Cottagecore, Witchery, and Zine-Making: An Interview With Lucy Kagan

An illustration showing two figures with their backs toward the camera, looking toward trees and the sun. Text reads, "Hazel."

If there’s a time when the world needs cute and cozy art that prioritizes care, kindness, and magical empathy more than 2020, I can’t think of it. Enter Hazel, a witch’s lifestyle zine curated, edited, published, and designed by artist Lucy Kagan. This year’s issue, which has a theme of “Spirit,” is the series’ last — but Kagan has assembled a team of talented and gender-diverse writers, artists, witches, and spellcrafters to send it off in style (full disclosure: I contributed a poem to this year’s issue).

Hazel Issue V: Spirit is currently funding on Kickstarter with a variety of beautiful and inspiring rewards for backers. As of writing, the campaign has been fully funded and reached multiple stretch goals, with further rewards including gorgeous tote bags and other intriguing offers.

I sat down to chat with Kagan about her inspiration for the zine, why now is the right time for care-based magic, and the rise of cottagecore.

Can you give me just like the brief Hazel elevator pitch?

It’s like the kind of mini-magazine that we imagined Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service would read. Not everyone knows what a zine is, so I often say mini-magazine. And that’s really how I imagined it to begin with.

What a witch’s lifestyle zine means for us is that this is if I’m a young witch in training who’s going off to the big city to start and isn’t quite sure of her place in the world, that’s kind of the magazine we imagined her reading to get her witchy tips of the day.

You play kind of a lot of roles in the zine’s development, right? Because you curate the issue, run the Kickstarter, and organize things. Do you also design?

Yeah. I also contribute my own piece which is written and illustrated by me. And yeah, I curate the group. I do the layouts. I do the wrangling of the people and all their communications and advertising and spreadsheets, like budgeting — all that stuff. So it’s easier just to say editor and publisher, because that kind of encapsulates a lot of it. The only part that I think is less clear from that is that I do the cover every year, and I illustrate and write for it.

I imagine you — you know, you wear many hats, but in this case, you wear many really cute witch hats that you just put on as you need to switch roles.

Yes, I suppose that’s a good way to put it.

I have a witch hat that I wore for the livestream that we did [to celebrate the Kickstarter launch]. That’s my fancy witch hat. And then I made a really big one. My first one that I had a few years ago, I was making it and I took a picture and sent it to my boyfriend and I was like, “Is this too big?” while I was like in the middle stages. And he’s like, “No, no, go bigger.” I’m like, “But then I feel like it won’t be very casual.” And he’s like, “There’s no such thing as a casual witch hat.” I’m like, “You don’t understand.”

I feel like casual witch hats should be a thing. It’s 2020, the rules of fashion are gone. The rules of everything are gone.

Yeah, everything is casual now. All while I feel like we do have plenty of fancy Hazel readers, myself included, we also have a lot of casual witch hat-wearing types, myself included.

Two photos of hands holding previous Hazel issues. One features a comic where a spirit seems to embrace a human. The second shows various herbs.

What inspired you to start Hazel? What was kind of the seed that made Hazel become a reality?

It’s hard to remember exactly what my inspiration was at the time, because the idea for Hazel was at least like a year or two before I actually made Hazel. I really wanted somebody to make a lifestyle blog, like those ones that you would see with these gorgeous photographs of either where somebody was traveling or what they were eating or their recipes or their favorite recommendations for gift lists or outfits of the day. And I just wanted them to do that, but with like a little bit of magic in there.

That was the original thing that started me making a Pinterest board. The Pinterest board has been around since probably a year before Hazel started. And I was like, I can’t make a blog. I can’t keep up with that kind of thing. You have to maintain it and really post regularly, but maybe I could make a small magazine. And that’s where the zine aspect of it came in. I did try to make a witch’s lifestyle blog with a friend at the time of the first Hazel issue, but it did not last for very long.

