On TikTok, the Witchtok hashtag appears to focus on the aesthetic principles of mystic / Wiccan practices and the draw to the unique and individual. It is not all pretty crystals and nice candles however, through this social media platform we can begin to break down a prominent discourse in the political ideologies of younger emerging generations. How these ideologies grow and evolve through the lens of social media will likely be influenced in the age of post truth. Misinformation, lower media literacy rates and the blurred lines of authority will affect how information is digested, reproduced and disseminated throughout communities.
If like many of us you have succumb to the boredom and despair of recurrent lockdowns over the past year, you have likely come across an unlikely friend in TikTok. With over 1.9 Billion downloads across the globe, 3.7 Million of which being from the UK, it has become the 4th most popular app in the world. The app’s simplicity in its use and elusive yet seemingly accurate algorithm has propelled it to popularity, especially amongst younger generations.
If you are familiar with TikTok then no doubt you have likely come across a particularly bewitching sub-genre within – Yes I’m talking about #WitchTok. Amassing 10 Billion views, the hashtag is bubbling with content creators showcasing their practice through videos of crystal collections, candle *magick, rituals, altar setups and tarot readings. Young and old alike, though most commonly younger #babywitches (1.2 Billion views), have found a new platform to exchange knowledge and share their practice with the mystically inclined around the world.
This popularity for Pagan / Wiccan practices has not arisen with the dawn of TikTok however and can even be seen back in the 2010’s, most prominently in fashion and lifestyle brands utilising horoscopes, star signs and occult symbols in their products. Beneath the aesthetic sparkling cloak a shift in politics, identity and belonging in the modern world is occurring. It has been gathering momentum within younger generations disillusioned with current structures of power in government and religion that just can’t seem to cover up their cracks.
The internet has allowed for connectivity and creativity at an unprecedented level and the knowledge sharing that comes with it seeks to shape the future of what we believe in. As new social platforms emerge, these world views will continue to evolve and take hold across wider audiences, however in a post truth world these same platforms become breeding grounds of dangerous ideologies with harmful intent. Media literacy rates are falling, especially amongst children and teenagers who are most at risk and more frequently online which causes great concern for elder Witches who are worried that the true nature of their practice is being forgotten in favour of dramatic aestheticism.
Now I know you’re probably wondering how I’ve reached from WitchTok to politics and fake news. Originally this piece stemmed from a frustration I shared with others in constantly seeing seemingly novice tarot readers attempt mass readings (which require immense experience and energy levels) on the app. As I began to look further into how Wiccan / mystic communities felt about this, it was apparent this ‘trend’ was indicative of a much larger storyline. The popularity WitchTok has accumulated on one app in such a short space of time is intriguing and may offer a glimpse into the behaviours and underlying discourse of politics, knowledge sharing and authority online spaces cultivate within such communities.
The rise of modern Wicca
Waves of New Age belief and practice have ebbed and flowed for a few Centuries now in different forms and was particularly popular amongst occultists and metaphysical religions in the 70s and 80s. The Wiccan practice, a predominantly Western practice focusing on Pagan beliefs, a connection to nature and a focus on harming no other is first thought to make way in the 1950’s and has seen a steady rise since its arrival in Europe. The 2010’s saw a stark rise in the interest of Wiccan and Pagan religion with the practices making their way into the mainstream. It commonly manifested through fashion and lifestyle brands with starry horoscope themed clothing, books and paraphernalia on common topics within the religions – think tarot decks, spell and palmistry books, etc. This wasn’t solely an aesthetic interest however, the draw to these practices was very real in an increasingly destabilised world of politics, climate and religion. Millennial generations began to pinpoint the aspects of modern governance they no longer identified with and turned to Wiccan practices as a new guide for their spiritual journey.
In the 70s, German philosopher Theodor Adorno gave a critique on the rise of horoscopes and mysticism, “he sees it as working in tandem with other phenomena of the culture industry, such as films (“dream factories”), and its purpose by and large is to propagate psychological dependence, or rather to help reproduce social dependency as psychological dependency”. Adorno thought that a belief in fate perpetuated by horoscopes and mysticism would lead people to believe our lives were predetermined and so turn them away from the importance of political engagement. It is not untrue that in times of great stress people would feel more inclined to ‘switch off’ from the news and politics etc. however this current wave of mysticism seems born of political frustration rather than apathy and has since empowered younger generations. Attempting to hex the American election last year seemed anything short of apathetic. The popularity can also be attributed to a new wave of feminism and social justice, reclaiming the divine feminine energy that courses through the heart of the practice that once caused the death and suffering of thousands of women across Europe accused of witchcraft as well as Witches of colour reclaiming their ancestral heritage and traditions once wiped out and demonised by colonialism.
These new religions rooted in mysticism come as a response not only to political upheaval, but to an uncertainty in identity. The practice offers a fully customisable and accepting way of life that is not often found in other common religions. This flexibility in identity opens up an eclectic array of witches and practitioners to learn from and likely contributes to the increasingly fast rise in popularity.
If you are seeing this, it was meant for you.
WitchTok familiars will likely have come across the range of available content whether by chance through their FYP (for you page) or exploring via sounds, hashtags and following creators. A common trend with this content often appears in videos focusing on manifestation guides, horoscope predictions and tarot reading. Claims of spirit guides and the universe bringing this video to your FYP and requests to like or comment to claim your rewards as predicted would appear an easy and harmless method of securing your good fortune from the comfort of your couch. TikTok’s algorithm however might have more of a say in that matter.
