New Podcast Episode – Keeping Faith in Magic with Dr. Linda Woodhead

The latest episode of WIN’s podcast – Keeping Faith: A How To Guide – is now live at or on your favourite podcast platform.  In each episode, WIN interviews inspiring women to explore how we keep faith – in ourselves, in each other, in a cause, or in religious faith – so you can learn how to keep faith too.

In our latest episode, we spoke to Dr. Linda Woodhead, F.D Maurice Professor of Moral and Social Theology at Kings College London and head of the department of Theology and Religious Studies.

How has magic become such a mainstream part of our spiritual landscape, from #WitchTok to astrology apps? Can these practices offer safe spaces for women and young people who feel that established faith institutions have left them behind? What does all this tell us about what ‘keeping faith’ really means in 2024?

In this episode, Dr. Linda Woodhead helps us decode the contemporary religious landscape of the UK and how young women are “keeping faith” on the margins of established religion.

Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide is part of Women’s Interfaith Network’s 2024 Keeping Faith Programme. Read more about the programme here and be the first to hear about upcoming events and ways to get involved by signing up to our newsletter.

Listen now at or on your favourite podcast platform. Make sure to subscribe, share and review to help more people find us! Episodes are released monthly, with bonus episodes sharing stories from our WIN community.

Previous Episodes

Episode Four: Keeping Faith in Humanitarianism in Sandrine Tiller

Our conversation with Sandrine Tiller, Strategic Advisor to MSF UK, spans moving and personal reflections from decades working in the humanitarian sector, as well as highlighting the small ways we can all be humanitarians in our everyday lives.

Bonus Episode: Lady Gilda Levy, WIN Co-Founder and Chair

In our Bonus Episodes, we speak to the women behind the network – both from inside the WIN team or our grassroots groups – to share their stories and give their own unique perspectives on ‘keeping faith’. Our first Bonus Episode with WIN’s chair and co-founder Lady Gilda Levy reflects on her 20 years leading WIN, the importance of interfaith in 2024, and how she’s keeping faith in challenging times.

Episode Three: Keeping Faith in Community with Hadiya Masieh

Our conversation with Hadiya Masieh, Founder and Executive Director of the Groundswell Project, explores the challenges of tackling ever evolving extremist ideologies and the highs and lows of running an organisation bringing communities together in an increasingly polarised world.


Full Transcript for Episode Five: Keeping Faith in Magic with Dr. Linda Woodhead

Maeve Carlin: Welcome to Keeping Faith, a how to guide, a new podcast from Women’s Interfaith Network, exploring how women keep faith in ourselves, in each other, and in the world. in a cause or in religious faith, so you can learn how to keep faith too.

I’m your host, Maeve Carlin, and today I’m talking to Dr. Linda Woodhead, the F.D. Maurice Professor of Moral and Social Theology at King’s College London and head of the department of Theology and Religious Studies. Whether through her academic research, her articles for the BBC, The Guardian, the Church Times and other news outlets, or in public lectures at the Oxford Union, with the Religion Media Centre or the Institute of Art and Ideas, her work helps us understand the contemporary spiritual landscape in the UK and what this tells us about how communities are Keeping Faith in 2024.

Today we’re focusing on one of her key areas of research – magic, superstition and alternative spiritualities which, although far from new, seem more visible than ever before – with the rise of #WitchTok and astrology apps like Co-Star, which has over 20 million downloads to date.

Throughout our 2024 Keeping Faith programme, we’re exploring how – while so many of us feel disconnected from the word “faith”, we still search for ways to hold on to it, to give us hope in challenging times. We’ll be sharing more updates from the programme throughout the year, and in our bonus episodes.

But for now, let’s jump into our conversation with Dr. Linda Woodhead.

Maeve Carlin: Well, hi, Linda, Dr. Woodhead. Thank you so much for making the time to be with us today.

I’m going to start this conversation with a confession. My friends and I celebrate most pagan festivals. We read tarot for each other and discuss astrology. In the room where I’m recording, I have three spell jars, a worrying amount of essential oils, and even a black cat.

I don’t consider myself a pagan or a witch, though I might call myself witchy. And most of my friends don’t identify with these terms either. Reading your work, it sounds like I’m not alone.

