"My eyeliner matches my aura," Kiernan Shipka said, looking down, through eyes lined in perfectly symmetrical, precise slashes of fuchsia and heliotrope, at the photo in her hand. "I can't believe I just said that," she laughed, repeating: "My eyeliner matches my aura."
Harder to believe than Shipka saying exactly the kind of thing you'd anticipate a 19-year-old might say, was the fact that not only did Shipka's eyeliner perfectly match her captured aura—also symmetrical, a nebulous halo of shocking pink and purple—but, the accompanying aura-reading she'd receive was eerie in its accuracy, capable of making a believer out of any skeptic.
This isn't to say Shipka is a skeptic. As could be expected from someone who has spent many months being immersed in a world of spellcraft and demons, thanks to her starring role in Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Shipka embraces all things witchy and mystical. She'll casually drop astrological tidbits into conversation, explaining how she leads "a very Scorpio-themed existence in a lot of ways," which means, she said, that she has "an intensity and a really all-or-nothing mentality—a lot of determination." She's had her tarot cards read and her birth chart done, and while she doesn't necessarily think it means something that she and her CAOS character Sabrina Spellman are both Scorpios, she doesn't think it doesn't mean something.
“I'm a big mind-over-matter kind of person. Like, the body achieves what the mind believes.”
And yet, she wasn't expecting to learn much about her life from a five-minute aura reading in a closet-sized store called Magic Jewelry in the middle of a bustling street in New York City.
But first: If you've never gotten an aura reading, because maybe you are neither a celebrity nor someone who needs to find a fun activity to use as a launching pad for a celebrity profile? Well, it consists of sitting in a chair, placing your hands on sensors, and having your picture taken by a special aura-reading camera. The resulting photograph looks like a Polaroid, with you in the center and colorful flares surrounding your face and upper body. This variably tinted haze comprises your unseen cosmic energy, and the colors and their placement around you are then interpreted, so as to better understand your relationship to the things that have been happening to you in the last two weeks, as well as those that will happen in the two weeks to come. It's presumptive and prophetic, and at the end of it all, you get a very cool-looking photo to carry around with you and show your friends, who will admire it and say, "That doesn't really look like you, but it does look really cool."
Shipka's aura photo was particularly cool, we learned, as the woman at Magic Jewelry offered up its meaning, commenting on how Shipka was experiencing a lot of happiness and joy and creative fulfillment. (In case you're wondering if all aura readings are so resolutely positive, mine consisted of: "You feel really insecure about something professionally, like you're not getting what you want from your career. That will change, but it will lead to problems in your personal life." Which wasn't wrong. So.) But where the experience verged into the uncanny was when the aura reader made clear that what Shipka's life had been like for the last two weeks would be identically replicated in the next two weeks; today was an anomaly, she made clear, today was different, but otherwise, she insisted, everything would be exactly the same.
Shipka slowly nodded her head in agreement; she had just spent the last two weeks filming a movie in Toronto (a Netflix film called Let It Snow; it will be, she said, "snowy, romantic, funny... kind of all the things"), had flown into New York the night before we met, and would be flying back the next day—to spend two more weeks in Toronto, where she would finish up her work on-set.
The neat bisection of her month was reflected precisely in her aura, as was her experience of that time, making hers (and mine) the kind of reading that could be fairly said to be unsettling in its accuracy. Only Shipka isn't the kind of person who gets unsettled. Instead, she notes her experience of magical happenings in the world, and takes them as they come; for her, the extraordinary is ordinary to such an extent that she jokes about the magic of things (she called the quickness with which she was cast as Sabrina "cosmic"), and she has confidence in her ability to manifest her reality, telling me, "I'm a big mind-over-matter kind of person. Like, the body achieves what the mind believes." And she has achieved a lot.
Shipka has been acting since she was five months old, when she appeared on the television show ER. It's probably wrong to call it "acting" at that point; Shipka was just being herself, an innate performer from the beginning. And, like any innate performer, she must have radiated—and radiates, still—a sense of preternatural self-possession, of being unperturbed, always at ease. And her ease with herself, with the world and all its wonders, serve to put the people around her at ease as well, so they can be more themselves in turn.
