The Secret Lives of Teen Witches on Tumblr
"My witch friends on Tumblr helped me a lot," 16-year-old Lucious* said in a Skype interview. "They helped me learn different styles of witchcraft. Spells, potions ... I do know more witches online than I do locally."
Lucious is a transgender student living in Tennessee. Behind closed doors, he's also an active member of an online coven, the Coven of Wandering Witches, which has about 20 members with diverse genders and sexual orientations and ranging in age from 15 to 25.
Across the country, teens are turning to Tumblr to create their own online covens and anonymously study witchcraft. It's difficult to say exactly how many, but a Tumblr spokesperson wrote in an email that users published 225,472 original posts tagged "witchcraft" in the past six months alone, as well as 50,293 blog posts about "spells." Protection rituals, divination and the "Book of Shadows," the term for a witch's personal diary of spells and charms, are also popular Tumblr topics.
Tumblr witch blogs run the gamut, including diaries and how-to guides to blogs that mostly post images of crystals, herbs and other magical paraphernalia. There are many different types of witchcraft practiced in distinct ways, from "green magic" — witchcraft with natural elements like herbs and crystals — to "kitchen witchery," which involves using common kitchen ingredients to make potions or ceremonial fermented drinks.
Posts about divination, for example, might describe DIY prophecy techniques — such as meditative gazing into a mirror, crystal or candle flame. New forms of spell-casting have emerged specific to digital teenage witchery, such as "emojicraft," or the practice of using emojis to cast spells and reblogs to charge it with the power of cooperation from hundreds of fellow online witches.
Teen witches on Tumblr incorporate ancient Wiccan practices into their everyday lives. "I see a lot of witches my age making sigils [sacred symbols] and runes to pass a test or have a good day at school," Lucious said. "I see some witches bless some sort of their clothing to have a higher self esteem, or even have herb totes, little tiny herb satchels."
Like Lucious, many teen witches use Wiccan names online. Lucious started casually exploring Wicca because some of his classmates with a common interest in punk fashion were reading about it. Other teens found witchcraft when they started to question their childhood beliefs.
"I was originally raised Christian," 19-year-old Auralinne* in Kentucky, a fellow member of CWW, said in a phone interview. Throughout puberty, she started to feel "different" from her church community and grow disillusioned with her family's faith. Then tragedy forced her to reconsider her core beliefs about the afterlife.
"I lost my best friend to suicide my freshman year," she said. "In my grief, reaching out to a god I didn't believe in didn't feel right anymore." After months of researching religion, she felt that the individualistic and naturalistic aspects of Wicca fit her best.
The Coven of Wandering Witches is led by a 16-year-old self-taught priestess in Ohio named Carmen Thomas. Carmen found witchcraft through Tumblr and started her spiritual journey online. "My blog used to be a depression blog, but it slowly changed into my views on life, and then one day a witchcraft picture popped up on my dash," Carmen said in a phone interview. "The witch community is so sweet, and they help new witchlings with everything."
Carmen was part of another online coven before she started CWW over a year ago, and she had to fill out an online application to join. This pretty common among Tumblr's online covens. In general, the applications are private messages with background information and a basic description of the person's personal spiritual practice.
However, some online covens are so selective they've become invite-only affairs. "I know there are several covens on Tumblr that are very selective," Auralinne said. "They follow your blog and talk to you for a while before inviting you to join, never having open applications to the coven."
Lucious' coven uses a joint Tumblr blog for publishing lessons, tips and open calls for new members. "I'll pick one herb and teach about it that day," Auralinne said. "We're all in different places so we have to fix schedules according to the time differences." The witches also use an app called Discord to facilitate live group chats and rituals, and Kik to orchestrate private group meetings featuring rituals and lessons.
The CWW's group chat ceremonies often involve candles, incense, incantations and personal altars. Auralinne believes their rituals are helping the coven form a spiritual connection that allows them to sense each other even when they're offline. "We can feel emotions and thoughts that aren't ours," she said. "We send each other things, we're trading crystals and herbs."
While Tumblr is an ideal platform for teens to practice witchcraft in concert, some teen practitioners use witchcraft by themselves as a way to connect with their heritage. In Florida, a 17-year-old Danny* first discovered witchcraft online and will celebrate five years of practice this Halloween. She feels the Tumblr community helped her explore ways to personalize magic rituals to express her Nigerian heritage.
Danny's Nigerian grandmother was a voodoo practitioner in Africa, and although her parents are Christian, Danny uses Tumblr to find ways of weaving that Voodoo tradition into her own magic. She wears a locket and often uses herbs in homemade spells. "Lavender is an herb I work with a lot," Danny said. "I can bring it into the house and no one would ever think it has to do with witchcraft."
Mainstream Wiccan culture and media about witches are generally dominated by images of straight white women, so Danny especially appreciates the diversity of Tumblr's magical community. "I definitely feel Tumblr has really opened up the [wiccan] culture to POC and witches of color," Danny said. "Especially with voodoo and other practices POC often have as part of their practice...I feel like having diverse people can help stop misconceptions."
Danny feels witchcraft is often misrepresented as a satanic religion with European origins, focused on curses and trickery. In reality, witchcraft is a global phenomenon often combined with other faiths or philosophies. "I have met a Christian witch who communes with the saints," Danny said. "Witchcraft is not a religion. It is more of a spiritual practice."
Overall, teens who are isolated from fellow witches are finding a sense of community online. Auralinne, who just moved away after graduating from high school, feels the coven helped pull her out of a depressive slump and inspired her to start doing things she loves again, like growing herbs and crafting homemade oils.
"Having the coven has been really good for me. I just moved and I'm all alone," Auralinne said. "The Coven has been really supportive."