Broke but not Cheap: Works and Operations

So, in the last two posts, I’ve described how to get by on the cheap stuff and the free stuff in order to set yourself up as a magician.  The important thing to remember is to make do with what you have, which sounds daunting for some of us who have grown up in a magical culture or occulture that insists on having gold-plated wands or elaborate temple spaces in order to forge strong connections with the gods or saints or what-have-you.  It’s all bullshit, of course; you can ask any kitchen witch or folk healer who lives out in dismal poverty, especially considered by urban first-world standards, and they can show you worlds of power stronger and more palpable than the most elaborately-decorated churchlike temple space.  Sure, the goods and finery do help, and I’m not saying they’re worthless (far from it!), but do you need any of the fine stuff in order to get your shit done?  Hell no.  Historically speaking, magic as a whole has been done by the outcasts, the impoverished, the traitors, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, and because of those people magic has been given a bad place in the minds of people as something evil, against the order of things, and subversive.  Well, of course it is, if you push people out of the normal modes of power and empowerment, but what else would you expect?

Many people find themselves turning to magic when nothing else works.  This includes people who have run out of unemployment benefits, those who have been cast out of hearth and home, those who have racked up unimaginable amounts of debt, those whose health prevents them from working outside the home, and the like.  In these and in many other cases, we find people whose resources are constrained to pretty much what they have to survive on and little else, with anything else being considered a luxury item.  Hoodoo, most PGM stuff, and endless traditions of folk magic come out of these situations, and though they’re romanticized nowadays, they have always retained an air of the gritty, the gruesome, and the grounded because it reflects the people and the circumstances that these traditions have come out of.  Most of the fancy shit comes with institutionalization and adoption of magical methods by the well-off and powerful, and isn’t strictly necessary since the magic itself works with a lot less than is tacked on over time.

Bearing that in mind, how do we actually implement magical ritual on a tight budget?  Again, use what you have, and what you don’t have, remember that saying from your grandmother: “use it up and wear it out, make it do or do without”.  That applies as well to household activities as it does to magical ones, and considering that household activities were often inseparable from magical ones in nearly every culture but our modern materialist one, it makes sense.  Consider the house as your kosmos, your own personal microcosm where everything you are is represented by where you live and what you have in it in order to live.  Seen in that light, there is nothing in your house that doesn’t have a spiritual significance.  Plateware and eating utensils, for instance, can be used as mere tools or as symbols of nourishment, as well as staples like bread or rice or beans or meat.  Towels and soap represent cleanliness, scissors and knives separation and cutting things off, candles and lightbulbs as sources of enlightenment, clothes as “skins” or context-setters, insect repellents as demonifuges or exorcist tools, and the like.  Everything is both a tool and a symbol, and should be viewed as such.  You don’t need to have a separate set of ritual knives if all you have is your Cutco knife set you got on discount from a high school friend, though you may want to clean them off both before and after ritual use.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to talk about doing work and ritual on a budget because the types of works and rituals you might do are as varied as you can think of, and no two people will downsize and be resourceful on a budget in the same way.  Generally, do what works best for you with what you have.  Say you want to conjure an angel in the way I and Fr. Rufus Opus or Fr. Ashen Chassan do it.  For that, you need a few things for the ritual: a Table of Practice, a wand, a scrying medium, a lamen of the spirit, and candles; incense, altar cloth, decorations, drink offerings, robes, and the like are nonessential but help.  Let’s say we can’t afford the nonessential stuff, and we don’t have the money for buying a Table of Practice or woodburning one, much less getting a good crystal ball.  What can we do?  Draw out the Table of Practice in marker on a piece of cardboard or paper; that’s your summoning circle.  Get a glass of water or a small stand-up mirror; that’s your scrying medium.  Get a wooden stick from outside, a clean (un)sharpened pencil, and a matchstick for your wand, or just use your index finger of your dominant hand.  Draw out the lamen design on a piece of paper and hang it from your neck with a bit of thread or a shoestring.  Boom, you have everything you need for an angelic summoning ritual.  Hell, once you make contact, you might save the lamen and save it as a portable shrine-talisman all on its own for future contact if the angel agrees to it.

