Let’s manifest the #$@% out of a place!

I love my apartment. I really do. It’s cozy, it’s quiet (well… when one of the neighbors doesn’t trip their smoke alarm, at least), it’s got hardwood floors, and the bathroom has its own window. Despite some of the tragedy this neighborhood has seen, this complex has been home to me and many other people.

Between me, my S.O., and our cats, we’ve really outgrown our space. It’s a studio, and not only is it packed, it is decidedly not a large enough play gym for our very active kitty boy. I have a whole set of shelves just for herbs, oils, and art supplies, countless plants, and my easel takes up an entire corner to itself — when you’ve only got four corners to start with, this is not optimal. Studios are also subjected to the same disadvantages as a lot of tiny homes. When you have limited space, you have limited things you can put in it. When you have limited things, the things you do have undergo a lot more wear and tear. This is especially true of furniture and, unless you’re lucky enough to score some rugged, solid wood thrift store finds, it becomes noticeable pretty quickly. Having your bed in your kitchen/living room/work space also makes for some awkward entertaining.

We knew we wanted to move months ago, but the timing wasn’t right. It would’ve been tough to afford, and, after some complicated car trouble, we knew that moving to a less expensive spot just outside the city would make things harder on us in a lot of ways. Originally, we planned to wait a little bit. Since my S.O. got his bike, though, our options have opened up tremendously!

Which means I gotta find an apartment.

(Let me also add that I’ve begun to develop a hate-on for the word “manifest.” I think the internet has ruined it for me. It’s also the most accurate word to use here, so I’m just going to deal.)
(And complain a little.)

I’ve posted in the past about the ways specificity can make or break a spell. Fortunately, I’ve got a list of things I really want in a domicile, and not too many deal breakers. I’m not exactly looking for a penthouse suite, and my S.O. would be happy with anything that’s larger than what we have and has a separate bedroom.

What can I say? We’re adaptable.

New Home Manifestation Spell

A Cancer moon is good for work involving finding or buying a home. If you can’t perform it when the moon is in Cancer, try to do it on a Thursday.

For this spell, I used:

  • A citrine stone. Since I am trying to transform my list of wants into reality, I was careful to choose a natural citrine over a heat-treated stone. Here’s why.
  • Paper.
  • A pen and non-toxic ink.
  • A yellow chime candle or tea light. (I like using untreated yellow beeswax.)
  • Bay leaves.
  • A fireproof bowl.
  • Success or Luck oil. Use your favorite recipe or, if you don’t have one, dilute a few drops of frankincense in sweet almond, jojoba, or another carrier oil.

You can do this after casting a circle, opening the gateway, or any other spellcasting preparation you usually do, or simply after grounding and centering yourself.

  1. Begin by taking a few minutes to meditate on what you want in a house — how big should it be? What kind of neighborhood or community do you want to live in? Is there anything you need to live near? Do you want carpet, or hard flooring? Only you know what’s important to you in a home, so take the time to picture the perfect spot for you!
  2. When you have an idea of what you need, begin writing it down on the paper. Make a list of all of the details that are important to you, and be sure to read over it afterwards before considering it finished. There might be deal breakers (like mold or cockroaches) that you neglected to mention.
  3. After the list is complete, anoint the yellow candle and all four corners of the paper with the oil. Fold it neatly, and place it under the candle and citrine crystal.
  4. Light the candle.
  5. Now, on the bay leaf, write your desire: “I manifest the home I desire.”
  6. Light the bay leaf with the candle flame, and place it in the fireproof bowl. As it burns, say:

    “I wish to find a place for me,
    the perfect home where I feel free.
    Warm and cozy, where I can be,
    safe and comfortable, so mote it be.”

  7. Allow the candle to burn until it snuffs itself out.
  8. Leave the crystal in place, until you are ready to tour a new home or speak to a rental agency. On those days, dress it with a drop of the oil and carry it in your pocket. When you return, repeat steps 5 and 6 and place the stone back on top of the paper until it is needed again.

Happy house hunting!

 

 

 

 

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A Mother’s Day Cord-Cutting Spell

Hey, hey!

