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Sephora / Pinrose Starter Witch Kits: The Good, The Bad, and the Questions

By September 3, 2018 No Comments

(Update: Pinrose has issued a public statement – check the end of this post for the response)

Late last week, a couple of online articles popped up regarding Pinrose releasing a “Starter Witch Kit” that would be sold through Sephora starting October 9th (some sites said October 5th).

On August 28, 2018, Glossy explained the context behind the kit:

By selling branded crystals and their ceremonial counterparts, brands are able to create an engagement with their customer in the offline world and in their homes. It’s also an engagement that is supposed to be repeated and helps customers grow more comfortable with the products, said Erika Shumate, CEO of Pinrose.

“Familiarity is one of the ways to get people to like something, and get them to understand it,” she said. “One of my goals is for our customers to get to know a scent that might be a little strong today, and then in a month, pick it up and say, ‘Wow, this is beautiful.’”

To that end, the Pinrose Starter Witch Kit includes a step-by-step guide on how to “create and cleanse your ceremony space, charge your crystal, read your tarot card and anoint your fragrance,” according to the brand. 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, Shumate said.

On August 31, 2018, Quartzy noted how Pinrose’s actions are part of a larger trend:

Thanks in part to the rise of Goop [the purveyor of the jade yoni egg] and its ilk, the beauty industry is no stranger to this mystical side of wellness, which is becoming increasingly inextricable from New Age mysticism—a trend in spirituality marked by a renewed interest in crystal grids, tarot cards, and astrology.

As a Tarot reader and solitary practitioner, I spent the last few days sorting through my own thoughts and feelings with regards to this “starter witch kit”, as well as keeping tabs of the various online conversations regarding this product launch.

 

The Good

Making Tarot more accessible

Tarot can be an amazing tool for tapping into one’s intuitive abilities. You don’t need to follow a specific religion (or any religion) in order to use it. That being said, there’s a lot of myths surrounding the use of Tarot: that it’s evil, of the “devil”, that you need to be psychic or into the woo-woo to use it, etc. Efforts to make the use of Tarot more normalized – while still honoring its roots – are a good thing.

Part of practicing Tarot is recognizing that different decks resonate with different people. While some readers resonate with the Rider Waite-Smith deck, others have an easier time reading with The Wild Unknown or even pop culture-inspired decks. There’s new Tarot decks popping up on Kickstarter each week. If the deck in the Starter Witch Kit resonates with an aspiring reader and starts them on their Tarot journey – good! If Urban Outfitters sells Tarot decks, why not Sephora?  Not everyone has access to an occult/metaphysical shop in their area, which is why I support more mainstream shops offering Tarot decks, especially those from smaller companies.

 

A potential recruitment tool for the #MagicResistance

Fully admitting this is a tongue-in-cheek response. Yes, there are witches who are trying to bind Donald Trump.

 

Another reason for me to go to Sephora

Also another tongue-in-cheek response (mostly). Their free classes helped me boost my confidence and learn how to use the growing pile of make-up that I collected through various subscription services.

 

The Bad

Sourcing of crystals tends to be problematic

How many of us know where our cleansing and healing crystals come from and what practices were used to obtain them? Often times, the merchants don’t even know because of the number of middle-men in the crystal industry. In May 2018, The New Republic posted an article about the crystal mining industry, noting:

“If shop owners can’t disclose their sourcing without risking business, how can consumers know that their healing crystals didn’t contribute to human trauma or environmental destruction? How can they ensure that the energy the stone purportedly contains has not been compromised by bad ethical vibes?”

Pinrose touts on its website and social media that its products are “Vegan and Cruelty/Phthalate/Paraben/Gluten-Free”, implying that ethical practices are tied to their company values. If that is the case, then using questionably sourced stones in their starter witch kit would run contrary to those values.

 

The cultural significance of white sage

At the time that I purchased it, I didn’t know of the cultural significance of this plant.

Part of the criticism of the Starter Witch Kit focused on the bundle of white sage (salvia apiana), which is a plant that is native to North America (mainly California) and used in the spiritual practices of indigenous people.  There were concerns that the plant was being over-harvested to the point of extinction. However, the USDA does not include white sage in their Threatened & Endangered list, and others have done their own fact-checking.

That being said, the use of white sage is one of the many ways that white witches and pagans have engaged in the cultural appropriation of Native American practices. For those not familiar with the term, “cultural appropriation” is where you take pieces of another culture – without invitation or a full understanding of the context – and claim it as your own. This can become especially disrespectful if you are part of a culture that has oppressed or done harm to the group whose culture you are pulling from.

