I was away from the internet and social media for the better part of a week while dealing with some of my own personal dramas only to come back to find the witchy internet had gone crazy. Or at least it was heavily annoyed.
Just A Warning:
This is going to piss off a bunch of you, and that’s fine. I’m not in the torches and pitchforks camp on this one. But this gets into the topic of cultural appropriation and my opinion on that, while not rare, isn’t popular and a lot of people that share the same view as me tend to keep it to themselves until they find someone else with that view because of the hate that it can generate.
The magick ire was being directed toward an upcoming product release from a perfume company called Pinrose. They will be releasing a “Starter Witch Kit” that will be sold by Sephora in October. And people are pissed.
The kit is centered around 9 mini perfume samples from the company along with some trendy witch-themed products including a rose quartz, sage bundle, and tarot cards. This caused a huge outcry of “cultural appropriation” from a chunk of the witchcraft community while others were just annoyed that sacred tools from various traditions are being used to encourage people to buy this company’s perfume. And now there are people calling for witches to boycott Sephora.
As someone who’s been a witch for 30 years and is a very passionate beauty and makeup lover, I have a few different feelings about this. I’m also someone that never jumps on the outrage bandwagon right away. I’ll hop on after some research and thought if I need to, and to be honest I don’t plan to take the ride on this one.
This “kit” is not actually a “starter witch kit,” let’s be real. It’s a poorly conceived and badly named marketing ploy playing off the current millennial love of all things magickal, mystical, new age, and witchy. It has A E S T H E T I C written all over it. Plus it comes out at just the right time to play on the annual height of witchy interest by non-witches with a release only a few weeks before Halloween.
Looking at the beauty side of this and who Pinrose is…
Product samplers like this are common in the beauty industry and often are sold with “incentives,” products that are usually promotional in nature intended to entice someone to buy what is sometimes nothing more than a glorified sampler size product that would otherwise be free (which is exactly what these perfumes are). It can be beauty related, like a branded pocket mirror or makeup bag or totally unrelated like a branded tote bag or water bottle.
The perfumes that are being highlighted are ones that already exist in the Pinrose line of products and none of them have any kind of witchy or spiritual vibe. Some of them have names like Pillowtalk Poet, Tambourine Dreamer, and Secret Genius.
Pinrose is a brand I’m not familiar with, but from a perusal of their website and social media, their target market seems to be new age inclined millennials who dig holographic everything and lots of bright pastel or bold colors. Their “about page” says that co-creators Erika and Christine met in high school ten years ago, became fast friends, and created Pinrose with the aim of creating high-quality scents “designed by real women for real women.” They want to be different from big brands that “overdesign and overcharge.”
Their packaging is largely minimal and their pricing is, well, OK. Their 5ml rollerballs go for $24, which is pretty average, and their 50ml bottles are $65 which is just about at the line you cross as you head into high-end territory. For instance, a 35ml bottle of Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel is $75 with the 50ml size being $100. And they aren’t luxury with a 50ml bottle of Fucking Fabulous by Tom Ford going for $320. (I’m not going to lie…I bought that Tom Ford last year it’s one of my all time favorite perfumes and worth every penny to me.) So they aren’t quite high end and not luxury but they aren’t drugstore or even Target level.
Then there’s the spiritual side of this…
All of this should help put their “starter witch kit” into perspective. It’s something their demographic is going to be all about. The packaging is bright and pastel and it looks all magickal. The rose quartz and smudge stick grace the background of images from many millennial focused beauty, fashion, and accessory brands these days. This leaning toward living (or at least appearing to live) a spiritually focused lifestyle has been a marketing trend and aesthetic for a good three or four years now so something like this this isn’t unexpected.
While “starter witch kits” in a general sense are nothing new, this being a poorly named attempt to sell to a specific audience has brought up a lot of discussions around cultural appropriation. I do wonder if this has been called something like a “self-love kit” if it even would have really registered on anyone’s radar. But it’s here and now we have two different sides of this appropriation discussion going; we’re hearing about cultural appropriation of Native American culture while others are pointing to the cultural appreciation of “witch culture.”
