My Week on WitchTok

Today’s offering is from Lauren Parker. Lauren is a writer and visual artist in Oakland, California. She’s a graduate of Hiram College’s Creative Writing program and has written for The Toast, Strange Horizons, The Racket, Xtra Magazine, Catapult, and Autostraddle. She’s the winner of the Summer of Love essay contest in the Daily Californian, the Vachel Lindsay poetry prize, and is the author of the forthcoming deck of spells with Simon Element.

I’m not saying I’ve made my personality not having an opinion about WitchTok, the subsection of social media juggernaut TikTok populated by Witches. But I am a writer and longtime Witchcraft practitioner who was into magic between two times it was cool (thank you very much), and I did think of myself as too cool for all this.

“What right do I have to have an opinion about what the kids do these days with anime face filters and terrible dances?” I pontificated to my friends and fellow Pagans. But I’m a writer and a visual artist, and I create things that I need to promote. Twitter has flown into the side of a cliff, and I want to reach people on a platform they will actually use – whether my audience is specifically made up of Witches or not.

Vevo failed to launch. Hive hasn’t loaded fully since I downloaded it. So now I guess I’m on TikTok.

A collection of Witchy objects – a mortar and pestle, a teacup, apples and pumpkins, candles – surrounding an open book that reads “Witchcraft Aesthetic”[Elena Mozhvilo, Unsplash]

Regardless of my feelings, the Witchy communities to which I belong have opinions about WitchTok. The Witchy content I consume – podcasts, Youtube videos,  Instagram screeds – is saturated with disdain for WitchTok. Even though many of these creators are begrudgingly posting videos on TikTok, their other social media is a festival of complaints about it. Even if I’m not on WitchTok myself, I am supposed to be unsettled or embarrassed by it — and here are several hours of WitchTok reaction videos in my Youtube suggestions to prove it.

I’m not new to social media platforms. I’m a millennial who got on Facebook back when we could throw sheep at people, and then I watched it devolve into madness. I’ve been on Twitter for over a decade. I was forged in the fires of Xanga. I do not fear the monster, I am the monster.

And yet, I’m still feeling that skeptical, Daria tug of wanting to shut down and not be made the fool by enjoying myself. TikTok is the Homecoming dance and I’m standing in the corner with my arms crossed. I do not know how to floss (do they still floss?) and I fear I do not inspire enough thirst to thirst trap.

On the other hand – WitchTok sounds kinda fun.

@thornthewitch Replying to @thornthewitch #witchtok #witchcraft #witch #wicca #witchtips #witchtokrising ♬ original sound – Thorn Mooney

When I was figuring out my practice, it was me and the Big Blue Book with my nose smooshed against the glass of my TV while The Craft came on cable. Grandma didn’t teach me the old ways. The only thing she taught me is that jars are useful. The rest of it I had to reverse engineer all on my lonesome with whatever Borders (RIP) would stock. My temples of knowledge were department stores selling crappy books that don’t even exist anymore.

How’s that for being born in a ruin?

So: in the name of seeking out Pagan community while Twitter decays, I signed up for a TikTok account.

Day One

Part of the process of TikTok is trying to give the algorithm something to curate for you. There are genres of selection and none of them actually appear to align very closely to my interests. There are broad keywords like “health and fitness,” “animals,” “fashion,” “sports.” I end up selecting “self love, manifestation, plants, and handicrafts.”  There has got to be something there for me. I also search all the Witch related hashtags and follow them, including “WitchTok drama” (spicy!)

My feed begins with people using a filter that shows them what their child would look like. I swipe left, thinking this is like Tinder. Turns out the “Not Interested” feature is buried somewhere I cannot find.

I text my friend, Diana Helmuth, author of a forthcoming memoir on modern Witchcraft. She has garnered a small following on TikTok, and she patiently walks me through how to train the algorithm.

“Did you follow anyone?” she asks.

Oh right. I find and follow the handful of Witches that the app pulls from my contacts, including Eric Scott, the weekend editor of The Wild Hunt, a couple that I already follow on Instagram, and anyone with tarot in their name. I’m not picky. I’m just here to make friends.

My feed remains unchanged, except now there are people fighting in parking lots.

I have to seek out great content by Thorn Mooney, Jason Mankey, and Don Martin, shuffling through recommendations like a lost document in a stack of papers.

The feed updates to a video instructing me to go to my search bar and type in “men” to see what the apps thinks I’m sexually attracted to.

I am gatekept by my own incompetence.

