This post is part of a Strategic Sorcery blog hop on the topic of magical links.
My initial explorations of the magic of soil were typical enough.
Five years old, sitting in the sandbox with my brother, we decided to have a sand eating contest. I only got one spoonful down before I gagged, but I was fascinated with the consistency. Wet sand grabs on to anything. Even your insides. To my brother’s credit, he managed to eat a couple handfuls, which he immediately vomited up.
Ten years old, playing in the parking lot behind our apartment building, we mixed up a terrible concoction in a pothole and called it “Jeff’s Dinner.” Jeff was the neighborhood bully. We started with dirt from the yard, gravel from the parking lot, grass and garbage, but we needed liquid to mix it together. A little kid saved the day when he ran into his apartment and came back with several half empty brown bottles, shouting, “My dad’s beer!” After stirring with sticks to reach a glorious gloppy consistency, we piled it neatly behind a car’s exhaust pipe where we were sure the fumes would coat it. When we came back a few days later to check on Jeff’s Dinner, we were amazed that it was rock hard. We had created a rough approximation of concrete. We spent the rest of the summer unsuccessfully trying to hack it apart with sticks. Sometimes when you make things with dirt, they’re really hard to take apart.
Several years ago I went to a university surplus sale looking for some office supplies. To my surprise, the chemistry department was offloading glassware, microscopes, slides, and other items. This was early in my magical exploration years, and I didn’t see any immediate use for the cool, alchemical-looking retorts and graduated cylinders. However, I couldn’t resist a box of test tubes with caps, which promptly landed on a shelf of craft supplies where they were forgotten. They reminded me of my elementary school dream of becoming a mad scientist.
Fast forward a few months to when I was setting out to visit my grandparents in another state. I wanted to gather some soil from beside their house so I could have it on hand for future family/ancestral workings. Digging through the kitchen cupboards, I wanted something smaller than a plastic lunch container (gotta try to be discreet, after all) and sturdier than a ziploc bag. That’s when I remembered the test tubes! I grabbed a couple and put them in my pocket. The secret soil sampling went perfectly, and I was hooked. Since then I’ve gathered soil from various homes and locations that are important to my family, as well as from banks, beaches, landmarks, and graves of famous people. If I’m going somewhere that just may present interesting or useful soil, I throw a couple test tubes in my purse (along with some change if I’ll be going to a grave).
Over the last few years I’ve become known as a dirt collector, which isn’t too hard for my nonmagical family to grok since I have a botanist parent who has suitcases full of pressed plants and boxes full of skulls. The glaring difference is my liberal arts education with nary a geology class in sight, but they’re mainly business majors and engineers who tend to lump anything vaguely science-y into one category. Take a moment to enjoy the irony of a mechanical engineer pointing to an occultist and saying, “She’s into science.” People see what they expect to see.
Now my cousins even bring me plastic water bottles of dirt or sand from places they’ve visited, chuckling that they get to contribute to my quirky hobby. Collecting dirt from places you’re traveling anyway saves running around, and then when you’re putting together a spell you can look through your inventory for what will work, instead of going, “Dirt from a soldier’s grave? There goes my afternoon.”
Becoming known within your circle of acquaintances as someone who collects a certain souvenir has its advantages too. If you know someone who collects postcards, magnets, or souvenir spoons, you might pick one up for them when you’re on vacation. Dirt is unusual enough that traveling friends like to contribute. (Well, unusual as an item to collect. Obviously the stuff’s ubiquitous.) You can easily get sand from the beaches of various oceans and lakes, soil from near state capitol buildings, famous statues and landmarks, and from wonderful natural sites such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park, from friends and family members who like to be generous. This does bring me to a piece of cautionary advice regarding offerings, though.
Depending on your sensibilities, you may not want to take soil from natural power spots without making an offering. However, if someone unexpectedly brings you soil from, say, the Badlands in South Dakota, you could still do an offering ceremony at home using as a link the very soil you were given. I never ask others to collect grave dirt for me; my nonmagical friends would be weirded out and there’s no way I’d trust that they offered proper payment, even if instructed. If the dirt is from somewhere that requires payment, you’re better off getting it yourself and making sure it’s done right, even if that means biting your tongue when your little brother goes to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery.
As your sample collection grows, you will find yourself working soil into spells you might not otherwise have used it in. The most common soils I see called for in spells are dirt from banks, from crossroads, and from graves from soldiers or ancestors (or other certain types/professions of people). Using soil in spell recipes is a little like cooking; once you’re familiar with an herb or spice, you start to notice other recipes that would benefit from its addition. Here’s a short list of lesser used dirts and applications to get you started. As much as I love crossroads dirt, it’s nice to branch out.
- From near a legislature building to promote dialogue and working together
- From a newspaper office or post office to aid the spread of an idea
- From a hospital for healing (use due diligence and check out the success rate of that particular hospital for the illness you’re dealing with)
- From an outdoor art sculpture for artistic talent and ideas
- From a sports arena for athletic ability or for winning a contest that involves skill (again, pick a team that doesn’t objectively suck)
- From a hotel or airport to increase opportunity for travel
- From a river bank for releasing of ideas/relationships/etc.
- From Graceland if you’re trying to get arrested