A modern day witch who quit the 9 to 5 to live off-grid in a handcrafted home in the middle of a tropical jungle, has spoken of her magical lifestyle – despite constantly trying to stop her rainforest ‘landlord’ from repossessing her house.
Feeling stifled by urban life, Sarah Wu, 37, who has been casting spells and concocting potions since her early 20s, followed her first husband Stephen Brooks, 45, to the idyllic Central American country of Costa Rica a decade ago – leaving city life in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, behind.
Now living in a home made from bamboo and fallen trees, with electricity coming from solar power and water from rain-catching systems, her life could not be more different to her previous existence, living in rented apartments in a city and working regular hours for an organic food company.
Sarah, split up with Stephen (whom she married in 2010) last year, but described her current lifestyle, based in an eco-community of 12 people, saying:
“We catch rain water to drink and wash, and we also need it for our crops of root vegetables, cucumbers, fruit and nuts, and for growing the herbs that I use in my medicines.
“There are hardships, though, and maintenance is probably the biggest challenge we face as the forest is constantly trying to take back the houses we have built.
“But despite it all, I really can’t imagine life any other way.”
Sarah originally followed Stephen, an ecological developer, to Costa Rica, in 2009 – having already had a brief romance with him when she spent time there as a student – after they met again by chance and rekindled their love.
“I had a stable job and a stable life living in the States, but I wasn’t happy.
“I always felt very in touch with nature, which is one of the key things about being a witch.”
“And living in a city wasn’t affording me that connection that I felt I needed.”
Living with Stephen on an off-grid farm for several years before they separated, as well as being a witch, Sarah is a herbal teacher and now lives in a remote area in Orotina, a small region in the west of Costa Rica.
The daughter of a keen huntsman, she always felt at one with nature and, despite growing up in Rochester, a town of 200,000 people, in New York, USA, she spent much of her time as a little girl outdoors.
”I was always very mindful and aware of the sphere of nature and learned pretty early on that humans are not the most important things in the world.
“Around the same time, I also began experiencing visions and I felt as though I was able to detect shifts in the natural world around me.
“I think everyone has this connection, but it is particularly strong in me.”
But it was while studying art history at Temple University, Philadelphia, that her own supernatural experiences awakened her interest in witchcraft and the occult.
Reading about the persecution of witches through the ages, Sarah felt a deep connection with them and their struggle for individual expression.
“My family, historically, was from the region of Alsace in France where I discovered there were many witch burnings,” she said.
“So, I realized this was something that was in my blood.”
And when Sarah experienced hormonal problems, after taking the contraceptive pill, as well as a series of ear infections, she decided to make her own herbal treatments – one of the main elements of witchcraft.
When her homespun remedies – taken from books on witchcraft – worked she delved more deeply into herbalism.
Then, in her second year of university, aged 19, she visited Costa Rica to study tropical ecology – a trip that changed her life.
“I really cemented my knowledge of herbs and medicines while out there, and my commitment to witchcraft,” said Sarah, who met Stephen during the trip and enjoyed a brief romance with him.
“I also saw how beautiful Costa Rica was as a country, not only the landscapes but the people too, who were so kind.”
“The memory of that stayed long after I left.”
Returning to the USA, Sarah for the first time began to identify as a witch, – something her parents thought was “very weird”.
Aware that being a witch attracted a lot of negative reactions, she practiced in private – observing the lunar and solar rhythms, making herbal remedies and reading tarot cards in the privacy of her own home.
“I didn’t like to discuss my craft much, as, early on, a few people had laughed at me, which made me feel insecure,” she said.
But living a conventional existence in Philadelphia did not suit her.
“I felt very powerless, being stuck in the default world, where everyone is told to live the same way.”
Then, in 2007, after bumping into Stephen again at a food industry convention in 2007 in Baltimore, Maryland, their love was reignited and, a few years later, she decided to join him in Costa Rica for good.
“There was a very strong connection between us both and we really quickly fell in love again,” she said.
“Stephen was living in Costa Rica full time then and so after a couple of years of a long-distance relationship, I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here wasting my life?’”
So in 2009, Sarah took the plunge – moving to Stephen’s permaculture farm in Punta Mona, where the couple lived together in an eco-community, surviving off the land.
And when their relationship ran its course and they split up in 2018, Sarah settled in an another eco-community – adamant that Costa Rica would be her forever home.
“I really love not constantly being wired to a phone and being able to live within nature, using herbs and the elements as tools for living,” she said.
Now, keen to promote an eco-lifestyle, Sarah runs an annual festival, Envision, bringing likeminded people together this month on a beach near the Costa Rican town of Uvita.
Having launched the four-day event with Stephen in 2011, Sarah also established a ‘Village Witches’ space, where people can learn more about the craft.
“Envision is a place where people can leave behind wherever they have come from and be their unique selves. It’s what I have been doing for the last decade and I want others to see the potential for a different way of living.”