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The Ugly Side of Spirituality with Chris | Witchtok Community Voices

There's never a time where a healthy dose of discernment won't help you, y'know?

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church

Now, for anyone who happens to be minding their business on the average day, connecting with their spirituality and their gods and their guides in peace, I know what you must be thinking as you read this title: what about spirituality can be ugly?


However, for the many of us who come from the spiritual badlands that is Tiktok, and especially #witchtok, the fact is that there is a lot that can go wrong at any given time. From people appropriating closed and endangered practices with gusto to slinging petty accusations of content theft against other creators with little to no proof, trying to get people to join some MLM scams built around infernal beings like Lucifer or Lillith, and honest creators putting out quality, well-researched content only for others pushing feel-good inaccuracies to drown their hard work out—believe me, it's a mess out there. That's why, for the budding practitioner, navigating this informational space can feel like war on all sides.


The unfortunate reality, though, is that this isn't only constrained to Tiktok. Spirituality has been a place of ripe pickings for scam artists for eons, be they those predatory self help "gurus" or the televangelist threatening hellfire to his congregation when their donations come up short for his new private jet purchase. Tiktok is just another place where the many different voices—and opportunists—can come out to play, and as we have observed time and time again, it's those that are confidently saying what people want to hear that get the most traction. Truth is left to rot on the vine, or stolen and taken out of context to the point that it resembles nothing of the original fruit.


Like a tomato to ketchup, I guess.


Many of us on #witchtok know this well, and Chris, a scholar of religion, psychology, and cult tactics, a spiritual leader in both Christian and Norse Pagan communities, and a board member of the Order of St. Hildegard, has experienced it firsthand both online and in public, in-person spaces. Once operating under the handle, @thegothiccleric on Tiktok, today, we're taking a moment to listen to Chris talk about the ugly side of spiritual spaces.


Chris's Journey Through the Many Spiritual Landscapes of Life


As a child, Chris grew up in a spiritual setting that no doubt many will find familiar: Southern Baptist and conservative Episcopal. Both of these outlooks had what you would imagine are fairly standard ideas:

  • that certain spiritual gifts (like seeing spirits) are demonic and cause for correction

  • that you just had to pray when terrible tragedy struck (and don't look to the church for any support)

  • that there was only one right way to believe.

But if any of us know Divinity, we know that it comes in all shapes and sizes and forms—even within one religion like Christianity. And so, between the churches Chris grew up in denying their spiritual gifts of mediumship and never having answers that satisfied them about all the things going wrong in the world, they took it upon themselves to begin researching in depth.


"I was able to see spirits and sense the spirits that would hang around as a child," Chris says, "but I learned very quickly to keep it a secret, because it was made pretty clear that I would face some bad consequences if I kept talking about what I saw.


"As I got older, at one point in school, there was even the spirit of a little black cat roaming around that became my litmus test: if people suddenly said, 'did anyone see a black cat run by?' I knew they were like me."


So began a journey into all things religious—one where even a priest at their church mentioned to fifteen-year-old Chris that they were "meant to walk in the wilderness." For a teenager searching for answers, an ominous statement like that sure didn't make anything feel better. The only thing that brought any satisfaction was taking the time to study religion—all religion—on their own and come to their own conclusions. However, Chris never did lose connection with Jesus, and never left Him, either, even as they explored other faiths, including the ancient faith of Norse pagans. Even as Chris came to honor the goddess Hel and make their oaths to the Norse community, even as they explored their heritage further and became initiated by seasoned elders into the African-Cuban diasporic religion of Palo, God always lingered in the background.


And in the mid-2010s, Chris heard the call back. They went on to earn their Masters in Religious Studies from the University of Metaphysical Sciences and later found themselves working through more training at Chicago Theological Seminary. Chris had really dug into the work to be a spiritual minister, a reverend, working to help folks better understand a Christianity that had been warped and stretched far beyond recognition of the Christianity. They went to one of their local churches to complete their internship work, they continued their independent studies to be as best a guide and mentor to others as possible. Above all, they aimed to create a sense of spiritual leadership where all were invited.