It's this disarming quality that Shipka brought to the role that made her famous, Mad Men's Sally Draper, the all-seeing daughter of hard-drinking, hard-living, casually cruel, if often well-intentioned parents. As Sally, Shipka grew up on-screen, going from a wide-eyed, wise-beyond-her-years six-year-old to a world-weary teenager who shared cigarettes with her mother, blowing smoke expertly out the passenger-side window of the family station wagon, thus laying claim to the questionable legacy bestowed upon her by her complicated parents.
On the surface, there aren't many similarities between Sally Draper and Shipka's newest iconic role, Sabrina Spellman. Whereas the former had a privileged suburban childhood, complete with navigating the difficulties of being a child of divorce and having annoying younger brothers, the latter has a wildly atypical story. Sabrina is half-witch and half-mortal; her parents died under mysterious circumstances when she was an infant, and she's been raised by her devil-worshipping aunts. Sabrina not only has to navigate the difficulties inherent to high school but also learn how to wield her not inconsiderate powers, bestowed upon her by her true father: the Dark Lord himself, Satan.
However, Sally and Sabrina do share some connections: They're both young women coming into their own powers, and rebelling against the oppressive systems into which they were born. They're both archetypes, representing everything from innocence lost to a manifestation of the Electra complex. They both realize that the only path out of the damaging patriarchal paradigm in which they find themselves is by going through it, the only way to gain control is via appropriating the aspects of it that can serve them, and dismantling those that don't. But, since they both do manage to benefit from those systems, forging ahead on their own is proving more difficult than they'd have imagined it would be, and also less appealing. This is particularly true of Sabrina, who enjoys the otherworldly powers bestowed upon her by the devil, and so really, you know, leans into being the actual Antichrist.
So what does any of this have to do with Shipka? These are just characters she plays; they're not her. And there is little about Shipka that speaks of unrest or turmoil. She's one of the least angsty teens I've ever met, wholly unflappable, the consummate performer. She seems to move through the entire world with the same ease as she walked—in five-inch Miu Miu platform sandals, no less—down a bustling Manhattan street after we'd had our auras read and wandered over to our next stop, for coffee (she takes her latte with oat milk).
But appearances can be deceiving, and these aren't just characters Shipka plays, they are people she embodies. There must be some connection between these iconoclastic television antiheroines and the young woman in front of me wearing a highly covetable kelly green sweater (also Miu Miu) emblazoned with Snowball II, the family cat from The Simpsons, on it, right?
"All the experiences that Sabrina is going through are so analogous of a traditional teenage experience—just with some witch stuff."
"I always try to find something that rings true to me that I can connect myself with," Shipka told me. "And all the experiences that Sabrina is going through are so analogous of a traditional teenage experience—just with some witch stuff. Just with some demon-y things."
And, Shipka said that her connection with Sabrina extended beyond the obvious teenage girl stuff and beyond their star signs—although, she pointed out, she sees in them both "a real feistiness and fierceness that can show up in different ways. It doesn't have to look too feisty and intense and fiery, but it can feel that way."
"It's so funny," Shipka continued, talking about her connection with Sabrina, "sometimes with characters you feel like you have to really work and fine-tune to find their voice, to find them, to figure them out to make sense of this person. For some reason, I just felt like I was Sabrina. I just felt like we were made for each other in a lot of ways."
“I feel almost a responsibility to play characters that are strong and multidimensional. They don’t have to be perfect, that’s not the point. The point is that we’re human.”
And maybe they were. Not unlike Sabrina, Shipka's life was determined for her at a very young age; a guest spot on ER isn't exactly the equivalent of an unholy baptism, but Hollywood can work its own kind of dark magic on its youngest aspirants. It's easy to imagine the insidious allure of a certain kind of lifestyle presented to Shipka from childhood; what's so impressive is how little of an effect it had on her, how normal her life has been considering her level of fame. Because while Shipka was still in elementary school when she achieved fame thanks to her role on an acclaimed television show, she still attended a regular school, and her peers were only vaguely aware of what she did—it was their parents who were more likely to be impressed with her Mad Men cred.
