This Shopkeeper Saga series of blogs began with Not All Who Wander Are Lost. I’m working through this riddle in The Fellowship of the Ring, by JRR Tolkien. Its inspiring me to think about how we pagans approach our own destinies, our journeys to fulfill them, our relationships with material treasures, our heritage, and reclaiming our sovereignty.
― J.R.R. Tolkien (1)
Customers often remark that owning The Sojourner must be the “best job ever.” They are envious, they say, wishing they had all “this cool stuff” for themselves. Folks want to spend all their days in this entrancing place and I can’t blame them. There is a glamour that we work hard to cast for our customers, but like all “real magick” there is a lot of heinous, soul-sucking minutia that goes on behind the scenes. We wage a relentless battle to make all this possible for our community; you’re welcome.
All that is Gold Does Not Glitter
Driving to work for an average day at the shop, our parking lot requires we navigate through delivery trucks, construction equipment and porta-johns. Staff cars from the restaurant next door triple park haphazardly around the dumpsters, blocking us out. We have tow trucks on speed dial, and are not afraid to call them. Trashy weeds grow through the cracks in the patchwork asphalt, and graffiti defiles the 100 year old brick. We share this back-alley lot with our business neighbors and on a summer day it stinks of hot garbage, fry grease, and piss. Its hardly a slog through Mordor (1), but it’s not a stroll down the yellow brick road, either (2).
This building was built in 1908; charming, but the roof leaks, and spiders build their webs where the mortar is missing in the facade. We’ve declared an armistice with one spider in a high outside corner. We call her Shelob (1), and dearly hope she will discourage the gigantic “water bugs” from breaching the perimeter. We also have nesting sparrows who raise their peeping babies in the front arbor every spring.
While there is a gauntlet we run daily in the maintenance of this haven, we get to open the door into the calm, humming Spirit of this place. It is peaceful, and feels like home. It is the amazing fragrance everyone notices first; this Parfum de Sojourner saturates everything and is a blend of all these candles, incenses, oils, soaps and herbs. The smoky base-note of years of smudging still lingers with the residue of chants and drums, hopes and desires. Together they become a shifting echo of something wondrous that swishes up the spine like champagne bubbles. If we could bottle that smell and the feeling it invokes, we’d be millionaires.
I do many jobs here, not all of them are enjoyable. I am a panentheist so I see everything as sacred, and every action a form of magick. Luckily, I accept that the sacred includes the suck-tastic, gods-awful parts, too, and witches don’t get to cherry pick just the fun parts.
Owning a shop takes a broad skill-set that goes far beyond being a good witch; frankly, the two may be mutually exclusive. I am both the president of the corporation, and the janitor. I do the book keeping, tax paying, and HR management – but not very well. I help order spectacular merchandise, but I’m also the one who hauls in the bulk toilet paper. When the antiquitous plumbing backs up, I get that phone call.
On a fun day, I can play “sales-witch” and be the cashier who rings up purchases, or offer tarot readings. On my least favorite days, I am the clueless IT and website manager pulling out her hair in frustration. I spend more time wrangling all the social media accounts than I do anything spiritual. Thank the gods for my dedicated staff, two patient and dedicated witches who keep business flowing and me from drowning.Despite renting in the cheapest area of town, these 2000 square feet worth of business operations are crazy expensive to finance. We have over 20,000 special little things in here that we hope you will come to purchase. Nay, we desperately NEED you to purchase these things. We are hungry and there are so many bills to pay.
Because I hold all the stock in this S-Corp, I technically “own” every thing in the building. I think about the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, guarding his lair full of golden treasure (1). Just like Bilbo is the “burglar,” customers regularly shoplift from us some bit of “glittery gold” that they so desperately want – or maybe they think they neeeeed it more than we could need what that price tag asks.
That shoplifters are willing to risk my flying monkeys (2), risk the Cosmic bitch-slap that comes with stealing from three witches, says a lot about our culture’s unhealthy relationship with material things, and their ignorance of magickal things. When folks are denied access to the resources they need, or from a sense of empowerment, a sick shadow is cast across whatever that thing truly is – is it a chunk of rock, a leaf of plant, a key to some power to which you think you are entitled? Is this the “lucky charm” that will finally save you?
To witches, especially animists, these “things” have a spark of consciousness, they are our allies, or keys to tap an egregore that is beyond the mundane. Funny thing: once I had easy access to witchy things at this level, they lost their glitter. I have a very different relationship to the things of witchcraft, now. I feel kinship with these stones, herbs, tools…rather than ownership. More like I run an orphanage of wandering spirits and for eight years now I’ve spent my energy finding the perfect people to adopt them in exchange for help with the rent money.
I find my personal practice is simplifying, detaching, shedding the outer skin of accoutrements that is lifting the burden on my soul that their stewardship carries. I will admit to a constant, low-level anxiety over paying the bills that is only alleviated by selling these things, and I resent the dissonant position I’m in.
You see, while this glittering hoard of “allies” may be “mine” to guard, so is all the debt and liability that makes this possible. If I screw up any legal obligations, it is me alone that faces the firing squad, but if the shop fails, it isn’t just me who loses a job: three families lose their income, the lighthouse goes dark, and our community loses their Temple. I can’t let that happen.
If you ever see me at work and get that vibe like I’m stretched taut, a thin expression like too little butter scraped over too much bread (1), that is why. The bottom line is that we need a consistent and very material exchange of cash money for whatever thing/class/service you are willing to pay for, or all of these fabulous benefits, and the juicy energetic mojo goes away.
Just like the dragons who guard the hoards of old tend to become lonely, paranoid and grouchy, so do our shopkeepers who are tired of arguing with this community over who’s responsibility it is to pay for these privileges. It can make us bitter. I have met a few glaring, cantankerous, back-stabbing, bitchy-witches behind the counters of such shops. One who’d just as soon curse a competitor out of business, than say how-do-you-do. When witches are being honest about this shit we call it “shadow work,” and as an industry, we have plenty of shadows to keep us busy.
Thank you for all you do to support your local businesses. Go show them some love, purchase a little something, and tell them how much their work means to you. On the hardest days, when our creditors are screaming at us, a well-timed word of gratitude makes all the difference.
Until next we meet, bright blessings,
In my next piece, I discuss the intangible benefits of the shop as a pagan temple and community center that all this commerce finances, because ultimately, that is the whole point! Click here to read on: A Light from the Shadows Shall Spring!