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Commercialization of the Occult

As occult topics become fashionable again, what dangers exist in their commercialization and popularity? What gets lost in translation and what gets devalued? The occult has also been difficult to understand and interpret by its very nature. Going mainstream doesn’t clarify the esoteric nature but instead muddles it further and reduces it to an aesthetic.

In contrast, mainstream interest can bring topics to light and allow for greater in-depth exploration and increased resources along with renewed interest.

Horror films have long capitalized on the occult’s eerie nature and inflated its dangers. What do practitioners think about their arts being unfairly cast in a negative light?

In 2018 Sephora canceled its planned “Witch Kit” over major backlash:

https://www.altpress.com/news/sephora-pulls-pinrose-starter-witch-kit/

But how is it any different from the dozens of similar items that are sold by Urban Outfitters? (I’m not calling out UO for any particular reason other than their popularity and amount of items they sell in this category). They sell sage, tarot decks, and incense. Do they somehow do it with any more respect or conscientiousness?

Collected Quotations so far to work with (DRAFT):

“The commodification of the movement’s sacred elements and the commensurate development of Witchcraft-related industries, has deeply affected the content of its identity, source of values, and sense of community.” (Waldron 33)

“How are witches defining their cultural identity with regard to the increasingly diverse array of consumable products available to them? To what extent is Witch/Wiccan identity rooted in representations of Witchcraft in popular culture?” (Waldron 33)

“The commercial trajectory of modern Witchcraft has led to a situation, however, well illustrated by the research of Doug Ezzy, in which the opportunities for participation are increasingly dominated by the processes of commodity exchange. Consequently, the public profile of Witchcraft as a religious movement is becoming defined in terms of its manifestation in purchasable products and its representations in popular culture and the mass media. This shift in the structure by which Witchcraft can be accessed has significant ramifications for Witchcraft as a movement.” (Waldron 35-36)

“History is ultimately supplanted by a cyclical struggle of cannibalization and consumption that mines the past as a source of seemingly novel aesthetic experience.” (Waldron 39)

“The idealization of the aesthetic and its subsequent appropriation and reconstruction of symbols cannot occur in isolation from the economic, political and cultural formations from which they are appropriated and given meaning.” (Waldron 39)

Waldron points out that the more high profile an organization is, the more likely it is to dominate public perception: “The result is that their highly marketable version of the Craft is presented as the true or legitimate version of Neopaganism, usually without acknowledging that alternative perspectives exist.” (44)

“Historically, what has linked the diverse branches of the Witchcraft/Wiccan movement together is a shared embracing of the Romantic antimodernist caricature of Enlightenment modernity and Christianity. However, the intrusion of the realm of the commodity into constructions of Witchcraft identity and community structure, has led to increasing conflicts between popularist consumer-driven models of Witchcraft identity and Witchcraft configured as a symbolic expression of counter-modernity, in which the image of the persecuted but powerfully subversive witch forms an identifiable and empowering symbol in opposition to the dominant cultural matrix of capitalist and patriarchal modernity.” (Waldron 44)

“On the contrary, a religious system based in the process of market exchange is intensely shaped by the values, priorities and ideological configuration of the secular institutions of the broader society within which it is founded. 40 This is not to claim that Wiccan eclecticism, based in an ideology of aesthetic cultural consumerism, necessarily implies an ideological alliance with free market capitalist ideology. But claims that Neopaganism is inherently linked to a liberation from the alienating and destructive aspects of a modernity characterized by patriarchy, destruction of the natural world and the objectifying gaze of science, are much more ambiguous and circumspect than may at first appear.

The danger, in terms of the longevity and continued social and political relevance of a countercultural religious movement such as Neopaganism, is that after its initial rise to cultural prominence it can become incorporated within the structure of the market and co-opted back into the dominant socio-cultural order as a niche market based on fashion and consumer-driven identity.” (Waldron 45)

Works Cited and Suggested Reading:

Ezzy, Douglas. “The Commodification of Witchcraft.” Australian Religion Studies Review, vol. 14, no. 1, 2001, pp. 31-44.

Waldron, David. “Witchcraft for Sale! Commodity vs. Community in the Neopagan Movement.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, vol. 9, no. 1, 2005, pp. 32–48. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/nr.2005.9.1.032.