Let’s start with Native American cultural appropriation.
This is hard because I totally understand why this is an issue here and it’s really one that has a few different sides to it. As I was reading about this whole kit debacle people were most upset about the inclusion of the sage. It had people speaking of cultural appropriation because “white people are not meant to use sage” (heard on Reddit) and “burning white sage when you’re not Native American is very not okay and shouldn’t be encouraged” (also heard on Reddit).
In my view the problem isn’t that white people use sage for cleansing but that most non-native people don’t know the origins of sage and smudging in general. Most have had nothing more than a very poor water downed explanation given to them usually in the form of a few sentences in an online listing to buy said sage. The origins are rarely talked about and people are lazy as fuck and don’t seek that kind of information out on their own.
Another important issue is the status of sage as a plant species. White sage is not currently listed as an endangered plant with the state of California, however, drought, wildfires, and the decline in open space for it to grow is definitely going to be cutting into its availability in the future. There is also concern that Native Americans are being “priced out” of their own culture with the use of white sage and the practice of smudging becoming mainstream.
That discussion makes me wonder about Native American sellers on Etsy who sell handmade white sage smudge sticks. Do they get upset if a white person buys their sage and uses it for smudging? All of this just leaves me feeling like you’re fucked no matter what you do…someone is always going to point a finger and bitch about something you’re doing wrong.
And as for appropriation of the “witch culture,” just stop.
There isn’t a singular “witch culture” to appropriate. Not to mention that witchcraft today is a mishmash of so many different things from so many different cultures to the point where we accuse each other in the witchcraft community of cultural appropriation all the fucking time! From the aforementioned use of white sage to working with spirit animals (Native American appropriation), chakras (Hindu appropriation), mantras (Buddhist appropriation) and using runes (Nordic appropriation) not to mention the entire practice of hoodoo and rootworking.
Yes, cultural appropriation is an issue given the fetishizing of indigenous cultures today. In the case of the Pinrose thing, I think its just a case of following a trend to sell some perfume. While that doesn’t make it right or forgivable, it definitely doesn’t seem to have any signs of malice behind it and instead could give a chance for a teaching moment. But it won’t. People will just bitch and complain until the next thing comes along to bitch and complain about.
That said I think we have forgotten there is a genuine difference between appropriation and appreciation. The chick wearing a Native American war bonnet at Cochella is appropriating culture. A Pagan studying Native American traditions wanting to work with spirit animals is appreciating culture.
You know you know the difference. Cultural appropriation IS MOST DEFINITELY a problem, but our hair trigger around it isn’t helping. I guarantee you that there are things you do, whether spiritual/magickal or mundane, that you think are totally fine and someone else would call cultural appropriation. It’s hard to create this world of “inclusion and diversity” that everyone says they want when every last thing gets called cultural appropriation even when it really isn’t.
Until everyone who self-identifies as a witch or Pagan does genetic research on their bloodline and begins only practicing the traditions of the culture they can trace their roots to this pointing fingers at everyone else but ourselves and crying “cultural appropriation” needs to stop.
As a last minute edit…Just before posting this I was replying to a message on Instagram and saw that several witchcraft online shops have created their own “starter witch kits” in a kind of “answer” to this whole thing. Most of them have sage, palo santo, rose or clear quartz, and some kind of divination tool. Everyone is praising these shops for doing this. So the sage and palo santo are cool here? Gotcha.
So back to the original hoopla now that I’ve pissed off a whole bunch of you.
This “Starter Witch Kit” isn’t going to truly introduce anyone to witchcraft. It isn’t going to turn anyone into a practicing witch or Pagan. It’s going to provide a few props for some Instagram pics and make some women feel badass for a few minutes while they burn their sage and shuffle some tarot cards. Then it will all get stuffed in a draw never to see the light of day again. Nobody is going to be “calling in things they aren’t familiar with” as some people have been saying.
