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The 'Henna Witch' Demystified

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

By Mishelle Wade

I would like to introduce a controversial emerging co-culture within the international henna community and in my own practice. In this article, I will do my best to demystify this peculiar term, identify its core practices and some commonalities amongst its practitioners. The term “Henna Witch” has cultural baggage to immediately unpack. It can evoke confusion, fear and anger in those who are used to hearing about henna in the traditional context of South Asian, Arabic, Middle Eastern and African cultures. On the other hand, some folks coming from religious backgrounds might hear the word “Witch” and immediately picture a satanic henna cult. Rest assured, this term is not intended to remove henna from its traditional origins or conjure demons but to build on henna's diverse and ancient traditions as its foundational use expands.

A simple google search of “Henna Witch” is misleading and will not suffice. It will take you down the rabbit hole to strange horror fiction stories, random social media accounts and dated Pagan chat forums. Despite the illusive origins of the term, it has evolved into an expansive community that is intercultural and global. “Henna Witchcraft” is considered more of a spiritual or holistic wellness practice rooted in plant-based energy work. Self-identifying members of this co-culture come from all parts of the world: both traditional and non-traditional henna-using origins. Each person brings different cultural knowledge, ritual and significance to their practice.

I believe the modern “Henna Witch” community is a product of cultural diffusion, the rise of modern-day witchcraft, historic henna use, the internet, folklore, plant medicine and metaphysical practices. The term can conjure the euro-centric stereotype of a witch, especially coming from me, (white Irish-American lady) but its important to remember that witchcraft or magic practices are ancient and also rooted in Indigenous, African and Hispanic cultures (among others). In other words, “Henna Witch” is not some new age mumbo-jumbo that a group of white ladies on Facebook started out of boredom yesterday! (Although it can be, if you're not careful.) Going for cultural joyrides as a member of dominant culture is problematic without proper knowledge or respect. Cultural appropriation has multiple facets and nuances that are highly subjective so I invite you to form your own opinion in that regard. I encourage everyone to do thorough research before engaging in cultural practices and seek out traditional practitioners. Some practitioners will share snippets of information freely but it is important to pay and promote your teachers if your serious about respecting them!

Did henna get co-opted by New Age Spiritualists, Wiccans and Pagans in America? Not necessarily, however, there are cases of this so it depends... Many people who are using henna with bad intentions get bored and move on. Henna is far too complex to callously pick up as a spiritual tool with no technique, research or dedication.

Henna in the United States

Henna use became more mainstream in the 1990’s in the United States with the rise of 'Indo-chic' and Orientalist art practices popularized by the media and appropriated by celebrities like Madonna, Liv Tyler and Gwen Stephani. They were exalted for “pioneering” henna as a cool trend, while traditional groups were bullied, discriminated against and marginalized for it. At the same time, with the advent of the internet, information about henna became more accessible.

These days, mainstream "witchcraft" has become more popular with no formal connection to Paganism or Wiccan beliefs and cultures. The term “Witch” is used more generally in popular culture to denote a ritualistic, earth-based, spell-binding, medicinal or metaphysical process. Historically, witches were often turned to as healers who used plant medicine. Many witches have no connection to black magic or dark arts which is another sub-culture. While there is overlap between real Pagans and Henna artists, generally speaking, “Henna Witches” denotes Witch in a more secular sense. I believe that as long as henna is still accessible and valued by traditionalists, and respectfully spoken about its history by non-traditionalists, it will rightfully be preserved.

Colonialism and henna

As a white woman practicing an art form outside of my inherent culture, I believe that it is important and ethical to talk about the harm that colonialism has caused. One prevalent issue is the industrialization of natural henna exploited for profit that can cause health issues.

Black henna is essentially a product of colonization. The French (or English I can't find online sources to verify) saw the potential in this plant for profit so they industrialized an ancestral process and added the chemical PPD

(p-Phenylenediamine) Any industrialized cones have harmful chemicals and solvents (even henna cones that stain the bright red color.) Please click the links to read more about the possible side effects of PPD exposure. The chemical was added to make the organic dye last longer and stain a black color. Please always ask the ingredients of your henna paste and go to artists who care about your health and well-being. Going back to the traditional way of mixing henna is much safer for everyone! Also note that there is jagua out there which is a natural fruit based alternative from south & central America. Core tenants of the Henna Witch practice that I have observed over the years are the use of plant medicine (making use and respecting natural resources), safe practices, creating ritual, harnessing intuition and doing energy work or therapy with henna. This genre of art practice has a lot to do with learning plant medicine (studying botanical properties or cultivating plants for medicinal purposes), researching henna’s diverse history out of respect and creating ritual in observance with seasonal, corporal and astrological occurrences.

