A Good Haul

A black oil diffuser, a red candle, a small Shiva lingam stone, and two boxes of incense.So I went to the shop I mentioned in my last post. Because it was a lovely little place with a very friendly vibe, I’ll go on the record as stating that it’s Spirit Dreams in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Don’t let their website fool you! They had lots of nice thingies. The neighborhood was great, too.

The one problem was that they tried to get me to believe that dark pink chime candles were red, but I’ll forgive them for that.

Anyway, I found some thingies there. A little Shiva lingam (which, perhaps blasphemously, I associate with Cernunnos). Their one remaining red chime candle, which I’m burning for the Morrigan. Morning Star incense–my favorite kind–for a little cheaper than it is in LA. And, most excitingly, the very oil diffuser I’ve been searching for for months. I like soapstone diffusers and I found a beautiful one last summer, but it turned out to have tiny cracks in the basin that caused leaks and made it unusable. That particular one was the last one Whole Foods ever sold, so I couldn’t exchange it for another. My local shop, which I otherwise love, has some ceramic diffusers, but they’re not much to look at. This little diffuser, in addition to being exactly what I wanted, was discounted because of a chip in the top. I saw it and instantly identified it as mine.

So now I like to think part of that powerful call I felt was my own little diffuser, waiting for me to take it home.

But, like all supply runs I make, the trip has me mulling over my relationship with stuff. We’ve all heard that saying: “The only tool a Witch needs is her body.” Yet Witchcraft is the most stuff-oriented religious practice I know of. We collect so much stuff! In my last post I said that I was really tired of stores being used as community centers, and I mean it–but that doesn’t mean that I don’t look forward to browsing in the shop whenever I go to a ritual. I get excited when I run out of candles or incense, because it means I get to buy more! Whenever I come into a little money, I immediately earmark it for the latest thing I want: at the moment, it’s an Artemis Ephesia statue and a wide-frame drum.

I don’t like this about myself. My mother is extremely materialistic, very into shopping. I once had a friend who kept her wish list pinned to her wall so she’d never forget about anything she wanted. I know a guy who bought a second computer on a whim. A thousand-dollar computer! Studies show that buying things releases dopamine; the act of taking a thing into your possession makes you feel physically good. That’s why people crave it so much. That’s why so many people consider shopping a pastime.

I really, really don’t like this about myself.

For a long time, I lived a very ascetic life: the only recreational items I ever bought were books. When my jeans grew too worn-out to wear anymore, buying new ones was a fraught experience, laden with stress and guilt. I didn’t want to become my mom. I didn’t want to be like other people.

But gradually I realized that starving myself of pleasure wasn’t bringing me any great sense of peace or joy. If anything, I just felt guilty and self-flagellating all the time, appalled whenever I saw a thing and wanted to own it. So, eventually, I eased up. I allowed myself to want.

I wonder: why are we wired to want stuff? Why the dopamine rush when we get a thing? What does acquiring things do for us evolutionarily?

I wonder: how has Capitalism perverted what might be a normal impulse in living things? What would ravens’ caches look like if the ravens’ entire economy hinged on gratuitous consumption?

I wonder about these questions when I think about the stuff component to other religions: Judaica stores, Hindu murtis, Christian icons. Even Buddhists usually set up a little altar. Yes, I know, images and objects help focus prayer. But everyone wants the best images. The best objects. The most beautiful, personalized, and perfect things. In many cases, the biggest and most ornate.

I think Witchcraft, with its emphasis on magic and the tools and props that go with that, presents more of a risk than many other traditions of compulsive materialism, of addictive shopping. It’s something we Witches have to wrestle with. But I also think those impulses–those feelings that this thing is calling me, that it wants to be with me–are worth listening to. As guilty as I often feel after I spend money on myself, I can’t remember the last time I bought something that I didn’t use and love.

When I start to feel really guilty about my latest shopping trip, I remind myself that I only spent 17 bucks. People spend that much on lunch.

May you have no more and no less than the best, most perfect treasures in your home.


4 thoughts on “A Good Haul

  1. James Bulls says:

    Speaking for myself, I’ve found that it took me about 5 years to recognize the urge to buy, and another 7-odd years to understand it. Back around 2001-2002, when I was a young single guy in the military with a fat paycheck and no responsibilities I splurged on video games. That was my purchase of choice. Bad day? Go shopping. Feeling depressed? Get a new game. Want a change of pace? Buy a new console. And so on. My shopping experience was always that the purchase immediately made me feel better, but it also always went away after a couple days. I found that I was using shopping and the act of buying to ignore other important things about myself.

    These days, my indulgence of choice is wasting time, or spending time on only myself (as opposed to spending it with the family.) This time typically comes early in the morning or late at night, but yeah… it is what it is. I stopped “buying” stuff because I recognized that for me it was an unfulfilling cycle. If only I could have made that realization, oh… 10 years ago?

    I wonder if it isn’t so much of a hardwired biological drive to acquire resources, so much as it is a culturally-taught mandate that to succeed is to possess? I suppose generations of us in North America have grown up under the tutelage of mass media and learned that we’re bad, unsuccessful people if we’re not acquiring and owning things. Modern Wicca, seen as a product of the culture from which it emerged, would not be immune to this influence.

    But still, congrats on finding your oil diffuser again!

  2. Asa West says:

    Thanks! The other night I basked in the sweet smell of lavender oil.

    I think the urge to buy is probably a little of both–we’re tool-using creatures and acquiring more, better tools helps us survive, but our brains can’t tell the difference between necessary items and frivolous ones. And I’ve noticed that my urge to shop definitely gets stronger when I’m around other people who are shopping. Acquiring is absolutely equated with success, and if you’re the only one not buying anything, then that means there’s something wrong with you.

    After I published this post, I remembered that it was going to have a whole section on practicing Witchcraft in the city versus in the country. I wonder if my urge to buy things stems, in part, from my disconnect with nature. Since I can’t walk in the woods without driving 45 minutes each way, and since the drought in Southern California is making gardening very stressful and difficult, I try to surround myself with beautiful objects that will simulate the calming effect of nature. I’m not saying they’re an effective substitute, but I wonder if that’s what some part of my mind is trying to accomplish.

  3. wingsofbadb13 says:

    I would be interested to see y’alls birthcharts, which can influence our need and drive to acquire material things, how we spend our money and possessions, etc.

    • James Bulls says:

      6/6/1983 at 3:08pm. I tried to contact you, but your gravatar doesn’t link back to anything. Feel free to reach out to me on Google+ if you want to share any comments. Cheers, -J

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