When people saw that, some of my friends were like, “Oh, I have ideas. If you do another issue, I would love to include this crochet pattern or some writing!” And I was like, “Well, maybe I could do another issue.” It just kept going from there.

Hazel has this very cozy and warm atmosphere to it. I’m curious what draws you to that take on witchcraft as opposed to maybe the more dark and spooky angle.

I think it’s because I was coming from Kiki’s Delivery Service and lifestyle blogs to begin with. Even the lifestyle blogs that I would read where the photography style was very shadowy and stuff [were] always very homey and cozy. I think, for one thing, I myself at the time had just moved to a big city, didn’t really know anyone, and was trying to figure out how to take care of myself and make sure that I wasn’t burning out and that I could find friends and stuff like that. Part of that was nurturing myself with these images of coziness and belonging.

I didn’t even really think about how most witchy aesthetic stuff is really dark and like more on the goth side until my friends started bringing that up. Like, “Well, yours isn’t exactly like the witch aesthetic. Well, it’s not like all black or anything.” So I was like, “Oh, yeah, I guess. I guess this is a different side of that.”

I think something that Hazel does is it kind of broadens the public perception of the witch into something that is more cozy and more homey, because for a lot of people who aren’t familiar with different aspects of witchcraft, they might only think you know, black hat, cauldron, et cetera. But Hazel has more of that feel of kitchen witchery or garden witchery.

Yeah, even though I think a lot of my friends who are witches are also goth and love skulls and stuff like that, I think that real people who either practice witchcraft or were people who historically were prone to being accused of witchcraft weren’t doing dark arts or anything. They’re really doing this kitchen kind of witchery and also foraging for things and growing their own stuff and reading books…. Because people who were accused of witchcraft a long time ago would have been a little bit more educated, probably, too, so it was also really nurturing for the mind and stuff like that. I feel like that really informs the way that I think about this witchy stuff as per Hazel, but also just like life in general.

Yeah, I think the fact that you call it like a witch’s lifestyle zine is a really useful way to think about it, because that encompasses so much more than just like, “Here is how to practice a spell,” for example. It’s like this holistic approach to the way that a witch might live her life.

Yeah, I think so. It’s also important in terms of how you care for yourself. If you are trying to do spells and make sure that you can have influence over the things in your life and all the goals of spellcasting… then it’s not helpful if you’re not also nurturing your physical body and nurturing your connections with other people and with the world around you.

Previous themes for Hazel have included things like ritual, magic words, and coven, and this issue’s theme is spirit. Why did you choose the theme of spirit for this issue, which will be the last issue of the zine?

I thought I really needed to… finish up with a big idea for the last one. I didn’t want it to feel anticlimactic…. Ritual seemed like the perfect theme for a big ending — ritual is such a powerful idea to me. But also, I wasn’t really done with the themes from the ritual issue. I was looking for a theme that would help bring that into this one. Because for ritual, I was kind of reacting to the mental health struggles that a lot of my friends were going through and just trying to [find ways to] keep yourself healthy and keep yourself sane in a really busy, busy world that is just spiraling out of control.

That only continued to be an issue this year. And this was before — I mean, I came up with the theme before the pandemic hit and all the protests began to happen and just all the things that have made [this year] so tumultuous and so painful for people. And even then I was like, “Well, yeah, this mental health thing, this nurturing our spirits, it’s not going away as a problem for my readers.”

So I went through a lot of different words that could encompass that, and finally arrived at spirit. And I think that speaks to your mental health and your wellbeing. But also seeing the spirit in other people and making sure that you’re respecting that and not just treating everybody else in the world like they don’t also have a consciousness and wants and needs and desires.

What kind of content did you hope to get for the issue, and how has that lined up with the content that you’ve ended up selecting for the zine?

I always have a wishlist that I post on the website. It is a little bit less of a wishlist and more of an inspiration point for people, because I think in the past, I have had a very similar wishlist a couple of years in a row. I realized that the pieces I was getting were people’s takes on things on that list, but I just didn’t recognize them because it was so different from what my preconceived notions of that idea would be.

