WELNESS WOO WOO
Real Witches Cackle at Sephora’s ‘Sanitized’ Starter Witch Kit
Down at the oldest witchcraft store in New York, employees are laughing over Sephora’s “wellness” hocus-pocus kit.
Sephora was about to start selling witch “starter packs” from fragrance company Pinrose, but due to a frenzy of internet outrage by self-proclaimed wiccans, Pinrose instead shelved the product.
The witchy kit consisted of several mini-bottles of the company’s perfume collection, a deck of tarot cards, some white sage and a rose quartz crystal.
Acquiescing to the Twitter witches who denounced the item as cultural appropriation, Pinrose released a statement: “We hear you,” it read. “First and foremost, to those who have shared their disappointment or taken offense to this product, we apologize profoundly.” Then the company went on to assure that, even though the product was no longer available, the artwork was licensed and paid for, and the sage was “sustainably sourced” from Native Americans.
Pinrose refuted the online claims that the usage of white sage by “white women” was the reason Native Americans didn’t have enough of the herb for their rituals. “Per the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Salvia Apiana (White Sage) is not classified as threatened or endangered,” the company noted.
First there was backlash from witches, then there was backlash to the backlash, which mostly consisted of eye-rolling at the outrage, as noted by Metro. “...the internet has BEEN heavily saturated with white girls selling ‘witchy’ items, including sage. Now that Sephora jumped in, everyone’s fake angry,” tweeted Maya Danielle 888.
Meanwhile, down at Enchantments, the oldest witchcraft store in New York, owner Stacy Rapp has her own take on the witch kits. “I mean, this isn’t new,” says Rapp, whose grandfather was fucked over by Orson Welles—but that is another story for a different time. Rapp says there isn’t inherently anything new about the kits—she remembers seeing tarot deck and crystal sets in Barnes and Noble in the 90s—“but, I mean, those came with books,” she says, laughing from the back room of the East Village occult shop. “I’ve never seen it in conjunction with bath and beauty products this way, but that’s this wellness industry.”
The wellness industry is booming, and parsing out the practices and products that may actually make you “well,” from nonsense like vagina steaming, can seem obvious to some but others may need a little guidance. The waters get even murkier when it comes to spiritual wellness. “I don’t think it’s that offensive,” Rapp says of the Pinrose witch starter pack, “it just isn’t substantive at all.”
Rapp tends to hold court from the back of the shop where she and her employees carve custom candles for customers and imbue them with symbols from ancient religions for people practicing candle magic. Enchantments is dark and smells like a combination of a Catholic church and a forest. The gaps in the uneven wood floors have glitter and incense caked in them. The shelves are crowded with books and magical tools from different multi-deity religions and the rotating cast of characters that sail through the doors on any given day represents a diverse spectrum of the city populace.
“This self-care, this wellness, is like a mega-million-dollar industry and I can’t say, being in the retail business myself, that I’m totally against it,” Rapp says. She explains that in some regard, the spiritual work they do at Enchantments is also self-care. “So to say they’re bad and we’re good—I don’t think I can argue that,” she says. “So Is it offensive? No,” Rapp says,”not in this country. People will try to make a buck on anything they think they can make a buck on, and currently new-age spirituality and ‘wellness,’ is trending, occult stuff is trending, I mean we’re trending for God’s sake.”
In fact, nobody at Enchantments seemed very offended by the product. A young man named Wendy shrugged it off, saying the the whole “sanitized witchcraft thing has been around for a minute,” and that some people “don’t want mess,” they want their witchcraft “pre-packaged.” The employees seemed to view the entire thing as one of those silly money-making schemes that the “mainstream,” does. Coleman, aka “Judy Darling,” said it reminded him of “a child-like version of a grown-up thing. I used to be obsessed with those little make-up kits as a kid and that is what they remind me of,” he told me while wearing a “Don’t Be a Basic Witch” shirt.
“It’s just frou-frou,” Rapp says. “It’s kind of just selling snake oil. This is where one has to be careful with magic, and I’ve done this now for 20 years—we make sure that we don’t promise things that aren’t realistic.” Rapp shrugs in a wise-beyond-her-years sort of way. “It’s Marketing 101. Convince someone they need something and then sell it to them. The difference with what we do and the spiritual community does is education.” She added that what the kits are trying to do is sell faith. “Burn the sage, put on a face mask and some lipstick, and you’ll wake up different. [Real magic] doesn’t work that way.” Enchantments, on the contrary, doesn’t advertise because, as Rapp says: “We don’t have to.”
When I asked Rapp what she would put in a witches starter pack if she were to make one, her reply was simply, “a Book.” She recommends True Magic, which goes over various kinds of paganism, or Psychic Self-Defense.
Full disclosure: I left Enchantments with a beautiful carved candle and an earful of magical city wisdom, thinking about how much less fun and full magic and occult things would feel without the cracked floors and herb smells, the lived-on brick and mortar where people have come for decades to find a faith and meet each other. As Judy Darling says “magic just isn’t as much fun without that stuff. Go to a shop, talk to witches, have an experience.”