Enchantments: A Modern Witch's Guide to Self-Possession

Enchantments: A Modern Witch's Guide to Self-Possession

by Mya Spalter, Caroline Paquita

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525509660
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 377,969
File size: 33 MB
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About the Author

Mya Spalter is a writer, editor, and lifelong New Yorker. Longtime employee at Enchantments, New York’s oldest occult shop, she writes nonfiction about witchcraft and poetry about science. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Where the Magic Happens, or Altars

Now that we’re well acquainted, I’ll show you my altars. The altar is an area of your home that’s devoted to your spiritual life. It can serves as a workspace for building your spells, or as a tiny temple for honoring a deity, saint, intention, or concept. The important part is that your altar is a dedicated space. Most people who practice witchcraft or another polytheistic worship have at least one altar in their home. But no pressure. Even people who aren’t spiritually inclined seem to be able to get down with the beneficial function of an altar as a place to model peace and balance in our lives. It’s aspirational.

If you don’t already have a designated altar, find an uncluttered area where you can place items of spiritual significance to you: photos of departed loved ones, plants, postcards, paintings, crystals, mirrors, beads and jewelry, flowers, shells, stones, miscellaneous items of sentimental value. Go nuts. I wish I could come over and help you with this part. It’s my favorite. I actually have a dream of starting a business called Spalter’s Altars, where I go into people’s homes and help them assemble altars out of items they already have or that we could go find at a yard sale or the dollar store. One of the principles of magic that I appreciate the most is the notion that you have what you need all around you. It’s just up to you to be sharp enough to see it.

The items you collected for your altar are now to be considered ritual items. Ritual items are set apart from your other possessions, and you take special care with them. By “ritual,” I mean an elevated habit—that is, a habit that has some symbolic meaning. Humans love ritual; we’ll make a ritual out of anything. We’ve all wished on an eyelash, blown out birthday candles after chanting a little song, knocked on wood, or blessed someone who sneezed. We can’t get enough of ritual, because it resonates with something deep in our human condition. Performing a prescribed action with the knowledge that you’re part of a tradition is really powerful. It’s an opportunity to inhabit a less mundane frame of mind. But we don’t always realize our own agency to create and curate new and personal rituals, to respectfully draw from different practices to cobble together our own unique way to feel connected. Your altar can be a physical representation of what that process looks like for you.

I take immeasurable pleasure in making and maintaining my altars. Beyond my primary altar, every windowsill and plant pot in my house contains some semi-intentional collection of magical crap, so I’m always ready to create an altar to suit my mood or intention. I use whatever I have to hand at any moment: a feather, two marbles, a die turned meticulously to a particular side, broken statuary arranged to appear somewhat less broken, small plastic animals, sea glass and precious stones, widowed earrings, minuscule pinwheels, loose change, mica flakes and dried-up cherry blossoms, golden bobby pins and tiny crystal cordial glasses. I haven’t yet applied the life-changing magic of tidying up, or whatever you call it, but I’m worried it wouldn’t work on me because I truly love and viscerally enjoy every magpie sequin and pottery shard.

My one word of caution as you set up your altar is fire safety! You have to be so careful with candles and incense. If it’s not safe to burn things on your altar, do it in a sink, or in a tub, or on the stovetop. Don’t burn the house down, dummy.

Often for me, practicing solo as I do, the process of creating the altar is the ritual. Sometimes building the tiny, beautiful, sympathetic world of my altar, populated with all of the tiny talismans that bolster my intention, suffused with the sights and smells associated with the feeling I mean to provoke, can be a whole spell in itself.

With that in mind, let’s explore the altar setups suggested by some Wiccan liturgy, as it’s meant to cover all the bases, and then I’ll show and tell how I choose to vary from that, to give you some ideas on how to create your own altars.

Do what you feel.

I refer to Wiccan and Neo-Pagan traditions a lot in this book. Mostly because that’s what I’m most familiar with from working at Enchantments, and through that work I’ve found that the traditions compiled under the name Wicca or modern Paganism host a lot of useful language for discussing matters of universal spiritual significance: the need to create sacred space, make real our connection to the Earth, wonder about our place in the universe, and connect with divinity. Wicca is a special blend of European folk cultures and some transliterations of Mesopotamian, Sumerian, Babylonian, and Egyptian deities and beliefs, but a lot of Pagans will honor any form of divinity that will sit still long enough. I intend no pun in saying that I’m enchanted by the texture and detail of these composite spiritual practices. I feel at home in traditions that are explicitly, consciously evolving human creations. They’re roomy enough for my broad concept of the divine. I also find that modified versions of some Wiccan practices can be applied to lend a little structure to any self-guided practice you want to create. In straight-up Wiccan traditions, as opposed to the Wicca-ria-pop-magic-Jewish-Hoodoo that I do, the ritual items of the altar are more prescribed than my tchotchkes and family photos. That’s not to say that they’re dogmatic about it; it’s just that some of the Wiccan ritual items are the props necessary to act out the processes that their liturgy calls for. Still, it’s worth noting that rule number one in A Witches’ Bible (which is a real book that you can read if Wicca interests you) is: Do what feels right to you. In the end, your altar or ritual might not bear much resemblance to the original, but that’s just the point.