Day Two

Overnight, my TikTok feed has become a charcuterie board of creators who post about guns and stage magic. A man stuffs a red bandana into his fist, not making eye contact with the camera but focused on forcibly completing the task, while talking about the brilliance of crypto.

“Your feed isn’t just what you tell the app you like and dislike,” Diana says. “It’s also influenced by your friends, and who they follow.” I resist the urge to text the people I have followed demanding an explanation.

I spend more and more time on the WitchTok hashtag. I see everything from aesthetic bedroom tours to monologues on the complexities of ancestor work to people throwing away their Witchcraft books in the name of Jesus.

@bosswitchh I got 11/10 what about you ? 😂 💕#witchtok #witch #witchesoftiktok #witchcraft #manifestation #manifestation #manifest ♬ S.T.A.Y. – Hans Zimmer

The thing that strikes me as different from self-important blogging or tongue-in-cheek tweeting, however, is that TikTok is the place where Witches get to be funny. They get to be wry and quippy and slapstick and make fun of themselves, and each other. It’s honestly lovely to watch. So much about being a practitioner in the world, and the art made around Witchcraft, is very serious. Hushed voices, darkened rooms, and the specter of the spooky lurks. In reality, most Witches I know are zany, funny, and silly.

I came in ready to have opinions, but mostly it’s just nice to see people having fun.

Day Three

Friends have started sending me toks to watch, and my feed has shifted again. Sacred geometry spits out LGBTQIA toks of gorgeous butches who are actually succeeding in getting me to like a horrible Nickelback song they keep sampling. This is a dangerous indoctrination in my opinion. I see Wednesday Addams makeup filters, and finally, a very funny video of someone impersonating their Witch wife. I am noticing that Witchcraft toks tend to be either very very short or very very long compared to other content on the app.

I feel like Narcissus, staring into the black pool of my screen hoping to see myself reflected. Or at least, people like me. Connection with others is about the connection with the self, right? Isn’t that why we wade through these algorithmic cesspools to find each other?

As I spend more time scrolling through the feeds and searching hashtags, it occurs to me that the social media generation of Witches are forced to consume and create content with glamour magic on a grand scale. Instead of creating a small following of people we meet in person, we are performing to a record of interpersonal tracking, hoping the enchantment never wears off and gets us canceled. We are all fed beautiful, youthful people who are presenting a level of coordination and poise that’s hard to not internalize.

I sit in my messy apartment admiring the organization all these plant Witches have, where they can have strands of ivy pouring from every corner and yet their rooms never look cluttered.

It also occurs to me that like all lifestyle content, TikTok is made for the suburbs. It’s a lot of young creators in their backyards, or within driving distance of fields to frolic in. There’s so much broom closet content.While I type from my major city that has no concern about what I’m doing religiously, these creators exist in a form of isolation I remember well.

Being a newbie Witch in the suburbs of Ohio was a trial I didn’t pass. I had to move away to begin my Witchcraft journey in full. It would have been nice to see other people’s practices like this and learn how to operate in a specific kind of solitude when I was a teenager.

Day Four

The challenge that I have found with TikTok is that, every day, I somehow feel like a new kid on the first day of school in the lunchroom with no idea what the rules are for sitting. Adults assure you that you can sit anywhere, but any seventh grader with a lunch tray will tell you that’s not the case at all.

A bundle of herbs [Ksenia Yakovleva, Unsplash]

Today’s challenge is to post an actual video on this thing. I cannot just lurk; I must debut.

“Talking head videos tend to perform better once you have a large following,” says Diana.“There’s rumors the algorithm favors trending audio and green screens. Don’t be discouraged if no one views it immediately.”

“You are giving me waaaaaaaay too much credit,” I type back to her.“I just want to be able to figure out the interface.”

I have learned that setting my expectations low allows me to give myself (and others) more grace.

I do manage to figure out something to post, a cottagecore spoof where I’m less tradwife and more tradwidow. As someone who blogged during the Trump election cycle, who went barely viral but enough viral, I remember the heart palpitations of logging into my blog platform to find 536 notifications for me to moderate and wanting to tunnel out of my own life. I’m not even sure I want people to know I’m here.

Three people view it, which I find relaxing. It’s fine. I plan to do some poetry readings on the app like I do on Instagram. This is the industry. We’re all our own brand managers. But when it comes to video content, I am not a font of ideas. My glamour skills are clumsy and rely on the curve of a bare shoulder,not on the sophistication of my humor or comedy.

I watch Mhara Starling explore Ikea with a hilarious and exuberant wonder. The Witch of Southern Light jokes about the “cursed candy” accusation from Christians. It’s delightful and unserious.