So, can you tell us what you’re seeing and how so many of us are embracing magic in 2024?

Linda Woodhead: I’ve been studying this since I, um, started out really as a sociologist of religion, right back in the, well, turn of the new millennium, and it was all growing then, so this is nothing new. I think, um, it’s easy to think, oh, this is all something new. But, uh, both non-religion and atheism and alternative forms of spirituality have been around in Britain since the late 19th century and have been becoming increasingly mainstream and increasingly diverse and more acceptable and now with the internet, much more easily accessible. But probably the word I want to say there is diverse. What I’ve seen in my career is not just that they’re more acceptable and less stigmatized, but that there’s a huge range to choose from now.

Maeve Carlin: And when we say magic, what sort of practices do you tend to be talking about? Or when we say sort of alternative spiritualities, what do we mean?

Linda Woodhead: Well, um, those are broad terms that encompass a lot. So perhaps we can, I’ve spent my whole life trying to make it a bit clearer because it’s so complex, um, and at the moment, I would, um, share a sort of, if you can see a little diagram in your mind, and you have, you might call it salvific religion, you know, big religions that offer salvation, often salvation from the world, salvation of the self.

And then you have magic, and magic, it can be combined with other beliefs, um, but it’s any sort of practice that achieves results for reasons that you really can’t explain. And it can be combined, you know, all sorts of paganisms have some magic working, and that might be wicca or it might be heathenism, they’re very different, but they’ve all got a magic element to them.

And then you have spirituality, and in that I would include people who like that word and use it. Or they might talk about mind, body, spirit. And they might or might not practice magic. Quite often they don’t. If they’re doing things like Reiki or yoga or mindfulness, they might have nothing to do with magic.

So maybe it’s a Venn diagram with those two. And then, um, then you’d have a sphere that I’m very interested in but not many people are, uh academics, which is kind of practical, worldly, traditional practices. And they would be things like, people call it superstition, that would be what you’d label that box, but it includes astronomy and horoscopes and tarot and, yeah, fortune telling broadly, psychic things. Things that have been around for as long as humans have, as far as we know, in every society, but are, of all the things I’ve talked about, are still the most stigmatized and not taken seriously, even though they are accessed by about one in five people in Britain, and it’s not declining.

So that’s my little sketch of the spiritual landscape of Britain, but I think it applies in a lot of formerly Christian countries, too.

Maeve Carlin: That’s so interesting. Thank you. And I know that you’ve said, rather than this being a totally new phenomenon, you think that the numbers of people interested in magic have remained largely consistent.

So, if our belief in magic isn’t new, do we see it manifesting in new ways?

Linda Woodhead: Yes. But I don’t think that’s new. You know, I think that histories of magic show that it’s reinvented, adapted rather, in every era. And it’s adapted in different ways. It can be adapted into high culture and high ritual magic.

Uh, there are also oral popular forms of everyday magic. Um, and they change, you know, we know what magic looked like, um, a century or two ago in say, Lancashire, and it used lots of bits of Christianity, it used, you know, Latin incantations and a bit of the Lord’s Prayer, and it used, and it used sheep bones in divination, and it used what was available to it at the time, and I think that’s what always happens.

So today, what’s available is different, and also the platform is different, it can be TikTok. And you can use different techniques and you can share across other countries and their practices and you can see what other people can do more easily. So yes, Maeve it’s changing, but I think it’s always been an adaptable, flexible kind of thing.

Maeve Carlin: And I suppose that applies to all forms of religious life anyway. We always adapt, we always evolve. And you, you touched on that sort of international, transnational online space, which we’ll come back to later. But, at the same time as feeling extremely current, so much of these magical practices and symbols root themselves in our collective or perhaps our imagined past.

I’m thinking of crowds that gather each year at Stonehenge for Solstice or watch it on live stream around the world. So is there some kind of intrinsic relationship between magic and nostalgia?

Linda Woodhead: That’s a great question. Um, I think there is today. And you can see that I mean I think things like fantasy fiction or Game of Thrones, these are these are all channels and they sort of create at least a plausibility structure for some of these practices. And we know from research that, for earlier generations, things like, um, Buffy, these are quite important ways in which teen witches got their first taste of things.

Maeve Carlin: I was wondering if we were going to touch on Buffy because I think, I think, it’s key, isn’t it?

