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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Witch is a Hot Topic

By Wolfen Moondaughter

Saturday 13 September 2003, by isa

According to an article by newWitch magazine, the retail chain Hot Topic would not carry said magazine because, thanks to some sort of problems that they did not define, Hot Topic had decided to stop carrying any items with the word "Witch" on it, in order to avoid complications. My first thought was "WHAT??" I wondered, how could a store that caters so well to pagan tastes actively discriminate against one of the most visible pagan paths out there, Witchcraft? Of course I was outraged, and thoroughly ready to sign a petition on the issue. Thankfully I have some wise friends online who talked me out of it before I hit the send button. One of them sent me to a message board at Witchvox that had some interesting things to say on both sides of the issue. That’s not to say I’m not still hot under the collar, though now it’s what some of my fellow pagans have had to say that burns me up as much as the situation.

First, I’d like to say that Hot Topic has a right to carry whatever they want to. I don’t think most of those individuals who signed the boycott are disputing that, by any means. Some people have suggested that it’s not any more right for us to bully HT into carrying items that proclaim "Witch" than it is for the right-wing to demand they do not. But I don’t think that’s what the boycott is doing at all. The point isn’t that they don’ t carry "Witch" items, but rather that they stopped carrying them because someone told them not to. The boycott is there to say that we don’t care for the fact that this chain has given in to the "right-wing". We would never say "We want you to stop carrying [fill in the blank] because we don’t like [fill in the blank]." The way to tell a store you don’t like something is simply to not buy it. If they still sell it, it means that there are others who do like the item, and, unless it’s something that could be used to attack you like a handgun, I really don’t see how what one consumer buys is any other consumers’ business. So to boycott this chain is to vote with your wallet - a way to say, "Hey, I know the right-wing has some clout, but we deserve to be heard too, our opinions count. Who are your customers? Who matters to you more, the Wiccans and pagan-friendly individuals who shop in your store, or a bunch of ignorant bigots who can’t stand to live and let live? We will support you if and when you support us. And we expect a store we patronize to do the moral thing, and not practise religious discrimination." We certainly wouldn’t complain if there were shirts that said "Christian" or "Buddhist", or even "Satanist" being sold alongside the ones that said "Witch" (unless the allusion was that the witches were satanic), nor would we ever ask that they not be sold, regardless of our personal feelings.

So why didn’t I sign the petition? Because of some other valid points that were brought to my attention. For one, the Hot Topic representative didn’t actually say what the situation was that prompted their decision, never said it was the "religious right". It may have be one individual, who has some sort of power-hold on them, something that could run their business into the ground. They do have their employees’ futures and families to consider. We don’t know what exactly the situation was, so can we judge them? And to summarise notions others have pointed out, it’s not like they don’t carry a lot of other products that are pagan-friendly. Not to mention they don’ t really carry outright religious paraphernalia anyway, so it’s really more like they’ve decided to just not venture onto that unstable territory, a decision that could be seen as a wise one. And as far as newWitch in particular goes, they don’t carry magazines anyway, do they? (If they do, I’ve never seen one there.)

So for those who opted not to participate in the boycott, I can see their side as well. My friend who pointed the link out to me suggested a reverse-boycott, saying instead of withdrawing monetary support, which wouldn’t be easily measured, why not instead send copies of your receipts to them with a note saying that the items in question were bought by a Pagan/Wiccan, etc. Let them know, in a positive way, that you appreciate the Pagan-friendly items they do carry (and other items besides). If you want to see "Witch" on items, say so. Give them concrete evidence that they have a Pagan demographic. And if you’re not actually Wiccan, or even Pagan, but are sympathetic, let them know that you are a non-Pagan who supports freedom of religious expression, and would like to see items that cater to all walks of life, including items that express Paganism. Your voice may be more effective than even the voices of the Pagans, letting them know that mainstream USA is quite all right with Pagan presence.

But I’m not done with this rant yet. I was greatly aggravated by the many (what I consider to be) snarky comments on the Witchvox board. There were many people putting down anyone who would want to buy "Pagan stuff" at a "trendy" place like Hot Topic in the first place. I don’t think that’s the issue at all, and such comments were out of place and inappropriate. The boycott was not about demanding Pagan products. That aside, if I happen to see something I really like somewhere, I buy it. So what if it’s pink and furry? There’s nothing wrong with a little gauche in one’s life - it keeps one from becoming stodgy. One shouldn’t feel like one’s altar is too good for a piece of plastic, if that plastic brings a smile to your face, and sparks your imagination. If some of us can look past the commercialism and find our deity there, then I say go for it! No one else has a right to criticize us for it, and to do so just seems awfully petty. Pettiness is not a state of being the supposedly spiritual should ascribe to.

Now I’ll be the first to say that I get annoyed with all the, as Willow Rosenburg of Buffy fame once put it, "Wanna-blessed-bes". I’m talking about all these young pups who go around saying they’re a "witch" without having researched it at all, the ones who think that just wearing a pentacle around their neck makes them Wiccan, or those who go around acting all mysterious claiming they are a "hereditary witch" so only they are "true" witches, or those who claim they can curse people and fly. Oy. They do things that at best make me wince and at worst make me sorely tempted to break the Wiccan Rede and beat some sense into them. And I admit that there is a definite downside to the trivialization of Wicca: some won’t take us seriously, while others take the misrepresentation of the path by the wannabes as the way we really are and use it as an argument against allowing us to practice our faith.

But there is an upside, too. Many things have been lost to history, so that no one really knows exactly how the ancient peoples practiced their faiths. There is only conjecture, and therefore much argument, as to how things were done, and why. For 2000 years, the Church saw to it that people who practiced the old ways had to hide their faith for fear of retribution. Thusly, up until recently, it was nearly impossible for anyone to find someone to teach them the craft - many people went their whole lives not knowing there were others who felt the way they did, feeling ashamed for being different. Granted, nowadays "teachers" are a dime a dozen, and I wouldn’t trust most of them as far as I could throw an elephant. But now people know there are others out there like them, and those who are truly serious can learn a lot if they work hard at clearing away the garbage. Now people have circles of friends they can celebrate their faith with if they wish. They can talk about their beliefs more openly without such great fear of retribution. Okay, so there have still been instances of people running into huge family problems, or losing their jobs even, for coming out of the broom closet, but I can see a huge difference in the way things are now compared to just 10 years ago, when I first learned there were other people out there who believed as I do. And people learning to be more tolerant will have positive effects on other "alternative lifestyle groups" as well; look at how much more being gay is accepted these days as opposed to a decade past.

I’m not looking to "spread the word of Wicca" (it would be really hard anyway, since we don’t really have anything in the way of scripture!), but I take a sort of comfort in seeing Wicca, and Paganism in general, going mainstream. Scoff at fuzzy pink pentagrams if you want, but if their being sold openly in popular stores means you and I can have a circle in our back yard and not worry about being shot at (as happened to my coven syster in the ’80s), or have a friendly discussion of our beliefs at the food court in the mall without worrying about our boss overhearing us and finding a convenient excuse to fire us, I say "Bring on the pink!" And I also say that defending my right to buy that fuzzy pink pent’ is a step towards defending your own right to be who you are, and express yourself as you see fit.