You can use the same sort of simplification to most rituals for similar contact, if you still know the ritual and the ritual setup; the materials help, and the finer the materials the smoother (not necessarily finer) the connection, but the materials are there to help you, not to do the work for you.  If you can’t afford the ritual supplies and the regalia and the finery, that does not mean you can’t do the magic.  It just means you can’t use them, and you’re not worse off for it.  What you put into the ritual will come back to help you, and the more you put into it the more you’ll get back out, but if you can’t drop thousands of dollars on supplies, that doesn’t mean you’re up Styx creek without a paddle.  It just means you’re going to need to be absolutely earnest in what you are trying to ritual up and making contact with the spirit you want to talk with.

Don’t have pure essential oils to consecrate a talisman?  Use a bit of Crisco melted and heated with kitchen spices that smell about right.  Don’t have eight orange candles with wicks spun by a virgin?  Use some tealights you’ve colored after you’ve taken a shower and haven’t had sex for a day.  Don’t have ritual cakes made with frankincense and pure eggs laid by a pure white hen?  Use simple bits of white bread rolled up into balls with an intent of offering them.  Don’t have the space or privacy to make a full offering shrine that has to remain set up for a week?  Use a corner of a room that isn’t entered except by you, or use a drawer you empty out and keep it shut when not in use.  Don’t have a full set of linen robes embroidered with red silk?  Get a set of clean white scrubs or white undergarments drawn on with red ballpoint pen.  Can’t afford to get the blood of a white gosling in winter?  Use feathers from a white goose found on the ground soaked in cheap red wine, or a bottle of red wine or beer with a goose on the label.  Can’t find the herbs to make holy water?  Get an empty plastic bottle and get some from your local church.  Can’t afford to keep fresh flowers on an altar?  Get cheap fake ones and keep them on an altar until you can afford real ones.  Can’t scrounge up the cash to get a knife made and engraved at the right time with holy names and symbols?  Take a butterknife and scratch in the symbols with another knife at the right time.

If you make the effort of doing the ritual as close as you can to what’s prescribed with what you have, you’ll be fine.  You might need to make up for certain things with more earnesty, more focus, more concentration, more meditation, more singing, or more motion, but you’ll be able to get your work done without necessarily having to spend much on it.  Remember that you have plenty of cheap and free resources to make do with what you have or getting by on just a little.

When doing your own ritual work that doesn’t come from a book, let your intuition, spiritual contact, and resourcefulness guide you.  This is where magic really shines and develops on its own; the best magic is done in a time of need with what you have, even if all you have is a few words, some tablesalt, and only enough space to move your arms around a bit.  The traditions of magic we have (Hermetic grimoire, hoodoo, Daoist, Eastern Europe folk, grannymagic, etc.) are inherently incomplete, just as our encyclopedias and how-to guides; they provide a snapshot of things that can be done, but they are not complete systems in and of themselves.  Studying a tradition of magic inculcates a methodology to making things work in an occult manner; it does not provide you with all the answers to all possible situations, but it provides a framework to approach them and work with and within them.  Once you know how things are done generally within a system, you can extrapolate based on what you’ve learned to make rituals for things that have never before been written about or conceived.  If you can read between the lines and see why the system works the way it does, you can “hack” into the system, simplify it or substitute within it to make the same effects happen with different or fewer materials, and start developing new approaches using the same underlying logic.

Magic works when we need it.  When we need it, there is nothing that can stop us.  Money, materials, regalia, and the like are ultimately, well, immaterial to the function of magic so long as we know how to use what we have.  That, however, comes with experience, but so long as you keep trying your hand at this stuff, that experience will come one way or another.  Experience, intelligence, and wisdom come before all else, and if you have those, you have the richest and rarest resources of all.

