I was in the office of my college newspaper finishing up an article. Earlier that day, my friend attended a poetry reading where I read a sonnet I had specifically written for her. She held a copy of it now.
My editor returned earlier than expected and caught us doing a different kind of work at my desk.
It was then I realized that I could seduce with a sonnet. That I didn’t want to be someone else’s muse. And that Yeats was right—writing was indeed a form of magick. I wanted to be the magician.
Love poetry and love spells share many similar features, from rhyme and rhythm to metonym. As Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique argues in “Underground Realms of Being: Vodoun Magic”:
universal principles of sympathetic magic: natural and social systems of relationship that lie beyond the so-called rational laws of science, touching occult areas through analogy and metaphor
About a year and half after my desktop dalliance, I met my current partner in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where we tried to save Antioch College from closure. He had worked at the same desk in the newspaper office a few years before me. When our shared alma mater closed in the following year, we moved to Oakland, California.
Now that we have been together for almost seven years, my love poetry has changed. My muse has moved in. I seek the magick of sustaining love rather than attaining love. This can be a difficult task because our society is in love with stories of courtship.
Challenging the power of love at first sight and empowering relationships born out of shared communities can be achieved by a shift in poetic imagery. We must ground the language of our love spells, pull it from the mysterious stars down into the familiar clay of the earth.
Some of the most famous lines of poetry about love at first sight are found in Romeo and Juliet. In the balcony scene, the young lovers use celestial imagery when describing each other. According to Romeo, Juliet has eyes that can be exchanged for stars:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?—
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars1
The praise for her beauty is pulled from the heavens because Romeo knows few earthly details about her. Prior to this scene, the lovers have only talked about kissing—exchanging metaphors that compare lips with religious pilgrims.2 The association of Juliet with stars is reinforced by her position “aloft” (in the balcony above Romeo).
Juliet, in turn, wishes Romeo would become a constellation when he dies:
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night3
Reaching for the stars indicates how the lovers are not grounded in shared experiences and knowledge. They are star-struck at the sight of each other, and this love at first sight experience has been lauded in many poems, novels, and movies since Shakespeare penned his tragic play.
Love magick for attraction and courtship may also use celestial imagery because the lover is entirely unknown or still mostly a mystery. Many people seek an unearthly passion, and craft their magical workings around the heavenly.
The woman who came to the newspaper office was not a mystery to me. She was, and remains, a friend—a part of my community. My sonnet drew upon earthly knowledge of her. Even in courtship, I diverged from the norm, but the magick to sustain love requires a deeper digging into the earth.
Poetry can teach us how to ground love spells. Pablo Neruda wrote one hundred sonnets to his wife, Matilde. His imagery is earthy; in his dedication to her, he calls his poems “wooden sonnets,” and references moments they have spent together picking “up pieces of pure bark, pieces of wood” (I have the Tapscott translation). From the beginning of the collection, he grounds the work in their shared experiences.
Neruda refers to “clay” throughout the sequence. In “Sonnet XV,” he compares Matilde to pottery:
you were molded in clay, you were fired
in Chillán, in an astounded adobe oven.
Clay is a symbol of the quotidian, the everyday life they share in a specific place. Pottery creates household items, like plates and cups, which are more familiar than the stars. In “Sonnet XXIX,” he connects clay with poverty: “the lesson of life, shaped in clay.” Their struggle with poverty brings intimate knowledge of each other.
Neruda isn’t writing wedding sonnets or writing to seduce Matilde, but his imagery can help ground magick for attaining love. Specific images from shared experiences can make spells for fostering love more effective. Furthermore, learning about a potential lover before taking an emotional leap (rather than seeking love at first sight) can improve magical workings about love.
As a tarot reader, I get more questions about attaining love than sustaining love. And as a friend, I see more people my age talking about dating and weddings than about the realities of being in long-term relationships. Unlike most people I know, I’m not interested in marriage or anniversaries. I’m interested in infusing my relationship with magick on a regular basis.
Sustenance is key. Neruda references clay again in “Sonnet LXXVII”:
in your heart time sprinkled its flour,
my love built an oven of Temuco clay:
you are my soul’s daily bread.
While there are hints of the heavenly here (such as “soul” and “daily bread” reflecting language of the Lord’s Prayer), the focus is on the specific clay. Feeding love is about sharing simple meals, not about fate written in the stars. My magical writings pull from “daily bread”; I weave details of cohabitation with my muse into spells, such as how my love finishes what I can’t eat and eats foods I won’t.
Like Pablo and Matilde, my muse and I have endured poverty and value our shared community. Reinforcing our bond magically requires being grounded, and occasionally pulling in astrological events as they relate to the earth for timing. I sometimes chart our shared path with the movement of the heavens but, more importantly, I always fill my verse with our Oakland clay that was formed in Yellow Springs.
Image credit: Goleudy