TikTok has become the home of modern witchcraft, with more and more “baby witches” joining “WitchTok” every day. United by an interest in the occult, these self-proclaimed witches will post anything from magick spells and tarot card readings to fairy house tutorials and mini-vlogs with their spiritual deities. And then, there are the witches advocating for political change.
About a week into the George Floyd protests, the hashtag #witchesforblm cropped up on TikTok, many witches hoping to take advantage of a rare four-day full moon to cast extra-strong protection spells for Black Lives Matter protesters.
In a deleted TikTok video, one witch calls for a simple hex: people just need to write down the names of police officers and burn that paper with a black candle. In a more complicated TikTok, a young sorcerer details how to create a protection “siglos” that will defend you from police brutality. In another video, a woman places a burnt photo of a tuxedo-clad man (presumably Donald Trump) atop a sliced lemon, which she then plops onto a pentagon plate, sprinkles with herbs, stabs with nails, and seals shut with candle wax.
This relationship between witchcraft and social justice isn’t necessarily shocking. After all, witchcraft has always been political. This is something that dates as far back as the Middle Ages when witches were viewed as a threat to Christian rule—a fear that manifested once again during the hysteria of the Salem witch trials, and during the transatlantic slave trade when Black slaves practiced voodoo against their masters’ wishes.
But it wasn’t until the 19th century, according to journalist Bianca Bosker, that witchcraft really took off—in part because of a rising interest in feminism. As the women’s suffrage movement took hold, “witches enjoyed the beginnings of a rebranding—from wicked devil-worshippers to intuitive wise women,” Bosker explains, adding that Woodstock and second-wave feminism were key moments of popularization too.
Now, however, with the rise of Trump and the #MeToo movement, witchcraft is evolving faster than ever—and it’s creating a new wave of political spirituality.
This new wave is composed of witches who cast hexes on corrupt politicians in the name of anti-fascism, anti-capitalism, and anti-racism. And this witchcraft isn’t exclusive to digital creators on TikTok. It also includes the activists casting spells outside Trump Tower to stop the president from doing harm, the activists placing hexes on Brett Kavanaugh, and the white allies performing rituals in an effort to “rewrite” their families’ racist history. But why are people so drawn to spiritual activism?
“The more frustrated people get, they do often turn to witchcraft, because they’re like, ‘Well, the usual channels are just not working, so let’s see what else is out there,’” explains Pam Grossman, author of Waking the Witch: Reflection on Women, Magic, and Power. “Whenever there are events that really shake the foundations of society, people absolutely turn toward the occult.”
Per Grossman’s logic, it makes sense that witchcraft is on the rise during the Trump era. With millions of people losing faith in institutions, many people are instead finding faith in the occult. But how effective is witchcraft in creating systemic change, really?
It’s one thing to use witchcraft when you’re of the affected group. But to rely solely on witchcraft for political change requires an immense amount of privilege. It means that you can afford to cast spells and hope that the universe or some deity will do something for you, rather than creating that concrete change yourself. It’s basically the equivalent of white Christians congregating at church to pray for change while Black people are out protesting for their lives, getting murdered by the police. You can’t just can’t just “pray the racism away.” As a white ally, it’s just not enough.
This isn’t to say that modern-day witchcraft is intrinsically bad. It’s just to say that it’s one thing to use witchcraft for your own spiritual and emotional well-being, and another to view witchcraft as a substitute for systemic change—especially when you’re a white person casting spells to “solve” issues that disproportionately affect Black and brown bodies.
Unfortunately, digital spaces like TikTok encourage this substitutional behavior. While online subcommunities like WitchTok can be conducive to social change, they can also be echo chambers of performative activism—surface-level wokeness and allyship done to increase social capital rather than real change. As technology evolves, witchcraft becomes not just increasingly politicized, but also increasingly commodified, and you have to wonder, even beyond #witchesforblm—how much much of this digital witchcraft is being performed for clout?
YouTube videos, Reddit threads, and TikTok videos have cropped up criticizing these creators for humanizing spiritual deities, casting non-consensual love spells, appropriating Black voodoo, and much more. Perhaps most prominent is the disdain for TikTok witches who post their live spells and altar tours—a fame-hungry form of bragging that more seasoned witches find appalling and in many cases outright dangerous. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” explains YouTube witch and spiritual guru Milky Roots. “So before you start to sit down and start doing spells or get into this stuff… Make sure that you are studying and researching and really taking your time with the craft that you want to practice because you can absolutely hurt yourself. There are so many rules that you don’t know.”
The truth of the matter is that witchcraft—like politics—is much more complex than making a few social media posts. Rather than skimming the surface level, both systems need to be intensely researched and critically analyzed to reach their full potential. And while there’s nothing wrong with spiritually calling out to the universe that you want change (just like there’s nothing wrong with debating the best way to create political change with friends), good intentions, dialogue, and ideas can only get you so far. Thoughts, spells, and ideas might have power, but they aren’t an effective substitute. Instead, witchcraft, like political dialogue, needs to be coupled with concrete action. In other words, instead of just wishing change into existence, we need to be that change.
By Kiddest Sinke
Illustration by Alexa Flores