Broke but not Cheap: Altars and Shrines

The last post I wrote on doing magic “broke but not cheap”, which is to say doing magic for as little a cost as possible, focused on magical goods and supplies, like oils and tools and the like.  This is what many people consider to be the most expensive part of doing magic, and in general it can be, but there are other topics on doing magic on a budget that I want to touch on as well.  For instance, say you have all your supplies and you’re an active magician.  Where do you put your things together?  If you take a devotional practice, how do you house your gods or spirits you work with?  Is it possible to build a temple on the cheap?

This next bit on doing magic for cheap is how to organize and put your stuff together, and this is where I find a good distinction that the Anomalous Thracian made a bit ago between an altar and a shrine.  Simply put, a shrine is where a deity or spirit lives, and an altar is a place where one does workings.  Consider how we say that some god is “enshrined” here, but never “enaltared”.  Some of us blur the lines between altars and shrines, and some of us keep them completely separate.  As an example, I have shrines to a few of the Greek gods, and I make offerings and the like of wine, incense, candles, and prayer at their shrines.  Then again, I’ll also occasionally do a working there and leave someone’s picture or a statue or something with one of the gods at their shrine.  However, I also have my ceremonial magic altar, or my Table of Manifestation as Fr. Rufus Opus calls it, which has no gods enshrined on it but has my magical tools and a space to do stuff like conjure spirits or focus a particular force into an object.  That said, this distinction is largely meant for the priests and vocational magicians among us; for most people, myself included, this distinction can be a little artificial and not always helpful.

And yes, it’s spelled “altar” (with an a).  Never “alter” (with an e).  Please, for the love of Hermes Logios, get your spelling right.

Now, this next part may get me into some hot water, but I claim that it is never necessary to build a permanent shrine or altar.  The gods and spirits we work with, being incorporeal, do not require a material home, since they usually already have one of their own in the heavens, hells, or in their own neck of the woods.  The powers we work with do not require a single fixed location in order to be summoned and manipulated.  Material places may be fixed, but spirits do not have to be.  Thus, if you cannot afford the time or space to build and maintain a shrine to a deity, or do enough magic to require the need for a permanently-built (and therefore continuously-active) altar, then you are under no obligation to do either.  That being said, it is extraordinarily helpful to do just those things.  No, they’re not necessary; yes, they are awesome to have.

Building a shrine or altar is not just a matter of money, but it’s also a matter of space, which is in many ways tied up with money.  Consider the magicians who employ the Lemegeton Goetia or the Clavicula Solomonis and do everything by the book.  The Circle of Art is required to be 9′ in radius, or 18′ in diameter, along with a bit more space on one side to house a 3′ equilateral Triangle of Art with a bit of space between the Circle and the Triangle.  This means that we’d need to have a minimum working space of 18′ × 22′, or a room that’s about 400 square feet.  This is a nontrivial size, and some of us are lucky to live in studios with that much space including the kitchen and bathroom.  When you add in the notion of having a smaller Tables of Manifestation and other shrines to deities and spirits, the total space required to maintain all this can be overwhelming.  Some of us are lucky to live in a large enough house on our own with a spacious basement or living room that we can use for magic without disturbances, but most of us aren’t.  We have to deal with smaller spaces or other people living with us, and that latter bit causes a whole slew of other problems.

As a whole, especially in the United States where I live, people have never before lived in bigger houses than what we live in nowadays.  What we consider to be studio apartments and small houses were, by and large, the standard for most people for decades and centuries leading up to our own, leading me to believe yet again that the style of magic described in many Renaissance and medieval grimoires really was intended for the wealthy and magistral among us.  Being able to afford such a mansion (and yes, McMansions qualify) is simply not in the financial reach of most people, whether in the US or abroad, and so we have to make do with substantially smaller places.  Happily, it’s not hard to do powerful work with powerful spirits in a small space, and one needs a large space much less than one needs a full set of ebony and 24k gold tools for their altar.

