It’s a warm Sunday afternoon when you stumble across an interesting artwork on Tumblr. The crude editing style and image quality hits you with a wave of ‘vague nostalgia’. “I’ve been here before…but when?” you think out loud. The image and text are eerily familiar yet distant—leaving you confused, disoriented and reminiscent all at once. Welcome to the nostalgic voids of Weirdcore, an internet-born art movement evoking debatable emotions by leveraging elements of the synthetic underworld we now call the internet.
According to Aesthetics Wiki, Weirdcore is an “online aesthetic and art movement” featuring digitally constructed or edited images to convey feelings of confusion, disorientation, alienation and nostalgia. Also known as Oddcore, Strangecore and Creepycore, Weirdcore visuals are influenced by the general look and feel of images shared on an older internet. Think amateur editing, primitive graphics, lo-fi photography and image compression—harshly blended together to trigger nostalgia for those who lived their childhood in any time ranging between the late 90s to mid 2000s.
“What’s wonderful about Weirdcore is that it triggers this nostalgia in a way where the viewer doesn’t know why,” said Gib, one of the moderators of r/weirdcore and co-administrator of the Discord server dedicated to the art movement. Gib therefore described the feelings evoked as “nostalgia from an unknown place.” It’s on the tip of your hippocampus yet miles away from recall and recognition.
“Lack of context,” explained Sanfor, moderator and co-administrator of the subreddit and Discord server alongside Gib. “Often, images will aim to put the viewer into an unfamiliar setting—one that is designed to spark an idea in the viewer’s mind—but at the same time, it doesn’t give enough information to really form a story.” This is what leaves Weirdcore up for interpretation, making it incomprehensible in a mysterious way.
On the flip side, this sort of autonomy can trigger two contrasting emotions among its audience—depending entirely upon their perception of nostalgia. “Weirdcore can trigger comfort in some because it probably reminds them of a nicer time in their life,” Gib said. “But it can also trigger a bad memory or a phobia, leaving them confused and scared.” Sanfor linked this aspect to the concept of ‘introspection’. “Weirdcore can be triggering because, at its core, it is about exploring one’s emotions and experiences,” he explained, adding how the meaning behind images are often unclear—in turn fostering one of the biggest strengths of Weirdcore in itself: vagueness.
“The aesthetic can be upsetting due to the way images sometimes contain elements that contradict one another: comforting visuals being paired up with upsetting ones, real with fake and so on,” Sanfor said. Juxtapositions like these are what contribute to Weirdcore images being difficult to comprehend, as one can never fully grasp what a piece is trying to communicate in terms of information or emotion.
“It is the fear of the unknown”
Given Weirdcore’s association with both light-headed comfort and heavy phobias, the art movement is often looped into the same category as Dreamcore and Traumacore. This ‘mix up’ is even more apparent on TikTok where creators use all three hashtags in their captions. So listen up fellow TikTokers, we’re here to set the record straight once and for all.
“Dreamcore and Traumacore are grey areas,” Gib started. Although Weirdcore has similar motifs as Traumacore, the latter addresses traumatic events with darker, off-putting and direct captions. “Traumacore opens a gateway to glorifying trauma and downplaying it instead of educating about it,” he added. “But it’s a whole debate because some people find comfort in it.” Dreamcore, on the other hand, is even harder to differentiate according to Gib. “Dreamcore tries to emulate dreams but they’re more linear and can have a bit more of a story than Weirdcore does.”
In my chat with Sanfor, the moderator highlighted the absence of one key factor in Dreamcore and Traumacore when compared to Weirdcore: a centralised community dedicated to preserving it. “This is something that has happened to Weirdcore in the past—the aesthetic not having people dedicated to its preservation and moderation led to the term ‘Weirdcore’ becoming a label with no meaning behind it. This, in turn, led to it being used interchangeably with Dreamcore, Traumacore and others.”
In response, Sanfor added how the Weirdcore community has worked hard to get in touch with original creators behind some of the classic images in the movement. “The ones that brought the community together in the first place,” as Sanfor describes them. This has not only helped members learn from each other but has also fostered a platform backed with proper credentials. The community also updates the Wiki article dedicated to Weirdcore regularly—in order to give it a definition that accurately reflects its original vision.
“I believe Weirdcore needs to be its own thing,” Sanfor added. “Not to say that there cannot be overlapping between Weirdcore and other aesthetics or things inspired by it, but I just think it’s important for it to not become completely meaningless as there are specific ideas and concepts behind Weirdcore that make it unique.”