Does the beginning of May have you on the verge of a headache? Are you nauseated by the sound of commercials for jewelry, flowers, or assorted other Mother’s Day gifts? Does the sight of a greeting card display set your teeth on edge?

I feel you.

Mother’s Day is a rough holiday for a lot of us. Some people have tense maternal relationships, and some of us would probably have been better off raised by actual badgers. This time of year we’re all bombarded with messages about how “blood is thicker than water” and we “only get one mother,” and told we’re obligated to love and respect the people who birthed us no matter what. Unfortunately, if you were subjected to a toxic upbringing, this really super sucks. 

Dealing with toxic people

Digging toxic elements out of our lives isn’t easy no matter what the relationship is, but it’s extra complicated when it’s a parent. What do you do when the toxic element in your life is also the person responsible for your health and safety? What do you do when going “no contact” isn’t enough? What do you do when you know that other relatives and family friends are going to swoop in to defend this person, and make you sound like the bad guy for trying to protect yourself from an abuser? What do you do when you have never been able to feel safe around your own parent?

I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t think there is one. I don’t want to get deep into my own back story, but, for me, the best option was to save up a Fuck Off Fund starting from my first job (I was 14), formulate a secret plan with a friend of mine, and get gone as soon as I was legally able to. A month after my 18th birthday, I moved out and was ensconced three states away. Even then, it wasn’t until years later that I was finally able to go from once-a-year visits, to no contact at all. My story isn’t a very dramatic one, because it all went according to plan — a lot of people aren’t as lucky as I was. Nonetheless, there it is: I made a plan, put it into action, and, when I was ready, I freed myself.

Going no contact raises its own set of problems, but is also completely worth it. One thing that really seems to help with the process is cord cutting.

What are cords?

People are bound together by invisible energetic bridges, often called “cords” or “etheric cords.” When we form a relationship and become connected to another person, the cord serves as a conduit of energy between us. If both parties (and by extension, the relationship) are emotionally healthy, the energy is nourishing and the exchange is even. If they are not, one party will end up doing the lion’s share of giving, while the other person takes, and takes, and takes. With a narcissistic parent, this becomes pouring your energy into placating them to avoid narcissistic rage.

A red and white string tied into a heart.

Sometimes, our cords look more like nooses.

Ending a relationship and ceasing contact is not always enough to sever these cords. Some people make a clean break, moving on with the cord no longer in place. I have also experienced cords changing when people part amicably. Sometimes the cord doesn’t change or break. Instead, one or both parties are left suffering from it.

What is cord cutting?

Cord cutting is similar to banishing in that it’s a release, but banishing is external where cord cutting is internal. A banishing is forceful, commanding — it’s a way to tell something to get lost, and make sure it stays lost. A cord cutting is a way to release attachments that are no longer healthy for you.

Look at it this way: A banishment is probably the most efficient way to get magical help ending an unhealthy relationship. You can send out the energy to remove this person from your life, so you can begin the recovery process once they’re no longer around. The end of the relationship isn’t the end of the story, though. Part of what makes toxic people toxic is the way they get in your head… and they can stay there for a long time after the relationship is dead. Cord cutting is a way to root out emotional, spiritual, and mental attachments, release them, and begin to heal without a toxic person living rent-free in your head.

If banishing is cutting away the bramble that pricked you, cord cutting is pulling the thorns from the wound so you can stop bleeding.

Cutting the ties that bind

To start with, if you’re still in regular contact with a toxic parent, I’m sorry. Practice shielding yourself every time you know you’re going to see them, even if it’s as simple as taking a moment to visualize yourself surrounded by a bubble of white light. Ground yourself when you get home, so you can “recalibrate” your energy. Try a quick and easy energy cleansing technique to get rid of any residual grodiness.

If you’re ready to cut the cord, try this. You can do it as simply or as ceremonially as you like, and repeat it as often as you feel is necessary. I’m posting this for Mother’s Day, but it can be used for pretty much any relationship.

