If you are part of the IWC (Internet Witchcraft Community), you’ve been seeing some drama lately. Not ever being a group that could be called boring, the latest drama circles around a witch starter kit, a makeup store, cultural appropriation and something called “gatekeeping”.
Earlier this month, make up giant Sephora and perfume brand Pinrose joined forces to publicise the launch of their new collaboration. Packaged in a shiny pastel box was Sephora’s official Starter Witch Kit.
Inside were nine tiny scents, one white sage smudging stick, a rose quartz crystal and what looked to be a pack of tarot cards.
The kit was supposed to drop in October (cause you know, that’s basically All Things Spooky Month) and was to be priced at $42.
Sephora pimped this product hard and good. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the seeds for excitement for the Starter Witch Kit were planted far and wide. Before long, a buzz developed.
Then that buzz turned into a roar. And that roar was from pissed off witches.
Before I go over what happened next. Let’s bring up a term that we’ve heard a lot of in the past few years.
According to Wikipedia, cultural appropriation is:
“the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. It is distinguished from an equal cultural exchange due to an imbalance of power, often as a byproduct of colonialism and oppression Particularly in the 21st century, cultural appropriation is often considered harmful, and as a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating, minority cultures, notably indigenous cultures and those living under colonial rule. Often unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, cultural appropriation can include using other cultures’ cultural and religious traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and songs”
Basically, it’s that thing that Katy Perry does really, really well.
So let’s say, you are not of Native American blood, but you put on a war bonnet because it looks cool while you’re at your shitty music festival. Or let’s say you want to fit in with the cool kids, so you go from the chick from Clueless to the girls from Friday. When you use the cultural or religious traditions of a minority culture for your personal, popularity or monetary gain, you’re appropriating it.
Now the line between appreciation and appropriation is pretty thin. What some people call appropriation others often see as the appreciation and celebration of ideas and customs. The line is thin and sometimes not always clear.
How does that play into Sephora’s Starter Witch Kit and why were all those witches mad?
The insult came from Sephora and Pinrose so blatantly taking something from Witch culture and mass marketing it. They took things that are quite often part of the being a Witch, threw some pretty shiny colors on it and had the intent to make money off of it. They chose not to cater to the people who believed in those parts of being a Witch. By calling it a “Starter Kit” the audience they targeted was one that did not and had not ever identified as witches.
Let’s take a second to break that down. There is said to be one million Pagans in America. We all know that not all Pagans are Witches and not all Witches are Pagan. So it would be safe to estimate the number of Witches in the United States is much less than one million. In contrast, the number of Christians in America is nearly 240 million. Some of those Christians might be Witches, but I’m willing to bet my left ovary most of them are not. So according to the definition of cultural appropriation (especially the “the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture” part) the actions of Sephora were clear cultural appropriation.
But wait, I hear you yelling from the back, who are you to say who can and cannot use and have access to Witchcraft! Why are you gatekeeping?
For those not up with all the current Tumblr friendly lingo, gatekeeping, according to the definition that Google spat out, is “ the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.”
After the initial complaints about the Starter Witch Kit started popping up, other groups of people online, some witch and some not, started yelling back about gatekeeping. They used the argument that witchcraft was not a religion but instead a practice. And you can not claim ownership over a practice. Everyone should be free to have personal experiences with the practice.
They also brought up the idea that restricting the production of Witch influenced items might keep young witches from finding The Craft and discovering themselves. There could be thousands of people out there who might be inspired by the kit and go and learn about witchcraft that way. (As a personal side note, the only thing a scent collection has ever inspired me to do is throw up from a migraine, but hey, your mileage may vary)
What has been dubbed gatekeeping by those people is from a personal standpoint, something else entirely. It is not a restriction, it is a protection.
The depictions of witches and witchcraft in modern culture have very rarely been positive. From Disney and slutty Halloween costumes to prime time TV and shitty Hobby Lobby decorations, witches hardly ever get adequate representation. Not only are we often the villains but almost every aspect of our beliefs (and there are so many to choose from) are stomped on and disrespected.
This Starter Kit is another branch of inadequate representation. Smelling pretty and burning sage does not make you a witch. Thinking you can make someone a witch with mass-produced products that carry with them no actual knowledge is problematic. There’s a lot of study and dedication that go into witchcraft. It’s not an episode of American Horror Story or Charmed. A person can’t pick up a kit and suddenly start doing spells. You aren’t a normal person one moment and a witch another. It just doesn’t work like that.
The idea of money being made on this misrepresentation feels wrong. It feels like a big company who has no idea about or real interest in the importance of history trying to make a quick buck. I shouldn’t have to remind you of all the struggles Witches have had in this country. I shouldn’t have to remind you of the struggles we still face. I also shouldn’t have to remind you that right now, in 2018, people are murdered for being Witches in this world. The seriousness of being a Witch is lost on Sephora by choosing to have a product as silly as a Starter Witch Kit. Its tone deaf and out of touch, which just feeds into the misrepresentation that the world already carries.
There were also arguments that we should support any small business (like Pinrose) ran by women who are getting a break. And by being upset over this Starter Witch Kit, we were turning our backs on those people. This is a hard pill to swallow. I totally and firmly believe in supporting small business. But when that small business is doing something I don’t believe in, or that offends me, don’t I have a right to not support them? If we can stop going to restaurants and put people on blast because of their political persuasions, shouldn’t we also be able to choose which company’s products we support or not? Is being in the “Girls Club” more important than listening to your own feelings?
For every argument raised by the people upset about the kits, there is a group who has a counter argument. I, personally, was pretty upset over these kits. I felt they were disrespectful. The whole idea of them making money off something so close to so many people’s hearts and souls felt gross. Using something so personal and so important for monetary gain without actually honoring those that live it leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. This whole experience is a great example of something sacred being diluted and deformed for masses. And that, no matter how you cut it, is wrong.
In the end, Sephora and Pinrose canceled the product. The Starter Witch Kit will not be popping up makeup shelves near you in the future. Sephora will have to reach their October “spooky” quota by other means.
The debate it’s caused, however, will live on. Where is the line between appreciation and appropriation? What is being protective and what is gatekeeping? What are we going to allow the mainstream to define us as? What are we willing to accept before we say enough is enough?
All I want is that we as a community work together to make strides in being taken seriously. We need to focus on how to find our place in mainstream culture and, more importantly, among ourselves. Our magick is bigger and more important than a poorly thought out product. We don’t need Starter Kits.
We’re witches. We’ve been it all along.