Coven In the Community

by | Feb 15, 2022 | COMMUNITY

From witch-themed markets to workshops, tea parties, and more, River City Witches are getting a lot done in the Richmond community — and working to improve community perceptions of witches while they’re at it.

When you think of a witch, you may think of spells, black cats, and communing with the spirits around you. If so, you’re partly correct. But being a real-life witch can be far more complicated than that, involving identities and practices that mix magic with the practicality of everyday life. “Witch” is a catch-all term for dozens of different practices and focuses, getting more and more specific as you go down the rabbit hole.

Witches have received more and more attention in the last decade, much of it placing witchcraft into a newly positive light. In many places, though, it can still be difficult to find like-minded individuals. Luckily, Richmond’s population of witches from all paths and walks of life is ever-expanding. This is, in part, thanks to the work of River City Witches.

Four years ago, safe spaces for Richmonders who found themselves drawn to witchcraft were almost nonexistent. If you wanted to find a place to speak with other witches, you would most likely have to seek it out on the internet. Misty Van Cleave saw this as a problem, one she wanted to solve. On a whim, she went to her friends at Fallout RVA in Shockoe Bottom to see if she could host a market for witches in their space. They allowed her to do so, and to her surprise, it blew up, with an estimated 1300 people in attendance on that hot July afternoon.

“I didn’t know we had such a large community,” she said. “People lined up around Fallout to get inside. It was ridiculous.” After witnessing how much of an impact she could have, Misty set out to find more opportunities to bring people together around their love of witchcraft. Thus, with the help of others including her friend and co-founder David James, River City Witches was born. 

Soon after that first market, River City Witches was hosting a variety of other events, from workshops to tea parties. These were positively received by the local community, and an increasing number of people gravitated towards the markets – and, in turn, to each other. Richmond’s witchcraft community was coming together as a cohesive unit, expanding and learning from each other as River City Witches grew. 

The group’s frequent markets have had a clear impact on the community of small businesses that have taken part. Dozens of vendors from all across Virginia, along with several from surrounding states, come to the markets that River City Witches hold throughout the year. During the markets, the parking lot and events room at Diversity Richmond are packed with different witch-based stalls, offering tarot readings, wands, herbs, and anything else that a witch could want. 

A market for witches may sound like an adult affair, but the reality of it is the whole family can have a good time at a River City Witches event, whether they’re spiritual or not. The open, inviting atmosphere is obvious to both attendees and vendors. Jayne Geist, a local witch who owns Black Ankh Designs, is a frequent vendor at these markets. She sees a constant stream of people, both newcomers and regulars, who visit her stall at these markets, helping her connect and form relationships she never would have had before.  

“I have seen a lot of young people with their parents at the markets,” Geist said. “So River City Witches has also created a place where families can share their interests and learn about witchcraft without the influence of negative stigmas.” 

Stigma is something that River City Witches is familiar with. The presence of freely roaming witches has not been accepted by everyone. During their very first market, Van Cleave and James say there were protesters outside of Fallout RVA. There have been other instances of their markets and pop-up shops encountering pushback from members of the public as well.

“Of course, we’re not for everyone,” said James with a laugh. “But at this point in our lives, we’re pretty used to it.”

Van Cleave and James both began their practices as witches early on in their lives, and have developed their craft over many years. They are still constantly working to improve and learn more about the natural world around them, but through very different methods. Van Cleave focuses her energy on necromancy — communication with the spirits of the dead — and green witchery, which bases itself around plants, herbs and the natural world. James focuses on the natural world as well, but he specifically calls himself a poison witch. Their religious paths are also vastly different, Van Cleave subscribing to the belief system of the Church of Satan and James being a devout pagan. 

“It’s very interesting,” James said. “We work so well as founders and for our classes and things of that nature, but we’re completely different.”

Thanks to these two individuals, River City Witches has made steady progress throughout its four years of operation. They don’t plan to slow down either, constantly planning for the future and working to ensure that there will always be a space for witches in Richmond. Their markets exist not only to create space in the moment for witches to get out of the “broom closet,” but to create connections that will continue long after the stalls are taken down and the workshop has finished its sessions. The community thrives, and River City Witches breathes and grows as if it is a living being. 

“It’s its own entity at this point,” Van Cleave said. “When you stand back and look at it, it’s everyone. We’re all just one, and it’s amazing.”

The next River City Witches market is the Spring Equinox Market. It will take place at Diversity Richmond, located at 1407 Sherwood Ave, from 1 to 6 pm on Saturday, March 13. Admission is free. 

Savannah Ritter

Savannah Ritter




more in community

JewFro restaurant was robbed. Help them bounce back.

We were made aware of this post from the restaurant and wanted to lend our support. If you have any details that could assist, please step forward and notify the authorities. Additionally, there's a GoFundMe campaign established to aid their recovery, which you can...

Need Space to Paint? 17th Street Studios is a Painter’s Paradise

Down in Shockoe Bottom, a small project is merging the worlds of art and community in a way that speaks to the city's evolving needs. Sarah Salo, a Richmond-born artist now navigating the bustling fashion industry of New York, finds herself at the intersection of this...

What Makes The Richmond Animation Festival a Can’t-Miss Event?

Dive into the vibrant world of animation at the 2nd Annual Richmond Animation Festival, set to captivate audiences at The Byrd Theater on April 28th. This year's festival promises an eclectic mix of short films, showcasing talents from around the globe, including a...

The Sun, the Moon, and Virginia! A Rare Solar Eclipse Encounter

This Monday April 8th, Virginia's going to be treated to a solar eclipse. Now, while we're not exactly in the prime spot to see the sun completely hidden (that's called the path of totality), we're still in for a pretty good view. Here in Richmond, we're talking about...

Virginia Icon Pharrell Williams is Coming To Town

A musical based on Pharrell Williams' childhood is set to be filmed in Richmond. It's a coming-of-age story set in 1977 Virginia Beach, drawing from Williams' upbringing in the Atlantis Apartments. Williams will produce, and Michel Gondry, known for Eternal Sunshine...

RVA 5×5 DEEP DIVE | Bottom of the Ninth

NOTE: This is the first of a multi-part series over the next few weeks about the baseball stadium issue in Richmond.News came out this week about the new baseball stadium designs in the Diamond District, which is a sign of progress, but also a sign of trouble....