Now onto all those people equating Liminal Spaces and Bastardcore to Weirdcore. The former is an aesthetic that features a place which is a transition between two locations or states of being. Think abandoned parking lots or school hallways during the peak of summer. Bastardcore, on the other hand, is an extension of the ‘cursed images’ meme. It aims to strike your fight or flight response by pairing friendly images with shocking humour to generate pieces that are uncomfortable to look at.
“A lot of what makes Liminal Spaces so effective is the feeling of ‘you’ve been here before’,” explained Gib. “That’s kind of what Weirdcore does but with more creative freedom.” Although Weirdcore edits often rely on Liminal Spaces for backgrounds, Gib outlined how it doesn’t play a huge role in the movement now like it once did. “Liminality, along with the sense of being in a transitory state and the feeling of uncertainty and instability, is an important part of Weirdcore,” Sanfor added. “Keep in mind, however, that the use of Liminal Spaces in Weirdcore is not obligatory. There are great examples of the aesthetic that do not rely on them at all.” While Bastardcore overlaps with Weirdcore in some ways, the latter is a lot more subtle about the ‘cursed’ aspect of its imagery—designed to be incoherent rather than unpleasant.
Then there is the entire debate about eyes being a key motif in Weirdcore. According to Gib, the element plays on scopophobia, human’s innate fear of being watched. “It’s kind of an inside joke in the community that eyes and red text do not equal Weirdcore and that there’s a lot more to it than that. They’re not bad aspects, I use them semi-frequently in my creations, but I think a lot of it comes from the days when the movement wasn’t moderated.”
“They all share the commonality of being a medium for expression of abstract feelings—a way to condense complex emotions into a singular piece of art”
Although the exact origins of Weirdcore are unknown, its Wiki page previously noted how the movement may date as far back as the early 2010s. It was more recently that the community confirmed 2017 as its date of creation. The possibilities of earlier examples, however, cannot be ruled out. Although Gib stumbled across a Weirdcore Twitter thread in March 2020, it wasn’t until a couple of months—and a YouTube image compilation—later that he truly fell down the rabbit hole.
Gib noted how Weirdcore had been a small community up until now. “It only recently started flooding into the mainstream and escaping Tumblr to places like Reddit and Twitter.” As for Sanfor, the moderator and co-admin was initiated into the movement mid 2020—joining the Discord server in October following Gib in July. “I started to make images and improved the more I made—though it was a time when a lot of us didn’t exactly know what made images ‘Weirdcore’,” Sanfor reminisced. This is also why he believes his images weren’t exactly fitting up until around the start of 2021, when activity really picked up in terms of moderating and working on the Wiki page.
“In reality, both the subreddit and Discord server already existed when the two of us joined so—although we can’t really speak about the intentions of the people who created them—Gib and I (along with many other members of the community) worked on giving the aesthetic a more consistent look and feel.” As time went on, the two became moderators of the server and eventually became the owners, which is where they are now.
As for the tight-knit community Weirdcore has amassed, it’s safe to say that it’s one of the most wholesome and welcoming (although inside jokes may disagree) Discord servers out there. “The people I’ve met are extremely passionate and creative, they do a lot of volunteer work to maintain, moderate and expand the Wiki page as well as the subreddit,” said Sanfor. Among the list of channels on the server are also ‘resources’ which suggest editing apps, fonts, GIF makers and compression sites. A handy toolkit for everything required to make Weirdcore art—down to Spotify playlists you can bop to while editing.
Gib calls this wonderful corner of Discord a ‘collaborative effort’. “It’s a lot of people expanding the boundaries and experimenting with what is and what isn’t Weirdcore, coming up with new ideas and evolving it because any art form that doesn’t evolve ceases to exist,” he summed up. On the flip side, Sanfor noted how this heavy moderation has previously resulted in people disagreeing with how Weirdcore is approached.
“While I understand where they’re coming from, we have a responsibility to keep the aesthetic on track, to keep it somewhat consistent in terms of themes and general look,” he said. “We won’t prohibit people from expressing their own feelings however they wish or using the term ‘Weirdcore’ to tag things that we wouldn’t consider a part of the aesthetic, but we need to keep the aesthetic from devolving into something meaningless again.” So far, that work has led to a significant improvement in terms of Weirdcore’s consistency and it has exposed both the admins to new people who they’re now best friends with.
In my experience with internet-born and internet-existing aesthetics, many evolve into a full-blown subculture to thrive—with its own music, movies and fashion style. Checking up on Weirdcore in these terms, Gib used the words ‘art movement’ instead of an ‘aesthetic’ to describe its present status.
