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Pagan Store 101

April 8, 2012 Leave a comment

This article on Witchvox is a really good take on why so many Pagan shops fail, and I think it’s worth discussing.

I’d like to bring up the fact that Pagans generally have no business sense. Very few Pagans I’ve seen that are like “let’s open a store!” really have any kind of plan. They think that they’ll magically be solvent because ~the universe/Spirit/the Gods/Ceiling Cat~ will provide, to be honest. I think that’s why you see so much butthurt entitlement from them about Pagans needing to “support the community” and shit. Your store shouldn’t need to rely on guilting people into shopping there. Supply and demand, people. It’s a thing.

I’m under no obligation to shop at your store just because you’re Pagan. You want me to shop at your store? Sell shit I want, at a decent price. Plain and simple. One big issue I’ve seen, at least outside of the NYC area, is that a lot of these strip mall type Pagan stores all sell the same shit. Trust me, I lived in the Phoenix area for almost three years, which has more new age/metaphysical/Pagan stores than you can swing a cat at and none of them were really worth repeat visits frankly, except for the one that specialized in herbs (there’s that point about consumables again). The book selection was abysmal–Llewellyn 101 and New Age crystal humping garbage–and they literally all sold the same tacky shit from the same wholesalers at markup. The same gaudy altar tsotchkes festooned with pentagrams, the same tacky jewelry, the same brand stick incense you can get anywhere. Why do we need more than one of those stores in a given area, for real? Communities can’t sustain that.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart because I worked at a shop for a while, and it was the nerve center of the community and a huge part of my personal development (hell, the reason I got a job there was because I hung out there so much they decided to make me earn my keep). And the reason I think that shop survived for so long, in an area that got gentrified repeatedly with ridiculous rent increases, is that it didn’t follow that standard Shitty Pagan Store template at all. That store wasn’t a “Pagan store”, it was an old school occult supply shop of the sort that just doesn’t exist anymore. It didn’t just cater to Wiccans even though it was Wiccan owned, we had everybody shopping there–Wiccans, Santeros (a LOT of Santeros), Thelemites, rootworkers, ceremonial magicians, even “muggles”. It owed more to botanicas than anything. Our book selection wasn’t just the same tired Llewellyn shit, we carried all kinds to have such limited shelf space. We had a Spanish language section, for instance.

Our herb selection wasn’t huge (Manhattan space, lol), but we carried the staples. Our bread and butter was oils and incenses, though. We didn’t sell off the rack oil in fancy labeled bottles. We blended all that shit by hand off of old hoodoo recipes and shit, by request. And yeah, we carried off the rack stick incense, but our major seller was the loose incenses we made by hand, by request. Customers would come to the back, flip through the “menu”, and we would answer questions, etc. The big ticket service we did back there was handcarve and dress candles for people. That was my main job (oils/incense/candles) when I worked there and it was really rewarding, working with my hands and making things for people. It was great watching their eyes light up as I went about the work. Even if the yuppie bastards never wanted to tip. We also did big money in readings–just about half the employees also did readings and on a busy day we could be booked solid just from walk ins (it helped that we had a nice little space out back for it, when the weather was good). And we had some damn good readers. We also did animal rescue and had events in our little space. People had reasons to come to the store beyond just buying crap (which, naturally, gave them more opportunities to make impulse buys).

In other words, our shop was less about selling tsotchkes and more about selling staple consumables and providing services. We knew our regulars–I could be arsed to remember names but I could always remember so and so was a Leo that wanted a candle cause he was job hunting. Very rarely did I ever sell altar stuff, even though we carried it (and some gorgeous statuary of the sort that you don’t see everywhere). Nine times out of ten, I was ringing up oils/incenses/candles with a book or two.

I had no idea other stores were different until I went outside the NYC area and got acquainted with the cheesy PaganMarts that pass for supply shops. Pagan shops that rely on selling the same ol’ shit out of Pyramid Collection or whatever at markup don’t survive for good reason, and don’t deserve to, frankly.

Categories: Uncategorized

I Will Not Apologize.

May 2, 2011 2 comments

I will not apologize for rejoicing in Osama bin Laden’s death. Not as a New Yorker, an American, or as a Pagan and Sorceress.

