Young women have rebooted ancient traditions of tarot-reading, herbalism, and astrology with modern technology
Horoscopes have gone from a Sunday paper fixture to cool girl pursuit. One of the most popular Twitter accounts is run by poet astrologers; Mystic Meg has been reimagined for the Instagram generation; herbalism and tarot found their way into niche but relatable memes. Magic and mysticism are viral and consumable. As if to prove it’s a major trend, the most zeitgeisty of zeitgeisty fashion brands, Vetements, has released a series of horoscope-themed T-shirts, hoodies and raincoats (though I have to say I prefer the Astropoet’s takes).
Long the acceptable face of witchcraft, astrology is more of a gateway drug than an isolated phenomena. Other practices have been creeping back into the mainstream for years; tarot has resurfaced as art, spells have been recast as political protest, and you can even subscribe to mail-order witchcraft boxes. Of course magic(/k) never disappeared from popular culture; the 90s had Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Craft, Hocus Pocus, and Buffy. What’s interesting about this particular resurgence, though, is that it’s so tied to technology and the internet.
At the club— Astro Poets (@poetastrologers) February 4, 2018
Gemini: you into Sylvia Plath?
Aries: [recites Lady Lazarus]
Despite the seeming contradiction between magic(/k) and modern tech, which can strip away ritual and intimacy, something about witchcraft syncs up especially well with the URL world. Instagram and Twitter are full of witches, and there are more apps than you can shake a broomstick at; for tarot reading, palm reading, horoscopes, rune reading, crystals, herbalism – there’s one that even tracks the Wiccan calendar. Part of this is the logic of the internet; existing knowledge can be repackaged into fun formats, and it can play out on social media at a pace which makes it gripping.
The modern witch exists in incarnations that run the gamut from wry and self-aware to full blown earnest, but all are a far cry from the traditional figure of the witch. Bri Luna (better known as The Hoodwitch) attributes her stiletto nails to her success as an internet witch, specifically because they helped her to differentiate herself from pagans and the new-age community. Mecca Woods, Bustle’s Astrologist, explicitly outlines that her practice is not “hocus-pocus, fairy dust, or Wizard of Oz-like gimmicks”. Tina Gong is an app developer who most recently created Golden Thread to help others learn tarot, but her previous projects include Happy Play Time, an app which aimed to eliminate the stigma around female masturbation. Although different in their approach, all three see their practice as a tool for emancipation and empowerment.
This link between witches, emancipation, and oppression is historic. In her famous and essential book Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici outlines how witch hunts were a tool for establishing patriarchal capitalist society in Europe. Female practices, sociability and systems of knowledge were equated with witchcraft so women’s power could be dismantled; healers became witches, and witches were hunted. Ironically, the 'witch hunt' rhetoric is widespread among those opposing the current #MeToo movement.
The history makes for a particularly seductive read on witchcraft as practice, particularly with the rise of intersectional feminism; you’re not just lining your bedside with rose quartz crystals, you’re dismantling structures of patriarchal oppression as you go. Tina describes this psyche: “to be a witch is to embody defiance and rebellion against the injustice that masculine systems have created”.
“To be a witch is to embody defiance and rebellion against the injustice that masculine systems have created” – Tina Gong
Still though, why is witchcraft-on-the-internet having such a moment? Tina Gong and Mecca Woods both discuss tarot and astrology’s role in helping you understand your own ‘story’ and shape your perception of yourself. Mecca likens her role as astrologist to her former life as a counsellor, in that she helps people to enact personal change through astrology readings. This connects to one of the strange paradoxes of witchcraft; the tendency to be simultaneously self-centred, yet communal.
At its worst, it’s the apex of me-centric self-care rituals; it provides a new and novel way of talking and thinking about yourself. You want the tarot to tell you more about your personality, your present, your future. Astrology seems to take as given that the universe is revolving around you, what you want to know is precisely how the universe is revolving around you this particular week.
Conversely, to be a star sign is to be automatically part of a group. It’s a pre-set identity you can exist within. Tarot readings are done through dialogue, and crystals, herbalism, and rune reading all involve the sharing and passing of knowledge. It seems easier for people to self-identify with personality traits, good or bad, when they’re connected to a star sign. This could be because they’re framed as an inherent quality rather than a fault, or just that it feels less personal – it’s not you, it’s all Aquarians. Mecca says that astrology’s role is to show us “that we’re all co-creators with the universe”, and there’s an undeniable belonging to be found in the generalisms. Nevertheless, this can be co-opted too; star signs are an easy way of throwing depersonalised shade. Are all Capricorns manipulative psychopaths, or is it just your ex-boyfriend?
Part of existing successfully as viral-happy content is being vague enough to be widely relatable, but personalised enough to land. Think of memes, viral tweets, huge non-celebrity Instagram accounts; they all work because they are general yet feel specific. Maybe tarot readings, horoscopes, and broader witchcraft practices aren’t any different.
The Astropoets take Madonna lyrics, celebrity quotes, Sylvia Plath lines, and Tinder bios – it’s the amalgamation of high and low pop culture references and Wikipediable information that is the cultural currency of the internet, filtered through the age old structure of the zodiac. The conflation of the two demonstrates how well astrology and the rest of our mystic pursuits actually enmesh with the internet.