Magical McCormick (a.k.a., Taking the Thyme to Talk About Herbs)

In a time when most U.S. metaphysical shops, not being “essential businesses”, are closed, the spices and herbs sections of still-operating grocery stores are invaluable. As such, I thought it would be a great time to take a look at the spiritual uses of a few of the most commonly-available kitchen ingredients, available from everyday companies like McCormick, Spice Islands, and Badia.

Allspice: A great herb of success, allspice works well in conjunction with many other herbs (especially for business, though I’ve used it for other achievement-oriented tasks). On its own, it draws in money and business. Some people find its energy to be mentally soothing; try mixing it with herbs like Solomon Seal Root to promote mental clarity, or mix it with herbs like kitchen Sage and Smartweed for making good financial decisions.

Anise & Star Anise: Anise, or Anise Seed, of the Genus Pimpinella, is used in recipes to increase spiritual/psychic ability and can also be added to energy-cleansing herbal mixtures. The unrelated Star Anise (or Illicium verum), whose recognizable star-shaped seeds are sold, is used to affect a wider variety of mystical properties, such as dreaming true, warding off bad spiritual energies (such as the Evil Eye), and bringing in good energy or luck. These two seeds will work well together for psychic purposes, such as keeping away nightmares.

Basil: Sometimes called Holy Basil, this plant is known as Tulsi in India and is sacred to Vishnu (malas used by his devotees are often made of wooden beads of this tree). Also known as Sweet Basil, this herb’s culinary use has made it an accessible and powerful cleansing agent. It can be used to banish negative energies or malevolent entities, and is indispensable when protecting yourself or your home, as it can be used in most any method of practice.

Bay: A powerful protector, these fragrant leaves are most often employed to ward off negative energies–or to remove negative energies already present, which can be easily accomplished by washing with a tea made of bay. Carry one of the dried leaves in your pocket for some on-the-go protection against picking up unwanted energies or unwanted people. As it also encourages success, add it to Allspice and Cinnamon for a great mixture to overcome business or financial difficulties, and because it will smell amazing.

Black Pepper: Best used in conjunction with other ingredients, you can mix Black Pepper and Salt, and throw it out the door behind an unpleasant guest you don’t want returning; if you can sweep out the door after the mixture (and the guest) with a broom after, then all the better. (Particularly useful for unwanted visits if you’re in an area currently suffering from community spread of Covid-19/Coronavirus.)

Caraway: These protective and healing seeds are great when putting together an amulet/talisman. They mix well with other healing or protective ingredients, and some people believe its gentle energies are particularly effective when working for infants or children (such as mixing a protective oil to anoint a baby’s crib).

Cardamom: These seeds offer luck in love and sex, and work well when mixing a love or lust oil (which can be done by steeping the desired herbs and spices in sunflower seed oil) to wear on your person.

Cinnamon: One of the world’s favorite spices, cinnamon is usually just one ingredient mixed into recipes for love or business. Like (and often alongside) Ginger, it can “heat up” a passionate love affair. It is also commonly used in recipes to draw in business and money, alongside other ingredients like Nutmeg, and can mix well into recipes that have several total ingredients.

Cloves: These fragrant flower buds look kinda weird, but their readily-available whole form is one I enjoy using in all manner of money work. (Ground cloves are also readily-available and work fine, but I personally like whole cloves.) Most often combined with other ingredients, the right workings can bring luck in gambling, draw in money and business, and even promote friendlier feelings among colleagues and clients. Keep a jar full of honey and cloves in your office to sweeten the people you interact with; all the better if you can find an excuse to serve the scented honey at a business party.

Coriander: These seeds work well in recipes that draw and maintain love. They can also ward off illness; carry a few seeds with protective ingredients like Bay for some on-the-go help protecting against illness.

Cumin: Ask these protective seeds for their assistance and sprinkle them around your property or carry them on you. (That’s about all I got. Their energy feels a bit finicky if trying to mix it with other ingredients.)

Dill: This friendly herb’s peculiar range of specialties (along with its mild scent and pleasant physical softness) make it one of my favorites. Dill is great for breaking jinxes or crossings put on a person, especially in regards to love or professional and legal affairs. It makes one lucky in love, and helps one succeed in court. As an added bonus, it also wards off disease (for which I’ve certainly used and recommended it lately due to the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic). It works great when steeped in a base oil such as olive oil or sunflower seed oil, alone or with other herbs to strengthen a specific intention.

Ginger: This hot-tempered root, often in ground form, is usually mixed with other ingredients in recipes for protection, love, and money. The whole root can also be used for protection; carry it on your person or keep it under your pillow at night. It “heats” love and money spells, encouraging them to work faster. (However, easy come, easy go–that is, sometimes it’s worth giving the work time to build itself up, but that’s a decision that must be made depending on purpose and situation.)

