Of Witch Kits and Gatekeeping

When I first saw the whole Sephora “witch kit” thing on social media, I had roughly three thoughts:

“Huh, that’s not a bad price! Wonder what those perfumes smell like.”gatekeeping - white sage
“Ugh, white sage…”
“I bet this is going to piss some people off.”

Now 2018 might be an utter shitshow in that “Hold my beer, 2016!” kinda way, but it’s sort of nice to know we still have some constants, you know? And a tacky ‘witch kit’ created by Pinrose and being flogged by Sephora enraging a whole bunch of people for largely nebulous reasons has been that constant in this case.

(Thank you, Internet. I love you too.)

But that’s not to say that there aren’t real reasons to give a shit about this Pinrose/Sephora foray into (Basic?) Witchcraft. For starters, there are valid criticisms surrounding the inclusion of white sage in these kits from both appropriation and sustainability standpoints. Then there was the booklet (which I haven’t seen), apparently it also contains appropriative bullshit (because I guess they were going for a theme here?).

So you know, real reasons.

But also a lot of nebulous feelings based in “exploitation” and even “appropriation” (which is a little rich considering how much white Pagans take from marginalized peoples and you know…appropriate the shit out of it).

Some of it, undoubtedly, also comes down to gatekeeping, which is handy, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about today!

Gatekeepers and Gatekeeping

gatekeeping - ghostbusters
So romantic!

Louis: I am The Keymaster!

Dana Barrett: I am The Gatekeeper!
Ghostbusters 1984

Our communities are filled with gatekeepers of various kinds, operating under various motivations. In Heathenry, we tend to deal with a form of gatekeeping based in the heritage of adherents. Because for some assholes (usually the kind who rage against “miscegenation” while ignoring the fact that historically, white boys haven’t had a whole lot of issues with that as long as it was the product of them getting their rape on), that’s a thing.

It’s a dumb thing, but it’s still a thing for them. Those are the gatekeepers we’re downright infamous for, but they’re far from the only kind.

Recently, The Wild Hunt covered (badly, like really badly), the story of the “Pussy Church of TERFy doom” (or whatever the fuck those lot are called). This again, is another form of gatekeeping. genital gatekeeping. With doxxing, and what looks like a nascent tithing system.

But gatekeeping isn’t just the domain of fuckernutters who essentially just want to discriminate under some pseudo-spiritual guise. There are other, more well-intentioned forms of gatekeeping too. You know the kind of thing – the preventing or discouraging of people from trying forms of magic that are considered (either rightly or wrongly) to be dangerous.

Will the Real Gatekeepers Please Stand Up?

Now, my views on danger in the Craft are probably well known by now. This shit isn’t safe. I would even go as far as to say that if you’re doing something real then this is all managed risk anyway. Forget “safe”. When you’re dealing with numinous beings with agency that are actually *real* (as opposed to being some feel good imaginary friends), “safe” isn’t really a guarantee.

Which brings me to who I consider the real gatekeepers to be.

When we think of a tradition or practice, we often only think of it in terms of the human side of things, and forget that there is also the numinous side of the equation to take into account. But what is any tradition or magical practice without its numinous powers?

Those of you who’ve tried scrying both with and without summoning the spirits into the water will know the answer to this one.

The answer is “lacking”.

The Other (regardless of what form it takes) is integral to the practice of witchcraft. And for as much personal power and raw talent as we can bring to the game, it’s nothing compared to what they can gift us.

Here is where we come to the crux of the matter.

Because ultimately, it’s the numinous beings who matter, these are the real gatekeepers here, and ideally, we humans work in concert with them. It’s not for us to do the accepting based on whether or not someone has the right training or got their start via some tacky ‘witch kit’. (Or from watching The Craft! What up, 90s witches! I see you!) The real test is when we bring them, or they themselves stand before the powers with whom we work.

Burned Fingers and Adult Pants

For some people though, the gatekeeping they practice is a matter of responsibility to the wider community. They believe in restricting information to certain practices in order to keep people safe. However, this tends to have the unfortunate side effect of stifling growth and keeping people in the shallow end of the pool.

Let me explain a little.

The vast majority of us come from broken or simply newly created traditions. Now let’s be honest here, our magical technologies need an assload of work, and the bar for what we believe magic can do needs raising. Don’t see what I’m saying here? Check out the kind of operations contained in the Greek Magical Papyri and grimoires! Check out reports from cultures from outside our WEIRD society! Are we anywhere near that level?

I don’t think so. Again, I can’t help but think of what I’ve seen from “Core Shamans” here in the States versus what I’ve experienced at Mudang shrines in Korea. And if you’ve ever gotten off a mountain path to allow a God-as-solid-block-of-wind to pass on his way to a shrine to possess a Mudang, then you’ll understand what I’m saying here.

But you see, we’re not going to get there if we’re hiding people’s adult pants and dousing them with water so they can’t get their fingers burned. At some

gatekeeping - pants
Actually, this is pants optional.

point, once the caveats have been given and understood, you just have to get out of the way and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s not to say you can’t take out forms of ‘insurance’ though. Think the person you just taught that curse to might use it irresponsibly? Why not take some of their hair in exchange for the knowledge and let them know just what you’ll do if you ever hear of them flinging it round like cum in a bukkake session? Got a tradition you want to protect? Why not enlist some spirit protectors? See what I’m saying? There are things that can be done that don’t douse or steal pants, and I think they’re worth doing.

