Why are Millennials turning to ancient spirituality?

31 : 10 : 2017 Culture : Millennials : Astrology
Materialising the Internet, MU, Eindhoven, 2017. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer Materialising the Internet, MU, Eindhoven, 2017. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer

With their lifespans extending into an unknown future of technological advancement, gender imbalance, political unrest and potential environmental collapse, people are seeking solace in the magical and supernatural.

Rebecca Coleman, senior writer, The Future Laboratory

We live in unsettling times. Anxiety and depression are widespread. Technology consumes our attention, leaving little time free to initiate more fulfilling projects. The environment is suffering under our stewardship. Inequality is proliferating. The political vista appears increasingly divisive. The list of concerns goes on.

These modern woes are perhaps part of the reason why ancient spiritual practices are growing in popularity. Shamanism, witchcraft and the occult are experiencing a revival, especially among Millennials, dubbed ‘Gen Witch’ by fashion magazine i-D.

In times of extreme uncertainty and instability people often turn to spirituality and religion. In the Dark Ages, the ever-present threat of disease, short lifespans and a lack of scientific understanding about the world led to a surge in religious fervour.

Now, with their lifespans extending into an unknown future of technological advancement, gender imbalance, political unrest and potential environmental collapse, people are seeking solace in the magical and supernatural.

The town of Salem in Massachusetts has become a place of pilgrimage for feminist Millennial witches 325 years after the witch trials that made it famous. Shops such as Hauswitch highlight how the movement has evolved. Selling hipster homeware and serving as a community and event hub for witches, it is far removed from the traditional image of broomsticks, warts and cackling.

It appears that our reliance on science and technology has led to a rise in ancient spirituality as adherents seek to connect with like-minded people.

‘The world needs the witch right now,’ Hauswitch owner Erica Feldmann told The Independent. ‘We need a strong, powerful woman who doesn’t bow to societal norms. There has been an imbalance of masculine energy for too long.’

The Millennial witchcraft community is also growing online, giving rise to bold, highly Instagram-friendly visual trends. The Hoodwitch, with its mystical illustrations and crystal-laden imagery, is a key example of this.

Mainstream Millennial websites are also tapping into the desire for mystical spirituality. Vice’s Broadly platform enables visitors to add ‘occult’ as a filter when browsing for content. Refinery29 and Broadly prominently feature astrology, a subject widely considered unlikely to attract much interest as our understanding of science becomes more advanced.

It appears that our reliance on science and technology has led to a rise in ancient spirituality as adherents seek to connect with like-minded people, as well as with nature, ancestry and the universe. As Silicon Valley billionaires look to play god, people are searching for alternatives.

The growing popularity of Shamanic sweat lodges is further evidence of the rising desire for spiritual revival. These ritualistic day-long experiences include elements such as ‘smudging’, where herbs are burned to cleanse auras and environments, altar offerings, communal chanting and singing and praying, with the aim of helping people to enter an altered state of being and betterment. The ceremony is carried out in intense heat, created by heating stones in an enclosed tent.

By fulfilling humanity’s desire for belonging, fulfilment and identity, these spiritual practices appear to offer people who don’t get along with organised religion some of the benefits that it provides. Whatever the reason, more and more Millennials are seeking comfort in spells, shaminism and the stars.

Read our Post-faith design direction to learn more about how consumers’ renewed interest in spirituality is shaping visual and material culture.