Mint: A personal favorite, this culinary delight is available dry and also grows well in small indoor pots, and just wants to be your friend. I currently keep pots of Peppermint, Spearmint, Sweet Mint, and Chocolate Mint, and have found that my live mint brigade does a pleasant job of maintaining the energetic cleanliness of the space around them. These fragrant plant friends work well with other herbs when you need to lift negative energy that has been put on you. A mint leaf in your wallet will also help protect your money.

Nutmeg: This delicious-smelling spice can be used as a money-drawing ingredient in a more complex herbal working in its ground form, or the equally-accessible whole nutmeg may be carried on your person for luck in gambling. It blends well with other spices commonly utilized in money-drawing recipes (including those of “hotter” energies), such as AllspiceCinnamon, and Ginger.

Rosemary: No stranger to magical use, rosemary is a powerful guardian, warding off evil and removing negative energies from home or person. Use a sprig of rosemary to asperge the home–that is, dip it in water that has been worked by the practitioner, and use the rosemary sprig to sprinkle it around the house for cleansing. While quite useful in protective recipes with other herbs such as Bay, it is also effective on its own.

Salt: A practitioner staple, with which I’m sure we’re all familiar for protection and cleansing. It can also help protect your money, however; I’ve been told “talk to your salt”, ’cause it’ll do what you tell it. Some people prefer Himalayan Pink for protection, due to its higher iron content (which causes the pink color, and repels certain types of spirits). Others prefer Kosher for any working purposes, due to its relation and conformity to certain Jewish dietary laws (in America, religious Kosher salt is often labeled as Kosher-Certified to distinguish from normal salts simply used for dry-brining meat). (I personally prefer Sea Salt. Just a note. I also generally like the sea.)

Sage: While most modern practitioners think of White Sage (used for cleansing), the unrelated common seasoning sage can also be a useful ally. True to its name, it promotes wisdom, while also offering protection. As an added bonus, it works well with certain prosperity herbs, such as Smartweed, to assist in making good financial decisions.

Saffron: These bright crimson stigmas and styles (often called threads) are harvested from flowers, and are one of the most expensive herbs. However, they make a lovely and powerful addition to most any of various methods of romantic or love work.

Tarragon: This peaceful home herb works well in mixes with few other herbs; it has an interesting energy itself, and does best when the other herbs are of more mild energy (such as Lavender), as it tends to have slightly more kick than most other ingredients used for peaceful home work. Let tarragon and a few other harmony-promoting herbs steep together in olive oil, then anoint around the house with it to promote a positive home atmosphere.

Thyme: This humble herb promotes peace of mind, and its gentle energy is good for work to bring mental peace during the day or while you sleep. It also mixes well with other green/leafy prosperity herbs for drawing and keeping money; sprinkle a bit in your wallet, or keep it with dollar bills.

Vanilla: This positivity-promoting bean offers good energies for a happy home or love work. Keep a bean in your sugar jar, to bottle up the love and keep it from leaving the house; or, feed the sugar to those having disputes to sweeten them. Steep a few threads of Saffron in a bit of pure vanilla extract, and use it to bake a love-inducing treat.

Let’s Talk About Help

Sooner or later, you will likely need it. But as the saying goes, it’s hard to find good help these days. With so many people trying to simply cash in on the current magical trends, I thought it might do us well to take a moment to reflect on the red flags and qualifications you could keep an eye out for when looking for professional spiritual assistance.

The reasons that you may need a spiritual professional are as diverse as the specialties of the professionals out there. The most common are probably readers—those whose profession relies on some method of divination. Another common generality of specialty you may find in professional practitioners is practical magic; these practitioners may be hired to perform spells or create magical items for everyday needs, such as getting a job or protecting a home. One more general specialization I would like to mention, and perhaps the most harmful when performed poorly, is those whose professional spiritual practices involve spirit work. Most obviously, these are the people who are often sought out when harmful spiritual conditions are at work, such as a malevolent spirit invading someone’s home or attaching directly to the person. Sometimes, burning a bit of white sage just isn’t going to cut it; you need a professional.

