Witchcraft isn’t just for Halloween anymore — it’s a lifestyle.
The recent rise of (a portmanteau of witch and TikTok) is the only latest manifestation of the internet coven’s magical ascendence, ranging from your everyday to the who dominate every social platform. The Witchtok hashtag currently garners a staggering 5.4 billion views, while #WitchesofInstagram boasts 5.6 million posts.
As the Trump era turned witchery into a symbol of feminist resistance, the New Agey self-care crowd began intermingling with the pop culture aesthetic to turn crystals, tarot, and astrology into a whole ass vibe.
But below the surface of the internet witch trend is a complex history of disenfranchised spiritualities that were first colonized and demonized, and now appropriated and whitewashed.
“WitchTok is a double-edged sword,” said , an Atlanta-based witch and “” who also runs an . “I love that people are excited to get into it. But I just hope the foundation of why we practice what we practice isn’t forgotten.”
The allure of modern witchcraft lies in the promise that anyone can reclaim their power through a hodgepodge of spiritual mysticism. Yet that mysticism also often borrows from the specific spiritual practices of various oppressed peoples. In contrast to religion, witchcraft purposely avoids strict rules, with no definitive “right” or “wrong” ways to practice. At the same time that openness, along with its aesthetic online appeal, can cause real harm.
But there are ways to practice magic without perpetuating damage. Whether it’s learning of witchcraft’s colonialist history, avoiding practices not meant for you, or creating your own rituals, many Latinx, Indigenous, and Black witches who practice their craft on the web have actionable advice for how we can all do better.
Of course, no one group is a monolith, and individuals from disenfranchised communities have vastly different opinions on these issues. Anti-racist and anti-colonialist witchcraft takes daily work, whether you’re a baby witch or been at it for many lifetimes.
Be careful who you call a witch
While there are more ethical ways to practice modern witchcraft, you can never truly “decolonize” it.
Brought over to North and South America by European colonizers, the word was used to demonize the spiritual practices of Indigenous peoples and survivors of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
“It comes from Abrahamic religions, specifically Christianity, considering anything that was ‘other’ than Christian witchcraft,” said Brooklynn. In the case of slavery, “we came here with our own spiritual practices and modalities, we had rootwork and conjuring, and it was ripped away from us and considered demonic.”
Not everyone who practices spiritualities commonly associated with the witch aesthetic identifies with the word, and labeling their sacred rituals or medicinal practices magic is not only offensive, but a tactic used to justify violence against Black and Indigenous people. There’s also a difference between folk magic and formal religions that were born out of slavery and colonialism, like Santería, Voodoo, and Candomblé.
Also, people around the world are still persecuted and killed over accusations of witchcraft to this day. In Nigeria, for example, ” are abandoned and ostracized by society. The Afro-Brazillian religion Candomblé is no longer illegal, but still by an evangelical Christian movement that denounces their worship as demonic.
Yet reclaiming the word “witch” through the recent trend is also empowering to others, especially Black Americans who had their cultural identities and histories stolen by slavery.
“It can be a very unifying term,” said Brooklynn. “I think it’s about uprooting a lot of the preconceived notions that are incorrect around it.”
Which is why identifying as a witch should always be an intentional self-declarative act.
“Being a witch is a choice that you make to practice,” said Juliet Diaz, a Witchtoker and descendent of a long line of Indigenous Caribbean brujas known as Taino, who also authored Witchery: Embrace the Witch Within and Plant Witchery. Reluctant to identify as a witch herself at first because of the stigmas, she came to accept it the more she understood her magic. “[Being a] witch is something that’s an innate gift to everyone on this Earth. ”
There’s a difference between an aesthetic and a practice
Not everyone trading in the mystical social media trend is promoting spiritual growth. , an artist who practices a blend of witchcraft and Black ancestral rituals, noted that WitchTok can perpetuate misinformation and appropriation because of witchcraft’s newfound cool factor.
“It’s either just for aesthetics or what’s going to spread and become more viral,” they said. TikTok’s time limits only expose people to the basics, too, rather than the grounding principles and histories behind these practices.
“If you don’t know about where the customs you practice come from, figure that out because otherwise it becomes another form of colonization and theft,” said , a Latinx artist with Wixáritari Indigenous Mexican heritage who identifies with the non-binary brujx moniker.
Brooklynn said that TikTok’s algorithm and tends to mostly spread whitewashed, heteronormative, elitist, consumerist, and visually appealing images of witchcraft. One trend, for example, is all about showing off your pretty (and expensive) crystal collection.
“No shade to Stevie Nicks — I love Stevie Nicks. But all I was seeing was these Stevie Nicks-looking women all over my witch hashtag feeds. And I wanted to see more people that looked like me,” she said. It inspired her to be more public with her witchiness on Instagram and TikTok. “We exist. We’re just not seen as much.”
Is that ritual really for you to practice?
Conscientious witchcraft walks a fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, too.