I think that some of the people voicing their anger haven’t experienced this yet. It’s been a while since we’ve seen big mainstreaming of witchcraft like this. Most of those who I’ve seen talking about this were likely either not yet born or were toddlers during the 90s when this exact same thing happened last. When you could walk into a bookstore and grab your Silver Ravenwolf Teen Witch Kit and a Voodoo Doll Kit before heading over to the cineplex next door to catch a late matinee of The Craft.
Witchcraft goes in and out of style. It’s in right now. It will be out again in two or three years. Then in 20 years or so your kid’s kids will get to experience this too.
The truth is most witches who are in their 20s, 30s or even 40s today were either introduced to witchcraft through pop culture or found their true passion for it there. I honestly call bullshit on the high number of “I was taught magick by my grandmother” stories, especially if you’re like 35. Sure there are some that did, but the way people make it sound you’d think everyone who’s a witch today was born into a family of practicing witches, and we know that just isn’t true.
It’s OK to admit that you got into witchcraft because you thought Charmed was cool. Did it get you to a place today where you have a solid practice and genuine love of real magick? Great! Where you are now is all that matters so there’s no need to give it a magickal grandmother backstory to legitimize it. If everyone who got into witchcraft this way admitted it the stigma around it would go away and we could drop the act and be more realistic about the roots of our personal stories.
I’ll fully admit that part of why I was interested in magick when I found it, despite all the history I grew up around in New England, was because I was a huge fan of Bewitched! Then later in my practice when I’d fallen off it in favor of booze, drugs, and clubs my love for magick was reinvigorated when The Craft came out. I saw that 5 times in the theater with different friends and even my Mom. From that point on I have been in solid hardcore witch mode. So thanks ridiculous 90s wannabe horror movie!
Then there’s that tarot deck…
The last thing I wanted to touch on was the tarot deck that seems to be coming with the set. The deck appears to be a recoloring of the Old Memories Tarot which itself is a reproduction of the Samiramay Tarot by designer and artist Vera Petruk. All three of Vera’s decks are available as stock images both individually and as a complete deck. This means anyone can purchase the images, edit them, and then publish them as a new tarot deck. (I’ve seen her art on Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, Despoitphotos, as well as her own Creative Market shop.)
I found the Old Memoires Tarot interesting. It’s published by a company called Tarocco Studio and they list the deck on their site as being “limited to 500 copies” however it is still available for sale and is listed as being first published in 2016. Vera also sells her decks as physical items through MakePlayingCards.com.
I reached out to Vera to ask if she was aware of either the Old Memories Tarot or the Pinrose set and she said she knew nothing about either. She said, “I have many sales of the tarot cards through stocks and it is rather difficult to trace the license of the final customer.”
There was also a post online about the Empress card image on the box of the Pinrose tarot deck commenting that the glyph to the right of the empress looks similar to Prince’s Love Symbol. When I asked Vera about that she said, “As for the symbolic I designed all decks so that they can be read using traditional Rider Waite meaning. There are many Jewish symbols and glyphs in the Samiramay deck, including the Empress card.” So as for that specific symbol I still don’t know what her specific inspiration was or if it is something specific, so you decide.
My Final Thoughts…
I’m not planning to buy this when it comes out, but it isn’t meant for me. But I’m also not going to get up in arms about it or boycott Sephora over it. Tarot cards, crystals, and sage are not exclusively witchcraft items and you can go pick up all three at some Whole Foods stores for crying out loud. So if you don’t feel the need to take up this cause as some battle cry for protecting witchcraft from the mainstream don’t feel you’re alone. There are actually a number of us out there that are looking at this with the reaction of “…and?” And if you are on the boycott Sephora bandwagon, awesome! Just double check your reasons and your own practice at your altar first for that horse is high and the fall will hurt.