Heal & Harm | Building a self-love altar

Heal & Harm is a new no-bullshit column released every two weeks to honour the full and new moons, affirming the old as hell phrase “a witch who can’t harm can’t heal” and oscillating between summoning good vibes and releasing pain.

I fucking love pink.

I know, I know, that’s not very punk rock of me, but whatever.

Whenever I create an altar for the specific purpose of honouring and loving myself, pink is the colour that tends to dominate the scene and feels natural for me as a visual embodiment of this energy. The types of magic I do are informed by largely Western symbolisms and colour associations, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone in the Western Global North that red tends to dominate our cultural visuals concerning love and romance. However, the love alluded to by the colour red is often romantic. In the work that I do, coming from my own cultural context and my own intuitive feeling, I tend to associate the more subdued version of red – that is, pink – with platonic love, self-love, and friendship.

Your relationship to these colours may very well be different, and that’s ok! Different cultures and different people have different associations with different colours – for instance, in some spiritual traditions red is associated with good luck and white is associated with bad vibes. What matters in magic is that the colours you choose to work with have personal resonance for you personally, so that you are able to connect to the symbolic and literal power they have for you. If associations and correspondences seem random and disconnected to your own personal associations, don’t work with them! Much of your magic’s potency may be lost if you do. Every element of magic and ritual should be intentional, deeply felt, and connected to what we feel deep in our bones.

Magic is most powerful when we can connect to each element of what we’re doing and why: when we know why each herb is being used, when we know why each colour is being used, and when we know why we should use a candle of one shape instead of another.

Have you made an altar to honour your brilliance and your love for yourself? If not, why?

All too often, people perceived as women, femme, feminine, and/or gender non-conforming are called arrogant if we dare to have and show our self-love, self-worth, and self-respect. Our belief in ourselves is seen as a threat – how dare we be anything but timid and self-deprecating!

If you can believe it, the individual I dated when I painted my graphic novel – in which I constantly depict myself – suggested I change my drawings of myself to be “uglier, so people can relate to it more”. Somehow I still dated this person for an additional six months after this (!) – that’s how ingrained these incredibly harmful and toxic narratives can be! It can feel totally overwhelming and scary to really step into ourselves as feminized (whether coercively or not) people, to dare to treat ourselves the way we would like others to treat us, to re-parent ourselves (if/when necessary), to soothe, comfort, and affirm our radiance. To appreciate the things we have accomplished, as well as the beauty of who we are, regardless of anyone else and aside from anyone else’s ability to see us as we are.

I know! It’s scary to step into self-worth and self-love – because if we truly go there, go deep, it means we may be faced with the need to mourn all of that which we have robbed ourselves of in the past. The knowledge that we could have welcomed more into our lives earlier may be hard to face.

Creating an altar to honour yourself may strike you as an icky idea, something that is too painful or uncomfortable, or maybe something you’d encourage your friends to do but that you’d never consider doing for yourself on your own behalf. The idea of creating an altar for ourselves, by ourselves, about our love for ourselves may seem a bit tacky, arrogant, self-important. It isn’t. You are worth celebrating. If we wait for others to celebrate us, we may be waiting a long time – and our value must come from inside, we must know it in our hearts rather than waiting for and being tied to any extrinsic affirmation for our mood and healthy self-concept. No. We do not need anyone else’s permission to celebrate and honour our love for ourselves. It may feel weird at first, but I really do encourage you to push through those uncomfortable feelings. A lot of growth hides there.

If our self concept isn’t healthy – if we don’t believe that we deserve to be treated with respect, if we don’t believe at the core of our being that we deserve to be truly happy – it’s unlikely that our magic will be truly successful in any meaningful and long term way. Magic is fierce, it is regal, and its success comes with a deep embodied knowing that we can get what we wish to have if our relationship with the land, our spirits, and energetic collaborators (plants, animals, ancestors) is strong and true and potent.

Often we are the ones holding ourselves back; a ritual and a spell is only as strong as the weakest link; love yourself to ensure that weakest link is not you.

So. How to do this on a practical level?

I encourage you to begin by really taking some time to reflect on and contemplate what you love the most about yourself. These can be external qualities, internal qualities, whatever – it can also be things that you have accomplished, experiences that you survived. I would encourage thinking through a balanced mixture of these different qualities. In alignment with Western magical practices, a useful outline to think through this may be to allow yourself to be guided by the four elements: air, fire, water, and earth. If we’re working with those associations, we have much symbolism through which to wade and ground.

What about our mind do we appreciate? How about our drive and motivation? What about our emotions? What about our physical body and our ability to provide for ourselves? How can you represent these different parts of yourself visually, or with objects? Maybe a photo of yourself as a child, maybe a photo of yourself now. Maybe a print of a painting you’ve done. Maybe a copy of your diploma or last semester’s grades. Maybe a medal you’ve won. Maybe a photo of the last meal you made for yourself, maybe a gym selfie or a picture of you at a routine hospital visit for a chronic health condition. Maybe it’s a bunch of pink things. Maybe it’s the necklace you wear every day. Your favourite makeup brush. Maybe it’s a collection of seashells you found on your last trip. A copy of a validating diagnosis.

What makes you feel strong? seen? cared for? acknowledged – on a deep level, not a superficial level? How can you honour yourself? Flowers are common on my altar, gifts to Santisima Muerte and Santa Lucia, to my animal spirit guides, the genus loci spirits of the land, my holy dead, and any other spirits who are with me. When I make altars for me, I offer flowers in gratitude for myself, in gratitude for the spirit relationships that have shielded me and helped me survive. What helps you to feel the most seen and heard? Do that for yourself, and honour it here. Cook your favourite meal (or order your favourite delivery pizza), put some on a plate on the altar as an offering to yourself. Nourish yourself. Offerings can be simple – a glass of tap water is free but ripe with symbolism. You don’t need to buy anything new or spend money to make this happen, though you certainly can if it’s within your budget!

Add something new to the altar every day, little by little, or make a big event of it on the night of the full moon. Enjoy the process: loving and celebrating yourself are not chores! A lot of ritual may be about acquiring this or that thing or shift, but allow this process to be simple, quiet, still, small, peaceful, without expectations. Accept all of your feelings about the process, accept your own energy and where you’re at. Notice what’s easy. Notice your blockages.

Looking at your relationship to yourself is so crucial: the cornerstone of all magical practice is, of course, YOU.

Celebrate all that you are, all that you bring to the table. Sit with your self long enough, and I promise you’ll see a shift in your relationship not only to your self, but to your witchcraft.

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  1. Isabel Z says:

    This article has come to my mail box at the exact moment I am doing significant changes in my life. Thank you for this blessing.

  2. Beth says:

    I will be making an altar tonight and bringing in many of these ideas. Thank you Sabrina for the care, the love, and the inspiration.

    • Beth says:

      Hurrah, I did it! I didn’t get specific in mine about what I am committing to loving, but all of that is for journalling. Thank you again for the inspiration and encouragement. <3

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