It was a different world for Pagans and Witches when I first started out. My books were whatever was in the local library, and my tools were whatever I’d cobbled together from hikes and thrift stores. Most importantly though for back then, they were all easy to hide, and my ‘altar’ was a small foot stool that could easily slide under my bed.
My first rituals were performed either far off the beaten path in the wilds, or long after my parents
had gone to bed – invocations whispered and candles extinguished outside my bedroom window to minimize that telltale extinguished candle smell. To the me of twenty-three years ago, my current level of openness (not to mention the availability of books and tools we have now), would have been unimaginable.
Nowadays though, we can source the most obscure ritual supplies and have them delivered to our doorsteps, all with the click of a mouse or finger tap on a touchscreen. Need some lignum aloes for that ritual incense you’re making? A white-handled knife for some invocation to a grimoire demon? Need a bag of iron nails? Some ‘mercury head’ dimes? That fancy candle that promises it was made with all organic oils and blessed under (insert relevant moon phase here)?
We live in an era in which these things are not all that hard-gotten. And that accessibility can be its own problem.
Products Sold as Life-Fixes
This isn’t an anti-tool post though, not at all. It’s just that with the advent of the ‘basic witch’, I just wanted to start the conversation around necessary as opposed to pretty junk.
When I was younger, a friend once advised me to never own more than I could fit in my backpack, because you’re only as free as your ability to carry the possessions you own. While her point was ostensibly about the physical freedom of being able to move when you want (and I did do that for a few years), over the years I’ve noticed that possessions are weightier in other ways too.
We get attached to possessions, and to make matters worse (?), we live in a society in which we’re constantly told that we need to have the right product in order to fix whatever it is that is wrong/fill that hole/make life perfect.
How many of us have heard the slogan “Better living through (insert random shit here)”?
We are surrounded by this message that products can make our lives better, and while it’s nice to have possessions (and goodness knows, I love mine), I think it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking one’s possessions *are* the point. Having the best car and a house that’s way too big for your family to live in can easily become obsessions to which family time and relaxation are sacrificed. The things become more important than the people – which is an inversion of how things should be. So it only makes sense that this inversion can occur when it comes to products of a more occult or Pagan nature too. After all, we’re already pre-programmed to consume.
Tools vs Junk
Some magical paths come with a lot of tools, and some come with hardly any – this is not an indictment against either end of this spectrum. And when you’re like me and figuratively have your fingers in many magical pies, you’re likely to have all kinds of magical tools knocking about.
For example, my more PGM and grimoire-based work involves scrying bowls, tables of art, knives, various kinds of incense, and goodness knows what else. However, my more Seidr/witchcraft-related stuff involves a staff/distaff, spindle, ‘cauldron’, and a whole lot of wool (skulls are optional). I would also add a ‘spade’ for the necromantic work (but I guarantee, not for the reason you may think, that kind of thing will get you arrested). That’s a *lot* of stuff, and it only ever accumulates as you expand your practice to work with new grimoires etc.
But what is the difference between those things and junk?
Quite simply, they’re either necessary for the form of magic being practiced, part of the etiquette of contacting whichever spirit or group of spirits you’re looking to work with, or necessary for constructing whatever kind of ritual space you work in in your tradition.
Anything that does not fulfill one or more of the above functions is, strictly speaking, junk.
Now, I happen to like the junk, but it’s important to always keep it in mind that while sometimes even occult tchotchke can be useful at times, it’s still no less junk than the piece of paper you fished out of the trash to scrawl a hasty table of art or sigils on (although I’d hope none of you are in such dire straits that you’d need to do such a thing).
Because all too often, the junk can become the point, and therein lies a trap that I think a lot of people fall into (but hardly ever discuss). Unless it’s an item stipulated by a spirit as a condition of conjuration (and potentially pacting) that spirit, or ingredients for something like a hoodoo hand, if ever you find yourself thinking that you can’t do something magically without a certain item or that you need that thing to *fix* your practice, then you may have a problem. This is especially the case if that magical thing you think you can’t do without that thing is actually down to the application of a basic skill.
Knowing Thyself and Mindful Spending
There are some hard lessons to be learned in the examination of our motivations for buying junk, and the paths it may lead us down. In some cases, having that need to find a ‘fix’ in the form of a product may be indication that the practitioner has become impatient with having to take the long road, and do the hard work it takes to become ‘advanced’. In other cases, it can be an indication that the practitioner needs to ‘go deeper’ and try to face whatever it is inside themselves that is making them feel as though there is a hole to be filled.
The most important thing though is that the practitioner is both able to examine those motivations mindful of one’s spending.
*and* be honest about what it means for their practice. Magical practitioners are told to ‘know thyself’, and for good reason: the practice of magic (in whatever form) contains many pitfalls. For many, if not all of us, exercises involving mindfulness and discipline, form a chunk of the core of our training.
Which means that while we may be as susceptible to the allure of spiritual junk as the next person, most of us already have the tools for avoiding that trap.
Questions like “Why do you want that thing?” and “What use has it?” are important to ask when considering a purchase. It’s important to be
However, equally important is the idea that you can buy something just because you happen to like it. Sometimes I think (and I know I do this at times, it’s a side effect of growing up poor), we try to justify our purchases too much by finding a use for them.
But which is worse?
Buying something because you like it, or buying something because you’ve not only convinced yourself you need it but have come to believe it necessary? There’s a kind of liberation to be had here too – especially if you’re the kind of person to try and justify your purchases like that. Because the chance is that if you cannot even indulge yourself with the odd bit of tchotchke without feeling guilty (assuming no dire financial straits here), then you’re also likely the kind of person who feels guilty about spending your free time doing the things you want, or having hobbies that do not produce items to sell or give as gifts. And that is no healthy mindset to have.