I have in my possession a small bag of magical tools.  I made it nearly ten years ago and I rebuild its contents on a semi-annual basis.  Occasionally I bring it with me when I feel I need to go into a situation “armed for bear”, so to speak, but for the most part I leave it at home.  It is linked to me in such a way that I am able to call on the virtues of the tools it contains from any distance, and so I do not really need to have it on my person.  A few years back I was going through a very rough time in my life for reasons that I won’t get into here.  I started carrying my bag of spiritual tools with me all the time because I needed its presence there as a reminder that I was strong enough to get through the problems that were facing me.

Two years later, when I had made it through those troubles and been strengthened by them and my life was looking much better all around, I no longer carried my bag with me.  I made regular offerings to the gods and spirits that work with me, I was deepening my interaction with my own ancestors and incorporating the ancestors of my partner into that practice, I was studying new forms of magic, I was learning about local trees and herbs, I had embarked on a new spiritual path, and I was even learning a new language specifically to study some magical texts that were not available in english.  But these were things I largely did in private, or at least didn’t broadcast.  And I no longer had my bag at my side.  So imagine my surprise and bemusement when, at a time when my practice was more vitalized than it had been in years, I was told by fellow spiritual workers that I needed to rebuild my practice.

Fast-forward a few months, and a new set of problems had cropped up in my life that took up much of my time and attention.  My offerings had become irregular.  My studies had greatly diminished.  But I had my bag with me.   So things had clearly gotten better.

You might think that those of us who walk occult or spiritual paths would understand the difference between form and substance in matters like these.  That there is more to a person than just what meets the eye, and that appearances can be deceiving.  After all, our work concerns itself so much with the intangibles of essence, virtue, and spirit.  But I find that’s often not the case.

A few months ago myself and a (former) friend who considers himself a spirit-worker were driving up to an occult convention several states away.  Along the way we stopped at a highway rest stop for some food and drinks.  My then-friend looked disdainfully at the other people who had stopped there and began an extensive commentary about the “Muggle-ass Bitches” he saw.  This commentary continued for most of the way up, every time we saw a group of people who appeared ordinary–even though my own attire had more in common with them than with him.

Nor did this commentary stop when we reached the convention itself.  In a hotel full of occultists, I continued to hear at length about how he was surrounded by “Muggle-ass bitches”.  Apparently occultists need to dress a certain way, outside the norm, in order to be taken seriously?  The high point of the evening was when we headed outside for folks to grab a smoke, and he starts to rant about the “Muggle-ass looking bitches” he sees outside the doors we’re approaching.  I couldn’t have laughed harder than I did when the doors opened and we found the group outside the doors were our own friends and fellow spirit-workers who were also attending the convention.

But now, thinking back on it, it doesn’t seem as funny.  Shouldn’t spirituality be about more than mere costume?  Shouldn’t occultism be less about how one dresses, accessorizes, and applies makeup and more about what one knows and what one can do?  How many of those “muggles” we passed on the drive from Virginia to New Jersey had a richer, deeper, and more powerful spiritual practice than the one who was criticizing them?  I’d wager at least a few.

Of course, none of these observations are confined to those I know personally.  My partner touched on this a bit in his recent post, On Being Feral, when he talked about people in the occult communities posting pictures of their altars, ritual spaces, tools, luceros, prendas, etc. on Facebook or Tumblr or other blogs and social media.  This may have the outward appearance of spirituality, but is there any actual substance to it?  Or is it simply a fashion accessory?