The Ditch Witch Store
After I made the show "The Science Club", and after being in the dark, creepy zone for so long, (I worked on the show for a solid year, after researching it for about 10 years), I felt like "I just want to make something fun and happy and nice. I want to make a show about walking my little dog Kevin along the ditch and picking up stuff." That show was "Ditch Witch". After the show was over, I was still walking Kevin, still picking stuff up, so I figured, "Maybe I should have a Witch Store...". I opened the"Ditch Witch" store on Halloween, 2010. I sell personal spells (pre-constructed and custom-made), devotional candles with labels from my paintings (hand-signed), amulets and talismans, spell boxes, magical incense from ancient recipes and my own incense blends, and other assorted weirdness of my own making.
When my friends ran Plan B (now The Center for Contemporary Arts-again), we did a show called "Post Apocalyptic Tools". I thought about what my future job would be, and I envisioned myself as a traveling witch going from town to town, making spells for what the community needed, and so I made my traveling magical toolset. It is the set of tools that I use to do magical ceremonies. Early on in at the witch store, I was sitting taking notes for a custom spell, listening and kind of gazing around my space. I realized that I was IN THE HOME OFFICE OF THE TRAVELING WITCH!. It was a feeling akin to deja-vu, but not exactly that....I had manifested my earlier vision, a bit unconsciously. I imagine that there is a word for that feeling. If you have an idea what it is, let me know.
My magical incenses are made in small batches from herbs and plant resins and oils. Some of my blends have up to 30 different herbs and resins. Early on,I was using powdered incense that I had gotten from Botanicas that I visited in some of the spells I made. When I ran out of those incenses, (which seemed to be sawdust with perfume and coloring added) I started researching herbalism more deeply-medicinal, magical, ancient, contemporary. I came upon several books that have profoundly influenced me. They are "The Lost Language of Plants" and "The Secret Teachings of Plants" by Stephen Harrod Buhner. The subtitle of "The Secret Teachings" is "The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature". In this book, he talks about the heart not just as an actual organ of perception, but of primary perception, of transmission and reception of information. The heart transmits and receives electro-magnetic information to and from every living organism it comes into proximity with. These perceptions are then relayed to and translated by the brain. By paying attention to this primary source of information, we as humans can access information that we have known in the past, information that has been suppressed, forgotten, banished. It is information of the wildness of the planet. It is information directly from plants and animals. For reals. For example, when ethnobotanists are in the south-american rain forests and they ask the indigenous people how they ascertained the complex admixtures of plants that can make the substance psychoactive when ingested, as opposed to smoked, or which plants to take to treat malaria, or what plants to use for birth control or fertility, or any number of subtle or discreet usages, they answer "The plants told us." Well, duh.
Turns out, the Witch store is an odd node in the universe. Pretty much every day someone interesting comes in, and many times, they sit down in the chair. From there, anything can happen . Mostly, I gather stories, sometimes for making spells for them, sometimes for making spells for me. Here's a good example-on a nasty/windy spring afternoon, no one had been in all day, a young couple came in the door, into my space (I share the storefront with a glass artist), and went straight over to my bookshelf. "Those are just my resource books, they're not for sale" I said. "That's ok, we're just looking, we have some of these same books" the girl said. She pointed to "Pharmako/Poeia" by Dale Pendell. I said "Oh, he's my favorite writer on "the poison path", but there's another herbalist who quotes him." The girl giggled a little. "His name is Stephen Harrod Buhner, he's an amazing herbalist and writer" She started laughing, pointed to her boyfriend and said "That's his dad!" Turns out they just moved in down the street. Ha! Spell for me! Yep, things like that happen in the Ditch Witch store....often.
I've been growing Datura for a while now, maybe 20 years. I grow a few different varieties, some old world, some new. A friend sent me seeds from the Dalai Lama's compound in Dharamsala (Datura metel). When people ask me what one *does* with Datura, I tell them what my friend who introduced us said to me-"You live with them." A couple years ago, I had several Datura Wrightii growing in containers in my patio. Just after dusk I walked out the front door to take Kevin for a walk, and I had an experience that Stephen Buhner describes as "aisthesis". The word is from the Greek, and it means a literal "breathing in". As in-the gasp when one is confronted with an experience so profound, so moving, that one is dumbstruck-the brain stops talking and you just....feel. There were at least 20 hawkmoths swarming around the Daturas. This moth sometimes gets mistaken for a hummingbird. It is as big as some hummingbirds, it can fly almost as fast, and can hover like a hummingbird. One particular species of hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, has a relationship with Datura that is defined as "mutualism" , a biological system where both parties benefit from the relationship. See, Datura is the first plant that I ever heard speaking to me. It's got a large personality, and I like to hold hands (leaves) with it, sometimes. It is the plant that led me into the green world. Anyway, at that moment, I experienced the feeling of being *with* both the plants and the moths. Mutualism.
I feel like my work has shifted alot since I opened the Ditch Witch Store. For quite a while my sculpture has been my narrative out in the world-things that I needed to say, ideas that I wanted people to consider. Now, it seems that the Store is my narrative in the world. I get to talk to people about art and magic and how they intersect in my life. I get to talk to people who would never walk into a contemporary gallery. Better still, I get to hear other peoples stories. I've learned to ask questions like "Is there something that I can help you with?", when someone comes in and stands there, staring at all the candles. It can be intense. So, while the Store occupies that narrative part of my brain, other things slip in through the back door. The work I made for "where have you been, come to your senses" appeared in my head, fully-formed, when I stepped into the white, new room of the gallery for the first time. It was funny, because I didn't want to talk about it or explain it at all. I wanted people coming into the gallery to have that same experience. The work, to me, is dreamy, soft and very much an interior landscape -something I hadn't really done in about 30 years. Kinda feels good to come back inside. For a while.
You may have noticed that there isn't anything to buy on this Ditch Witch Store page. That is because I really don't want to run an online business. So, if you happen to be in Santa Fe, come on by, I'm pretty easy to find. If you really insist/persist, I might mail you something.
The two questions that I ask are:
What do you WANT a spell for?
What do you NEED a spell for?