The Malliway Bros. Witches Conclave hosts COVID-safe events like Tarot Round Robin in the woods. Credit: courtesy Malliway Bros.

Blake and Wycke Malliway, owners of a witchcraft shop in Rogers Park, refuse to let COVID cancel Halloween. “We’ve had to give up a lot right now because of the pandemic; a lot of people feel powerless. Turning to witchcraft can help them realize some aspect of themselves that they want or that they’re yearning for,” Blake says. Lately, visitors to the Malliway Bros. shop are seeking love, money, protection—and alternatives for celebrating this spooky season safely.

The number of witches and Americans practicing Wicca rituals has increased significantly since the 1990s, according to an article published in Newsweek in 2018, with studies suggesting there may be as many as 1.5 million witches in the U.S.

“I absolutely think that the numbers have gone up, especially this year. People have had to be alone, they’ve had to be more internal, and when you can’t talk to the world of the living you make a point to talk to the world of the dead,” Blake says, pointing out that there is a notable difference between Wicca, a religion, and witchcraft, which has no deity to worship.

Malliway Bros. Spells, Charms, & Potions

1626 W. Morse

Blake, 29, and his brother Wycke, 28, estimate Chicago has “a couple of hundred thousand witches.” But what are all those Windy City witches to do when the scariest thing about Halloween in 2020 isn’t ghosts or ghouls, but the prospect of partying in the middle of a pandemic?

“Learn how to make a broom as part of our Witches’ Conclave workshops,” suggests Wycke. “We provide the sticks and the prairie grass, and we actually show people how to fly on them.” Other workshops offered by the Malliway Bros. include charm making, magical candle carving, and more.

Masks are required for participation and there is a five-person limit. That group is further split into two and separated into different parts of the store—each cluster led by one of the brothers—to optimize social distancing.

“When the weather is nice and still feeling fall and fresh, we’ll be doing a lot of workshops outside in the forest preserves. Bunker Hill has fantastic woods that we venture back into while maintaining social distancing,” Blake says. Tarot Round Robin is a popular outdoor workshop, especially for novice card readers. “People take turns conducting simple readings on each other,” Wycke says. “You get to be more creative doing it this way because you’re not just looking at [card interpretations] straight from the book—you’re going a bit more off your intuitive side.”

If joining a Witches’ Conclave workshop in the middle of the woods is beyond your comfort zone, start by browsing the Malliway Bros. store, which opened in August 2019 after the brothers grew tired of lugging their wares to pagan pride events throughout the midwest. The store, limited to ten patrons at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions, features books on traditional witchcraft, folklore, spells and magic, rituals, and more. There’s also a table of talismanic charms (preassembled spells), including the popular Rowan Cross (a protective amulet) made from two sticks of Rowan wood gathered from a tree next to an old holy well outside Widecombe, a village in the UK.

Rowan Cross
Rowan CrossCredit: courtesy Malliway Bros.

Pre-pandemic, Halloween 2020 was supposed to be an event of near mythical proportions—the holiday, which takes place on a Saturday this year, converges with both a full moon and blue moon. But with the annual Haunted Halsted Halloween Parade cancelled this year and other events scaled back or reimaged, some Chicagoans seem prepared to ghost on the spooky holiday entirely—despite the allure of COVID-safe options like broom making or Tarot Round Robin in the woods.

To get into the spirit this month, the Malliway Brothers suggest going on a graveyard walk.

“Going on graveyard walks through some of the old cemeteries in the city and talking to the spirits and letting them guide us to their graves just feels like a good thing to do this time of year,” Blake says. “A lot of people think the spirit world has an incredibly unbiased viewpoint of the mortal world because time, a man-made concept, doesn’t really exist in that realm. By working with the spirit world, we can learn more about the operation of our world and learn more about the things we are trying to uncover in our personal lives.”

Another option to lift your spirits—organize a Dumb Supper (“dumb” as in the event should be completely devoid of noise).

“A Dumb Supper is the practice of leaving an empty place at the table. Set silverware and a plate of food and just leave that for the spirits. Start with the dessert and end with the appetizer,” Wycke says, noting that when you do things backward you invert the everyday routine, facilitating a separation from reality. “Eat very quietly and do not say a word. This is a way to have a meal with any spirit that wants to come. It could be a loved one, you could set a place specifically for them.”

However you plan to celebrate the days leading up to Halloween, the Malliway Brothers encourage you to scare-up something fun and meaningful during this spooky season.

Says Wycke, “Halloween is the day where witches can let their freak flag fly and do whatever they want.”  v