The Art of Love Magic
How to embrace self-love using herbs, rituals, and a touch of magic
The word “witch” sometimes gets a bad rap. At the very least, identifying as such can slap a vaguely confused, if not fearful, stare on a stranger’s face. I don’t blame them — our society has both vilified and deified the witch for centuries; they’re seen as either femme fatales or devil-worshipping hags out for blood. In reality, neither trope is true.
Witchcraft is about healing — healing the body, the spirit, the mind, and helping society to do the same. It’s about recognizing a sense of oneness with the earth and with nature, and using that connective power to aid yourself and empower others.
Still, the role of the sacred healer and keeper of knowledge has devolved into something else entirely.
Taking back the word “witch” has been a part of my spiritual journey for years. Raised in a D.C. suburb as a Protestant with Catholic roots, some of my earliest memories involved two questions: Why is the rest of the world “damned” for not believing in Christian ideology? And aren’t there many paths to the Divine? Condemnation for thinking differently didn’t feel like love, so I systematically reassessed everything I was taught, and I pieced together a spirituality that felt right to me.
One concrete thing I’ve learned along the way is that love is (or, at least, should be) at the core of everything. It’s our raison d’être, our driving force, and it’s the fiber of our social fabric. It’s also at the core of most world religions. So how does it apply to witchcraft? And what exactly is love magic?
Positive love magic is about enhancing your own positive qualities, especially your self-confidence, in order to attract people.
Stacy Rapp, Head Witch at New York City’s oldest occult store, Enchantments, offers her insight: “The bottom line with love magic is, unfortunately, all love magic is — to some degree — manipulative because you’re trying to influence other people’s feelings towards you. But there are positive ways to do that — and non-positive ways. Positive love magic is about enhancing your own positive qualities, especially your self-confidence, in order to attract people. Manipulative magic is trying to force someone to love you.”
Rapp recommends the following self-love/empowerment spell: Gather 20 pink rose petals and write one thing that you love about yourself directly on each one. While you let them dry for about a week, put sea salt into a bowl and add a few drops of love oil or perfume. Next, layer the scented salt and rose petals into a mason jar, and cover the jar with a pink cloth. Hold the jar in your hands and say, “This is my reminder to love and honor myself, no matter what anyone says.”
“You can then use the salt for self-love baths or in a salt scrub. When you use it, remind yourself of the intention,” Rapp suggests. “What we try to focus on is what’s called ‘opening the doors of potential.’ The idea is to increase self-love and self-confidence in order to attract someone who respects that, and will actually be attracted to it.”
So how do we achieve this self-love?
Intimate dances with herbs
For Brooklyn-based herbalist Vanessa Chakour, reconnecting and communicating with nature is one of the first steps toward healing and self-affirmation. She runs herbalism retreats around the world, including one called “Magic, Medicine, and Myth.” She’s reticent to call her work “magic,” although many other herbalists might: “I feel like when we lift the veil between ourselves and the natural world, we do come into contact with magic and mystery that’s hidden in plain sight,” says Chakour.
During the autumn solstice last year, I attended one of Chakour’s rewilding retreats at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY. There, she led a series of meditative rituals that anchored her teachings on the power of herbal medicine. Nearly eight months later, I reached out again to better understand the intimate choreography of conducting herbal rituals.
“The practice of making medicine with a tree or a plant is a ritual in and of itself. When a plant helps you heal, you develop an emotional connection to the land. Herbalism is an amazing way to develop a relationship with the earth as a whole and fall in love with it — and that’s really at the core of my work,” Chakour tells me. “[It can start with] meditating under a tree, especially if you have an intention of healing — or if it’s healing a broken heart — or just wanting to connect on a spiritual level.”
To invoke love, Chakour recommends working with the Hawthorn tree, also called the May tree. It’s easy to find (even on the gritty streets of Brooklyn) and is known to improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and increase sensation and libido. For this reason, it’s often found in aphrodisiac formulas.
“It’s used for all aspects of the heart, as well as for sexual energy and sexual drives,” Chakour explains. “It’s related to the fire element, so it awakens passion.” She recommends using the flowers for tinctures or drying them for teas.
“There’s also these really intense thorns on the tree, and one aspect of love is having healthy boundaries. The ability to say no. The open flower symbolizes an open heart, but the thorns symbolize boundaries,” Chakour says. Her students tend to be empaths, people who deeply empathize with the emotions of others, so Hawthorn is an important ally for them. Chakour includes the thorns in her tinctures as a reminder to set boundaries, especially in love matters.
Hawthorn berries, which are normally ready to harvest around the time of Samhain (or Halloween), are also beneficial. In folklore, the Hawthorn tree is said to be a portal to the “other world,” or an opening to another realm.
“To me, that’s the magic hiding in plain sight. We have access to these incredible plant beings and they hold so much magic and mystery and medicine,” Chakour muses. She encourages others to “ally” with one tree or plant because it can foster an intimate relationship that can yield multiple layers of healing.
We come from the earth, so turning to it for answers is essential — not in a supernatural way, but a super natural way.
“When I wildcraft, or gather flowers for medicine, I always ask the tree for permission first. It not only establishes your intuition in relationship to nature and getting this answer from within, but also this reverence for the earth and not just taking things,” says Chakour.