Let’s take this one step at a time: first, let’s say you think you may have a serious spiritual problem. There are a variety of professional readers you can seek out to divine the nature and severity of your problem; gathering information is a good first step to finding the most effective solution. But finding a reliable reader can be daunting when everyone and their pet dog is now an expert after buying their first tarot deck; unfortunately, as with other types of practitioners, we don’t have any quantitative, empirical method that would allow us to rate the credibility of a reader. There are a few organizations out there that offer training and their own certification, but these still aren’t common to find when shopping around the psychic market, and plenty of gifted readers don’t belong to any such organization. Your best tool here is your own judgment; ask questions. An honest, trustworthy reader will likely be willing to tell you anything you may need to know regarding their public practice; evasiveness regarding the subject the reader is expecting you to pay money for is not usually a good sign. How long have they been practicing, and how long have they been doing so professionally? Where did they learn, or who did they study under? How does the particular method of divination they use work, or how is it interpreted? (Remember, allow for divination methods that are more intuitive rather than strictly structured, such as scrying for a popular example.) Another valuable source of information can be other clients. Did the reader behave professionally when dealing with them or speaking about them? Was the reader able to offer advice or remedies if problems appeared in the reading? In the age of the internet, you can buy everything online, even psychic readings; look to see if this reader has any client reviews available. If you can’t glean any useful information from either asking the practitioner or asking the clientele, then I would consider the practice suspect. (Keep in mind, you may not always be able to question the clientele; they may be unwilling to discuss the matter, or they may be unavailable. In the case of the folk practices I perform, although I personally do not do so professionally, I know that many practitioners can be hard to find and often require asking your friend’s acquaintance’s hairdresser for directions, as many practitioners in my tradition are more secretive.) At the same time, I have of course learned to be skeptical of any practitioners who seem to spend more time building themselves up and advertising than they do actually practicing.

Now you’ve found your professional reader, and your reading is underway. Often times, professional magical practitioners will offer divination as only a facet of their services, also performing spells or other works as other available services. This is where you may encounter the age-old scam of the vague, impending doom, a doom from which only the reading practitioner can preserve you, provided you pay further fees for the other work that averting this otherwise-sure doom requires. In short, this is a good time to seek out another reader. A fellow conjure practitioner once advised me, if I have a candle reading performed, to look at the bottom of the candle beforehand and ensure the wick is centered so that the reading is not being mundanely influenced to appear more severe. Put plainly, use sense and healthy skepticism to ensure that you’re not being taken for a ride. On the opposite end of the spectrum, also pay attention to the reader’s mannerisms and keep in mind that they are likely reading you as well. Do they come across as genuine and sincere? Or are they just telling you what they think you want to hear, so that you will come back again and pay for another happy reading?

Now you’ve probably seen one or two readers, and gotten reliable readings that felt right and gave you some useful information about your particular spiritual problem. It’s time to find someone who can offer the remedies you need based on this information; you may return to your reader for further work if they offer it and you feel comfortable with them, or you may seek out another spiritual practitioner altogether. (Again, ask the same types of questions when considering this practitioner as you did when considering your reader.) When seeking spiritual aid, ideally, we would all like to find a professional practitioner whose practice is in the same or similar tradition as our own, but we won’t always have that luxury. If you truly do have an emergency, I advise finding a practitioner who seems qualified and experienced in the type of problem you’re having, rather than putting off treatment until you find the practitioner you’d most enjoy having to dinner after. On another note entirely, it is a sad truth that when searching through available magical practitioners–as practice is part of the work, and thus may necessitate your involvement–you may come across one of the creeps who unfortunately lurk in this business out of a desire to create an illusion of power and authority about themselves. Do not let a practitioner coerce you into doing something that you are very uncomfortable with or put pressure on you. Ask about an alternative method to remedy your problem; if they offer none, find another practitioner and get a second opinion.

Last, a note about payment. Many people today may be able to offer you spiritual assistance of various means for no charge whatsoever. For this discussion, however, I am focusing on those professionals for whom their practice is a major source of income. That being said, although many people nowadays don’t seem to want to pay magical practitioners any more than they want to pay artists and graphic designers, being charged for a spiritual consultation with a professional spiritual practitioner is not a red flag by any means. Like the rest of us, these people are doing a job and need the income from that job to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Personally, the rent on my apartment is a few hundred dollars, not a few hundred acts of kindness–and we all have to be able to pay the bills, even spiritual practitioners. (Were this not the case, perhaps I would become a professional practitioner myself!) Another thing practitioners must pay for, especially if you’re receiving a spiritual remedy that requires spellwork, is the tools and ingredients used for that spell. If someone asked me to perform love work for them, using my new red figure candles that just cost me $10 each at the only local magical shop that stocks these items and the small amount of saffron I have in my herbal stash (still probably about $10-15 worth as it’s such an expensive herb), then I certainly would not be willing to do so for free. But another important, though often overlooked, effect of paying for spiritual consultation is that it assigns value to the assistance being received–something is being given for that which is being received. It discourages those who would simply waste the practitioner’s time, and leave without truly taking to heart anything that has been offered.

At last, I would like to leave you with a final note underpinning all of this: trust your intuition when dealing with people.

Hekate, Anubis, and My Brain Injury

My perception of the Gods is that They exist in the Eternal Now. It is the nexus of all time – past, present, and future. It is also the state of “everything is everywhere and always” and “every point of space touches every point of time.” (Note 1) We as humans create in our consciousness, the past, present and future. When the Gods reach out to people, it is not necessarily according to our perception of time. My experience of Anubis and Hekate, two Gods of the Dead, happened that way.