“I think Weirdcore can definitely go beyond the boundaries of art,” Gib said, adding how ‘weirdcore music’ already exists—essentially triggering an uncomfortably-nostalgic feeling in its audience. “It’s up to who listens and what triggers nostalgia in some people,” he continued. “For example, I was talking to my friend and I showed her the trance playlist I use to make weirdcore tunes. She went like ‘It’s got a nostalgic feeling to it but it just doesn’t trigger it in me’. So there is no one genre. It’s not ‘just that’.”
Gib also believes that, in theory, Weirdcore can have its own fashion style—anything vaguely nostalgic or 2000s. Sanfor, on the other hand, feels that the art movement is too abstract and intangible to translate into clothing or accessories that give off a similar sensation. “At least I have yet to see clothing that really captures those feelings,” he added.
Regardless of its potential for further expansion, however, Gib believes Weirdcore will soon end up being an “art movement started entirely on the internet” if the community keeps it up. “I’d like to see a lot more things that are classified as Weirdcore that aren’t the Weirdcore we know. I think that’s where we’re headed in and I’m really excited to see what people come up with next.”
Interested? Here’s advice from the co-owners themselves on getting started. “If you are new, the first thing you’re going to do is Google ‘Weirdcore’ and the first thing that pops up is going to be the Wiki,” Gib instructed. “Read that and look at the examples. After that, go nuts, make your own stuff and don’t conform to what everybody else is doing.”
Sanfor echoed this by stating the need to be open to criticism along with a willingness to learn. “Weirdcore is something none of us mastered the first time and so it might be frustrating at first, but don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, we’re more than willing to help, give tips on image editing, useful resources and more.” Just have fun and find the very comfort you’re seeking to evoke. “Weirdcore is also better learned by following others’ examples—it’s something that is a lot easier to understand by looking at it rather than having it explained to you. So take a look at what other artists are doing and try to add your personal touch into it,” Sanfor added.
At a time where we seek to disrupt realism with yearnings of a better past, Weirdcore echoes the collective outcry for the need of a safe space—rooted in self-expression and a socially-distanced trip down the voids of our altered memories.
It’s 2013 and you’ve breezed through your weekly dose of Harry Potter without a broken back. You then sneak into the family room to catch up on some PotterXMalfoy fanfiction on Wattpad—only to carry memories worth revisiting at the breakfast table the next morning. Eight years later, you’re still hung up on the characters, but instead of daydreaming you now have a 30-page script, a subliminal playlist on YouTube, proper hydration and a night-time routine. Introducing reality shifting, a meditative practice that literally slides you into the glass slippers of ‘your name’.
Reality shifting is a practice where you switch your consciousness in order to access a parallel timeline of your life. Think of it as the physical version of ‘daydreaming’. You enter an alternate dimension and experience life just as real as the one you currently reside in. The practice relies on the assumption that there are infinite realities in this world, ones you can choose to actually enter by channelling your awareness. Although reality shifting appears to be a combination of meditation, astral projection and lucid dreaming, ‘ShiftTok’ disagrees.
With close to 2 billion views on #shiftingrealities and 751 million on #realityshifting, the platform is undoubtedly obsessed with the practice. Users gathered on ShiftTok are seen role-playing their own experiences, busting myths, giving out tutorials on different shifting methods and venting about mental blocks hindering the process. Some of the most popular timelines, also known as Desired Reality (DR), among users include Harry Potter, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Although there are various shifting communities on Amino and Reddit, TikTok seems to be the major hub dedicated to the practice. Shifting tutorials on the platform guarantees users a first person tour of Hogwarts with Draco Malfoy as the student guide. Oh, did that peak your interest? Here’s the typical process of reality shifting, brought to you by the bottomless abyss of ShiftTok:
First things first, it’s always suggested to shift during your sleep at night to avoid any disturbances. Before heading to bed, make sure to shower and have a decent night-time routine. You don’t want to show up on Thor’s doorstep smelling like a foot-long Italian BMT. Another advice ShiftTokers seem to stress on is hydration. Binge on your water bottle (generously) throughout the day you’re planning to shift. Both self-care and hydration are essential steps to wash away all the stress you’ve accumulated during the day. Remember, you need to rid yourself of all ‘mental blocks’ and relax for this to work. Once you’re all prepped, grab one of those many journals you’ve purchased just for the aesthetic and help it fulfil its purpose in life.