Those of us with European ancestry have a history where our people colonized the Americas, forced the indigenous people off of their land, and tried to take away their culture (research the history of Native American boarding schools). Thus, us turning around and taking pieces of Native American traditions and treating them like accessories to our own practices can come across as hurtful.

Person-to-person, I am not going to police what tools you use in your own spiritual path. I ask you to take the time to do research with regards to their cultural sources, and ask yourself whether you feel comfortable with the use of said tools. It is important for your actions to be aligned with your beliefs.

Companies – due to the scale of impact that they can have on economies and cultures – have a greater responsibility when it comes to mindfulness of their actions. We don’t know how these white sage bundles were sourced: were they harvested from the wild or farmed? If they were farmed, were those who profited from indigenous communities or were they white people? What about the launch date for this kit (October 9th) being the day after Columbus Day, a “holiday” linked to the European colonization of the Americas?

 

The commercialization of witchcraft and its effects

“Witch” and “witchcraft” are not tied to a specific religion, practice, or culture. Wikipedia defines witchcraft as “the practice of and belief in magical skills and abilities exercised by solitary practitioners and groups”. These are usually associated with Wicca and paganism, but not always. Thus, attempts to create any sort of mass-marketed “starter witch kit” are going to falls short.

There are those who see this kit and others like it as marketing and watering down their religion, beliefs, and overall identity. I understand how that can be upsetting, especially when done by a company that pushes a particular (white middle class) aesthetic. A quick look of Pinrose’s website and social media shows a particular aesthetic: one of bright colors and glitzy crystals. While for some witchcraft may include the use of cleansing smoke, crystals, and Tarot, those tools are not universal.

Joey Morris – blogger and owner of Starry Eyed Supplies – recorded an amazing video on YouTube where she shared her thoughts on the implications of the Starter Witch Kit. She had this to say with regards to how these mass-marketed images of witchcraft impact smaller businesses:

The first thing irks me is like someone who gives a shit about this stuff is when you get lumped in with that, and it’s very very difficult for me to sit and tell most people like you know because what inevitably happens is “real witches don’t sell stuff” and then you have to have that argument again which happens every single Samhain… The problem is this kind of commercialism this kind of focus on the shallow sell people an idea of something. That shallow commercialism that comes from these kind of kits gets brushed over onto people who do care. For people who sell tarot readings and it means something to them. People who sell items and it really means something to them. People who share courses and all this and it means something in their bones and then they have to fight this kind of marketing, this kind of commercialism.

 

The Questions

Here’s where I am still going “huh?”

 

The source of the Tarot deck?…

When I first saw the kit, I wanted to do a review of the Tarot deck that was included. I liked the aesthetics – a mashup between mystic and the popular “rainbow unicorn” palette that has been going around. As the weekend progressed, I learned through various forums that the cover of the deck looked similar to another deck that had a limited print run: The Old Memories Tarot by Tarocco Studio. Later, I found out that the original art was actually from the Samiramay Tarot Deck by Vera Petruk.  Based on what is going around in the forums, the original artist wasn’t notified that their work would be used in this print release. (Update: I emailed the artist and confirmed that she had not been contacted by Pinrose or Tarocco Studio)

That being said, per the licensing agreement for the marketplace where the Samiramay Tarot Deck is available:

Do I have to credit the original designer of an Item when I use it?
No, but that sure is a nice thing to do!

The full terms of the licensing agreement also indicated that modifications of the original work are allowed:

Shop Owner hereby grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable right to use, modify and reproduce the Item worldwide, in perpetuity, as expressly permitted by the license herein

Pinrose technically isn’t required to give credit to the Vera (the original artist). Were they going to include her in the credits in the deck’s little white book? We don’t know. However, I’m hoping that the reaction via social media leads to the staff at Pinrose reaching out to her to get her. They tout themselves as a company that uses ethical practices with regards to their perfumes. I’m hoping that they do the same with regards to their marketing.

In the meantime, if you want a copy of the deck (without the rainbow unicorn vibe), check out The Old Memories Tarot and the Samiramay Tarot.

 

What’s with the social media reaction?

Biddy Tarot (Tarot resource & creator of The Everyday Tarot) was right when they noted that the “card of the week” for last week was the 5 of Wands. Eep! This situation totally has the “all hell breaks loose over a controversial topic” vibe.

