Following the news of Elon Musk’s takeover, segments of the Witchcraft, Pagan, and Occult communities that had taken root on Twitter began searching for alternative platforms. Some fled to Tumblr, others to Instagram. But another contender, Mastodon, quickly appeared on the scene.
While not a new platform, for many folks this was their first time learning about the “decentralized social media network.” But is Mastodon a good platform for witches and spiritual folks?
What Is Mastodon?
On the surface, Mastodon looks a lot like any other social media site: You can post text, images, and videos. You can follow other people, and other people can follow you. You can make lists of your favorite accounts, boost posts, create polls, and more. There are also privacy features that allow you to limit who can see or share your content, who can follow you, and you can block/mute accounts or hashtags. But beneath the surface, Mastodon is something unique.
While most articles call Mastodon a “website,” it’s actually a nonprofit, open-source software. This software allows individuals to self-host their own social networking sites. These self-hosted sites are officially called “instances,” but many people call them “servers” instead. Each instance, or server, built with the Mastodon software is able to connect and communicate with other instances. Unlike Twitter or other forms of social media, there is no overarching company or corporation that oversees all of the Mastodon instances. Instead, each instance is fully owned, controlled, and moderated by an individual admin or moderation team. There are no ads, no algorithm, and no selling your data to sketchy companies. It’s also completely free to sign up!
At first, the concept of different instances can seem a bit confusing. But imagine that Mastodon is an ocean. Each instance is an island floating in the ocean. When you sign up, you select an instance to join. This is like selecting which island that you’d like to live on. Each instance, or island, has its own set of rules, user culture, theme, and an admin or moderator team who oversees and maintains the instance.
Admins are like the “rulers” of each island. The admin is usually the creator of the instance. Generally, admins are volunteers who maintain their instances as a hobby rather than for profit. They are responsible for processing membership sign-ups, content moderation on their
instance, and shouldering any financial costs associated with running their instance. Larger instances may have moderation teams to have more eyes on what’s being posted.
Even though you live on one island, you’re still able to contact and communicate with people on other islands. It’s as if there are bridges linking one to another. There are usually no restrictions on whom you can follow on Mastodon. But if a specific instance is known to cause trouble, other instances can collectively block it. This prevents any “bridges” from being built between their instance and the problematic one, effectively isolating the bad actors. If an instance is blocked, you can’t see anything posted on this instance, can’t follow any accounts there, and no one from that instance can interact with you. While this may seem extreme at first, it’s an excellent tool for admins to prevent bullies and bigots from being able to find and harass their members.
The decentralized nature of Mastodon combined with its lack of an algorithm means the power is in your hands to shape your experience whilst on the platform. You decide what you want to see and which type of environment you’d like to join.
Why I Like Mastodon
I joined the Pagan+ instance on Mastodon in early November. I’d had an account on a different instance years ago, but it’d been long enough that it was like looking at the site with new eyes.
Here are a few aspects about Mastodon that I love, and why I think other Witches, Pagans, and Occultists may enjoy the platform:
— Mastodon’s decentralized nature means that it can never truly be bought. Even if a billionaire came in and purchased all of the existing instances (as unlikely as that is), new ones could always be made. That means that what happened with Twitter could never happen on Mastodon.
— There are instances specifically for witches, pagans, and occultists, making it easy to find like-minded peers.
— The way Mastodon is structured encourages authentic, non-consumerist connections and interactions. No one’s posts are prioritized because they’re more popular or post more frequently, nor are you penalized for taking a break from posting. One caveat, though: If you’re on social media just to be social, this is great! But if you’re on social media to run a business or to advertise a personal brand, you may struggle to build and maintain an audience; it’s not impossible, though!
If Mastodon sounds like something you’d like to try, here’s how you get started! Step One: Choosing an Instance
Since each instance is unique, it’s important to select one that aligns with your interests, moderation needs, and personal values. While some how-to guides might suggest that it “doesn’t matter” which instance you join, it actually matters a great deal. Your experience will vary wildly depending on which instance you join.