There’s a connection between falling in love with the earth and falling in love with the self. We come from the earth, so turning to it for answers is essential — not in a supernatural way, but a super natural way. After all, magic is just misunderstood and undiscovered science.
A lot of people think of love as a “high” but it can also be grounding. Chakour agreed and offered up another recommendation: the Linden tree. “The branches reach up towards the sky, but then they reach back down to hold and support you, creating a kind of nest. The tea itself is really heavy, almost like honey if you let it soak a long time. It soothes your nervous system, it’s great for anxiety, it literally grounds people. Two of my students, totally unrelated, said [the tea] made them feel like they belong,” she tells me.
Re-entering the womb
Sometimes you must confront the darkness in order to find the light. Most witches, medicine women, mystics, and shamans will tell you this — it’s often referred to as “shadow work.” That’s where temazcal comes in.
On a recent trip to the Yucatán Peninsula, I met two female healers who led temazcal and cacao ceremonies. The temazcal, a dome-shaped structure made of stone and mud, is symbolic of not only the womb from which we once emerged but also of Mother Earth. The ancient, indigenous ritual involves burning medicinal herbs on fiery volcanic rocks at the center of the closed dome, sending prayers to spirit guides and elements, chanting, singing, and offering thanks to the grandfather fire burning outside the temazcal entrance.
Terrified of extremely hot, damp, and dark conditions in the sweltering jungle heat, I didn’t know if I had it in me to actually go through the ceremony. This indigenous sweat lodge ritual was out of my comfort zone. What if I pass out? What if I freak out? What if I start sobbing or do something completely outlandish in front of a group of strangers?
I told the negative self-talk gremlin hiding in my subconscious to get gone, and I didn’t pass out. I didn’t die, I didn’t speak in tongues, or collapse in convulsions. On the contrary, I felt better. I felt stronger. I felt clearer. And hot as hell.
Sara Gasparotto, a healer who has been practicing a variety of spiritual work in Mexico for nearly 16 years, worked the ceremony with her long-time colleague, Cristina Del Razo. “There are different kinds of rituals where we can connect with nature and have personal time to look at our emotions and what we’d like to do with the future,” says Gasparotto. “Temazcal is one of the more complete therapeutic ceremonies that exist because we’re recreating the ambiance of the womb of the mother. Because inside it is wet and hot,” she says.
Gasparotto explains that the Mayans believed we carry imprinting of our traumas, emotions, and somatic effects from the moment of our conception, a result of the combined energies of the woman and man. “All the emotions we have inside of us, we started to collect from the very first moments we were created,” she says. “And when we’re born, we register this information. For example, every time we put our teeth together when we close the mouth, we register all the emotions inside our brain. The problem is many people have a lot of emotions inside them without taking the time to listen to them.”
The temazcal serves to recreate that environment by returning to the womb in the moment of our creation and re-processing our traumas from a different perspective. “You’re there in the dark, with no light, and you can’t do anything else — so you really have to listen to your heart and yourself,” Gasparotto says.
So much of spirituality has to do with the “light,” but accessing the darkest recesses of ourselves is part of the path to healing.
“In order to fight darkness, we need darkness. But in the temazcal we’re never in the darkness completely, because there’s always the grandfather fire outside.”
Sex magic versus love magic
When you hear the words “love magic,” most people envision some temptress in a seductive getup with a “come hither” gaze. Those witches exist, but that’s not love, that’s sex. The two can coexist, but they are not interdependent, nor are they mutually exclusive.
Back at Enchantments, I spoke to Rapp about the difference: “It’s common for both men and women to come into the shop and tell us, ‘I keep finding nice guys but I keep pushing them away.’ Well, then you have some negative tendencies that are interfering with you building a positive relationship. So this is about you working on your own issues or negating past issues so that you can actually work on building a relationship,” Rapp says.
There’s good and bad news: Love magic works and doesn’t work. Commanding someone to love you is wrong. It’s what we call “black magic.” So is cursing and hexing and all that other nonsense. It falls into the realm of darker shit, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid. The bottom line is: “You can’t make someone love you. You can’t force it. Love is an emotion. You can force physical attraction, you can make someone potentially want to sleep with you, but sex is not love. It can be an expression of love, but it isn’t always,” says Rapp.
She said there are candles out there to help with meeting someone for a casual fling, but emphasizes that those aren’t love candles. “In fact, those are sex candles — and those are easy. Sex magic is easy. But there’s no guarantee it’s going to work. So the idea we try to enforce is self-love, for the most part. Self-love and self-awareness.”
That’s how love magic works: when you love yourself, it opens up space for others to love you too. Achieving self-love can be an arduous path, but the payoff is worth it. There are many ways to find empowerment, but more than likely it’s hidden within your darkest recesses.
Soul work is tough shit, but empowerment magic works. It opens up new spaces for love. It says, “I am ready” to the world. It strengthens, it attracts, it deepens, and it grows. And, like anything worth planting and harvesting, it takes a bit of time, digging, and most importantly, conscious intention.
This story is part of The Art Of, an ongoing series by Human Parts that supplies you with instructions for living.