Jan 19, 2018

Crystals, potions and tarot cards: the mystical rise of new age businesses

Consumer appetite for spiritualism has sparked a rise in companies offering everything from AI-powered astrology apps to subscription boxes for white witches

Emma Featherstone
The Guardian
January 8, 2018

Ruby Warrington and Alexandra Roxo co-founders of The Numinous with members of the company’s Moon Club in New York.

Harmony Nice is a 20-year old vlogger from Norwich. While she covers beauty on her YouTube channel, and her goth-inspired look is a hit on Instagram, it’s her potions, crystals and tarot cards that set her apart from your average YouTuber.

Nice has been practising the Wicca religion for about four years and has been sharing her beliefs with her 300,000-plus subscribers for just over a year. “Wicca is a nature- and pagan-based religion, with elements of witchcraft in it,” she says.

In one video, Nice explains how she uses tarot cards. In another she presents samples from her crystal collection. She’s also covered Wiccan altars, rune stones and the paranormal. Nice makes a living through the royalties YouTube pays for the content. “I don’t think it’s the videos about Wicca that have grown my channel, but it’s what gets people to stay,” she says.

This interest in witchcraft is part of a revival of new age spirituality. Big business has caught on: publications aimed at 20 and 30-somethings, such as Broadly, Refinery29 and The Cut frequently cover crystal grids, tarot and astrology. The fashion and beauty industries have latched on to the trend. In June, a Dior collection was adorned with images from the Motherpeace feminist tarot deck and beauty brands including Sisley and Aveda are adding gemstones and crystals to products.

Fashion’s interest in the spiritual might prove short-lived, but there is a significant audience with a deeper interest who could offer a sustainable customer base to mystical practitioners.
According to the latest census, over 53,000 people in the UK are Pagan. Paganism can be described as an amalgamation of religions and spiritual traditions, which can include Wicca. Meanwhile, the latest generation of adult consumers – 18-24-year-olds – are open-minded. A study by the US-based National Science Foundation found this demographic the least likely to consider astrology unscientific.

A growing public curiosity about the mystical is something Ruby Warrington noted before launching her business, The Numinous. In 2012, Warrington moved from London, where she’d worked as a features editor, to New York. She says: “Already there was a real scene here of people who you wouldn’t necessarily associate being into this kind of stuff, from practitioners to boutiques. I’ve definitely seen that pick up pace over the last four or five years.

“[It] reflects a shift away from materialism and mass consumerism. This was sparked by the financial crash of 2008, when we were reminded that material markers of success can, literally, vanish overnight.”

The Numinous has a few facets: an online magazine, an events schedule, including workshops and talks, and the Moon Club, a members’ club.

While they may be adapting to the online age, mystical practitioners have a long history, as does the controversy they can attract. One critic is Jon Donnis, who writes the blog BadPsychics.com which, he says, aims to educate people and expose the methods of psychics and practitioners of tarot, reiki and witchcraft. “To be put on the BadPsychics list, I would first have to investigate the psychic and expose how they performed their tricks. If I’m lying, I get sued – so far I have never been sued,” he says.
Mystics’ clients can range from fervent believers to those who dabble for fun. But they can also attract more vulnerable people. It is for this reason that, since 2008, consumer protection laws have required fortune-tellers, astrologers and mediums to say their services are for “entertainment only”.

For Michele Knight, founder of MicheleKnight.com, which offers live psychic readings, it is important there are set guidelines for employees. “We have a long list in our contract, including that you cannot make people dependent [on the service].” She adds: “If we feel somebody is overusing the service, then a manager will ring them up and talk to them about that.”

Knight’s spiritual interest started early: she began dabbling in the psychic when she was around 16, with tarot readings. She says that there has always been a strong connection between feminism and the spiritual. “It’s to do with the matriarch, the wise woman, a different way to be powerful.” She says of the current interest in mysticism: “I think women are waking up and gathering again.”
Holly Cassell, a 26-year-old blogger and witch from Cardiff, agrees. “[Witchcraft] not only acknowledges, but honours and celebrates the idea of the divine feminine, rather than only glorifying masculine qualities, like much of western society.” She adds: “I buy my witchcraft tools almost exclusively from women and non-binary people, and usually small online business owners.”
To compete, many businesses are also merging a mystical service or product with technology, such as Co–Star Personalised Astrology, which is billed as an AI-powered astrology app and the online subscription company White Witch Box, which, for £27 a month, delivers its customers boxes filled with witch-related accessories and trinkets, such as incense, jewellery and altar cloths.

While some promote mysticism as a reaction against materialism, and for others it offers comfort in our technical age, the renewed appetite for the mystical is clearly inspiring an entrepreneurial mindset. Nice says: “I am quite picky about the brands that I work with. Once I feel I’ve done my time on YouTube, which hopefully won’t be for ages yet, I’d like to set up a [Wicca] shop.”


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