Before we get into scripting, let’s revise the definition of reality shifting. It’s a practice where you switch your subconsciousness to access alternate realities of your choosing. Meaning, you are ultimately in charge of your Desired Reality (DR). This level of autonomy fosters endless possibilities. You decide whether or not you want Hermoine to sport duck nails or speak Simlish in your timeline. You can also choose to give yourself incredible pain tolerance and opt not to bring back the trauma you might experience in your DR into your Current Reality (CR).
The best way to design your own DR is by scripting it. While some shifters write scripts that detail everything they want to happen in their alternate timeline, others prefer saying it out loud. Although there is no specific format, one side of ShiftTok is seen sharing templates for physical scripts. These templates require you to list the details of your personal appearance along with everything else around you. You can choose a different name, age, gender, skills and personality for yourself in your DR. On TikTok, some shifters admit to spending months perfecting their scripts before shifting. They also suggest scripting yourself as someone who won’t get pregnant or have periods unless you want to. Sky’s the limit in your DR.
After scripting your characters, it’s time to draft the scenarios you want to transport yourself into. Although most ShiftTokers admit to engaging in their deepest desires of “railing Draco Malfoy,” others have a specific scene from a TV show or movie that they want to live out in real life—be it fighting wolves with Thor or blood-edging Edward in that iconic biology class. You can alternatively conjure up your own scenarios. How about detention with Harry Potter himself?
Once you’ve perfected your script and scenario, make sure to read it thoroughly before shifting. This will help imprint the details onto your subconscious. You can also choose to paste relevant images into your scripting journal for visual reference.
Next up is choosing the right shifting technique to access your DR. Now, this step could take multiple trial and errors to perfect—majorly because there are tons of options to choose from. The most popular ones, however, are the ‘raven method’ and the ‘Alice in Wonderland method’.
The raven method involves laying on your back in a starfish position—making sure that your arms and legs don’t touch each other. Then begin a mental countdown to 100 and repeat a list of affirmations every 10 seconds. Once you finish counting, visualise your DR until you fall asleep. The raven method is a sleep method, meaning you wake up in your DR instead of your CR. The Alice in Wonderland method, on the other hand, requires the shifter to visualise themselves running after a person from their DR and jumping down a rabbit hole with them to access the desired timeline.
Other shifting techniques include the cloud, ballroom, Sunni, Estelle, Coraline and the in your arms method to name a few. All of these techniques essentially work by putting your body to sleep while remaining conscious.
Many shifters also listen to specific music called ‘subliminals’ to help with their shifting. According to folks over at r/shiftingrealities, subliminals are “videos or audios of a collection of affirmations either sped up or lowered past an audible level and layered over some other noise, usually music or ambience like rain.” They basically combine music with affirmations to help you shift. One handy tip exchanged among ShiftTokers is to check the comments section before putting on a random subliminal playlist. This helps ensure that there are no negative affirmations as well as providing you with case studies of those who have successfully shifted to the playlist.
Some of the ‘symptoms’ of shifting into your DR include bodily tingles. The key here is to not wake up too soon. Otherwise you might just be stuck in your CR instead of shifting. Once you’ve successfully shifted, however, you can choose to return using certain safe words. And if you are worried about forgetting your phrase, you can always script your character in a way that you never forget it!
So what’s the science behind reality shifting exactly? According to Grace Warwick, a therapist with expertise in anomalous experiences, reality shifting is a ‘transliminal experience.’ “Transliminal experiences occur when awake and are most common when the mind is in a soothed state—for example, upon waking and before falling asleep,” she said in an interview with i-D. “The ‘instructions’ [for shifting] that abound on social media include being half asleep as a start point. They then introduce repetitive music or counting backwards slowly. All these factors would induce a state conducive to a transliminal experience.”
Warwick also likened the role of a script to creating a guided meditation or working with an active imagination. However, she also pointed out how these experiences can be different for different individuals. “For the vast majority, the current trend is simply the next iteration of our relationship to altered states—enjoyable and seemingly magical—but I would urge a sense of caution,” she said. According to the therapist, key indicators to seek mental health support would be if the shifter experienced anything that created fear for them, or challenged their belief system regarding what we could refer to as ‘consensual reality’. “Also seek help if there is any ongoing drifting into altered states outside of intended shifting sessions,” she added.
Thankfully, Warwick pointed out that “the vast majority” of shifters have a good experience. She added how shifters can return to their current reality “[feeling] revived and energised by an experience that fitted with their belief system and experiential limits.”
From Hogwarts to New Orleans, reality shifting plays on the concept of escapism that has been triggered by the pandemic. It has also created a new kind of divide on the platform, with some stating how we might just be characters on someone else’s script. If that’s possible, I guess the person who scripted this DR forgot to specify the end date to a global pandemic.