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Witches are speaking out about big brands commodifying their craft

Expensive, basic ‘Witch Starter Kits’ by Sephora and Pinrose reflect a worrying trend

Modern-day witches do not play – a lesson Sephora and Pinrose learned the hard way this month, after being forced to axe their hotly debated ‘starter witch kit’.

The $42 pastel-hued package the two brands had collaborated on and were hoping to shill this October included a tarot deck, a clutch of scented oils (Pinrose is a fragrance brand, based in San Francisco), a white sage smudge stick and a lump of rose quartz. But a short, sharp spell of bitter online backlash following the product’s announcement – much of it from actual, practicing witches – has forced the two companies to shelve the kit, with Pinrose issuing an apology.

Criticism of the pack came thick and fast when first announced: it was cultural appropriation, a capitalist commodification of feminist spirituality, a cynical, plastic, one-size-fits-all flattening of a diverse, esoteric tradition. While Twitter blew up, a meme by Erin Aquarian – Instagram’s Full Time Witch – went viral, lambasting the kit’s various follies: the promotion of non-indigenous use of white sage, a herb sacred to North American peoples; the ethically-dodgy crystal trade; the idea that consumerism is a fast track to finding your inner witch.

“I am glad the product was pulled, and that so much critical thinking and conversation happened because of it,” Aquarian tells Dazed. “To be a witch is to think critically about reality, to challenge capitalism and all other systems of oppression that do harm.”

Did the outcome come about as a direct result of the noise we made online, as a community? Absolutely, says Jessica Alexandria, the Philadelphia-based witch and healer behind Behati Life.If witches weren’t angry and stirred to speak out, this kit would have misinformed a lot of people, fuelling stigma and even putting people in danger.” Encouraging total newbies to create “ceremony circles” and to use perfume oils to “anoint” objects is worrying, says Alexandria. “Casting circles and calling energy in could be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.”

While the kit itself caused umbrage, the debacle has also provoked debates on how overculture and occulture overlap, and how would-be witches find their way into the Craft. While some dismiss pop culture as a viable medium for witch-y awakenings, claiming that lineage and race are somehow perquisites to becoming a ‘real’ witch (they’re not), Alexandria takes a more inclusive and measured stance.

“I want the knowledge of witchcraft to be spread, absolutely, and I don’t mind if it’s through pop culture and social media (Behati’s own online following use the hashtag #BehatiVibeTribe), but only in way that is an accurate representation of us, one that doesn’t fuel the stigma that says we’re crazy, evil, harmful or a joke.”

While she’s pleased with the Pinrose/Sephora outcome, Aquarian is wary of dismissing the saga as a cut-and-dried victory. “Corporate brands do not care about people, or the planet. They care about profits, and bad press is bad for profits. They will find another thing to sell. Capitalism is a greed zombie that does not care that witches have been persecuted, tortured and killed for practicing these traditions that were a threat to patriarchal hierarchical religion. In many parts of the world, witches – mostly women – are still accused and killed for practicing witchcraft.”

“These big companies are taking advantage of people who are being drawn back to a more authentic, spirit and earth-centered life experience”  

Corporate commodification of the Craft – matrifocal, polytheistic, nature-based – is nothing new. Tarot decks and healing crystals have been readily available on the high street for some time now, while the witch has been in vogue for decades, from silver screen femme fatales to deity-channelling pop icons. What is new is the volume we’ve acquired as a community in the digital age. Pre-internet, our recourse was limited; in the digital age, our voices are flourishing. And occasions like this are opportunities to push for real change, says Aquarian.

“Radical witches can use this incidenct as leverage to further educate the public on what witchcraft really is, and push our agenda into public awareness. We can choose to reduce consumption as much as possible, and to be more mindful of what we do consume. Witchcraft is liberation spirituality, and it has to be liberation for everyone. Small batch, ethically made products by witches is one thing, but mass-produced anything is problematic. Its delusional at this point, to think we can go on this way.”

While some feel Sephora and Pinrose would’ve done well to hire an IRL witch to collaborate with, others have asked young, affluent consumers to avoid big brand middle-men entirely and spend their money directly with the many and diverse independent brujas, mambos, curanderas, apothecaries and healers that make up today’s ever-growing cottage industry of online indie witches, a movement led in large part by women and NB people of colour.

Along with artisan products – personalised spells; fixed candles; tarot readings – the indie witch business offers an abundance of IRL and online training for witches-in-the-making, from Worts + Cunning’s Lunar Apothecary, which offers courses in magic, medicinal herbs, to tarot training retreats and practical magic circles.

Aquarian prefers podcasts to products when it comes to guiding newbie witches, citing her own, Waking The Witch, along with a raft or others: A Witch’s Primer, Ariel’s Druidic Craft of the Wise, Branch and Bone Medicine Show, Embodied Astrology, Witch Wave and Ideal Futures. “Witchcraft is an oral tradition, so for me listening, talking and observing is where my most powerful learning and growth has occurred.” 

“A consistent tarot and mediation practice has changed my life, neither of which require much. Creating, writing, making music and art that aligns with my craft is at the heart of my practice. I hardly ever buy anything related to my witch practice anymore, other than candles here and there, herbs and occasionally ceremonial, altar and ritual objects. Over the years my practice has become less about stuff and more about me, and the messages I get. I think that’s true for many experienced witches, which is why we eye-rolled the starter kit – not to look down on newcomers but because these big companies are taking advantage of people who are being drawn back to a more authentic, spirit and earth-centered life experience.”  

“Not selling the Witch Starter Kit is great, but we need to think beyond this. Huge corporations promote consumerism that ravages our planet, and distracts us from addressing the ever-expanding list of humanitarian crises compounded by centuries of greed, colonisation and patriarchal violence. To be relevant, witchcraft must challenge capitalism.”