Holy crap! On the proper disposal of magickal trash

Posted by Michelle Gruben on

Holy crap! On the proper disposal of magickal trash

The candles have been extinguished, the circle opened, and the spell completed.  But what do with the leftover stuff

You probably know how easy it is to get saddled with ritual debris: candle stubs, bits of fabric and string, bottles, bags, and written spells.  Though no longer useful, these items once held great meaning.  Just throwing them away seems inappropriate.   But keeping them around can stunt your magic and clutter up your house.  In this article, we'll consider ways of ethically, safely, and effectively disposing of the physical remnants of spellwork.

Ritual items

Re-using ritual items

Some ritual items are suitable for re-use, and others are less so. Never absolutists, we'll help you sort your magickal junk into "usually," "rarely" and "sometimes" re-usable.

Usually re-usable: Generally, stones, crystals and metal charms can be cleansed and re-activated for another purpose.  (Don't throw out that Quartz point--your little ritual was just a blip in its million-year existence!)  Your consecrated altar tools, obviously, are also fine to use again and again.  The exception is when an item is so tied in your mind to a particular working that using it in a future one would distract you.  (We'll cover the cleansing of ritual objects in a later post.)

Rarely re-usable: Most consumable organic matter belongs firmly in the "throw out" category.  Oils, herbs and food are considered to have passed all their energy to the present working, and are not usually recycled.  Ashes and paper rarely serve any useful purpose after the spellwork is complete.  Offerings to spirits or deities are never re-used under normal circumstances, as doing so might offer insult to the receiving entities.

Sometimes re-usable: The recycling of candles, spell bags, bottles, poppets, and so on is really up to the individual practitioner.  Conventional wisdom states that once dedicated to a certain purpose, these items are spent.  But many a thrifty old Witch has been known to melt down leftover candle wax, or re-baptize a voodoo doll (perhaps with a new hairdo). Ultimately, the answer to this question comes down to your gut, your budget and the rules of your personal practice.

Evaluate your trash

Once you've determined that it needs to go, it's time to take a good hard look at your garbage. Consider its size and content.  Is it biodegradable?  (And if so, how long would it take for it to decompose completely?) Could your trash harm someone--physically, emotionally, or psychically--if they were to run across it? The answers to these questions may rule out some methods and locations for disposal.

Obviously, some types of juju are easier to get rid of than others.  Water, herbs, ash (and the like) can usually be given to Nature--scattered or left respectfully outdoors.  Bone, cloth, wax, and plastic can stick around for months or years, and require a bit more effort to release. But if the remnants of your ritual are toxic, sharp, biohazardous, energetically icky, or personally identifying, take extra care.  You want this stuff banished permanently, where it won't come back to haunt you, literally or figuratively.

Near or far?

Finally, you may want to consider where, geographically speaking, you want your stuff to end up.  Witches who own real estate often prefer to keep magickal remnants on their own property--even building up a "spell graveyard" over time.  This anchors the energy in a familiar place and usually ensures that it won't fall into the hands of outsiders.

However, there are times when it may be more suitable to leave leftovers in a distant location. Say you did a working to excise an awful person permanently from your life, burning their photo and sealing the ashes in a bottle.  Would you really want that garbage in your backyard? Subconsciously, you might feel that part of that person was still lurking around. It would likely be much more satisfying to drive it to some godforsaken lot on the edge of town, and never go back there.

You may wish to take your sacred trash to a place connected with your Gods and ancestors, or that is significant to you in another way.  You may also not have a place at home to properly dispose of it. There are lots of options--just refrain from polluting or trespassing on private property.

Disposal by Earth

A tried-and-true method for sealing a working is to bury its components in the ground.  If you live in an urban environment and don't have access to open soil, a flowerbed or potted plant is the next best thing.  

Our wonderful Earth eventually absorbs and recycles everything--energy and matter.  A "dirt nap" is arguably the best method for anything that carries negative or erratic energy.  Earth is really the only proper way to dispose of stubborn or potentially hazardous materials.  Bury it and meditate on its transformation.  Graveyards are a traditional place to leave magickally charged trash--but get permission from the site's guardians first.  In gratitude for taking your rubbish, you may also want to leave a small token for presiding spirits and Fae.

If you can feel ley lines or geomantic energies, you'll find that placement of your garbage can make a subtle difference. In general, active spots will disperse concentrated energy more quickly, but can have other, unpredictable effects. Play with it!

So while we're on the topic of Earth...what's wrong with putting spell ingredients in the regular trash? If it winds up in a landfill, how is that any different, really, than burying it yourself? This is just the kind of marvelous, irreverent question that I love to be asked.

One of the tenets of my Pagan religion is that "there is no unsacred space."  So yes, the kitchen wastebasket is sacred, too! The problem arises when it is done without ritual.  Ritual creates focus, and focus is essential to magick. 

Your subconscious recognizes an end to the working when you bury your items with ceremony, but glosses over it when you toss them out with your half-eaten hoagie and bus pass.  In your deep mind, it's not really over.  If you must dump your stuff in a regular trash can, take a moment to visualize yourself consigning it to the Earth, the same as you would if you were burying it with a shovel or spade.

Disposal by Air

The element of Air contributes a lot to magick--fresh ideas, wisdom, and adaptability.  But when it comes to clearing away the physical detritus of spellwork, Air just doesn't pull its weight.  It's best used for small amounts of ashes, salt and herbs.  Gather these up and scatter them, visualizing them blown to the corners of the world by the Four Winds. Clap your hands, wiggle your nose, and be done with it.

Disposal by Water

Water, especially deep or running water, is a wonderful way to release the pent-up energy in your ritual objects.  Sometimes gently, sometimes dramatically--water absorbs, transports and changes all that is given to it.  A water burial is especially suited to items used in the magick of transformation or healing. Moving water will carry an object far beyond its starting place, so it's also a place to cast symbols of your wishes and dreams.  (Weight anything that you want to stay submerged. Debris released to the sea may eventually wash ashore, so consider that, too.)

What about the toilet? asks the irreverent Witch.  Can't I just flush it down the potty?  Like the garbage can, using it offends some people's fanciful aesthetics. The toilet is just too mundane to be a "real" magickal tool.

Personally, I advocate the use of toilet water--especially for banishing magic. Hearing the "fwoosh" of the toilet is a powerful sensory trigger as you flush that "crap" out of your life!

Disposal by Fire

Fire is excellent for creating a very clean and permanent break with your ritual junk.  There is no retrieving or reconstructing items given to Fire.

A balefire (from the Old English word for "funeral fire") is a ritual fire prepared for the purpose of disposing of old mementos and ritual items.  Many Pagans elect to make a balefire annually at Samhain, either alone or with a group.  You can collect castoffs throughout the year, keep them in an energetically sealed box, and burn them all at once.  For added closure, bury the ashes once the fire has cooled.

As powerful as Fire is, there are always some caveats: Nothing plastic should be burned around people, ever, because of the fumes. (Same goes for polyester and nylon.) Items with trapped air (such as bottles) can burst if you're not careful.  Hair and horn are fine to burn, but smell nasty, so good ventilation is recommended.  Also, Fire disposal is not recommended for haunted, cursed, or "possessed" objects--or anything with really, really bad vibes. The sudden destruction by flame can cause this energy to be released and dispersed in a sudden and unpredictable way.  Cleanse the object properly and bury it instead.

Cleaning up is often the final step of magickal work, so it shouldn't be an afterthought.  The careful and reverent release of items that have served you will result in a strong conclusion to your magick.

If you found this info helpful, please check out our other articles!


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