“I hope some of these people get comedy writing jobs,” I say aloud.

Day Five

WitchTok is still technically eluding me.

“Somehow my feed is all gay now,” I say to Diana with a waggle of my eyebrow “Somehow.”

I toggle the hashtag search to give me unwatched videos, and I start to see the pattern of “What bugs me about WitchTok” and “How NOT to” videos. The argument content: I have found it. I am almost excited.

The major point of contention I have found on WitchTok is deity work. How you’re doing it (and why it’s wrong), who you’re doing it with (and how that is also somehow wrong), how you are supposed to do it (and why you shouldn’t try to hex Hecate), and all with a level of adamant insistence that gives me a headache.

@innawitchofficial More readings on my #YouTube and #Patreon 🖤 #palmistry #palmstry #palmreading #vancouver #tokyo #foryou #viral #fyp #texas #nyc #calgary #miami #innawitch #tarot #occult #witch #thatwitch #witchcraft #witchtok #chiromancy ♬ lovely – lovely

Deity work is very serious on this platform. The warnings are severe against engaging with certain deities in certain ways or at all for risk of cursing. The warnings against certain actions read like accusations. I become weary of the phrase “we need to talk about,” suspecting that these are outrage videos made about strawmen.

That said, the defensive posturing makes sense to me. Deity work is a relationship with the faith portion of Witchcraft, something that many Witches do not concretely engage with at all. Religious expression is hotly contested, especially in an environment formed by Christianity, a religion where being a chosen main character is in the framework.

Social media creates a focused space for people to attempt to be worthy of notice, to be “picked.” Human beings really want to be picked, me included. We want to get that letter from Hogwarts, or to manifest magical powers on our 16th birthday, or to receive a revelation from the gods. Or to go viral on WitchTok. We’re all caught up in the attention economy.

My default action when I open the app is to search for Witch in the search bar. I am still picking my people.

Day Six

I fall down the haunted well that is first person evangelical storytelling about rejecting Witchcraft. People film themselves throwing out the trappings of their sins: yoga mats and brand new copies of Basic Witch and incense that looks fresh from Urban Outfitters. I find these videos the strangest out of all I’ve seen, and while they are clearly performative, they are also the most intimate. It feels like spying on the enemy and watching their glamour magic work backward, their wild-eyed charisma as they de-wild and homogenize their own spirituality. Then I start mentally shopping in their garbage can.

“Oh that’s pretty,” I say as I watch someone throw an athame into the trash can. “I wonder where this church is.”

I am the sort of magpie who shops in a church’s dumpster.

Day Seven

On my final day of deliberation as to whether I wish to remain on TikTok, I find the starseeds.

This is a problematic wing of Witchcraft that makes my skin crawl, and I knew, I just knew, eventually I would find them here. The starseeds publish mostly astrology content that takes all the memes that circulate about empaths and make them into moving videos of confident whining.

I do not like this, I’ll admit it. The struggle with starseeds is that the theology behind the concept is racist and feeds into white supremacy. It’s not the sort of philosophy that can go unexamined, but it very much is. I think it’s dangerous, where “chosen” becomes a warped feeding of the status quo, and where selfcare turns to selfishness. Moral support becomes morality.

I’m bouncing down the hallways of astrology content that assures me that I am made of love and light. It’s the skeptic in me that is hostile to anything that loves me too much because the chances are too high that I’m just being manipulated.

I make sure to mark all those videos “not interested.” I am, of course, interested in what the fringe of my own community is doing, but the sadistic god of the feed will overwhelm me with videos that will ruin my life if I do not keep it leashed I have to pick what sort of bubble I want to build, for my own sanity.

Then I remember the magician stuffing his hand with the hankie, and Diana’s terrifying words: “Your feed is influenced by who your friends follow.”

I’ve had a lot of fun on TikTok, and it’s been nice to see the creative expression of magical work. I find the cringe easy to swipe away, and the insights good food for thought. I don’t have hours to devote in a hermitage, but I do have four minutes to hear about how peers and colleagues consider the deeper parts of their practices.

@mhara_starling Welsh Witchcraft: The Cauldron #welshwitch #welshwitchcraft #welshwitchtok #witchtok #vvitchtok ♬ original sound – Mhara Starling

But I don’t want to fill my friends’ feeds with ignorance or foolishness they can’t enjoy. The double-edged sword of the glamour is that you can make the world fall in love with you, or you can show them your shadow side without context or nuance. And somewhere under the spell, while the algorithm stares back into you, you usually fall in love as well.

(You can follow Lauren on TikTok at FuckYeahLaurenParker.)

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