For this, you’ll need three white candles, one black candle, a long piece of string (preferably not synthetic), and something to represent both yourself, and the person you wish to sever energetic ties with. This representation can be a figurine, a photograph, a lock of hair, a piece of paper with the person’s name written on it, something owned by that person, or any combination of the above.

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.

Always approach candle magic with respect and caution. (E.g., don’t actually put them in the middle of a bunch of dry twigs.)

Next:

  1. Tie one end of the string to the representation of yourself, and the other to the representation of the other person.
  2. Once you’ve done so, touch the string with your dominant hand.
    Say, “This is the energetic cord between me and [the other person]. The relationship is ended, but the ties remain in place.”
    Imagine this cord is the physical manifestation of the flow between the two of you. Feel it thrumming with energy.
  3. Take the black candle in your hands. Visualize it filling with the power to sever this tie, and remove any negativity associated with it. No longer a simple candle, it is a key to your emotional and spiritual freedom. If you wish, you can affirm this out loud.
  4. Light the candle. Hold it up, and say, “With this flame, I sever this cord. No longer will this person drain my energy. No longer will I feel the effects of this relationship. I will be free.”
  5. Hold the flame to the center of the string (carefully! Don’t burn your house down please). As the string burns through, repeat the words, “With the cutting of this cord, I am free.”
  6. Use the black candle to light the three white candles. This symbolizes the release of the negativity surrounding this relationship, and the shifting of your energy into healing. Place the three candles around the representation of yourself.
  7. Sit quietly. Feel all of the feelings that rise up, no matter what they are — there might be anger, sorrow, relief, or even joy. Acknowledge them, and take the time to experience and understand them. Spend as long as you wish doing this.
  8. Either allow the candles to burn out, or snuff them. Dispose of the stubs appropriately.
  9. Untie the string from the representation of yourself. Burn or bury both halves of the string separately, and dispose of the representation of the other person however you feel is appropriate.

Energetic cords are tenacious, none more so than the ones that bind us to family. Severing these ties can help us pick up the pieces of ourselves, and continue on to heal our hearts and end the toxic cycles we were born into.

 

 

Caraway Folklore and Magical Uses

I never paid much mind to caraway seeds, really. I mostly knew them as the little vaguely anise-flavored bits in my rye bread, and the occasional ingredient in a love recipe. Lately, though, they’ve gotten my attention.

As it turns out, caraway seeds are one of the best herbs for digestion — particularly for people with functional dyspepsia. Caraway is a carminative, which means that it relieves gas, and the licorice-like compounds in it have a very mild anesthetic effect that’s soothing to a troubled stomach. I have a bag left over from a spell, and I’ve been grinding the seeds to use as an after-meal tea. (I also have samples of a caraway-based digestive remedy called FDgard, but that’s a subject for a different kind of post.)

Long story short, since I’m going to be ingesting a bunch of it anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to brush up on some of the folklore and magical uses of caraway. If you’re going to be brewing it into a tea several times a day, might as well enchant it at the same time, am I right?

Caraway Magical Properties and Folklore

Need to keep your stuff from being messed with? Bust out the caraway.

In Germany, it was sprinkled on coffins to keep evil spirits away from the dead.

By a similar token, it is believed that anything that contains caraway can’t be stolen — putting a pinch of it in a wallet, purse, or car helps deter thieves. Placing a dish of it under a child’s crib was said to keep witches away. Sometimes, the seeds were even mixed into animal feed to keep chickens and sheep from wandering away!

Caraway seeds.

Caraway is often used as a love herb. Chewing some of the seeds before kissing someone is believed to entice them to fall in love with you. (Perhaps not incidentally, caraway was also used since antiquity as an after dinner breath-freshening and gas-fighting herb. It’s probably easier to get someone to fall for you if you’re not enveloped in a dense cloud of halitosis and farting like a Holstein.) Hiding caraway in your lover’s food is also believed to keep them faithful to you.

Bathing in an infusion of caraway removes the spiritual causes of disease.

Using Caraway Seeds

Herb lore usually treats herbs in terms of what they’re able to bring to or repel from you. How many herbs are described as love-drawing, money-drawing, or banishing? After reading about caraway, it seems to be more useful for keeping what you have over bringing in something new. Even in love recipes, its action is geared more toward helping you maintain what you already have — you need to be reasonably close to someone in order to kiss them and get them to fall for you, right?

