The Sephora/Pinrose witch-kit issue irked me, but it is nothing new. The commercialisation of Witchcraft and Wicca has been a problem within the community for decades, this is just a particularly egregious example because it is coming from a mainstream retailer. When I first got into Wicca and Witchcraft in 2001/2002, one of the first things I came across were people imploring me to avoid being an 'Insta-witch', which before the dawn of Instagram, meant someone who just bought a pre-made kit and declared themselves a witch, with no dedication to the craft itself, no process of learning, and in relation to Wicca, which is a religion, no faith. I read warnings against this in books published long before I took an interest in the topic, and I think there have been phases of popularity for Wicca and Witchcraft before, especially in the '70s and in the late '90s after The Craft came out.
[I think I came across Wicca at the end of that phase of popularity, but I didn't come to it through it being a 'cool' thing for teens, I came across it through finding an expose book that was full of misinformation, but seeing through the nonsense to realise that there were other people who thought and felt and experienced the world the same way I almost always had].
Each time something 'witchy' becomes prominent enough in popular culture to spark an interest in Witchcraft as a practice, there are people who will try and cash in on that popularity, but in the past, before the modern internet allowed us to have a voice to explain why this was insulting and a problem, our complaints were left to admonishments in books on Witchcraft, letters to the editors of magazines and newsletters within the community, and maybe a few internet forums. Now we have more of a platform to explain why this is an issue.
One large issue is that many commercialised 'witchy' things are made by people who have not done their research, and in a community with no central authority, no central text to refer back to, this means a lot of people get a very confused, inaccurate, and sometimes offensive portrayal of Witchcraft, including those trying to learn about it because they are interested in doing it.
There's a whole raft of books about Witchcraft that still perpetuate the notion that Wicca is the survival of an ancient pan-European matriarchal 'witch-cult', who talk about the witch hunts of Europe and the Americas as 'the Burning Times' and as a persecution of actual witches although for the most part it was religious mass hysteria, more akin to the 'Satanic Panic' of the '80s and '90s, giving downright dangerous herbal medicine advice, and conflating a elements of other practices as 'Wicca' or 'Witchcraft' when they are not, and without siting what cultures or belief structures they actually come from. Some of the authors just wanted to make money fast and churned something to appeal to a demographic of neophytes without care, and some of them are just repeating what they have learned from this miasma of misinformation, especially as it takes a lot of research to pick through it. Thankfully for me, I am a nerd, and I like reading about the things I am passionate about, including books written in often stuffy and stilted ways, academic papers, and actual old occult texts (or at least translations thereof), because if I had stuck with what I read in the first few high-selling 'witchy' books I had read, I would have remained quite ignorant, probably believing in over-inflated figures for those executed in the witch hunts (and believing that those executed and accused were actual witches, when very few had connections to folk-magic), and that Wicca really was an ancient faith - not a modern faith inspired by ancient things.
For years, I have gone into discount book retailers and found tarot kits as tacky as the one that was going to be in the Sephora kit. I've also seen independent Witchcraft/occult shops sell pre-made 'spell kits' and 'witchcraft starter kits', and while some are carefully put together by practising Witches, some of them are clearly mass-produced nonsense (I know that there will be non-Witches reading this saying 'but it's ALL nonsense!' but I am talking as a believer to other believers). In some places I've also seen items purporting to be relating 'Voodoo magic' with no true connection to those cultures, and probably culturally inaccurate packaging - similar is invoking various 'ancient powers'; at one point there was a fad for 'Ancient Egyptian' stuff with nonsense hieroglyphs and only a passing association to Kemeticsm or historical Ancient Egyptian beliefs! This is misappropriating Witchcraft, and whatever culture they've themed a product by, just as the Sephora/Pinrose kit was misappropriating Native American beliefs with the white sage. These things are ripping off the ignorant and confusing the new.