What makes TikTok’s algorithm for suggesting content work for users is that it holds certain factors in higher regard than others. Location, listed interests and likes do play some part in the feed, however these are considered a lower influence than whether a user finished a video to the end for example. The app also aims to break the echo chamber of videos that you would normally get under listed interests, likes and following information. This ensures smaller creators and those from different backgrounds could have their videos seen by a wider audience that would normally never come across such content, this feature perhaps contributes again to the growth of the #WitchTok trend and tuned in more users.
Some may claim although the algorithm helps, recommendations of videos may only appear to people that have a predisposed interest or ‘spark’ toward such information and so are more open to receiving these messages that further draw them into the community. This in itself could arguably be some greater force at play albeit from within. The feeling of being spoken to individually and feeling special reaches out to us all and plays yet again into the feeling of disempowerment younger generations may feel and offer a solution to that dread.
An ye harm none…
With more and more users rushing to try their hands at tarot reading, collecting crystals and researching with books, so more and more content creators are emerging. While the act of readings may appear harmless and provide comfort and security for many so long as you “take what resonates and leave the rest”, there is a real concern amongst long practicing Witches that the true intent of the religion is often lost or misconstrued. The excitement and rapid growth of the practice through social media where baby witches (I mean hexing the moon, c’mon!) and unskilled tarot readers / scryers sometimes provide misguided information has encouraged many Witches to use TikTok as an ideal platform to educate and inform younger Witches on the ways in which their practice can be safer, kinder and more well rounded.
The issue emerges in the attention shrinking 15 to 60 second clips providing snapshots of information that fail to cover a deeper level of understanding. Although many educational institutions have joined TikTok to provide quick, easy and digestible clips full of fun facts, these should be intended as a gateway for a greater inquiry by the viewer. Again, many witches are worried as to how much information is being solely absorbed through TikTok without critical enquiry and research, allowing for the further spread of misinformation and a lack of fact checking. Media literacy rates are dropping, especially amongst children. “The Aspen Institute highlights the fact that “all learners and educators need a sufficient degree of digital age literacy, where media, digital and social-emotional literacies are present, to be able to use these learning resources to learn through multiple media confidently, effectively and safely.” However, the majority of students graduating from high school lack basic skills to help them navigate the digital landscape safely and responsibly”. These skills help us identify the fact from fiction and aid us in navigating misinformation on the internet and in media.
On social media everyone has a platform and alongside that, a level of authority. The lines between viewer/reader and educator become blurred through blogs and forums, Youtube and TikTok, even Facebook comments where we are able to voice our concern or praise and offer insight into whatever topics we see fit – 👀. The rise of the influencer encapsulates this in great detail and the WitchTok community is not immune to its phenomena. Trending topics have an instant pull, fostering an environment for creators looking for instant gratification in views and likes, often traversing through territories that encroach on potentially dangerous and problematic practices like love spells and working incorrectly with the Fae or appropriation of other cultural practices such as Hoodoo or Voodoo. Social media does a great job in offering viewers a way of reshaping their life online. This makes it all the more difficult to decipher the intent behind the user and the credibility of the resources and information they share. Usually this responsibility of deciphering information or ‘calling out’ users lies in the community itself , often in comment sections, stitches and duets (particular to TikTok where users can respond to other TikToks in a video format).
The internet has opened an extensive library of accessible knowledge sharing and communication. As social media emerged, it became easier to find others working towards the same goals and assemble with great force. It has allowed for more remote or deprived areas to stay involved with happenings around the globe and crossed generational boundaries. “Surowiecki defined that social media is to make use of the “wisdom of the crowd”. Group of people are better at problem solving, fostering decision making than the individuals alone. New ways of inspiring and exploiting knowledge sharing are forcing organizations to expand their knowledge sharing technologies and practices”. Social media platforms attract and foster new ideas through the use of the many. It mobilises not only people but their ideas which is why it is often restricted by countries in the midst of political unrest and protest. The continued rise in the interest of mysticism takes new foothold on emerging platforms rife with creativity and diversity, able to take on new forms and evolve alongside an undercurrent of political ideology that is held in its pilot generation.
It could be argued the notion of the broomstick riding cackling witch in the night still permeates our subconscious and thus casts doubt on the credibility of such Wiccan / mystic practices emerging once again. This time around however it doesn’t appear to be dying down anytime soon and encapsulates a far greater shift occurring within Gen Z and Millennials.
…do as ye will.
Mystic and Wiccan practice alongside any other belief or lifestyle continues to evolve alongside new and emerging social platforms that offer room for creativity and knowledge sharing, catering to emerging generations open to learning and exploring new ideas.
While the earth around us continuously disintegrates with no real glimpse of hope from longstanding structures and systems of power, Millennials and Gen Z have looked to reclaim their futures and identities to find hope within a new system that more accurately aligns with their ideal world. Mysticism has seen a steady increase in popularity over the past few decades and has appeared to fill this spiritual gap. The internet and social media has propelled it toward a more mainstream audience. WitchTok is just one of the many online communities dedicated to sharing and exchanging knowledge of their own practices amongst a vast community of Witches from different magick backgrounds. The platform offers an environment for new ideas and ideologies to evolve over time, however in the age of post truth this is at no lower a risk of being muddied with misinformation, especially amongst generations with falling media literacy rates. Despite the hurdles it faces, education and the problem solving capabilities of the masses online continue to prove social media as a somewhat credible source of information and knowledge sharing, even if it may be solely a jumping off point.
Whatever your thoughts about Wicca, TikTok and WitchTok, I hope this piece was informative and that you may take what resonates and leave the rest.
*The use of k in ‘magick’ denotes a difference from ‘magic’ typically associated with illusionists, magicians or halloween witches on broomsticks.