But this year, I got one of the things that I always ask for. I finally got a researched, informative piece. This year it’s about foraging. And that was a really direct request that I communicated to a friend, Thais Lopes. She was able to write that piece, and… that was something I really, really wanted, something to be able to help inform readers more than a lot of the personal takes that we get, which are great. I love that. I always want to be able to do some deep digging and get some information out there.

I was trying to think of what I even asked for this year, and I don’t remember a lot of my list at this point.

We’ve all aged a century since you opened submissions.

Yeah, basically.

In terms of what I got, I know that I’m always happy to get DIYs, and there’s a recipe this year. I’m like, “Woo hoo!” because I don’t usually get recipes, and I think that’s one of the most fun things to share in a magazine. I got another crocheting tutorial from Petrina Cheng-Tatara, who almost always does one for me, so that’s really nice. And the written pieces — everything’s just great.

I think if I have one thing to say about it, it would probably be from one of my contributors and collaborators, because I lose focus at a certain point and perspective at a certain point because I’ve been staring at everything for so long. And Lulu VanHoagland, she said, “I think this is gonna be the best issue so far. I think this is looking really, really good.” And I was like, “I’m so glad because I have no idea anymore. I believe you. All the people who contributed are amazing, but I’m so deep in it, it’s really hard to comment.”

But I’ve been really amazed at all the wonderful talent that we got again this year and all the new people and that so many people have gone on to be inspired to make more stuff. And that’s what excites me the most, is people who are like, “Okay, I’m taking my idea from Hazel last year, and now I’m making a book pitch!” I’m like, “Yes, good. Go out there, do it.”

So how do you approach your role as curator or editor for Hazel, things like deciding what theme you’ll go with or what kind of pieces are going to suit that theme?

After the previous issue of Hazel, after that issue finishes and it’s delivered and everything, then I like, take a nap for a couple months. And then I pretty quickly start thinking about what I’m going to do the next year. That’s when a lot of those early decisions are made, maybe December of the same year that I just finished one. And I’m always like, “Oh, this is too soon. I need to give it a rest.” But this year, I kind of leaned into it, and it’s been such a good thing to have all that planning done ahead of time.

That’s kind of where I start to react to, “Okay, what is different this year? After I finished all that stuff, what do I want to add next? What wasn’t said before, and how can I inspire people to contribute new things?” Because I do always worry that the theme of a witch’s lifestyle zine is just going to run out of ideas at a certain point. That’s kind of where the themes come from. My request list and my Pinterest board is like, “look at all this stuff, see what inspires you.” It’s really letting the contributors tell me what they would like to do and what they think is good. And then I can react to that.

….I think I get so many good ideas, more than rejecting things because they don’t fit, I have to try to fit more into the book. It gets bigger and bigger every year because I’m like, “I love all of these!” Last year, somebody submitted two pieces and I had to only take one. But I was like, “Oh, I really want both of these ideas.” And I still do! I wish they had submitted it again this year.

Why wrap Hazel up at issue five?

Because I need more time in my year, basically. Making Hazel takes up the majority of my year…. If I was only starting real work on Hazel around April, then it would take up less of the year and I would just take some more time at the beginning of the year to recover. But since I’ve been doing a lot more consistent work on it from January to the end of the campaign in October, when stuff gets delivered, that’s a lot.

Last year, I had tried to do the thing where I don’t start until April, where basically when I get ideas and stuff in December, then I just sit with those ideas for a couple months and work on other things and just know that Hazel‘s coming up. I was able to finish a zine, but then I also really got stuck on the campaign where I felt like I didn’t give myself enough time. And I got stuck not having as many updates as I wanted.