Linda Woodhead: Yes, absolutely. Um, but, um, there’s something kind of natural about it as well. I can remember as a little child who’d never heard the word magic and had absolutely no connection with anything I mean, I know when I was at primary school, sitting in a dark room with my friend and flicking through a book that had really crinkly old pages and, and, you know, you know, doing spells.

So there’s something sort of compelling about it, isn’t there, when you haven’t had watched Buffy or the idea that you’re connecting with a longer tradition. I mean, we know from the work of historians like Ronald Hutton that Wicca is invented in England in the 1940s. It’s got a very clear start date. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, when it’s invented it claims to be a aged tradition that goes back pre-Christian and it’s being revived.

So you’re quite right. Uh, this has probably been true of all religions as well, that they’ve always claimed, you know, Jesus is born, it claims the heritage all the way back through the Jewish genealogy. So this, the authority of tradition is such that it’s still appealing, makes religion seem more credible.

New religious movements get a hard rap, you know, it’s not been around long, it’s not proven, it’s the latest fad. So I think you’re right about magic. Has it always been the case? Yes, I think it probably has always been the case.

Maeve Carlin: That’s so interesting about the relationship between invention and tradition and how those things are so kind of closely associated.

Linda Woodhead: It’s a very interesting topic and I think you could do an interesting study of what it is we’re nostalgic for at a particular time. So at the moment, all paganism shares an ecological focus.

We’re nostalgic for a time when there was a beautiful, imaginedly beautiful natural world that we were part of that’s clearly. You know, that tells you that the things were the things we highlight in our nostalgia are the things we’re longing for.

Maeve Carlin: And I think also a lot of this relationship with tradition, particularly for women, is about some kind of subversive political statement. The way I see my community interact with magic and with witchcraft specifically is as a reclaiming of things that we’ve heard dismissed as “woo woo” or “airy fairy”, i. e. unserious, unscientific, and therefore unimportant. I also hear a very strong sentiment that these things have been dismissed because they’re generally practiced by women. I can think of lots of anecdotal examples of women engaging with magic, but I’m fascinated to know if there’s any data to back this up, that certain groups of women perhaps have lost faith in the institutions of organized religion. And are now keeping faith through magic?

Linda Woodhead: Yes, there is. That’s absolutely happened. Uh, there were several bits to your question there. Women did transition out of Christianity into spirituality and some, then from some forms of magic. I, I researched that in a book I wrote with Paul Helas called The Spiritual Revolution, where we found that 80 percent of the people doing spirituality in a town in Britain were women.

2002 we did that research, um, and they are all refugees from the churches and the National Health Service. They, uh, were often doing holistic, you know, healing practices because they were fed up with the NHS not giving them the scope as nurses to do that, and they didn’t find a home in the church as well.

So that was definitely the case. As Christianity has declined so fast, and having a church background has become less normal, you get a different demographic today, you know, people who might have had no contacts, their family aren’t Christian and they have never been to church, and so they might be exploring it, uh, from scratch, if you like, or even from a parent now, it’s transmitted now from, you know. mothers to daughters, uh, rather than finding a home because they’re looking for somewhere after church. Does that make sense?

Maeve Carlin: Makes total sense. And also, it’s so funny because now when you think of the church, particularly the Church of England, I mean, uh, a rural parish I spend a lot of time in. I don’t remember the last time they had a male vicar. The dynamic might have changed a little bit there since, since female ordination, I don’t know.

Linda Woodhead: Perhaps. I don’t know how many churches are now introducing a bit of paganism into themselves.

Maeve Carlin: That would be a whole totally different area of inquiry, I’m sure.

Well, we’ve already touched on this, but I feel like we can’t talk about magic today without talking about the rise of #WitchTok: TikTokers, usually young women, though not all, posting about their spiritual practice or swapping knowledge under hashtags like #witchytip or #babywitch. Just to give a sense of the scale of this phenomenon for our listeners, WitchTok content currently has 49.7 billion views on TikTok and 5.7 billion posts. Our cultural fascination with the witch and with magic as we’ve been discussing. is clearly far from new, but it feels like witchcraft and magic have become aesthetic and aspirational in a way that perhaps they weren’t before. Do you think that magic has gained new cool status in recent years and how have we got here?

