I used to be a High Snob™ about gems, crystals, stones, and goods made from them. A man-made opal was for the pretties but if you wanted True Opal Power™, then it had to be a nature-made opal that was likely mined using questionable labor practices at best.
It was all about honoring the natural spirit of that stone, or so I was taught when I first started exploring the worlds of occultism, paganism, and magic. Only Mother Earth could create good things. Mankind (with a particular emphasis on “man“) could only corrupt the good things created by Mother Earth. Therefore it was better to chase that One Perfect Stone than use any constructed simulacrum.
Three things happened that would eventually cause me to examine my relationship with the objects I cared for and/or owned: An old opal pendant became active, my car was replaced, and I bought new earrings.
My opal pendant is lab-created. At the time of its purchase, it was a brilliant example of how far artificial opal creation had come. As I wore it, it fooled many observers into thinking that it was naturally mined, and only those actually in the gem industry recognized the visual tells that announced it as man-made.
When meeting neo-wiccans and witches in person, the first thing they would remark on is how “powerful and energetic” my opal pendant was. Surely it was giving off a field of protection. Or it was giving off a field of love. Or it was attracting good vibes while repelling
cooties bad ones. Positive associations were poured over it until they were told that it is man-made.
Of course they knew that, silly. They were just saying those things to keep from hurting my feelings. As a baby witch, it is common to mistake empty vessels for items of real power. (I do not paraphrase. This was told to me in those words. Aside: I have since learned that the phrase “baby witch” is not a title that should be bestowed, only picked up.)
I ignored them. The pendant was bought to be a pretty, not a tool. Just because I wore it every day doesn’t ascribe anything of significance to it. Until it started ascribing significance to itself.
It would feel unusually heavy around my neck if a situation was about to develop that I needed to remain on high alert for. It would flash different colors in the mirror that would indicate either what mood I was in or if something was going to happen to change that mood. The change of colors would happen even standing still and regardless of what clothes I was wearing or what lighting was available.
I accepted that the pendant had a spirit of its own when I started to notice how other people, wooish or not, would interact with the pendant. Someone wanted to deceive me or otherwise act dishonestly? Their attention would be drawn to the pendant and they would start to speak about it and how bright and aggressively eye-catching it was. Once they were able to pull their attention away from the pendant, they would flub in their attempt to persuade me to agree to something I had no authority to agree to.
Now I actively work with the man-made stone. It knows me and I know it. The time I accidentally broke the chain it felt like I was pulling out one of my eyes as I pulled the pendant to safety. There is a spirit to the stone, but because I shaped it, it is Keri-shaped. And that’s all I thought spirits in man-made objects could be, in the shape of their creator.
Until I replaced my car.
A series of still questionable and quite unpredictable events resulted in the replacement of my eighteen-year-old car with a two-year-old car. As the replacement was originally a rental, the relatively high mileage and interior cosmetic deficiencies worked out to my advantage in keeping the price low. However it still ran like a charm, and the selling agency gave me a great deal on the extended warranty, so I was willing to accept what minor uncovered repair would inevitably appear after I drove it off the lot and got comfortable in it.
By now I am well aware that man-made tools could harbor spirits, such as the items created for use in ceremonial magic, but I still did not think of a man-made item has having a type of spirit of its own. (I know, bad animist.)
The first week I had the car, I had to learn where all the controls were and where best to mount the cell phone holder. The car rode and handled very stiffly as an inanimate object should when being manipulated by an ignorant handler.
The second week I had the car, it handled a little bit better and felt like it was starting to lean with me in the turns. But it still had the feel of a “rental”, in that the seat was only accepting because it is supposed to be. At a stop light, I pushed against the seat and asked the car if it thought I was going to turn it back in at the end of the week. While no physical feedback presented itself, I felt a sense of surprise, as if the car wasn’t sure how to respond to the driver of the month. Perhaps we both imagined the attempt at communication.
The third week, I discovered what the warranty did not cover. The windshield wipers were not working. This required a trip to the dealer which went without any unusual happenings until I turned off the road into the dealership itself.
The car’s engine sagged and almost stalled.
As I sat in line for the next available service agent, the seat felt hard and stiff under me. “You need a check-up, my dear, and your wipers need to be fixed. Once they’re done, we’ll be together again, I promise. You’re my car and I’m your driver, after all. We’re a match pair.”
No response from the car.