Let’s first consider someone who has neither space nor money to make a permanent shrine to a spirit or deity or saint, but still wants to work with them.  There are several ways they might go about doing this, as I reckon it:

  • Find a clear and quiet space to sit or stand.  Pray.  Reach out to them, let them come, and simply talk with them.  You don’t need a shrine at all to just make contact.
  • Build a temporary shrine on a table or shelf or against the wall on the floor.  Clean the area first, then place an image of the spirit (a statue if you can build one or afford to buy one, or a drawn-out or printed-out picture of them) along with votive gifts (if available).  Things like a cloth to cover a shrine with, tiny baubles or statuettes of animals associated with the spirit, and the like can all be placed to help give the spirit a “throne” to sit on, if you will, and these can all be stored safely and respectfully when not in use.  A small glass can be used to pour offerings into, and a candle and incense can be burned as a sacrifice.  Pray in the presence of the shrine and invite them to take their seat there, talk with them, and so forth.  When you’re done, invite them to stay if they will or go if they will, being the spirit that they are.  When the candle and incense have burnt out, respectfully dispose of anything perishable and pack the shrine away respectfully in a shoebox or something to hold everything in.
  • Build a portable shrine.  You can find guides to this for a dime a dozen on building miniature shrines out of Altoids tins or other small boxes or containers, which can often be better than building a temporary shrine that you repeatedly put up and take down again.

When making a shrine, you don’t need to go all out.  Household shrines have, historically, been minimalist and tiny, with often little more than a statue and a candle burning in front of it, but even these have palpable power radiating off them when worked and venerated appropriately.  Elaborately decorated and embellished shrines full of baubles and artifacts and rarities are pretty much for those who can afford them, and are sometimes more for the person who maintains them rather than the spirit who’s enshrined there.  Intricate statues and works of art to represent the spirits are nice, but you often don’t need to go that far.  A simple printout of a historical statue or mural of the spirit or deity, perhaps suspended from thread or put into a picture frame, is more than sufficient; unusual pieces of wood or stone that have a particular feel on them can also work well as focal points of veneration for the spirit.  Likewise, any of the votive offerings, gifts, and decorations you want to give them would be better made or harvested yourself rather than bought, much as with any tool or talisman you’d make from before.  The difference here is, instead of creating something for the sake of kinetic meditation or contemplative exercise, you’re giving and dedicating something to the spirit that you yourself are making or supplying, which some find to be a more personal, intimate, and powerful type of offering.  Just be aware that what you offer is no longer yours but belongs to the spirit; if you want it back, you should ask and make sure that you have their blessing to do so.  If you dedicate to a spirit something like a tool, use it only with their permission and blessing.

Add to it, you only need to build a shrine to those spirits whom you really want to live with you and with whom you really want to work with pretty much constantly.  If you’re just calling a spirit a few times a year, you don’t need to build a shrine to them.  If you’re working with a spirit on a weekly or daily basis, you should probably consider building a shrine to them.  When you build a shrine, you’re making a commitment to that spirit to maintain it and maintain them.  It’s generally better to not build a shrine than to build one if you don’t have the time to give them the upkeep and veneration they deserve.  When in doubt, don’t build a shrine.  If you want to build a shrine, or if a spirit demands it, see what space you have available.  You don’t need some elaborate shadowbox when a corner of a bookshelf can suffice; I’ve seen some of my colleagues have shrines lining the floors of their hallways or have a dozen spirits on a single desk shelf, and their shit works all the same.

Also, when you’re building and maintaining a shrine, you need to keep in mind that you need to work with the spirit to maintain it.  It’s silly if the spirit you’re building the shrine for ignores it or doesn’t even respond when you go to it, and it’s as silly if you keep giving them things they don’t want or, conversely, ignore their requests for certain things and designs that they keep making.  If the spirit demands flowers, and flowers are in your ability and budget to obtain, don’t deny them that!  If they demand something that you can’t afford or procure, tell them that they’re requesting something you can’t get and they either need to help with getting it, provide for it themselves, or retract their request.  Building a shrine is building a relationship, and a relationship is a two-way street of compromise and cooperation.  Work with the spirit you have enshrined, but make sure they work with you, as well.  If you find that things simply aren’t working, respectfully tell them that you want to break this relationship and disassemble their shrine; they can determine what becomes of the stuff that has accumulated in their shrine, but beyond that, disassemble their shrine and go back to a more basic way of working with them.  This doesn’t mean you failed, it just means it wasn’t working, and that’s okay.