The other major issue is that most of these mass-produced items are made by companies not run by Witches or Wiccans, and that they are competing against the people within the community, and often out-competing them because it is simply a lot cheaper to have things mass-produced (often abroad, and I do wonder about sweatshops, health and safety and the environmental impact of production on this scale) on the cheap than it is for an individual to sell their time as a craftsperson, the cost of materials bought in small batches (and often at higher quality) and who has to cover their overheads for a niche business, rather than it just being another product from a conglomerate that sells a broad variety of items. The commercialisation of Wicca and Witchcraft makes it ever more difficult for people within those communities to sustain businesses within their own communities, unless they join in and become re-sellers of these mass-produced items.
One of the reasons a lot of more experienced witches have such an emotional reaction over the Witch-kits is that for many of us, we have a long history of our religion being met with hostility or mockery from the mainstream - a bit like why Goths get grumpy when they see the same people who mocked them suddenly wearing a similar look because it's now cool. A lot of people have had some very negative, sometimes even violent, experiences over intolerance of their faith, so seeing it surface with shallow mainstream popularity can be quite irksome.
Two elements from the Sephora/Pinrose kit are items very popular in magical and spiritual/mystical practice currently, but which can have issues with sustainable sourcing. The kit was cancelled, so this is no criticism of Sephora/Pinrose, but a general discussion of some of the issues around crystals and white sage.
The stone in the kit was going to be rose quartz. It is very popular in crystal healing and crystal magic (and quite pretty if you like pink). Rose quartz is a mineral, and it has to be mined, and it is a finite resource - just like coal or oil - and while some quartz mines are in America or Europe (a specific type of smoky quartz was mined in the Cairngorms, here in Scotland, and Morion quartz comes from Eastern Europe). Rose quartz is often mined in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, and is secondary to gold mining, and while it is mostly regulated, there are issues with miners working outside the regulations, and with environmental problems. Mining for crystals in general can be an environmental issue, and encouraging a high popular demand is not helping the situation. There are definitely other crystals that are being mined primarily in ways that are either ecologically harmful or with unethical labour practices.
Crystal healing is a New Age practice, not one originating from either traditional Witchcraft, Wicca or Western Occultism, and the mystical lapidaries of historical European occultism focused on correlations between astrology and precious stones, not the semi-precious and non-precious minerals common to modern crystal practices. I've read that the Hopi of what is now Arizona had a lapidary healing practice, but this is again different to the New Age crystal healing practice, which borrows eclectically from Asian beliefs (it's hard to attribute concepts like chakras to a specific religion; I know they come up in quite a few, especially Hinduism and some versions of Buddhism, and it is likely that these concepts have been incorporated from contact with both Yogic and Buddhist beliefs), mystical interpretations of concepts such as energy, vibration, resonance and crystal structures which are markedly different from the scientific use of these terms, etc.
There are definitely plenty of Witches that have adopted the use of crystals, particularly in terms of symbolic correspondences in spells, but I think it is important to know that this is an adjunct, and that there are plenty of people who believe in the mystical or healing properties of crystals that would never consider themselves witches, and while there is overlap in the use - specifically in the way crystals are given correspondences to certain issues - in how crystals are used in spells, and how crystals are used in healing, they're not quite the same thing. I don't judge anyone for believing in the healing or magical properties of crystals, although personally I don't believe in crystal healing, and think more of ritual crystals as symbolic than inherently powerful; all I am writing about this for is to a) explain the origins of the use of crystals as an adopted practice, and b) encourage people to source their crystals ethically (more on the latter), and if you do believe in those things, that's as valid as any other spiritual belief, even if I don't share that belief. I think the point I am trying to make is that using crystals isn't inherent to Witchcraft, so don't feel like you need to use crystals to be a Witch, or that you aren't a proper Witch without a large collection of crystals. You can certainly use them if you want, but it's not a core requirement.
