A Religion Trend Among Millennials: Witchcraft?
Reporting often focuses on the weird, emergent, and notable. It is, after all “the news.” The sensational tends to sell more content. In the digital world, it is the strange stuff that is most suitable as clickbait, or most useful for broadcasters in attracting eyeballs.
Journalists are trained to open their articles with a compelling lede or a nice, juicy hook. Here is an incredible example from Sigal Samuel of The Atlantic, in an article titled, “The Witches of Baltimore: Young Black Women are Leaving Christianity and Embracing African Witchcraft in Digital Covens.”
“We may not be Christian here, but we still pray,” said a woman dressed entirely in white as she addressed a large audience of African American women. Standing behind a lectern, speaking in the cadences of a preacher, she added, “I understand God more now, doing what I’m doing, than I ever did in the Church.”
The call and response that followed (“No one’s going to protect us but who?” “Us!”) was reminiscent of church—but this was no traditional sermon. The speaker, Iyawo Orisa Omitola, was giving the keynote address last month at the third annual Black Witch Convention, which brought together some 200 women in a Baltimore reception hall. The small but growing community points to the hundreds of young black women who are leaving Christianity in favor of their ancestors’ African spiritual traditions, and finding a sense of power in the process.
The Atlantic article links to a profile from Quartz titled, “Witchcraft is the Perfect Religion for Liberal Millennials.”
But is it really?
In Samuel’s report in The Atlantic, there is specific focus given to how the practice of witchcraft has a Millennial aspect:
Modern black witches are practicing Yoruba-based faiths, with a few Millennial touches. They build altars to ancestors so they can seek their advice on everything from romance to professional advancement, cast spells using emoji to help banish depression, surround themselves with crystals in the hope that they will relieve stress, and burn sage to cleanse their apartments of negative energy.
Some hallmarks of Millennial spirituality are common to both white and African American witches. They’re typically disillusioned with hierarchical institutions—the Catholic Church, for example—and attracted to do-it-yourself “spiritual but not religious” practices such as the use of crystals. But the budding black-witch community also has unique traits, including a desire for “safe spaces,” a wariness of cultural appropriation, and a penchant for digital religion.
Aside from the use of emoji and the mention of apartment living, I’m not sure how any of these elements are particularly Millennial. Nevertheless, this is the story that is being told, and it is a strange one indeed.
Of greater import for church leaders is the idea Millennials are struggling with depression, are stressed, are seeking advice on how to best navigate relationships, are looking for guidance on their careers, and are skeptical of hierarchical religious institutions.
Those are all matters that can be addressed from a Christian theological viewpoint. Rather than overreact by saying, “Millennials are flocking to witchcraft!” it would be better to dig in and find ways to connect and address the very real concerns of Millennials with compassion and grace.