Once the work was done and paid for, the car was brought around for me to pick up from the service area. They had washed (at) it, and vacuumed the (already clean) interior, and gave me the keys with a smile. As I sat in the driver’s seat, I again felt the sensation of someone under me being surprised.
“What. I told you that we’d be together. I’m not the driver of the week. We’re a pair. Your tank is at half, what say we go to the gas station and get you filled up then we get me some lunch, eh?”
Despite the seat being in the same position as when I dropped off the car for service, for some reason, the gas pedal felt unusually close, so perhaps it’s just my imagination that the car sped away from the dealership unusually quickly.
As if it was enjoying itself.
Over the next few months, the car became more comfortable to [read: with] me. While I had removed all of the exterior stickers identifying the car has being purchased from a rental agency, I had not replaced the license plate frame. While in line for other purchases, I looked over and saw a variety of vanity and utilitarian license plate frames and wondered if I should replace the last outward marker of the car’s former “life” as a rental car.
Sitting back in the driver’s seat, I relaxed into the chair but did not turn over the engine. If my feelings about the car having an independent spirit of its own was true, there was no time like the present to discover it. Using the same form of trancework as I do for divination, I settled myself and reached out to the car.
It’s difficult to describe the shape of what I touched. It wasn’t Keri-shaped. It wasn’t human-shaped. But it wasn’t shaped the way that cars are generically shaped either. This was contact with something non-human and so I wasn’t able to get a feel for it at all except for one thing.
It was the spirit of the car I was sitting in.
The spirit felt the way the steering wheel does after my hand has warmed it. It felt the way that the raised edge of the faux-chrome on the shifter knob no longer scratches me when I brush against it. It felt the way the car seat would comfort my form when I’m finally leaving from work three hours late at night. It felt familiar. It felt like the relief I had when I thought it was stolen but I was one lane over in the parking lot and I finally saw it right where I left it. It felt like potential motion ready to turn kinetic.
It didn’t feel like something summoned into being by my will to be controlled by my whim. It felt like an intelligence that was here before I got here and at this moment was making the willful decision to not only accept being the spirit of my car, but was also marking me as its driver now that I was aware and accepting of it.
I spent a few minutes, “resting my eyes” in the parking lot, feeling out the way the spirit’s shape shifted and turned despite being perfectly still. I tried to identify what part of the car did the spirit “inhabit”. The answer was that the spirit was the car. Replace the tires and it’s the same. Replace the engine and it’s the same. Replace the entire interior and it’s the same. The only way to change the spirit was to change the car.
Which isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Forgetting completely about the license plate frame, I asked it about the other drivers before me. I received information in a tactile sense. Cigarettes snuffed out on the arm dash and some sort of violent action inside the car that let to the discoloration on the passenger door. I felt suddenly heated as if the engine was stressed beyond acceptable ranges and a stench of angry feels being ground into the steering wheel by drivers who didn’t care if the car was damaged as a result of their driving style and/or outbursts of anger.
“I won’t do that.”
The seat softened under me as if to hold me. I presented the idea of the car having its own “jewelry”, its own decoration now that it wasn’t being held to a corporate homogeneity. About something pretty hanging from the rear view mirror, or some window sticker to identify it as unique. It declined. I presented the idea of changing the license plate holder. It declined, but I had a flash image of the year registration sticker changing color, as if to tell me to ask it again when that event happened.
For now, it just wanted to take me where I wanted to go and be waiting for me to return when I was ready to go someplace else. For all that the mechanical device was capable of, it still needed a driver to be complete because that is how it was made. But now that it had a driver, its own driver, it only wanted to fulfill the reason for its making.
The car just wanted to go and to carry me to wherever I wanted to go and be carried.
A few months later, we had to go back to the dealership. They had replaced the windshield wiper system tubes, but had managed to overlook the cracked tank. (The weather made it so I didn’t need to use the system until then. And yes, I got the work done for free because this was something that should have been checked when I first brought it in.) As the car and I entered the dealership service line, I told it that I was the driver that brought it here and I will be the driver that drives it away.
The feedback from the car was that it had no doubt of that, and we’ll both be fed a good lunch in a few hours.
Since then, entering the car is like taking the hand of a good friend. But it also reminds me of my responsibility to the items in my care, spirit occupied or not. What if the car did not have a spirit. What if it remained silent, inert, and merely mechanical as the previous eighteen-year-old car? Would I be treating it any differently?
