That one word probably invokes several images based on who you ask: the fantastical adventures of Harry Potter, old crones hunched over a bubbling caldron chanting foul spells, and maybe even the psychic nestled in the apartment above your favourite convenience store. The same ideas come to mind when you ask people if they believe in magic. Most of the time, I get a shrug or a look that says, “Exactly how high are you right now?”
But I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who asks me if I believe in magic: hell yes, I do.
I can’t quite explain why I believe in magic. Maybe it’s because I’ve had experiences that the standard causal model of science can’t explain, or maybe it’s because I believe in a higher power and I’m trying to find some sort of proof to comfort me.
But it does beg the question: why is there such a resurgence in mysterious practices, things that are sometimes termed ‘occult?’ Why are more people starting to pick up tarot or getting interested in crystals?
In an article published last year in The Varsity, two interviewees expressed opposing views on the practice of tarot: one considered it more of a cool trick to bring people together, while the other believed in it wholeheartedly after a reading came true.
Here, we have two views on the resurgence of an occult practice. The first interprets it as an interesting hobby and the other believes in it as a true phenomenon.
Apart from people who subscribe to one of those beliefs, there is another group who uses the occult, except it believes that the occult can be commoditized and sold for a profit. In an article written for Vox, Nadra Nittle explains that brands like Urban Outfitters have started selling smudge sticks, tarot decks, and healing crystals. Occult practitioners reacted poorly to corporate capitalization on their practices. Nittle highlights how “both practitioners and scholars who study the occult argue that corporate takes on these beliefs are shoddy versions of the real thing.”
Moreover, certain practices that are sometimes categorized as ‘occult,’ like the Indigenous practice of smudging, are not only appropriated by brands, but also by people who are interested in the occult and don’t have a connection to the cultures they actually come from. Companies will then often lump multiple discrete belief systems together and call them occult, ignoring the fact that those beliefs may come from multiple distinct cultures, many of which are discriminated against or marginalized.
This brings me back around to my point of how different people have different views on the validity of occult practices. To gain a better idea of this, I decided to reach out to a few people I know who participate in practices considered occult.
My first subject was Nicole Grigor, a life sciences student from McMaster University. She remarked to me over email that she first became interested in astrology in grade eight: “Some of my family members were learning about it and I decided to inquire about it on my own.” She began by looking at her own charts and learning about the meanings of the various planets and the positions they could take. She mused that even “seven years later, [she was] still learning and still finding new things and deepening [her] knowledge.”
When asked if tarot impacted her day-to-day life, Grigor responded much like one of the interview subjects in the previous article on the topic in The Varsity: “No, astrology and tarot do not impact my day-to-day. I do read daily horoscopes, but more often than not I forget what it says as soon as I finish reading.” Grigor believes that people shouldn’t base important life decisions on what cards or stars tell you.
My next subject was Tessa Clare Delaney-Girotti, a third-year student studying classical civilizations and celtic studies at U of T. She began her adventure into the occult during high school by researching as much as she could about it.
I asked Girotti if her practice has an impact on her daily life and she gave a very different answer from Grigor: “I think it does have an impact on my daily life, such as small manifestations and rituals. I base many decisions off of my practice.”
Finally, I asked Girotti why it might be that more and more people are picking up occult practices. “I think the stereotypes surrounding [the] occult and witchcraft are coming undone, and more people are open to those practices,” said Girotti. “It is no longer in our generation deemed ‘evil’ or ‘satanism,’ so people aren’t scared of it anymore.”
My final interview subject, Anya Shen, a third-year literature and critical theory and economics student at U of T who has been learning about tarot since April 2022, has a very relaxed but respectful approach to the occult.
“I think of tarot cards like friends that you… have long late night conversations with. Do they give sound advice? Not usually… [but they] are important and comforting in ways that are hard to explain.”
While Shen has a “deep respect for the art of tarot,” she also appreciates that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
So why is there this resurgence in interest in the occult?
Well, I think it goes beyond just having a hobby. Sure, that is certainly one reason for doing it, but there’s more. Occult practices in various cultures around the world provide a strong connection to a part of ourselves that science and ‘rational’ thought might have repressed. Don’t construe that as denunciation of science, but think of it more as a way of further complementing the human experience. We should be open to more ways of experiencing and making sense of our world, and if immersing yourself in the occult, either for fun or as a legitimate practice, is your way of doing that, then more power to you!
Now if you’ll excuse me, my familiar is clawing at my door to be fed.