Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sephora’s Witch Kit and Pagan Gatekeeping

I remember when my Paganism took the form of a single, small shelf facing the back wall on the floor of Waldenbooks in the mall and a deck of playing cards. I remember when my Paganism looked like hearing Piper on Charmed use the word “sabbat” instead of “holiday”. I remember when my Paganism was falling in love with Hogwarts and Narnia and Greek mythology. I remember when my Paganism was a generic, playing card size deck of tarot cards I bought from a store that mostly rented movies and sold used CDs, and a  book by a guy named Scott Cunningham borrowed from the girl I sat next to in band. And, for some kid in 2018, their Paganism might just begin at Sephora.

If you’re a Witch or a Pagan or any other such magical person, and you have access to social media, you will have undoubtedly seen the absolute tizzy our online community has worked itself into over this:


What’s in the box?


It’s called “Starter Witch Kit”, and it’s made by a fragrance company called Pinrose and will be sold at makeup giant Sephora in the coming days. It retails for $42. It has 9 different fragrances, a tarot deck, a bundle of white sage, and a tumbled rose quartz. As “witch kits” go, it’s not the worst I’ve seen. It’s a little less “Wicca Flavored Witchcraft” and more “I Like to Look at Pictures of Burning Man on Instagram”. The character...let’s assume she’s the High Priestess?...on the Tarot deck appears to be a big fan of Prince (we all caught that that is definitely his unpronounceable symbol, right?). It’s pastel, which is apparently enough for Pagans around the interwebs to write it off as puerile. 

But let’s look at it for what it is. From the blogs and podcasts I’ve listened to over the years, I’ve been led to believe that practically any tarot deck will work with the right training and intuition. I remember once that someone recommended cutting out labels for cleaning products and using them as oracle cards - Joy, Gain, and Tide all seem pretty evocative. So...the New Age festival goer on the deck doesn’t bother me. There are nine fragrances that correspond with desired effects. I am appearing at Chicago Pagan Pride this upcoming Sunday, and, unless this year is wildly different from every other year, I fully expect to see scents and oils that make the same claim from at least a dozen different booths. Go to Etsy and witches around the world sell balms and ointments and soaps and perfumes and oils and all sorts of other smell good stuff that all claim to have magical properties. The tumbled stone and white sage? I have those. You have those. We all have those. 

So what are we mad about? 

That it’s being sold at a makeup store? That it’s pink? That nobody asked you if you specifically wanted this? That it’s a cheap imitation of what “Real Witchraft” is? That last bit seems to be the consensus

OMGs It’s Fake & Plastic & a Kit


I’m also old enough to know that this isn’t the first witch kit. In fact, many - M A N Y - of the people decrying this kit from Sephora have a very soft spot for this:



This is (err...was) the Teen Witch Kit created by pagan author Silver Ravenwolf and sold by Llewellyn publishers. You can still buy one on Amazon for ... around $42. It has the following product description:


It had some plastic/pewter coin looking things - I’m still not really sure what those were - a teeny little bell that looked like it came from a cat collar, a polyester shoe string “cord”, and you can even use the cardboard box for an altar! Sure, the whole exterior wasn’t pastel, but the title was pink, and it prominently features the Wiccan Power Rangers:


AKA the super edgy Wiccan teens from the last time we tried to market witchcraft to teenagers. 

Seriously, search the term “witch kit” in almost any area of the internet where you can buy things. Here’s a quick selection from Etsy.

Witch kits are not new. It’s not new to sell them at big box retailers, especially during Halloween season. Similar items have been sold over the years at Barnes & Noble, Target, and more. Upscale retailers in the last year have been seen selling crystal kits and other New Age/magical paraphernalia. Stop acting like this is new. 

