I think I must have been a crow or a magpie in a past life. I've always had an obsession with collecting objects from the ground. When I was very small, this obsession extended to everything, and I mean everything. I would save the sticks and wrappers from lollipops and all other sorts of garbage, and my poor mother had a terrible time cleaning out my room. I always told her I was "saving it for the beach", something she still reminds me of to this day. There was some logic behind this, in the convoluted way that logic works in a small child's brain. You see, I had somehow gotten it into my mind that I was going to build epic sandcastles, with turrets and flags and all sorts of adornment, and this meant I would need materials other than just sand. A lollipop stick with the wrapper tied to it could be fashioned into a flag, and so I insisted I needed to stockpile them. Of course, these visions never actually materialized, and no four year old would be able to create the structures I was dreaming of even if I had remembered to bring my stash of supplies with me.
As I got older, I stopped collecting literal garbage, but I still had a habit of picking up the more interesting bits of detritus. I kept a small box in my room that I filled with marbles, shells, keys, fake gems, and other sparkly objects I amassed over the years. I called it my treasure chest and broke it out to represent my "riches" whenever we played princesses in my neighbors' backyards (surprising no one, I had a very active imagination and played make-believe well beyond the age that most kids give it up). Even once I set aside my more childish pursuits, I still had an eye for anything shiny and continued to add to my treasure chest. I distinctly remember my joy at finding a Costa Rican colón on the sidewalk in my neighborhood, which I took as a sure sign that someday I would fulfill my dream of visiting the country (I'm still working on that one). Another favorite was the time I fortuitously found a shell shaped like a dolphin on a beach in Florida while attending a camp at the Dolphin Research Center. It felt like fate!
Which brings me to another fact about myself: in addition to liking things that sparkle, I'm also rather superstitious. While I would never put all my stakes on the appearance of random objects in my path, I can't help but wonder if maybe they bear a LITTLE significance or will at least bring me some good luck. I've been living by the adage, "Find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you'll have good luck" ever since I first watched Grease at an elementary school sleepover (nevermind the fact that this backfired on Kenickie in the movie). Somewhere in the back of my mind, there's always the possibility that each little treasure I find has some small impact on my life. Pennies bring good luck. Keys represent new opportunities. Butterfly wings are a symbol of hope. Call it nonsense, but I've always been a sucker for a healthy dose of magic and symbolism.
My magpie tendencies took something of a hit when I acquired a smartphone. A perpetual multi-tasker, I am admittedly that asshole who writes texts or checks Facebook while walking down the street, and as a result I stopped noticing the multitude of coins and other trinkets that litter the streets. However, all that changed last year when I got a job walking dogs. Dog-walking is an occupation that requires you to scan your surroundings so that you can spot chicken bones, scraps of food, and other targets your dog will make a beeline for. Because my gaze was so often on the ground, I once again began to notice just how many interesting items can be found on sidewalks and in yards and parks around the city, and I began documenting my finds on Instagram under the hashtag #dogwalktreasures.
I wasn't expecting much response other than some side-eyes at my bizarre and somewhat unhygienic habit (let's be honest, the streets of NYC are not the cleanest place in the world). But to my surprise, my friends and family really seized onto my posts. They exclaimed delightedly over each haul I posted, and some were even inspired to begin collections of their own. One friend bemoaned the fact that their suburban neighborhood offered less options for scavenging than larger cities like New York, and my mom (always a collector herself, though she tends to gravitate towards more nature-based objects - acorns, pretty leaves, flowers, etc. - than I do) started sharing her own finds. It made me even more excited to share all the bizarre and beautiful items I find, knowing that others would share in my joy.
It was inevitable that I would eventually begin to work these objects into my magical practices. It's no secret that I am something of a self-proclaimed witch, but I've never followed a specific practice or enjoyed crafting elaborate spells, especially when so many rituals out there call for specific herbs and items which, while not expensive in and of themselves, can really add up when you start considering exactly how many different things are needed for each ritual. I quickly realized, however, that there was profound magic in crafting spells and talismans out of the everyday items around me, not to mention the tiny treasures I found on the streets of one of the most vibrant cities in the country. I attached a small key I'd found to my own keyring in the hopes of drawing exciting opportunities to me. I made carefully curated spell bags for friends of mine who came over to celebrate the New Moon. I separated out my favorite items and displayed them on a shelf behind my desk, where I could always turn around and see them, drawing inspiration and strength from them.
The idea of using what you have on hand to work magic is certainly not a new idea; on the contrary, it's a very old idea, one found in cultures all over the world. Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld novels, drew on these folkloric practices when developing the magical practices of his witches. In A Hat Full of Sky, the adolescent witch-in-training Tiffany Aching learns about shambles - handmade devices for focusing magic crafted out of whatever the witch happens to have in her pocket at the time.
Despite the fact that I've long been a fan of Pratchett's books and have been reading the Tiffany Aching stories since their inception, it didn't occur to me to connect my practice to his work until recently, when a friend of a friend reached out and asked if I would be interested in putting together a class proposal for a workshop series focused on using magical practices to protect ourselves under the current administration. I told her I was very interested and suggested a workshop on making found object talismans and spell bottles. After all, I have plenty of odds and ends that I've gathered over the years. As I was writing up the class description and trying to come up with a catchy title, I was hit with the realization that what I was proposing was not unlike Pratchett's shambles. I was positively giddy (you know me, I love my pop culture references). I titled my class "Shambles: Found Object Talismans For Thrifty Witches".
I'm still working out what, exactly, my workshop will entail, but at the very least I'll have plenty of interesting objects to offer my fellow spellcrafters. Between today and yesterday alone, I found an abandoned padlock, a glittery heart-shaped sticker, half a rhinestone cross charm, three buttons, a marble, a lost rhinestone, and twelve pennies. While some days I find more than others, I have accrued a wide variety of interesting bits and bobs over the last year and will surely find much more before the workshop rolls around in May. From buttons to playing cards to pretty bottle caps and bits of colored glass to lone earrings and small plastic toy animals, New York has gifted me with dozens of small forlorn treasures, and I delight in each and every find.
The Protective Spellwork & Talisman Making Workshop will run May 27-28 at The Living Gallery BK in Brooklyn, NY, and is composed of ten unique and magical classes taught by ten very different magical practitioners. The workshop series is designed with the inclusivity and safety of marginalized people in mind. Tickets can be purchased at www.tallowandbone.com/workshop!