I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised, and have lived all but three years of my life here. I worked in the Financial District, and spent many good times at the WTC. I even had a job there. So 9/11 wasn’t some horrific abstraction on television for me. It was the day that calling in sick saved my life. I spent a good few hours that morning with no idea whether or not my sister (who frequently had meetings at the WTC), or my mother (an RN who was a Red Cross volunteer) was still alive. Not to mention the friends I have, including at least one NYPD officer. I passed the smoking wreckage on the Q train every day, and breathed in the miasma that killed so many of our first responders. The firehouse down the street from me lost guys. I lost neighbors. Like so many other New Yorkers, I had PTSD and experienced anxiety attacks for months afterwards. It was a very long time before I could hear planes overhead without having a panic attack, and I still can’t view footage of the buildings collapsing without being triggered.

The witches, Pagans, sorcerers, santeros, mambos, adepts, magicians, root workers, priests and priestesses of this city–magically-oriented folks from every tradition and walk of life imaginable–spent days, months, and years working that site to ensure that the souls of the dead could find some measure of peace and move on to rest. Some of those dead we counted as our own. My Craft father’s own mentor-teacher, and a much respected elder in our local community survived the attacks. He was a janitor who was in one of the buildings as it collapsed, and literally walked out of the wreckage. He later succumbed a couple of months later to heart failure, and 9/11-related stress and health concerns absolutely played a role in his death.

And as spiritually oriented people, we understand the inherent power of symbolism. Even if bin Laden was no longer actually in charge of Al Qaeda, he was a powerful symbol of everything that happened that terrible day, and afterwards. He was singularly responsible not only for thousands of deaths in our city and our country, but for the deaths of so many others around the world, many of them his own people. This man was singularly responsible for inflicting pain and suffering on a scale that’s almost incomprehensible. I am not a Wiccan, and I am not a pacifist. While I don’t take pleasure in violence, I do believe that in some exceedingly rare cases, it is necessary as an absolutely last resort. And I believe, in accordance with one of my patron Goddesses, that when violence is inflicted on the innocent, it must be repaid with swift violence, that the fewest hurt and the danger fast removed from the land.

While 9/11 was an attack on the United States and people everywhere felt hurt by it, it is deeply personal for New Yorkers. I don’t want to take away anything from the people in Pennsylvania, or the people in the Pentagon–they shared in this horrendous tragedy, and are too often overlooked in these discussions. But as Secretary Clinton said just a few moments ago, our community was absolutely devastated by the attacks, on every possible level, and has never really been the same since it happened. This city and its people were wounded in ways I can’t even fully describe to people who weren’t here to see it and experience it firsthand.

You cannot understand the depths of it unless you were here, seeing the makeshift missing posters everywhere you turned, seeing the trauma in the dazed faces of people walking once-lively streets in utter silence. I cannot explain to you what it was like riding the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge day after day, the utter sadness in a subway car full of people staring at the still-burning wreckage of the World Trade Center as we tried to go to work or to school. I can’t paint that picture for you of what Chinatown was like in the aftermath, breathing that horrific smell and knowing in the back of your mind that part of what you were inhaling was human remains. To see the streets crawling with media trucks and emergency personnel, the pure sorrow and exhaustion, physical and psychological, in the eyes of the police officers, firefighters, first responders–from New York and the tri-state area, from around the country and even some from Canada–who worked tirelessly day and night to recover those who died and give comfort. Nor can I explain what it was like to see National Guard soldiers in camouflage holding machine guns at every turn, to see streets you once walked and talked and laughed on covered in barricades under lockdown. I understood what privilege we have in the industrialized world at that moment, that we had never experienced this as a daily reality before.

So long as that vile man still walked this earth, those wounds could never fully heal, even as we’ve tried to move on and rebuild. His face stared at us from “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in every store window in this city for days and weeks afterward, and it’s haunted our nightmares, it’s tormented the spirits of our loved ones, neighbors, friends, and co-workers.

All of this, among many, many other reasons, is why I rejoice in Osama bin Laden’s death.

And I will absolutely not apologize for it.

Categories: Uncategorized

Banishings and Beginnings

December 21, 2010 3 comments

[Trigger Warning for spiritual abuse.]

Blessed Solstice to you all. For those of you in southern climes, you’ll be marking Midsummer; to those of us in the cold north, it’s the Winter Solstice, and that’s what I’ll be talking a bit about.

