The algorithm that guides the TikTok For You Page really has a way of both discovering and confirming aspects of myself. It confirmed my love of drag as my feed became engulfed with drag-related content. I also came to find that I am a lover of weaponsmithing. One side of TikTok that has always been lurking among my For You Page, but I’ve, for some reason, always tried to ignore is astrology and witchtok. Being a person of science and going through an education system that prioritizes “objective” truth, I’ve been trained to take horoscopes and crystals with a grain of salt.
However, I’ve always been compelled to witchcraft. Something about the methods and ideologies of the practice has given me psychological solace and food for thought when reflecting on my mental health. I’ve realized that the sense of shame I feel for having an interest in the occult comes from the way that epistemologies other than science are discussed with derision. Spiritualist practices do not deserve belittlement and should instead be recognized as one of many ways to gather knowledge from this world.
One mantra that I base many of my opinions on is if someone’s actions don’t hurt me or anyone else, then I do not have the right to dictate what that person should do. Practicing witchcraft, charging crystals and reading tarot hurts no one. One gross misconception of spiritual practices is that it is all hexes and curses. Presumably, most people’s perceptions of what a witchcraft practitioner looks like are the Hex Girls, Aggie Cromwell or the witches from Hocus Pocus.
But witchcraft and other occult practices are much more than a method to siphon out one’s vengeance into the world. Many occult practices are benevolent in nature in the form of healing or daily guidance. If these practices are not putting out anything negative, why go great lengths to berate them? More to the point, if people who practice the occult do not hurt you, there is not a major reason to criticize them. If these people are not a threat to others or public health, then how intensely can one force them to shun their beliefs. Let those who wish to conduct witchcraft conduct it and those who wish to not be involved in witchcraft not be involved.
Practitioners can gain psychological benefits from their craft if one needs to see tangible results backed by science to be convinced of the reasons why people engage in witchcraft. An early 2000s study reported that participants claimed to feel sensations such as heat and vibrations while holding a crystal and meditating. Much of these sensations were attributed to the placebo effect, but that doesn’t mean they should be discounted. Therapeutic benefits from the placebo effect can be genuine and can be considered as an aspect of a treatment’s efficacy. Even the most scientific-backed psychotherapeutic treatments still get most of their effectiveness from being a placebo. Tarot has recently been incorporated into some treatment plans by therapists. Tarot can be combined with evidence-based talk therapy and medication for a holistic approach to mental health. A primary way the cards are used is to galvanize dialogue. A client’s reaction to a card being pulled during a reading can provide an insight and direction to a therapist’s treatment plan.
Science has become the dominant epistemology of the Western world since the beginning of the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century, or so the conventional historical narrative goes. Living in the 21st century United States, it is difficult to think of a way of creating knowledge and establishing truth that is not based on the scientific method and objectivity. In school, the scientific method reigned supreme. This is not without warrant. Scientific inquiry has yielded most of the technological advancements that are foundational to contemporary society. However, there needs to be awareness that science cannot answer every question nor can it solve every problem.
There can be a blind faith in science. Reducing everything to logic and objectivity can miss much of the human experience. Furthermore, unwavering faith in science can ignore bias that can creep into science and lack of acknowledgement that science is first and foremost a social system and not a supernatural entity that descended from the ether. Religion and occult practices are alternative bases for inquiry. I myself am not a religious person, yet I respect that there are people who use these practices to guide their life. This is, again, if they do not push their beliefs upon me. Science is not the only theory of knowledge that exists and other epistemological methods should be taken into account.
There is a circulated narrative that science precludes the occult. However, there does exist a marriage between the two beliefs. Many pagans see scientific perspectives as describing the same reality as their paganistic beliefs. A person who finds solace in reading their tarot spread before they start their day does not mean that they cannot also know the validity of the theory of evolution or the Big Bang Theory. Science and occultism do not have to have a relationship akin to the Capulets and Montagues. There can be and often there is a marriage between the two. Worldviews are complex. Belief in science or occultism does not have to be all or nothing. To those that get up in arms at witchcraft because of a steadfast confidence in science, witchcraft is not necessarily anti-science. If someone reads tarot or casually abides by astrology, it does not mean that they cannot simultaneously hold a belief in science.
Occult practices have been on the rise in the past decade, but so has scorn against them. The hate that astrology and related practices receive is unwarranted. To embrace astrology is not to reject science. The two co-exist. Spiritualist practices do not deserve condescension. They should be recognized as another way of gaining knowledge and connecting with the outside world. To bring the point home, if the people practicing the occult are harming others and are propagating falsehoods detrimental to the public, they should be criticized and brought to question their beliefs. However, the practices I am discussing are the more innocuous practices that people partake in that only affect themselves. If a person’s witchcraft only affects them, then they should be able to go on their way free from hate and scorn.
Ben Davis is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org