I’d still talk [read: murmur] to it, but with no expectation of a response. I’d still keep the tank above half and check the tires once a month and get the oil changed once a quarter. I’d still keep it clean and get mad at myself for dropping french fries on the carpet. I’d still drive to where I needed to go and drive myself home after. It would be my car, after all. I still have to take care of it.
But now I have to think about what are my duties as its driver. All of the above, I’m sure, but what else is there than just being a conscientious vehicle owner/driver?
Listening to it.
The car sings. Of course there is the sound of the motor running, and of course there is the road noise transmitted through the tires, and of course there is a whistle when the winds are blowing at a certain strength and a certain angle relative to the car, but there is a sound that cannot be heard, but can only be felt when the radio is off and there is just the car and me.
The song is easy to understand. It sings of having a driver that listens and of a joy that comes from being used for the purpose of its creation.
And I thought I had learned all I needed to know about man-made spirits until a couple of months ago when I bought new earrings to fit into now healed piercings.
When I pierced my ears a year and a half ago, it was with two specific sets of earrings in mind. (Why did it take me eighteen months to be ready for new earrings? Because I goofed up and had them done at a mall kiosk instead of a tattoo/piercer. I’m lucky to have not fucked up the very ears themselves. I reserve the right to have the cartilage piercing redone at a tattoo parlor because of the method used which would make care for the holes easier in the long run.)
The earrings would have man-made stones for two reasons. One, to stay in budget. Two, to have a pair of blank slates that I could conform to my needs. I already learned from the opal pendant that man-made stones are spiritually “empty”, especially mass market stones and jewelry. And I also learned that as I become more magically/spiritually active, that what I wear on a regular basis is going to attune to me. So why not be deliberate about it.
The choice of gemstones to “install” was not based on any book of correspondences or lists of magical preferences. One set was to keep a promise about wearing the color red and the other set was to complement the opal pendant both appearances and effect.
I expected some wooish weirdness to happen for no other reason than it’s me but otherwise it would simply be a matter of picking up the jewelry and swapping them out for the piercing studs.
I really should know better by now.
They were installed on the same weekend, and that first day, I was too busy being enamored about having completed a plan to notice anything unusual.
The second day, I kept running into things as my physical perception was having difficulty reconciling where I thought my head was to where my head actually is. Did my face get bigger? *checks mirror* No…
The third day, I went outside into the bright afternoon sun and was damn near blinded. Everything was extra sharp and extra clear and extra visible even after I had shielded my eyes with my hands. It was only when I stepped into the sun and felt the new earrings vibrate in the sunlight that I realized what I had done to myself.
The new opal studs were a visual match to the opal pendant. If I had started using the opal pendant as a wooish sensory organ, then it would make sense that the matching opal studs would also function as extensions to the opal pendant. Extra feels, now in stereo.
The new red solitary studs were there to all intents and purposes as a “pretty”. To keep a promise to be wearing something red at all times. The gemstones were small, discreet, man-made, and cheap. I had no expectation of them having any wooish effect on me.
The thing with having something empty is that emptiness can be filled.
The gemstone studs, now a semipermanent installation in my body, were being aligned by my body to whatever-the-hell natural field that I have been walking around with in ignorance. They brought to my attention that my “self” was more than skin-deep, and that my awareness had more potential than just what the eyes in my head were seeing.
After a week of extra, hard to describe information being received about what object I was giving my attention to, I took out the red gem studs for a day to see if there was a change to my perception.
The world looked as it did before I installed the new earrings, which actually made me a little sad. The red gem studs went back in.
After another week, I had adjusted to the increase in perception and found I had a different problem. I had to learn how to pay attention to that increase and process the information it gave me as quickly as possible.
What has that meant for my mundane world? Not very much. A little extra light here, an interesting play of color there, an increase in wanting to find engaging visual art to interact with.
What has that meant for my spiritual world? I hear the birds chattering on the wind in a way that I never really paid attention to before. The match has something to say as the phosphorus ignites but if I don’t listen while it is igniting then I will have missed it. There is something to the dance of incense smoke but it will take more than observation to decrypt it. There is information in the way a given crystal refracts sunlight and the way that same crystal refracts candle flame and the way that same crystal refracts electric light. There is more, but I must make the effort to pay attention to even know what that “more” is.
And it starts by letting go of what I think spirits are shaped like and paying attention to how spirits are.