There are a lot of strong opinions on this topic, and many of those reactions are showing up in the comments on social media. Pinrose’s Instagram Page has become one such target. On September 1, 2018, Babe focused on the reaction on Twitter, where many Wiccans and Witches have expressed outrage over the announced kit.

On September 3, 2018, Magick and Mediums published a podcast regarding the kit and social media reaction:

This October, Witch Starter Kits will be sold in Sephora but is this just major corporations exploiting a real culture or the rise of the Divine Feminine or a combination of both?

In this special segment of Pagan Perspectives, Erin Aquarian the Full Time Witch and I will be sharing our opinions on this starter kit composed of 9 perfumes, a sage bundle, a tarot deck, and a tumbled rose quartz piece.

Erin Aquarian is a full time witch and radical healing artist based in Portland, Oregon. She reads and teaches tarot for healing and empowerment, and does “Tarot TV” on youtube, and Waking the Witch podcast on Soundcloud.com/erin-aquarian.

Seriously – listen to this podcast!!!!

 

It was only a matter of time before conservative Christians reacted. On September 3, 2018, the Tea Party website reported:

A trend that first began in the 90s and early aughts has made its way back again to magazines and now, beauty stores, apparently: Wicca.

There have been people who label themselves witches for years now, and, for all intents and purposes, pretty much are.

They make potions, cast spells, and glorify darkness. Sure, a lot of the time it’s just angsty goth chicks trying to be counter-culture, but that doesn’t undermine the very real pagan origins to this trend.

And like all things counter-culture, it’s going mainstream.

Last month, Vogue put out a series of articles on the “witching” trend, arguing that–of course–in the Trump era, women should be bada$$ witches (or whatever).

Now, Sephora is cashing in on the “witching” trend, by selling–what else?–designer starter witch kits.

…Cute.

The writer closed by saying that they were waiting to see if a special “cast a spell on Donald Trump” kit would be released. Too late. That topic is so last year.

My guess is that Pinrose’s marketing team and executives are on break due to the Labor Day weekend, and whoever is handling the social media isn’t trained in crisis response. In the meantime, the lack of official response seems to be fueling the reaction even more.

 

Final thoughts

While Tarot is seen as “witchy” and is used in various spiritual practices, no specific religion claims ownership of the tool and practice. Given how Tarot is often seen as “evil” or “woo-woo”, I am all for attempts to bring Tarot as a tool into the mainstream as long as it is done in a respectful manner.

Personally, I think that Pinrose publishing a deck inspired by their perfumes – especially one where the artists are credited and compensated – would be really cool. There’s Tarot decks out there inspired by cats, tattoo art, video games, and RPG’s… so why not perfume?

Just ditch the rose quartz, white sage, and “starter witch kit” label.

P.S.: Support witchy small businesses run by people who give a shit and believe in their craft. Let’s make sure that these members of our community do not get slammed as a by-product of the criticism towards Pinrose and Sephora.

 

Update (Sep 5 2018): Pinrose has issued the following public statement on their website in response to the feedback received over the kit:

9.5.18 A note from Pinrose on the “Starter Witch Kit”
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.

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.

Responses to Frequently Asked Questions:

– Artwork used in the kit was purchased by Pinrose on June 24, 2018. The Print Usage License (P-EL) covers use on products for resale and never expires.

– Per the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Salvia Apiana (White Sage) is not classified as threatened or endangered. The sage that was planned to be used in this kit is sourced from a Green America Gold Certified company. The sage is grown in the wild in California and is sustainably harvested and sold by Native American owned and operated businesses.

– The product did not reference ceremonial smudging or ceremony circles.

About Pinrose:
Pinrose is based in San Francisco. The company is majority owned by its 8 full-time female employees. All Pinrose products are made in New Jersey, California, or Texas. Pinrose is an inclusive, luxury beauty company that amplifies your imagination and individuality because it inspires playful product experience, demystifies the world of fragrance, and tailors your buying journey. Our brand values include playfulness, inclusivity, individuality and making our customer “the face of our brand.” We do not use celebrity or designer endorsements as we encourage our customer to be the best version of themself.

Geek Girl Tarot

About Geek Girl Tarot

Jessica's first experience with Tarot was in 2002, where she learned how to read for herself after a difficult life event. Over the next fifteen years she developed her abilities by reading for herself and others during times of upheaval. Recently she has come out of the broom closet and offers her Tarot reading services to others. Jessica is a solitary witch who follows Celtic and Greek deities and splashes in a bit of chaos magick along the way. She is into geeky things like LARP and video games, and brings her nerdy fascination into her craft.

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