J no. 1 – ‘Justifying Synthetics’
It is a fairly well-known and accepted precept in the Pagan community that synthetics hold little to no magical energy and should be avoided in one’s spiritual practice, especially in ritual practice or offerings.
I, personally, did my best to adhere to that rule for a very long time. However, it was mostly because I felt it would be hypocritical to, in my daily life, sing the praises of natural beauty products, household products, and recycling and then cluttering my altar with cheaply made, toxic synthetics. (Mind you, it still happened because sometimes I couldn’t afford the more expensive, natural alternatives.)
The idea makes sense in a way; the further from a natural source you take a product, the less natural energies it will hold. It becomes less sacred, and less powerful. In the food industry, processed foods may look and smell like their whole counterparts, but hold little to no nutritional value, and so these plastic doodads hold little to no spiritual nutrients either.
For this reason, I have avoided as much plastic as possible on my altar and use herbs and essential oils whenever possible. I’ve all but discontinued the use of pre-made incense and fragrance oils in my practice, and try to avoid buying new things for my altar whenever possible, opting for repurposed or second-hand things instead.
However, now that I have begun working at an occult and witchcraft store I have had to reconsider my position on the matter. It is difficult to do you job (selling products) when you look down your nose at a large selection of them. The most difficult for me was our selection of oils, which are largely synthetic (or a natural/synthetic blend). Oils play a big part in my craft (as I mentioned in this earlier PBP post), and I generally only use essential oils and so I was unsure how to proceed in selling them to others without betraying my values.
My answer came in the form of a silly little one-question ‘survey’ on Tumblr: “After you’ve died, what kind of offering do you want people to leave you?”
The most common responses were things like tea, cake, coffee, and cigarettes or incense. One that was very popular but that I’d never thought of, though it is a traditional offering to the dead, was to ask for perfume! It seems so simple, considering how many of us obsess over scent during our lives and try to find that “one true scent” that will become ours.
With that, I suddenly understood how I could not only justify, but understand using synthetic oils in ritual! If perfume is an acceptable offering for our ancestors and spirits of the dead, despite being synthetic, why couldn’t I use it elsewhere?
Here is my thinking: My problem was that the lavender oil I sell at work would not be a mild anesthetic, would not induce calm, and would not be a natural disinfectant. The oil smells like lavender. That’s it. But, if I want to offer something that smells beautiful to a deity, and not worry about if it will tonify my skin, why not use a beautiful lavender perfume? The naturopathic effects are absent, yes, and inherent magical energy may be lacking, sure, but the oil is a symbol of what I want to achieve and can be programmed with my own energy and my intent.
Obviously I still prefer the idea of using natural ingredients in my spell work, but if I want to offer a perfume to Dionysus of opium, patchouli, hemp, honey, and apples I’d be hard-pressed to find the natural forms of some of those things. But, the perfume I make at work will be handcrafted, tested, and charged with my intent from the very beginning, which I think makes for a powerful offering.
I still recommend avoiding synthetics; little foam doodads, plastic sparkly decorations, paraffin candles (beeswax, good for what ails you!), and copious amounts of synthetic oils. Avoid these things for your own health, and for the health of the planet, certainly. But understand that in magic it is your intent, and in worship it is your respect, that makes the difference. Do what you can, and try to understand your impact on the world, both magically and physically. Your spirituality is entirely unique. It is not a cheap, mass-produced and disposable bobble, so don’t let it be represented strictly by those things!
Do you use synthetics in your ritual practice? Do you think there is grey-space on the subject, or are you more black-and-white about it? Do you think my point of view is still hypocritical? Honestly, let’s discuss this!