- When you hear the word witch, what comes to mind?
Maybe you remember 'The Craft', 'The Wizard of Oz' or even the Salem Trials.
Well, have you heard of the term Witchtok?
It's a mashup of the words witch and TikTok, and it refers to the growing subculture of spiritual practitioners on the platform.
- I'm excited to use it clearly.
I've been feeling really grateful.
- The hashtag Witchtok itself has over 32 billion views and counting.
Scrolling through, you can find videos of people performing a hex on a cheating partner, talking with spirits, and throwing bones to divine the future.
There's also activism, awareness and political spirituality.
And it's not just TikTok.
More and more people have been exploring magical practices on all social media platforms from astrology to taro cards to even crafting spells.
The internet is going through a witchy renaissance.
But spiritualism has long been misunderstood and many confuse it for the magic that they see in movies.
In this episode, I'm gonna meet with the witches, spiritualists, and mediums of TikTok to better understand why there's a magical renaissance happening online.
(whimsical music) - Are you looking to connect with anyone on the other side that passed?
- I think yes.
- [Peter] Okay.
- I think so.
I don't control who comes through and if they come through they'll just show up and if not then it's okay.
- You're watching me speak to spirits through a psychic medium named Peter Beth.
He first got on TikTok to share his psychic gift with the world.
Peter's family migrated to the US to escape the Cambodian genocide and outside of his mediumship, he connects to his ancestors through traditional Cambodian classical ballet.
- Just have an open mind and open heart to receiving messages and have fun.
That's like the most important part about all of this.
- [Peter] Okay.
- Before we watch my reading, I wanna talk about why Witchtok is so popular in the first place.
Some people say that Witchtok's popularity is an effect of the pandemic and lockdown.
Data journalists at Brandwatch found a 4% increase week on week in the online mentions of the occult at the start of the pandemic.
But an interest in the occult and astrology had already been rising before COVID-19 began.
To get more context surrounding spirituality on social media I sat down with Dr. Maria DebBlassie, a professor at the University of New Mexico who teaches about all things witchy.
- I think we have a few things happening.
You know, we owe a lot of this to the nineties, shows like 'Charmed', 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'.
Those really ushered witchcraft into a mainstream setting.
So it was no longer dangerous or evil or bad.
It was about empowered women.
- There's also been a shift in young people's perspective toward religion and spirituality.
A Pew Poll from 2020 found that 30% of Americans are religiously unaffiliated up from 5% in 1972.
- And then we see things like yoga, you've mentioned astrology.
So we see this new age movement taking on more momentum through the early two thousands and people getting more expansive in what spirituality can be outside of mainstream religion.
- The popularity might also be connected to the rise in activism that started in 2020.
- And you see more witchy and pagan communities from historically marginalized communities, kind of rising up and talking about witchcraft as a form of social justice.
So becoming more visible in that way.
- This is Lexx Heavy.
She practices rootwork, an African American spiritual tradition and she joined TikTok in June of 2022.
Lexx says that her research in the African American spirituality has helped her overcome depression and find guidance.
- But ultimately people want to have faith in something and they wanna have community.
But we're kind of in this generation where we're finally falling back in love with our roots and our ancestry and finally learning and seeing the power in herbal remedies that our grandmothers had and stuff like that.
It's different, but I do think it's popular because you do see a lot of the aesthetically pleasing parts of it.
You see the flowers and the herbs and the roots.
- On Lexx's page you can find aesthetically pleasing videos of taro readings, tending to her ancestor altar, and conducting rituals.
There's a soothing quality to this content that makes it enjoyable to watch and resembles content like ASMR.
Some Witchtok related content includes the hashtags relaxing or soothing, and this connection might be a part of its booming popularity.
The world of spirituality has a long history of being misunderstood.
For example, during the 17th century, a witch craze took over Europe and North America.
It's estimated that over 40,000 people were executed and in most cases there was no tangible proof of wrongdoing.
There's still many today that call spiritual practices evil.
- But it was just so hard to tell people that I can connect with spirits.
Some people think it's the devil's work so it was a lot harder than coming out as a gay man.
- Well, sometimes I still get the idea that like witches are evil or terrifying.
- My spirituality is such a sensitive topic for me and I get very emotional sometimes, and I overthink because I think when people look at, especially black spirituality, it's seen, it's seen as evil.
- The spirituality movement online is very broad and it encompasses practices from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds.
There's paganism, voodoo, brujeria, hoodoo, indigenous practices and many, many more.
The term witchcraft has also been used to other the religions and traditions of cultures outside of European Christianity.