If you’re used to the fast pace of Twitter, you may be wary about joining a smaller instance dedicated just to Witchcraft, Paganism, or Occultism. While larger, general instances may have more people and activity, they’re also more work to moderate. So, you may encounter more conflict or inconsistent moderation practices on larger instances, if they’re inadequately staffed. Remember: moderation isn’t automated on Mastodon; it’s all done by volunteers.
Unfortunately, an instance may sometimes be adminned or occupied by bigots, trolls, scammers, or other bad actors. Be careful not to join any harmful or untrustworthy instances; when you join an instance, your email and IP address can be viewed by the admin. You don’t want that information to fall into the wrong hands. Using a unique email and a VPN can offset this risk. If you join an instance known to cause problems or that has spotty moderation, you may be cut off from the larger Mastodon network if other instances decide to block yours.
You can find instances to join by searching Instances.Social, joinmastodon.org/servers, or by asking a friend for a link! The cool thing about Mastodon is that you can always move your account later if you want to change instances. Your posts won’t transfer over, but you’ll be able to keep your followers and your following list.
If you’re looking for an instance that caters specifically to the Witchcraft, Pagan, and Occult communities, you may want to look into joining Pagan.Plus, Witches.Live, or Weirder.Earth.
Step Two: Signing Up
Once you’ve selected an instance, it’s time to make your account! While you can sign up through an app, it’s usually easier to go directly to your instance via your web browser. For example, if you wanted to join Pagan+, you would type “pagan.plus” into your browser search bar. A common mistake is signing up on the wrong instance, so double-check that you’re on the right page.
If you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to review your instance’s “About” page and any rules listed. To view an instance’s “About” page, simply add “/about” to the end of the URL. (Example: pagan.plus/about)
Since all of the instances can communicate with each other, you only need one account on one instance to access other Mastodon communities. But you can always create additional accounts on other instances if you plan to post a wide variety of content and want to stay on theme.
If you agree to the rules set forth by your chosen instance, fill out your chosen username, email address, password, and any additional fields required for sign-up. I recommend picking a password that’s unique to your Mastodon account.
Up to a few hours later, you should receive an email accepting or rejecting your request to join. Once you receive your confirmation email, you can log in and use your account!
To log in, visit your instance’s main page again. Make sure you’re on the right page. If you try to sign in through a different instance, it won’t work. Then simply type your email and password into the log-in field!
Step Three: Build Your Profile
Welcome to Mastodon!
Once you’re logged in, you’ll see that Mastodon is very similar to other social media platforms that you’ve already used. But before you explore your timeline and start following people, you may want to customize your profile and your privacy settings.
Once you click “Edit Profile,” you can choose a display name, a profile picture, a banner image, and type up a bio. You can also include links to any websites or other social media sites that you have.
From the “Edit Profile” page, you can also customize other Mastodon settings. For example, you can set your posts to automatically delete after a certain period of time, change the background color, mute notifications, and more!
Step Four: Find Your Friends and Follow Folks
Since Mastodon doesn’t have an algorithm, it can take a bit of effort to find people to follow. If you already know the username of an account you want to follow, you can search for them once you’re logged in. Just type their full username into the search bar to visit their profile page. Make sure to include the second “@” symbol and the instance name if they’re on a different instance. (Example: “@[username]@[instance]”)
If you’re moving from Twitter to Mastodon, apps like Debirdify will help you find which of your followers have made accounts on Mastodon.
To find new accounts to follow, start by looking at your Local timeline. The Local timeline contains posts by other people on your instance. This is a nice place to start your search if you’re on a Pagan/Witchcraft themed instance because you’ll already have a common interest.
To expand your search beyond your instance, look to the Federated Timeline. Whenever Person A on your instance follows Person B on a different instance, Person B’s posts will end up on the Federated Timeline. In addition to the Federated Timeline, you can also discover people from different instances by searching for hashtags. The “#witchcraft,” “#paganism,” and “#occult” tags should help you find posts relevant to those topics.
