Keeping Cool Stuff in Ornate Containers
Maybe this is where it all started.
I remember, when I was very young, perhaps seven or eight, I read one of those stories about an Olde Curiosity Shoppe that appears, sells something Unusual to the protagonist, and then was gone when he went back to find it again.
The shoppe was full of stuff. Cool stuff, in strange dusty bottles and jars and boxes (some of which had eerie sounds coming from within).
I loved the sound of that place. I wanted to go to there and root through all the weird, magical things.
It started with a brass oil lamp, like an Alladin-style lamp I bought in Spain. It was such an Olde Curiosity Shoppe thing. It hadn’t occurred to me before that I could actually own such things.
So as I grew older, I began to accumulate more weird, magical things.
I scavenged old liquor bottles of colorful glass, pressed with designs of lions or dragons or coats of arms. I found lidded ceramic jars, carved wooden boxes in thrift stores and import places.
Naturally, as I started collecting cool things, I began to store them inside the containers. Sea shells and pine cones. Pretty rocks, and carefully pressed autumn leaves. Bones, when I found them. Interesting seed pods. Beads.
This was when I was…eleven? Twelve? I didn’t have much ability to acquire things back then but what I could pull together certainly got me started with the material culture of the witchy aesthetic. I had a kid’s magic set and would just…fiddle around with the items in it. Wave the wand. Things were really bad in my family in those years–escape into playing wizard now and again alone in in the relative safety of my room was very welcome.
After all, they hadn’t invented Dungeons and Dragons yet.
Then I discovered incense, and the purpose of all those boxes and jars became readily apparent. I had some old chess pieces that looked like strange idols; I would build altars, burn incense and candles, sit on the floor in the semi-darkness looking up at my “temple” and just be.
It was my first experience with a deliberately-induced altered state.
There was a break, of course, while I lived with conservative foster parents.
But once out on my own, long before I was doing anything that might be considered real Pagan practice, over the years I made leather and velvet pouches for Tarot cards, dried gourds and stoppered them with tiny corks, acquired pewter flasks when I worked at the Renaissance Faire. I hung fantasy posters of alien landscapes on the walls, and burned lots and lots of candles, imagining myself Elsewhere, in a magical realm.
My living space was always witchy. Because I loved the feeling of it.
There is more intention now, more focus. The intent has turned from escape to connection, to actually being more present and in tune with nature and community.
But the impulse to keep cool stuff in ornate containers has always been a part of it.
So when people criticize others (particularly young people) for being attracted to the “witchy aesthestic”, I don’t really know what they’re talking about. Isn’t an aesthetic about creating an atmosphere or mood…and isn’t that what some Pagans call “energy”? Isn’t that psychologically impactful?
Isn’t that “magic”?
Cool stuff in cool containers is a gateway drug. It’s playful and spooky and cool, and something you can get engaged in long before any thought of “religion” or “spirituality” is likely to arise.
So I say: let the children play. Let the children within the adults play. No harm in it and it can grow into practices that will add color and meaning to a whole life.