Over the past few years, a trend has been abrew. An underground subculture previously reserved only for the religious and spiritual fringes has suddenly become a widespread social media phenomenon. Occult traditions, based in Wiccan and Pagan religions, are undergoing a resurgence in popular culture. Though sociologists estimate that the number of practicing Wiccans and Pagans in the U.S. is only around 350,000, the Wicca, Witch, and Occult hashtags on Instagram reveal over 4 million posts. Clearly, witchiness is in.
The rise of the occult in pop-culture and everyday life feels like the natural progression of a society that gravitates toward tattoos, piercings, and festivals like Bonnaroo and Burning Man. The occult, and all things witchy, have served as an exotic and daring trend for both thrill and zen seekers alike. The practicing witches for whom the occult is more than just a fad are being praised, perhaps for the first time in their long and persecution-ridden history. They band together publicly to perform binding spells and rituals against the Trump Administration with instructions that request components like fool’s gold, unflattering pictures of Trump, and feathers. Where their ancestors hid in fear of persecution, these modern witches are anything but subtle.
Everyday women are purchasing bracelets injected with healing water, Instagramming the crystals they keep on their desks at work, and downloading meditation apps to help themselves stay focused. YouTube content creators share their paranormal experiences and astrological musings online. Modern women are grabbing elements from a variety of occult subcultures and mashing them together to form a sort of super-esoterism, one laced with feminism and intersectionality, as well as magic.
For practicing witches, the rise of the occult points to one thing — the desire to reclaim control of female energy. Gabriela Herstik, a practicing witch, points out that “women and femmes and gender nonconforming people specifically are feeling the impact of a government and society that continues to restrict them of their bodily autonomy, sexual agency, and equality.”
She continues, “Witchcraft is a reclamation of the divine feminine, of the ancient power of the goddess which has been neglected by patriarchal society and religion for thousands and thousands of years.”
The oppression that women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and identities face on a day-to-day basis has, for many women, become too much to bear. Women want to be in control, to wield energy, and to tap into the power of their intentions. Witchcraft and other occult traditions can provide not only comfort, but an access point for women to harness forces beyond our physical reality. Through spells, crystals, candles, tarot, and astrology, women hope to comprehend and take control of the world around them.
“By working with your own energy and seeing your own words and creations as spells and magick,” Gabriela says, “you’re more easily able to combat the outside world because you’re regaining control of your inner world.”
The increased chaos of our external environments — brought on by the rise of social media and a government that largely feels out of control — seems to have triggered our desire to reset ourselves internally. Magic has become a form of self-care. The ritualistic nature of the occult, as well as its emphasis on femininity (in all its forms) has drawn the modern woman in. In a society where masculine energy has a higher value, women often adapt by silencing their feminine energy. Witchcraft, on the other hand, allows that energy to be not only freed, but nurtured.
Teens and young women of every generation have gravitated toward the occult. Sociologist Helen A. Berger told Vice in 2015 that young people find witchcraft through bookshops, large online forums like WitchVox, as well as through their colleges and universities. The young adults who practice witchcraft were primarily doing it alone in 2015, she told Vice. In more recent years, it seems that witchcraft has been reignited as a community activity. With the widespread sharing of information about politically-charged rituals, and the openness of major media publications to discussing and exploring esoteric perspectives, more women are finding a way into witchcraft.
Through the occult, women are embracing their feminine energy, and then activating it. It seems that witchcraft and other elements of the occult have become the vessel through which women are regaining control over a male-dominated world. While this trend may feel new and exciting, what it really uncovers is an accumulation and redirection of something that women have always had — power.