Whenever you follow an account that you like, no matter which instance they’re on, their posts will show up on your Home timeline. This makes it easy to keep track of your favorite accounts and follow your friends!
Step Five: Start Posting!
Now, you’re ready to make your first post! Many new members start by posting a brief introduction. Be sure to include your interests as hashtags at the bottom of the post so people with similar interests can find you!
Like on Twitter, you can decide who can see and interact with your posts. With a single click of a button, you can decide whether your post is public, visible only to followers, or visible only to people tagged within the post. If the post contains sensitive or potentially triggering content, you can also easily add a Content Warning.
In addition to posting your own content, you can also “favorite” and “boost” the posts that other people make. Favoriting a posts notifies the original poster that you liked it. Boosting a post shares it on your page. While there’s no equivalent to Twitter’s quote-tweet feature, you can still publish replies beneath other user’s posts.
Mastodon Posting Etiquette
While each instance will have their own code of conduct, there are a few Mastodon-wide rules of etiquette. Following these tips, even if not explicitly stated in the rules of your instance, can help ensure you’re a good neighbor to other Mastodon users and admins. Here are a few:
— Include content warnings on posts that may be potentially triggering to others. -When posting images, include alt text or describe the image in the body of your post.
— If you’re posting a hashtag that contains multiple words, capitalize the first letter of each word. (Example: “#ThisIsAnExample”). This ensures hashtags are more legible to screen reading technology.
The Fedi.Tips website is a comprehensive, unofficial guide to Mastodon. The site covers pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about Mastodon’s features and how to use them. If this article is the tip of an iceberg, Fedi.Tips is everything else beneath the surface of the water. You may also want to follow @firstname.lastname@example.org and the #FediTips tag for more beginner-friendly tips on how to use Mastodon.
Remember that Mastodon is a public, unencrypted platform. The admin of your instance will have tools to view everything that you post, including private messages. While they won’t be monitoring every private message that you send, it’s always a good idea to keep personal, private information on a more secure platform. Keep in mind that sites like Twitter are also unencrypted, and your private messages can be monitored there as well.
The importance of hashtags can’t be stressed enough. Hashtags make your individual posts searchable. If you want all of Mastodon to see your posts, include relevant hashtags so people can find them. Similarly, if you’d like a more private Mastodon experience, avoid using hashtags in your posts or replies.
Even though Mastodon is maintained primarily through volunteer efforts, many admins accept donations to help cover the costs of running their instance. If you frequently use Mastodon and have some money to spare, tipping your admin is highly encouraged.
Use the report button liberally if you see rule-breaking content. Your admin won’t be online all the time, so they might not always respond instantly if there’s a problem. Reporting posts that break the rules informs your admin so they can address the issue once they’re back online.
Some apps for Mastodon may not have the same features as Mastodon through your web browser. If you frequently use Mastodon on your phone/tablet, you may want to pin the web page to your home screen for easy access instead. Googling “how to pin web app mobile” should pull up several how-to guides to help.
As someone fed-up with for-profit social media sites, Mastodon sometimes feels like an oasis. It doesn’t make me feel like a product, nor do I feel like I have to perform for an audience in order for my voice to be heard. Instead, I feel like I can be myself. I’ve had enough genuine, authentic, and good-natured interactions to have hope for the platform. I think it has a lot of potential as a tool for community building.
But it may not be an oasis for everyone. Many of the problems that plague social media and society in general are still present on Mastodon. Thankfully, many admins and Mastodon members are dedicated to removing hate and making Mastodon safer.
Whether or not Mastodon would be a good fit for you depends on what you want out of social media. If you ultimately decide to give Mastodon a try, I hope this article helps to get you started!
[Gabrielle Nightshade is a practicing Witch and Pagan from the New England area. Their practice is largely inspired by the Greco-Egyptian Mystery traditions, such as the Osirian, Orphic, and Eleusinian Mysteries. In their spare time, they can be found reading tarot, researching local folklore, or writing horror novels.]