As a shopkeeper in a metaphysical store, one must have many skills and areas of expertise to be successful. Most important among these are the diplomatic arts of Straightfacery and Subtle Correction.
Case in point:
Have you any FrankenSTEIN and Myrrph?
Two customers walk into the shop. I say hello and welcome and they tell me they are only there to browse in a don’t bother me kind of way. Okie Dokie. So I get back to whatever I was doing.
The older of the two is a statuesque woman in her mid-50’s with a distinctive New York accent. She has a regal, sanctimonious kind of presence. With her hair wrapped elegantly in a scarf and her lovely long neck, I ponder if this might have been what Egyptian Queen Nefertiti looked like as she matured.
She surveys our metaphysical wares, brows arched and frowning, arms crossed to keep her safely separate. Its a small shop, and I can’t help but hear her running commentary, comparing us unfavorably to her favorite spiritual shop back home in New York City.
Having visited a few there myself, I have no doubt she is right about their superior selection of authentic ethnic goods. I’m not offended; Greenville, North Carolina can’t begin to compete with the resources of NYC!
Nefertiti is accompanied by a wide-eyed younger woman whom I suspect is her granddaughter. She has a very different demeanor, with an awe-struck, innocence about her, moon-eyed and in-drinking the details, timidly pointing to various curiosities, and asking whispered questions of her grandmother. Her clipped answers, despite the abrasiveness of the tone, are reasonably well informed; It is clear that Nefertiti talks the talk, and has some experience in occult pursuits, or at least, SHE thinks she is an expert, and so far, so right.
As she passes my counter, Nefertiti throws me a question over her shoulder “Do you carry FrankenSTEIN and Myrr-ph?”
[<giggle inside my head> Steady on, Heron; engaging diplomacy protocols, I arrange face into pleasant-shopkeeper-helpful-neutral-mode]
“Yes!” I answer with a smile. “We have both FrankINCENSE and Myrrh in several forms. Were you needing essential oil, loose resin tears or powder, or prepared into incense sticks or cones?” I say as I pull down the jars of loose resins and open them up for her and her granddaughter to inspect.
Nefertiti doesn’t approach, “I don’t need any. I only buy my FrankenSTEIN and Myrrph in New York. I do it the traditional way with the clay pot and candle,” and she turns away from me again. Granddaughter seems interested in it like she might want some.
Now glancing into the jars of highest quality, absolutely legit Frankincense and Myrrh resin tears, Nefertiti is frustrated. “That isn’t FrankenSTEIN and Myrrph! You have to have a clay pot and candle to use the real thing.”
“So when you say ‘the traditional way,’ do you burn the resin on a charcoal tab like these?” I inquire, showing her an example of hookah charcoal and a censer.
“No. The candle goes underneath. That’s not the right thing.” And I am dismissed. Hmmm….maybe she means an oil in a diffuser? But I don’t get a chance to ask.
But Granddaughter is very curious, “The bible says there was something else important, right? FrankenSTEIN and Myrrph and…gold? Gold what? Do you have gold?” She asks innocently.
“You are correct, in the New Testament of the Bible, the magi – or ‘three wise men from the east’ are said to have brought baby Jesus FrankINCENSE, Myrrh and gold…as in the precious metal…coins, or nuggets, perhaps? I don’t know what form it was in, but we don’t actually have any real gold metal jewelry in stock. Plenty of Sterling Silver, but no gold. Sorry!”
“They really did,” I say with a smile, as I gratefully turn around to replace the jars upon the shelf. Before long, Nefertiti has seen nothing that NYC cannot offer her, so she hustles granddaughter back out of the shop with nary a backward glance. I’ve never seen them since.
Straightfacery and Subtle Correction
So the above is a special awesomenugget story from the trenches of The Sojourner. For the most part its just great people acting very grateful and kind to us, challenging and fascinating us with their inspiring stories of spiritual adventure, while they purchase incense and candles. But then there are head-scratching, don’t-you-dare-smirk moments when my finely honed arts of straightfacery and subtle correction are put to good use.
I accept my customers from exactly where they are at in their personal journey, but I don’t reinforce incorrect information, either. In the Sojourner, we have a couple of ground rules that we all strive to uphold in our retail space, classroom and temple, but it IS NOT “The customer is always right.” Nope. That doesn’t cut the muster nearly enough after you cross the wyrd-threshold into this safe haven.
Sometimes customers are absolutely WRONG, struggling under sometimes hilarious misconceptions, sometimes dangerous propaganda, and who better to help shine some light of education, than your local village witches with 10-6:00 business hours, direct to the public? When they are receptive to friendly input, that is…
However, and this is where I think some shopkeepers go astray, neither can we be the sanctimonious assholes who make people feel bad about whatever misinformation they’ve received in the past. Long ago, I once innocently pronounced “mabon” differently when speaking to some of the first wiccans I’d ever met, and they bust out laughing in my face, and mocked me the rest of the day. I’ll never forget the humiliation they made me feel, one of the first opportunities I’d ever had to speak book-read words aloud to other pagans. Similarly, shoppers don’t need a salesperson arguing with them about their perceptions, methods, nor their vocabulary; that makes YOU the asshole.
At my shop, if we make anyone feel too intimidated to ask their “weird question,” or feel foolish because of the way we answer them, then we’ve failed at our sacred mission. You absolutely CANNOT scowl at, laugh at, or demean people for what they do not yet know. Some days our staff does better than others, but we do strive to uphold our ideals.
My four rules are these:
- Don’t burn the Witch, starting with yourself. Everyone is safe from prejudice and harm in our halls. We are all treated like incarnate gods in my temple. I expect no less from you in return.
- Don’t be the Asshole. In every situation, there is a subtle distinction, and is certainly a matter of perspective, but if you are the source of the problem, “burning the witch,” either yourself, others, or us, through any banefulness, we won’t aid you in that assholery, nor will we be mistreated. You can take that business elsewhere.
- Don’t be the weak link. I’m in charge of me; You are in charge of you. Let’s both act like the Incarnate Gods we were sent here to be. Our staff attempt to engage in a state of “perfect,” or unconditional, Lovingness and Trustworthiness, and we give you the benefit of the doubt that you will do the same. Trustworthy until proven otherwise. Meaning, I don’t profile people, follow them around, try to snake-oil salesman them into buying things they don’t need, or treat our customers like potential criminals. But if you break that social contract of good will, you can take that business elsewhere, too. Allow my flying monkeys to escort you out!
- Must be present to win. In every moment, I try to be fully present in life, ready to engage, to learn, to listen, and to share with all the Bright Spirits that cross my path. I will meet you here on this common ground with all the best intentions. If our customers do the same, we will all be better for it.
As a side note, should I ever come up with a two man pagan comedy routine, I may call our act “Frankenstein and Myrrph” just because I can’t help but chuckle at what misadventures those two characters might find, as they muddle through the neo-pagan scene.