Anyway, I digress; so much for shrines and houses for spirits.  What about altars, though?  Well, an altar is one type of “working area” that isn’t necessarily connected to a particular spirit, and I’ll use the more generalized concept here because it can apply to more than one tradition.  In that sense, then, use whatever available surface you can so long as it won’t be disturbed by another person.  If you’re doing a one-off working for a particular end, use the kitchen floor or a coffee table.  If you’re doing repeated workings for a particular end, or have gotten used to doing a set of related workings on a frequent basis, consider setting aside a corner of a room or a particular surface to keep the required tools and patterns and supplies present; the top of an armoire or a desk or a side table will work well for this.  If you can’t afford the space or money for the furniture, keep all the tools and required things stored together when not in use, and when you’re ready to use them, ritually clean off a particular surface available to you and set everything out in a planned, regular manner.

Likewise, just as one doesn’t need elaborate and embellished altars, it’s quite possible to downsize some of the larger works described in grimoires and spellbooks of old while still getting good results.  I have never once found a need for a full 18′ diameter circle when my 6′ diameter circle is more than sufficient, and even then I use it only rarely; my own temple room is hardly sufficient for even that, and I do well enough by confining my conjuration work to a 4′ × 4′ space, big enough for me to sit in with a Table of Practice and a few candles.

Just like before when I mentioned that you can get the vast majority of your supplies and tools from going outside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the topic of going outside for shrines and working areas.  Thus, if there’s anything you can do by going outside, do it outside.  Gods of the wild, of the forest, of the untouched and untamed places are always better encountered in their own turf rather than setting up some neat and clean shrine inside, and you’d be better of contacting spirits of forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains by going up to their homes rather than taking some of them back with you and contacting them from the convenience of your own chair.  Going out to a crossroads and talking with the spirits of the crossroads is basically going to a naturally-made shrine for them, and one that’s more powerful and much cheaper than simply building one in your own home.  Of course, there’s the bit about privacy and convenience that you’d be gaining from having them in your own home, but giving these things up as a sacrifice is a sacrifice all the same.

Likewise, if you can find a clearing or field outside that is generally desolate and unsupervised, you’d do well to do some larger workings out there (with the approval of spirits who reside there, of course) rather than trying to cram things you can’t downsize into your own home.  If any friends own a backyard, especially with a privacy fence, see if you can do something there that they won’t turn you down for.  The only issue here is privacy, which you might not always get, and which can sometimes get you in trouble for trespassing (and worse, if you live in a rather conservative place fearful of witches and non-Christian religions).  Then again, what’s a little magic without a bit of risk?  If your need is great enough, this kind of thing will seem trivial.

Again, I speak from a position of privilege here; I’ve never been so poor as to live in such a tiny place where I couldn’t do my magic, and I’ve been good to my spirits and building them shrines (oftentimes on the more elaborate end than not) because I’ve had the time, space, and resources to do so.  Some of my friends have lived in much tinier places, sometimes in a mobile home or sometimes homeless while still maintaining contact with their gods and spirits.  Like last time, I would greatly appreciate it if others who have lived through some of these things and who have built or maintained shrines on a budget or done workings in a particular space when money and space are sparse could comment below and offer their thoughts and fill in any holes I’ve left.

