The Lure of Consumption, the Magic of Intention

Fox's Altar by kale willows (cc) 2012.
Fox’s Altar by kaili willows (cc) 2012.

One of the things that appealed to me about earth-centered traditions when I first began my journey into Wicca many years ago is the freedom it gave me to create my own rituals. I am the kind of person relishes in what a friend of mine would call “psychic cues”- those things that surround you and appeal to your five senses, drawing you into the time of transformation that worship provides. Sometimes it can be as simple as lighting a candle and sometimes it can be a beautiful altar cloth, appropriate to the season, with holly and berries, for example, and the smell of wafting incense. Sabrina Maglioccio’s book Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America contains a chapter heading “Ritual is my Chosen Art Form”- an idea which I resonate with deeply.

I know I am not alone. I know many Wiccans and other Pagans who delight in attending festivals where vendors sell us everything from wands, to incense, to jewelry and everything in between. I am definitely no slouch in this department- I own three or four of about everything you can imagine, so I am as guilty of magical excess as the next person. I also have art supplies leftover from countless projects. I was for several years a co-coordinator for New York City Pagan Pride, and one of the things that gave me pleasure about this, besides the charitable aspect of the event, was seeing Neo-Pagan culture expressed with music and art.

But the space devoted to vending at such events often leaves me profoundly ambivalent. Where does a quest for the “right” tool or the “right” candle become excessive? How was this crystal mined, and who made this blade? Is this stuff necessary? What do we really need to practice? Is it a good thing that so many beginning classes on Wicca and other forms of Neo-Paganism take place in metaphysical stores? These are the kinds of questions that have troubled me over the years.

Objects have a life of their own- meaning unfolds whenever we use them. The chancel at the Unitarian Universalist church I serve, for example, has numerous embroideries linked to our sister Unitarian church in Transylvania. These decorations and the chalice are, of course, a reminder of the connections we have with thousands of others who hold to Unitarian Universalist principles. It is because these items are hand-made and evocative of our co-religionists that they inspire us. Therefore, when we create altars – be they as simple as a picnic blanket with a wine glass and a plate of bread, or as elaborate as an ancestor altar with images of and flowers and plates of offerings, it is the intention of each item that inspires us.

When it comes to choosing what to acquire, consider the life of your object. If you cannot make it, consider the maker, the materials, how they were acquired. Consider what you feel and remember when you use it. Consider what the byproducts of its construction are, and where it will be thousands of years from now. Indeed, consider whether you need the item at all, for the tools that usually serve you the best–your creativity, your devotion, and your spiritual practice–are free.

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  • Grendl Riverstone

    I found many of my initial tools for my altar at thrift stores (got to cleanse these just like anything else) and, as I have used them again and again, their meaning has indeed “unfolded as I used them” Thanks for a good post.

  • hahnitree

    Many new to the pagan/Wiccan/Witchcraft path are excited about getting shiny new tools. Making that first altar is an emotionally charged moment–it can feel like now you’re “officially” practicing. But sometimes you find out after the rush of putting together that gorgeous altar and publishing your photos of it, that you don’t actually know what to do with it. The group I belong to encourages learners to make their own or recycle/reuse, and make sure they understand that the tools aren’t really necessary. You don’t need a wand to make a circle. You don’t need an official $30 athame when a butter knife will serve the same purpose. And although shopping is fun, is it necessary?

  • I’m sorry – I thought of this and can’t shake it!

  • MacKenzie Drake

    It fits. I started out making my own equipment for the most part, then other people liked what I made, so I made a little pocket money crafting sparklies. I’ve thought at times of having an exchange with friends or a goblin market to pass on the excess sparklies so others can enjoy them.

  • Devin Quince

    We have done the same thing for items like our offering dishes. Other things we make.

  • I’ve stopped using just about everything that I can’t grow, forage, thrift or find myself…with the exception of supporting a few artists that whose work I like, and local shops whose handmade products I enjoy. There are burgeoning ecological issues with a number of Pagan staples, whether its crystals/stones or herbs like sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh, dragon’s blood, white sage… As much as I want to promote a Pagan infrastructure, without careful research (and even *with* it) there is no reliable guarantee that something is sustainable sourced in a way that protects the local ecosystem and culture or that workers are paid fairly for harvesting or processing it.

  • Deborah Mary Shearer

    I am I have to say very minimalist in my approach,and I like to repurpose things, and yes I am careful about who makes it for my alter. I have a wooden statue of Bastet, carved by my father, a hobby wood carver, he also carved a small crouching hare, and my parents found me a pottery owl, he is also currently making me an athena owl, and a stag. my bowl for workings is my grans, cut crystal, my athalme is one of a pair of British Command daggers. I have a small yew cup for salt and I know the glass crafter who made me a set of elemental candle holders in appropriate colours of glass. I use as little as possible so as not to waste anything, and when I finish them my alter cloths will be hand embroidered by me, I am currently doing the designs.

  • Pitch313

    We can find magic in things, put magic into things, draw magic from things. It’s not likely that we can do magic without things, without any things.Or do magic without things all the time.

    Over the years,however, my own practice has relied less and less on things for the sake of things and more on (fewer) things for what they help me to do–more and better magic.

  • lee maynard

    I make things for myself and others. I have given away a lot more than I have sold but when the right owner comes for an object then what the hell. I talk to a lot of people and usually when they see something or think they want something it is a tangible object that helps them focus on the unseen. It helps them bridge what they see around them to what is in the ether. Or like me a plant or a stone or a feather is a part of the work or healing or changing. The vibration in my belief is a great help in the progress of any work. Yes there are some who are just collectors and have the need to surround themselves with everything. I would also like to address your thought on how it was made or obtained. I collect dead things that I work with. I don’t often know how the animal died unless its from a hunter or a butcher shop. It is a sad that people are still collecting things in greed, but the object stone, bone or whatever is there. Should it rot unwanted, be declared a total waste of death, or continue its journey in the hands of another greedy individual or should it be use by the person it called to.

  • Helmsman Of-Inepu

    I always wonder about the resin knicknack statuary, and the intention that goes into them from abusive factories. In a lot of ways, if people can’t afford an artist-created statue, they’d be better off printing a quality 2-d image, or using one on their phone screen.