The Well-Stocked Magical Cupboard by Ember Grant
The idea of a Witch’s cupboard is the subject of many imaginative and artistic representations—old wooden shelves overflowing with ancient, dusty books and ornate bottles with peeling labels, adorned with spider webs and accented by skulls, bubbling cauldrons, strange objects floating in liquid, eye of newt, wing of bat, and so on—hardly (usually) what our real cupboards look like. It’s right out of the Halloween apothecary decor aisle at your local department store. Of course, if that’s the look you want, go for it. I love finding old, decorative bottles for storage and making my own labels. But perhaps we should avoid the dust and cobwebs and keep our cupboards clean (and somewhat organized). When it comes to the real practice of our Craft, we need practical storage and a ready supply of ingredients for our spells.
Planning Your Cupboard
When creating your own magical cupboard, there are some organizational strategies to keep in mind. If your magical items and spell ingredients are scattered or disorganized, your magic may become that way as well. Even if you already have a well-stocked cupboard, maintenance is always essential. You may even need to keep a formal inventory if you have a large storage space. Whatever your situation, here are some guidelines to assist you in planning and stocking your cupboard.
First, consider if your magical cupboard will simply store herbs and spices or contain all your magical items, such as tools, candles, etc. Of course, the space you have allotted and the size of your cupboard may determine this. And speaking of that, what will you use as a cupboard? Do you already have an empty cabinet? Do you need to buy one or can you repurpose something you already own? Size and space will naturally dictate how and what you store. Some people are lucky enough to devote an entire room of their home or an entire basement or attic to their Craft; others must be content with the corner of a room or a closet.
Personally, I keep nearly everything I need in one large cabinet—an old entertainment center that has a closed storage space in the bottom, an open area for books in the middle (I just keep handy reference guides here), and a space with glass doors on top to hold my jars and bottles. I still need a separate space for all my candles and holders (of which I have an excessive quantity, since I make candles), but this unit works well for everything else. It even has a lighted shelf that serves as a mini altar. In addition, I do keep a small storage ottoman for objects that I only use a few times a year. Furniture with built-in storage is great for small spaces. Look for storage benches and coffee tables that also keep your supplies hidden from view.
If you prefer a cabinet with doors, you can use a free-standing pantry, china hutch, or armoire—check resale shops. Otherwise, a simple bookcase may do the trick. Other options include chests, trunks, and stackable storage containers and shelves that hold baskets. You need to be comfortable with your choice and its location in your home. Equally important, it should be convenient and not be a hassle every time you need to use it.
Now that you have a cabinet, what do you put in it? Let’s start with herbs and spices. I keep my magical ingredients separate from the ones I cook with. This just makes things easier. It’s also more convenient and safe. I know that anything in my kitchen is safe to eat, and if I’m doing kitchen magic, I keep those herbs there. Things in the magical cabinet may even be poisonous (for example, my dried foxglove flowers).
Next, consider containers. Again, you can repurpose. And if you’re not going to mix your edibles and nonedibles, the type of container won’t matter (some containers are not suitable for food storage). You can use old jars from candles, spices, jams, etc. Glass is typically the best choice. If you use clear glass, be sure to keep your items stored out of direct sunlight. This will help extend the life of your herbs. And be sure to dry fresh herbs completely before storage. You can also dry slices of fruit, like oranges, lemons, and apples. Don’t forget to clearly label everything. If you have lots of jars, organize them on a spice rack.
Speaking of storage, how long should you keep your ingredients? That depends. Unlike cooking herbs, it’s probably okay if you keep these a bit longer. However, I recommend replacing them after a year or so. There are some exceptions. For example, I grow many herbs in my garden, and so I replace my stock each year. But some items, like dried rose petals and thorns, I keep indefinitely. Salt will keep a long time as well, and so will items like acorns and leaves. Still, it’s a good idea to examine all your supplies regularly just to make sure something hasn’t spoiled.
Herbs and Spices
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options—like the thousands of plants listed in herbal encyclopedias—start small with basic culinary herbs and spices. These are easy to obtain or grow, and they’re inexpensive. I’ve included some suggestions here, but undoubtedly others will come to mind that you consider essential. This is a basic start-up list that covers a wide range of uses. Add as many more as you wish to your cupboard. For more information on the metaphysical properties of plants, I recommend Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs.
