Followup: Not All Witches Are Wiccans

A little over a week ago I reported on a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune. In that article Union-Tribune columnist Peter Rowe talked about two San Diego occult shops that existed on the same block. Rowe’s piece painted a not-so-rosy picture of their relations however.

“Mama Roots and Superstitious are neighbors but not friends.”

Rowe quoted the owner and customers of the Wiccan-owned Superstitious saying some rather critical things about the Santerian-friendly botantica Mama Roots.

“They are only a few doors apart, but between the two shops is a netherworld of difference. Leite’s inventory does not include curses. ‘If you are a true witch,’ he said, ‘you cannot do harm’…He insists that true witchcraft focuses on helping people use their innate spiritual powers for good – and that true witchcraft shops should give off an upbeat, cheerful aura. ‘We found this place by accident,’ said Rebekah Brooks, a psychic, priestess and former Mama Roots customer. ‘You don’t feel you are going to die if you come in here. You feel like you are going to die when you walk in there.’ ‘We have a different view of life,’ Leite said. ‘We love life’. ‘They,’ Brooks said, ‘make everything feel so evil over there.'”

I felt that owner Kyle Leite and the quoted Superstitious customers were bad-mouthing Santerian forms of witchcraft (and the store that caters to them), and that modern Pagans shouldn’t be making value judgments on cultural and ethical systems different from our own.

“In my opinion, adherents of Santeria/Lukumi should be seen as natural allies in our struggles for acceptance and rights. Framing non-Wiccan forms of witchcraft as “evil” helps no-one…If “modern Paganism” means anything, it means room enough to encompass a wide variety of religious and magical ethical systems.”

After my post Superstitious owner Kyle “Firewolf” Leite (and a couple of his customers) took me to task over my interpretation, and claimed that Rowe manufactured the conflict and took quotes out of context.

“To begin with, Ms Lyons is correct in stating that the “rivalry” between our shops was grossly over-exaggerated. While it is true that we have a differing opinion on the type of products we chose to sell and how we help people, we are simply two different shops catering to the same community. Peter Rowe, the journalist that interviewed me, gave me the impression that the story he was writing was about two magical shops that were located in the same general area and what each of our plans were for Halloween, or Samhain. What the story turned into, however, was obviously something different. No questions were asked of me about Mama Roots, nor any of I-Star’s employees, namely Ms. Lyons.”

Mama Roots employee Alexandra Lyons also claimed that Rowe was out to create a conflict between the stores.

“I must say that the reporter while interviewing me went out of his way to try to get negative comments to fuel an imagined rivalry, between our shops.(which he did but not ever from our shop)..But there is no such rivalry as far as I am concerned for we are worlds apart in what we offer to the community…which is what the community at large needs.”

So naturally I e-mailed Peter Rowe for his take on these comments. His reply was short and to the point.

“If Kyle Leite or Alexandra Lyons or any other sources quoted in this story have concerns about how they were quoted or presented, I would be happy to talk with them. I stand by my story’s accuracy.”

So this works one of two ways. Either the representatives from the two shops are trying to minimize the conflicts between them after an embarrassing news article (after all I doubt either store wants to lose customers over this), or, Rowe manufactured a conflict so he would have a good hook for his local Halloween witchcraft story. Somehow I think the truth lies somewhere in between. There probably was/is some local conflict and drama brewing between the two stores, and Rowe tapped into that undercurrent and made it a primary focus of his article (much to the chagrin of both stores I’m sure). But barring reports from independent local sources, or further clarification from Rowe, we’ll just have to guess at the full truth of the matter.

So I guess the lesson here is to always be careful when being interviewed, and be sure to do a bit of interviewing yourself when the local reporter comes calling.