Aside from a brief stint in middle school when I was convinced I was Sabrina the Teenage Witch — mostly because we shared an affinity for zigzag hair parts and talking animals — I've never been too interested in dabbling in witchcraft. I don't know anything about serious spell work (aside from a few charms I picked up from reading Harry Potter), and if you asked me to name three famous witches from history, the best I could probably do is the Sanderson sisters. While of course I know that there are actual witches out there in the world — willful women who are able to channel energy and, dare I say, magic, to evoke change — I myself did not seem to possess such powers. Or at least, that's what I thought — until I learned about emoji love spells.
You're likely already familiar with the practice of conveying feelings, emotions, ideas, and intents with a single emoji — except you probably call it "texting," not witchcraft. And yet, as I was researching for an episode of Bustle's sex and relationships podcast I Want It That Way discussing witchcraft and sex in pop culture with witchcraft scholar Kristen Korvette, I came across a Broadly article that boldly suggested there could be a magical component to emoji use as well: "How to Cast Spells Using Emoji" by Tarin Towers, posted in October 2015. I was intrigued. Was it actually possible to use a picture of an adorable monkey covering its ears to bend the universe to my will? Was the waving pink lady emoji more than just a passive aggressive way to say "I told you so," and actually a sophisticated signal to the cosmos that I was, in fact, the high priestess in charge? Could I suddenly meet the love of my life, simply by tweeting a few sparkling hearts? I needed to find out, immediately.
The act of casting an emoji spell of any kind, according to Towers, is just as easy as crafting a text message. "Speaking a spell out loud (three times, usually) is how you cast with words," Towers writes for Broadly. "With emoji, you have to send them."
So what's the first step? Figuring out what your intention is. Do you want to be more productive at work, or less forgetful? Do you want to open yourself up to financial opportunity? Romantic opportunity? Be as specific with your intentions as you can. Then, figure out how you want to represent that intention via emoji. Once you've crafted the perfect message (Towers suggests sandwiching it between two crystal ball emojis and, for what it's worth, imagining yourself inside a circle as you do it), text it or post it somewhere three times.
As a single woman living in New York City, my dating experience hasn't exactly been magical — unless you count the strange power my singleness has to summon unsolicited dick pics from strangers on Tinder as "magic." I go on a lot of first dates, but rarely second ones — mostly because, while I love to meet new people, I'm usually too distracted by work and other projects to give anybody my full attention for more than a week or two. After exchanging a few text messages with someone I've been out with once, the magic, so to speak, disappears. But what if I changed my texting approach all together? What if instead of sending the standard "hey, you out?" text to my latest crush, I sent an emoji spell instead? I might not be fluent in Latin or know any ancient incantations, but I've always considered my emoji game to be strong, y'all. And Towers' piece had me hooked on the idea that the Unicode Consortium had bestowed us all with a method of communication much more powerful than we imagined. Real-life modern witches didn't need a letter from Hogwarts to prove their street cred — they just needed to download the emoji keyboard.
Of course, casting an emoji spell (or any spell at all, for that matter) is more complicated than simply lacing together a hodgepodge string of your favorite emojis, and sandwiching it between two crystal balls, so you should definitely read Towers' original article to get a better idea of why and how emoji spells work.
Bustle tried reaching out to Towers via email to see if she could lend more insight about why she thinks this process works, but didn't hear back in time for publication. However, I did run the idea of emoji spells past I Want It That Way guest Kristen Korvette. She's the founder of sex-positive feminist website Slutist, teaches a class about witchcraft and feminism at the New School, and is an all-around fascinating person to talk to — especially when it comes to practicing magic as a modern day witch. Emoji spells, she says, can work much the same way a mantra might; texting our intentions to people we know, or better yet, posting them to social media, does hold us to a certain degree of accountability. But, there are other things a witch — or anyone, for that matter — can do in 2016 to channel positive energy when it comes to love, sex, and dating. I figured, for one week, why not try them all? My love life wasn't in such dire straights that I felt like it needed major resuscitation, but I wanted to see it from a fresh perspective. Could I open myself up to the idea of actually getting to know someone beyond the awkward dance of a first date?
I wasn't so naive as to think that by sending a few emoji text messages, I suddenly had a solid grasp on the various traditions of witchcraft — many of which not only date back centuries, but are also particular to the different forms of witchcraft, and even to each person who practices it. I understand that witchcraft is a serious spiritual practice, and don't want to trivialize the experience of other witches by telling you that, by simply sending a few emoji sequences out to the internet, I was suddenly a witch as well.
But, the experiment did teach me a thing or two about the power of intent — and there were some interesting takeaways that very well could have implications for my dating life. So, let's examine those now, shall we? Here's how to add a little magic into your life.