Broke but not Cheap: Supplies and Tools

The style of magic I’m known for, western Renaissance Hermetic magic which is sometimes known generally as ceremonial magic, is often called complex, flashy, glamorous, and outright gaudy at times.  You don’t have to look hard to see why; between the magic circles, planetary hours, intricate talismans, hard-to-obtain tools, and the like, Hermetic magic can often seem dauntingly hard.  Looking back at the literature, though, it’s plain to see that this was a matter of intentional design.  It’s true that, a few hundred years ago, most people who did magic were wealthy and had copious spare time, a luxury in and of itself, and could afford the square footage in their homes to allow for massive conjuration chambers and gilded wands and shit.  Renaissance and medieval grimoire magic was, by and large, not intended for the masses.  Even the study of astrology itself was considered something akin to receiving a four-year academic undergraduate degree, right down to the costs involved (which is one of the reasons that geomancy was considered to be the “poor man’s astrology”, given that it was considerably easier to learn and apply).  Heck, looking at some of my colleague’s tools and works, even I pale at the thought of the cost and labor involved to make some of these things.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though.  Yes, if you go by the book and are a strict traditionalist or grimoire fundamentalist, you’re going to be paying more than a few pretty pennies for all the supplies and tools you need.  That said, I claim that none of that is strictly necessary, and that you can get as good results in a similar way without breaking your bank, if you’re even rich enough to have a savings account.  Considering the recession we find our world plunged into, and considering the more than likely chance that we’re permanently on our way out of an era of prosperity, it might be a good idea to visit the topic of how to do magic with as little cost as we can manage, and free whenever possible.  The first thing I want to talk about is on the material goods, tools, and supplies that we use in magic, and although I’m writing this from a Hermeticist’s point of view, you can likely apply this to most other styles of magic, as well.

Now, I will say that I speak from a place of privilege here.  I have a good, stable job with a decent income that is more than the US average household income, even after considering the debts I have for student loans and a car payment.  I come from a middle-class family that has never had to really tighten their belts in order to make ends meet.  As a whole, we haven’t had extreme medical issues or other problems that have caused us extreme financial duress (though, as we get older, that may change).  Although I wouldn’t consider us “rich”, we’re certainly not poor.  I have never been homeless nor required financial aid to get food or bills paid.  I have never been imprisoned or otherwise cut off from supplies and tools generally that would prevent me from operating in the way I choose to operate as a magician.  That said, I know the value of minimalism in magic, having done some work myself, and I’ve been able to cut through a lot of the crap and see what’s really necessary, what can be substituted, and the like.

Be aware that magic has always been the means of last resort for many people across many cultures and eras.  Yes, there have always been the priests and the shamans and the medicine men who make this their first and foremost vocation, but most people who do magic don’t do it for the spiritual benefits or for the calling of some god or another; they usually resort to magic because they’ve tried everything else and nothing else seems to work.  They use whatever they have on hand, scavenge, or find in their nearby environment to get stuff done through occult means when material means fall short.  They resort to symbolic links, puns on brand names, personal history, superstition, and their grandparents’ stories to guide their magic.  Over time, what these people have found that works is typically codified and standardized into a “system of magic” or a “tradition”, though replete with regional or personal variations.  At its core, yes, magic is the art and science of causing changes in accordance with will, but let’s face it, most people have used magic for getting laid and getting paid.  We typically use magic for ends in this world because we need to make ends meet and often need that extra push to do so, whether our ends involve survival or gratification.

To that end, there are three places I’d recommend you get your supplies from:

  • Go outside.  No matter where you live, there are going to be stones, plants, and dirts available to you that not only ties you to the land around you and gives you a place to lay down roots and a foundation, but there are also things of power that you can obtain for use in your own work.  Large or unusual stones, rock crystal, solid branches or wooden sticks, medicinal herbs, aromatic leaves, and the like can all be obtained literally for free from harvesting them yourself.  It helps if you have a guide to plants and herbs and do a bit of research on what kinds of trees or stones your area contains.  Graveyards, crossroads, judicial buildings, schools, jails, train stations, and other specialized locations can provide you with dirt that is a powerful instrument and supply in its own right.  If you know where to look and if you know how to use something, you may never have to actually buy a damn thing.  Just be aware that it’s always polite to give something back to the land, be it a bit of your drink or a few pennies, so that the spirits around you don’t consider yourself stealing from them.
  • Most places in the US, where I live, have dollar stores where every item in there is sold for US$1.00.  These places are veritable gold mines for magicians on a budget, and they typically have such a wide selection of tools, supplies, and wares that you may not need to shop elsewhere very often.  Bags of tealights, decorations, offering glasses, candleholders, salt, spices, paint, and most common household supplies you’d need should probably be bought here.  Yeah, the quality isn’t great, but we’re not going for quality here when the alternative is doing without entirely.
  • Thrift stores or charity stores are places where people get rid of their old items and stuff which are then resold at a low price.  Not only can you get good deals on high-quality stuff (I got a large polished granite circle for a Table of Practice for $5 once), but given that these are things that people have already owned, used, and loved, you can often find trinkets, jewelry, and charms that have already been enchanted, blessed, or otherwise bespookened if you have eyes to see them.  Add to it, you can often find rare and other unusual stuff at thrift stores, like funerary urns (not all of which have been properly cleaned out), silk scarves, authentic African statuary, and so forth, which can really be valuable in practice.

