Supporting Pagan Shops

I see from time to time a certain outcry about how the “pagan community” is not supporting their local pagan shops, and then resulting disappearance for said shops. So I thought I would post my two cents on this subject because, while I do support local shops in general when I want to purchase something (such as the fact that I purchased my lingam stone I use for my Agyieus stone of Apollon from a local shop rather than ordering it online) I personally don’t make the distinction to shop specifically at pagan shops.. I shop whichever place has whatever particular thing I need or want. And most often that is not at pagan shops.

Now I understand that pagan shops provide for some folks networking and that shop-owners are often informed and helpful towards beginners. Ok that is granted. However, the target of most of this is towards a very specific group of the so called “pagan community”  and that would be your witchcraft traditions and eclectic witches. Occassionally they may have something that appeals to a polytheist, some statue perhaps. But there is only so many statues that one needs. Sometimes I may browse a pagan shop just to see what they have that is new, but there is rarely anything that I feel would be helpful for me. I don’t buy blessed candles, or ingredients for spells (since I don’t practice witchcraft), and the semi-precious stones I get from another local shop that specializes in beading and usually doesn’t have such highly marked-up prices. Even the books that these shops carry cater towards witchcraft related traditions and magic in general so I don’t even feel motivated to visit to perhaps get a new book. Then there is a fact that, rather than suppor their local artisans and provide unique handmade things for their customers, they are rehashing the same tired stuff that can be found anywhere online. Not to mention the same boring typical pagan jewlery etc.

I had a friend once we had started up her own pagan store, and I had thought to help her by donating all my books pertaining to Wicca and witchcraft that had been accumulated by me over the years with the idea of opening a alternative religion library. She was worried about how few customers they had, and I suggested to her that perhaps having an internal library room where customers could come and read books, and possibly check them out, might draw more buisness to her. She liked the idea and so, with that intention in mind I donated upward of 50 books, many of them older hard to get books, to her store as an instore library. I found out a month later, when I saw the books on display in the store itself and their dwindling number that she had decide to go ahead and sell the books if customers wanted them because she could “replace them later”. I was infuriated because that is not what I had donated the books for. I could have just as easily sold them myself. Needless to say her store ended up closing.

The point of that story is that too many pagan stores are so caught up in the bottom line, in making sales, that they spend less effort in doing community related things that will attract people to their stores. Phenominally expensive workshops don’t do quite so well when many pagans have few pennies to rub together, and anyone who wants to do a free or donation lecture is generally met with high prices to rent out space that they really can’t afford if they are not taking money in themselves. Then with everything they sell being twice, and sometimes, three times more expensive than other local shops…well I think you see where I am going with this. The way that Pagan Shops are set up does not create a relationship with the wider so called “pagan community”. It lacks the diversity to attract non-witchcraft related polytheistic traditionalists, doesn’t particularly support the local community very well, and over prices itself so much that folks just don’t feel any inclination to go in. And even those who do practice some craft related religious tradition…just how many athames, wands, chalices and so on do you need? Everyone gets to the point when it comes to religious tools to where they have all that they need, and a shop that doesn’t have variety is goig to find itself with dwindling customers very quickly.

Now I had once thought of having an Polytheistic Interfaith shop and Library as I mentioned above. Though it was a dream that never manifested and for which I don’t have the capital to pull off. I wanted to have a two story building. The lower floor being the shop which customers would have to go through to the reach the upper floor which would be the library. The library itself would have been divided into broad categories with all withcraft related stuff in one section, Heathenry and its related religions in another, Roman and Hellenic Polytheism in another, Khemeticism and so on. In the shop I would want to have a variety of images from statues to card icons of gods from various traditions which I would have hopefully recieved primarily from local artisans, a section for supplies for those who do the witchcraft stuff..minimal tools and more herbs and whatnot that I would let someone else design lol, a small selection of various ritual tools for other traditions (again supplied from a local crafter so that when one peice sells I can get another to put on the floor so that I am not overstocking in seldomly bought stuff but the stuff is available), artwork and showcases for local authors. And of course a backroom for discussions and ritual for a very small reasonable fee like 10 dollars for non-profit use, whereas charging workshops would pay a bit more. To me the key would have been flexibility,variety, and resource. But you see why it never manifested because that kind of dream would have required a LOT of seed money to get started lol. All the same this is how I see a store functioning…and if supporting local artists rather than buying the work upfront you have the option of displaying it in your store and upon its sale the artist would get their money and profit from your small markup on what they wanted would go into your pocket.

