The internet was once a place you could go, where seekers could project entirely new versions of themselves into the sparse but vibrant underground. Today that idea seems quaint; the internet is life, knit tightly with most behaviors of the Western world. It is harder than ever, if not impossible, to "just step away". Like many people I feel constantly anchored, almost as if against my will, to a nonstop drip of bad news and even worse discussions about it—he same toxic rando retorts about how "ALL lives matter", or how guns are not a problem in America, or about how much Brock Turner's victim drank.
Lately, it's felt like it's gotten worse: Orlando, Brexit, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile. My will to listen, to discuss, and to fight is ebbing away, and I know lots of my friends, particularly other writers, have been feeling the same. In search of help, I turned down a path far more ancient than even the primordial internet. I asked a witch.
Amelia Quint specializes in astrology. At her lifestyle hub The Midheaven, she works with horoscopes, spells and omens for spiritual seekers; when I reached out to her, she replied with the sort of warm, bright professional compassion one might associate with a therapist. And she told me I'm not imagining way the world feels newly raw and seismic through the lens of social media: "The current astrological zeitgeist is intense," she says. "Multiple planets are aligning in ways that they haven't since other significant points in history, and we're experiencing a major cultural shift."
Quint says that Saturn and Neptune are lined up in something called a square, with tension between the two planets as a result: "Saturn rules authority and Neptune rules spirituality, so together, they cause an ideological clash," she says. "This happened before during the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, and the American Civil War, and we're experiencing it again, with the deep splits between political parties and religious groups."
Quint also says that although Pluto is no longer considered a planet, it remains significant to astrology: "Astrologers still follow his movements because he can spark transformation, especially on a global scale," she explains. And now Pluto is in Capricorn, which is associated with government and big institutions.
"Pluto is the zodiac's investigator, and in Capricorn it's revealing abuses of power and inequalities that need to be balanced," she says.
If the stars might offer an explanation for the state of the world, could they also suggest a means to help us cope with the cultural overload and the helplessness so many of us feel? Quint says that my Mercury sign could offer a clue—in other words, the sign the planet Mercury was in at the time I was born could help suggest to me some strategies for my social media experience.
I use a free online calculator and I find out that Mercury was in Libra when I was born—Libra is also my sign straight up. "Once you've found your Mercury sign, think about how that sign might strike up a conversation with another person," Quint suggests. "Mercury in Pisces loves music, so you could share your feelings through a song. Mercury in Gemini has the perfect meme for any occasion, no matter how tough."
"One of the most common questions I've been asked lately as a witch is: 'Did you hex Brock Turner?'"
"You'll also want to consider what that sign does well and what it doesn't," she continues. "Someone with Mercury in peace-loving Libra might struggle with a heated social media debate, while a hotheaded Mercury in Aries person would enjoy the competition."
She's right. I do struggle. I don't know how deeply I'm willing to commit to a belief in astrology, but in a technology landscape that seems increasingly led by the wishes of Silicon Valley investors and the conversational battering rams of vaping libertarian "rational atheists" and meme-regurgitating Trump supporters, there is something pleasant about choosing to believe that the planets and stars have written our times, our selves, already.
"Astrology can be a useful tool when we allow it to give us an aerial view of how other people are relating to a situation," Quint tells me. "Everyone responds to trauma differently, and the stars can show you how and why you and those around you might be reacting a certain way."
The truth is, though, I'm not totally comfortable just wondering what I can do to "protect" myself against the overload of information and aggression. I'm a soft target: there are people and communities being directly harmed by forces much more insidious than online conversation, and the whole reason living in this climate can be so difficult is because we care. Because we want to fix it, and we know that shares, retweets, and battling through Facebook arguments with your friend's old-ass Second Amendment-loving relative can only help so much. Could magic help us do more?
That feeling of anger when we encounter the unjust on social media—what if we could channel it into power?
"One of the most common questions I've been asked lately as a witch is: 'Did you hex Brock Turner?'" Quint tells me (she hasn't volunteered to me whether she did or not). Just a month ago, hundreds of witches web-wide organized on Facebook to perform a mass hex on Brock Turner, now known as the Stanford rapist: This virtual curse was carried out in the hopes of bringing justice to a case that, in our eyes, had received none," she explains. "Since then, the ethics of magic for social justice have been hotly debated, even within the magical community itself."
Any witch must assess her own level of comfort with performing hexes, Quint advises—hexes are not required of magical people, and "you can accomplish just as much by working to heal yourself and your own community," she says.
For skeptics, beginner witches and the witch-curious, like me, Quint is reassuring when I ask her: Isn't magic just an intention? "Yes!" She says. "On the most basic level, magic is using your intention to change the world around you… technically speaking, the simplest form of magic you can do is to decide what your intention is as it relates to social media, and then act on it."
"I think that in today's world we are so hyperconnected that, more often than not, we forget to stop and define what impact we want our words and actions to have," she says. "It's important to recognize that your words and actions have power, for better or for worse. It's up to you how you choose to use them."
"Before you try to work magic externally, make sure you're protecting yourself."
Viewed through that lens, anything that can help me focus on my intention with what I say and what I write could have a magical effect, even if it's as simple as changing my desktop wallpaper to a picture of someone who inspires me to communicate with purpose. Quint also suggests I devise a short mantra or affirmation that I say aloud in my mind before Tweeting or commenting, to crystallize and give power to my original intention—whether that's to help the causes I care about or to curse the assailants of those causes (personally, I'm not ready to think about hexing anybody just yet, if ever—it's against the beliefs of a sect I'm interested in.).
Quint has words of thoughtful caution: "Before you try to work magic externally, make sure you're protecting yourself. Being exposed to so much violent imagery can be energetically exhausting, so cleansing yourself with a sea salt bath and incense is a great way to shake off any extra psychic weight," she says. "If you don't have access to either of those, try lighting a candle or meditating on inner peace for a small but effective personal ritual."
"You can use those same methods, especially candles and meditating on intention, to help your local community," she adds. "Most witches give offerings of foods or water during their rituals, but consider making a donation to a cause that speaks to you in lieu of a physical gift."
It is healing just to know that in days like these the planets trace their pre-appointed courses. It is reassuring to think that amid hundreds of online notification badges blossoming like red wounds begging to be stanched, some tools of analog humanity—candles, intentions, images—can feel hopeful, even sophisticated in contrast. That perhaps the most reliable technology is old, is our oldest. Isn't it worth a try, at least?
To learn more about Amelia Quint and her services, visit The Midheaven. Got an interesting story about the intersection of technology with magic, mysticism, faith or the occult? Tell me about it at leighalexander1 at gmail dot com.