The blueberries are for your protection. You can smell them, faintly, in the Blue Wave Cream, one of the products in Sabbatical Beauty’s politics-inspired #WEARAMASK collection. Sure, its ingredients like blueberry seed oil and blueberry fruit distillate are known for antiaging benefits, and Sabbatical maintains the product helps fight maskne too. Still, a Facebook ad for the cream asked the question, “Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble … what spells do we need to manifest a #BlueWave this November?” and it wasn’t entirely in jest.
“I have been getting much more into what I refer to as more ‘woo woo’ things. And that includes more spiritual things and witchcraft-type things,” said Adeline Koh, the founder of Sabbatical Beauty. Koh herself formulates the products and operates the beauty brand out of the Bok Building in South Philly. “Blueberries are used to protect people and to guard against evil and danger. And so I was like, well, we really need a lot of that this election season.”
Koh is not the only one who has been getting more into the woo woo. A number of trends, like the healing crystal boom, the tarot revival, and the growing popularity of astrology, reflect cultural shifts around spirituality, especially among young people.
Alternative spirituality is of course not new to the U.S., but many practices have become less stigmatized and more visible. Experts say the social and political climate might be intensifying an already rising current in the United States toward mysticism. Some reports say hexes and witchcraft have surged as a form of resistance to Donald Trump’s presidency. When analyses of Trump’s birth chart hit our timelines, or when observers suggested that the fly that wouldn’t leave Vice President Mike Pence’s hair was an ancestral spirit, it’s not just that voters are looking for answers this campaign season, some are seeking cosmic ones.
In a recent Motherboard article titled “Witches Are Trying to Figure Out Whose Spell Gave Trump COVID-19,” the author offered this word of caution on Trump’s diagnosis, which the president announced on a full moon: “Don’t pat yourself on the back for your full moon ritual just yet, though. A lot of witches have been hexing Trump for a very long time.” That has not stopped the #RBGCurse hashtag, by the way.
A planetary alignment of trends
The 2014 Pew Landscape Study estimated that fewer than 1 percent of Americans followed a New Age religion or Indigenous spiritual practice. However, in 2018, a Pew analysis found 62 percent of Americans harbor at least one “New Age belief,” like believing in psychics, or reincarnation, or astrology or that a spiritual energy can reside within a physical object. A 2019 Pew report revealed that while 76 percent of baby boomers identify as Christian, according to Pew, less than half of millennials do, with a heavy segment of millennials claiming no religious affiliation.
More young people have been “more spiritually eclectic and less doctrinaire” than previous generations, Swarthmore College religion scholar James Padilioni explained. At the same time, more Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folks have been returning to ancestral spiritual practices. Or as Sarah Pike, the author of New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, put it, there are both more people cherry-picking and personalizing spirituality to their wishes and there are more people looking to the past to feel more rooted.
Devastating climate-related disasters since Hurricane Katrina could also be driving the growth of alternative spiritual practices, said Pike: “There’s a sense that the natural world has made itself very present.”
According to a 2019 survey from the digital media firm Fullscreen, almost half of 18-to-34-year-olds agree that “people can believe in religion, spirituality, and occult practices all at the same time.” In a May 2020 Fullscreen survey, 53 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds said they were following tarot, astrology, or Wiccan accounts on social media, a 20 percent increase from 2019; 56 percent of young people responded that faith provides “a peace that they’re not getting from anywhere else right now.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, the year 2020 has already seen events of mythic proportions. For one, there’s a plague. The coronavirus pandemic has killed roughly 222,000 in the U.S. and 1,130,000 globally. West Coast wildfires have burned millions of acres. The summer’s uprising after the murder of George Floyd could be the largest social movement in the nation’s history, for a resistance movement that’s still underway.
“A spiritual practice helps people to gain a sense of something greater than just their day-to-day experience or something greater than maybe the sense of impending doom,” Dore said.
Maren Altman, a New York astrologer with more than 312,000 followers on TikTok, has been breaking down the astrology of 2020, offering political analysis along the way. When asked why astrology resonates with millennials and Gen Z, Altman replied, “It’s because there has been a predominating paradigm of the ‘end all, be all’ of reality being reducible into disenchanted equations. And the only enchantment was in the human mind,” she said. “I don’t see the study of things such as astrology or other more metaphysical topics as a digression from progress, but rather the continuation of going from seeing scientific data as the ‘end all, be all’ and rather perhaps there’s an even larger framework that we’re participating in.”
When customers enter Mary Rodríguez’s store, Botánica La Santísima Caridad del Cobre in Kensington, she doesn’t always know how they’re feeling about the election. She catches hints because she and her employees wrap candles in newspaper. Sometimes, customers will see a newspaper photo of Trump’s face covering their prayer candle, and request the item be wrapped with a different page.
Rodríguez, a Lukumí priest and an iyanifa in Ifá, divines who will win presidential elections by asking Esu, the orisha who owns the crossroads, who acts as a messenger between this realm and the next.
She asked Esu on a recent afternoon inside the botánica, holding four pieces of coconut and she began her prayer. Then she cast.
Esu answered. Rodríguez heard him clearly: “We need to make ebbo [offerings], so that the situation isn’t what it was the last time.”
Perhaps you saw the ring shout that a circle of protesters had in Baltimore in early June. That same month, Mashable reported that #witchesforBLM, a full-moon protest where people posted their spells, had attracted 10 million views on TikTok in five days. Padilioni observed that some organizers planned their activism while being mindful of astrological transits. And spiritual and political movements have a long history of coinciding, he said.
Koh, the founder of Sabbatical Beauty, was minding those same transits. The astrology predictions for 2020 had been intense and cryptic. Koh is not an astrologer; she is one of the many who can share what once would have been considered astrological esoterica (before the popularity of free birth chart sites) without having to stop to think. So she explains there’s been a stellium, or cluster of planets, in Capricorn, the sign that represents governments. And then Pluto is completing a 247-year cycle and returning to the same spot it held in the sky when Declaration of Independence was signed.
A Pluto return “brings up all the bad stuff that people have been keeping underneath for so long,” Koh said. “And I think we kind of have to have those terrible things come to light and really be in our faces in order for us to really act.”
Living through a time like this, Padilioni said, when many institutions have been called into question, has made us reassess what truth means. Firm boundaries around truth, he said, have disappeared.
“2020 has totally demonstrated [when] the authority of truth is gone,” Padilioni began, “and when there are no material institutions that seem to embody that, there becomes a strong impulse within people to seek out and express themselves and to make connections in other ways.”