I think caraway’s greatest strength is as a protective herb, where this preserving quality can really shine. It would also be a useful addition to house blessing spells, or other spells with the aim of maintaining love, providing protection, and keeping evil away at the same time. In love formulas, I usually combine it with other things that have a more direct action.

Caraway seeds are also used to improve memory (which, when you think about it, is another type of preservation). Combined with herbs like peppermint, lavender, and mugwort, they’d make a great addition to a dream pillow or sleep sachet to help with dream recall.

 

If you don’t often use caraway in magic or cooking, I suggest keeping some on hand. Medicinally, it has a whole list of benefits ranging from improved digestion, to better circulation, to pain relief, and relatively few side effects. Magically, it is a very versatile herb for helping you keep all of the things you hold dear.

4 Great Alternatives to Incense

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Incense is pretty magical. Not only does it give a place that certain mystical je ne sais quoi, it works for sympathetic magic, carries prayers and petitions away on its smoke, and clears away stagnant energy. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

… Unless you’re asthmatic. Or have migraines triggered by smells. Or live in a dorm. Or aren’t yet “out” as a witch. Or are one of any of the millions of other people who, for various reasons, can’t light up.

What do you do then?

Burning incense.

I can get away with using incense sometimes. For other occasions, I’ve found a bunch of very effective incense alternatives that work in both a magical and a mundane sense.

1. Hydrosols

Hydrosols are a “byproduct” of essential oil distillation. I put “byproduct” in quotes because, while they are certainly considered a byproduct if the oil is what you’re after (in much the same way that a rosebush would be considered a weed in a wheat field), they’re very useful on their own. I originally started using them as part of my skincare regimen — putting a couple of sprays on a cotton ball and using it as toner, or stashing a bottle in my bag to cool and freshen my skin throughout the day. After that, I began expanding my use to more metaphysical purposes.

Since hydrosols are derived from the same herbs used to make incense and essential oil, they carry the same properties. The only difference here is that they are closer to water, rather than the airy qualities of incense smoke. So, if you’re using incense to represent the air element on an altar or in a ritual, you may want to choose a hydrosol made of an air-aligned herb (like yarrow or peppermint), or add a feather or other airy representation to your work.

To use them, treat the spray like incense smoke. If you’d use incense to fume an object, space, or person, for example, give a spray of the hydrosol instead. I’m a big fan of those  produced by Wildroot Botanicals.

2. Essential Oil Sprays

These are very similar to hydrosols, but a bit different in composition. While hydrosols are made up of the water-soluble portions of a plant, essential oil sprays are made up of water, a blend of oils, and something to keep the oils in solution (usually witch hazel or ethanol). Hydrosols are usually sold as the product of a single herb, while essential oil sprays are often a proprietary mix of oils, sometimes with crystals, gem elixirs, or flower essences added.

This makes essential oil sprays great for ritual purposes, because you can easily customize them to meet your needs. Need a fire elemental spray? Use oils from fire-aligned herbs, and add some water-safe red or orange crystals. Since a lot of the ready-made sprays have proprietary oil blends, however, they may not be the best choice for skincare applications like beauty magic.

To use them in a spell, treat them just like you would a hydrosol. Enchanted Botanicals has some really nice sprays — their Clearing spray is powerful stuff! I’ve used it for everything from cleansing spaces and tools, to helping to lift a bad mood.

Fresh herbs.

3. Loose Herbs

You don’t always have to burn herbs to get the benefit of them. Burning has its place, but you can also add a dish of loose herbs to your spell, then release them to the wind when you’re done. Rather than waft incense smoke over an object, lay it on or cover it with the herbs. (If you add a few drops of essential oil, you can also pass the herbs off as potpourri.)

Harmony Hills Boutique has a very good selection of hard-to-find herbs at reasonable prices, and they ship quickly.