At some point I’ll touch upon it a bit more, but according to my personal paradigm, I walk the path of a sayyadina. This is a term borrowed from Frank Herbert’s Dune (a book which was pretty influential in my spiritual development, oddly enough) that roughly means “friend of God”. The “God” in question, to whom I am specifically pledged, is a Goddess associated with elemental darkness which I call the Dark Lady. She has a great deal in common with Nebet-het/Nephthys, and plays a similar role in her own mythos, though these two Ladies are not the same entity.

Working with the Dark as I do, you might imagine that tonight was very special for me. Because of my living situation, I can’t really go hogwild with ritual the way I used to when I lived alone. My few altars are small and discreet, and most of my tools are hidden away. Most of my workings happen on the internal level, through meditation and dreamwork. Still, I resolved to do something tonight to mark the occasion, though I didn’t know quite what until the last moment when things became crystal clear to me.

The energy was very palpable. I was a bit wired all day, admittedly, but as the Eclipse approached, I found myself getting pretty antsy. It wasn’t until I stood outside and meditated on what this night meant that I understood. My personal lesson for tonight was to let go of fear.

This is yet another topic for a future post, but for now it will suffice to say that I’m a survivor of the sort of spiritual abuse that is sadly all too common in the Pagan community. For roughly a year and a half, I lived with a charismatic woman who fancied herself a guru of an eclectic high priestess, that basically took the famous Bonewits Cult Evaluation and used it as a To-Do List. I’ll call her Nancy; if you’ve ever seen that glorious bit of cinematic cheese called The Craft, she was basically that character on steroids. She was paranoid, abusive, and extremely controlling, and not only terrorized her domestic partners, but myself and the entire household to varying degrees.

Nancy did a number on my psychological and spiritual health in the year and a half or so that I lived with her. Even though I haven’t spoken to her in well over two years now, and I’ve moved back to the opposite coast of the country, my experiences still weigh heavily on me. The lessons I received were not necessarily the ones she intended to teach, and they were learned at a very high price. I’ve come into my own since those trying times, deepening my relationships to my Deities and my craft, but I’ve found myself shackled in a lot of ways by a crippling fear that if I were to assert myself magically, to really commit to and claim my path, I’ll turn into Nancy.

It’s a ridiculous and irrational fear on the face of it, really. I don’t manipulate people or abuse them, or play them against each other for my own benefit. Despite the fringe paradigm I work in (I have definite chaote leanings), I have my feet firmly planted in reality, and I’m not ruled by delusions of grandeur. But in some completely fucked up way, Nancy became the model for Spiritual Power in my head, much in the way that children from broken homes fear committed relationships as adults because their dysfunctional parents became models of What Relationships Are to them. That’s where the fear comes from, I think. It’s been hindering my growth in a lot of ways, keeping me from deepening my relationships both with Spirit and the woman I love.

Eclipse energy is very strong for banishings, and this one was especially significant, falling as it did on the Winter Solstice, a day which is fundamentally about rebirth. And this was a night when the energy I work with was especially potent. I understood what I had to do, what all this meant, when I was outside in the frigid cold, and the Dark Lady spoke to my heart.

Internal paradigms only shift when we’re willing to die, you understand. Our egos, our fears, our doubts…all of these things must die for us to be truly reborn. We are a microcosm of the Universe, in that fashion. The phoenix always rises from the ashes, but the phoenix must die, first. Many Pagan mystery traditions teach this very basic truth, but it’s one that I didn’t fundamentally understand until that moment.

Tonight’s a night of banishings, of letting go of the things that hold us back. It’s a time of casting spectres of the past out of our lives and sending them back from whence they came. I made a decision there, staring at the shadow of the moon, to free myself of those self-imposed limitations, because I didn’t do anything to deserve a preemptive nerf bat. I’m freeing myself of the fear; I surrender it and watch it crumble beneath my feet. I’m a survivor, and it’s time to be free.

I’ll leave you with a mantra that should be well familiar to the sci-fi geeks in the house, but one that’s served me very well over the years as a powerful magical tool. I hope it does the same for you, on this night of casting out.

I must not fear.

Fear is the mindkiller.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will allow it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.

Take Two.

December 19, 2010 4 comments

So, uh. How ’bout that local sports team?

