“I wouldn’t dare to call myself a witch because it has been looked upon in such a negative manner for a very long time but I would call myself a practitioner,” says the owner of Spellbound, Singapore’s first witchcraft store, who goes by the moniker Angela. Tucked away within the time-worn interiors of Peninsula Shopping Centre sits Spellbound, a modest nook that houses an expansive inventory of witchcrafting essentials sourced predominantly from Europe and Australia.
To the uninitiated, Spellbound’s catalogue of stock is a dizzying sight to behold: Large plastic containers of herbs like witch grass and burdock (stacked one above the other) sit snugly next to shelves lined by a mélange of coloured candles (tall, skull-shaped or in the silhouette of a figure) flanked by New Age books, tarot cards and leather bound grimoires, while amulets and accessories lie invitingly behind a glass window at the storefront.
By function, Spellbound is set up like a retail space but the experience that it offers is an intimate session, delicately curated to the needs of each person who walks through the door. Inside, Angela explains that each item in the store is blessed and charged to serve a definitive purpose.
“The energy of the items in the store can wean off when they come into contact with other elements. If you noticed, the candles are each individually made and packed to retain the energy,” says Angela.
Spellbound is a cabinet of curiosities where the illusive realm of magic finds grounding in reality beyond old folklore and pop culture— the ’90s were the heyday of a slew of fictitious series like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” or “The Craft”. Modern day practitioners of witchcraft lean towards the depictions in the latter rather than the caricature painted by the former.
There are no telling signs in appearance or demeanour that gives away the identity of a witch. Angela leads an ordinary life. A fitness enthusiast, she greeted me outfitted in regular gym garb, straight brown tresses framing her face — a hint of enchantment evoked as pigments from her glittery eye shadow glistened under the light, bringing forth her small, yet alluring, dark-brown almond shaped eyes. Likewise, the people who stream into the store are an inconspicuous crowd of Tom, Dick and Harry.
Even in seeing the physical manifestations of the broad conundrum of magic, to a mind so conditioned to perceive the world through the ways and rules of science, paganism defies logic. To the modern man, a candle or a concoction of essential oils is popularly known to lend fragrance but to the practitioners and believers of the otherworldly, these seemingly unsuspecting everyday objects can bear greater significance. At Spellbound, candles coded by colour could serve varying functions like evoking romance or warding off evil. Just as concoctions of essential oils, which are referred to as potions that can amplify self-love or impart healing properties.
“All these items also work with an intention. For example, the skull candles look scary and at times might not have very good intentions within them but they also serve as tools for defensive magic in banishing or clearing out negative energy,” says Angela.
Speaking with unwavering conviction and openness, Angela believes in creating awareness about the practice amongst the masses — believers or non alike. “I believe that there is value in educating people. There needs to be an understanding that a tool is just a tool, people’s intent for it is beyond our control,” she says.
Angela, is however, quick to add that there are ethical controls in place. “It is white magic that we are promoting. Here, we do not cast spells or concoct potions for third parties without mutual consent. What we can do here is to offer means for the betterment of one’s well-being be it in terms of wealth or general happiness,” she says.
Despite the wealth of information Angela has to offer, comprehending the centuries old practice of witch crafting is like grasping at straws. With mere anecdotal evidences to prove its legitimacy, the elephant in the room remains to find a concrete resolution — is magic real?
According to Angela, there is reason to believe it is. “The whole circle of us, there are about 39 people,” she says.
While much in the domain of spell casting and its likes are beyond explanation, the fundamental concept of energy, on which the practice is built, resonates and warrants scientific evidence. “Everyone practices magic, whether they are aware or not. Every intent that is communicated to the universe is magic,” says Angela.
Interestingly, the resurgence of witches into the public stream of consciousness can be observed on television. On Netflix, “The Chilling Adventure of Sabrina” debuted late last year and the reboot of classic Warner Bros. series “Charmed” aired late last year too. In the contemporary cultural landscape, the idea of witches beyond the juju, subscribes to sisterhood.
At a time where feministic ideals run deeper than before, the mythical band of females who harness supreme powers signifies a visual representation of unbridled power. For the seasoned mind that rules out whimsy, its ascriptions to the feminist bucks more concrete reasoning.
In Singapore, the often restrictive perimeters of witchcraft and magic is further expounded by individuals like Zarina Muhammad, an artist, researcher on the histories of magic, myth and mysticism in Southeast Asia and a lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts. Rather than adhere to the popular notions of what it means to practice magic, her mission is to instead expand its definition, particularly in the context of Singapore.
“My work is as much about inviting speculation and open-ended interpretation as it is about considering the counterpoints, extended potentialities and possible antidotes to dangerous and limiting stereotypes,” explains Zarina in an interview with Yellow Pages Singapore, an online editorial platform.
She interprets her knowledge and the history bound to the topic through art in intimate lecture-performance pieces where an elaborate set up is employed to “retort and engage in a dialogue with history”.
In fact, the umbrella of magic and its association with various cultures spreads far and wide.
After all, what would magic be if it was entirely deciphered by mankind?
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