Sunday, May 29, 2016

Basic Bitch Witchcraft

Slim, minimalist gold font on glass. One word stands out: metaphysical. "Whoa, whoa, hold up," I tell my sister. We share a glance and say as one, "we gotta go in."

It's a hipster occult store.

My sister and I were in Gastown  because I had a hair emergency. I had recently had my cousin take my hair from teal to a perfect cool pastel purple, but a little over two weeks had passed, and it was fading out to a sort of pale blue. Because I was to be on stage as a thespian that night, I figured I'd freshen it up with what looked like the same colour. Oh how wrong I was. 'Lilac' turned my hair a steely blue. I texted my sister in distress, and so off we went to buy bleach and pink dye from the goth shops on Cambie.

The goth shops in the Gastown area have been around longer than I've been living in the city - I remember coming in from the 'burbs to check out Cabbages and Kinks (which burnt down in 2004) and I bought my first corset from Venus and Mars. The area around them, however, has been undergoing a shift for a few years now as old second hand stores and smoke shops have been replaced with high-end (yet not mainstream) clothing stores, and places where you can buy bundles of twine for twenty bucks. 

My impulse is to call the area 'hipster' but I'm not sure if that word really has much meaning anymore. I think we all know the vibe I'm thinking of, however - it's vintage furniture, home brewing kits, locally sourced honey, fish tacos and well manicured beards.

The store that caught our eye used to be a skeevy convenience store, if my memory serves. Shawna and I walked in to a small space that had been completely gutted and painted white. There were shelves with a few products for sale - tarot and oracle decks, bath salts, spell kits in little cardboard boxes shaped like houses. The front of the store by the window was taken up with small tables - it was, as it turns out, a tarot bar.

The store, called 'The Good Spirit' bills itself as a "tastefully curated, modern, metaphysical boutique." My sister and I looked around, and I whispered to her that it was an Instagram filter made physical.

In fact, the shop's Instagram account says more in a few photographs than I could with this entire entry. And if you're on Instagram, Pinterest, or even tumblr, this is one hundred percent an aesthetic you've seen before. It's rose quartz and yoga mats and sage and talks about sending your energy out into the universe.

It's basic bitch magic.

The irony of the situation is not lost on me - I saw this store as I was on my way to turn my hair into THE 'basic' hair colour of the moment. Also not unnoticed was my knee jerk reaction of "I should hate this."

But I don't. I don't hate it. It's like when fucking Urban Outfitters was selling spell candles.* Whether you fall on the crusty old occultist side of the spectrum, or the dirt-witch hand-making everything yourself side, the impulse when presented with this sanitized pop shit is to distance yourself from it as fast as possible. If you're a serious occultist/witch/pagan/whatever, you should be making fun of this so hard.

I honestly thinks that this reaction is the newest incarnation of the fluffy bunny backlash. Initially, the term fluffy-bunny was used mainly to describe people who stubbornly refused to consider the darker aspects of magic and paganism and preferred to focus on ideas like universal love and the idea that everything is going to be okay if you think enough positive thoughts. Gradually, however, the term started to be applied to newcomers to the craft in general. "Oh, you read Scott Cunningham? I GUESS that's an okay starting point." Cue eyeroll and snickering.

You know who a lot of those newbs were? Young women. You ever notice how we make fun of anything young women like?

The internet is full of people bitching about what is and isn't real witchcraft. Jesus, just look at Patheos's pagan section and be bored to tears after the tenth article on the subject. That hasn't changed since the dawn of the internet, and it never will. The only thing that changes is the target everyone is trying to tear down. Pastel Instagram-worthy witchcraft is a fucking easy target because it looks shallow as hell.

"Oh, you think you can cast spells because you reblogged some sigils  and like crystals? I GUESS." Cue eyeroll and snickering.

The subtext is that if you're a young woman who, god forbid, likes something popular? You're vapid. And so is your magic.

I got into witchcraft because of a movie.  I was a teenage girl, and witchcraft - even a popular version of it sold in bookstores - was a way to have SOME kind of power. It doesn't matter how stupid it was, because it worked. And so will your indie-darling sorcery. You can use your ink-and-watercolour tarot. You can use your scented soy candles and rose quartz crystals. You can read an overpriced pamphlet on moon phases and magic herbs. Just because it isn't handed down through family traditions or written by some dead white guy in a funny hat doesn't make it invalid. You want that magic, girl? Take it. Take it and make it yours.

As for us old farts... Look. People can and will make magic look cool. They will make it marketable. We've seen this several times before. It's not going to kill occultism. It will bring magic to a wider audience, to another generation hungry for power and for meaning. Magic will fall out of fashion as it always does, but the people who it touches will remain. Why is that a bad thing?

If we're really concerned that popularity waters down the practice of sorcery, then let's be honest: we're not talking about real magic. We're talking about being scared that our ivory towers are falling.

* - But seriously, fuck Urban Outfitters, they're evil. I regret even giving them ten bucks for cool candles, and in the future would find out who the maker was and go directly to the source.


  1. This was honestly everything and I am putting it everywhere I can. I too would love that store. When I thought that, I next thought, ugh how uncool of you!

    But I would. And you heartbreakingly hit it on the head when you write about how it's sneered at because girls did it and made it their own and it wasn't validated by a man. I really needed to read this right now, more than you know.

  2. Great points beautifully articulated. I have nothing deep to add, just commenting at long last because I love your blog and it's been a million years since I was active in online pagan circles at all. (Just don't have the brain space on top of all the other stuff I'm doing... I'll return if and when I get myself sorted out. :) )