(RNS) — Ali Marie has long felt unconnected to the Valentine’s Day displays that bloomed each February at her local supermarket in Long Island City, across the East River from Manhattan. The candy-and-flowers tradition was more likely to fill Marie, 41 and single, with dread.
But this February Marie will breeze past the heart-shaped frills with a sense of promise. Instead of leaving her love life in the hands of fate, she has joined a growing number of Americans turning to magic to find true love. Ali will soon be casting her first love spell — and she’s hitting the grocery store to do it.
Her shopping list calls for very few items: basil, sprigs of rosemary and two apples. Among basil’s magical properties is the herb’s ability to enhance abundance. Rosemary ignites passion, while apples, a traditional offering to the goddess Aphrodite, promote fertility.
Her recipe, the result of months of research, instructs her to light a red candle before placing the basil and rosemary into a flannel pouch along with a rose quartz crystal and a drop of honey. The charm, often referred to as a “mojo bag,” goes into her purse. Then she’ll eat one apple and plant the seeds of the other in fertile ground.
As those seeds germinate, she believes, so, too, will the intentions of her spell. Though not a witch, Ali considers magic complementary to her own spiritual path.
“I’ve never done a love spell, but I have a gut feeling that I’ll benefit from doing one,” she explained. “Finding true love is something I’ve been working on for a long time, and a love spell seems like a great way to make it happen. Meditating, concentrating, setting my intention — it just makes sense to me.”
Though magic is a cornerstone of modern-day witchcraft, many of those who practice it today are not devotees of Wicca, the religion brought to public light and popularized in the 1950s by a British civil servant named Gerald Gardner. Many, like Marie, are seeking positive change in their lives without turning to dogma or traditional Judeo-Christian belief systems.
Magic, commonly defined as “the ability to change consciousness at will,” fits the bill. Behind magic is a philosophy that encourages individuals to recognize their own innate divinity and better understand the relationship between nature and the mind.
In 2014, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center placed the number of neo-pagans in America at around 1.5 million. Since then, sales of books, online tutorials and magic-in-a-box subscriptions like Goddess Provisions and The Witches Moon have exploded.
The act of casting a spell, meanwhile, has become a mainstream spiritual practice. That’s good news for those seeking new ways to bring love into their lives this Valentine’s Day: When it comes to love, there’s no shortage of magical inventory.
“Love spells are among the most common kinds of spells found among English-speaking witches and pagans,” said University of Bristol professor Ronald Hutton, author of “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft.”
“There was always a spectrum of magic, since ancient Egypt, from elaborate and ceremonial procedures heavy on equipment, to simple spells and charms,” he explained. “The latter have not changed much in modern times, save that certain components such as animal and human body parts and substances have become disapproved of.”
The more elaborate ceremonies have changed as well, shifting in emphasis from tasks such as controlling spirits to attempts to make the magician “wiser, more effective and more in harmony with the cosmos itself,” Hutton said.
So what, exactly, is a spell? The answer is as compelling as it is practical.
“Spells and prayers have much in common,” said Leanne Marrama, co-author of Reading the Leaves: An Intuitive Guide to the Ancient Art and Modern Magic of Tea Leaf Divination and co-owner of Pentagram Shoppe in Salem, Massachusetts. “The difference is that a spell is focused intent. Prayer is like a light bulb. It’s a form of light, and it shines its blessings everywhere. A spell, however, is like a laser beam. It can cut through steel and any other obstacles and get right to the heart of the matter. Spells are about concentrating on your will.”
Marrama works with a diversified clientele, but many are seeking love spells. She encourages them to call on the planet Venus to build confidence, beauty and abundance so that love will come to them naturally.
But she reminds her clients that spells can’t command love. “No matter how many spells we cast, we cannot change a person or force someone to love us the way we love them,” she said. “Love is work. Love is transforming. A love spell creates opportunity for love, but it is an individual’s responsibility to create an environment where love can grow.”
That environment doesn’t always refer to the union between two people. Love spells are multifaceted and often extend far beyond the desire to find a mate. Lilith Dorsey, a professional psychic who holds initiations in Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo and Santeria, offers witches and non-witches alike practices to aid in healing, removing jealousy and cultivating self-love.
“You can do spell work to improve love and relationships in your family or for anyone you care about,” explained Dorsey, the author of “Love Magic: 250 Spells and Potions for Getting it, Keeping it, and Making it Last.” “There are even spells in my book to improve the bond you have with your animals because they give us so much love.”
With speed dating, blind dates and app-based hookups quashed by the pandemic, love spells might provide a viable avenue — if they work.
Marrama suggests that they do, even if they are not the immediate fix you might find on Tinder.
“Maybe 20-plus years ago, I did a love spell for myself,” she explained. “Honestly, I was new to witchcraft and didn’t know what I wanted, but I wrote out all that I wanted in a person. I used two candles, green and pink. I burned rose petals. I was very lonely at the time. This was when I met some of my closest friends, who connected me to my current partner of 13 years.
“So you see — spell work is magic, and magic opens the road to create opportunities.”