At the end of August, Sephora unveiled the “Starter Witch Kit,” a 12-piece box set including nine perfume samples, a deck of tarot cards, rose quartz and white sage from the perfume company Pinrose. The $42 box was set for release in October but was pulled shortly after its announcement due to the massive backlash the company received.
Many witches took to Twitter and Instagram to voice their discontent.
One user, @_chelsearedd, tweeted, “Witchcraft or Paganism (or however you refer to it) is a religion. One with actual practices and guidelines. It is not a basic b**** bandwagon. Spirituality is not a toy. Don’t buy the #witchkit @sephora is selling.”
Another user, @Help4SuzukiPs, tweeted, “@pinrose @Sephora we need to talk about the #witchkit. Cultural appropriation is violence, pure and simple. The Christian spoof hopefully hammers it home, in case you people still don’t get it.” Next to a picture of the proposed witch kit was a “Starter Christian Kit” parody graphic, complete with a pocket Bible, Holy Water, crucifix and communion wafers.
Those who practice Wicca, a modern Pagan religion based on pre-Christian practices that revolve around the worship of nature, warned potential buyers of the dangers associated with participating in witchcraft without knowing the meaning behind the rites.
People also questioned the inclusion of white sage, a plant grown natively in California that is commonly used in local Native American rituals. Many raised the concern that white sage is endangered, however, it is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Still, white sage is food for native bees as well as part of the breeding habitat for the California gnatcatcher—which is adorable, as well as over 120 other endangered species, according to a study done by the University of California Davis. It also grows in the California Coastal Sage and Chaparral ecoregion, which is endangered as reported by the World Wildlife Fund.
Humans have been burning things to cleanse for centuries—frankincense in the Christian traditions, Asian incenses and burning brush, woods and roots in many cultures of native peoples around the world. The list is endless. However, smudging is a practice that is sacred and therefore not for everyone.
Cherokee professor and blogger Adrienne Keene wrote in a post, “…the idea of ‘smudging’ is distinctly indigenous to the Americas. White sage, the plant in question, grows in California. The plant itself is not endangered in the US-stamped-on-a-list kind of way, though many online are saying that, but what is endangered is Native peoples’ ability to access and use wild white sage in the ways that they and their ancestors have done for thousands of years.”
Keene also stressed that historically, colonizers used the suppression of Native religions as a tool in their genocide. Keene wrote in her blog post that in the 1500s, the Spanish colonizers operated under “the Requirement,” which forced Native Americans to convert to Christianity or have their wives and children enslaved and sold, their goods confiscated and “do all the harm and damage that we can.”
The fact is that cleansing in this way, while a beautiful tradition, is simply not for most of us, and it’s not for those of us without indigenous ancestry, not just because it exercises our privilege as white people to appropriate Native cultures with little to no consequences—which doesn’t make it right—but also because it belittles the struggles Native peoples go through just to keep their ceremonies and practices alive.
After pulling the “Starter Witch Kit” on Sept. 5, Pinrose issued a statement on their website. The company apologized for disappointment and offense their product incited, writing, “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. 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.”
As Keene says, “If self proclaimed ‘witches’ want to get on board with helping stop Native spiritual oppression, cool. Just remember your own Wiccan Rede: ‘If it harm none, do what you will.’ Clearly this harms.”
Shauna is a junior English and journalism major from Milbank, S.D.