All things mystical are having a moment in both fashion and beauty—and while it's a moment that's been stretching on for some time, it has now reached fever pitch. Stevie Nicks-inspired frocks are on the rise, and sound baths have replaced traditional runway show soundtracks. Sage and crystals are now sold alongside our favorite skin-care products, and there are bath salts and body oils designed for each phase of the moon.
Not dissimilarly to how brands flocked to mermaids and unicorns, capitalizing on queer culture, they're now doing the same with witchcraft—and making big money off the culture of a marginalized group. And, as would be expected, this appropriation is causing problems.
Last month, fragrance brand Pinrose teamed up with Sephora to launch something they called a “Starter Witch Kit,” which consisted of tarot cards, a crystal, a white sage smudge stick, and a set of fragrances. And, well, it pissed off a lot of actual witches, and for a number of reasons. Not only did they feel that it was disrespectful to their culture, but there was concern about the inclusion of white sage, which has a very sacred meaning and use to indigenous people in North America.
In response to the backlash, Sephora and Pinrose shelved the kit. Pinrose also released an apology, stating that it was not its intention to offend or disappoint anyone, and pointing out that the white sage purchased for the kit was “grown in the wild and sustainably harvested," was "sold by Native American owned and operated businesses,” and the kit did not reference smudging rituals or ceremony circles.
But Sephora and Pinrose are not the only companies profiting off Wiccan and indigenous cultures, and appropriating their practices and rituals and language. (Doesn't it seem like every other person you follow on social media is now part of a #coven?) How, though, do the witches feel about it all?
“I mean, witches are cool as fuck, so, like, I get it,” says Gabriela Herstik, author and witch behind our Ask A Witch series. “But, it does annoy me and ignites a deep well of passion in me. I think my biggest issue around all of this is that there are people who are still being killed around the world for simply being accused of witchcraft. Thousands and thousands of people have died for being accused of this practice, and most of those who died weren’t even actual witches. When I see stores adopt this as a trend they can just use without actually thinking about the history, I get a bad taste in my mouth. If you’re not offering any practices that help people find connection and empowerment, and instead just selling them something, what are you doing?”
The question of witchcraft appropriation goes beyond brands though, with many people accusing all those #coven "witches" of stealing from indigenous cultures and adopting once-stigmatized language and practices from a place of privilege. “Cultural appropriation itself is a thorny issue in the witchcraft community, though many witches and spiritual folk are doing the work to stamp out racism and appropriation and bring awareness and sensitivity into modern practices,” says Christie Craft, writer and witch. “Still, brands and labels gaining inspiration or emulating certain textbook aspects of witchcraft are bound to be appropriative.”
Craft, though, doesn’t think that the idea of slapping the word “witch” on a tote bag or a beauty product is necessarily appropriating anyone’s culture, but is, rather, just a bad look on the brand’s part:
Invoking the witch archetype isn’t proprietary for anyone. No one owns the witch—not even the witches own the witch!—which is kind of the whole point of an archetype that deals in wild freedom and naturally derived power, among other things. I can’t speak for all witches, but it seems like anyone can see—at least, I hope most people can tell—when a brand uses “witch” as a trendy vehicle to cash in on a moment; it’s very disingenuous and super-corny. Most of these campaigns self-implode.
Blatant blend of witchcraft and capitalism aside, there are some positive things about the recent normalization of the occult, in that the once-outcast figure of the outspoken, powerful woman is now embraced. The more familiar the witch is, the more people accept her. “I don’t think she’ll always be in vogue, but the witch has become relevant again and again,” says Herstik. “And when it’s not safe for her to remain visible, she hides. But she’s always been there. I think that this practice can be so transformative and so powerful, and I do believe that the witch in many of us is waking up. I think we need as many witches as necessary to change things, so I’m not upset at her popularity.”
Craft also feels that this rise in popularity is a good thing, bringing witches together. “It’s easy to bristle at something like witchcraft going mainstream,” she says. “Half the fun is how shadowy and taboo it once was to identify as a witch. But despite how alone, weird, or rare we may have felt in our witchiness, there are a lot of us—it’s become clear that we’re kind of everywhere! When we’re represented more, even in art, fashion, media, etc., it’s easier for us to find and empower each other as a community. Collaboration between witches is a brilliant side effect of this spiritual renaissance.”
And even for those of us who don't identify as witches, the recent attention placed on self-care rituals have been a boon to everyone’s—witch or not—hectic lives. “I think that anything that invites people to connect and explore with the idea of healing and self-care and ritual is worthy, and I do know that sometimes that exists within capitalism with brands that are only trying to be trendy,” says Herstik.
That said, there’s a way to appreciate and use these products, whether you’re an actual witch or simply intrigued by the craft—that is, respect the culture behind it. “You can still be conscious of the way you consume these practices, actually honoring where they come from and how sacred they are without buying into them just because they’re a trend,” says Herstik. So, do your research and learn some history—and do it because you’re genuinely interested, not just because you're ready to hop on another bandwagon.