Catherine A. “Cate” Engles ’25, a resident of Adams House, is known lovingly by some of her friends as Tequila Cate. In the beginning of October, she opened an envelope slipped under her door to find a sheet of paper covered in elegant typeface, titled “The Cate Engles Spell.” The message read: ”Without a purchase or a barter / We’ll make a spirit out of water / But until January we will wait / For our friend Tequila Cate.”
You might wonder from where or whom this spell came. The answer? A group that calls themselves The Witches of Adams House, composed of the Moon Witch, the Chastity Sunshine Witch, the Dark Witch, and their pet, Soup the dragon. As their witchy activities in Adams’s corridors have ramped up, the Witches have established a mysterious, eclectic, and beloved presence in the Adams House community.
Reflecting on how the group began, the student identifying herself as the Moon Witch says that “it kind of came out of nowhere.” She and her two other soon-to-be-Witches were sitting and talking in Adams one day last year, looking for something “fun, quirky, weird, exciting — because that’s kind of what Adams is, right?” (The students identifying themselves as witches would only agree to interviews if they remained anonymous.)
Given the issues that plagued Adams last year — flies in the dining hall, construction everywhere — it seemed like house morale needed a boost. “We weren’t necessarily trying to start as community-builders,” the Moon Witch says. “I think we just wanted to kind of be weird and see how the house would react.”
Yet the witch persona itself wasn’t random; historically, it has represented women breaking from the status quo. The Moon Witch gives a few examples: “Women doing science, women being creative, women reading, women dancing, women saying no.” Indeed, the Witches have lived up to that legacy, bringing unprecedented and sometimes shocking quirkiness to unsuspecting students.
We asked the Witches how one could join them. Is there an election? A comp process? Can we be punched? To which the Witches replied, “We are Witches. We’re not a club, we’re not an organization, we’re not a secret society. We’re not a final club, and you can’t comp us.”
They clarified that on a practical level, being a Witch is a big commitment. Along with being full-time undergraduate students, they drop personalized spells and memes at students’ dorms across Adams House, occasionally star in dining hall flash mobs, and plan community games, including a recent scavenger hunt whose prize was the title of Witch Apprentice. Recently, the Witches say, they’ve secured funding from Adams House to support their activities.
For the month of October, the Witches conducted a series of dorm drops, sending spells to students whose friends had requested they be bewitched. The Moon Witch explains that these drops require a lot of thought. First, the Witches must contemplate how the drop is going to be received, its timing, and how it blends with Adams House culture. Then, they have to write 40 spells that rhyme, print them, seal them in envelopes, organize them by entryway, and drop them without being noticed.
Nonetheless, the power of the Witches is incredibly versatile. They have written spells to summon Beyoncé for a live performance, to “de-messy” a physical space (the Moon Witch’s personal favorite), and to grant a job offer at Bain & Company as a management consultant.
With so much magic to disperse, the Witches don’t have time for menial tasks — especially not fixing the broken laundry machines on the third floor of the Inn, as GroupMe messages often request. They’ve clearly outlined in the Adams House GroupMe what actions they do, and do not, have time to complete. They do not have time to deal with warlocks or mortal men, with charging their flying broomsticks when they’re running late for class, or with their neighbor making too much noise with a special friend.
The Witches also made an appearance at the Adams House Formal last spring. The Moon Witch danced on the DJ platform, photobombed pictures, and took photos with other students. Adams House Resident Jeremy O. S. Ornstein ’24 got on his knees and bowed down to the Witch dressed in all black, who says of the incident: “[It] was really nice. I appreciated that.”
After the formal, however, an unknown pursuer chased after the disguised Moon Witch. Although she eventually escaped, “it was a little frightening,” she says.
As it turns out, the unknown pursuer was Ornstein, who identifies his “mission” as unmasking the witches. He provides his side of the story: “I followed them, running and calling out, ‘take off your mask, unmask yourself,’” he says.
The Witches, despite — or perhaps because of — their sustained anonymity, are well-known within their house community. “The Witches are widely accepted and welcome,” Arjun A. Akwei ’24 fondly says, even though “to this day, we still don’t know who they are or what their purpose is.”
Engles has been a fan of the Moon/Chastity Sun/Dark trio since day one. “I’ve been saying, ever since we got Adams House, that I’m obsessed with the Witches.” She sees the Witches as a sort of Adams mascot — one both reflective and challenging of Adams’s “creepy” aura.
“Here’s the thing,” Ornstein says. “I could sort of laugh about them, but the truth is, they’re fuckingamazing.” He adds that the Witches exemplify how “to make community and use magic to do it.”
More broadly, Adams residents say, the Witches prove that not everything Harvard students do needs to fit cleanly on a resume. The Witches represent a carefree existence that isn’t common at Harvard, Akwei explains. “By being this wild and [mysterious] presence, they’re adding to everyone else’s feelings that there is time [for] those experiences that don’t necessarily amount to any academic or professional end, but are more about just living with one another,” he says.
The Witches don’t believe that their activities run completely contrary to the Harvard lifestyle. “Harvard is full of a lot of passionate, colorful, creative people doing a lot of really outstanding things,” the Moon Witch says. She suggests that Harvard students should actively pursue even more of that unadulterated fun: doing things just for the sake of it.
Ornstein’s mission to uncover the Witches is rooted not only in curiosity, but in a deep admiration. “They’re not making anything from it, except the devilish satisfaction that they’re a mystery,” he says. “To do something out of your own little love and desire in your heart has just got to be a part of the culture of this place.”
Days after our interview, the Witches revealed that they will be uncovering their identities in the near future. The details of their unmasking are still unknown, so keep your eyes peeled for what they have brewing.
—Magazine writer Kate S. Griem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
—Magazine writer Saba Mehrzad can be reached at email@example.com