I met Hekate and Anubis together, three months before my life-changing accident. I regard being crushed nearly to death by a faultily constructed wall to be a random event. I do not subscribe to the belief that everything happens for a reason. I see the Universe to be random. I believe that the Gods, Spirits, and everyone else works out each occurrence for Themselves. In my case, Hekate and Anubis decided to use my accident for Their purposes.

At a Pagan gathering many years ago, I attended a Norse seidr (ritual of speaking to the Dead) to ask about my deceased father. As with all religious activities, I prepared by washing and dressing in my formal Roman stola and palla. The seidhr was held at a campground, in the evening. The seidhrwoman sat high on a picnic table, with everyone sitting on either side on benches. Because I came later, I had to sit on the lone chair in between the benches. Covering my head with my palla, I was ready for the ritual. Apparently at the seidhr, I resembled the Goddess Hecate.

After the seidr began, I felt myself going away. The last thing that I heard was someone faintly asking about Anubis. At the time, I did not expect to be possessed by a Deity. Usually when people are to be possessed by a God, they plan for it and assemble a crew to help them. I was an “accidental” possession, totally unexpected by anyone.

I have no memory of what happened after we approached the Underworld during the ritual. I was told by witnesses that Hecate took over my body. The seidhrwoman later told me that she had received a vision of Hecate coming to the seidhr dressed as a Roman.

After Hecate left my body, I was totally out of it. I felt like I had been struck by lightning, dragged for miles behind a fleet of Mack trucks, and run over repeatedly. Dazed and confused, I panicked. Fortunately for me, the seidhrwoman knew what to do to help me. First, she had me drink water and eat some crackers. Then, she spritzed me with lavender. All the while, she discussed the weather with me. Eventually, I came back to my body.

Disoriented, I asked the seidrwoman what had happened. First, she had a prior vision of Hekate attending the seidr. When I came in, I was Hekate come to life. During the seidr, Hekate used my body to talk to the people attending about their Dead.

Later together with the seidrwoman and the woman who had asked about Anubis, we had a private seidr. While answering the other woman’s question, the seidrwoman suddenly transformed into Anubis. After taking command of her body, He commandeered a golf cart. After ordering us in, Anubis took us on a wild ride through the camp. Riding in a golf with a God driving it will unsettle anyone. That is how I met Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead.

My experiences that weekend were too weird, even for me. They were things to file away under “interesting stories.” Then my freak accident happened, and almost killed me. At that time, Hekate and Anubis reintroduced Themselves to me.

During my coma and later my brain “fugues,” Hekate and Anubis roamed with me throughout the Lands of the Dead. Not alive, but not dead either, I floated between the worlds like a specter. Wandering about, I met Stellar’s Sea Cow, an extinct mammal, who guided me back to life. Along with Her, was Dire Wolf, a prehistorical mammal, who showed me his worlds of wonder, and Diplocaulus, the boomerang-headed amphibian of the early Permian, who taught me play again. With their help, I came back to the Land of the Living. Still hovering at the threshold, I was hesitant to return. Anubis whispered to me that He was the Key, The Opener of the Way. Before I could react to that, I was propelled through the threshold.

My work for these two Gods is now to help the newly Dead to find the map to their Land of the Dead. (Maps are needed for the Dead to follow or They get lost, wandering hopelessly about.) When I go into a fugue state, I meet the Dead then. Also, I formed a cultus to honor extinct and prehistoric animals. (Note 2)

As I have said, I do not believe that either Hekate or Anubis caused my accident. I do believe that They used my brain injury for Their Purposes. They had reached out of the Eternal Now introduce Themselves before I could understand what They wanted.

Notes:
1. This theory was first described by J.M.E. McTaggart in The Unreality of Time. 1908.

2. I wrote about that in Witches & Pagans #32: Polytheism, July 2016: “That Which is Remembered, Lives: Establishing a Cultus for Extinct Animals.”

Works Used:
Kaldera, Raven, “The Eightfold Path to Altered States of Consciousness.” 2006. Web. http://www.northernshamanism.org/the-eightfold-path-to-altered-states-of-consciousness.htm
Kaldera, Raven, “Spirit Possession.” 2010. Web. http://www.northernshamanism.org/spirit-possession.html

Responding to the Crisis in the Amazon

As we hopefully all know right now, the Amazon Rainforest is burning. The vast majority of the fires have been set intentionally. Some of them were set legally, others illegally. All of the fires were made easier, if not possible, by the regressive environmental policies of Brazil’s president Bolsonaro. The fires are not only a serious threat to our already deeply imperiled environment, they are a direct threat to the indigenous populations who call the Amazon home and who have been fighting for so long to protect that home. These fires are being set with the full knowledge of the threat they pose to the people who live there, and is nothing short of a genocidal tactic being used against populations who have been struggling to defend their rights against colonization and capitalistic greed for so long.

