Gen Z: The Esoteric Generation?
In a world of climate crisis, health crisis, social crisis, inflation, and war in Ukraine, uncertainty prevails. Surprisingly, 70% of 18 to 24-year-olds in France believe in pseudosciences and the #crystaltok trend has more than two billion views.
Witchcraft, clairvoyance, numerology, cartomancy, and astrology: according to a survey conducted by Ifop, 58% of French people, regardless of age, declare believing in at least one of these pseudoscientific disciplines. While young people are more inclined towards these beliefs - with 70% of 18-24 year olds believing in at least one pseudoscientific discipline, which is 10 points higher than the general population - women (63%) are also more susceptible to them than men (52%).
The success of astrology
Among all practices, astrology attracts the most people (41% of French people compared to only 30% of Americans), as shown by the success of the Instagram account Astrotruc which shares various informative and humorous astrology-related content and has over 350K followers.
Astrology now holds a central place in popular culture. The rise of this discipline has even led the French national railway company, SNCF, to infuse an esoteric aesthetic into its latest digital campaign, primarily targeted at Generation Z on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
The promotional campaign of the SNCF (French national railway company) adopts the aesthetic codes of astrology and clairvoyance.
Certainly, themes of esotericism, magic, sorcery, and spirituality have always been present in popular culture. From the Harry Potter saga to TV series like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even the more recent Twilight phenomenon, young people (and not-so-young) have often encountered the paranormal in fiction.
However, today, esoteric disciplines are no longer confined to the realm of imagination but also permeate real life, particularly through topics related to personal development and the emergence of alternative medicine.
As a result, over a quarter of French people have already consulted a specialist at least once in their lives, with 14% seeking psychic readings—an increase of 13 points between 1986 and 2020. The realm of the paranormal is no longer limited to fiction but has become a part of our reality.
The Growing Popularity of the Witch
Another observation is the growing popularity of the figure of the witch. This can be seen in the success of books such as "Toutes des sorcières: 60 rituels sacrés pour se reconnecter à la puissance féminine" by Larousse, "Mon carnet de sorcière, Révélez la sorcière qui dort en vous" by Marabout, and "Le guide ultime de la sorcière moderne" by Hachette. These books, previously published by specialized publishing houses, are now being marketed by major players in the industry. And they are selling like hotcakes: the esotericism section at Fnac, for instance, experienced double-digit growth in 2020. The periods of lockdown and social restrictions have seemingly opened up avenues for self-exploration.
Blending feminism, ecology, and esotericism, the figure of the witch is also gaining popularity in the Essays section of bookstores with the cult text "Sorcières la puissance invaincue des femmes" by Mona Chollet. The essayist examines, through three categories, the misogynistic prejudices and representations that affect independent women, childless women, and older women. This text resonates with Generation Z, united in their demands for inclusion and gender equality, which rank among the top three causes defended by young people in France (Source: Lewis agency and HeForShe association - UN Women).
Virginie Despentes' Rock Oracle.
The esoteric and feminist enthusiasm is also embodied in the Rock Oracle written by Virginie Despentes, recently reissued. Each card in this 54-card tarot deck represents a famous rock icon (who truly existed), proving once again that esotericism now manifests in real life.
Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, and Marvin Gaye: illustrated by tattoo artist and illustrator La Rata, this tarot game matches a rock icon with a card from the gypsy tarot deck based on their biographies, artistic contributions, and classical taromancy.
While cartomancy is less popular than other esoteric practices like astrology, numerology, and clairvoyance, nearly a quarter of French people (23%) still believe in card readings. Like in other disciplines, women are more numerous and familiar with these beliefs.
Uncertainty and the Health Crisis
The surge of interest in pseudosciences has been greatly accelerated by the health crisis, which has destabilized many individuals, amplifying doubts and fears and leading to a decreased tolerance for uncertainty. Each person seeks not only the truth but their own truth. This is a way to reaffirm their individuality within a globalized system, as mentioned in the report.
The pandemic, marked by social restrictions and lockdowns, has worsened economic, social, and psychological situations for individuals, creating fertile ground for discourses that exploit isolation. The health crisis has also severely questioned the credibility of science and health authorities, contributing to the growth of various movements and trends related to personal development and esotericism.
Furthermore, the pandemic has dramatically impacted people's mental health, both professionally and personally. According to Santé Publique France, three million French people suffer from severe mental disorders.
As a result, the use of these disciplines to seek explanations for one's situation has become quite widespread during the health crisis, a period characterized by uncertainty. In the year of the pandemic, 20% of adherents sought the guidance of specialists regarding Covid-19.
78% of young people admit that the successive crises have affected their confidence in the future.
Belief in Corporations
Beyond the pandemic, the climate, economic - marked by rampant inflation - and political context, with the return of war on Europe's doorstep, understandably contribute to an atmosphere of uncertainty in the minds of Generation Z.
78% of young people confess that the successive crises of the past two years have affected their trust in the future (Étudiant Barometer, 2022).
Therefore, in order to gain more insight into their future and seek reassurance, they look for answers wherever they can, including in esoteric practices. Louise Jussian, who conducted the study on the French and pseudosciences with the Jean Jaurès Foundation, affirms on the France Inter website that "this suggests that young people are breaking away from the pre-crisis world in order to find reassurance and keys to understanding the world around them. The rupture is significant."
According to her, "there is a crisis of trust among young people towards institutions; they question institutionalized science, the media, and politics. Young people are reclaiming their own ways of understanding society."
While young people may no longer place their trust in traditional media, voting booths, political parties, places of worship, or even trade unions, there is one unexpected domain in which they still have faith - corporations!
Hence, the younger generations still believe in major corporations as influential actors for shaping the future. Among 18-34 year-olds, corporations are identified as one of the entities best positioned to address societal issues, surpassing politicians, associations, NGOs, start-ups, and trade unions.
Believe it or not, while young people may believe in esotericism, they still believe in corporations, from which they expect strong social commitments and tangible proof.