All I was seeing was these Stevie Nicks-looking women all over my witch hashtag feeds
On one hand, Diaz pointed out that imposing any hierarchical structure on practicing witchcraft is a colonizing mindset in itself. Unlike many religions, formal power structures that gatekeep communication with the divine is antithetical to witchcraft. Magic, she believes, is everywhere and for everyone. Some practitioners may be more experienced and knowledgeable, but no witch has a monopoly on spiritual access.
On the other hand, certain terms, rituals, and herbs prevalent in the online witch trend are appropriated from marginalized spiritualities that don’t consider themselves magical at all. Although these spiritualities aren’t necessarily tied to witchcraft, cherry picked elements are commodified and marketed as “witchy” products because they “seem” mystical.
The chakra term, for example, is language specific to the South Asian religion of Hinduism. But Urban Outfitters now sells under a general aesthetic of mysticism. Meanwhile with palo santo and white sage is a sacred ritual for many native North American tribes, who only pass down the practice to members of their community. It was illegal for Native tribes to practice smudging in the U.S. until 1978, but in 2018 Sephora sold a with white sage. Over-harvesting to meet demands of the trendiness is making white sage . Then there’s the term “gypsy,” a straight up used to persecute Romani people, but now used by to market a bohemian look through fortune-telling and crystals.
Aspiring witches must respect the boundaries of closed practices that explicitly state they can only be practiced by people who are descendants of a cultural heritage. Hoodoo, for example, originates from slavery and was created specifically for Black people.
“Just because you’re interested in something doesn’t mean that it’s for you, or that people are going to be open to helping you or teaching you, especially with some spiritual paths that have fought so hard to stay alive,” Aurora Luna said. “There’s a reason why they’re protected… It’s because it’s sacred information.”
Aurora Luna added that while the conversation around appropriation is more nuanced among disenfranchised people because many of their cultures “legitimately intermingle,” white people profiting off a culture that isn’t theirs is simply cultural appropriation.
There are lots of ways to practice witchcraft without using elements of closed practices. Tarot reading and other divination techniques, Fabián Frías said, are practiced around the world across many cultures.
Diaz’s books focus on using herbs since everyone is connected to plants. She noted that because people are so focused on the aesthetic of witchcraft, like astrology, crystals, and tarot reading, they lose sight of the practice’s core values, which are about “a connection to yourself and the Earth.”
Know where the products you buy come from and who profits from them
If you must use elements of closed practices, at least buy from the disenfranchised communities they’re meant for rather than large corporations. But there are plenty of alternatives to white sage, too. Brooklynn grows her cedar and rosemary in her own backyard to purify spaces.
“So many crystals and rocks surround you that aren’t mined and exploited,” said Fabián Frías. Crystals are meant for energy exchanges with nature anyway, so it’s more about creating a relationship with the land around you and offering something back if you take from it.
“If we learn to come at it not from a colonizing, capitalist mindset, but from a perspective of reverence for our planet and other people, then we’re going back to the origins of these practices — which was not to consume but to connect,” Brooklynn added.
Ground your practice in your own ancestral lineage or individual practice
Connecting with your own history rather than stealing from other peoples’ is not only more respectful, but also potentially very potent for your magical craft.
“People of color are frustrated because there’s lots of cool European traditions that are, if not alive and well, definitely researchable,” said Aurora Luna. “People get hostile because we had to fight to keep our tradition or got them through blood, sweat, and tears.”
So, rather than just jumping onto whatever’s trendiest on WitchTok, take the time to commune with your own ancestors, who can help you discover which practices are right for you.
“Many of our ancestors, regardless of where they come from, have had earth-based practices with connections to the cycles, plants, land — but systems of colonization and capitalism dislocated or disconnected people from them,” they said.
Heteronormative patriarchal witchcraft is also Western colonialism
For a long time, Aurora Luna explained, the modern reclaiming of witchcraft was about women taking back Neo-pagan religions like Wicca from the men who made them. These feminist reclaimings often still grounded witchcraft in cis, heteronormative gender binaries though.
“What gets lost is that the traditions blended into witchcraft were always very queer practices, because it’s based off of energy,” said Aurora Luna. “You can’t put genitals on energy.”
The lady witch archetype is empowering to some, but erases the queerness in many of the disenfranchised practices New Age witchcraft grounds itself in. Two spirit, for example, is to describe the social title given to members in the community who . In Yoruban-based spiritualities spread across the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade diaspora, from Candombé in Brazil to Voodoo in New Orleans, like Eshu-Elegbara, Olokun, Abbata, and Inle are often depicted as gender-fluid, bending, intersex, homosexual, or androgynous. Forced assimilation to Christianity then transformed them into more strictly binary, heteronormative, cis deities.
None of the above is synonymous with witchcraft, to be clear. But for those who do identify with the term, it’s powerful to learn of the rich queer history in spiritualities from around the world.