"I consider myself like a hole in the wall diner at a gas station on the spiritual highway of life," Chris explains with a smile, "and it's important to me that everyone has a seat at the table. Also, by working through my own spirituality, and especially by working with my ancestors, which is now the bulk of my spiritual practice, I've become something of an eclectic mish-mash of faith that's distinctly me."


However, things changed pretty quickly with the start of the pandemic.


How Chris Came to the Virtual Spiritual Scene


It was Ash Wednesday of 2020 when Chris collapsed into an anaphylactic attack.


The few years of working their M.Div and their internship were years of intense strain and work, between homeschooling their own children, doing their schooling, and doing the many other related activities like the church internship. It took its toll on them, physically and mentally, and all of it came to a head on the start of the Lenten season, just before the pandemic was officially announced. On their way to the church they interned at, Chris noticed that it was becoming difficult to breathe, difficult to focus—and yet they also knew that if they stopped driving their car, they would have no help, no way to a hospital, and no way to contact anyone, either. However, they managed to stay awake and in control long enough to get to the church parking lot and into the church itself, where finally, the other church members were able to get them help.


But it didn't stop there. The pandemic procedures went into effect not long after, so everyone had to do services from home, but then Chris started having the traditional COVID-19 symptoms. They'd gotten the virus from their stay in the hospital, as it turns out—and those next three weeks were a blur with very little by way of support from the church. It was also around this time that Chris realized they'd need to do an entire extra year of school to get their M.Div, in which they realized they could not take on another year of this level of workload and dropped to a Masters of Religious Studies with a thesis on religious trauma, cult tactics, and control.


"I just couldn't do it," Chris said. "I couldn't make that commitment, especially at a time where I was still recovering from a near-death experience and COVID-19, and where I felt abandoned by the very communities I dedicated all my time and energy towards."


It was around this time that Chris's daughter suggested they start a Tiktok account, and so began the start of The Gothic Cleric—as well as a hashtag, #progressiveclergy, which went from just a couple clergy members online to soon encompassing a whole network of people, over three hundred of them, across multiple social platforms like Tiktok, Facebook, and more. It's caused quite the ripple effect throughout the Christian spiritual community, especially online, and it's given a banner under which religious leaders who want to get back to the root of Christianity—loving thy neighbor—have been able to really amplify their voices.


Throughout it all, Chris continued to practice their spirituality their way, namely through exploring the spirituality of their ancestors and honoring those traditions, healing ancestral wounds. Their ancestry is a complex tapestry of many different people from many different places, hence their work within so many different traditions like Palo, Christianity, and Norse paganism. Interestingly, among the many things Chris came to realize about religion, one was this: God is not necessarily the one you go to for little things. Not the one they’re meant to go to, anyhow. It makes sense in a way: would you ask the CEO of a company to help you find the stapler in a cabinet full of office supplies, or would you instead ask the front desk assistant who takes inventory regularly?


It was all of this expertise—education and lived experience intertwined, the hard work and challenges of a spiritual path—that brought Chris to continue their work even further. Now, as a founding member of the Order of St. Hildegard, Chris works to guide several cohorts in their journey to chaplaincy (including myself!) and create the learning programs and tools we need to most effectively help our communities. They also work with other groups to provide these resources and trainings, and even when the Norse gods call them back to the Norse community to serve, all of the knowledge of all of these faiths stays with them. But as Chris retreated further from churches that didn't seem to have their best interests at heart and instead focused on the online side of ministry, a new problem was becoming apparent—a problem that would cause them to leave the online space and focus on their other work.


How We Find Ourselves on the Ugly Side of Spirituality


Put simply, that issue was this: Chris could speak clearly, concisely, and with the sources to back up what they said, but once it was out in the world, what people did with it was entirely out of control, and it was leading to people purposely taking their words out of context to justify exactly the opposite things Chris was trying to explain.


Which just seems to be the curse of religion, if we look at literally any religious or spiritual figure worth their salt, frankly.


But let's back up, because that was only the very end of the rope for Chris. People had long been taking their words out of context, first to vilify them before swinging in the other direction of purposely misinterpreting them to justify harmful behavior. And let me tell you: the spiraling disaster that Chris bore witness to is on another level, honestly: Their work in identifying budding cults and cult-like behavior meant that they could identify when big voices on the platform were acting in ways designed to draw people in—including minors. Truth is that the parasocial aspect of social media makes it easy for people to feel a sense of closeness with a complete stranger, and to give their trust away to that stranger, which opens the doors for disaster so very easily.