4. Tincture Paper

Tincture paper is fun if you absolutely need to be able to burn something, but incense still isn’t an option. It’s made by creating or taking a tincture of the herbs you’re working with, and adding a few drops to a piece of blotting paper. The paper will readily absorb the tincture, the alcohol will evaporate, and, once the paper’s dry, it’s ready for use.

These papers are nice because you can write petitions on them, create your own blend of tinctures to add to them, and they’ll burn quite a bit faster than incense. So, if you can handle limited amounts of smoke, or just don’t want to wait for incense to finish burning, try them.

 

Incense is treated as de rigueur in a lot of spells, but isn’t always an option for everyone. If you’re one of the many people who can’t use incense, try hydrosols, essential oil sprays, loose herbs, or tincture paper instead — you may find that you actually prefer them to dealing with smoke!

Natural Citrine vs. Heat-Treated Amethyst — Does it matter?

From what I have seen, citrine is like wasabi or olive oil — it’s entirely possible for someone to love it without ever having actually used it. That’s not to say that a lot of citrine crystals on the market are fake, as in made of resin or glass, just that not everything labeled as citrine is actually what it says it is.

What is citrine, really?

Citrine crystals are best known as a bright, sunny yellow variety of quartz. Nobody is really sure where the color comes from. Some suggest that it’s caused by iron impurities in the crystal’s structure, while others say it’s more likely caused by aluminum or irradiation. From what I’ve been able to gather, there are probably several varieties of yellow quartz created under different conditions, all of which have been lumped together for the gem trade under the name “citrine.”

Metaphysically, it’s a stone often used for prosperity, luck, and success spells. Its sunny color lends well to everything relating to the yellow, gold, and orange areas of color magic. As a healing stone, it brings positivity and optimism.

How is citrine faked?

Real citrine is pretty rare. It doesn’t seem so when you walk into a crystal shop, though — chances are, there are tons of clusters of bright orange crystals, usually at a very reasonable price. So, what gives?

While citrine is uncommon, amethyst is not. It’s not at all unusual to take amethyst, subject it to heat treating, and get something that can pass for citrine — in the sense that it’s a crystal, and yellowish.

Heat-treated amethyst

Heat-treated amethyst.

How can you tell if a citrine is real or heat-treated?

To put it bluntly, if you’re used to seeing heat-treated amethyst, real citrine is… Well, disappointing. Most of it looks closer to a smoky quartz than the vibrant orange hues of the heated stuff. It’s like looking at a glass of orange juice next to a glass of orange soda. Compared to a glowing yellow heated amethyst cluster, the real stuff looks almost anemic.

There are other ways to tell, too. Real citrine:

  • Does not often have the same growth habit as amethyst. While we’re probably all used to seeing clusters of low-growing amethyst crystals that look almost like grape jelly, citrine usually appears with longer, straight crystals or as individual points, more akin to clear quartz.
  • Tends to vary between a light yellow, like white Zinfandel, to a smokier, apple juice color. It doesn’t naturally have that bright orange appearance.
  • Tends to be very clear.
  • Is pricier than heated crystals.

By contrast, heat-treated crystals:

  • Tend to have a very milky base, or be cloudy throughout.
  • Often show up as pieces of geodes, usually with a very white base. Individual points usually have a very triangular, almost toothlike appearance.
  • Are extremely brightly colored.
  • Don’t cost much.

There’s one other way to tell a citrine from a baked amethyst — pleochroism. It’s not something the average crystal-buyer can really use to their advantage, but it’s much less subjective than determining how clear a crystal is, or exactly where it falls in the range of natural and artificial colors. Pleochroism describes an optical phenomenon where a mineral appears to change colors when viewed from different angles, particularly when using a polarized light source. Amethyst, citrine, and smoky quartz are all pleochroic. Heating amethyst to alter its color causes it to lose this property, so it is consistently yellow (or orange, or brownish) regardless.

Interestingly, citrines created by heating smoky quartz do continue to exhibit pleochroism. These citrines also become pale when they are heated further, and turn yellow when exposed to radiation.

Citrine.jpg

Yellow citrine crystals.

Does it really matter?

Well, yes and no.