If you have a bit more money to spend, you’d do well to shop at two other places:

  • A craft store, like a Michaels or AC Moore, can provide you with lots of supplies that, on their own, don’t necessarily seem magical but can be of great use in magic, especially when you get around to making your own tools.  Wooden plaques, clay, sinew and thread, semiprecious stones, and the like are easily available from here, though depending on price you may want to forego some of the fancier stuff and just resort to simple crafts you fashion yourself.
  • A hardware store, like a Home Depot or Ace Hardware, can provide you with more industrial-strength stuff as well as some of the harder-to-find household goods, like beeswax or copper piping.  You can often find some things in bulk as well as rare brands that aren’t usually sold commonly anymore.

So much for places to procure your parcels.  However, there is something on the topic of magical supplies and tools that I want to bring up, and this is more fully explained by the House of Orpheus in one of their blog posts.  Although he talks about the use of spiritual perfumes and the use of perfumes generally in spiritual works, I think this is something that can be applied to pretty much anything.  The gist of the post is that there’s a fairly recent trend in magic where we say that oil/perfume/powder X does magical thing Y, and this isn’t exactly a historical thing.  Rather, people used certain things because of the associations they could make with it:

…Royal Crown hair pomade for example was used to anoint ones hair in such a way that they carried the influence of a king about them. Like equals like… Even house hold items like red devil lye drain cleaner was used to protect the home from evil and the “devils” out there in their many forms. Red devil lye cleaner was not made for magic, it was made for cleaning drains! However the most fascinating thing is… It became and still is used today for magic.

…What made these perfumes magic wasn’t the pharmacist or large factory making them today… It was the imagination and magical sensibility. As well as traditional knowledge of the practitioners of folk magic. A sweet smell might sweeten someone to you. A dominating odor may help you dominate someone, the shape of the plant going into the perfume and its qualities all shaping and being shaped by the magical symbolic systems of understanding of many cultures. This is what helped them make these perfumes magical and what placed them in a magical context of use today.

So, to that end, don’t despair if you can’t get your botanica’s expensive line of Fiery Wall of Protection Oil or Flying Oil, because in all likelihood those oils are, for lack of a better term, snake oil, a little bit of glycol with some artificial scent and color applied to them.  You can do that much on your own for a lot cheaper, and you can make it a lot better with not a lot of effort.  Always ask yourself “what can I use this thing for” rather than “what does this do”: what a stick “does” is grow leaves from itself, but it can be used as a wand; what Kölnisch Wasser “does” is smell nice, but it can be used for purification; what salt “does” is make food taste more like itself, but it can be used for protection as well as absorption of energies.  Of course, if you ask five different magicians what a particular thing can be used for, don’t be surprised if you get fifty different answers.  What one person sees as protective, another person sees as offensive and another as sweetening.  Let your own associations, stories, imagination, and education guide you in determining the best use for a particular thing or stuff in a given working.

