From cursing Trump to body-positive charms: Here's how witches use emojis to cast spells
To most people, the following tweet might look like a simple string of emojis:
Some witches on Tumblr, however, would see the above as a mystical witch's spell, replete with magical powers. The full meaning of each image is only truly known to the witch herself.
Many young witches on websites like Tumblr are using emojis to cast spells, The practice's roots are more ancient than one might expect: Mystics, for example, have long used handmade symbols to invoke protection or supernatural influence through a sacred image. Many Mediterranean cultures also use hand-shaped amulets, often with a symbolic eye embedded in the palm, to ward off evil.
In traditional witchcraft, witches draw, carve or otherwise make their own unique symbols, called sigils, as a form of spell-casting. Unlike an amulet, sigils are often unique to a specific spell and inherently experimental. Witches play with words, symbolic colors and natural imagery to turn an intention into a magic image — the sigil.
Similarly, emoji spells can contain layers of secret meaning. Young witches are using emojis to create unique visual spells they can cast with their phones and computers.
Emoji spells can be cast in many ways. They can be typed into an alarm or calendar event on someone's smartphone, they can be sent as a text message or via Snapchat or they can be posted publicly on social media to call on other witches to spread the word.
Many witches also combine emoji spells with other types of magic.
"I actually do tarot, pendulum, rune and oracle readings," Olivera said. "It's really up to each [witch] to decide if the task is up to an emoji spell or they need something more elaborate."
These visual spells have become a popular way for witches on Tumblr to bless or curse someone en masse, like the infamous Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The purple bubble on each side represents the circle of protection witches draws around their sacred space when performing a ritual.
Emoji spells can be shared or "liked" on social media to gather charge from interaction with other witches so they become more powerful. Just like a chant spoken in unison, magic practitioners believe communal support from fellow witches enhances the spell.
"Every person that sees it, they add their little ounce of energy or good thoughts into it, making it stronger," 20-year-old witch and Tumblr blogger Mica Olivera said in a Skype interview.
Olivera lives in Argentina and first learned about emoji spells several months ago through the witch community on Tumblr. Since then, she's collected bloggers' techniques and tips to create guidelines for emoji magic. "Remember that you can make the icons refer to whatever you need," she wrote.
As an emerging type of techno witchcraft, or magic rituals performed with digital technology, emoji spells lack any historical rules and are often met with skepticism by veteran practitioners.
Unlike sigil magic, which has a long history of incorporating symbols relating to other disciplines, like astrology, Kabbalah and tarot card divination, creating a string of emojis takes very little time and effort. Yet many witches feel an emoji spell is a modern continuation of the sigil tradition.
"Emoji magic is not different than sigil magic," Tumblr blogger blutheorist wrote in defense of the practice. "It is about the intent and will of the magic worker, and that is the same with any magic."
Some techno witches use apps to help them perform digital rituals. For example, the app WOOP, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan, is modeled after the theories of psychologist Gabriele Oettingen at New York University.
WOOP isn't a witchcraft app, per se; rather, it's a planning tool for people to set their daily intentions. Yet tools like WOOP have been used by tech-savvy witches to modernize their magic and ensure their spells come true.
"If you run through this [WOOP] imagery exercise, it will have consequences that are outside of your awareness," Oettingen said in a phone interview. "Our thoughts are a main influence on how we behave and how we see the world."
In that sense, witches who use emoji spells as part of an overall plan to problem-solve and promote positive habits may unknowingly tap into legitimate psychology techniques.
Such is the case with Safia*, a 17-year-old Tumblr witch in Michigan. She has been practicing witchcraft for around four years and now uses this emoji spell to promote self-love:
"The crown is for confidence and strength. The kisses are for love and the bows are for seeing beauty in myself," Safia said in a Skype interview.
Both Safia and Oliveria fully believe emoji spells work just as well as other image-based rituals if the practitioner puts energy into it.
"The most important thing is that you put energy into it," Safia said. "Without power, it doesn't work. It's like a cell phone if you don't charge your phone."
These spells can be used for good or evil. "Cursing and hexing has been done with emoji magic," Safia said. "You just send [the emoji spell] to that person. For example, texting it or anything similar to that."
Although Safia doesn't condone cursing, she routinely writes and posts emoji spells publicly when she wants to influence external circumstances, like making a package or letter arrive quickly.
"I try to envision it happening and pour all my energy into this and send it myself," she said. "Other times, I post it online and let people reblog while envisioning it happening for them too. This makes it a group spell in a way."
Safia's friends and family don't know she practices witchcraft because she fears their reaction, which is incredibly common among young American witches. Reaching out to fellow witches on social media and casting emoji spells is one way for her to secretly practice magic even if she can't get away to a private place.
"It's looked down upon by them [her family]. I keep it very personal... Secret witches use emoji magic and learn online," Safia said. "It really doesn't take much for them to learn because communities of witches are able to use social media to teach."