Basic White Girl Sage




I’ve seen arguments that the Sephora kit is promoting the over harvesting of white sage in order to satiate white girls’ desire to be rid of bad vibes while sipping pumpkin spice lattes and binging reruns of Gilmore Girls in between sets at Coachella. (Otherwise known on the Pagan interwebs as the “ugh...basic white girls” argument...by the same crowd that revere Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed as holy, sacrosanct, liturgical television viewing.) There is this argument running around Pagan internet circles that white sage - salvia apiana - is endangered. That we’ve overharvested it to the point of extinction. That Native Americans don’t have enough. If this is true, it is news to the governmental agencies that track things like whether plant species are “threatened” or “endangered”. It isn’t categorized as such by the USDA or by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. I’m not saying it isn’t happening, but I’m saying that I cannot find supporting evidence for its occurrence. 

However, there is a good argument that this highlights cultural appropriation of Native American spiritual practices. White sage has become a pretty integral part of most Pagans’ practice - mine included - while ignoring the history and culture behind its use. It is a good reminder that modern Pagans tend to select bits and pieces of other, older cultures and shove them together on the same altar. This can be both a beautiful example of the belief that many have that all the gods are merely different faces of the divine, and a shocking example of privilege. 

We should embrace opportunities to seek out other ways of performing spiritual cleansing. And, should we use a method found from a culture, especially a living culture, we should do more than lip service to honor the people who have kept the method alive and the culture from which the practice comes. It might also do us some good to ask, Should I really be using this? 

I’m a white guy. Using a spiritual remedy from Native American culture is an example of white privilege. I can claim that lots of other people do it. I can claim I mean no harm. I can claim that I use it alongside other methods of cleansing such as salt and blessed water and incense and certain woods and all sorts of other things. And...I suppose I do all those things. But, it doesn’t mean that I should get to absolve myself of at the bare minimum understanding where the practice of burning white sage came from and honoring its history. Or, perhaps better yet, find other methods that I can enjoy. The history of white people taking from indigenous people and making excuses for why they should get to is long, bloody, and real. 

All that said, the witch kit sold at Sephora is not the progenitor of this issue, nor should it be a whipping boy for this particular argument. The wider Pagan community, and the even wider...everyone else, are guilty of the same appropriation. Whole Foods has been selling white sage for years, and you’d practically have to actively avoid it at any shop selling wellness products. 

But this is OUR thing

This is the crux of the issue, isn’t it?

Pagans, witches, Wiccans, Reconstructionists of all types, and magical people here, there, and yonder absolutely despise the idea of this thing that we do becoming mainstream or welcoming in people that don’t fit with our collective idea of What Makes a Witch. This is gatekeeping at its finest. I have been sent the story about the Sephora Witch Kit a dozen times a day at least every single day since this story broke from people expecting me to be outraged about all the “blonde Becky’s” that will think they’re doing witchcraft.

I’m not outraged. I’m not upset. I’m not flummoxed. I’m not even miffed. I’m glad there’s magic being practiced out in the world, and I don’t really care very much if it looks like the magic that I practice. I’m quite positive that if you were to look at the altars and humdrum witchy practices of a host of different Pagans, you’d get a host of different ways of practicing magic and worshipping the gods of old. 

There are people I greatly respect that spend their time dissolving roadkill in various chemicals in order to harvest the bones for their ritual use. There are people I greatly respect that knit spells into gifts for their loved ones using wool they sourced and dyed themselves. There are people I greatly respect that keep a poisoners garden filled with herbs and plants whose usage has been carefully researched and honed with years of practice. There are people I greatly respect who work with ancestors and spirits and keep items from their beloved dead in a prominent place of importance in their home or on their person. 

There are people I greatly respect that never miss a full moon, that put out amazing spreads for every holy day, and have handwritten books of shadows that would make the grimoire from Practical Magic look like a bargain bin Halloween prop. 

