Substituting with “anything” (a quartz and rosemary-inspired rant)
Apparently this is the month of me sticking my foot in places I’ll likely regret. But I feel like this really damages the learning process for a lot of witches and needs addressing. So today I’d like to talk about this thing being told to new witches way too often: that they can use “anything” as a substitution if they don’t have X ingredient for, say, a spell jar or whatever.
Can I just say, as someone whose practice focuses heavily on herbal work, how crazy that makes me?
I am not saying spells are set in stone and substitutions can’t be made. They totally can be.
I am not saying that this here fancy spell with all these fancy, expensive ingredients can’t have a more accessible re-working done with more common ingredients. It probably can.
I am all about making spells work for less money, less time, and less privileged people. You tell me what you’ve got in your kitchen and yard, and I will help you find a way to make that into any-damn-thing you please.
I am not all about the elite-extra-special “old way” or some dead guy’s mandates on how to witch.
But when I see, “just use quartz/rosemary instead” as the generic advice for EVERYTHING, no matter what the missing component in question is, it makes me crazy.
What’s the purpose of using ingredient-based spells? No, not just for the aesthetic™. It’s to reduce the energy load on you by replacing it with stuff that ALREADY HAS a given energy, or focus.
So if you remove it and just stick a generic energy booster in there, what’s going to happen?
One of two things:
1. The spell doesn’t work as intended, because you took off a wheel and put a rocket where it used to be.
2. The spell does work as intended, but I’m willing to bet you feel the exact same drain you would have felt if you’d just done energy work… because that’s probably what you did (and a lot of people don’t realize that isn’t supposed to happen).
while I’m not saying that you’re wrong and your spell didn’t work
regardless of whatever generic substitutions you made, I am going to
say that if that’s true, I wonder if you’re wasting a lot of
materials in your practice.
The purpose of spell ingredients is to use the properties of the ingredient in order to add a specific energy to the spell, which reduces the burden on you to supply that specific energy, and to have highly consistent focus while doing so. If your spell calls for valerian, then there is something about valerian itself that is aiding the spell. You can’t simply swap it with cayenne and expect to get the same results. There are definitely things you COULD swap it with because they have similar properties, but not absolutely anything.
If you can swap the valerian with literally anything and get the same results, that likely means you are not actually using the valerian to help you cast the spell. You’re simply using your own energy and the herbs are set dressing.
And there’s most certainly nothing wrong with being adept at pure energy work. That’s a great skill to have as a witch. But it sure is a waste of herbs if you’re not actually using them, eh? I mean, a lot of these herbs we use aren’t cheap or readily available.
Why not just get rid of the set dressing and save yourself time and money and just do energy work? Or if you like your set dressing, use tools meant to amplify energy work, like a wand or a staff or something?
Also, I think there’s a certain level of damage being done when we tell witches who are trying to learn herbal work that anything is just the same as anything else and none of it matters.
magical uses of herbs are often tied to their mundane uses. Let’s
remember: cunning craft was the mother of medicine. To this very day,
the magical uses of many herbs are tied to their physical affects.
Even when they aren’t, they’re often a sort of hypersigil, and
they’ve gained those associations through dozens or even hundreds of
years of thousands or millions of people all imbuing them with the
same purpose and energy. Most correspondences have a biological
reasoning behind them, or have been basically sigilized by being used
the same way thousands of times.
Exceptions and personal correspondences are a thing; I have a few myself. But these tend to be herbs that have been highly significant in my own life over a long period of time, and have consequently become a sort of personal sigil, as opposed to the cultural sigil of most broader correspondences. My personal correspondences tend to be things I have history with (even if it’s mundane), not just literally anything. Basically, I’ve overridden the cultural sigilization, by writing over it with my own over time. But that’s an exception.
It makes it impossible to learn herbal work – which is a totally different skill from energy work – if you’re proposing that none of it actually matters and it all works the same anyway. And furthermore, it’s pretty discouraging if a witch tries that, and then their spell fails, which I see with some regularity.
Witches read that they can replace “anything” with quartz or rosemary, and then they come back and say their spell is doing all kinds of weird stuff it shouldn’t be doing.
Well, I’m not surprised. The original ingredient was there to give the spell a specific property, and then someone told them to replace it with a neutral energy booster and not do anything to replace the loss of that specific property, or control all the unprogrammed energy.
So, the result is going to be a high-powered bouncy ball of a spell that just pings around doing random shit and putting holes in the wall. Because they didn’t give it anything except energy with no focus. Because you can’t just replace “anything” with quartz or rosemary.
That tripped me up for a while, as someone who relies a lot on tools. I’m an empath, and like a lot of drain-prone people, I find using ingredients helps reduce how drained I get by casting spells. Becoming adept at herbal work was really important for me to be able to cast at all with any consistency. I can DO energy work, but I don’t always wanna wind up spending the next day in bed, and that’s where tools help me.
It’s not very helpful to just say “replace it with anything.” That’s not how herb magic works.
Substitution can be done in most cases. But if you’re gonna remove a wheel, you need to add a different one that’s compatible with the car, not just strap a rocket to the axle.
long story short: I really wish people would stop saying you can substitute with “anything.” While I get that the intention is to try to make the craft more accessible, it just impedes people from learning how to do it with stuff that’s ACTUALLY accessible. I mean, what’s inaccessible about the stuff most people have in their kitchen? You can substitute for a lot with that!
While it is completely true that you don’t need ingredients to do a spell, it is also true that if you’re going to use ingredients, they matter. If they didn’t matter there’d be no point to using them.
If you find that you can substitute with “anything” and get the same results no matter what, then I think I can save you some time and money: just get an energy working tool instead!