Since writing this article, I read an article on Patheos called ::The Toxicity of Crystals and Ways to Practice Real Stone Spirit Magick:: that I agree with in places, don't fully agree with on several points, and disagree with on others, but which definitely has again highlighted the importance to source crystals responsibly. Options for responsibly sourcing crystals include buying them secondhand (presumably with ritual cleansing), and buying them from a seller that has a very good grasp of their supply chain, knowing the sort of conditions that the miners work under and the environmental sustainability of the mining
White Sage for smudging is a practice from indigenous American groups, so attributing it to Witchcraft is inaccurate. Again, plenty of Witches now use white sage, but usually for smoke cleansing, not as an invitation to spirits. The other issue, which I cannot find a clear answer on, is whether or not there is a problem with over-harvesting. White sage is a plant native to the southern states of the USA and to Mexico. Gathering wild white sage is apparently illegal in Mexico (presumably for ecological reasons), and the information I have found on its cultivation in South America, and people circumventing legal restrictions on wild gathering to meet demands have been conflicting, as well as if there is an issue with high demand as an export product causing issues locally.
Smudging and smoke or incense cleansing are not synonymous, so the calling cleansing a space with white sage 'smudging' is an inaccuracy. There's a lot of debate over whether it is cultural misappropriation for European Neo-Pagans to use white sage for spiritual cleansing, and I think a lot of that depends on whether you're doing it because you think it's some mystical 'noble savage' practice with inaccurate and romanticised pretensions to Shamanism or not, whether your white sage is ethically sourced (and if it's profiting off Native American imagery without being a Native-run business), and a lot of other factors; from what I've read, some sort of botanical cleansing incense, often including sage or similar, has existed in most cultures, and I don't want to be claiming offence for a group I don't belong to, plus I think opinions are likely to be mixed amongst different Native American groups, people within those groups, etc. (Just like not all Witches agree with me or were upset about the Sephora witch-kit! A lot were, but it's not unanimous; groups are always made up of individuals, and it is important not to assume any group is entirely homogeneous and monolithic.)
Sustainable sourcing of sage can be from several sources. I think a lot of people can grow their own; I know people even in the Scottish Highlands who have managed to grow it in their gardens - a far cry from the sunny climes of South America and the southern states of America! (This is where my bundles have come from - grown and gifted to me). Another option would be to source fair-trade and ecologically-soundly grown white sage. I don't know if there are indigenous groups preparing and bundling it who are selling it to the Neo-Pagan, Witchcraft and alternative spirituality community, but if there is a way to buy from them that supports their local businesses rather than competes or obscures the native traditions, then that might also be an option. Sage incense cleansing isn't something I really work with; I prefer to cleanse a space with a broom, and objects with ritual waters. (To their credit, Pinrose did say they wanted to source their sage from sustainable Native-run businesses, but this was in response to the criticism.)
An Alternative Wiccan 'Starter Kit'
Witchcraft, as I will explain later, is broader than Wicca, and includes a lot of different things, so listing the contents for a unifying starter set would not be possible. Wicca is the most common form of modern Witchcraft, and the one I am personally most familiar with, so I will write a little of what someone who wants to become a Wiccan should do in terms of sourcing their first items for personal practice.
The first thing I will say is that the items are tools, and while they help enacting the symbolism of Wicca for spiritual purposes, they are not completely necessary - however it does make it easier, especially for those who are new, to use tangible objects. If you make your tools, you have more of a personal connection, so this is always the best option if possible!The main tools are an athame, a wand, a chalice, a cauldron and an altar to put them on.
An athame is considered a masculine symbol due to its vaguely phallic shape, and is representative of the element of Air. It is used symbolically only, and there is some debate as to whether it should be sharp or not. Gerald Gardener took the term from the Key of Solomon, and was deeply moved by the ritual blades of many indigenous cultures, such as the kris of the Malay. Traditionally an athame has a black handle.
