PhD Candidate, Religious Studies, University of Waterloo
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Even before religious gatherings were forced to go virtual, one community in particular, contemporary pagans, were online — performing virtual rituals or discussing theology on chat forums.
Continuing this lineage is WitchTok, the subculture of pagans who use TikTok to share spells, learn about mythology and connect with co-religionists.
Contemporary paganism is an umbrella term encompassing many traditions, including Wicca, heathenry and Druidry. Generally speaking however, pagans are united by a reverence for nature and belief in one’s ability to interact — through ritual practices — with deities and energies throughout the universe.
As young people search for religion, or simply spirituality, many are turning to witchcraft. This might be because teens are inspired by TV shows, because witchcraft’s cottage-core esthetic reflects design trends, or perhaps, because a religion that values nature seems appropriate amid ecological crises.
Regardless of precisely why people belong, WitchTok connects people to this community and its practices.
Read more: TikTok is a unique blend of social media platforms – here’s why kids love it
Since “joining” is as simple as clicking the hashtag, WitchTok is quite fluid and diverse. Some posts come from Wiccans who have been practising for decades, others from teens who may not even call themselves a witch (yet).
WitchTok includes people from different backgrounds educating and inspiring each other, but debates over what makes an “authentic” witch also crop up and have become quite contentious.
So what exactly are witches doing online? Broadly speaking, videos on WitchTok can be split into four main categories: entertainment, spells, promoting businesses and rants.
For many, WitchTok largely exists for entertainment. Popular videos display witchy décor throughout one’s home, or act out skits about living with a witch.
Entertaining posts are hardly frivolous. Creating content allows one to publicly proclaim their religious identity. Joining a trend, through comments or follow-up videos, connects witches with their broader community. Especially for witches “in the broom closet,” who do not publicly self-identify, simply seeing videos in one’s feed can offer validation.
WitchTok is also a place to learn. Many videos share detailed steps for performing spells. One popular form of magic on WitchTok is spell jars. These can serve myriad purposes, with different ingredients offering protection, love or wealth.
Those who merely stumbled into WitchTok, perhaps through the hashtags #SelfCare or #Spirituality, discover the existence of magical practices. Novices who are actively exploring witchcraft can expand their knowledge. One might learn, for example, the magical properties of cinnamon.
Witches also troubleshoot for others, suggest alternative ingredients, or advise how to avoid magical malpractice. Fire safety, for instance, is a popular topic of conversation.
With many diverse perspectives online, WitchTok is also a space of collaboration. Users debate the difference between fresh or packaged herbs, or whether it is appropriate to perform certain types of magic.
One cannot ignore the commercial aspects of WitchTok. Take spell jars, for example. Each spell requires a well-stocked pantry. Even if someone grows their own herbs, many spells require glass vials. Other accoutrements for magic — incense for “cleansing,” candles for “sealing” — must also be bought. Through videos and comments, WitchTok advises where to purchase items.
Among the many businesses promoted on WitchTok, most popular are small-scale independent retailers, who sell crystals, tools and even assembled kits with everything one needs to perform magic.
Also popular are larger metaphysical stores, which cater to a broader “spiritual” clientele, but generally sell herbs, incense and other materials required for witchcraft.
From videos spotlighting products to sharing interactions with customers, WitchTok offers businesses a platform to connect with potential customers.
Everyone needs to vent, and this seems especially true online. Many videos involve ranting, as witches voice their opinions on various issues, such as which traditions are open or closed for borrowing.
Topics obviously shift over time; the creator who was cancelled in November might be forgotten by January. However, posts allow the broader community to construct outlooks on important issues. How does magic work? What sort of training is required?
Posting a video lets someone articulate where they stand on, say, performing hexes on another person. By commenting, others rebut or affirm that opinion. Even the passive act of liking a post can reinforce that outlook.
On a technological level, the more someone interacts with certain topics, the deeper TikTok’s algorithms draw you into specific discourses. Upon liking a video about hexes for instance, someone’s feed will soon be filled with instructional videos.
Regardless of the type of content someone shares, WitchTok is an important outlet, allowing witches to express themselves as individuals and as a community.
WitchTok first helps Witches connect. Many witches, for various reasons, feel uncomfortable declaring their affiliation. Others live in areas without an offline community. WitchTok lets such people make important, affirming connections.
As a place to learn, social media is important for both novices and experienced practitioners. From advice on performing spells to discussing interactions with deities, WitchTok helps people deepen their knowledge of magic and witchcraft.
Finally, while the witchy esthetic is hardly unique to TikTok — many have noted its mainstream growth in recent years — exposure to products required for spells or popular décor help cement a certain style. As businesses promote themselves, WitchTok also drives traffic towards particular retailers and goods.
Whether someone is scrolling mindlessly or actively conducting research, WitchTok connects witches to their practices and community.
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PhD Candidate, Religious Studies, University of Waterloo