Because we live in interesting times now. Okay, so it may often feel like we’re dancing upon the edge of a great precipice, but we shouldn’t forget that these are also times of great potential and growth. How many of us are having more common and intense experiences with the Other now? How many folks have you come across that don’t normally encounter anything but are telling wide-eyed stories of things that “couldn’t possibly happen”?

I would suggest that perhaps we are living in a time when things are becoming steadily re-enchanted (and how many of us have been wanting that to happen?). And if that is the case, then surely that re-enchantment would bring with it the potential for greater magic? We just need to remember what it is ‘to dare’ first.

Step Away from the White Sage!

As far as cleansing and purifying herbs go, I’ve never really liked white sage (despite its many recommendations). It does the job of course, but it does it rather too well for my liking -I honestly can’t see that as a good thing. And this really isn’t an issue of one Heathen taking umbrage with smudging either. After all, I can point to parts of Bald’s Leechbook in which smudging, or ‘recelsian‘(1) is a recommended treatment for various afflictions (of an arguably magical nature).

No, my problem with white sage is far more complex than that.

Over the years of having many homes in many different places, I’ve found several things to be true: upkeep is alwaysWhite Sage - salvia preferable to repair, it’s the little things that make a home, and the home is like an ecosystem shared between the various beings (both seen and unseen) that inhabit it.

In my home, there’s myself, my human family, my dog, two cats, and various ancestors, Aelfe, and cofgodas to take into consideration. Between us, we maintain relationships built over years and continued over continents. Again and again, we’ve moved and gone through the process of cleaning, unpacking, and (re) building our shrines in each place. Again and again, we’ve made offerings, invited our wights to join us, offered to the wights of the new place, and so on and so forth. If there’s one thing this kind of nomadic life does though, it’s build appreciation of those you travel and move with. As much as you might make friends in a place, your most important bonds are to your more immediate kin group, be that kin living or dead, human or otherwise.

Cleaning and Cleansing

By now, it’s probably become obvious that when I talk about ‘upkeep’, and a home ‘ecosystem’, my words have a double entendre. That I’m not purely talking about upkeep in the mundane ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ kind of sense, or necessarily referring purely to the various layers of organisms and microorganisms that make up a space (any space) on this planet. So, what do I mean by this kind of ‘upkeep’? And how does that have anything to do with white sage?

Over the years I’ve heard a lot about the more sacred side of housekeeping, and talk of ‘women’s roles’ in Heathenry. First of all, I’m going to dispense with the idea that this is purely the domain of women, living in a clean environment is the concern of everyone that lives in that place. We all know that if you don’t keep a home clean to a certain standard, then the inhabitants will get sick, insect populations will move in – in short, the place will become unhealthy.

It will become unhael.

Ah, haelu, that old chestnut!

For something to be hael, it’s means that it’s not only healthy, but whole, lucky, and holy. A place that is unhealthy to inhabit, that is unhael, is by definition, unlucky, lacking in something, and…I don’t want to say ‘unholy’, but for those of us that believe in things like hauntings, it’s no coincidence that there is a correlation between negative hauntings and unhael living spaces.

When you clean, you aren’t just removing physical dirt, this kind of upkeep isn’t purely about dominance over the dust motes, or staying on top of the washing up. It isn’t even purely about physical health. It’s about luck and creating a place where holiness might reside from time to time. You want to live in a home in which gods and ancestors would not be insulted to go when invited.

‘May I be pure, that I might enter the sacred,
May I enter the sacred, that I might attain the holy,
May I attain the holy, that I might be blessed in all things’
(2)

Whether it be cleaning with regular cleaning materials, or making your own that are also infused with protective herbs, cleaning is also cleansing.

But just as you don’t want to clean so much that people end up living in some antibacterial, sterile lab of a house, you also don’t want to manage your home’s ecosystem so tightly that the good things go too (which I feel is the case with white sage). Not to make the comparison between the Holy Powers and dirt, but we humans are healthier when living somewhere that isn’t sterile, the spider on the wall kills the disease-carrying fly, and it’s always better to have and keep good relations with neighbours and helpful wights in the home.

If the home ecosystem were a human stomach, white sage would be a course of antibiotics, and the wights would be your helpful gut microbiota.

It’s too indiscriminate for my liking. Far better, in my opinion, is Mugwort.

Remember, Mugwort…

White Sage - MugwortNamed the ‘Oldest of herbs’, Mugwort is said to stand against three and thirty, against poison and contagion, and against ‘the loathsome one that roams the land'(3). She’s valued in healing traditions around the globe, and is called upon to stand against infection and cysts, to chase out the menses that will not come, as a tonic, and in great enough quantities, she has enough similarities with her sister, Wormwood, that she can also affect perception.

But given her power, when it comes to more ‘spiritual’ forms of cleansing, Mugwort is often forgotten and neglected in favour of white sage, even by Germanic Heathens. Which is a real shame as she works wonderfully in home made floor wash, as recels (incense/smudging), and brewed as a tea to use as a spray. In the Nine Herbs Charm, we’re told specifically that Mugwort stands against three and thirty, which to me, suggests that she’s far more discriminating in her action and that she only stands against those that are attacking (while preserving your home ‘ecosystem’, thus leaving your ancestors, cofgodas, Aelfe etc. unmolested and able to help keep your home safe from all kinds of nasties!).

Mugwort can also be paired with vervain, garlic, or wormwood for greater effect.

All of which, as far as I’m concerned, makes her far more valuable for use in the home.

References:
1. Bald’s Leechbook, III. 61, 62
2. Ceisiwr Serith – Deep Ancestors
3. http://www.heorot.dk/woden-9herbs-i.html