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Within pagan and witchcraft communities, people who are distraught and feel powerless to help have been creating and sharing spells designed to send healing to the Amazon. I am not a huge believer in the power of magic on its own, though I believe that magic can be a powerful tool for reinforcing or strengthening some other action you are taking in the world.

For myself, I have started a monthly donation to both the Rainforest Action Network and  the Rainforest Trust. Another wonderful organization to support is Amazon Watch, which works with indigenous people to protect the rainforest. I made my donations in Jord’s name, a earth jötunn mother of Thor. I also evoked her in the small ritual spell I did tonight, and will do for the following two nights, and invite you to join me in doing.

My spell is a modification of one I saw drifting around Facebook. The original called for a bowl of water, a candle, and a piece of agate, quartz, or palo santo. Though I happened to have a piece of palo santo given to me by a friend, I strongly recommend against buying palo santo due to its endangered status, which is directly linked to over-harvesting. I also brought along with me a sterile lancet and biodegradable tissue, a bottle of wine, some fancy salt, and a beer — to make offerings to those I called on.

My spell goes as follows, but feel free to make any modifications that will help you perform the spell successfully:

Sit on the earth. Light the candle before you, and dig a hole between you and the candle. As you begin to speak, hold the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the flame.

“I call on Angrboda, whose spirit is wild, to oversee and lend power to these workings.”

Pour offering of wine into the hole.

“I call on Jord, who is the fertile earth herself, to accept and manifest this healing.”

Sprinkle offering of salt into the hole.

“I call on Freyr of the Vanir, the god who wields the rains, to bring his gift of rain, to the Amazon that burns.”

Use sterile lancet to draw blood from a finger, dab it up with the tissue and drop this into the hole followed by a healthy pour of beer.

As you speak the next bit, douse the burnt end of the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the bowl of water.

“I implore these powers, hear our cries.”

Pick up the bowl, and as you speak the next bit, dip your finger in the water and sprinkle it on the candle.

“Bring down the rains to drown the flames burning through our lungs.”

If the candle was not spattered out, blow it out now.

Offer gratitude and bid farewell to those you have evoked, in whatever way works best for your practice.

Asian Celestial Animals

In a semi-continuation of my last post on amulets, I also wanted to touch on a few of the celestial animals of Asian amulets and sculptures. There are many more celestial animals ingrained in Asian cultures than I will talk about here, such as the Tibetan Snow Lion, the Chinese Dragon Turtle, and the Qilin–and of course, the Eastern dragons would constitute their own article entirely. But I wanted to discuss these figures separately because, in my experience, these protective figures have a notable tendency to house actual spirits appropriate to their respective representation; indeed, there are myths that discuss stone Shisas taking action or coming to life, or declare the Píxiū to be a companion of the gods, suggesting the presence/existence of these spirits. Care for these figures, keeping them clean and maybe occasionally offering them some incense or oils, and they will return the favor.

Píxiū / Piyao
During the leonine-esque Píxiū’s centuries-long history, their uses and appearance have seen some change. Traditionally, they came in male-female pairs; the female had two horns and was the more protective presence, and the male had a single horn and was more financially influential. Nowadays, the single-horned Píxiū has become ubiquitous, usually understood as managing all tasks (but especially wealth-collecting); as well as the continued use of statue pairs outdoors and in the home, jade amulets featuring both pairs and single Píxiū are readily available. Also, while older Píxiū depictions clearly had wings, the wings are sometimes omitted from smaller modern depictions. One of the Píxiū’s other most helpful aspects in modern use is its ability to improve the Fēngshuǐ of those who are on the wrong side of that Chinese lunar year’s Tài Suì, a yearly-changing aspect of Chinese astrology. (For example, the Tài Suì of 2019 is in conflict, direct or indirect, with the Snake, Monkey, and Tiger, so these signs would especially benefit from having Píxiū amulet around, which is sometimes believed to be the Tài Suì’s pet.)
Pixiu
A modern pair of more traditionally-designed Píxiū (from Amazon)

Shī / Guardian Lion
Sometimes called “Fu Dogs” in English, the Shī is actually a stylized lion. In a balance of Yin-Yang energies, the Shī is utilized in female-male pairs, usually with the male depicted with an embroidered ball and the female with a cub. The Shī guards entrances, with the male on the right and the female on the left as you walk towards the entrance. Some say the female protects the inhabitants, while the male protects the structure.
Lions
A traditionally-designed male-female pair of Shī (from Amazon)

