Astroworld: Why astrology, witch culture and related mysticism are having a moment
Astrology is experiencing a cultural revival. Instagram and Twitter are awash with star sign memes; apps like Co-Star, DailyHoroscope, and Time Nomad are surging in popularity; and content like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and The Handmaid’s Tale are fuelling a fascination with pagan ideas, rituals, and aesthetics.
Several different strands of mystic culture are converging – magic, witchcraft, star signs, crystals and tarot cards – to create a movement. The focus is on self-reflection, female autonomy, and connecting to the universe.
This isn’t the first-time witchcraft and related themes have captivated popular culture; popularity has been cyclical across history. But this time it feels fresh; less spooky spells, more connecting with the self. Astrology, like religion and belief systems, is offering an alternate lens to interpret the world.
We have identified three ways young Millennials and older Gen Z are leveraging astrology and the occult to make sense of the world and the challenges it presents to them:
1. A Tool for Self-reflection
Today, personal identity is everything. From an early age, Gen Z have been under pressure to cultivate their individuality, understand who they are and how they can stand out from the milieu. In this era of individualism, star signs are providing a tool for self-reflection by providing an opportunity to deepen awareness of the self, and understand how they might interact with others.
Gen Z and Millennials are consuming horoscopes via daily apps, Instagram hashtags or their Twitter feed. The tone of the reading may be humorous, self-deprecating, empowering, or introspective, but the important thing is not whether the astrology is ‘true’ or ‘correct’; value comes from how it shakes up their perspective, develops their self-awareness and ultimately leads to personal growth.
Horoscopes play an important social role too. Identifying as a Leo, Gemini or Taurus means access to digital communities with others in your star sign tribe, and generating shared, relatable meaning, resulting in memes, star sign social accounts and artwork.
2. An Expression of Feminism
There is a broader cultural movement of interest in magic, witchcraft, paganism and powerful femininity. Though the human fascination for magic, spells, potions and wizardry is not new – Harry Potter being the mainstream source of magic in pop culture for the past 20 years – magic has taken on an evolved energy; the raw power of the female.
2018 delivered reboots of Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Suspiria, as well as mainstream mysticism through a resurgence of crystals, tarot cards and the pagan arts – largely driven by Instagram. Even the Mallen Streak is seeing a revival, re-popularised in lime green by Billie Eilish. In the era of #MeToo, Trump, and the gender pay gap, the witch has been reawakened as a symbol of resistance against the patriarchy, female power and agency.
This cultural energy of witchcraft and astrology has filtered into the beauty category where the spirit of transformation collides with witchy aesthetics and femininity. ColourPop’s Disney Villains campaign featured a zodiac wheel of Disney characters, where consumers could ‘find their character’ corresponding to their star sign. And Smashbox’s recent Crystalized collection seeks to celebrate beauty through the transformative power of crystals.
3. A Connection to the Universe
Having grown up amidst extreme socio-economic and political uncertainty and being born into a ‘planet on fire’, it’s not surprising Gen Z are turning to the stars to help find connection and permanence to the world around them. Greta Thunberg’s call for emergency action to save the world has left an indelible sense of worry. In the face of the end of the world, it’s therefore reassuring to orbit one’s own fate around the planets and stars.
As Nell Frizzell writes, it “comes as no surprise to me to read that my generation – caught in the constantly swirling toilet bowl of job stagnation, terrified of the climate crisis, unable to afford their commute let alone their own home, swiping through an endless series of failed online attempts at love, staring down the barrel of their finite fertility, squeezed by austerity, watching the worst government in living history take their seats, standing by in horror as our health system, care system, transport system, housing system and political system is broken up for the short-term profit of a tiny minority of invisible oligarchs – has started to retreat into a narrative of fate, destiny, astrology and predetermination.”
Gen Z and Millennials are ultimately seeking out astrology, tarot, mystical praxis and the witch archetype in response to coming of age in a world of injustice and uncertainty. Where is left, but the stars, to find answers that make any sense?