In the United States, Native Americans were persecuted for practicing their traditional religions until 1978.
In the Caribbean, the Tainos people were murdered by Spanish colonizers for not converting to Catholicism.
Their spirituality was seen as satanic by the Europeans.
Hoodoo is a religious tradition created by enslaved African Americans.
It was a crime at the time to practice traditions from Africa and many enslaved people were forced to adopt Christianity.
Hoodoo mainly incorporated elements from African traditions but also indigenous traditions and Christianity.
Words like magic and witchcraft have been used to demonize these religions and practices.
And because of that there are those that don't identify with the word witch.
Just generally, how do you feel about the word witch?
I know that you'd self-describe as bruja but I feel like that word, witch, can be kind of charged.
What's your take on that?
- Oh, absolutely.
So I love it.
So originally the term, historically, was very stigmatizing.
However, many of us are reclaiming that title and saying we're embracing the things that mainstream culture has been afraid of.
But I also think it also depends on who's using it and how it's applied.
So a lot of people use the term witch on people who would not consider themselves to be witches, for example.
Or sometimes it's used in a derogatory way.
- Because there are a lot of sacred cultures represented online, there's a complicated issue with cultural appropriation on Witchtok.
In my research of this community I had not heard this word before but I see it come up all the time, closed practice?
What does that mean?
- So a closed practice is when people within certain communities, the legacy of those spiritual practices are only passed on within the community and people outside of them don't get access to that.
It's also when people do appropriate, they're messing with histories and cultures and spirits that they don't really understand or know which can be kind of dangerous.
- Lexx gave me a good rule of thumb.
If you didn't learn it from your ancestors, it probably came from someone else's.
- These certain tools or whatever are sacred to us generationally and spirit lives forever.
- While many people use spirituality for self-discovery and growth, there are also those that disingenuously profit off the community.
This includes scammers, many of whom impersonate others to steal money from unsuspecting victims.
While working on this episode, I received four messages from impersonation accounts, pretending to be the Witchtok creators I followed.
The Fraudsters asked me for money in exchange for a reading.
- Only you know when it's right to get a reading, not me.
You know, I don't force myself onto anyone.
And that's how you pay attention if someone is a scammer and if they slide into your DM saying that you need a psychic reading from me, then it's not me, it's a scammer.
- Which brings me back to my reading with Peter.
Though I usually lean towards being a skeptic.
I was excited to try to reach out to the other side.
- If I'm getting like a motherly energy it could be grandmother, but that's what it is.
Does that make sense?
Yeah, it does.
- Did she pass when you were younger?
Like a lot younger?
- [Josef] Yeah.
- I'm not always right with names but if an M means anything to you.
- Yeah, it does - Because she keeps saying M, I don't know if it's Mary I don't know is Marty or something like that.
But she keeps saying that.
- That's my grandmother.
- Very sweet.
So I don't know if she passed here in the US but she's showing me like a distant, there was a there was a distant being involved.
Does that make sense?
- So my grandmother is from the Philippines and she never moved to the United States.
The fact that my grandmother's name kind of came to you is, it's almost spooky to me in a way because so she died when I was very, very young.
I was the last of the grandchildren that she met before she passed.
And after she died my parents would tell me this story about that they saw her like in the doorway of our house that they had just bought.
And so to this day, I always think, like I always feel, because of that story, I always feel like she's watching, but I'm also very afraid.
- I get scared too.
I'm a chicken head.
(both laughing) Our loved ones are not here to scare us.
And the reason why your parents saw that image of your grandmother, it's because your grandmother's making it known.
I will always be here with you.
So if you need me, talk to me.
Like pray to me, you know.
- I've learned a lot from the creators of Witchtok.
I've even tried putting a crystal on my phone to cleanse it from bad energy, and I'm definitely more open to exploring spirituality in my own life.
But there was still one question I felt like I didn't have answers to.
As I was scrolling through Witchtok, I noticed that there were so many different types of spirituality kind of represented.
I guess I was curious, what do you think?
Is it even fair to put these groups under one umbrella term?
Should I even be making an episode about Witchtok when all of this is really a lot of separate cultures kind of coming together under one term?
- That is such a lovely question.
Like what can we legitimately and ethically call witchcraft?
And I think it's a complex issue.
I haven't completely found the answer myself.
So I think it's messy, and I think as long as people understand that witchcraft means a lot of different things to different people.
TikTok is great.
As with all things though just know how to engage with it responsibly so that way you're not perpetuating harmful stereotypes or getting yourself into tricky situations with spiritual practices you might not be familiar with.
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