Although lip-syncing, synchronized dancing, and comedic skits tend to catch the most attention on TikTok, another form of art is gaining popularity: witchcraft. Last month, the Washington Post even ran a feature piece taking readers “inside the life of a teenage witch,” “from spellcasting to podcasting.”
The Wiccan organization Covenant of the Goddess defines witchcraft as “a magical religion with many diverse traditions derived from various cultural sources around which covens and individual practitioners base their practices.” The hashtag “#WitchTok” has roughly 20 billion views, making it one of the more popular hashtags on TikTok.
One can find thousands of videos on potions, tea leaf and tarot card readings, pendulum boards, astral projection, magic charms, wands, crystals, automatic writing, channeling, and spellcasting. These occultic practices, which would have been much more fringe and less accessible in previous generations, are now highly accessible and even trending for Gen Z, thanks in part to the rise of postmodernism.
A substantial amount of witchcraft on #WitchTok can be referred to as a form of neopaganism. Linda Jencson, a professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University, defines neopaganism as “the revival of pre-Christian pagan gods, goddesses and spirits, their worship and ritual manipulation. It also involves an animistic sense of spiritual power and a reverence for nature. Neopagans focus much of their spiritual practice upon practical results, the ability to affect their environment for magical means.”
Jencson goes on to explain that “neopagan practice involves shamanistic states of trance induced by dancing, chanting, percussion, meditation, and the manipulation of other ritual tools such as power bundles, crystals, wands, feathers, and knives.” Virtually all of these neopagan practices can be found on #WitchTok.
There is also a large presence of users who encourage interaction with pagan deities. “Neopaganism” functions as an umbrella term for all kinds of different folk religions that employ witchcraft. Some users seek guidance from a transcendent mother goddess, while others pantheistically seek divinity within themselves and nature. Some attempt to channel personal spirit guides while others look towards ancient Egyptian, Roman, or Norse gods and goddesses.
Different neopagan traditions are represented on #WitchTok, like Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Celtic, Georgian, and Dianic, to name a few. Because of this, you can find occasional frustrations and controversies between witches of different traditions, covens, or levels of experience.
It is no secret that witchcraft has been on the rise in the United States since the late 20th century. Wicca, one of the more organized of the neopagan traditions, has seen its number of adherents multiply by more than 40 times just from 1990 to 2008. The widespread rediscovery of paganism in the United States coincides with a radically transformative change in Western civilization.
Many contend that atheistic rationalism is to blame for the crippling of Christian influence in the contemporary West. Although that development should not be neglected, the rise of postmodernism is also contributing to aggressive attacks on both established religion and atheistic rationalism.
Dogmatism, whether religious or rationalist, is fiercely criticized as arrogant and intolerant. However, instead of turning to nihilism, members of Gen Z are expanding their spirituality outside of conventional Western religions by incorporating neopaganism.
As Heather Greene reports, “While interest in tarot and other forms of divination often corresponds to a complete rejection of traditional religion, that is not a given.” Greene goes on to explain that a lot of Gen Z individuals “continue to identify with a traditional faith, while looking beyond established structures for spiritual growth.”
Despite its massive reach, #WitchTok should not be considered the cause of this cultural transition. It should instead be seen as the consequence. Gen Z is hungry for spirituality. Yet the spirituality they hunger for is one liberated from dogma, organization, authority, prescription, and constraint.
They want to harness spiritual power on their own terms, from their own self-chosen deities, and for their own self-chosen purposes. Neopaganism provides witchcraft as an answer to their wishes.
Our consumer society is quick to capitalize on these desires by providing an abundance of crystals, pendulums, tarot cards, hoodoo oil, and even witch starter kits. Most importantly for this trend, it provided TikTok, which is becoming the most effective virtual platform for converting young religiously frustrated individuals into liberated neopagan consumers.
Online witchcraft practitioners and the consumer sector are both paying close attention to this radical development. Parents should too.