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Amid summer 2020 lockdowns, witchcraft practitioners congregated and formed a sort of global coven on the video sharing platform TikTok through #witchtok. Tiktok’s algorithm thrust witchcraft into the spotlight for millennials and Gen Z. #witchtok pulled back the curtain on a historically secretive practice and curious scrollers could creep through the hashtag to learn more. A quick look at #witchtok shows over 14 billion views on videos of swinging pendulums, story times about deity worship, candle spells, crystals and more. The most popular #witchtok content creators focus on education — their goal is to prevent “baby witches” from making costly mistakes due to lack of knowledge on history and spellwork. Spirituality increases in tumultuous times and during the COVID-19 pandemic, witchcraft provided the stability and ritual people craved.
Alternative spiritualities were growing before the pandemic. In the 90s and early 2000s, the American Religious Identification Surveys found that “Wiccan” or “Pagan” grew faster than any other religious category studied. Additionally, a 2017 Pew Research Center survey found 60 percent of Americans believe in one or more of the following: psychics, astrology, the presence of spiritual energy in inanimate objects or reincarnation. The Internet took down barriers like social hierarchies and initiation rituals so everyone has witchcraft available to them. While this opens interactions with a traditionally secretive practice, it also enables aggressive commodification and appropriation.
Environmentally conscious practitioners vs. fast fashion colonizers
Traditionally, witchcraft has been practiced heavily by minorities. Witch hunts took place over the course of centuries in Europe, forcing practitioners to hide their practice. While today there’s an array of influencer practitioners, it’s still common for practitioners to hide their craft. This is one of the reasons why it’s problematic for large brands to take advantage of the moment witchcraft is having to make a quick buck. It’s privileged for a powerful company to take pieces of an ancient practice that had to be hidden to survive and throw it on a fluorescent light-illuminated shelf. Meanwhile, sales are being taken away from small metaphysical shops and genuine practitioners.
You can buy tiny bottles of crystals at the craft store Michael’s. Run out of hoodoo oil? Walmart sells it. Need a deck of Tarot cards? Check Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Want to wear your astrological sign or favorite tarot card on your shirt? Target, Forever 21 and more fast fashion brands are the place to go for cheap witchy merch.
But wait, there’s more irony. For background, modern witchcraft falls under the umbrella term of “Neo-Pagan” which covers all religious movements influenced by traditional Paganism. Generally, Neo-Pagans value environmentalism. Despite this, fast fashion colonizers stole symbols and tools from environmentally conscious practitioners and pumped them out at breakneck speed. It’s not a secret that overconsumption is a serious environmental concern. The fast fashion industry is destroying the environment to make $5 T-shirts with tarot cards on them. Child labor is being used to mine crystals. White sage is endangered and #witchtok practitioners are begging people to reserve it for Indigenous people’s use. And there’s a trend of practitioners not being consulted in the development of “witchy” products. In 2018, Sephora ended the production of a Witch Starter Kit after uproar from the practitioner community. The commodification of witchcraft goes against the nature-centric principles of Neo-Paganism. Many capitalism-fueled issues can be solved by having a real practitioner as a consultant.
As I write, my eyes drift to the small selenite bowl I keep on my desk with an assortment of crystals. I wonder whether they are ethically sourced or if a child laborer slaved away to retrieve the items that sit idle on my desk. But in this money hungry climate, it is up to the consumer to do the research on what they are buying. Put weight behind your dollar. Buy from generational practitioners and locally owned metaphysical shops.
Witchcraft tourists will flock to the next fad but respect needs to be given to genuine practitioners instead of stealing away tradition for a quick buck.
Bailey Cichon is a Gazette digital intern and a senior at the University of Iowa studying journalism and American studies.