I am a tarot reading Gen Z. Is there magic in daily life? I don’t know. I can’t see it. They say it is in the tarots, the crystals, the sigils, and the amulets. A little over a month ago, I brought my first-ever deck of tarot cards home. It was almost involuntary how attracted to it I was. I’d like to think it chose me. There is no greater comfort than feeling special, even if it is to an object of the occult or a pet. Tarot reading has been a closed practice for many years. It has been a bit of a taboo as well. However, it has become more accessible over the past five years, thanks to social media and the immense requirement of extramural validation from something that can be imagined as a mundane source emanating spirituality. I grew up in a small town. Growing up, I have had my exposure to astrology and other worlds of superstitions. However, I don’t quite know what a small town has to do with it.
I distinctly remember throwing away an amulet and a coral prescribed to me by a (professional, yes it is a real profession for many) astrologer my family had a lot of belief in. And here I am a decade later, wearing amethyst pendants and reading tarot. I would be lying if I deny the influence of the ‘dark academia’ trend on Tiktok or occult movies on amplifying my crystal shopping sprees. However, my affinity towards the occult originates from a void in my faith, desire for art, and fear of fate. The cultural heritage that accompanies the human faith is infinite and indefinable. While crystals have either been negated as a taboo or hailed as an unreachable luxury throughout the rise and fall of empires and authoritarian establishments, it makes me wonder how this revolution of magic has surfaced back to our collective imagination as a new generation. And more importantly, why now?
From the numerous works published on occultism throughout centuries, the sheer magnetism witches hold remains indisputable. It is probably why patriarchal men feared the term so much that they dehumanized the witches. In blockbuster movies or TV shows like Hocus Pocus, The Craft, The Vampire Diaries, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and many more, the dark aesthetic of the witches has enthralled the popular imagination like a wind of change. The demystifying of the negative stereotypes that have haunted witches could be traced even further back in literary history. Through the writings of Gerald Gardner spawning a new religion – Wicca, or the history of Salem witch trials that lingers in the Gen Z imagination, occultism has found a new wave to surf back into our popular culture since the 1900s. Planet earth has experienced the ebb and flow of occultism and magic since the beginning of time and the rise of many things else. The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus, or hidden secret. It essentially means knowledge of the hidden. Despite being considered a pejorative term for centuries, occultism has never dwindled, nor has witchcraft. Modernity always brings along a crisis of faith as the mental evolution of humankind ensues. Today’s generation is experiencing a discombobulated system of beliefs and values. Hence, they have taken an interest in the ‘hidden knowledge’ searching for liberation, hope, mental support, and peace.
I have seen my friends pay a ridiculous amount of money to a stranger just to speak with them about their romantic and professional worries over a twenty-minute tarot session online. Some of my friends are thriving in their small business of selling crystals to strangers online. On her 21st birthday, I presented my cousin with black tourmaline, and she embraced the shiny black chunk of magic like a stuffed animal therapizing her nightmares away. In my daily detour from reality, I have often felt empowered by the concept of witchcraft and magic while drawing accurate cards to untangle my conflicting thoughts. But that doesn’t mean I have to be a blind believer or join a cult. Like poetry, it is an escape from mental anguish and exhaustion for me. It gives me the power to remold my faith as per my spiritual convenience and not smother inside a caged religion. Be it Wicca, Paganism, Neo-Paganism, and many more, the options to bind human faith in something new and moderately advanced ancient belief system aren’t limited. However, the empowerment in wearing a crystal lies in the liberty of personal choices and preferences.
Now and then, the wheel of Modernity restarts and its inhabitants move to the next destination. What began as a hot trend in the 1970s and 1980s with the New Age Movement has found its way back into the Gen Z imagination. The surge of a new wave of spirituality has turned the crystal and tarot market into a billion-dollar industry within the last four years. Magic has always been a willing suspension of disbelief for centuries in art, literature, and philosophy. Whether there is truth in magic or witchcraft, we cannot know. However, we feel safe imagining that a material source can transmit divinity and heal us. We feel pleasure in believing that our shadow work is powerful enough to help others. Lightworkers revel in the joy they receive from studying the occult as if their souls are containers of multidimensional wisdom. Mental health awareness, women and queer empowerment, etc., are only a few defining factors that have brought the new generation to the door of the hidden knowledge or occult. It is not just curiosity. It is not just aesthetic pleasure popularized by celebrities. There is a deeper cause at play in the Gen Z soul chakra. Millions of seekers/querents look at it through a socio-political lens dissecting the constraints of, again, whatnot. However, the feminism that has adorned the genre of witchcraft since the third wave has branched into business as well as mental empowerment in the past decade. With over millions of followers, social media influencers draw the attention of youngsters into the crystal aesthetic, promoting it as healing, empowering, or simply pretty. They conveniently sell moonwater recipes, rune candles, customizable havan cups, etc., even run witchcraft schools online with thousands of students enrolled attentively. This drastic change in the commercialization of the occult could be attributed to the increased accessibility of the ‘hidden knowledge’ and the rise of Gen Z sociocultural awareness. While the term ‘witch’ has traveled a long way through time to be an empowering and trending identity as it is today, the dark side of over-commodification and cultural appropriation that tags along cannot be unseen. The potent interest of people in the West in the occult has led the practitioners to talk about cosmic planets and chakras, comfortably appropriating Eastern philosophy of magic and witchcraft without the blink of a thought. Quite like how the big houses in business paint themselves in rainbow during pride month to hyper-commercialize our queer culture, the commodification of crystal agenda of the new wave occultism is not unperturbed. We see celebrities endorse crystal companies by posing with amethyst water bottles, citrine home décor, jade rollers, gua sha, etc. As more iconic public figures dabble in the dark arts, the tabula rasa of their audience gets curious not only about the aesthetic but also the benefits.
The more our generation is openly philosophizing on inner peace, the more we are drawn towards crystals and tarot cards, hoping the candy aesthetic would help us measure our fate even if a little and offer us a sense of the self and a better understanding of the planet we’re thrown into while being attuned to the rhythm of our planets above. This relationship almost appears to be like music – how we try to use music to measure, manipulate, and direct or change the course of our perceptive emotions for real-life situations, consequences of actions, and circumstances. While the idea behind today’s revival of magic and witchcraft is more versatile and flexible, the belief system behind it is still the same. It is a way of tackling the anxiety our soul goes through – an earthing wired into the spirit world to obliterate the overbearing negativity that embitters our thoughts and lifestyle too. The place that makes us feel the safest has always been our imagination. Bathing under the moonlight conducting Yule rituals wrapped in December’s cold embrace with fellow witches and/or magical objects like crystals, tarot cards, amulets, sigils, etc. might appear to be delusional, but in truth, it is helping us get a grip on our intimate reality as the sun of our anxieties dies and new light of prospects enter our lives. It is keeping us safe from our volatility as humans and fear of living lesser than desired. Some seasoned witches of a different generation might consider this trend as reducing the sacredness of the craft of magic to dust. For a little more welcoming witches, the trend is a sanctuary for mental wellness made reachable for all.
Author: Ipshita Chakraborty
[Lady Brabourne College; Jadavpur University; English Literature]
Illustration: TDLM Design Team