In Which We Test the Basic Witches Modern Spellbook

Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman have collaborated on the perfect book for our times: Basic Witches: How to Summon Success, Banish Drama, and Raise Hell with Your Coven. It sounds silly, right? But it’s a great guide to useful everyday spellcraft like “How to Clothe Yourself in Literal Darkness,” “A Spell to Ditch Friend Envy,” and “A Spell for Embracing Failure.” And just when you think it’s a fluffy novelty book, you try one of the spells and discover that they’re actually helpful? And that you feel better after working them? It’s pretty cool.

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A Ritual for a Relaxing Netflix Binge

I had just been to a friend’s reading. Readings fill me with a combination of joy, trepidation, social anxiety, giddiness—I love hearing people read, I love discovering new writers, but then there’s that part where you have to talk to people and I tend to think I either come on too strong or go braindead at the most inopportune moments. So when I got home for my Netflix binge, I decided to process those emotions. I sat under my blanket, breathing deeply and thinking about the people I met and the stories I heard. Why was I anxious? I had friends there, people who were excited to share their words. I didn’t do anything socially egregious. I breathed in and breathed out my worries, and remembered the faces of friend I’d seen. I took a bite of my all natural Cheetos. I flipped through newly-added things on Netflix, and finally chose Cloud Atlas. I saw it in the theater, but I’ve been on a David Mitchell kick anyway, and I thought that movie, adapted from such a masterpiece with its attention to the giant themes of the book, would knock me out of my petty worries. I ate another Cheeto. I began the film. —Leah

A Personal Exorcism Spell

Initially I had planned on casting the spell ahead of last weekend, as I had two play readings I had scrambled to throw together in limited time and I was freaking out about both. But so much running around for 48 hours meant I wasn’t home except to sleep; furthermore, all that adrenaline kept my emotions running high. It was Monday morning, the crash after the excitement had dissipated, when I really needed to exorcise the demon in my head—the voice murmuring you wasted everyone’s time by not turning in a better draft and everyone was just being nice to you. These are unfortunately very familiar refrains, many of which I’ve spoken aloud before in attempts to harness my anxieties and demystify them, a strategy which usually just ends up in me attacking myself verbally instead of silently. But I’d never tried writing them down and then burning them—over an open flame on my stove, very New York—into ash. It felt so cathartic to mark myself with the ashes and say the spell (You hold no powerYou are not welcomeI am not what you say I am) that I wrote those words down in my day planner as a reminder. —Natalie

A Ritual For When the Crystal Ball is Dark

I latched onto this ritual because it promised to help me shrug off my existential dread over the future. This has been a year full of waffling and uncertainty on my end, with too many new variables and not enough time to properly sit down and make arrangements. A relative asked me if I had a “five-year plan” a few months back and I almost went Doomsday on everyone at the lunch table. So over the weekend, I stood at my kitchen counter with a candle and a coin (I used one that I brought it back from a recent trip to Iceland, thinking that the ritual coin should somehow be special-er than a typical U.S. quarter, don’t ask me why) and began. After lighting the candle and spinning the coin in front of the flame, then reciting an affirming rhyme, my head felt clearer. Then I did as instructed and slept with the coin tucked under my pillow for a night. It was a useful reminder that not knowing what’s coming up is an acceptable state of being, and I got to light a Harry Potter-themed candle that I received as a gift from friends as a bonus. The coin had a crab on it, which seemed metaphorically significant. Get out of my brain, crab. Let me live in this odd middle-place. —Emily

A Spell for Self-Care

I changed my mind about which spell I wanted to do for … longer than I want to admit. A Spell to Counter Imposter Syndrome seemed perfect, but then I just. couldn’t. do it. And that resistance in itself was a kind of magic: a revealing of sorts, a sign that there’s something there I need to deal with.

But later. For now, I started simple: the spell for self-care, which involves visualizing your ideal self, and a symbol, and putting that symbol on something you use every day. It turns something as ordinary as a tube of lip balm into a talisman, a reminder: you might not feel like the best version of yourself all the time, but she’s still in there. I tried to imagine a multifaceted version of myself—not just the outside, but the way I feel when I’ve just done something I needed and wanted to do, like writing a thousand words in an hour. Imaginary me is really good at getting her work done, is totally going to finish her book, and doesn’t care about patriarchal beauty standards but would still like to feel good about the way she looks. Real me felt unexpectedly vulnerable drawing a little symbol and sticking it on a tube of Burt’s Bees, but you know what? I feel a little different. I needed the ritual, small as it was, to remind me that it’s okay, necessary even, to think about who I want to be in that way. —Molly

 * * *

And really, that’s the appeal of Basic Witches in a nutshell. It’s not going to tell you how to turn invisible, or use positive thinking to bring yourself everything you ever want in life. What Saxena and Zimmerman created is a fun, thoughtful, and sometimes very funny way to use rituals to take care of yourself, to create reminders of the way you want to move through the world. Its advice and spells and really endearing list of familiars add up to something simple but so necessary: a new way of thinking about being kind to yourself.

Magic, indeed.

Basic Witches is available now from Quirk Books.

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