My first athame was a secondhand letter-opener that happened to be in the shape of a leaf-bladed sword, with a historically inaccurate hilt, and in brass, which to my under-educated teenage self aligned well enough with my impression of a Bronze age 'Celtic' sword. Any dagger or dagger-like bladed object (such as my letter opener!) will usually do - the easiest to get hold of in the UK are decorative daggers made for people who either like blades from a Fantasy fandom perspective, or a historical weapons perspective, or both. Be careful, however, as a lot of the ones made to look like the traditional notion of a dagger, especially with black handles, are reproductions of Nazi weapons, sometimes with the insignia left off, making them less discernible as related to Nazism (I know some people just want their WW2 historical weapons/reproductions to accurately include both axis and allied forces, but any Nazi-related regalia makes me deeply uncomfortable, and are also very popular amongst actual Neo-Nazis and their ilk. I doubt I am the only person who is uncomfortable around that sort of thing.)
If you are not interested in having one that is metal (or sharp), or you are very good at metal-work, you can either make your own symbolic athame, for example whittled out of wood, or if you're good at metal-work, and amateur knife-making is permitted in your location, then you can do that, too. I know two people who have made their own athames from cutting and grinding a metal bar into shape and then making a wooden handle - as they are not functional knives for actually cutting anything physically, things like differential hardness, forging a blade and the steel being able to hold an edge are not important, making building your own athame an easier project that making a functional knife.
The option for purchasing an athame which would best support those within the community itself would be to buy one hand-crafted by a practising Wiccan or Pagan, through a shop run by Wiccans or other Pagans, or directly, but this is expensive (forging is a labour-intensive process, and good steel is expensive!), but this it outside of the price-range of many. I certainly have designs, and know someone who could make what I would like, but I can't afford something like that just yet. Custom made knives are pretty expensive in general; I have antique swords more affordable than a lot of contemporary hand-forged blades, but to reiterate what I said: making knives, especially beautiful ritual objects, is time consuming work, good steel is expensive, and if you want special woods, silver, actual crystals or anything else in your item then it will be even more expensive - and this isn't a complaint, just a warning to beginner witches and those on a budget that while it might be excellent for craftpeople in Paganism to get new customers, it might not be a very affordable option, and not because of overpricing.
A wand is a short stick, preferably made of wood, but sometimes made of other materials, used to direct energy and represent the element of Fire. It is also considered masculine. Wands have a huge history predating Wicca, far more than I can reasonably put in one paragraph. You could do years of research on that topic (maybe there's a thesis in there somewhere... hmm...).
The best way to get a wand is to make one yourself. This does not necessarily mean hand-turning it on a lathe (although I'm working on that!), but usually just means whittling the bark off a short branch. In sourcing that branch, try to pick dead wood that has fallen naturally, rather than cutting a living tree. If you want to make it from commercially available timber (like a wooden dowel), make sure that it is from a sustainable timber source. If you take a stick from nature, be mindful not to take something that has already become a home for other living things; firstly you don't want wood-boring insects in your home, secondly fungi may have started to rot the wood, and thirdly, those creatures don't need to be disturbed by meddling humans! If you have your own garden, with bushes and trees, you can probably find a suitable stick there. Once you have your stick, customise it to make it into a wand.
Do not buy a Harry Potter fandom wand or similar LARP or fantasy roleplay wand; those are often resin (and thus sometimes brittle display-only items), or even worse cheap plastic, and they're not intended as religious artefacts. Real Witchcraft is not LARP.
If you want something particularly pretty, there are Pagan wand-makers out there, but again you go into the territory of more expensive handmade crafts - however you can get turned wooden wands made on a lathe relatively inexpensively, usually around £20 in the UK. They're usually spindle-style, made of one type of wood, and have some decorative turning along them, quite nice for the price.
A chalice is a ritual cup set aside specifically for that purpose. It is often used to hold wine or other beverages, so needs to be food-safe. It is considered feminine, and represents the element of Earth, especially the concept of the 'womb of mother Earth' in many variations of Wicca.
