Craft or Commodity?
Navigating Modern Witchcraft with the Headmistress.
By Emily Linstrom
I sometimes liken the popular resurgence of Witchcraft — and Paganism by proxy — to that old blessing-and-a-curse adage: a blessing in that what is arguably the world’s oldest and most oft-persecuted spiritual way is now widely accepted (or at the very least tolerated) by the mainstream, the curse being that, as with many deep-rooted paths that enjoy newfound popularity, there are those who are only too happy to exploit the trend. Gorgeously packaged and equally pricey ephemera, tomes penned by authors with varying degrees of experience and intent, and all manner of cosplay are now a social (and social media) norm, with the lines between celebration and appropriation more blurred than ever. But hey, at least some are having fun with it.
I’ve made peace with most of this. As a child of Paganism and natural Magick, I’m fiercely — and at the same time shyly — protective of my rituals, tools, and inner sanctums. I’m always honored to share what might be of value to others, but only when asked and with (I hope) the utmost sensitivity. Let others make of the faith what they will.
Playing Witch Police may be an ironic exercise in futility, but for the genuine souls pursuing their own sacred Magick it can be a different sort of trial to seek out the instruments and individuals that will contribute to and strengthen their potential, rather than jeopardise their trust — and wallet. To that end I reached out to Juliet Diaz, owner of November Sage Apothecary & founding Headmistress of The School of Witchery. I wanted to speak with someone who is dedicated to her Craft and work as a healer, but also a businesswoman and social media influencer.
EL: How do you feel about the recent commodification of Witchcraft? There seems to be no end to the online and brick-and-mortar shops selling all manner of goods, as well as this push to build one’s social media presence as a certified Witch™. In many ways I view it as extremely empowering to women, but do you feel that the sudden marketability of Witchcraft can be potentially harmful?
JD: Oh yes, this is a topic I’ve discussed many times with concerned Witches. I personally don’t pay mind to how many people are calling themselves Witches just for attention or a quick buck. In truth, nothing lasts forever, and eventually those who are not devoted or serious about the Craft will fall off like withered leaves. Don’t get me wrong, it is empowering to awaken the Witch within — necessary, even. But when it comes to selling products, there’s reason for concern. Many are starting to sell teas, medicinal tonics, elixirs, and even fixed (magically worked on) products without experience or knowledge of the ingredients they are working with. I’ve been a practicing healer for over 33 years, with a Masters of Science in Herbal Medicine. I was born into this, yet I waited 3 years to put my products out, making sure I knew exactly what I was doing and that there was no risk of harming others.
Many are starting to sell teas, medicinal tonics, elixirs, and even fixed (magically worked on) products without experience or knowledge of the ingredients they are working with.
EL: As the owner of November Sage, what is your method for guiding customers towards the right implements? Have you ever had to gently step in and discourage someone from pursuing certain items?
JD: The most important thing about owning an apothecary or any Witchcraft-related business is the intent to heal. My staff and I are huge believers in teaching others what it is they are getting and why; many times what they think they need is not what they really do need. I usually have to step in daily and redirect a customer towards a different product or source. I can’t tell you how many people have wanted to buy one of my Love Fixed spell candles, only to end up leaving with a self-love kit at half the price, but of infinitely more value regarding their situation.
EL: What advice would you give to those exploring Witchcraft for the first time, and likewise looking to build their altars and personal inventories?
JD: My advice is not what you would normally hear, because I believe Witchcraft is unique to oneself. If you feel you are a Witch, step into your truth and explore it. Don’t allow anyone or anything to tell you that you are not what you believe yourself to be. And never forget that knowledge is your greatest tool. Read, learn, and practice practice practice. The information out there can be misleading and contradictory, so make sure your information comes from reliable sources. Basic foundations are important for starting, but once you have the basics down you can mould them to fit your unique blueprint as a Witch. I love to learn from all crafts, practices, and even religions, and respectfully apply what feels good and works for me. I’m not any type of Witch, I’m my own type of Witch, curated by and for me. As for altars, the same goes: do with it as you please as long as it’s sacred to you. For instance, both my sons have altars, though I never taught them how to build one. They have seen mine since birth, and those of their nanas and aunts, and noticed that each was unique to the Witch that created them. Make Magick every damn day and do it your way.