But as pagan shops are now, I can’t say that I make any outright effort to suppor them because they really have nothing to do with my religious life or spiritual needs. But I do firmly believe in shop locally which is where the larger chunk of my spending money goes :)

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10 thoughts on “Supporting Pagan Shops

  1. You make a lot of good points here and you, also, highlight why I too tend to shy away from spending money at “pagan shops.” On top of rarely having the kinds of books/materials I am looking for, the mark up for stones and herbs can often be ridiculous. I’ve also found that many shop owners tend to treat their business as a personal extension of their religious practices; so they won’t carry Hermetic, or ceremonial materials, because the owners themselves do not engage in these practices.

    If store owners are attempting to get more pagan dollars, they have got to get out of the mindset that all pagans are looking for items for spell used, or Neo-Wicca paraphernalia. I’ll take a botanica over Witch Shop USA any day at this rate. At least the woman behind the counter won’t attempt to shove the rede down my throat at every opportunity.

      • Thanks Kamya! I do think it is an issue that needs more dialogue because so many folks are very gung-ho about this without taking consideration into *why* these shops are failing. It is the whys that need to be discussed and investigated in so that a smart shop owner can benefit from it that will turn benefit others.

    • Agreed. And that is just the point. If a person can get better quality, better variety, and better prices at another local shop….why exactly should one shop at a local pagan store? Because of an idea of must support pagans? I am sorry but as a customer if a shop doesn’t support me, I am not going to support it. However, I do support spending money locally to support your local economy…they just don’t realize that even locally there is a wide variety of options than just their store. They just don’t understand that the rallying cry of “shop pagan” doesn’t motivate people who are either not part of said community or so much on the fringe that they might as well not be.

  2. While some stores are better than others (Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor actually has a small section for books on Classical Polytheism/Mythology and a HUGE Hindu section; I think, though, this is in part to Ann Arbor, MI, having a considerable Hindu population, more than any other city I’ve lived in), this is generally true. Most of the seashells on my shrine came from a craft store. I dumpster-dived several incense burners (most of which have Indian-looking embossing, but hey, score). All of my statuary, I found on eBay. In Lansing, there are a few local Pagan shops, but even if distance from my house were not an issue (none of them are a reasonable walk from my house), Triple Goddess (yes, the name of one of them) has a lot of Goddess and Wiccanate and “generic new age” kind of books, some herbs at reasonable pricing, and some pendulums at good prices —but if the farmer’s market and food co-op have the same herbs, I’ll get them there while I’m grocery shopping, and how many pendulums do I really need? Blue Raven is OK, kind of sparsely stocked, the time I went, and while I still keep meaning to audition for tea reading there, I didn’t see a whole lot there that would give me reason to put my take-home pay from readings back into the store –it would be nice if they would take suggestions on what to carry, so if I take up that offer to schedule an audition, I’ll ask that. The pricing seemed OK, but honestly, the rent in Lansing is pretty low, even for businesses, even in the nice areas, that I don’t see much in the way of over-pricing.

