Just a Witch Shop: How I Made Humility the Cornerstone of My Business
Posted by Michelle Gruben on
It’s a wise person who can say, “I don’t know”—or better yet, “Let’s look that up.” But in the world of Witchcraft, there’s a lot that’s unknown (or unknowable) and not so many reliable ways to look things up. As a result, our community too often falls back on easy answers, bad science, flashy titles, clichés, and cults of personality.
How do you work as a professional Witch without preying on the vulnerable or credulous? This is something I’ve grappled with since the first day I decided to start an occult business. The struggle is real—the tension between the weird shit that I know exists (because I’ve witnessed it), and the New Age-y bullshit that puts even me off, though I live daily in the world of the spooky and strange. I wanted to share a little bit about my own evolving quest to stay grounded, stay true, and stay in service while running the best little witch shop I can.
This aim is not totally selfless. In 2014, I was contemplating leaving a stable but low-paying job and negotiating with my spirit guides about the project that eventually became Grove and Grotto. One of the oracles that I received is that I could make a living as a retailer—for my lifetime, if I so chose. The message was something like: Do the right work, and you will be provided for. I didn't see a path forward in my current career, so I embraced this good news with my entire heart.
At the same time, I learned that my material success is contingent on keeping my karma clean. Or keeping the correct channels open, if you prefer. This isn’t superstition, it’s a certainty: If my business becomes ego-driven or exploitative, it will start to decline.
I don’t know the exact mechanism of failure. It may be that my guides and guardians are the ones that will react to the change, withholding prosperity they had previously allowed. It may be that my own manifestation engine begins to corrode and misfire. Or it may be a purely market-driven change. I trust in the perceptiveness of you, my customers and readers. A lot of you are Witches, after all! If the vibe’s not right, you’ll surely catch a whiff of it—and there are lots of stores to choose from besides mine.
My current solution—and it’s not a path that I’m advocating for everyone, I'm only sharing my personal choice—has been to keep the business purely product-based. I buy cool stuff, I fix it up a bit, and I sell it. If people ask me questions, I answer them as clearly and completely as I can.
That’s it. I don’t boast about any special birthright, spiritual gifts, deity contact, or initiations. I do divination only when called to, and not for a fee. I don’t teach classes or lead rituals. (Partly because my magick is very private, and partly because it feels too presumptuous to take on that much responsibility for someone else’s spiritual experiences.) I may step up into that role one day or I may not—but in the meantime, I have a lot of work that keeps me productive and engaged.
A long time ago—when I was a young student in culinary school—one of the chef instructors made a remarkable statement. It sucked all the air out of the kitchen classroom, and it has stuck with me to this day. The gist of what he said: I only expect the basics, and most of you will fail.
For context, this was the mid-aughts and we had all been raised on the Food Network. We couldn’t wait to create novel fusion cuisines from exotic ingredients, stack the food mile-high in ring molds, turn everything into purees and foams and jellies, and so on. But Chef didn’t care about any of that. His message: If you can serve dishes that are visually attractive, reasonably tasty, and the right temperature when they’re eaten, that is a laudable accomplishment. You will not only pass the class, he said, but you will be doing better than most home cooks and indeed, many professional chefs.
This wasn’t an endorsement of low standards. On the contrary, it was meant to honor an overlooked truth: The basics are hard. And when the basics are executed well, they are enough.
That was true in the kitchens that I worked in, and it's true in my current job. "Simple" inventory management is tough! Finding quality products at a fair price is a skill that’s taken me years to develop. It’s a grueling task to receive all that stuff, take good pictures, organize it, and ship it out efficiently. Supply-chain issues are ever-present, and the marketing landscape changes all the time. And just when I think I’ve got it down, something shifts and I’ve got to learn a different way to adapt and stay afloat. As a metaphysical retailer, there are lots of pitfalls even before you start claiming to speak for the Gods and shit.
I chose the word “humility” for the title of this piece, but I don’t mean being humble in the Judeo-Christian sense of self-abasement or bowing down to Sky Daddy. I mean something closer to “honesty” or “curiosity”—staying real, looking forward, always learning.
Because I am proud. I'm one of the proudest people I know—and in Paganism, pride isn't a sin. I’m proud of my Witch blood, my earthly accomplishments, and my connections with wise and powerful beings past and present. But it’s all within reason. I don’t style myself as a Witch Queen. I can’t control the weather. I won’t bring you messages from your dead relatives or dear departed pets. If you buy something from my shop, it may help you work powerful spells—but a lot of that depends on you. I have, I believe, above-average psychic abilities (and I'm tall and look great in a cloak, and Freya really likes me!) But I still want to be able to do my job on days when the magick just doesn’t show up.
One of the unspoken social rules in Pagan and witchy circles is that you don’t question anybody’s supernatural experiences or their claims of power, even when they stretch the limits of credulity. So we must be willing to question ourselves. People really trust spiritual leaders, authors, and yes, even store owners. We should strive to be worthy of that trust. We need to be honest about what we know and what we haven’t yet encountered or understood. And more importantly, we’ve got to make it safe for other seekers to change their minds or to be unsure.
As Witches, we are powerful, and we live in a world that is larger and more filled with uncertainties than the mundane world. May I always have the courage to learn and the humility—or the curiosity—to say, “I don’t know.”
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