From Gen Z and beyond, explore emerging markets and micro shifts in youth consumer behaviour

Alternative Spirituality

14.01.2019 Youth : Wellness : Digital

Spirituality and folk religion are gaining cult online followings, allowing Generation Z to regain control in a global climate of disorder and disharmony.

An antidote for anxiety

The Hoodwitch, 29rooms by Refinery29, video by intomore

Organised religion might be out of favour among young people, with only a fifth (20%) of UK and US-based Millennials and Generation Z attending religious places of worship according to Vice and Virtue, yet a majority (80%) said they feel a sense of spirituality and believe in a higher power.

Some young people are swapping traditional religions for spiritual practices, often as an antidote to anxiety. Research shows that teenagers with a spiritual connection are 60% less likely to be depressed, says Lisa Miller, a psychologist and author of The Spiritual Child.

One way that young people are seeking spirituality is through tarot card readings, which have been used as a tool for divination for centuries. Psychotherapist Jessica Dore emphasises the importance of reading tarot through a therapeutic lens. She shares a card on her social media feeds every morning, encouraging her audience to follow the ritual as a way to ease their anxiety and reflect on their feelings.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to the West, however. In South Korea, where young people are fighting against economic hardship and dismal employment opportunities, fortune-telling will soon be a £2.9bn ($3.7bn, €3.2bn) business, and is especially popular among schoolgirls, according to The Economist. Demand for spiritual vending machines has also surged, as Seoul residents pay to receive inspirational affirmations to ease their anxieties on the go.


Co-star Co-star
Capricorn bingo card by Miranda Feneberger Capricorn bingo card by Miranda Feneberger

A renewed interest in New Age rituals can be attributed to how seamlessly these ideas have translated to digital technology. As well as enabling young people to find a spiritual community outside of their immediate culture, the digitisation of the metaphysical shows how ancient traditions can remain relevant in the future.

Alternative beliefs such as crystal healing and astrology are becoming more mainstream and gaining cult online followings. A new wave of spiritual influencers are taking to Instagram, including Miranda Feneberger, the creator of a series of quick-witted astrology bingo cards that have been widely shared among Generation Z.

Video games are also becoming a place to practise these rituals in the digital sphere. Six weeks after its launch, Tru Luv’s #SelfCare game, which urges users to stay in bed all day, read tarot cards, play with crystals and digitally decompress, had racked up half a million downloads. And Co-Star, a new social app that combines data from NASA with insight from professional astrologers, offers users hyper-personalised, real-time horoscopes and the chance to add friends to their feeds.

Media artist group Lovot Lab proposes an AI-driven alternative to spiritual apps. The start-up is attempting to automate South Korea’s thriving market for soothsayers by creating a robot buddha that can read the face and gender of its visitors and give them 'a short sentence like a fortune cookie'.

Folk religion revival

Emilia Ortiz Spiritual Mami Emilia Ortiz Spiritual Mami

While some young people are disengaging with religion altogether, there is a resurgence in folk religion and witchcraft, as people of Latin American and African heritage turn to ancestral practices in protest against the organised religion introduced to their nations by colonisation.

Spiritual adviser Emilia Ortiz uses her digital platform to show how spirituality has links with everything from sexuality to race, skincare and eating. Ortiz also points out that her renewed interest in folk religion is connected with identity politics – she is using processes deeply linked to her Puerto Rican ethnicity that were quashed by organised religion.

‘I got tired of only seeing white women talk about paganism or Wicca. There are so many other [religious] strands and incarnations across so many cultures,’ she tells Refinery29. ‘There is nothing wrong with following, say, Christianity or Catholicism, but it should be acknowledged that these religions were brought over by European colonisers and forced upon indigenous people.’

Ortiz now practises Santería, a folk religion that has long battled against negative connotations. The religion has been accused of endorsing black magic, with cult-like criminal undertones. However, today it is one of the fastest-growing new religious movements in the world, with some estimates putting its worldwide following at up to 100m.

In South Africa, where religion is losing its appeal, young people seeking escapism are turning to traditional African spirituality. Released earlier this year, Bakhona is a short film that follows a young woman who strays from Westernised Christianity in search of spiritual awakening.

Lab Notes

1. New Age rituals provide a sense of purpose for young people weighed down by their anxieties and looking to gain a foothold in society.

2. A group of influencers who are well versed in meme culture are making spirituality accessible to all by rebranding it as a fun, satirical tool for self-reflection.

3. In South Korea, the booming business for psychic readings reflects the country’s widespread youth insecurity. However, advances in automation could lead to a future when people turn to robotic spiritual guides.

4. As Generation Z become aware of the negative associations of organised religion, including its problematic links with colonialism, they are re-engaging with the folk religions that are part of their ancestral heritage.

5. The gaming industry offers a playful way to explore the metaphysical for those who want to integrate a leisurely and community-driven form of spirituality into their daily routines.

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