White sage, a plant needed for certain sacred Indigenous ceremonies, is a protected plant in California. courtesy Flickr

Sephora “witch kit” reductive of witchcraft

The makeup company’s “witch starter kit” commercialized Indigenous peoples’ sacred traditions.

This September, makeup retailer Sephora and perfume company Pinrose advertised a shocking collaboration: a starter kit for practicing witchcraft. The kit was priced at $42 and included a rose quartz stone, nine miniature bottles of perfume, a deck of tarot cards and a bundle of white sage. It was meant to be released this October, in line with the spookiness of the season, but Sephora pulled it due to the massive backlash it received. This backlash didn’t come from concerned parents or churches, but from Indigenous people and actual practicing witches.

The controversy was composed of two primary arguments. First, Indigenous activists on social media have come out and explained how this appropriation of sacred traditions for commercialized, new-age pseudo-spirituality is insulting and harmful. White sage has been a sacred part of many Indigenous spiritualities and ceremonies that have a history of being looked down upon or ignored (if not forcibly restricted) by European settlers. Also, the conflation of Indigenous spirituality with witchcraft dates back to the racist colonial mindset that Europeans used to justify their genocide — so including white sage in this so-called witch starter kit was a bad move.

Second, many Pagans (and Wiccans in particular) felt that the kit was making a mockery of their religion and lifestyle. In a way, this is understandable — it’s no shock to anyone that Paganism and Wicca aren’t respected in the same way that other, more dominant religions are. Even still, this part of the backlash is harder for me to rally behind. To explain further, I think it’s important that I break down some of these terms.

Paganism, for our purposes, really refers to neo-Paganism: a religious movement to revive certain ritual practices and beliefs from sources outside of the primary world religions. There are many strains of neo-Paganism, like Norse Pagans (influenced by Scandinavian mythology), Pagans who work with the Hellenic (ancient Greek) pantheon, the Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) pantheon and Wiccans. Wicca is probably the most popular strain of neo-Paganism in the United States, and with that popularity comes a lot of misunderstanding.

Wicca and witchcraft are not synonymous. Neo-Paganism and witchcraft aren’t even synonymous. There are certainly modern Pagans who practice witchcraft, including Wiccans, but there are also practitioners of Latine, Indigenous and African Traditional Religions who reclaim the label of “witch” (as it was used to demonize their religious practices from colonialism to today). There are Chaos Magick practitioners who call themselves witches and refer to their work as witchcraft. There are just as many different types of witchcraft as there are self-proclaimed witches.

With that in mind, let’s go back to the idea of neo-Pagans protesting this witch starter kit. If we acknowledge and accept that not all witches are Wiccan or neo-Pagan, then why would they have the ultimate say over what is and isn’t witchcraft? It’d be a different situation if the kit had been dubbed a Wiccan starter kit or even a neo-Pagan starter kit, but that’s not what we’re looking at here.

In my eyes, witchcraft can be whatever the practitioner wants it to be. I claim the title of witch for myself and for my own spiritual practice, and I think there’s something problematic about allowing Wiccans and neo-Pagans to dominate conversations about what is and isn’t valid witchcraft, especially when so many oppressed groups are reclaiming their spiritual traditions and the label of “witch.”

So while the Witch Starter Kit was a bust, the problem wasn’t that it misrepresented what so-called actual witchcraft is. The problem was its commercialization of spirituality and appropriation of sacred Indigenous traditions.

This October, I encourage you to do a little introspection and think about what the word “witch” conjures up for you. Is it a green-skinned woman with a pointy black hat? Is it tainted by colonial stereotypes about African traditional religions? Is it love and respect for nature? Do you just think of Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina Spellman? Consider that faiths, magicks and religions outside of the mainstream are just as valid as those with more significant followings — and if you feel called to something outside the mainstream, embrace it! Maybe you’ll create your own personal witch starter kit someday.

Post Author: Avery Childress