Internet users who present themselves as witches use this hashtag to document their rituals on the platform. Women for the most part, often young, who mix centuries-old practices and new technologies.
For some, Halloween is just a chance for kids to beg candy from their neighbors. For others, the date of October 31 has a more spiritual dimension, and has a different name: Samhain, a sabbath during which witches celebrate the dead. Some of them may document their ceremony on TikTok: those who participate in “WitchTok”, the name given to followers of the occult who expose their beliefs on the video-sharing application.
“Samhain is the moment when the veil between the spiritual world and the physical world is the thinnest”, assures Myoline. A claimed witch, this 22-year-old mechanical engineering student tells BFMTV.com that this night is particularly conducive to divination:
“We get answers more easily. I will celebrate my ancestors, make offerings, rituals of protection.”
Myoline became interested in the occult four years ago, “following a trauma”: “I turned to alternative medicine.” The woman to whom she turned “knew about esotericism”, she “initiated” her.
For years, she perfected her practice alone, drawing on readings and research on the internet. Until she discovered the WitchTok and its digital witches: mostly women, very often under the age of 25, who talk about their faith and their rituals in short videos. For a year, she has taken part in it herself: under the pseudonym @girlandesoterism, she presents her practices and spells to more than 50,000 subscribers. “I needed some validation of my practice, to tell myself that it exists and that I was not alone,” she explains.
Content with billions of views
Myoline is indeed far from being an isolated case: if the number of TikTok accounts linked to witchcraft is impossible to quantify, videos carrying the hashtag #witchtok (contraction of “witch” – “witch” in English – and “TikTok” ) have generated over 20 billion views to date. Although they are mainly shot in the language of Shakespeare, a smaller but equally active French-speaking community publishes videos under the hashtags #witchtokfrance (9 million views), #witchtokfrancais (3 million) or #witchtokfr (1 million ).
Damien Karbovnik, teacher-researcher in the history of religions at the University of Strasbourg, recalls that the practice of occult sciences did not wait for TikTok to manifest itself: “We can go back at least until the interwar period” to date a resurgence of these beliefs, “with a slow rise in power since the 1960s”, explains this specialist in contemporary esotericism to BFMTV.
Nevertheless, he sees in the appearance of the WitchTok a modification of the functioning of the community itself: “What will change a lot is that these witches will remain isolated or communicate electronically”
“Before, they were in small groups and met on key dates to perform collective rituals, whereas today, we observe an individual practice. As well as the idea that one can become a witch, do everything and all alone.”
Esotericism and social networks
Everything, all alone, and for oneself: the practice of young WitchTokeuses seems essentially geared towards personal development. Among the rituals shared on the application, there are many variants of protection spells, incantations to attract luck or money, cartomancy or lithotherapy – a belief without scientific basis that certain crystals release beneficial energies. .
“I only practice on myself, never on others,” explains Myoline. “I can influence my destiny, change things through witchcraft.
“It has an impact on self-confidence, as we regain control over our lives which are increasingly fast and difficult.”
The contents vary from one user to another. If Myoline mainly publishes pastilles on her practice, other young “witches” favor humor. This is the case of Manon, a 20-year-old Sarthoise: on her account @little_witchyy (40,000 subscribers), she evokes the alleged powers of crystals or her spells but also the view of others on her beliefs, which she derides with a lot of playbacks on popular music. More suited to TikTok, which she says is not “the platform to learn from”, and where “there are only the songs, the trends that work”, she told BFMTV.com.
Different content in form, but also in substance: practices vary from one TikTokeuse witch to another. “Sometimes I create spells, sometimes I prefer to follow books,” assumes Myoline. On the spiritual side, the gods to whom they are addressed – often from Greek or Egyptian mythologies – are also different. A freedom specific to this new generation of witches, viewed with suspicion by their predecessors.
