I think I have figured out what’s bugging me about the Sephora Witch Kits. Other than the White Sage (that’s another essay). It’s the idea that if you don’t make it, it’s not real.
I don’t like that. I don’t like the idea that if you buy it, it has no meaning. When possible I do prefer to make my own tools and supplies, but I don’t have the means to (for instance) produce all of what I need. Yes, the internet is a great resource and no money is no longer as much of an object for me as it used to be – but do I have time or tools to make things from the ground up?
If we lived in the Shire, we’d all have access to gardens, spinning wheels, kilns, and so on, and we’d all be farmers and villagers so we’d have a local chandler, blacksmith, and so on and so on and yes this is my dream but it’s not reality.
If you’re living in 2018 America and you need a candle, you are probably not sourcing beeswax and hand-pouring. Unless you are, which is great. But most people don’t have the time and tools to learn this. You’re going to the mall or the dollar store even. Are these candles less “magical”? If you’re going to start calling out those who buy an overpriced kit at a Big Corporate Store, then you’re going to have to settle in for a long list of callouts, because we’re all over, getting supplies from Target, dollar stores, and yes even WalMart.
Let’s go back to the candles. I can tell you candlemaking is a simple process but I have the knowledge, the pans, the working stove, the means to clean, the ability to buy wax pellets and wicking, the know-how to select proper containers if hand pouring. This is uncommon. If you are 16, 17, 18 – do you have this? If you’re living in a very rural area, is this feasible? If you’re living in an urban area and relying on mass transit, are you able to shop and take home/store supplies? Is being able to experiment safely and handle the inevitable messes of candlemaking really in the cards for you? (pardon the witch pun). I’m a grown ass woman, I can do what I want in my kitchen. If I was not a grown ass woman and/or I did not have my own kitchen, I’d be at the Dollar Tree, too. I make my own candles because I like to. I am very lucky. That being said, I do cheap fast and easy too because I can’t go back to the 18th century every time I need something.
Also, can we remember disabled Witches in here? I do not have a disability, so I can only feel this so much. But if I did, I’d be pissed that other witches consider prefab less “authentic” – what if I didn’t have the ability to stand, the dexterity to pour, to knit, to weave? What if I was obliged to buy instead of make because I could literally not make? Would I be less of a witch then?
Now this Sephora kit is definitely not cheap. It automatically rules out those without the resources to go to the store and purchase or order online. But when I look at the disapproval about the kit, I see disapproval about using mass manufactured tools. Yes, it’s nice to be able to make your own, and we can all recognize the value of doing that, but that is not feasible in this modern world. Witches have always used what’s on hand. In our society, what’s on hand is often something mass produced, something corporate. This is the reality we have to deal with. Even those of us who can and do make our own supplies are probably using something from a mass-produced, corporate chain somewhere. Did you blow the bottles you used in your last spell? Did you find a local glassmaker and buy in bulk from them at great cost because handmade costs? Did you grow your own bay leaves, process your own salt, press your own olives? Did you grind your own ink and make your own paper? Did you track every component of every tool down to its source and vet every vendor, manufacturer, or logistics person all the way down to raw materials?
I know I didn’t.
If you did, congratulations – you have the physical ability, the means, and the time to do all of that. That’s all that means – you got bucks and you got free hours and you got transport/storage. Not everyone is able to do this. For that matter, if we were to hop in the Tardis and visit those August Witchly Ancestors, they’d probably give their eye teeth for the ability to pop down to a store and just get what they need.
This idea that the past was more authentic is a fallacy. Tools and supplies, save what is made privately and used by their makers, have always been bought and sold. Always. Whether you’re swiping your Visa or trading butter and chickens, you’re still paying someone else for the thing you want or need. I highly doubt there has been an era of witchcraft where we were “pure” enough. Except maybe the first spiritual inklings in caves. But do we have to go back that far to be “real”?
Notice I’m talking more western/US style witchcraft. This is my culture, my heritage (whether or not I like it :)) so this is what I can answer for. Other cultures, other traditions have other perspectives, and I’m not about to insert myself into that. I can only speak to what I know.
If you’re going to buy this kit, you’re probably not going to be too concerned about “real” history, “real” magic, “real” glamour. A prefab “witch kit” is probably going to be purchased, shown off, instagrammed, maybe used a touch, then most likely forgotten (if I can be purely cynical). A kit will not teach you anything. A kit is composed of tools and supplies. You can buy them from small businesses, you can buy them from witch owned/run shops. It’s just tools. No kit, oil, incense, or crystal will replace actual listening, actual work, actual learning. It doesn’t matter if it’s corporate-made or not. I can hand-weave, hand-pour, hand-carve shit for you all day long and if you don’t bring your desire and energy to that table, nothing will happen anyway.