"Let me just say that this isn't something inherent to #witchtok," Chris says. "This is something I've seen people do across many platforms, but it's easier to gain traction on Tiktok because the algorithm promotes toxicity—to the point that you have people claiming authority in mystical traditions that may or may not even be legitimate. You have people also claiming to be doctors, therapists, priests—the list goes on.


"Anyone can claim to be a super special Atlantean dolphin trainer and get away with it with the right amount of confidence and toxicity."


But to go back to the start of this section here, the purposely snipping and editing Chris's videos out of context to claim they said things they didn't, the weaponizing of other creators' platforms to dogpile Chris's comment sections and supporters, and the general other disastrous misinformation wasn't what drove Chris to deactivate their account. It was when their honest attempts to teach, to explain, and to credibly source their arguments were then being misunderstood by their audience that Chris realized the potential damage being done. Even for all their best intentions, and for all their clarity, research, and many hours spend helping others along online with their questions, the fact remains:


People only hear what they want to hear.


As such, people were drawing conclusions from Chris's content on Christianity and its historical, political, and cultural contexts that they never intended for. They were using those willful misconceptions to further their own ideologies, weaponizing them, and trying to use Chris as a source for things they never actually said or conveyed. At that point, Chris knew it was time to leave, because they understood the ramifications of such a phenomenon, should it be allowed to continue. So they left Tiktok in 2023, focusing on other causes with smaller groups rather than trying to wrangle the Wild West that is the internet.


It goes without saying that anyone online needs to exercise a healthy bit of discernment. No one is really who they say they are when it comes to a public platform—something people forget. I know I've certainly witnessed it firsthand, where people come to hinge themselves heavily on the things that I say—and that's why I do my due diligence to get things as accurate as I can.


Not everyone has the drive to do the same, though. Not everyone will give you information that's accurate and sound, nor will they hold proper boundaries, because they capitalize on your trust and on your yearning to hear what you so desperately wish to be true. It's scary. It's insidious. And in an environment online that encourages it, it's unavoidable.


Take it from Chris and I: The best thing you can learn to do is be open minded, critical, and separated from the many faces and names that flash around the internet. Research on your own through credible, verifiable sources; don't be afraid to challenge what doesn't sound right, and learn to trust your gut when someone doesn't seem quite right in their practices, their ethics, or their way of running their platforms.


Most importantly, stay safe out there in the cyber world, and stay focused on your own communities where you can.


 
Where the Gods Left Off, Pagan, Christian, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Religion, Medium, Psychic

I've got it.


I've got the format down. Using Persephone's interview as a tester, I was able to get the inside of this book looking just as pretty as the outside (and found some black and white Rider Waite files to add in the cards, too)!


And I've got a plan, too: a plan to knock out the revisions for all these fifty interviews. We just wrapped up Mama Mary's, Michael's and Raphael's, but this is a big week, because it's also the week we edit Jesus's interview. If you've read it already, you know this one is a doozy, so I'm a little intimidated, but I don't doubt we can hit our goal by the end of this month. Then it's just fixing up the intro and conclusion, adding an index so you can more easily find what you're looking to read, and we're off to print!


Definitely check out my shop to grab a SIGNED COPY as soon as it releases. First books ship on September 20th—which is coming up pretty quickly! Once this is off my plate, of course, it's back to absolutely tunneling on Discovering Christian Witchcraft, and the resources I'm reading lately are going to make it even juicier for when I'm ready to get back at it.


 

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry

Sara Raztresen is a Slovene-American writer, screenwriter, and Christian witch. Her fantasy works draw heavily on the wisdom she gathers from her own personal and spiritual experience, and her s


piritual practice borrows much of the whimsy and wonder that modern society has relegated to fairy-and-folktale. Her goal is to help people regain their spiritual footing and discover


God through a new (yet old) lens of mysticism.



Follow Sara on Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube, and explore her fiction writing here.


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