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Depends on how you define magic.
What does it take to create a spell? For most casual observers, it would seem that spells are magic handed down from the ancients, sacred words and rituals that have burned themselves into the cosmos. You cannot simply make up a spell.
Except, actually, you can. There’s even a bot for it.
@lilspellbook serves up quick and easy spells that read like anything you’d find in a New Age book, dealing in both the universal and the specific.
A sorcery to make mending: light a black candle while whispering names that matter.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 23, 2016
A spell to make two cats friends: burn a dead flower on a red flame while singing.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 19, 2016
A spell to take back a missent email: burn two hairs and cumin with peace in your mouth.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 18, 2016
A sorcery to summon kindness: pound a drawing of yourself, and sprinkle a pinch on your food.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 16, 2016
Harry Giles, the mastermind behind @lilspellbook, told the Daily Dot that one of the reasons they started the bot was that the cultural background of spells is “totally shaped around the desires and needs of teenage women, queers, and outcasts, which I find very appealing: Those desires need more celebration and more magic.”
I had been in the need of more magic lately, feeling what can best described as emotionally frantic. So I decided to do a @lilspellbook spell a day for five days to see if I’d be in a better place by the end of the week. There was one problem, though: I wasn’t even sure I knew what that “better place” looked like.
Monday: A guarding spell
A guarding spell: crumble a pressed flower while singing, and throw it over a cliff.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 22, 2016
Things that had been on my mind and were leaving me overwhelmed: Upcoming travel, good but numerous professional developments and concerns, friends going through crises who I was trying to be there for, and, most recently, a family death. I had been panicking at anything new, good, or bad that was happening, just because it seemed so much was happening already.
“Guarding” is a vague concept, but to me it sounded like a form of emotional protection. I envisioned that this spell would ground me, and give me some sort of strength or help in dealing with my life.
The flower I chose for this spell was a dried oregano flower, from a plant that was thriving on my balcony until I went away for a few days and forgot to remind the person watching my cats to water it. I didn’t have a cliff ready, but I did have the balcony of my fifth-floor apartment, and part of witchcraft is understanding how to adapt the practice to your own life, so I stood on the balcony Monday morning while crumbling the flower over the edge, singing Judee Sill’s “Rugged Road,” the first song that came to mind.
Like everything else, I had to squeeze this task in as efficiently as possible.
Tuesday: A good luck spell
A good luck spell: burn a blessing while offering a hidden truth.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 23, 2016
I wasn’t feeling any less frazzled than the day before, so I decided guarding wasn’t what I needed. Maybe I just needed some good things to be suddenly thrust upon me.
I got home from work and wrote down a blessing (what it was I can’t recall, but it was something vague, probably about world peace), and burned it with an orange candle. In many witchcraft traditions, orange is the color of sudden change, one that means business.
The next day the Brooklyn Book Festival announced I’d be moderating one of its panels—good news!—and people were flooding me with congratulations.
Maybe things were looking up after all.
Wednesday: A conjuration for kindness
A conjuration for kindness: crumble blank paper, and taste it seven times.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 24, 2016
I didn’t get much sleep the night before, and by the time I got home from work and did some work for a project, it was already 10pm—and I hadn’t yet cast that day’s spell.
The problem with starting any new ritual is you have to do it enough to actually make it ritual. Even though I’d done spells for two days, even though some good had actually come of it, it hadn’t stuck yet that this was something I needed to make room for.
So I frantically flipped through the feed and settled on this one for kindness. I’d like to think that, subconsciously, being kind to myself is what I needed, but really, I chose this spell because it was the one with the least number of ingredients.
I ripped a piece of paper out of a notebook and crumpled it in my hand. I tried to think kind thoughts, but they weren’t coming. Instead, I chastised myself for not remembering to do this sooner, having put it on the list of the many things I had to do in any given day. I licked the paper seven times and threw it in the trash.
Yesterday’s blessing was already a blur.
Thursday: A charm to find encouragement
A charm to find encouragement: bring lemon, pepper, fennel and mustard in a cup, and taste it six times.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 25, 2016
The most important part of any spell is intention. Even if all you do is sit silently for a few minutes while thinking about whatever it is you need, the point is you’re clearing space for what you’re looking for.
I was not doing that. All the things @lilspellbook was listing were things I wanted and needed. I needed encouragement and kindness and support, but I didn’t think I deserved them, or they just weren’t as important to me as all the other obligations I thought I had. I spent all day answering practical questions: What do we make for dinner? How do I find a recipe that uses up most of our produce before we leave for vacation and it rots in the fridge? How many minutes do I have to go to the gym? To do laundry? Why am I so stressed out when everyone else handles these daily activities without complaining? A friend texted that she wanted to come over. I said, because I always do, “Sure.”
Somewhere between her text and her arrival, I put some seeds and herbs in a small bowl and held it to my tongue. I did it quickly. Then I threw it out before anyone could see.
Day 5: A quiet spell
A quiet spell: pulverise a preserved flower, and taste it.
— Lil Spellbook (@LilSpellbook) August 27, 2016
It didn’t take a genius to see that there was a pattern to the spells I had been choosing. I could have chosen spells for courage, for “awesomeness,” or to ensure the USB cable is always the right side up (something I desperately need). But instead I was seeking kindness, peace, and quiet. I tasted another oregano flower on my balcony and thought about why that was. I knew what I needed—why wasn’t I getting it?
The spells didn’t work, in the sense that they didn’t magically create peace and protection in my life. But they did in that, looking through the things I chose, I could see the pattern. I realized how much I was depriving myself of the things I wanted, and how easily I could make different choices to have them. Instead of crumbling flowers and lighting candles, I turned off my phone. I read a book. I got late-night ramen with an old friend.
“I know of a few folks who’ve done spells, including me: Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” said Giles. “Whether they work because of coincidence or magic, and whether they fail because of lack of belief or lack of magical truth, I’ll leave up to you.”
The magic isn’t in the spell, but in the ritual of taking time to think about the choices you’re making, and whether they’re making you happy. And yes, that ritual works just as well coming from a Twitter bot.
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'