Some argue that heat treating a crystal is just exposing it to the same effects that would happen naturally, so the end product isn’t actually any different from a genuine citrine. Others say that that isn’t the case, and the natural circumstances of a crystal’s formation influence its properties.

If you’re looking for a bright yellow or orange crystal because you want to tap into the magical properties of those colors, it probably doesn’t matter how the crystal was made. If using things in a raw, unadulterated form is important to you, you probably want to shy away from artificially colored crystals. The choice is ultimately up to you.

It matters to me because, under the right conditions, you can tell the difference between a heated amethyst and a citrine. Pleochroism is an empirical way to tell which crystals are baked amethysts, and which are not. I feel like this is an important distinction — magic is transformative. Natural citrine takes in light, and shifts its color based on how its viewed. A crystal that’s supposed to be pleochroic and isn’t wouldn’t be as useful to me as an unaltered stone.

From a practical standpoint, it can also matter because heating a stone affects its durability. High heat can alter the matrix, especially of crystal clusters, making it chalkier and more prone to crumbling.

 

Color magic is a deep and fully developed magical system of its own. If the color is all that matters to a spell, it doesn’t really matter whether a stone is natural, heated, dyed, or coated. For witches who prefer to work with stones in an unaltered state, the distinction between natural and heat-treated citrine can be an important one.

 

 

 

And so I made a safe travel charm (since the gremlins were already handled).

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“Hey, mind doing a tarot reading real quick?”

I’m kind of used to this — my S.O. and I swap readings on the regular. If he has a decision he’s unsure about, he asks me to pull a few cards. I do the same if something’s bugging me. It’s a helpful way to get some insight that we can’t really get by reading for ourselves.

See, he’s wanted a motorcycle for basically ever. He’s taken riding classes, shopped around, and kept his eyes open for deals. This time, he was messaging me from a dealership. He’d found a used bike at a decent price, but wanted to know more before making the commitment and dropping the dosh.

I pulled a few cards — strangely enough, one of them reversed itself before I could flip it to see what it was. (I often arrange my deck so it’s all upright, and watching the card slowly spin in place until it was perfectly upside-down was super bonkers.)

Temperance reversed, and The Magician.

Buying the bike wouldn’t be sound judgment or a good monetary decision, but it would be the manifestation of something he’s wanted for a long time. The cards he’d pulled before asking me indicated that buying the bike would take a load off of his mind, but waiting would offer a new, better opportunity.

He decided not to buy. (I was pretty relieved, gotta say. I trust his skills, it’s just everyone else on the road I’m concerned about.)

Sure enough, not long afterward, he was hit with the perfect opportunity to get a great bike. Its last owner bought it new last winter, but now he has to move overseas. So, my S.O. managed to snag a nearly-new bike in fantastic condition, with the exact specs he was looking for.

… Which meant that I had to make a charm for safe travel. He’s got a bell, but there are worse things on the road than gremlins.

Historically, travel was always fraught with peril. If there weren’t highwaymen, there were rough roads, storms, injured animals, broken axles, and worse. Even today, it’s not exactly a breeze — most accidents happen within a few miles of home, and longer journeys have their own set of problems. (Trust me, I know. I managed to get run over less than a block from my house as a kid, and someday I might type out the story of how I got stuck on a stranded train in the Utah salt flats seated behind a guy who was on the lam after shooting a dude.)

Long story short, there are a ton of magical measures to help keep you in one piece on the road. Since this is a bike he’s planning on using to commute in the city — weather permitting, of course — I thought this charm was the best way to help keep him safe. Hopefully, it’ll also keep his bike safe, so we don’t have a repeat of the time our car got hecked apart by bad gas in Mississippi!

travelcharm.jpg

 

 

An Amulet for Safe Travel

For this, you’ll need:

I performed this spell on the full moon, during the equinox. Travel doesn’t always leave us room for picking the most auspicious day for spellcasting, so feel free to put this amulet together whenever you need to. Good timing is nice, but not required.

Set up your ritual space as you usually do. Hallow the space, cast a circle, open the gate, call the quarters, you do you.