    Yeah, I do think that a lot of stores end up run by people who kind of just make it an extension of their own practises, failing to account for the fact that even they will often explain that “pagan is an umbrella term for many religions”, while only representing one in their store, which they really want to be something for the entire local pagan community to enjoy. Just kind of sounds like shooting oneself in the foot, as a business, to only stock things of interest to a single religion. While I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt, that maybe they’re starting from only what they know best, but you’d think with something like a store, especially a store for a niche market, that it would be a priority to network socially and learn what the community needs from a local shop, and how to best serve these needs.

    • I think you have hit the nail on the head when it comes to what you said about shop owners needing to communicate with their local community to see what it needs/wants. A shop that has a wide dialogue with a large variety of people will likely be more successful.
      Now there was a shop in NC that I liked. I never went to the physical shop but enjoyed their crafts while at Pagan Pride Day that had a lot of handmade things that were rather unique…like masks made from leather. So a creative and diversified shop is certainly possible!

      • As a Pagan-friendly man of large build and a penchant for Angelic work, I would like my local shop to carry holy water, crystal balls and Tables of Practice. I’d also like to make sure they have incense in the specific kinds I use for each day of the week, and I’d like them to carry cool shirts and pants in my size.

        Oh, wait. I have the crystal ball already. I made my table of practice myself, from materials I got at Michael’s Arts and Crafts, and I make my own holy water using water from the tap and dried basil from the grocery store. I have the copy of the book I need to do the rituals, (and I almost have the rituals memorized, anyway). And mainstream stores like Old Navy barely carry clothes in my size — why should a pagan store with a limited budget for inventory cater to me? Likewise with pagan crafts — don’t we belong to a tradition that values artistry as a personal practice? Shouldn’t we be making our own wands/chalices/pentacles? Can magical capability be bought in a store, or is it earned through practice? Aren’t most of the ingredients of spells low-cost, low-markup items like candles and small crystals and cheap, readily available herbs? My last “big spender” trip to an occult supply store cost me $16.50: a bunch of candles, some incense, some herbs. I won’t need to go again for a few months.

        No, I think there’s a serious business model problem with most occult stores; selling pagan crafts at high-end prices, or trying to become more botanica-like, doesn’t really solve the problem.

      • @Andrew B. Watt
        I think you’re missing the point. While DIY and arts-n-crafts are surely encouraged in pagan religions, as they should be, the point is that since not everybody (read: you might, others might not) have the time, patience, skills, and/or talents to make a lot of things for themselves, pagan shops exist for that reason and others. Maybe people who have good reasons to at least want to,/i> support pagan shopping find that the shops nearest them aren’t filling their religious needs –and this is usually while the store(s) in question, in the same breath, are proclaiming to cater to the entirety of the local pagan community.

        This, thus, is a problem, and the proprietors of those shops need to acknowledge that, if they want continued business from people outside their own personal religion while claiming they cater to “the pagan community” (which is more than just Wicca).

        You make a comparison to Old Navy not carrying clothes in your size, but here I am wondering why you don’t expect better and more-inclusive standards from your local pagan stores? After all, I guarantee you that shop for shop, there are more pagan retailers claiming to be all-inclusive than there are clothing stores carrying only “average” ranged sizing. The thing is, the pagan shops are making claims that Old Navy knows best not to –if a retailer is going to make claims of such high standards, I’m going to hold them to it and be disappointed when they don’t deliver.

  3. When I was out in San Francisco earlier this year, a friend took me to a tiny shop down an alley between two houses called The Sword and the Rose. Coulda knocked me over with a feather because the majority of the shop was based around Hermetic/Ceremonial practices!
    I think the shops in general are also reflective of what I see as a problem with a lot of neopagans: too much surface and lack of understanding or encouragement to go further or deeper with their work. Even if people stay with a neopagan or Wiccan framework there is so much more out there to be done potentially.

    • yes I think that is an important observation. Shop owners should ask themselves at what point does their shop fail to serve deeper spiritual workings of the community? No one stays at the beginning level forever regardless of religious tradition they follow, so having a bunch of tools and 101 stuff isn’t going to help them out. Good point.

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