritual. Intentions are set along with foundation, and the lunar cycle is invoked— if you’re considering changing up your look, for example, think new moon energy. It’s an environment of explorative community with no shame, no accusations of vanity, and no emphasis placed on perfect technique. A photo taken before the evening spills into Catland’s neighboring casket-factory-turned-bar shows a glowing group of femmes, each of them appearing confident and powerful in a way that goes far beyond the bewitching results of cat-eye and highlight. And that is magic.
If you are interested in future Makeup Witchcraft workshops and other events taught by Haleigh Schiafo, be sure to follow Babe Coven, a NY/NJ collective of cryptic creators and risk takers, as well as Schiafo’s Instagram. All photos shown are by Corinne Dodenhoff.