This sounds harsh, because it is. Witchcraft can be harsh. If you’re out there, reading this, and you’re new or newly interested, I don’t want to scare you, but I also don’t want to blow smoke up your ass. This role carries a lot of responsibility, and not everyone is ready for it. I find you have to be honest with yourself, start understanding your own motives and drives, what makes you tick. If you start trying to impose your will on the world outside of you, and you do not understand your own internal machinery, you’re going to have a tough time.
It’s ok to be casual. It’s ok to be solitary. It’s ok to completely make up your own practices if this brings you something positive. But as you continue (if you choose to) you may find that you need to make tough decisions, put yourself out there, sacrifice things. Witches hold knowledge and knowledge can be painful. By this I mean self-knowledge and knowledge of how the world works. I’m not even onto the mystical stuff yet. I just want you, hypothetical witchling, to have an idea of what is really there. If you want to stop at aesthetics and style, ok. If you want to keep going, then you keep going, but don’t think physical objects are the be-all and end-all.
Now, back to the point:
I understand the problems people have with products like these. It’s too easy, it’s too open, it’s too slick. As much as I (sort of) support The Kit and others like it, I feel sideways about it. I won’t be buying it, personally. I wish there was more mainstream material and/or objects from witches and other wise people. I’d love to see more balance. But I don’t think that’s going to happen, for the following reason:
It’s hard to boil paths and traditions like these into friendly sound bites. Witches have a weird reputation. We tend to not like to talk about what we do and this can be offputting for “muggles”. This reticence can be for legitimate reasons like personal protection. This can also be for spiritual reasons. What you do and do not share about your spirituality is your business. Either way, there’s no convenient package, no convenient introduction for non-witches to read and get a toehold. Well, ok, there *is* but is it in the mainstream? Should it be in the mainstream, and how much? If you want witchcraft, you can find it but it ain’t easy. Should it be?
As for the sage issue – I can understand, as much as I can, the objections Indigenous people have. So that’s a hard limit, then – no white sage. Fair enough. There are plenty of alternatives that won’t step on already-stepped on traditions, and even the most casual of non-Indigenous witches should investigate and use them. This is the one firm opinion I have in this whole essay.
But the rest of the discourse I have seen really is just plain gatekeeping. Your craft is not my craft and that’s ok. There are some universal standards (eg don’t be a jackass, be mindful, learn/read, etc) but that’s about it. Unless you’re going Gardnerian or something similar, this really is all DIY. As I said in previous tweets, this kit is not exactly going to damage my practice. I know who I am, what I do, what I can do, what gods and goddesses are in my corner, and so on. I know my stuff. I don’t need to know your stuff and your motives unless you start mowing down my garden. But I highly doubt that is going to happen with the Sephora Witch Kit. If other people buying silly things rocks your spiritual boat, maybe you need to look at your own practice.
I have also said that if this kit is a person’s sole idea of witchcraft, they’re probably not going to come to witchcraft anyway. But now a thought occurs: maybe they are. Maybe this is what does it for them, maybe they can explore this under the guise of ~*~aesthetic~*~ if they need that.
Have we considered the broom closet? Have we considered how, even a corny mainstream, mass produced kit can be the cover a witch may need for their practice? Have we considered how for some (limited) amount of people getting supplies from someplace as innocuous as a makeup store can hide genuine, if embryonic, interest from judgemental eyes?
How many times did I, as a teenager, get some silly, purple, celestial themed tchotchke from the mall and have it ignored as “safe” because my mom said “we all have that hippy phase”? How many times did I load up on Yankee Candle tealights and votives because my mom said “well, I liked candles too at her age”? How many times did I buy books of mythology and folklore and have it excused because “wow, she’s so well read”? How many rocks did I buy because I had an interest in geology (well, ok, that was legitimate)? How many Stevie Nicks looking tops? How many this-es and that-s did I acquire without ringing alarm bells in my Catholic home? Now that I’m grown I know I don’t need all of that, but the baubles, crystals, and candles reminded me of what I was learning and doing. They helped. They harmed no one. How different is this kit?
Now, to pull this all together, yes, it is admirable to be able to make your own witch “stuff”. It’s sure nice to have the money and the means to support small businesses if you have to buy. It’s great to learn arts and crafts and use them, for, well, Art and Craft. If you well and truly want to fork over the money to Sephora (or wherever) to buy a Witch Kit, go for it. If nothing else, you’ll have some pretty stuff in your home. And maybe this can be the spark for some. But this isn’t going to damage the community. Just because some people will be running around with accessories won’t damage the actual craft. Just because our pop culture is still riding that AHS: Coven, “Season of the Witch” aesthetic doens’t mean jack. We’ll be as passé as unicorns and mermaids soon and we’ll be back to what passes for normal in our worlds. Witches of all stripes have been through much worse, and we’re still going. And maybe, when this (dare I say it) witch craze inevitably dies down in the market, we’ll have a few new faces around the cauldron. Let’s see where this goes.