Shisa
A variation of the Chinese Shī, or a specific type of Japanese Komainu, the Okinawan Shisa pairs look quite similar and are also utilized in male-female pairs to guard entrances. One Shisa is depicted with an open mouth, the other with a closed mouth; there are varying accounts for which is the male and the female, but the open-mouthed Shisa is on the right and the close-mouthed Shisa is on the left. Some say the close-mouthed male protects the home, and the open-mouthed female shares its goodness; others say the close-mouthed female keeps in the good, and the open-mouthed male scares away the bad.
Shisa
A male-female pair of Shisa (from Amazon)

Amulets

Let’s talk about a universal aspect of personal magic: amulets. These are the magical items we wear or carry to protect us (usually by warding against bad influences). Don’t particularly want things like disease or danger around you? Not a problem, ’cause there’s numerous amulets to choose from. I’m going to take a moment to discuss some of today’s most common amulets; however, I will try to focus on amulets that aren’t overtly tied to one particular form of practice/religion, so that I can discuss options that would be available for use by a variety of people. Amulets are especially helpful tools in that they can do their job with little prompting, having already acquired years of cultural intent behind them; this means that they’re a great help in particular to those who don’t practice magic, or those who are just learning magic and could use a little extra protection as a sure precaution. (Of course, experienced practitioners can also benefit from, and even enhance the boons given by an amulet.)

Nazar
These blue glass beads resembling eyes are often referred to themselves as “evil eyes” in the English-speaking countries of the West. Their design stems from ancient amulets, and their production/use has spread across various cultures around the Middle East and Mediterranean. They are usually believed to protect against the Evil Eye, a malevolent gaze received by a person who is envious or malevolent themselves, which then causes misfortune for the recipient. Today, the readily-available nazar can still commonly be found hanging in houses, offices, or cars, as well as being incorporated into jewelry.

Cornicello
This regional Italian charm has become more accessible over the years, especially as numerous Italian immigrants brought it to places like America with them. (In fact, the first time I saw one, it was a silver necklace charm being worn by an American woman of Italian descent.) Often referred to in English as the “Italian horn”, the origin of this horn- or chili-like shape has been speculated on, but the sure truth seems to have been forgotten. Many cornicellos made of various metals are now on the market as necklace charms and such, as traditionally favored materials (i.e., red coral, horn) would be more expensive. The cornicello is comparable to the nazar in that it is also used to ward off bad luck or the Evil Eye, but it comes with the added bonus of promoting fertility as well and was traditionally favored for use by men.

Black, Red, & Blue Maneki Neko
The Japanese maneki neko, or “beckoning cat”, has very quickly attained widespread usage and developed a complex variety of colors/appearances relating to specific associations. For this discussion on amulets–that is, items which ward off the undesirable–we will consider a few colors of maneki neko in particular. It is the black maneki neko who is employed to ward off evil or evil spirits, even to the point of its recent popular usage by women to ward off stalkers. The use of a red maneki neko will ward off illness. The less-common blue maneki neko is sometimes believed to ward off accidents, offering safety both at home and in traffic, although some have also given completely different associations for the blue. There is also significance to which paw the maneki neko has raised; most say that both paws raised is best for protection (ideally with the paws at different heights, however, so as not to look like a sign of surrender).

Yansheng Coin
Also referred to as “numismatic charms” in English, these coins are common throughout the history of China, as well as in Japan and Vietnam. In other countries, these coin charms can now often be found woven on red cords in metaphysical shops, where they’re sold as feng shui decorations or such. In truth, the history and purposes of these coins is extremely complex and varied, so I will simply make a quick note that common modern variations of these coins–often brass-colored with a hole in the center to be strung onto jewelry or decorations–are inscribed with Chinese writing or Yì Jīng (I Ching) hexagrams that include the purpose of protection.

Horseshoe
A common good luck token, the old horseshoe also offers protection. It is often hung above doorways to ward against anything malicious entering. Many say that a horseshoe that has actually been worn by a horse is ideal. I was always told, as an American of British Isles ancestry, that the horseshoe should have both ends pointing up. However, in some cultures the horseshoe points face downward; I’ve had the idea behind this difference described to me as being a belief in the upward-pointing horseshoe being able to hold luck so that it isn’t lost, versus a belief that the downward-pointing horseshoe will pour luck out onto those who pass underneath. Today, the horseshoe is commonly available as a jewelry charm, making it wearable protection as well.

Herbal Amulets
There are innumerable herbs whose presence is said to offer various protections; some are planted to protect the home, others are dried and can be carried. Among many other magical uses, carrying dried heather on your person is believed to ward against sexual assault or unwanted advances. Along with well-known garlic, angelica root, bay leaves, blessed thistle, and countless other herbs are also reported to repel malicious energies, and can be dried or used in a variety of magical practices. Some say planting live ivy around your house will protect from negative energies or thieves.

Amuletic Colors
For some amulets, or even just warding purposes, color is a crucial component. This is often a matter of the color associations held by that particular culture, as with most other magics. In multiple cultures, red is a color very commonly used in amulet-making; it’s so auspicious in China, that even just red clothing may bring good fortune. In the American South, a light blue color referred to as “haint blue” is used to paint parts of houses to ward off harmful spirits.