I don’t believe in bullshitting people, so I’ll just give it to you straight: I’m somewhat notorious for concocting grandiose plans and then failing to follow through on them. This blog just happened to be another sad chapter in that particular book of Zaratha’s Awesomely Stereotypical Gemini Tendencies. In fairness, life sort of ate my face for a while too, but that’s neither here nor there. Before I knew it, guilt about abandoning this idea before I ever really got it off the ground ate me up, and I didn’t know how to pick this up again or even if I should.

Here’s the thing, though: I’ve noticed that the Universe has a way of kicking us in the pants if we’re not doing what we’re Supposed to be doing. By “the Universe”, I mean my patron Goddess, and by “us”, I mean me. It’s not enough for me to piss in the wind every time someone uses racist dogwhistles to defend hir particular spiritual path, or some bloviating douchebag outs hirself as a fascist in the comments of a Very Popular Pagan Blog. It’s not enough to rage in private on Dreamwidth and Livejournal, or on AIM to my partner or friends. It might be cathartic for a little while, but preaching to the choir never really changes anything.

This sort of thing kept happening, and kept happening, and every time it happened, I’d think to myself, “I need to get back to that blog. There needs to be a Pagan space explicitly devoted to anti-oppression principles, or simply talking about spirituality from the POV of a queer Pagan of Color.”

So in the spirit of that notion, I’m cutting away the guilt and dusting this space off. What’s important is that it’s here, and that I’m making a commitment to keeping it here, whether it’s prolific or not.

–Z.

Categories: Uncategorized

Let’s talk, y’all.

April 21, 2008 4 comments

So, who the hell am I and why am I here?

To the first: My name is Zaratha Zarathi. Not my legal name, just one of many magical names. I also go by Morboriel Parthenos. I’m a 27 year old African-American witch, born and raised in New York City, currently residing in the Southwest. I say “African-American” despite despising the term, largely because “black witch” still conjures up stupid shit in many people’s minds (a rant for a future post). I’m a lot of things that Black Women are not “supposed” to be: Gothic, bisexual, polyamorous, gamer chick, anime geek. Hell, I’m even a Mac user. I don’t say this because I think I’m some kind of special, unique snowflake. Quite the contrary. There are many, many more like me out there.

I’ve been practicing various forms of Paganism for about thirteen years. I was featured in a documentary called “Out of the Broom Closet” which has yet to see the light of day, unfortunately. I’ve also had an essay published in a scholarly anthology on teenage witchcraft. I’ve done time working at a fairly well-known witch shop in New York; if you shopped at Enchantments, Inc. some time in the mid-to-late ’90s, you’ve probably met me.

In my time as a Pagan, I’ve explored British Traditional Wicca, Celtic and Norse-based traditions, Feri, Hellenism, Thelema and just about everything in-between. My current path is one of Eclectic Dark Paganism, with Middle-Eastern/Indo-Pagan leanings, though it’s not really anything I can nail down in a short, pithy label.

To the second, why am I here? Because I’m tired of seeing news article after news article insinuating that All Neo-Pagans Everywhere are bored middle class white women. I’m tired of being looked at cross-eyed because I am the only person of color at a public ritual. I’m tired of being followed in metaphysical stores because the proprietors think I’m stealing. I’m here because I am way the fuck over the rampant, unexamined white privilege I see in the community. I’m tired of seeing comment after ignorant ass comment on blogs equating Halloween decorations with the lynching of blacks, and the so-called “Burning Times” with the Middle Passage. I’m tired of righteous middle-class WASP indignation over animal sacrifice in Afro-Caribbean traditions, and I am sick and fucking tired of having to explain that no, I don’t work in those traditions despite being of African descent. Perhaps above all, I’m tired of being invisible.

Really, there’s just a whole lot of Lose and Fail that goes about unchallenged in the Pagan community with regard to issues of race and ethnicity. There are Pagans who valiantly try to put a spotlight on these issues (Jason Pitzl-Waters of Wild Hunt in particular has my undying admiration for continually trying to drop some sense on people). For the most part, though, the silence is truly deafening. More people need to speak up, and my loud ass is volunteering. I will not always be ranting about the Dumb Ass; I’ll also be talking a little about my personal path. I’ll also try to highlight the positive, because as many problems as the community has, there is a lot of good to be found there.

Hopefully I can help you laugh a little, and think along the way.

Categories: Uncategorized