When Frankie was 16 years old, she needed a sign. She was trapped in a bad relationship and looking for some — any — guidance. Raised Christian, she prayed to God every day, but felt nothing. So, she decided to open her prayers to the universe at large. A few days later, a blue jay closely approached her, arriving seemingly out of nowhere. This was the sign she’d been searching for. “I started looking into the symbolism of blue jays, and that tumbled into looking up the symbolism of animals, and that tumbled into a pagan loophole, which tumbled into witchcraft, which brought me here — with a bunch of crystals, three deities, and just doing my best,” she says.
“Here” is a specific subsection of TikTok known as #WitchTok, where young creators like Frankie, better known to her 332K-plus followers as @chaoticwitchaunt, can share stories, advice, memes, and, yes, even some viral dances, all through the lens of witchcraft. To date, the hashtag has racked up over 1.7 billion views, making its most popular creators veritable celebrities on the app.
“TikTok is a much more personal thing than YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, or anything like that, because you can directly talk to your fans,” says Caitlin, 16, who at 270K followers on her account @okaries (and an additional 115K on her backup account @okaries2) is one of the genre’s most-followed names alongside Frankie. “It’s why #WitchTok is became so big and why I have a fan base. I'm even looking at my fan-made art wall right now.”
Offline, Caitlin first started researching witchcraft last summer in an attempt to find a way to help a friend with chronic pain. “I was looking up holistic healing methods and looking at books and stuff like that,” she says. “I figured out that witchcraft was the thing.” A teenager in the suburbs of Boston, she was curious, but understandably confused. “I was like, ‘Do I need to buy a broomstick? Do I need a hat?’” she recalls. While there were plenty of books that delved into the subject, the internet was decidedly lacking in terms of putting faces to the topic. “I kept [my studies] super-duper private to just me and my very close friends and my family, because I was like I don't know any other witches,” she says. “I didn't want to get bullied.” Then, a #WitchTok video appeared on her For You page on TikTok. “I found that there was this huge community of witches, and how it was a much more popular thing than I even had thought about.”
“I went from hiding my practice to people messaging me, being like, ‘Hey, I need help,' in three months,” says Frankie. Now 21, she has been practicing for almost five years, but it was only in the past few months when she found the sounding board she didn’t even know she was lacking. “My first quote-unquote 'spell' was a snow spell because I wanted a day off from school. When I woke up the next morning, there was snow on the ground. Still had to go to school though,” she laughs. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes because I didn't have this community that I could rely on.”
Community is a word that comes up frequently when discussing #WitchTok; the hashtag is not just about straightforward spellcasting or tarot readings or crystal discussions (though those do certainly play a part). Instead, it's more about creating a welcoming space online for those who may otherwise feel alone in their lifestyle. “There’s not many witches in Alabama,” says Sydney, 19, aka @yoxsyd (302K followers). Adds Rue, 18, who goes by @rue.the.day (71K followers): “The fact that there were other people out there living this life and I could see them on social media and they were not hiding, it was kind of like coming into the LGBTQ community. I thought, ‘Wow there are people just like me and they aren’t scared to be who they are.’”
#WitchTok has even received the mom stamp of approval, at least in the case of Caitlin, whose mother Liza joins her Zoom interview for this story. “My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, is this going to be safe?’” she says. “We support it as long as it's a positive thing for her to help her feel more centered and connected, and to do good for others, which is her natural response to things anyway ... I just wanted to make sure that also she wasn't saying things that were negative, that this was a positive thing. This is all new to me. But, she's not putting out there negative stuff. I mean, unless it's anti-Trump, which I'm fine with.”
But just with any kind of community — especially one online — #WitchTok is not without its share of drama. As the younger creators have risen in popularity, so have their brand of videos: joking, tongue-in-cheek riffs on the app's already popular troupes. Frankie imagines deities singing Ariana Grande songs and writes self-deprecating jokes over failed spells and interactions with deities; Caitlin uses popular TikTok sounds and effects to dispel stereotypes (she’s also a very talented cosplayer); Bunny, 20, behind the account @c.est.bon.bon (272K followers), as she writes in her bio, is “making memes” about her studies. “I try to make it funny and informative at the same time — kind of like Bill Nye the Science Guy,” she says.
But while those methods have skyrocketed their follower counts, they’ve also irked what are referred to as “elder witches,” or people who consider themselves lifelong studiers of the craft. “A lot of the older witches are stuck in a certain way where they do things that they think is respectful and right, and it clashes with the newer witches who are brought up more ‘new age,’” says Bunny. “For example, some people don’t like technology in witchcraft, like how you can get your tarot read online. It’s a preference thing, but it causes problems.” One area of struggle comes in the notion of “gatekeeping,” where elder witches refuse to teach beginners (or “baby witches”) about certain practices. “There’s an age difference [clash], for sure,” says Rue, who has been practicing for just under a year. “There is definitely room for necessary guidance that would be helpful.”