Linda Woodhead: Um, I think There are cool bits and there are not cool bits. I mean, there’s, there’s so much of it. You can find the bit that’s like you and the TikTok algorithm will send you the bits like you. You must be cool, Maeve if you’re getting cool.

Maeve Carlin: I will accept that comment.

Linda Woodhead: But it’s certainly socially acceptable and, you know, quite hard to avoid actually. If you look at one you’re going to get more and more. Um, and it’s been, you know, there’s a lot of tarot on there, there’s a lot of different sorts of fortune telling and divination, there’s a lot of WitchTok, as you say.

That platform in particular, lends itself to, uh, short videos. So, it lends itself to forms – I’m going to use religion in the very broad sense now of all of this – it lends itself to forms of religion that, um, you can have an actual practice you can depict and I think some of the most successful bits are of people who you find, you know, influencers who you find interesting, and you want to see a bit of what they do, and how they live out witchy life, and how they make a spell. So, it fits in with a sort of lifestyle interest, um, and your cool aesthetic Maeve, if that’s what you’ve got, and also gives you practical tips about how to do spell working or other things that you’ve got a spiritual interest in.

So, for a certain demographic, that’s an interesting phenomenon.

Maeve Carlin: And also it’s sort of like a ready-made community, because you don’t have to find someone where you live. You can find someone in this amorphous online space, uh, and be in community with them, which I think for some people can feel really special.

Linda Woodhead: That’s a great point. And, and what sort of community is it? To what extent do you have an interaction with people?

Maeve Carlin: It’s a good question. I think it varies, but I think because people can sort of stitch videos to each other or send videos back and forth or comment, or send each other videos, I think it creates a sense of this shared pool of knowledge. Or I found a Reddit board the other day that was uh, what, what we might call baby witches, um, passing knowledge to each other and asking each other questions, like any sort of message board, um, and creating this shared pool of knowledge.

Linda Woodhead: Lovely. Yes. Very interesting.

Maeve Carlin: Obviously, social media platforms like TikTok are very much the home turf of Gen Z. I should out myself. I am not Gen Z. I am, I’m very much millennial.

Is WitchTok part of an emerging Gen Z spirituality? And if so, what does it tell us about how Gen Z are keeping faith in their own way?

Linda Woodhead: Uh, Gen Z are the most non-religious generation, um, in Britain and America, where I’ve done a good bit of the research on this, in that they say we have no religion when they’re asked on the survey. That doesn’t mean that they’re not participating in this because they don’t want to be classified as a witch, necessarily. That’s, you know, but they might still be doing this and watching this and be interested and do a bit of spell work, say. Um, so I think it appeals to that sensibility that you don’t want it to be part of your identity in a way you might want your gender to be, say, but you are interested.

And I think it appeals that you can, you can go in as deeply or as not and come out again as you want. So it’s not like going to church where you have to be committed in a very deep way and to regular attendance in a particular community forever. You can stick your toe in. Or you can dive in when you need to, and you can come in and out over time as well. Sometimes you’ll have more of a need for practically oriented sorts of spirituality than at other times in your life. And it can adapt to the rhythm of your life in that way, I think.

Maeve Carlin: I think the other thing is that nobody knows except the algorithm, unless you want people to know. So if you’re thinking, “oh, this, this religion thing, this spirituality thing, that doesn’t quite align with what I want to put out into the world.” But nobody, nobody has to know if I’m watching this video or doing something within the privacy of my own room.

And then there is a community. If you want it, but…

Linda Woodhead: Very true. Yes.

Maeve Carlin: Yeah, it’s not a public statement in the way that attending church is.

Linda Woodhead: No, so you’re not stamping your identity with something. And that brings us back to your question I didn’t really answer about the stigmatization of it and is that gendered. And I think it is.

I’m still shocked at in an era where we think religious discrimination is a… well, it’s illegal. The way that people ridicule and laugh at, what they think of as superstition, but which are very meaningful practices to those who take part.

And I am sure it is because they can’t bite back. And that’s partly because there are more women and, um, there aren’t sort of, uh, politically legitimate representatives of it who may come after you if you insult it. So it is still quite risky to, in some circles, to say that you are a witch or a pagan or that you do tarot or so on and so forth.