Henna Rituals

There are many therapeutic rituals you can create with henna. Henna witches like myself will make an entire ceremony out of henna mixology alone, since the process to prepare the dye takes 1-2 days. I collect rainwater to mix into the dried henna powder (Lawsonia Inermis leaves),charge the paste for dye release under moonlight (or the full moon) and use select crystals to deposit metaphysical properties into the paste, for example. Specific essential oils are also added into the paste to create additional therapeutic and medicinal benefits. The rainwater charges the paste with energy from the current atmosphere and also adds a bit of acidity which helps preserve the dye. I also like to write down intensions on a piece of paper over the covered henna while its dye releasing.

I have also controversially been known to do henna self-care rituals during times of menstruation to alleviate painful symptoms, and overcome emotional blocks. Since my periods typically fall on the full moon, it comes at a great time to set intensions, ground myself, reflect and engage in self-care practices. During mensuration, emotions tend to run high so I like to take stock of things, clean physical and mental spaces and decompress. Henna plant is historically synonymous with female practice and empowerment. Back in medieval times, henna root and Queen Anne's Lace were used as abortifacients.

Henna applied as a protective/ceremonial ritual is a common use that is followed within traditional henna-using cultures especially in parts of Africa (namely Morocco). Boys will sometimes receive henna before their circumcision ceremony. Henna also can be applied to women during the time of their period or before travel to keep away evil Jinn (spirits) that can prey on women during weakened times. Interestingly enough, the evil eye is often added into henna patterns for protection to keep these malevolent spirits at bay. The evil eye is a lengthy topic within itself to discuss as its perceptions widely vary across cultures. Belief in the evil eye is ancient and ubiquitous; it occurred in ancient Greece and Rome, in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions, and in indigenous, peasant, and other folk societies, and it has persisted throughout the world into modern times.

While I personally do believe in evil spirits, I generally aim to treat weaknesses (or shadow traits) within myself. Negative self talk or ego, for example, is something that I believe talismans or symbols in henna designs can serve as physical reminders to keep inner demons at bay. While I make mention of all this, it is important to note that some religious groups may disprove of henna used as "magic". Magic may be viewed as something to undermine God/gods but I see magic in nature or people, it can be evidence of good and wonderful mystery that is in this world. While some people do believe Witchcraft exists, many do not find the practice acceptable (under Islam or Catholicism for example). Likewise, witches vary greatly within their own practice. Personally, I avoid practices like baneful magick that can intend people harm or hexes. I only use henna in rituals intended for empowerment, self-improvement, care and protection.

I also want to be careful about making sweeping theological generalizations because worship, cultural attitudes and practices vary. I found a great article which surveyed attitudes in traditional henna-using cultures & countries on witchcraft, the evil eye, jinn and other spiritual/metaphysical phenomena. Take a look at how attitudes vary regionally! The highest percentage that reported they believe in the existence of witchcraft came from Tanzania at 92% in sub-Saharan Africa, closely followed by Tunisia and Morocco.

As I mentioned before, ritualistic and medicinal use of henna is not new or considered non-traditional. There is a-lot of overlap amongst different cultures who apply henna to cast off evil, protect and beautify the wearer. In regards to henna as plant medicine, henna is UV resistant, a natural astringent and anti-inflammatory. Henna's history may date back to 3400 BCE in ancient Egypt where the practice was considered a ceremonial preparation after death. Infrared scanning of a mummy’s hair identified the presence of henna dye, as a possible restoration of youth for the afterlife. Thanks to one of my past teachers at Hennacon, henna historian, Noam Sienna, we have a handy timeline of archeological evidence and translations that trace henna’s ancient history. Noam Sienna’s website can be found at:

Henna for hair is a great self-care ritual that has stood the test of time. Simply mix water and natural henna powder with only a few drops of essential oil of your choice. Benefits of henna on hair include relieving headaches while the paste is on and treatment of dandruff. Henna helps protect your hair from sun damage as it is UV resistant. BUT before jumping in, be sure in your choice to dye your hair naturally with henna because it is permanent. Henna only builds on your natural hair color, so check the graphic to see what your hair might look like using henna!

My “Henna Witch” origin story I began exploring the world of natural henna body art after high school. I can't really tell my story without sharing about my support system. My best friend's family is part Iranian so she helped support my practice by modeling for me and became my loyal henna assistant. I am really lucky to have made diverse friends growing up in Miami that instilled love for many cultures. Although I researched and am mostly self-taught, I credit my best friend Roxana with being the support that helped me gain the confidence to follow my passion and professionalize my practice. When you are falling in love with an art form, it is integral to have friends + family around to help you practice and give you guidance and support.

I have always been infinitely curious about world culture and creative expression. I was always the quirky-shy, earthy girl who would constantly draw on myself with paint and pen, not realizing those inks and pigments can be toxic to our bodies. I dreamed I would become a tattoo artist, but my dreams were quelled by my terrible fear of needles, blood and inflicting pain. I am overly sensitive to those things and have an embarrassing history of fainting! So once I learned about henna and jagua, I became addicted to using safe, plant-based temporary dyes. The henna plant became a significant part of my life and helped treat my anxiety. Ten years in, I started calling myself a “Henna Witch” with guidance from my mentors when I realized the rituals, medicinal qualities and energy work I incorporate into my everyday practice was a differentiator.

