PHILADELPHIA — 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 anti-aging 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 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% of Americans followed a New Age religion or Indigenous spiritual practice. However, in 2018, a Pew analysis found 62% 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% 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% of 18-to-34-year-olds said they were following tarot, astrology, or Wiccan accounts on social media, a 20% increase from 2019; 56% of young people responded that faith provides "a peace that they're not getting from anywhere else right now."