Many people associate witches with medieval connotations—wrinkly old ladies wrapped in black cloaks, jars of pickled frogs, public executions in town squares. Others, like me, associate them with middle-aged mediums and palm readers, imparting spiritual advice for a hefty price in back-alley stores or the comfort of their living rooms. But TikTok, the world’s fastest-growing social media app, has introduced an entirely new brand of witches. Witches of TikTok, as they’re referred to, are typically young girls with a keen interest in witchcraft who use the platform to create a community of people fascinated by the occult. And it seems to be working, as some of these witches have thus far amassed hundreds of thousands of TikTok followers.
The TikTok witches extravaganza did not appear out of the woodwork. Over the past few years, as the chaos unfurling in the world has consumed every ounce of our attention through the news and social media, many people have turned to mysticism in search for answers and comfort, as well as to ponder the greater questions about the meaning of life. Astrology, palm reading and witchcraft have become increasingly popular, particularly among younger generations. Popular culture echoed this rising fascination with shows like the Netflix reboot, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
It is out of this mystical resurgence that many young people (typically women in their mid-teens to early twenties) have created the image of the new witch—savvy, semi-gothic yet colourful in style, and reasonably engaging and entertaining. TikTok, which in 2019 ranked as the most downloaded app in the Apple Store, has been instrumental in cementing the identity of young witches and giving them a container in which to thrive.
As of July 2020, the hashtag #witch has garnered over 194 million views on TikTok, #witchesoftiktok has received over 693 million views and #witchtok has currently more than 2 billion views. But what is it about TikTok that lends itself to fanning the flames of friendly witchcraft?
Many TikTok users and media experts point out to the platform’s inclusive and inherently social structure as a possible reason. The app’s brief 1-minute videos (which usually respond to previous ones) and user-friendly editing features have enabled ‘veteran’ and ‘baby’ witches (as well as anyone who’s interested) to share content freely in a creative, humorous and engaging way—from snippets of crystal healing tutorials to music-infused Tarot spreads and viral threads of Pagan rituals.
“On TikTok it’s quick tips and things that anyone can do,” said Selby, a TikTok witch with a following of 283,800 in an interview for WIRED. “It also humanises witches. There’s a lot of negative stigma surrounding witchcraft and witches but with TikTok, I can show the more personal side of myself, like being a mother.”
TikTok’s unique algorithm, specifically the one operating the app’s For You page, has also been identified as a primary advantage of the platform in fostering a witch-hub. Unlike its evil older sibling, Instagram, TikTok’s algorithm does not trap users in inescapable echo chambers, but rather exposes them to content creators they wouldn’t have otherwise come across. Also, compared to Instagram, TikTok is less associated with commodification and profit, and tends to inspire fewer feelings of frustration and incompetence in its users (at least so far).
“The For You page is a very important feature because it doesn’t make us live in a bubble,” Selby further told WIRED. “Even though I’m a witch I’m not only showing on other witch’s feeds, like you would on Instagram. It helps you reach people you normally wouldn’t. It’s nice to be on a platform that supports creators, and doesn’t just look at us like advertising opportunities.”
Witches on the video-sharing app have just recently claimed they have “hexed the moon.” To put it simply, fellow WitchTok users have started explaining exactly what happened on Twitter.
Is the moon fine, scientifically speaking? Yes, even witches on TikTok have admitted that. Apparently, some witches were upset at the audacity of the few people that would want to hex the moon, which is sacred in witchcraft. Whether you believe in it or not, it’s an understandable reaction coming from witches but the moon is the same as it always is—no amount of incantations can change that.
TikTok’s growing community of young people delving into mysticism can be viewed as a sign of hope in a world increasingly ravaged by sarcasm and isolation, and with mainstream, institutional religions monopolising on spirituality and discouraging many of us from contemplating and discovering the core essence of our being.
Could this viral witch phenomenon be the gateway for millions of people to genuine spiritual exploration? Or is it, as most things social media, merely a fad that will evaporate as soon as our attention flutters to the next trending craze? Perhaps a deeper question would be—can genuine communities be formed on online platforms that revolve around saturated feeds and visual snippets geared primarily toward the imbibing of attention?
Only time will tell. Or the crystals.