Consecrate Your Space
Before any witchy activity can take place, Korvette suggests consecrating your space. The best way to do this? "I think having an altar space is really useful," Korvette says. "Most people already create those without knowing they're altar spaces. Who doesn't have a little area where there's a photograph, or dried flowers, or a rock you found from a black beach or something?" Your altar doesn't have to be elaborate by any means. In fact, you probably already have one. The idea is to find a small space where you can relax, and fill it with objects that hold meaning to you.
I chose to create my altar on a window bookshelf in my apartment. My books, I figured, were the best peek into my personality, and I already kept candles and a few succulents on the shelf anyway. I decided to add in a wood block portrait artist Ian Sklarsky had drawn of me using a single, continuous line — because if there is anyone worth celebrating at an altar, it's you in all your uninterrupted glory, right?
I lit a candle in soothing vanilla, and prepared to start unleashing my magic into the world.
Cast An Emoji Love Spell
Before you start trying to craft together your first love spell of any kind, emoji or otherwise, there's a certain caveat all witches in training need to know first — it's considered bad practice to conduct any kind of magic to make someone fall in love with you, or influence them to do anything they wouldn't already be doing. But, you can use a spell to open yourself up to opportunity. "Instead of setting some sort of spell, it would be better to set an intention to open yourself up for more self-love, or new adventures," Korvette explains. "That might bring someone in that would be fun to be with."
In my case, I wanted to come up with an emoji spell for myself that would encourage romance, which is something I instinctively shy away from — it's one of the reasons why I usually end any new relationship just a few weeks in. I wanted a spell that would help me let my guard down a little bit, and be more willing to invite someone in. But, while I knew what I wanted to achieve, creating this spell was actually way trickier than I thought it would be. I wasn't really sure what it was supposed to look like translated in emoji; mostly, I suppose, because I'm not totally sure what romance looks like. So, I just took a literal approach:
The emoji girl with her hand in the air? That's me, obviously. Soon, I wanted to see new love arrive in my life, and I wanted to celebrate it. I sent this spell to my mom, sister, and best friend, who were all supportive of my magic, and also curious to see just how far these spells could go. My friend, for instance, was also interested in potentially adapting my spell to help him meet the love of his life — food.
My mom, who asks me if I'm dating anyone approximately three times a week, appropriately responded with a string of emojis all her own:
My intent was out there, and people knew about it — but would it actually work?
Call For Some Emoji Spell Re-Enforcement
Remember when I said I usually get too sidetracked by other things in my life to bother following up with potential dates? I decided an anti-ghosting emoji spell could just be the perfect antidote for that. I sent this one to two friends, and this time also posted it publicly on Twitter.
I'm not sure if posting a spell on social media gives it more strength, but it oddly felt more secure to me when I shared it with a bigger audience. Again, this probably goes back to accountability. When you tell people you're going to do something, there is more pressure to actually follow through with it. With this spell out in the world, I felt more confident that on the off-chance I did meet someone I clicked with, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss them.
Don't Just Rely On Emojis, Either
Emoji spells are pretty fun, mostly because emojis themselves are pretty fun, and there's one for seriously every situation. I played around with a bunch of difference sequences — a spell to make me more productive at work, a spell to make me more mindful of deadlines, even a spell to facilitate brunch plans.
But when it comes to love, Korvette explains, you can't just rely on emojis to do your bidding. There are more practical efforts you can make as well to make clear your intentions. "If you want to open up your life, sleep on one side of the bed to leave more space for someone you want in that spot," she says. You can also apply this same concept to your closet, by cleaning out half of it to make room for someone new. "In that process, you're getting rid of some dead energy, some dead space, and maybe that might be attractive to somebody." So, send out a spell if you want, and make sure you're following it up with action to prove you're serious.
Did My Attempts At Magic Work?
In the spirit of full disclosure, I haven't fallen head-over-heels in love with anyone yet since I started this experiment. But then again, that was never my intention in the first place. I wanted to free up some headspace to make dating more of a priority rather than an afterthought — and when you're constantly tweeting and texting your friends and DMing yourself with visual representations of a goal you hope to accomplish? Well, that goal definitely becomes more than just an afterthought. I'm not committed to any specific person just yet, but I am committed to the idea of finding someone I want to spend time with — at least, I'm more committed than I was before.
As Korvette tells Bustle, "I personally think it's always safer to work on yourself. Even if you believe in nothing but science and yourself, you can still use elements from witchcraft to help your game." My response to that? Clapping hands emoji, repeated over and over again. To me, emoji spells don't necessarily represent magic, but that doesn't mean they aren't powerful. Instead, I've come to view them as more visually creative mantras I can send myself to help me focus on specific goals. They might not conjure up the person of my dreams, but they do conjure up self-awareness, which in many ways, is an extremely useful tool in getting not only what you want, but what you deserve.
And hey, you never know! I only tried using emoji magic for a week — there is still plenty of time for my love spell to magically manifest itself when I least expect it.
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Images: Alex Finkel; Kathryn Kattalia