Just use a wine-glass. My first chalice was not food-safe because I bought some fancy brass thing, then I was given another metal one that wasn't suitable for actually drinking out of, and now I have a pewter one from Alchemy Gothic that I never use for actual rituals because I don't know if it's food-safe either. I do, however, have a purple glass wine-glass that I picked up in a charity shop. It IS food-safe, and I use that one pretty regularly. It cost me 50p, and it is goblet shaped and looks nice. A lot of charity shops struggle to sell individual wine-glasses as people usually want a set, and only buy a single one if it replaces a broken one from a set they already have, and while glass is widely recycled, it is saving one from being thrown away, and then melted down and all the other energy intensive processes, so I definitely recommend getting a lonely wine-glass from a charity shop or other secondhand seller. You can get some really, really pretty ones quite cheaply!
I advise personally against the resin decorative cups widely available online; while they often feature Pagan and Wiccan themes like the Green Man, or pentacles, they seem more like decorative fantasy objects, and they are again mass-produced items. This is just my opinion, however, and reflects mostly my personal tastes. They also usually cost upwards of £15, whereas you can probably still find a nice secondhand wine-glass for 50p, especially in charity shops and car-boot sales!
There are food-safe and ornamental chalices made by independent Pagan craftspeople, too. Most of the ones I have seen are made by potters and are thus ceramic rather than glass. Always inquire about the use of food-safe glazes if you intend to drink from your chalice!
Most of the time, you don't actually need a cauldron. The chalice is often a good substitute in terms of ritual symbolism, and there are practical alternatives if you need a vessel to burn something in, or brew an actual potion - in fact, many cauldrons sold are fine to use for burning spell components, but not safe for brewing any potions that are to be consumed or applied topically. Many are entirely decorative, too, and might crack if you burn something in them or heat them. Most of the time, if you want to make an actual 'potion', then you're better off doing the same as you would for cooking anything else, and using a pan on your stove. If you're making a potion that is not intended to be consumed, and may have ingredients that are poisonous, could damage your pan, etc. then you might want to have a separate pan for that. I've been a witch over 15 years and never had that problem personally!
If you really, really, REALLY must have a cauldron you can cook up an ingestible potion in, look at reenactment camp supplies, potjie pots - as suggested to me many years ago by a friend from South Africa, which is where potjie pots are from. They're not cheap though.
It's a table. You don't need some special mini-table you probably can't fit most of your tools on, carved with pentacles and triquetras - you just need a table, and to consecrate and decorate it, to set it apart from mundane uses. My altar is on a wheeled trolly. It usually sits in the corner of my living room, but the wheels mean I can easily move it to the centre of the room for group rituals, or those that require me to circumambulate it, or whatnot. I think the trolly was £15 in a British Heart Foundation charity shop. It has a drawer beneath the 'table top' in which I keep incense, and beneath there's a shelf I use to store ritual supplies. My altar cloths are usually fancy scarves, again from charity shops.
If you want something fancy, and are willing to pay for the art, dying and printing process, you can get some nice altar-cloths made from upcycled textiles with beautiful prints from ::Poison Apple Print Shop::, for example. Got to admit, I have been admiring their work via Instagram for a while now...
Other objects, like a different dishes for salt, water and offerings, incense, candles, and the like are pretty easy to come by and aren't seen as Neo-Pagan/Wicca/Witchcraft speciality items, so I haven't listed them here. One of my upcoming craft projects will be making my own besom/broom, and I hope to post the process up here, so I will leave brooms until then.