Maeve Carlin: Yeah, you, you never know what sort of baggage people have behind those terms still.

Linda Woodhead: Mm, exactly.

Maeve Carlin: So every few years, the national conversation about the future of faith here in the UK picks up again, as less people identify with a particular religious community, we’ve been talking about that with Gen Z, or belong to a place of worship.

But what’s clear from this conversation and from your wider work is that spiritual seeking and desire for community are alive and well in 2024. Faith still matters enormously to people, but its meaning seems to have changed. So, to ask a very big question, but one that we can hopefully keep returning to throughout our Keeping Faith conversation, what does it really mean, do you think, to keep faith in 2024?

Linda Woodhead: I think it means that you’ve got a lot of choices. It may be very difficult to make those choices because you don’t know where to start, you know, in a way that earlier generations would. Even if they rejected Christianity, they knew what it looked like. They had a place to start from. But if you are interested, you can access things and you can find a form of religious or spiritual practice that makes personal sense to you.

And religion has lost the sort of gatekeepers, the people who would say you can do that and you can’t do that. Like you said, it appears sharing information with one another. They’re not looking to an authority figure. Well, of course authority figures reassert themselves. That’s just how societies work.

So you get now, I mean, heathenism, many forms of that are very hierarchical. You get emergent leaders in spirituality. You get guru figures. That’s always going to happen. You get people on TikTok with massive followings, uh, so you get hierarchies coming, but I’m not pretending it’s all flat structures. But there’s, it’s much more adaptable and easy to sort of be an entrepreneur and set up your own stall and do your own thing.

And it’s much more easy – final, really important point – most pagans, we know this from Helen Berger’s research, most pagans around the world are solitary practitioners. People always imagined Druids or ritual practice or whatever. No, her census of pagans shows really clearly the majority of pagans do it on their own, and that’s part of the attraction.

Doesn’t mean they’re totally solitary, of course, they might go to a festival once a year or be on a social media platform, but they still identify as solitary practitioners.

Maeve Carlin: So, you were talking about the ways that even when we see these kind of flattening, democratising dynamics, hierarchies find a way to sort of re-emerge, reassert themselves. How have you seen that unfold or what might the kind of darker side of that be?

Linda Woodhead: Yes, I think we still kind of, uh, associate often in our minds, these developments with a counterculture and love and peace and, and, flattening and, you know, anti-authority, but as it matures and diversifies, we see that it’s, it just mirrors, other unpleasant developments, um, or violent developments.

You get hierarchies, you get abuse scandals in some of the groups, you get a far right emerging in the heathen networks, you could see that in the storming of the Capitol, you know. And then you get the, like, the QAnon shaman, when you get this mixture of spirituality and conspiracy, which we call ‘conspirituality’. And even the wellness movement now has been, part of it has been pulled into ‘conspirituality’, like with, like Russell Brand would be an example of someone who’s gone in that direction.

So, we’re seeing more men involved. We’re seeing much more diversity, and we’re seeing the full political spectrum emerging, and full hierarchy and authoritarianism as well as the more democratized end of things. And often the two sides are in contention, you know, in heathenism you’ve got the left and the right fighting over the soul of their movement at the moment.

Maeve Carlin: Wow, that’s so interesting. Thank you so much, Linda.

Linda Woodhead: My pleasure, lovely to be here.


We’re so grateful to Linda for speaking to us today and helping us understand and decode the spiritual landscape of 2024. We hope our conversation brought a little magic into your day and maybe demystified some of these terms which can still be so contentious and confusing. You can read more of Linda’s work at the links in our shownotes, as well as listen to some of her public lectures which put today’s conversation into a wider context.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Keeping Faith: A How To Guide. Subscribe now on your podcast app to be the first to hear about our upcoming episodes, and please leave a review or share with a friend to help more people find us. To find out more about the podcast, the 2024 Keeping Faith Programme or to get involved with the Women’s Interfaith Network, you can follow the links in our episode notes or go to Until next time, Keep Faith!


Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide was created by Women’s Interfaith Network. The podcast is co-produced by me, Maeve Carlin, and Adam Brichto. Our executive producer is Lady Gilda Levy. Theme music was composed by Jamie Payne and our logo was designed by Jasey Finesilver. Additional Support from Tara Corry.



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