The way I look at it, an altar is like a temple in miniature, a diorama if you will, that contains small representations of the different types and directions of energy, roughly categorized as elements: earth, air, fire, water, and a fifth, ineffable thing, spirit, the animating force, often represented by the image of some deity.

In Wicca, the water element is represented by the ritual cup, or chalice, which is just the Christian word for cup. Earth is represented by a pentacle, or five-pointed star, constructed of a natural substance, like wood or metal. Air is often represented by an athame, a ceremonial witch knife, usually dark-handled (as opposed to the boline, a traditional white-handled witch knife used for everyday things like cutting herbs or carving), or by a sword (if you have that kind of space and you like LARPing). The fire element is represented by a wand. Wands are usually about a foot long, give or take, composed of wood, metal, precious stones, or some combination thereof.

Why these items, you might ask? They correspond to the suits of the Minor Arcana in the tarot (see Chapter 11), and their symbolic role on the altar is informed by a similar logic. The cup (water) is a mystical shorthand for the emotions, while the pentacle (earth) references foundational matters of physical practicality, labor, and money. Air, represented by the blade, is meant to indicate the uncanny quality of thought and language as tangible forces in the world, cutting through space. Which, incidentally, is what people actually do with their blades in ritual: point them as if to cut through the air, thereby directing energy. Wands (fire) are used similarly for directing energy, and in Wiccan liturgy they are meant to symbolize one’s deeds and actions. But there’s a lot of room for interpretation, and some folks prefer to reverse the two and use wands to represent air and thought and swords to represent fire and action. Arguing the point is a more academic exercise than I am interested in here, and since I don’t personally use either of these symbols to represent the elements on my altar, the fine distinctions don’t trip me up too much. You shouldn’t let them trip you up, either. It’s all about what resonates best with your style.

I love to discover the purpose and reasoning behind the ritual choices that other people make, but what excites me about magic and witchcraft is figuring out the nature of my own reasoning, and making my own ritual choices. My way represents water with . . . ​water. In some kind of vessel, of course, but I don’t keep one in particular for the purpose, even though I just told you that your ritual items should be set aside for spiritual work only. I do what I want! I tend to choose the vessel to suit the day, the mood, the purpose I have in mind at the moment that I’m setting up. I have two of my great-grandmother’s champagne glasses, and they can become chalices whenever I desire. If I’m working on some kind of new apartment spell for a friend, I have been known to use a mug that looks like the classic New York “We Are Happy to Serve You” coffee cup because it reminds me of the three of cups in tarot, a card that often represents sharing in joyful abundance with friends. But I only mix it up like that because I love hunting around for the perfect little thing. You might not! In which case, it is totally fine to just rock the same altar items no matter what you’re doing.

I represent earth in a complementary vessel (coffee can, flowerpot, what have you) filled with salt or dirt. And I represent air with incense (since it’s air that you can see and smell), which also requires some form of incense burner, cauldron, or ashtray in which to safely burn stick, cone, resin, or powder incense.

Smoking is cool.

So many types of incense to choose from!

First, there’s the kind we hand-make at Enchantments: powder incense. We make ours with a wood base, typically an extra-fine sawdust that absorbs whatever essential oils you add to it, and releases their scent when burned. The kind of wood base we use these days is treated with saltpeter so it burns pretty well if you just run a lit match through a spoonful of the powder in a heatproof dish, like an ashtray, or even a seashell.

Resins are hardened droplets of tree sap that release their scent when they melt on top of a hot surface. Frankincense, myrrh, amber, copal, and benzoin are all resins commonly used as incense.

Stick incense is powdered incense or resin affixed to a stick that burns evenly like a little fuse to keep the powder layer lit.

Cone incense is the same idea as stick incense, only compressed and molded into a shape that promotes a slow, controlled burn from the tip down.

If you want to burn resins, or a lot of powdered incense at once, you’ll need some charcoal. Incense-burning charcoal is kind of like the briquette you would use for a BBQ, but tiny and shaped like a hockey puck. You hold it between the fingers of one hand while holding a lighter under the opposite side, until it begins to catch and spark. Once the sparks get halfway across the disk you’d better put it down somewhere before you burn your hand. A small cauldron is ideal for this purpose because cast iron can take the considerable heat of the coals, plus it has a handle to protect your hands and convenient little legs to keep the hot bottom from burning the surface it’s on, all while providing a smoldering surface to ignite your powdered incense and melt your resins.