Images of Protective Deities
In many ancient cultures, a tiny statuette of a deity with a loop affixed to it would be worn as a pendant to invoke the protection of that deity. For example, this was quite prevalent in Ancient Egypt, and the tombs we discover today are still full of necklaces bearing figurines of various deities. I personally have a modern ceramic pendant from Etsy featuring the full figure of the Egyptian goddess Taweret, allowing me to wear it today to protect myself from malevolent spirits much as the ancient women and children of Egypt did. With affordable materials like pewter being commonly used today, and the advent of niche internet shops, this is a wonderfully personal way for modern devotees to show their devotion to a spirit while asking that spirit’s protection in their everyday lives; even many of the less-common spirits celebrated in paganism can sometimes be found.

Taweret - National Museums Liverpool, World Museum
Ancient Egyptian Faience Amulets of the Goddess Taweret (Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool, World Museum)

Cultural Context, and Why It’s Helpful

For many followers of minority religions in America, we are converts who likely didn’t grow up in a similar culture to that from which these religions originated. For this reason, when desiring to have an effective and smooth relationship with a spirit from another part of the world (and often another time), it is going to be very helpful to study the culture they’re originating from and the practices they are accustomed to for communicating with their devotees.

This topic came to my attention again recently when I was looking for a better statue to use for Dà Yé, only to find that many people were confusing him with Tù’er Yé. You see, “Dà Yé” is an endearing title modernly given to the spirit often known as Tù’er Shén, a name that translates as “Rabbit God”. As you can guess, the name Tù’er Yé translates similarly. Now, this is where cultural and historical knowledge would have made the difference between these two spirits glaringly obvious. Tù’er Yé is named such because he is actually a rabbit; he lives on the moon with the goddess Cháng’é and is often depicted as a somewhat anthropomorphic rabbit riding a tiger or other mount. Tù’er Shén is not literally a rabbit god, god of rabbits, or anything like that; “rabbit” was once a slang term in China for a gay man, and this is what Tù’er Shén truly refers to. Because this slang term means that “Tù’er Shén” would be comparable to saying “Fag God” in America, he is often more respectfully addressed as Dà Yé instead. Accordingly, he is also represented as a man.

And this is what cultural context is, and how it’s applied.

Iconography usually cannot be taken at face value; imagery found in Hinduism or Buddhism are great examples, as the representations and items/symbols present often tell a spirit’s entire story or relate their area of focus, if you know how to read it. More importantly, if a potential devotee can be thrown off this easily with just a glance, then reading myths or trying to understand practices is of course going to seem nonsensical without any cultural understanding for all the things written between the lines. For instance, if you come across common hoodoo practices involving using gator paws for luck or holding onto your money, but you personally come from a place where gators are just a foreign danger, you may be wondering what gators have to do with money; part of this is because, in the cultures where these practices (and the gators in question) can commonly be found, a gator is good eating and leather.

In short, do your homework. It’ll come in handy.

On Taking Things One Step at a Time

Want to have all of the fun, with none of the work? Then magic likely isn’t for you. If you do interact with other magical practitioners, you’ve probably seen someone try to do something that left you with many questions–foremost among them often being, probably on multiple levels, “Why?”

Across magical traditions, I’ve watched people attempt feats for which they were ill-prepared. It seems to elude some practitioners, especially newer ones, that magic is a skill like any other and requires practice to progress. I’ve played Operation a few times, but I highly doubt you’d want me rummaging around in your giblets with that as my only practicing qualification. Perhaps the tendency of many modern authors to water down practices or draw rocky cross-culture parallels is partially to blame. After all, you don’t go to a pediatrician for neurosurgery just because it’s “technically all medicine, so it’s close enough”.

My preferred illustration of all-enthusiasm, no-preparation endeavors is many peoples’ use of the spirit board, if only for its sheer frequency and modern infamy. Now ubiquitously recognized as the ouija board (“ouija” originally having been a particularly successful brand of the board), this tool is understood by many modern spiritualists to work by channeling the energy of spirits. (Skeptics insist the spirit board and similar divinatory methods work via the ideomotor phenomenon, but that is irrelevant to our discussion.) Due to their modern notoriety, I doubt I need to list any examples of possible problems that can arise when the uninformed use them, and I’ve met plenty of practitioners who refuse to touch a spirit board out of fear, despite the fact that they can be used just as safely as any other divinatory device, should you take the time to learn how. Yet, while many tools have consequences associated with misuse, it seems that these consequences are overlooked entirely in most cases; for example, almost any method of divination opens spiritual contact, which means that even tarot cards likewise have a small chance of welcoming an undesirable spirit.

