Magic items

It’s still dark on a snowy, blustery morning in Watertown as my partner and I prepare for our bundled up, mile-long trek from our second-floor house rental to the T bus stop at Waverley Square. “Do you have all of your magic items? Hankie, inhaler, wallet, bus pass, keys?” I ask my partner. (They play Dungeons and Dragons, therefore they possess “magic items.”)

My own commute magic items, over 17 years later? Keys, phone, sunglasses. Those commute magic items are necessities for navigating practical elements of the spaces in-between the house and the office – locking up the house, taking the bus, and paying for coffee. We each have a bucket near the front door where these magic items go, a designated place that doesn’t require deliberate, conscious attention. It’s an attempt to reduce the “has anyone seen my…” questions. You put your stuff down in one specific, consistent location and it’s right there ready to pick up later. People with ADHD are probably familiar with this strategy of making daily life things automatic and automated, freeing up attention for other tasks. 

People carry around spiritual and existential magic items, too. These objects, talismans, and totems might remind them of a meaningful experience, an influential person, a community value, or a personal strength. My tattoos are like that; the two on my non-dominant arm (peacock and turtle) are reminders of the protections I can call upon, while the two on my dominant arm (crabapple blossoms and Artemis symbol) are reminders of my inherent traits as strengths. On my bookshelf, I have a jar of conch shells collected from Tybee Island that reminds me of the calm and presence that I have when I’m there. I had the honor of witnessing graduate students’ magic items when I facilitated get-to-know-us activities in teaching and learning workshops. I asked participants to share in small groups something from their backpack that represents a value they have as a teacher. They often shared a keychain, a patch, a beautiful stone, or a small gift a student had given them. Those objects had magical abilities to resonate with all of us about love, care, belonging, and connection.

The inside of a right forearm. A bow and arrow with a blue feather. There's a blue crescent moon around the bow. The tattoo is new, the arm is reddened
Artemis tattoo

We’re making magic items in glass class. I now have a globe, a bowl, and a cup that I have made out of glass. What makes them magic? They remind me of the courage, vulnerability, independence, and interdependence I bring to trying something new and difficult with a joyful community of people. The globe, bowl, and cup touch on witchcraft, alchemy, and magic to me in that they hold my memories, emotions, sensations, and transformations. Bewitched. Infused. Imbued. Charmed. Members of the class know the glass pieces are powerful to the owner; we don’t touch another person’s pieces without invitation and we behold them with respect. 

My mutually self-adopted sibling recently shared a story about gifting his beloved trumpet to his nephew. He told me about the bittersweet feelings: the joy of giving his blood-relation the gift of music and musical experiences; at the same time, the grief in mailing a treasured item away. “There are so many of my high school memories and feelings attached to that trumpet.” The trumpet was one of his magic items, a source of strength and empowerment. And then he said something that caught my breath. “Now my nephew gets to make his own memories with it.” Right. My self-adopted sibling, in preparing to mail his trumpet, internalized the magic from the instrument, clearing the way for his nephew to imbue it with his own magic. His story reminded me that my glass class magic items will never have the same meaning, value, or power to another person as they have to me.

I have a childhood memory of owning a “Barbie suitcase.” It was a small case that could hold two Barbies and clothes, shoes, and accessories. I had A LOT of Barbies as a kid. Whenever we traveled to my grandparents’ houses or went on a road trip, I chose two dolls and appropriate outfits for the occasion. As we neared our destination, I made sure the Barbies were properly dressed to greet my grandparents. The Barbie suitcase held the objects that mattered to me at that age and that I tended carefully. Its magic feels like tenderness, serenity, innocence, play, care, and reverence. 

A vinyl case with a black handle on top. On the front is a large pink label that says, "Golden Dream Barbie, Fashion Doll Trunk." There are two blonde-haired Barbies on the cover, both wearing gold party outfits

My friend-colleague in the teaching center reminded me that we were already aware of this power of sacred objects. We worked with faculty from the Institute for American Indian Arts and tribal colleges to develop college-level curricula for teaching about the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. We saw firsthand how indigenous museum curators give regular care to containers, vessels, and objects alive with spiritual energy. That power of the sacred object is in the mainstream for followers of Reservation Dogs (Hulu). In the episode “Offering” in season two, the letter of a deceased friend brings together a group of estranged friends around a shared goal.

What kinds of power, meaning, magic, medicine, reverence, mourning, gratitude do these objects hold? 

  • Experiences
  • Preferences
  • Interests
  • Values
  • Fears
  • Dreams
  • Calming
  • Wisdom
  • Ancestors
  • Community
  • Life

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