This culture conflict has come to a head on several occasions: A few months back, Kaitlin’s account was banned after elder witches repeatedly reported her videos (“They really did not like that I was making comedy videos about paganism,” she says). Her loyal fanbase and fellow WitchTokers quickly got the hashtag #FreeOkaries trending, and her account was reinstated. But then came the hexing. “Maybe two months ago, a couple of people decided to do a mass hex on #WitchTok creators,” Caitlin says. “We found them, so we're good. My friend Lucas, who works with demons and stuff like that, found them super easily. It was a group of witches who were just angry and really petty. But the cool thing about magic is if you cast magic, it can be traced back by a really advanced practitioner.”
“I get hexed, like, once a month,” Frankie, who was part of the mass hexing, says nonchalantly. “Some people take witchcraft and they're like, ‘I’m going to use this because I don't like this person.’ But I'm very, very protective of my energy.” A self-described empath, Frankie doesn’t like to focus on the negative. “I wouldn't even describe it as a rift,” she says of the conflict. “It's more of, ‘OK, I see you not doing this and I'm not going to vibe with you then.’” What’s more important, she notes, is when the community bands together. “At the end of the day, we will group together, especially when the riots started happening,” she says. “We're like, ‘All right, everyone put aside their differences, let's go.’”
Shortly following the death of George Floyd and subsequent riots against police brutality, #WitchesForBLM began trending, thanks in large part to a video posted by Frankie about hexing the police that was later posted on Twitter by Aubrey Plaza. “We were kind of just chilling on our side of TikTok, having our own little conversations and discussions. And then everyone was like, ‘Oh, we got the witches,’" she says of that video. “Witchcraft is and always has been composed of mainly minorities. When it comes down to that, we're going to step up and be like, ‘We're here. We're behind you.’” But even that wasn’t without some discourse. “Some of us believe in the Rule of Three, which is the Wiccan law saying that anything that you put out into the universe, will come back to you threefold,” Frankie explains. “I personally don't believe in that, only because a lot of people use that to be like, ‘Oh, only love and light,’ and as of recently, they were avoiding talking about the Black Lives Matter movement because it’s ‘too low vibrational,’ ... [But] not standing up for minorities, when witches have been burned at the stake and oppressed and couldn't practice their religions for generations... why aren't you speaking out?”
As evidenced by the influx of politically charged videos over the past few weeks, the new generation emblematic of #WitchTok is not scared to speak out. “We’re definitely not afraid of anyone else’s opinions and we’re not going to take anyone else’s shit,” says Rue. “We grew up watching TV shows of people leading revolutions and not letting the previous system define us or confine us. With this new generation of witches, that’s how we move forward into the world, and with Witches for Black Lives Matter, there is a mode of activism that is necessary in this movement. We are having conversations not only about the practice, but also our lives outside of it.”
If the meteoric rise of #WitchTok seems like it came out of nowhere (most creators have gained their hundreds of thousands of followers within the past three months), just know that the witches saw it coming. “This was all supposed to happen,” says Bunny. “Witches know things ahead of time. We are entering the Age of Aquarius in 2500, and as we approach it, people will be opening up their minds and a lot of things that haven’t been told are true.” Its growing popularity is a prime example of just that: Spotlighting a traditionally “taboo” subject on a mass platform, ultimately providing many with a brand new, and even normalized, outlook on witchcraft.
“I would encourage people to [explore] witchcraft with an open mind. I would encourage them to shed what modern media, especially movies and TV, have told you what witches are and instead try to understand what we are as a modern movement,” says Rue. “We’re not old hags on brooms. We’re everyday people who live a lifestyle that is just like being vegan or being Christian.” Frankie agrees. “It's definitely kind of making it less scary because, before TikTok, it was like broomsticks and pointy hats and Harry Potter and The Craft and that's it. But now you're seeing a lot of really normal people lighting candles and pulling cards.”
“A fear of mine was that her friends who don't practice are going to [see her videos] be like, ‘Oh my God, she's so weird,’” recalls Caitlin’s mom. “But they haven't done that; they love her for who she is.”
Plus, plenty of new friendships have been forged because of #WitchTok (Caitlin even met her girlfriend on the app). Despite the conflicts, jealousy, and delicate handling of serious topics, all of the creators described #WitchTok as an overwhelmingly positive place. “I’ve never experienced a community like this before,” says Sydney. “I think I talk to almost all of my mutuals on a semi-regular basis just to check in and see how everyone's doing,” adds Frankie. “I consider them my best friends. They know all of me at this point. I'm like, ‘Well, there’s nothing left to hide, we might as well be friends.’”
Upon meeting on TikTok, creators have since branched out to different factions that communicate via other apps like Snapchat and Google Drive, and even make Google Classrooms to present on different topics. Essentially, #WitchTok has evolved beyond the app where it began. “There was someone who messaged me not too long ago about opening a coven in every state,” says Sydney. “There’s a bunch of witches working on that right now. I’ve actually described #WitchTok as a large coven before.” A post-quarantine real-life meetup is also in the works. “Hopefully one day soon in the future,” says Caitlin. “A lot of us live in the Northeast so we're thinking that maybe we can have some sort of meetup in Salem and go do something witchy-related, or whatever.”