Wicca and Witchcraft
I would like to disambiguate Wicca and Witchcraft briefly; Wicca is a Neo-Pagan religion that sees the Divine as having both male and female attributes, and has a belief in being in tune with the cycles of nature, seeing that related to a cycle of birth, death and reincarnation, and has a belief in magic (not in a flying on brooms, turning people into toads sort of way!). It was founded by Gerald Gardener, who pieced together material from various sources including the works of Aleister Crowley, his experiences with native peoples, especially the Dusun of Borneo (but he was widely travelled and had contact with other groups), Spiritualism in a post-Victorian context, Free Masonry, Rosicrucianism and a lot of other stuff including Arthurian mythology, the historical beliefs contemporary to him about Avebury, Stonehenge and Druids that were later disproved, etc. A lot of modern Witchcraft practices, even by non-Wiccans are derived from Wicca, but there are a lot of Witchcraft practices that come more directly from traditional European folk-beliefs, and are not Wicca-related at all. These often focus more on practical spell-craft, local folklore, the Fair Folk, and on traditional herbal remedies, and sometimes overlap with Christian beliefs. (I apologise if I am missing out elements of continental European practices, as I am most familiar with those of the British Isles, as that is where I'm from).
There are also magical systems in other cultures that get called 'witchcraft' and have been referred to as such by English-speakers for centuries, but that is putting a European framework on completely different cultures, and these practices have proper names in their own cultures, and some find being called 'witches' disrespectful, especially in places and cultures that for which the term 'witchcraft' means some sort of evil anti-Christian or 'Satanic' practice involving demons, or pacts with the devil, or possession by evil spirits.
On a related note, it is also important to distinguish that sort of idea from Wicca, modern Witchcraft, especially as accusations of anti-Christian activity, human and animal sacrifice, and 'black magic' are often used to oppress Witchcraft and magical practices. This is not to say Satanists practice these things either. There are several types of Satanist, and also Luciferans; neither of them seem to resemble the diabolical witchcraft conspiracy of human sacrifice, infanticide, sexual perversion and black magic that was written about in tracts from the late Medieval period onwards, and which has coloured a fear of witches in Christianity from the witch-hunts onwards. Occasionally acts from vandalism through to actual violence have been inspired by this myth of diabolical witchcraft, but it is not related to any established Satanic or Luciferan belief systems I have encountered. Some people practising branches of western occultism do have positive beliefs relating to Lucifer as an angelic figure in a religious framework that includes elements of Judeo-Christian cosmology but in a different theological context, and view Lucifer as the light-bringer, a figure representing illumination and knowledge, but this is distinct from most Witchcraft paths, and from Neo-Paganism, which is usually more focused on pre-Christian polytheistic religions. Satanists tend to view Satan as an archetype of rebellion and hedonism rather than a deity/entity, nor as a symbol of evil, and from what I gather, many see each person as their own 'god' or 'goddess' and have an emphasis on free will. There are a small number of Satanists who also practice Witchcraft as a magical practice, but the majority of Satanists I've met are actually quite sceptical about any magical or occult practices.
Wicca and Witchcraft are niche communities, and Wicca has come to be such a major factor in modern Witchcraft that Traditional Witchcraft and other non-Wiccan practices are sometimes swamped. Even a lot of the practices that are not directly Wicca take a lot of elements from Wicca, or at least from the same sources as Wicca and in a similar framework. There are also forms of European occultism that are not Witchcraft, but types of Ceremonial Magic, spiritual Alchemy, etc. Also, as New Age practices are generally quite a bit more popular, there's been a lot of cultural diffusion, often because New Age spaces were often the only places that were willing to host events or sell Wiccan, Witchcraft and Neo-Pagan items, etc. A lot of Eclectic Wiccans especially blend the two, and I don't condemn this, I just think it's important to remember that it's a blend and acknowledge the origins of the various components of an eclectic path.
Just as a lot of Witches are also Goths, but you don't need to be a Goth to be a Witch, or even to be Gothic in the broader sense of the word, a lot of Witches are also Hippies, or into New Age beliefs, but these are also overlapping groups rather than intrinsic to Witchcraft. Witchcraft, Wicca and Neo-Paganism do account more than the average amount of subcultural and counter-cultural people, but it's not a prerequisite to being Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or a Witch.