“A lot of queer and trans people aren’t raised knowing they have queer and trans ancestors,” said Fabián Frías. “It’s a big part of reclaiming, realizing these beautiful gender-expansive networks that have flowed beyond bodies and blood and shown up in so many different places.”
Fabián Frías believes in both honoring cultures who originate traditions adopted by witchcraft, and also letting them progress. Specifically, they point to the creativity of queer witch reimaginings of Tarot cards, which conventionally use more patriarchal and hierarchical symbols.
Use your craft for activism around dismantling systems of oppression
Witchcraft has been used as an act of resistance throughout the Trump administration, from outside Trump tower to for Black Lives Matter protesters. For those who feel called to the witch activist path, Aurora Luna recommends starting .
Yet others are a bit dubious about the phenomenon, with critics equating it to the occult version of sending “thoughts and prayers.”
Fabián Frías doesn’t believe spiritual and on-the-ground activism, “are mutually exclusive. They can very much align with one another.” Many of the witches casting spells are also donating, protesting, giving away free readings. “But going out to the streets can also be overwhelming and too intense for some. It’s OK if a spell or a prayer is all a person can offer sometimes.”
Brooklynn definitely puts her money where her magic is.
Isn’t it funny how white women stole my first post “witches against white supremacy” turned it into their own artwork and made buttons and bags? 😕
— BRI LUNA (@YungKundalini) June 1, 2020
At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, she created an original art designcatchphrase (originated by online witch icon Bri Luna, aka The Hoodwitch). All of the shirt proceeds went to the organization.
All too quickly, though, she and Bri Luna saw it stolen, sold by Etsy shop owners and even Amazon sellers, with no mention of whether proceeds would actually go towards benefiting Black lives. While this kind of theft is common online, it’s particularly nasty within the context of witchcraft, appropriation, slavery, and systemic racism today.
“If you’re not Black and you’re making majority of the profit off of something that’s aligned with [stopping] the murder of Black people, you should maybe reevaluate your ethics and morals.”
Follow, support, listen, honor, and credit witches and other spiritual practitioners of color
Both the past and present of witchcraft owes quite literally everything to the most oppressed groups in American history. If New Age witchcraft isn’t grounded in finally starting to do better by them, then who is modern witchcraft actually for and what does it serve instead?
Hint: The answer rhymes with shite wupremacy.
“If you benefit from witches of color, send them some financial support, share their work on your platforms, create a relationship by honoring where you got that knowledge from,” said Fabián Frías. “Sometimes online we can feel like we’re casting our spells or sharing our words into the void. So it’s always wonderful to see some words of affirmation or receive donations or have people think of you for events.”
“A lot of us are using the internet now to try to rebuild a lost sense of community, of being surrounded and supported for being who you are.”
The folks turning to modern witchcraft were often made to feel othered, ostracized, or excluded from more mainstream faiths. In fact, almost all our sources were raised in very Christian (even fundamentalist) households, only to then find a more accepting, diverse, empowering collective to call their own.
“A lot of us are using the internet now to try to rebuild a lost sense of community, of being surrounded and supported for being who you are,” said Fabián Frías. “So use your magic work to give energy to the people bringing these communities together. Honor those witches of color, make sure they know they’re important, and that they’re doing okay.”
While open to all, earning your place in online witch communities takes work.
“Do your own research. Stop asking people to do research for you. Find out if you’re appropriating, because most likely you’re appropriating,” said Diaz.
Accountability to others and the planet, whether you’re also a member of an oppressed identity or not, is essential for practicing ethical witchcraft. Fabián Frías recommends everyone check out the work , and her .
“Be open to reflecting and asking what you can do differently,” said Brooklyn. “Just try to learn, it’s really not that hard.” Helpfully, she’s even already done a YouTube video explaining exactly how .
But if you do find yourself drawn to particular traditions that are not yours, Aurora Luna said, “Go to somebody within that community whose shop you can buy from or who you can pay to have spiritual work done with. That kind of exchange has always existed and happened.”
As Brooklynn pointed out, social media algorithms can perpetuate the real world’s same oppressive biases. Which is why, as with , it’s up to those in privileged positions to bring awareness, understanding, and visibility to the folks of color they built their success on.
Mastering the trendy modern witch aesthetic may get you bigger followings, but that rarely translates to mastery of the actual craft. Many of the most knowledgeable spiritual guides likely have lower follower counts, like her mentor a two-spirit practitioner with a family lineage in Hoodoo dating back 200 years. Meanwhile Aurora Luna recommended (also on ) as great practitioners, educators, and herbalists dedicated to caring for Black women through healing medicine practices from African lineages.
For those looking to get in touch with Black ancestral practices (or respectfully learn about them), is another great podcast. While hosted by Pam Grossman, who is of Jewish lineage, the often interviews great guests of color (including and ) about cultural appropriation, decolonization, and queerness in modern witchcraft.
There’s a reason why they call witchery a craft. Truly powerful witches, both online and off, know that shaping their craft takes a willingness to learn.