In a subdued atmosphere, candles, crystals and containers are mixed. On a soft musical background, faceless hands, with long black varnished nails, mix salt crystals, aromatic plants, lavender and coffee in a bottle, before sealing it with wax. The result: a potion meant to protect against anxiety.
On TikTok, the flagship app for teens, videos like this one promising to learn how to practice magic are popping up in the thousands. More generally, on the Internet, those who define themselves as witches accumulate “likes”. The keywords #witch and #witchcraft (“witch” and “witchcraft”) include more than 12 million posts on Instagram, and on TikTok, videos labeled “WitchTok” – “the witches of TikTok” – account for 3 billion views.
But what do we mean by “witch”? Who are those who define themselves as such? These are most often young women, who practice “witchcraft” alone or in groups. Some claim to belong to wicca, a fairly codified neopagan religious movement. Others, who identify as pagan, believe in Greek or Egyptian deities. Online, witchcraft comes across as more spiritual than religious, with a strong sense of returning to nature and a better understanding of oneself through divination or meditation practices.
Dark or pastel style
On the Internet, those who identify as witches read the tarot, practice the pendulum or transmit their knowledge on various subjects, facing the camera: the history of witchcraft, the properties of plants, the lunar cycle, the power they attribute to certain stones and crystals… The aesthetics are worked on, each witch having her own identity that she builds on the networks.
A sometimes dark style, inherited from cabinets of curiosities, mixing animal skulls and apothecary jars. And sometimes more pastel, where crystals and semi-precious stones reflect the light around climbing plants. “I want to give people lots of information on how they can reconnect and recognize the magic that is in them”, explain to World Gabriela Herstik, American witch and journalist, whose psychedelic Instagram is approaching 40,000 subscribers.
Sarah, 18, better known under the pseudonym Sarahal06 on TikTok, has 500,000 subscribers, to whom she provides tutorials and humorous videos on her life as a witch. Present on the app since 2018, she gained popularity during the lockdown, becoming one of the main representatives of French-speaking WitchTok. “When I was little I felt the entities around me, she confides to World. They told me they were hallucinations or nightmares. I began to learn about the occult, and I came to witchcraft. “
Elysabel, a Quebec witch whose YouTube channel has more than 15,000 subscribers, discovered the world of witchcraft as a teenager:
“I started to take an interest in the history of witches, the Inquisition, Salem … I picked up the books of my older brother who was also interested. I started to read a lot about white magic, then to practice for my personal well-being, to recharge my batteries. “
How to explain that online witch communities are so interesting in 2020? “I think there is a return of attraction to witchcraft every thirty years, analyzes Lisbeth Nemandi, author and YouTuber in witchcraft, who has more than 10,000 subscribers on Instagram. We peaked in the 1960s after England lifted the ban on witchcraft [dans un texte de 1951 abrogeant le Witchcraft Act de 1736], then the 1990s provided several cultural references: Harry Potter, the series Charmed, Sabrina… And there, in 2020, here we are, I can't wait to see in 2050 if my hypothesis is valid! “
For Sophie Barel, a doctoral student in information and communication sciences at the University of Rennes, who studied the figure of the witch on the Internet, this imagination has marked a great deal and has led to changing the perception of the witch. But the attraction to witchcraft is also explained, according to her, by a crisis of meaning:
“We go through belief, the spiritual, in order to give meaning. In all these movements, there is a sense that is close to nature, and we can feel that people want to come back to that. “
Sarah, on the other hand, sees this infatuation among the youngest as an attempt to understand an uncertain world. “I think that people are more looking to understand differently, for themselves”, she believes.
“We can send energy to each other by SMS”
Gabriela Herstik, who has been in this universe for over ten years, has seen this trend gain momentum on social media:
“I feel like it's more and more 'mainstream'. With what has been going on in America since the election of Donald Trump and the coronavirus crisis, I have the feeling that a lot of people are trying to find strength within themselves. “
Witchcraft would thus be this practice without dogma, which everyone can practice at home with everyday elements. Can it really go through the virtual? “We are more connected than ever, we can organize meetings on Zoom, send energy or photos by SMS. I think it is necessary for a religion or a spiritual practice to evolve with the times “, insists Gabriela Herstik.
“The Green Witch” details, on YouTube, the different types of witches.
For some, claiming to be a witch in 2020 is also a political act. “I don't think you can separate the witch from her political symbol, she who lived outside religious or patriarchal ideals. This is the first time in history that we can call ourselves a witch without being afraid of persecution “, says Gabriela Herstik.
On social media, these witches ally and support many political causes related to gender equality, access to rights or ecology. In June, the WitchTok called for spells to protect Black Lives Matter protesters.
For the young women interviewed, this support is explained by the fact that, for a long time, witchcraft was an exclusionary and frowned upon practice: today's witches no longer afraid of persecution, they would help those who are oppressed. ” Magic has always been a tool for people marginalized, ignored or repressed by the State and the Church, says Gabriela Herstik. There is a part of the magic that is done to improve his living conditions and help his community: it is a very powerful act, even if we do not necessarily see the direct results. “