I’m not any type of Witch, I’m my own type of Witch, curated by and for me.
EL: What advice would you give to those who cannot afford many of the Witchcraft accoutrements being shilled? Are there alternatives to certain items?
JD: You don’t “need” anything but belief in yourself to make shit happen. You can set intentions into a rock, a weed, a leaf — anything. I grew up in the ghetto, legit life-threatening project housing. My mother would wait until it rained to fill her pots with water to use in her potions. She would use mayo to mix with the herbs she grew in her kitchen to conjure up protection spells; mayo has egg yolk which in my Afro-Cuban roots is a powerful ingredient in conjuring, and is much cheaper than a carton of eggs. When we did use eggs, it was for dire situations, like clearing your body and soul from bad mojo. She would take an egg and pass it all over my body, every inch and curve, call out a spell, then crack it open into a glass of water and look for any color changes. When I graduated from high school she beat me with a bunch of Abre Camino; lol, it’s a plant used to open roads and doors. These were my best memories of Witchcraft in my home, and I still practice many of them today.
EL: What does being a Witch mean to you?
JD: A Witch can’t be defined, because a Witch is an embodiment of his or her own unique Magick. If I had to share a few things I’ve learned about myself, my family of Witches, and history is that a Witch is one with both the self and Mother (Earth). He or she is here to protect and heal, to fight and stand for their brothers and sisters. A Witch is compassionate, fiery, a feminist, a badass, a healer, a lover, a destroyer, a nonconformist. [Regarding the feminine], when I feel a true Witch, I sense her confidence, her healing warmth, her warrior, her courage, and her compassionate heart. She does not believe in hierarchy because a Witch stands by you, not above you. Hand in hand, guiding the way — and if she does not know the way, she walks with you into the shadows. Ultimately, there is no wrong way to be a Witch.
A Witch is compassionate, fiery, a feminist, a badass, a healer, a lover, a destroyer, a nonconformist.
Simple Manifesting Spell, compliments of Juliet
Wooden matches or a lighter
Pen or marker (menstrual blood is my preferred tool to use for writing spells)
A burn safe bowl, cauldron, or plate (anything that can withstand heat)
Seed, dirt, pot (any plant seed will do; I prefer Sage, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Yerba Santa, or mint)
(Alternative: Cinnamon or ginger from the market or pantry) Sit in a quiet space and close your eyes. Silence your thoughts and calm your body.
Find a place of stillness and repeat in your mind what it is you desire until you feel it in your bones and believe it so, then start to chant it aloud. For example, if you are desiring money/wealth/abundance, you would say something like “I am blessed, money flows into my life easily and effortlessly”
Keep saying it aloud until you feel a pull from the core to write it down. Once you do, write this affirmation on the bay leaf. Put it to a flame and set it on a burn safe bowl. Allow it to burn. Take the ashes and whatever was left from the leaf and plant it with your choice of seed (those herbs I mentioned all have properties for abundance).
If you want an even cheaper option, make a hole in a red apple, sprinkle cinnamon or ginger inside with the ashes and leftovers, then bury the apple in the Earth. (This is safe for the Earth, and apples carry extremely Magickal properties).
Emily Linstrom is an American writer, artist, and Pagan soul living in Italy. Her work has been featured in a number of publications including Carve Magazine, The Continental Review, The Wisdom Daily, and A Women’s Thing, and was the first prize recipient of Pulp Literature Press’s 2015 The Raven short story contest. Linstrom is a regular contributor for Quail Bell Magazine and The Outsider, and is a faculty member at The School of Witchery. You can view her work here and follow her adventures on Instagram.