In 2016, I began volunteering with henna in mental healthcare settings at the Austin State hospital girl’s unit, and in collaboration with social workers, grief counselors and even consulting with sex therapists. I realized I had an affinity to connect with people, transmute emotions using henna art and harness my intuition to channel designs for guests. Some people have the right temperament and capacity to hold space for others in delicate situations. If you have empathy and good intentions you have the power to make a difference in this world. After the worst of the pandemic is over, I hope to get back into the swing of volunteering within clinical facilities and hospitals. I encourage anyone else who has this capacity for intuitive henna to use it to connect with and uplift others. It is also my hope that henna be more integrated in art therapy practices and offered in holistic healthcare settings as a mode of healing. Some of my beloved henna teachers over the years are South Asian and Moroccan and I want to pay homage while I connect my non-traditional (Irish-American ancestry) to my adopted multi-cultural practices. I think it is important to share respect and information about the historic cultural uses of this ancient art while expanding upon its use as an artistic medium. Despite my concerns about cultural appropriation, I began sharing about this co-culture. Once I began sharing, I was delighted to realize I am not alone! Members of this co-culture are illusive, open-minded, self-identifying. As an outspoken member of this co-culture, I discover and connect with fellow “Henna Witches” on Instagram and other media platforms. I am currently in the process of compiling a comprehensive list of artists that offer this type of henna-based energy work so that clients and fellow artists can meet and share. Many of the #hennawitches I have met with and discovered are located in the US, due to proximity. Keep in mind that this list is growing and there are male and/or non-binary “Henna Witches”, as this term is non-gendered. I have also discovered some through searching the #hennawitch tag on Instagram!

Please let me know if you would like to be added or removed from the list!

- Nathalie, Tampa FL @gypsylotus86

- Zara, Edmonton Canada,

- Tasia Hart Islam, Twin Cities Metro area, Minnesota @halcyob_arts_mn

- Danila Marilu, Dallas, TX @Danilamarilu

- Shir, Israel @songxhenna

- Jasmika, South Africa @jasmendhi

- Natalia Zamparini, Brooklyn NY @Natybynature

- Miranda, Michigan @thegreywitchmi

- Lizz, Vancouver Canada @lizzbethashley

- Jess, South Carolina @upstatehenna

- Justine, Saskatchewan Canada @studio.stiina

- Farah, Orange County to NYC @achoofairydust

- Samantha, Lincoln Nebraska @hennagesserit

- Anna, Iowa to Texas @koalabear41616

- Aerol, Los Angeles California @aerolorion

- Amy, Upper Pacific Northwest @painted_heart_arts

- Heather, Austin Texas to Maui Hawaii @_thegingerartist_

- Elizabeth Magill, Washington State @evergreen.henna

- Rebecca, Pennsylvania @hennarebecca

- Jillian, Michigan @grassrootshennaanddesign

- Emma, United Kingdom @hennaveil

- Henna Maze, Agata Poland @henna_maze

- Katy Minich, Oregon @ktminich

- Palynn Earven, Portland Oregon @hennanomad

- Ninnie Louise, Los Angeles California @ninnie_louise

- Oceane, Quebec Canada @Oceaneleclaire

- Jupiter Moon, Colorado

- Priya, NYC to Miami @thehennaalchemist

- Cecilia, Hialeah FL @show_me_the_girl

- Rosa Alejandra Zertuche, Brownsville Texas @zertuchina

- Yael Zivan, Oregon @ceremonialhenna

- Teala Marie, Santa Fe New Mexico @misshennamarie

- Blue Cypress Botanicals, Texas @bluecypressbotanicals

- Jade, Fort Lauderdale FL @Jademaxx

- Sakura, Caracas Venezuela @sakurashenna

- Alchemy Henna, Ferndale Michigan @alchemyhenna

- Antoinette Hippe, Seattle Washington @antoindotnet

- Darcy Vasudev, Oakland California @hennalounge

- Wendy, Beaverton Oregon @rovinghorsehenna

- Henna Lunar, Santiago Chile @henna.lunar

- Jennifer Lind Schutsky, Phoenix Arizona @lalunahenna

- Viviane, Seattle Washington @mehndivaviv

- Avery Forman-Walsh, Boston Massachusetts @hennamehndibyavery

- Helena Murad, Rio de Janeiro Brazil @mhvmurad

- Souldahra, Queensland Australia @souldhra_art

- Hokulani Henna, Guthrie Oklahoma @hokulanihenna

- Liz, Miami Florida @mindfulhenna

- Brian, Minneapolis Minnesota @oddflowerhenna

- Marla, San Juan Puerto Rico @Kuarenthenna

- Margie Nugent, NYC @Margienugent

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