Combine the herbs, using your projective (dominant) hand. As you do, visualize them filling with energy — enough to extend beyond the amulet itself, to surround whichever vehicle it’s placed within. Place the herbs in the center of the fabric.

Empower the stones as you usually do. If you don’t have a preferred method, hold them in your projective hand. As with the herbs, visualize them filling with warm, protective energy. Place them on the herbs.

Hold your hands over the herbs and stones. Say whatever words are appropriate for your situation — it doesn’t matter if they’re fancy or feel magical, what matters is that they come from the heart. State your intent for this charm. What kind of vehicle do you want to protect? What kind of hazards do you want to protect it from?

Draw the corners of the fabric up, so it forms a bundle. Tie the string or ribbon around the opening (I usually use a miller’s knot) to keep everything in place. If you have any other travel charms, tie them on as well. For this charm, I used a holed stone and a safe travel bindrune (made of raidho and algiz) burned onto a small slice of pine.

Keep the safe travel amulet in the vehicle or, if you’re traveling by public transportation, in a pocket or bag. Before an especially long or risky journey, take a few minutes to hold it in your hands and channel the protective energy.

Inspiration in Unplaces

Have you ever felt out of place in a familiar spot? I don’t mean socially awkward or anxious, just given the sense that you’re in a place that shouldn’t be — like a shopping mall before the stores open, inside of a school at night, or somewhere else divorced from its usual context by some small, important detail. They are a familiar place, easily made into a strange-seeming unplace.

There are two times of year in this area, one in spring and one in autumn, where the light around four PM turns everything a lovely orange-gold, but the angle of the sun creates stark shadows of a particularly surreal length and sharpness. With a clear blue sky, it reminds me of Dali’s “Landscape with Butterflies” — colors too bright to be real, shadows too long and forbidding to be welcome.

Salvador Dali's Landscape with Butterflies.

Salvador Dali’s Landscape with Butterflies.

The idea of unplaces fascinates me, the way something so minor can make the familiar so strange. I think part of it comes from when I was a little kid, in an area where we largely had to make our own fun. I spent a lot of time in an abandoned school behind the house I grew up in, and, once I was a little older and could hop a fence, sneaking around storm water basins and drainage culverts. It’s a bizarre feeling, ducking under a pulled-up bit of chain link and stepping into a wet, wild world where the spongy turf and overgrown trees suddenly and strangely block the sights and sounds of traffic. There are no more sidewalks, no more streetlights, just murky ponds of massive snapping turtles and every quietly resentful goldfish that’s ever been loosed down a toilet. It is a small shift, just a chain link fence and a few strides, but it’s an important one.

I remember riding the train across the country a couple of years ago. I lived in Delaware at the time and, having saved up enough for a seat on Amtrak, decided to give it a go. As we passed through the million shades of the desert, from persimmon orange to the blinding, glittering white of Utah’s salt flats, I could see occasional islands of abandoned humanity. There were no towns around them, no yards, fields, or fences — as if some capricious and malevolent giant had plucked them from their foundations and left them there like forgotten toys. Just the occasional roofless husk of a deserted homestead, sometimes with a scrap of dry-rotted cardboard abortively tacked over a window, even less occasionally with the rusted corpse of an ancient car sinking slowly into the sand around it. Even in the safety of the train, sitting in a cushy seat just wide enough for me curl up to sleep in for the four-day journey, they gave me goosebumps.

In Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there’s discussion of a place being uncanny, or, in German, unheimlich. But unheimlich isn’t used there in the passive sense of being merely unfamiliar, where an observer can gain understanding with time and effort. Instead, it’s used in the sense of a place being “full of not-knowing,” where gaining understanding may not be possible, helpful, or even safe.

It’s surprising how little it takes to make a place unheimlich, into what feels like something you were never meant to see. Sometimes it takes strange geography, like an average, suburban-looking house seemingly transplanted to the middle of the desert at random. Sometimes, it’s something as minor as a shift in schedule or a change in weather that turns the familiar into the uncanny, or even the unsettling. It’s this that can help us see a place with new eyes.

There’s a lot of strange magic in the places you don’t belong.

Find the unheimlich.