Looking around my house and temple, I note that I have a few pricey things, namely statues and a singular stick of ebony that I did a bit of working on, which themselves form the bulk of the cost of my temple (not counting the furniture).  However, more than 80% of the stuff I have and use accounts for maybe 20% of the cost I’ve put into it all.  Offering vessels for gods were gotten at thrift stores for $1 to $3 each; cloth for decorating shrines were from thrift stores and stores going out of business for 50¢ to $2 each.  Most of the wooden plaques and boards I’ve used for making pentacles, talismans, and magic squares cost maybe $3 to $10 each, and a pack of paint markers and polyurethane finish cost another $10 total.  The candleholders I have are a combination of brass fixtures from thrift stores ($2 each), IKEA glass holders (50¢ each), and seashells and flat stones (free from outside).  The pile of railroad spikes I use for Hephaistos as well as for several workings were all free, obtained by literally going to my local railway and picking them up by the bagful.  In lieu of statues, several of the spirits I work with are enshrined within stones, some of which were obtained from outside and some I got for cheap from a rock-dealing friend of mine.  The decorations I use for some of my shrines are a combination of seasonal goods from the dollar store and things on discount from the craft store.

Besides, none of this touches on the notion of just stealing things you’d otherwise have to buy.  That’s all I have to say about that (just be smart about it, don’t get caught, and don’t piss people off).

Now that we’ve gone over where to get stuff and an idea of what it costs for this stuff, let’s talk about the difference between making stuff to use and buying stuff to use as-is.  As a rule, what you can’t buy, make it yourself, and you should always try making something yourself before going about buying it.  This goes for everything, from wands and Tables of Practice to anointing oil and talismans.  Always try making something yourself before having someone else do it, because in the process of making it yourself you get the Idea of it cemented in your sphere.  This is something Fr. Rufus Opus calls “kinetic meditation”, but which I like to call “contemplative exercise”.  It’s one thing to just look at and intellectually understand the layout of the Circle of Art from the Lemegeton Goetia, but it’s quite another to have actually gotten your paint and canvas, painstakingly drawn out every line, and painted on every letter of every divine name onto it.  This sort of activity is beyond price and value, since it instills into your own being something that cannot be obtained from just buying it from someone else.

To that end, always attempt to make a tool yourself first.  Consider the Table of Practice from the Trithemian conjuration ritual, the summoning circle I use in my own work.  Yes, I do make them for others, but if someone asks first, I always tell them that they should make it themselves first, even if it’s just printing out a copy and tracing it with pencil on paper, with sharpie on cardstock, or with chalk on concrete.  The mere act of drawing the Table out is the essential act of bringing it into existence.  Yes, the quality may not be as good, and the quality of magical operations done with something like that may or may not take a hit, but the fact is that you have done it and you have made yourself a tool you can use more cheaply and much faster than you would have otherwise.  Need a wand?  Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on an appropriately-sized ebony dowel engraved and gilded and capped with silver, get a stick you like the feel of from a park and scratch holy names onto it with a fork, or just use your index finger.  Need a Circle of Art?  Instead of shopping around for a heavy-duty canvas sheet with enchanted paint, get an old bedsheet and some ballpoint pens or permanent markers.  Need a scrying medium?  Instead of buying “good clear pellucid crystal of the bigness of a small orange” or an obsidian mirror, get a clear glass of clean water.  Need incense?  Instead of trying to scrounge pocket change together for the finest quality olibanum, get a scented candle or a free perfume sample from your department store cosmetics counter.  Need a magical oil?  Instead of going to your botanica and shelling out for what usually isn’t worth the cost, heat up some olive oil or Crisco in a pot with some herbs, spices, and dirt available to you.  Need candles?  Instead of going to the Yankee Candle Co. shop or even your local dollar store, make yourself a cheap oil lamp (and learn how to use it).

If your need is great enough, whatever you have on hand will work.
There is no tool you need that you cannot make or obtain for free.
Everything and anything can be used for a magical end if you know how to use it.
There is nothing so specialized or specific that it can only be used for magic.

Now, I know that I have a lot of friends and colleagues who have done magic for the cost of a few pennies, if even that, and who have lived through hard times on their own.  By all means, please leave your own comments and fill in the gaps I know I’ve left in this post; I have never been under the duress that some of my own contacts have, and I welcome people to poke holes in what assumptions I’ve made or to give their own advice for getting supplies, tools, and the like when money is something they can’t afford to spend.  Try to keep it limited to the topic of this post, though; I’ll be writing a few more posts on how to apply tools and supplies in shrines, works, and the like in the near future.