When the lockdown started in March, many people were forced to make the switch from in person to online in many aspects of our lives. Switching jobs and schooling to the internet has been impactful enough, but with that came a huge increase in use of social media, specifically TikTok, an app that allows people to post 60 second maximum videos to be broadcasted on the internet for other people’s entertainment. In March alone, TikTok added 12 million unique viewers to their site, according to Tubefilter. This site allows users, especially teens, access to a wide array of information that they may have never interacted with before, with limited fact checking and censorship. TikTok has been the leading force behind many new trends, including the dress vest, the rise of dyed hair, several new songs and artists including Lil Nas X and “Uno” by Ambjaay, and most surprisingly, spirituality. Although it is difficult for many people to grasp the idea of something so complex and respected becoming a trend (including myself), Gen Z has managed to do it.
When scrolling through the TikTok app, it is not uncommon to see one or even several videos on crystals, tarot readings, astrology, meditations, or even spells. This is what is commonly called “WitchTok,” where spirituals and witches congregate to share information on a topic they are passionate about. TikTok creates a platform where many can share and gain access to quick informational videos that they possibly didn’t know about before. This in many ways has been a positive change because as these things become more common online, they begin to be more accepted in real life. Katy Breunig has been practicing earth based spirituality since she was in high school, and she now practices Shamanism, along with massage therapy and conducting personal healing rituals with several clients. She focused on the benefits, saying, “in some ways [the rise of spirituality online] is positive, because if kids are finding their spirituality and finding a way to worship and practice it then that’s wonderful!”
Spirituality, mindfulness and even witchcraft becoming more common in society can be very beneficial. For instance, meditation is proven to be extremely useful to the human mind and body, releasing stress, enhancing focus, boosting dopamine, and correcting sleep patterns. Many people also find great success in practicing other spiritual rituals such as crystals, yoga, and many more. The problem does not lie in the fact that more and more people are beginning to utilize these traditions; the problem lies in the repetition of years and years of cultural appropriation, misinformation, and exploitation of businesses.
Generally speaking, when I hear the word trend, I think of something that is impermanent or fleeting. Liliana Kanealii-Mercado, a high school student in Eugene, says, “I believe it’s just going to be one of those things that people follow until something new comes along and then they’ll abandon it to follow some other trend.” As spirituality and witchcraft become more and more popular, it is not uncommon to see many people taking advantage of many of these ancient traditions simply for their “aesthetic” or image. A Franklin student who wishes to remain anonymous states, “I think it’s good that some of the stigma/prejudice has gone away but at the same time I feel like a lot of white people culturally appropriate aspects of spirituality just for the aesthetic versus getting into it for better/more personal reasons. There are ways to practice witchcraft and spirituality that doesn’t harm or steal from others, and that practice should be more promoted.”
Spirituality has several different sides to it. Several practices stem from religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and many more. Pagan and Wiccan traditions are also very common methods of witchcraft. In modern day society, many new trends emerging stem from ancient religions, specifically Hinduism. Yoga, Manifestation, Karma, and the law of attraction are all examples of Hinduism. Many people practice Hindu traditions without even knowing it, and with that often contribute to the appropriation of ancient cultures. Several of these ideologies are embedded into Western culture, although it is very rare that this ancient religion is credited or even spoken about. In an article written by Sanskriti Deva on Medium, they state, “The effects of this appropriation and white-washing is devastating for the Hindu community, as well as society in general.”
An example of spiritual gentrification is the use of white sage. Sage is an ancient tradition used by Native Americans for smudging, a sacred ceremony that purifies and cleanses the soul. Indigenous people historically used sage, tobacco, and cedar for this ritual. Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism also use smudging as a ritual. In recent years, sage has become increasingly more popular in non-Indigenous communities, partially because of TikTok. This is extremely problematic because not only are these practices crucial to many cultures and religions, but this also leads major non-indigenous companies to exploit white sage, selling the crop in bulk and making it far more difficult for smaller Native businesses to sell and practice successfully.
It is not uncommon to see businesses, organizations, and people using ancient wisdom and customs in order to profit. Maia McIntosh, a sophomore at Saint Mary’s, says, “I understand how it could be frustrating when people are using it to get views or a platform without knowing what they’re talking about and spreading misinformation.” Many large organizations are now profiting off of this new “trend,” selling items that many cultures deeply identify with in order to profit, and are consequently making it much more difficult for small businesses to succeed. Shannon Doyle (11), says, “I think it’s good that people are becoming more aware of it but at the same time there’s a lot of misinformation on the subject and it allows for big companies to profit off of stuff that small businesses have been struggling with for years.” Along with businesses, content creators also often use false information to gain a following online, which reflects badly on the spiritual community and discredits many more genuine creators.
When practicing spirituality and rituals that may derive from religions besides your own, it is crucial to do research and honor the culture; appreciate rather than appropriate. Webster’s dictionary defines cultural appropriation as, “the adoption or co-opting, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers associated with or originating in minority communities by people or communities with a relatively privileged status.” White-washing is extremely common in today’s society, and has been going on for generation upon generation. White people often appropriate cultures without crediting or honoring these traditions. While many rituals are perfectly acceptable to practice, there are still several traditions that are off limits to someone in a position of privilege or someone who doesn’t identify with that specific religion or culture.
It is extremely important to do your research in order to make a decision that doesn’t contribute to gentrification and appropriation. As Katy Breuning put it, “if anyone is using something that is specifically coming from a certain culture, it is important that they have permission to do that and that they have gone through the proper training, whether that practice is on TikTok or a ceremony with 30 people.”