Try basil (love, prosperity, and exorcism), bay leaves (protection, purification, psychic powers, healing, and strength), catnip (beauty, love, happiness, and cat magic), chili pepper (love, fidelity, and breaking hexes), clover (protection, wealth, success, love, fidelity, and exorcism), daisy (love and lust), dandelion (divination, summoning spirits, and wish fulfillment), dill (protection, money, and passion), lavender (love, chastity, protection, sleep, longevity, and happiness), peppermint (purification, love, sleep, healing, and psychic powers), rosemary (protection, passion, intelligence, exorcism, healing, sleep, and youthfulness), sage (longevity, wisdom, protection, and wish fulfillment), and thyme (healing, sleep, psychic powers, purification, love, and courage).
I recommend cinnamon (success, spirituality, healing, psychic powers, passion, and protection), cloves (protection, love, exorcism, and wealth), ginger (love, power, success, and money), and, of course, salt.
Flowers, Foliage Plants, and Trees
Most Witches enjoy working with plants and flowers in magic and ritual, and many tend their own gardens. Again, this depends on your personal space. I do recommend always having roses on hand, even if you simply buy some long-stemmed roses from a shop and dry them. Save the petals, leaves, and stems with thorns. In addition, if you can, try to grow plants native to your specific location. Trees, too, will depend on where you live and what’s available to you. Of course, many supplies can be purchased online. These lists, again, cover popular plants that are relatively easy to find or grow.
Flowers and Foliage Plants
Stock foxglove (protection; foxglove is poisonous, so snapdragons are a good nontoxic alternative), geranium (fertility, love, health, and protection), holly (protection, luck, and dream magic), ivy (healing and protection), lilac (exorcism and protection), marigold (protection, legal matters, psychic powers, and dream magic), rose (psychic powers, love and love divination, protection, healing, and good fortune), violet (wish fulfillment, good fortune, healing, love/passion, and protection), wormwood (psychic powers, protection, love, and summoning spirits; wormwood is poisonous), and yarrow (love, courage, psychic powers, and exorcism).
Try cedar (purification, money, healing, and protection), elder (exorcism, protection, healing, prosperity, and sleep), hickory (legal matters), maple (love, longevity, and wealth), oak (protection, money, health, luck, and fertility), pine (protection, exorcism, healing, money, and fertility), and walnut (health, mental powers, wishes, and infertility).
Depending on where you live, always keep your eyes open for “collectibles.” These are things you find in your yard or in public areas. When collecting, be sure to get permission first, if necessary. Items to look for include feathers, shells, nuts, seeds, leaves, pine cones, stones, acorns, and even broken egg shells from birds’ nests—these are wonderful for fertility and spring rituals. These gifts from nature should always be found naturally and never taken from a protected area or a living creature. The only exception would be taking a small plant cutting; be sure to thank the plant.
What else should you store in your cabinet? Random things you find interesting, even if you’re not sure when or how (or why) you would use them, and special items you find in metaphysical shops or festivals. It’s also good to have items related to the elements: feathers to represent air, for example, and nuts and seeds for earth. If you like to practice cat magic, save naturally shed cat claws or whiskers. And speaking of naturally shed animal items, look for snake skins, antlers, and so on. If you purchase something, always try to be knowledgeable about how the item was obtained. Be prepared for all situations and seasonal celebrations or rituals. Keep your tools and altar cloths handy as well, along with your book of shadows and other reference materials.
Here’s a list of other items in my magical cupboard: essential oils, incense (dried woods and resins, sage wand), fossilized mammoth tusks (purchased at a gift shop in Seattle), graveyard dirt (respectfully collected by someone I know), spring water (collected locally myself), fossils (part of my stone and crystal collection), mini-cauldrons, assorted statues, mortar and pestle, tarot cards, and all my ritual tools. I also save scraps of leather and ribbons and pieces of fabric for making bundles. Of course, I keep my collection of crystals and stones nearby—this is another topic entirely.
You can certainly have that mystical cabinet with the ornate and mysterious bottles if you desire. Your magical cupboard should reflect your personality. Whether you keep it secret, keep it purely functional, or want it to be the classic Witch’s apothecary, make it special, make it beautiful—make it magical. Ultimately, the contents, and how you use them, are what matters most.