I don’t make a living off of Hazel. It’s my little project. If I did, maybe I could keep doing more Hazel year after year. My boyfriend says that I should just keep doing it at this point, but I need to take at least a year break… so that I can refocus. When I started Hazel, I had a full-time job, and I do not anymore. I’m at a point where I need to build a career for myself. I would love to do more illustration and maybe some graphic novels or illustrated chapter books. That takes time too, and that is basically where I find myself. Maybe this isn’t the end for Hazel, but it’s the end for now. And I know I can always pick it back up. It might not have the same momentum that it has now, but it feels like this is probably the right call for me so that I can keep paying my rent and keep eating.

And I feel like you’re going out on a high note, too. If any time is right for Hazel, I feel like there’s a variety of factors that have come together right now. Obviously, we’re all stuck in our homes, and desperately needing self care, but you also have the fact that Hazel‘s content fits very well into the current popularity of cottagecore and similar aesthetics. So I’m curious: why do you think those kinds of ideals and images are so popular right now?

That one kind of caught me by surprise, cottagecore, and I guess dark academia kind of overlaps with that a little bit. All those aesthetics being so popular kind of caught me by surprise.

A lot of the time, as an artist, I find that I notice trends early on, and I always think a trend is dead much, much sooner than it actually is because I see it from the very beginning. By the time I think that it’s dead, it’s usually actually hitting its peak and it lasts for like another year or so. I’m always kicking myself for not making enamel pins sooner or not getting into whatever the thing is, but this time, with cottagecore and all those aesthetics that are overlapping with Hazel getting really popular right now, I don’t feel like I really noticed them as much.

Maybe it’s because I’m too into Hazel and too into the cottagcore vibe. I think it’s just my echo chamber, but it’s not, it turns out. Or maybe it’s because I’m actually finally getting old.

I think that cottagecore in particular can appeal to a lot of sensibilities right now since it’s just an aesthetic for the most part. It can apply to a lot of different ideologies. And for people who are maybe getting overwhelmed by technology and overwhelmed by the pace of the world, and the way that we see every injustice that happens in the news more than we were able to when I was younger, maybe it’s something where this is a nice form of escape that seems very wholesome. You just want what seems like a simple thing — to be able to sustain yourself in a cute little cottage, not a big mansion. Nothing that’s conspicuously consumptive or anything, just wanting a little place to yourself that feels very close to nature. I can see how that would be very appealing in the current climate.

Yeah, I think the word cottagecore itself, like the appearance of the word for it, also plays a role here. I think a lot of people have been interested in this kind of domestic witchcraft with, you know, baking, growing herbs, that kind of stuff, and cottagecore put a pin in it. It’s like, yes, that one.

I didn’t have any good tags back in the past few years on Instagram to use for Hazel, even though I knew this was an aesthetic that people would really like. It was really hard to get the word out as much because I would try like “woodland magic” or “woodland aesthetic,” “forest magic,” — so many different attempts at tags for that. But because there wasn’t just one search term that someone would use to find that aesthetic, it was like just a scattershot kind of approach. And now that we have the word cottagecore, I’m like. “All right, I’m going to use the heck out of this, because I know I know my audience.”

What are some of the things that people can look forward to seeing in this issue of Hazel?

There’s the foraging one. There are recipes and crochet DIYs. There’s like a guided meditation. Lots of wonderful comics. I always love the comics we get. And a little snippet of a longer story, which is the first time that we’re getting something like that. So yeah, lots and lots of good, witchy woodland vibes as usual, but a lot of introspection and occasions for healing

Where can people find information about you about the zine?

The news hub would be Instagram, [@cottonbook]. That’s where I update the most… And my website, LucyKagan.com, usually has links to all the different aspects of what I’m doing.

Thank you so much, Lucy!


Issue V: Spirit is up on Kickstarter right now! Get the newest issue for $7 when it’s released later this year, or back at the $25 level to get the full collection in PDF form.

Melissa Brinks

Melissa Brinks

Melissa Brinks is a freelance writer and co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast. She has an affinity for cats, cooking, gardening, and investing copious hours of her life in fictional worlds of all kinds.

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