Shipka told me, "I wasn't working all the time. I worked maybe three days a week while we were filming [Mad Men], and obviously, I was limited hour-wise because I was still a kid. Besides that, I took the rest of the time to hang out with friends and do musical theater and improv and tennis and all those kinds of things. It just felt like the perfect kind of thing, to have that balance. I had so much time to just be a kid—like so much time." And yet the fact remains that Hollywood can have a corrosive effect on anyone's sense of self—particularly that of a young woman.
But that has not been Shipka's experience, not least because, as she said, "I grew up with strong women all around me. I feel really lucky to have grown up in an environment that was inherently feminist." What this afforded her was the opportunity to develop her sense of self, to have confidence about who she is, and an understanding that those people who would try to take her, or anyone like her, down are just another example of "men being afraid of powerful women." Shipka said to me, "I grew up being told that I'm capable of whatever I want to be capable of, that I can do anything. There were no doubts thrown at me."
Shipka knows, though, that this is not a universal experience; that for every young woman who feels that she's equipped to destroy the injustice around her, there are many others who were never offered the same tools. She said that because she knows her experience has not been "the case for a lot of young women, a lot of young people, I feel almost a responsibility to play characters that are strong and multidimensional. They don't have to be perfect, that's not the point. The point is that we're human."
And what so many young women and young people—so many humans—are going through right now is a similar struggle against authority and accepted wisdom to the one Sabrina is experiencing, one in which their eyes have been opened not only to the fact that the people in power are fallible, but that those same people are actively working to ensure the destruction of a just future for younger generations, and are actively working to silence the voices of those who are speaking out. This generation that is only now just entering adulthood is having to grapple with the reality that the institutions they were raised to believe in are not a sanctuary at all, but rather are places designed to bring about catastrophe.
Shipka's generation, though, can feel like a beacon of hope against all that gloom. That is, perhaps, putting a lot on them, but the point isn't that they have to save the universe in one climactic season finale. It is more about what they, what Shipka, represent: evidence that it is possible to be raised in a world full of ghouls and specters, and come out of it still yourself. They are a reminder that it is possible to be close to darkness, to have it be a part of you and your lived experience, and to still find the light, to still be surrounded by a pink-and-purple glow, one that might not be visible to the naked eye, but that is there, ready to be found, ready to be understood.
Shipka is ready for all that. She seems ready for anything, for wherever the future takes her. She said, "It is a powerful time in a lot of ways. The female roles are feeling stronger than ever; feeling powerful. The world feels like it's listening in a lot of ways that feel new, and like a new era."
“It is a powerful time in a lot of ways. The female roles are feeling stronger than ever; feeling powerful. The world feels like it’s listening in a lot of ways that feel new, and like a new era.”
And that new era is being ushered into existence by a generation who delights as much in astrology as they do in the affairs of the world, who balances their love for scrolling through Raya with a love for literature. (Shipka, by the way, was reading Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen when we met; it's a challenging, dark novel about a woman who, among other things, defies other people's perceptions of her.) It's a generation whose sympathy for the devil won't stop them from vanquishing it. It's a generation that has received skepticism from older, more cynical populations, and yet refuses to dull its enthusiasm for change. It's a generation that can very much relate to Shipka and her passion for evolution and growth, to her delight in all things mystical and all things physical.
Just before she left to meet friends for the night and see the critically acclaimed play Daddy, Shipka said to me, speaking of her hope for the future, "To see this movement and so much feminism and female empowerment happening right at this moment, and to be a part of it with this show, it gives me chills. The fact that Sabrina is a really positive, smart character who's strong-willed and calls out what she thinks doesn't make sense—and wants to do what's right? It's amazing." She flashed one last smile, "That's what I'm all about."
- PHOTOGRAPHER: LINDSEY BYRNES
- VIDEOGRAPHER: CHARLOTTE PRAGER
- LINE PRODUCER: ALEXANDRA HSIE
- STYLIST: JILL AND JORDAN
- HAIR STYLIST: ASHLEY STREICHER/TRACEYMATTINGLEY.COM
- MAKEUP ARTIST: MAI QUYNH
- NAILS: GLAMSQUAD
- PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANT: JOSHUA COBOS
- PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: ALISON YARDLEY