And I tend to represent fire with, ya know, some fire! A lit candle, say. You’ll find incense, candles, water, and salt alongside chalices, pentacles, swords, and wands on traditionally arranged altars, too, but I like to simplify where possible, especially because I practice alone and there’s no one to compromise with—like, why represent earth with something else when I’ve got all of this earth right here under my feet, representing itself quite competently?

Once I’ve streamlined the process of representing the elements on my altar, I’m left with a surface that boasts a couple of cups, a candle, and an incense burner. There’s nothing particularly Wiccan about that, although I found my way to these ritual habits through the Wiccan framework. This is a template that can lend itself to any ritual purpose on whatever magical path you invent for yourself. And of course, you’re not limited to these items. The template is here for your embellishments. And flowers. You’ll probably want some flowers.

Water, air, earth, fire. That’s four, if you’re counting. Spirit is the fifth element frequently represented on the altar, and that’s where the shrine part comes in. Shrines differ from altars in that altars are considered a sacred workspace, while a shrine is considered a space dedicated to some entity, deity, or spirit concept of your choosing. A lot of altars include a shrine, so visually they can tend to collapse into the same concept. Most religions have shrines, some physical representation of a non-physical being to whom we pray or on whose example we meditate.

Everything’s pretty straightforward except the spirit part. I’m almost reluctant to get into it. We were doing so well! We were all holding hands and singing, and no one was agnostic about the existence of water, earth, air, or fire. We weren’t asking ourselves, “If earth really exists, why would it let mudslides happen to good people?” or “Why hath water forsaken me?” or consoling ourselves with the axiom “Air works in mysterious ways”—although it undoubtedly does. I guess I like to think of spirit or God/dess as a sort of composite character, one that combines the million and a half ways of being divine while allowing access to the individual deities that constitute the whole.

Bearing all that in mind makes it difficult for some of us to fully separate one goddess from another. For some witches and Pagans, worship of any god or goddess is worship of God/dess. In fact, studying the different forms that God/dess has taken across time and cultures is a big part of how a lot of folks practice. This massive divinity and its countless individual forms and faces is something that some of us need to honor just as surely as we do earth, air, fire, and water. But some of us don’t. Some witches are agnostic. Some are philosophically skeptical, in that they believe only what they can verify, and they find plenty of value in their magical practice without the help of any of the myriad deities.

So what does spirit look like on the altar?

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Enchantments: A Modern Witch's Guide to Self-Possession 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Jonathan Carter More than 1 year ago
A charming and unconventional "self-help" book for witches. Enchantments is a collection of ideas, tips, and knowledge about the witch culture, but it isn't one that you'll typically hear from a serious mentor. Mya Spalter really did a good job in conveying her emotions and thoughts of the culture of witchcraft in this handy guide of hers. Her writing is quirky and funny that'll make you absolutely in sync with her while at the same time keep your interest for the subject matter grounded. Enchantments wouldn't be a recommendation for me in terms with the interest of familiarity for witchcraft and its culture. It is more of something that should be read by someone with a premeditated knowledge or an experienced witch. Why, you might ask? Because her thoughts are more on the notion that we can do our own thing with witchcraft since it relies heavily on our own spiritual energy and vibe. Overall, this book is outstanding. It made me laugh, curious, and it made me want to learn tarot more (teehee~!).
CharityRowell-Stansbury More than 1 year ago
As someone who used to practice witchcraft, I've read my fair share of books on the subject. Most of the books I've read were boring, confusing, impractical, or just plain weird; which is why I stopped reading nonfiction books on the subject of witchcraft. Life is really too short to read boring or confusing books about a subject that is actually quite interesting and easily simplified. I absolutely loved the tone of the book! Conversational, quirky and imbued with enthusiasm, it's written like Spalter is teaching her friends about witchcraft. She shares her mistakes, what she's learned during her time working at "Enchantments," and explains it in a way that makes witchcraft approachable. Spalter really nails it in the sections about astrology and numerology! These concepts can become very complex, very quickly; however, Spalter simplifies them so that everyday people, like you and me, can understand them. She shares relevant and practical examples of how to practice witchcraft and often refers readers to other books where they can read more about the different subjects if they choose to do so. Enchantments is a great book for those who are curious about witchcraft, new witches who are just beginning their journeys, or seasoned witches who just need to look something up quickly.
Sunshine1006 More than 1 year ago
This book was well ...Enchanting. A breath of fresh air explaining rituals, spells and magic in clear precise terms that if you can read, you can do. I loved the way she talks about setting up an alter. Using what she finds or has as opposed to taking a huge list and getting everything exactly as some books recommend or you can't be a real witch ( I do the same thing). She covers Wicca and Neo-pagan beliefs and what she goes over can be used no matter who and what you worship. The moon signs, colors and just anything else you are interested in are in this book. It is long overdue . Thank you Mya Spalter for a book well done. I received this book from Net Galley and Random Publishing House for an honest review and no compensation. The views and opinions are my own. 5+ stars.