Witch starter kit hits mainstream; angers modern Witches

Heather Greene —  September 6, 2018 — Leave a comment

TWH – Starter kits and themed boxes filled with consumable goodies are a popular trend in our online shopping world. Whether it be man crates, beauty subscription boxes, or organizer starter kits from the Container Store, you can buy almost anything pulled together in neatly packaged box that makes the experience of shopping more like the experience of receiving a gift. Now included in that list of pre-packaged consumable goodies is the a starter witch kit produced by fragrance company Pinrose to be sold at Sephora stores.

According to one report at Glossy, Pinrose owners believe in the power of mysticism to enhance the enjoyment of their products. “Each fragrance is matched with a tarot card based on its notes, which allows a person to get to know a fragrance one-on-one and establish an emotional connection with it, ” Pinrose CEO Erika Shumante reportedly said. Pinrose is small company “majority owned by its 8 full-time women employees.”  They say, “Our brand values include playfulness, inclusivity, individuality and making our customer ‘the face of our brand.’ ”

What is in the proposed Starter Witch Kit? They include nine samples fragrances, a bundle of dried sage, one rose quartz crystal, and a Tarot deck with art licensed from Russian artist Vera Petruk. According to reports, the kit contains a book that explains how to use the deck, how to charge the crystal, and how to create and cleanse a “ceremony space.”

Shumante explained that the kit, although named “Starter Witch Kit”, is equally an introduction to the Pinrose fragrance line. “It’s a discovery kit for our fragrances, as well; doing a ceremony allows her to better engage with the fragrances and know them more and know how they feel about it. You can’t try a bunch [of fragrances] all at once, so this method allows her to try a new fragrance each time she picks a card,” she reportedly said.

In this way, the “witch” and a new age aesthetic becomes a marketing strategy to sell a product, especially in the fall. This has been true for decades. Marketers have been capitalizing on the appeal the occult to sell products from beer to clothing to beauty care.  Although Pinrose has the bulk of recent media attention for its witch kit, it is not alone in its industry.

In August, Sephora announced the introduction of the Viktor & Rolf Magic line of fragrances. These scents are named things like “Lavender Illusion” and “Sage Spell”. Sephora advertised the sale of the line with the phrase “What is this sorcery?”

Similarly, according to various reports, Seed’s newest natural-care beauty line Fourth Ray will be launching its own ritual box, complete with a sage bundle, crystals, a candle, and a line of its skin care products. In an interview with WWD, Seed’s beauty president Laura Nelson said, “The approach is similar to ColourPop — listening to our community, getting that feedback and going in those directions in terms of what people want.”

What people apparently want is a mix of natural products and New Age paraphernalia, all wrapped in a contemporary boxed package. Some companies, like Pinrose, use the terms “witch” or “magic, while others use terms like “spiritual” or “peaceful” or “energy.”

As we noted last year, this marketing trend also feeds off of the continued popularity of the witchcraft in general – a trend that can be evidenced in movies and television offerings (e.g. Sabrina and Charmed), the increase in mainstream articles about Witchcraft events, and the “Basic Witch” products sometimes found at big chain stories like Target.  It is also fueled by a revived and strong activist feminist movement.

Regardless, for many modern Witches, the mainstream commercialization of Witchcraft themed products, outside of Halloween culture, creates a serious problem. After the Pinrose Starter Witch Kit was announced, many Witches took to social media to complain. One twitter user wrote, “How hard is it for people to grasp. #Wicca is a legitimate religion like Christianity. It’s not a joke so I don’t get why @Sephora thinks that a “Witches Starter Kit” is remotely okay to sell? Where’s the “Christian Starter Kit” or the “Jewish Starter Kit”?

Another said, “If you’re actually interested in getting started please support a small or local Wiccan business instead of buying this mass produced & over priced garbage.” Still another wrote, “Buying the ‘Starter Witch Kit’ from Sephora won’t make you a witch, sorry.”

While many complained, or at best LOL’ed, there were others who pointed out it was no different than the mainstream marketing of any other similar spiritual product. Why is there no backlash on sage bundles, tarot decks, or crystals sold regularly at Whole Foods or other big box stores? Why hasn’t there been a reaction to Viktor & Rolf’s Magic line?

In the eyes of modern Witchcraft practitioners, there may be a difference between a single fragrance called “Magic Lavender” (or the sale of a single tarot deck) and the promotion of a kit that promises to turn you into a Witch.

In response to Sephora’s announcement, many of the Twitter reactions offered links to artisans who handcraft their own Starter Witch Kits. These artisans are typically actual practicing Witches, and the kits are easy to find by doing a basic search on sites like Etsy. For example, Witchwood Crafts sells an Ultimate Beginner’s Set that contains “Candle Holders, Silver, Gemstones, Incense, Herbs, Paper, Beeswax, Candles, Soap.” Similarly, Elysian McCrafts sells a Wicca Beginner Kit with herbs, crystals, a feather, a shell, candles, oils and more.

There is always the Sabbat Boxes that are pre-packaged kits inspired by the 8 sabbats. And, of course, many Witches know about Silver Raven Wolf’s Teen Witch Kit, which is currently out of print.

Wichery Way Etsy

One Etsy kit was created in direct reaction to the Pinrose controversy. Canadian-based Witchery Way offers an “Ethical Starter Witch Kit.” It includes a Witchery oracle deck, a sage bundle from a Canadian reservation, a rose quartz from a family mine, a Palo Santo Spray from palo harvested off the ground and not the living tree. The Witchery Way owner says, “In response to Sephora’s Witch Starter Kit I present to thee an ethically sourced one.”

She is referring specifically to part of the controversy concerning the inclusion of a sage bundle, which for many of the commenters presented an issue beyond the commodification of Witchcraft. These people argued that the use of sage, which has been used ritually used in some Native American religions, is form cultural appropriation. One Twitter user said, “Sephora’s ‘starter witch kit’ is basically comparable to dream catcher tattoos and wearing Native headdresses at music festivals.

In a blog post about the controversy, Witch Jess Carlson discusses this point in detail, including the issue of harvesting or over the plant as well as its usage in and out of Native cultures.

Another point brought up by opponents was the use of the Petruk’s art. There are other decks with similar imagery, as noted by several Twitter users. One such deck is the Tarocco Studios “Old Memories Tarot,” which is advertised with the exact same image as that found in the Pinrose Starter Witch Kit. While the colors are different, both images are Petruk’s orignal drawing of the High Priestess card, and both cards do contain what users are identifying as the Prince love symbol. It is part of Petruk’s original work.

Additionally, both designs were obtained legally. Petruk licenses her tarot art through Dreamstime.com and it can be viewed by the public on Shutterstock and DeviantArt.

Since the Starter Witch Kit was announced, the backlash against it spread across social media outlets, becoming increasing public and even was covered by several mainstream media sites. Then, on September 5, Pinrose owners made the announcement that they would be pulling the product. In that announcement, they said:

First and foremost, to those who have shared their disappointment or taken offense to this product, we apologize profoundly. This was not our intent. We thank you for communicating with us and expressing your feelings. We hear you; we will not be manufacturing or making this product available for sale.

They also responded directly to some of the criticism, saying that the art used was legally obtained, the sage to be included was not harvested unethically or from any endangered species, and the book made no reference to specific ceremonial or religious rituals.

Pinrose owners added, “Our intention for the product was to create something that celebrates wellness, personal ceremony, and intention setting with a focus on using fragrance as a beauty ritual.” Pinrose will continue to sell their other products in that spirit.

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.