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Support Your Local…Grocery?
I’ve been working on an article for my other site lately which focuses on the magical ingredients which are readily available in most places without a trip to an occult shop or the need to place an online order and wait five to seven days for delivery. I explore the supermarket, of course, although I generally try to stay out of the spice aisle since so manyother folks do a fantastic job of covering that area. In the process of writing the piece, though, I mentioned that while major chain markets can have plenty of resources for magical practice for one sharp enough to discern magical purpose behind mundane ingredients, one of the best places in my area to shop for supplies is one of our local bodegas, Asian groceries, or international markets. These stores are small and independently run, and frequently have things I might not be able to find without special ordering them otherwise, such as specialized incenses, good quantities of galangal root at a fair price, and even animal curios like sheep bones or chicken feet used in folk magic and a variety of ethnic cuisine.
I know there have been a number of authors, podcasters, speakers, and teachers who emphasize the importance of supporting local witchy shops and developing Pagan business communities. I heartily agree, although I’m quite guilty of failing to abide by my own guidelines sometimes. It is incredibly easy to order a book from Amazon and know it will be at your door two days later, for example. Ordering through a local shop delays instant gratification, but it does promote a small business and a fellow pagan or witch. We all know this, but there is a hidden side to the local transaction which I think is worth exploring through the lens of folk culture and magic.
To go the roundabout way, let’s begin by thinking about herbs. Yes, it is entirely reasonable to order dragon’s blood resin for a spell if you live in Minnesota. Dragon’s blood does not grow naturally anywhere in that vicinity, and the spell may depend upon that ingredient. You could, of course, find a local substitution, but in the process you might wind up rewriting the spell and ending up with something very different than you intended. You might, instead, write your own spell or find a different one, focusing on locally available ingredients. Now, you might also be able to grow basil outdoors in Minnesota during the summer, but in winter you’ll have to make do with dried—either from a store or from a summer surplus. Again, the option to change the spell to fit the season could be the way to go, or you might be satisfied to use the cultivated herb, knowing that you’ve had a hand in its development or preparation. Basil is not native to Minnesota, of course, so imagine now that you have a real urge to be a locavore and use only native plants and resources from your area. You might develop a spell based on wild ginger (Asarum canadense), which grows natively and can provide some similar magical properties to basil if you were doing a spell for, say, protection. So in this mental exercise you can see multiple ways to craft a successful spell based on ingredients: ordering exotic ingredients (possibly from a small magical supply dealer online), cultivating your own in a garden (fresh or dried), or wildcrafting using local species to meet your needs.
What has that to do with a local shop, then? I would like to invite you to think of local shops as “gardens” or “wild” locations for magical supplies. Shopping in the Hispanic grocery on the corner for unique candles or a box of chamomile stems for spellcraft feeds and grows that business. Repeated purchases and shopping allows you to cultivate a relationship with the shopkeeper and its wares, and possibly some of the other customers. You may find that regular visits to the nearby junk shop/antique store winds up filling your cabinet of curiosities with items of more personal value and quality than anything ordered from major online retailers. In the process, you may sow some goodwill with the owner and she or he might wind up saving choice future pieces for you. The terrior, to borrow a vintner’s term, of our ingredients becomes localized, rooted to the same land upon which we live and practice our craft. In some cases, yes, supporting these stores is pushing money outside the Pagan or occult community, but it does put money into the local market and develops a positive relationship with a neighbor, which ultimately serves the Pagan family at large. To extend the plant metaphor, wildcrafting means encountering the occasional thorn or poisonous berry, and knowing enough not to grip tightly or ingest. Since we are a minority, we will sometimes come up against those who are thorns or poison to us*, but that does not mean we stop visiting the garden and working with the plants.
As I have been diving further into the practice and study of folk magic, I’ve slowly grown away from ordering from the internet except in very particular cases. I do not have a particularly good occult shop nearby—although there is a charming one about thirty minutes away—but I have found more and more that becoming acquainted with smaller local shops has expanded my ingredient list rather than limiting it, and in the process I’ve become more familiar with how those components work in my own magic and the magic of other cultures. I still may have to pick up a book from the internet (and thankfully there have been more and more independent publishers like Pendraig and Scarlet Imprint from whom I can order directly), but I am slowly cultivating my garden, among the neighbors and markets which feed my local spirits, and my own magic.
*Please note here that I’m not talking about companies which take a vocal and vehement stance against us or our values.
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