Many witches believe that the human body is sacred. Whether they’re pantheists, animists, or somewhere in between, most magical practitioners agree that there is some sort of divine or magical essence contained in all living things, including our bodies. But if that’s the case, why do so many witches hesitate to use parts of the body in their craft?
Part of it is the “ick” factor. Western society is shaped by religious and cultural influences that tell us our bodies are unclean, gross, or even scary. In order to comfortably work with the energies of the human body in magic, we have to unlearn these cultural influences.
This post covers the uses of human effects (materials that come from the human body) in witchcraft and magic.
Why Use This Stuff, Anyway?
By far the most common use of human effects in magic is as a taglock. A taglock is an item from the person a spell is meant to affect — either a small piece of their person (such as hair or fingernail clippings), or a personal belonging that is energetically connected to them. A taglock acts as a sort of anchor, tying the energy of a spell to that specific person and providing a direct link between them and the magic. Think of it as an energetic targeting system. This brings faster, more powerful results.
The use of taglocks is connected to the concept of sympathetic magic, which states that what is done to a small part of a person or thing (including an image or effigy) affects the whole. This idea is as old as humans — in fact, some archaeologists believe that Paleolithic cave paintings of injured animals were a form of sympathetic magic meant to manifest successful hunts.
If you need a taglock for a spell and can’t or don’t want to use hair/fingernails/etc., use one of the person’s belongings instead. This can be a business card, a child’s stuffed animal, or a napkin they used at dinner — whatever you can get your hands on. If you can’t get a personal belonging, use a photograph of the person.
Aside from linking magic to a specific person, different human effects have their own magical correspondences (see below). Depending on your spell, it may make sense to include hair as a symbol of personal power and self-expression or menstrual blood as a symbol of releasing old energy. Most witches don’t think twice about using milk or eggs, which come from the bodies of cows and chickens, in their magic, so why shouldn’t we use things from our own bodies as well?
There is an unfortunate stigma around the use of human effects in magic. Things like blood and hair are unfairly associated with dark magic, and many witches avoid them for that reason. Like any other magical tool, human effects can be used in spells for good or ill. You could use a taglock to add power to a healing spell, for example, or put your own hair in a success spell to anchor that success to you. These items are a part of you — they are no more evil or scary than you are.
Ethics and Safety
We’ve already discussed the ethical implications of doing magic on other people. This is especially important to keep in mind when working with human effects, either your own or someone else’s, because you are working directly with that person’s energy. Sympathetic magic gets very up close and personal, so it’s important to take care.
Don’t do anything to the personal effect, whatever it is, that you wouldn’t do to the person themselves. (Yes, this still applies if you’re using one of their possessions, or even a photograph.) Be gentle and respectful. Don’t throw it around or be careless with it. Don’t set it on fire or cut it up unless you really know what you’re doing and really want to fuck with the person it came from.
There are certain safety precautions that need to be taken when working with human effects, especially bodily fluids. I’ll talk about safety protocol for blood magic in a future post, but for now just be aware of the danger of bloodborne diseases and other possible contaminants. Sexual fluids may carry STIs, for example. For this reason, you should always take care when handling someone else’s bodily fluids. Wear gloves and make sure you don’t have any exposed cuts or sores.
Hair and fingernails are the safest human effects because they contain dead cells, and thus the risk of contagion is low. They’re also usually a little easier to get a hold of, especially if you’re doing magic for another person. Hair and nail clippings are most witches’ go-to taglocks for these reasons.
And finally, do not ever, under any circumstances, eat, drink, or bathe in anything that came from another person’s body. Some older spells call for adding blood or some other bodily fluid to food, and some old initiation rituals require the initiate to drink wine containing a drop of blood from each group member. In modern times, we know that this is dangerous because it could potentially spread disease. Trust me when I say there is no good reason to ever consume someone else’s DNA. Just don’t.
Below are correspondences for some human effects that can fairly easily be incorporated into spells. I have also included substitutions, for those who truly just aren’t comfortable working with human effects. These substitutions may not be quite as powerful, but the symbolism is similar.
Note: The use of blood in magic is a huge topic with a rich history, so I have chosen to devote an entire post to it. Blood is not mentioned in this post, but I will be posting about it soon!
Correspondences of Human Effects
- Hair is closely tied to a person’s essence and personal power, perhaps more so than any other effect besides blood. In many cultures, hair is never cut to avoid dispersing this power. (Think of the story of Samson in the Bible.) Hair is also associated with the head, mental abilities, and thoughts. Hair is one of the most powerful taglocks, and can also be used in spells related to strength, beauty, and mental clarity. Use a few of your own hairs to tie something up to bind it with your personal power.
- Substitutes for Hair: clove (for empowerment), rosemary (for mental clarity), catnip (for beauty)
- Saliva lends itself to many purposes because of its wide array of correspondences. On one hand it is associated with kissing and sex (think of the phrase “swapping spit” to describe kissing), but on the other it can be extremely offensive (spitting on someone is a very old and very strong insult). Saliva can also be substituted for any other bodily fluid.
- Substitutes for Saliva: cardamom (for love and lust), vinegar (for cursing and insult)
- Fingernails are, of course, linked to the hands and to a person’s ability to act. They’re also one of the easiest human effects to collect, which make them a good choice for a taglock. I usually see fingernails used in this context rather than to bring a certain energy to a spell.
- Substitute for Fingernails: clove (to empower action)
- Semen and Vaginal Arousal Fluid are, naturally, associated with sex. Both are associated with pure potential, fertility, and action, and can give your spell a heck of a power boost. Use sexual fluids in spells for growth and new beginnings. They are also useful in love magic — anoint a red candle with your sexual fluids to attract a lover.
- Substitutes for Semen and Vaginal Arousal Fluid: penis or vulva shaped candle (for sex magic), rice (for fertility), rose (for love), cinnamon (for lust)
- Urine is a traditional ingredient in the witch bottle, a powerful protective charm. It’s also found in both curses and love spells in American folk magic. Interestingly, it’s also used to break curses. One of my teachers practiced Appalachian folk magic, and she used to say that the most surefire way to get rid of any curse was to “piss on a brick.” (Red bricks are also associated with protection.) As you can see, urine is perhaps the most versatile bodily fluid when it comes to magical uses.
- Substitutes for Urine: vinegar (for protection, cursing, and curse breaking), cardamom (for love and lust)
Human effects are a powerful way to add strength to any spell. Next time you’re conjuring healing, manifestation, or love, consider throwing some hair or fingernails in there. Let your body’s magic be a part of your craft.
- Utterly Wicked by Dorothy Morrison
- Of Blood and Bones by Kate Freuler
- “The Meaning of European Upper Paleolithic Rock Art” by Cristian Violatti on ancient.eu
- A Green Witch’s Cupboard by Deborah J. Martin
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