Practitioners and as many practices
As a “base” for these multiple beliefs, Damien Karbovnik evokes Wicca, a nature cult associated with magic that appeared in the 1930s in Europe, before being exported to the United States where it became popular. “These beliefs affect more and more people with each generation. They are becoming more democratic and diluted,” he analyzes. And with TikTok, which in a few years has become the third most downloaded application in the world, this plurality of practices is further encouraged:
“The WitchTok videographers call themselves witches but do not claim the same system of beliefs. They recognize an identity but do not define themselves by a doctrine, a dogma, common practices.”
“Originally codified and regulated, Wicca has evolved in a lot of directions, in particular by rubbing shoulders with new age practices”, continues the specialist. “We lose sight of the doctrinal rigidity of the beginnings, we make reinterpretations, we isolate ourselves so as to integrate them into our daily life.”
Hence the split between the witches of yesterday and those of today. Manon distinguishes between “traditionalists” and “modernists”: “Traditionalists have the impression that their knowledge is taken over too easily, they don’t want to pass it on. Suddenly, beginners complain because they criticize their practices without wanting to share their knowledge.”
Some of the “traditionalists” have even invested TikTok to defend their point of view there. Contacted by BFMTV.com, one of them refused to testify, precisely by refusing to be associated with what she describes as a “teenage fashion phenomenon”: “I find that it becomes a game, it is too desacralized for my taste“, she simply agreed to explain.
Right time, right platform
Beyond the ease of use of TikTok, this taste for magic results from a more global climate, born of a renewed interest in the figure of the witch at a time when questions relating to feminism animate the debates of society. In 2017, the American singer Lana Del Rey declared in the columns of NME casting spells on Donald Trump, then President of the United States.
The same year, the New Zealand singer Lorde revealed to Vogue Australia that she did “weird witchcraft stuff” before going on stage. A few days ago, Paris Jackson – the daughter of Michael Jackson – documented on Instagram her moon tribute ceremony, which she performed half-naked with friends around an altar.
“What is obvious is that we have dusted off the image of the witch”, analyzes Damien Karbovnik. “We made her a sex symbol, a rebel, who opposes male domination and advocates the emancipation of women.”
“The counter-culture mixes pop-culture, esotericism, social movements,” he adds. The WitchTok effectively assumes a political dimension, sensitive to minorities. In 2020, during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, self-proclaimed American witches posted videos of rituals intended to protect protesters or “curse” police officers, all carried by the hashtag #witchesforblm (“Witches with BLM”).
Among popular accounts, it is not uncommon to see witches posting the pronouns by which they wish to be referred to under their pseudonym, a widespread habit within LGBT activist circles. “Many witches claim feminism,” says Manon. “We are open-minded people, and we want to tackle inequalities,” says Myoline.
Risks of witchcraft
Without refusing to admit that they evolve in spheres which are not without risks. A Ifop survey for Current wife dated November 2020 highlighted the growing attraction of the French for parasciences: 58% say they believe in at least one esoteric discipline, witchcraft for 28% of them. A phenomenon that Jean-Jaures Foundation relates to conspiratorial excesses, recalling a previous Ifop survey carried out in 2017, according to which skepticism about vaccines was more widespread among regular readers of their horoscope.
“Never serious WitchTok people will oppose medicine”, assures Myoline.
“We do a lot of reminders, saying to go through a doctor before going through alternative medicine, to stick to the concrete,” she says, adding that there are “always unhealthy minorities, within of all communities”. Back when she did live card draws, she didn’t ask for money, unlike some others. “It’s like the risk of scams: we don’t see them coming, it’s difficult to do prevention.”
Manon, who says she practiced a ritual to help a hospitalized loved one, also insists that she “could never replace a doctor”. And warns of the dangers of its practice: “The basis of witchcraft is to protect yourself. From other practitioners, spells, entities, negative energies that surround us.” And to outline, paradoxically, the regret of the resonance generated by TikTok: “It may have affected too many people. It has become a fashion effect, or a lambda subject, when it is very deep.
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