There are also people I greatly respect whose Paganism looks like blessing their mint tea with healing energy before giving it to their child. There are also people I greatly respect whose Paganism looks like a small jar of tumbled stones and a drawer full of shirts they wear every October. There are also people I greatly respect whose witchcraft looks like less than half a dozen rituals throughout the year and cursing your iPhone as you scroll through Facebook and realize that you missed Mabon...again. There are also people I greatly respect whose spells look like dancing or scented candles or wearing specific colors or keeping a dream journal. 

Some of my very favorite books of spells came from Target. They weren’t exclusive to Target, but that’s where I found them. As a teenager. Who, coincidentally, worked for Target in the early 2000s when Charmed and Sabrina were our witches on TV. Fast forward to 2018 and Charmed and Sabrina are...still witches on TV. Along with a host of other witches. 

I’ll be honest, the hypocrisy of the Pagan community makes me laugh. A lot. Actual, real, genuine belly laughs. We are perfectly ok incorporating Disney magic into our practice as well as other pop culture figures and spells. We share memes that say that the best way of dealing with an unruly spirit is to tell it to Get the fuck out of the house, Arthur. We laugh. We nod in agreement. We hit share. We all have fond memories of discovering witchcraft for the first time in a bookstore or a tv show or a textbook or a friend and realizing...magic is real and I can do it?!

But we do not extend the same courtesy to the new, especially to the new that doesn’t look like the old. 

I’ll say it loud for the people in the back:

THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO BE A WITCH.

And the people feeling very superior about the fact that their witchcraft wasn’t bough at Sephora need a reality check. So what if it’s a fashion statement? Tess Whitehurst wrote a whole book about magical fashion statements. So what if a girl named “Becky” picks it up? Rebecca Nurse was a real life woman killed in Salem as a witch. Plenty of Becky’s and Rebecca’s and all other iterations of that name have been and continue to be witches. Who cares if they’re blonde? I’m blonde. Samantha on Bewitched was blonde. 

Buy Local


One last thing. There’s the argument that buying these witch kits is somehow taking away from business that could be going towards local pagan owned businesses. None of you folks that are complaining about that honestly think that the people that will pick up this witch kit are buying it in lieu of buying a kit from “real witches” at real Pagan shop, do you? Was your first contact with witchcraft at a Pagan shop? Or was it the New Age section of Barnes & Noble. Maybe next Halloween, the boys and girls who picked up this kit will be knocking down their local Pagan shop to dig a little deeper. Or maybe not. But come on... Be realistic. 

And buying an item from your local witchy shop doesn’t necessarily mean you’re contributing to some local, Pagan artisan’s tireless efforts to sell their handcrafted Pagan goodies. The majority of metaphysical shops sell statuary from Sacred Source, herbs from Azure Green, Books from Llewellyn and Weiser, and a very small number of other suppliers that deal in major international wholesaling of the spiritual. You could very likely buy what you need to buy online, which, for many, is a handy option as they don’t live near a witchy store...or at least one worth their blessing salt. 

Pagan Enough


I think it’s time to revive Project Pagan Enough. 

I think it’s time we declare who we are, what we believe, how we found our path, and, sure, where we get our witchy stuff from. 

I’ll start. 

I’m Fire Lyte. I’ve been on the path for over half my life. My altar came from Pier 1. My current Book of Shadows came from Lapulia studios. My previous Book of Shadows was a three ring binder I covered in fabric. My first was a little $5 journal I bought at my school’s book fair. My stones came from rock shows, the side of the road, witchy shops, a museum, and friends from around the world. I take inspiration from pop culture, mythology, traditional practices, podcasts, and blogs. Books on my witchy shelf are everything from Pagan owned and published instructionals to various encyclopedias on mythology to poetry to historical collections of folklore. I’m good to remember 8 holidays a year, because I might be lucky if I celebrate 3. My full moon rituals might, at best, be raising a glass of wine at the end of the day to the moon and taking half a second to thank the gods that I still breathe. I don’t for a second take myself or my practice too seriously. 

And, I’m Pagan enough. 

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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