There also seems to be a notion that everything should just be available to everyone, all the time. This makes for a dangerous mindset, for what should be obvious reasons; similar reasons for which we wouldn’t want dangerous weapons to be constantly and freely available to all. In some traditions, the serving of certain spirits or participation in certain practices is withheld until necessary or a certain level of training/initiation has been reached, not for the purpose of being exclusionary (as often seems to be the assumption), but for the purpose of protecting people from attempting to handle spirits or practices that they are unprepared for and that could backfire badly on themselves or others. I know a metaphysical shop owner who, when asked by a customer what Goofer Dust even was, simply advised against the woman buying it; this is because, if not used carefully, Goofer Dust can have more severe effects than intended on the target or cross the practitioner using it. (Also, I’ve seen a few people online talk about using Goofer Dust for protection; this is decidedly inadvisable, and not the purpose of it.)

If you find yourself taken with the idea that you should do something for which you’ve lacking or nonexistent training, think carefully about why you’re doing it and the potential ramifications if there’s a problem that you lack the knowledge to remedy. Why do you want to perform this practice? If it’s just to feel cool, then it may not be worth the potential consequences of the practice backfiring. Do you really need to perform this practice, and do you need to perform it now? There are situations for which you might have an urgent need of magical assistance, perhaps in the case of a health crisis, wherein you would simply be left to make a sincere try using your best judgment. Do you need to be the one to perform this practice, rather than seeking a trained professional? I understand that, for many within pagan and other minority faiths, finding a local clergy member or such is simply impossible. However, thanks to the internet, you may be able to find an online contact who could at least advise you on the matter; even finding a good literary source to review will help.

Keep in mind, none of this is in any way an attempt to discourage any particular person or practice, but simply an appeal to practicality. There are many useful magical skills that can be acquired and shared, but they take time to master. Everything in life is a process. There’s no race in magic, or need to compare to others. Take your time. Understand the tools and practices, and understand how they work and how to spot a problem, before diving into the deep end.

In the ever-wise words of Professor Oak, “There’s a time and place for everything.”

Magical Items, Physical Properties

A while back, I read two amusing, if simultaneously slightly concerning, posts from a blog called Cajun Conjure: It Ain’t Aromatherapy and And Remember Kids, “Please, Don’t Eat The Hoodoo.”

I am sharing this because–along with inhaling and eating unfamiliar things being a generally bad idea–I realized afterward that it’s apparently a more common problem than I would have thought. For example: while later discussing this blog with a fellow conjurewoman nearby, she shared her own story of a clueless customer involving magical dressing oils. Most practitioners who are familiar with candle work are familiar with the common action of dressing the candle in specialized oils to strengthen their purpose. However, this customer saw a colorful glass bottle of roughly 4 oz. of essential oils and herbs, and approached the conjurewoman with the assumption “This goes on a salad, right?”

Mistletoe is famous for its association with love. Steep it for your intended as a love tea, however, and the only thing they’ll likely be cuddling is the toilet due to gastrointestinal distress. But while mistletoe’s less-ingestible aspects are fairly well-known, consider for a moment the many more obscure herbs we employ for their magical properties. For instance, have you ever worked with rue? It’s also occasionally known as witchbane or herb of grace, due to the power of its purifying associations. Did you know that it, too, can prove toxic in certain amounts? Likewise, while lobelia can be a fun storm-raising herb (not to mention an attractive flower), be sure not to leave your magical ingredients where pets can get into it while you’re working, should it poison them. And of course, ingestion isn’t the only concern with materials, especially when essential oils have become so popular; we must also remember that many substances can cause adverse reactions when absorbed through the skin.

There’s more to working than being able to build a formula based on magical associations; it also pays to be familiar with the physical properties of your tools. Delivery is part of the work, and you need to know what method of delivery is best for each ingredient and intention. Does it burn well, and is it safe to inhale? Is it safe to ingest or leave on the skin, and is it a common allergy that you would want to be in the habit of informing any potential partakers of?

Also make note of your own physical tendencies. Do certain incenses irritate your respiratory system? Perhaps consider the quality and ingredients of the particular incense you’re using, or use a perfume or scented candle if the smoke is what irritates you. Are you one of the many people who find that essential oils irritate your skin? Perhaps try steeping the desired herbs in a gentle carrier such as olive oil. Remember still (as Cajun Conjure’s post mentioned) that many practitioners spend years perfecting their formulas and, as such, don’t wish to throw them out to the world, so if you’re a customer of someone making oils or incenses, take responsibility for yourself to ask if it includes any ingredients you may be sensitive to.

In short–as someone who personally may have sulfur, snake shed, or any number of other things you may want to limit certain forms of contact with in my formulas–I simply wish to offer a friendly (and hopefully obvious) reminder that while we are spiritual beings, we are also physical beings as well.

Do not put my dressing oils on your salads.