The word "sigil" refers to an inscribed word or emblem that holds magical significance or power. In medieval times, a sigil was an emblem that you could draw, along with other ritual components, to summon heavenly beings or to repel their demonic counterparts; later, beginning in Renaissance times, it was thought that drawing or utilizing a sigil could be a method of writing your desire on the world and imbuing it with magic significance.
Many practitioners of magic, however you define concepts like "magic" or "power," still use sigils today. The fine art occultist Eliza Gauger's "Problem Glyphs" series imagines complex emblematic images commissioned in response to individual querents' problems—this seems to help those who commission Gauger to exorcise the agita rendered in the glyphs. A book of Gauger's Problem Glyphs raised over $40,000 on Kickstarter, well past its goal.
But if at its core magic is intention and ideas, and if glyphs are visual representations of those intentions and ideas, maybe any image-based language could hold power, whether it has the weight of history behind it or not. Perhaps a lexicon of quite modern images could be used to cast spells: What about emoji?
The method of delivery and the social media component seem to play a strong role in emoji spells.
My friend Ginger Drage introduced me to a massive community of Tumblr users who believe you can cast spells using emoji. I was instantly fascinated, in part because it made so much sense: "They are basically like sigils," writes user Wiccanery in this infinitely helpful introduction to the practice. "When doing sigils, you draw something while thinking of the intention and what you'll use it for, and then you charge it. Emoji spells are like that, but instead of drawing from scratch, you select emojis from a list, always thinking of their purpose."
This immediately imbues the vast visual vocabulary of emoji with new meaning. A flag emoji could now refer to somewhere you wish to travel; the four leaf clover could confer luck, the smiling sunshine good weather, good health, or good energy. Use a moon and a sparkle in this emoji spell to soothe insomnia. This arrangement of natural flora and fauna can be cast to protect the bee population. One unique spell—my friend Ginger's favorite recommendation—features rayguns, hard hats, money bags and the hammer and sickle, and is used to destroy the capitalist state and usher in the era of gay space communism:
Here are some advisables about how it all works: emoji spellcasters advise beginning and ending each chain of sigils with, the crystal ball emoji
, a modern version of the "circle of protection" that helps designate the magical space and keep power safely contained to the intended objective. According to many, candle emoji like
or anything that seems sensible to the user will work so long as the intention is correct and consistent.
The method of delivery and the social media component seem to play a strong role in emoji spells. The idea that Facebook or Tumblr "likes" or shares could supposedly "charge" the power of a spell may sound absurd at first, but in practice it makes sense: a thoughtful "like" is an endorsement of the emblem, an addition of your wish or intention to the spellcaster's, thereby strengthening it. A share enhances the reach of a spell and the number of magic users that could potentially enhance it—participation, belief, engagement and intention is all part of magic.
At the Tumblr url emojispells, there are currently suggested spells for everything from ritual cleansing to menstrual pain relief to finding pokémon. But I decided to try one for myself: I texted
to one of my best friends, willing as I hit "send" that she would find the luck and money that I visualized as being represented by the four-leaf clover and the stack of pounds sterling (she's English).
I also posted the same spell on my Facebook as a status, asking any friends who were willing to like and therefore "charge" the spell—in this edition I added a tiny emoji girl-face to represent my friend, to clarify that the wish for luck and wealth was aimed at her and not at myself. As of writing this, my friend hasn't reported finding any unusual spikes in fortune or in cash. But then again, maybe I should have posted it on her Facebook wall rather than as my own status update. Maybe I confused the universe. I did wake up today to find an outstanding payment for some work had been unexpectedly delivered to my account.
Haley Houseman is a writer and illustrator who doesn't identify as "a practitioner of any kind of codified witchcraft", but instead, like me, believes that intention and personal convictions can support rituals and practices. "I practice my own rituals as basically a form of self-care, to connect and communicate my hopes, fears and intentions out into the universe," she tells me. "And I am all for using any tools, digital or otherwise, that make that connection."
"So in that way, emoji spells make a ton of sense to me. It's turning a set of symbols or images—like sigils, sort of—into a tool, investing them with meaning and intention of your own," she says. "Spellcraft is about harnessing your personal power and directing it outward, so for me, the mode and method are only a part of it. They are a vehicle for intention. If emoji can be a vehicle for our language, for emotion and celebration and concern, then why not?"
One neat idea in the Wiccanery guide suggested using an emoji spell as your phone's alarm text, potentially to convey your wishes for the day ahead. Last night I went to bed after hours of drinking dark rum and watching "Kinky Britain" with the friend I tried to cast the fortune spell on —after she left I worried about the morning ahead, as I had to get up unusually early for an important meeting and dark, sweet spirits almost always give me a lingering headache. With the summer heat and some existing fatigue, I felt I was doomed to struggle on waking.
So I tried let's-call-it a Hail Mary: I set as my alarm text an emoji spell starring a bright sun, the "okay" hand sign, the BACK ON and TOP signs, respectively, and added the face of an angel who would never, never drink dark spirits the night before an important early meeting:
It worked. I woke with the air of a person who has definitely dodged a bullet, free of headache and while tired, even possessed of a certain calm preparation about the day's affairs. I will erase it from my everyday alarms and save it only for situations where great power is required. I suggest you do the same.