It has happened to us all: you're on the road, on a plane, or staying at a lovely hotel in a foreign country and find yourself without your witchy wares when you need them. When you are far from home and need that spell done, what are you going to do? Are you going to find a local shop and spend hundreds of dollars to repurchase all your magickal supplies? If you've got that kind of disposable income, go ahead. Are you going to wait until you're home, days, weeks, or months later? Of course not, not when there is a practical solution: use what you have!
In my book, Paganism for Prisoners: Connecting to the Magic Within, I discuss how to improvise rituals in a space that doesn't allow for a lot of (if any) tools. While being on vacation is a far cry from incarceration, you may still find yourself without access to even the most basic of magical supplies while out travelling. This is when it's time to get creative and to see things for what they could be instead of what they are. Let's start by thinking about what things are needed for a magical working. You've got your altar, wand or athame, chalice, oil, pentagram, salt, water, candle, food, and drink. Almost anything you need to do can be done with these basic tools. Okay. We've got a check list. Now what?
Altar: The altar is likely to be the easiest one to improvise. Is there a desk or table where you're staying? Boom, that’s your altar. If you don't have a table, use a suitcase. Cover your altar with a towel if you are worried about damage. No one in the hospitality industry bats an eye if you ask for an extra towel or two. Worst case scenario, put a towel on the floor and let this serve as your altar.
Chalice: Even the most basic of motels will offer paper water cups. Pick one, draw something magical on it with a marker, pen, or even lipstick, and it is an instant chalice. If you are using a reusable coffee cup for your chalice, then mark it with lipstick, pencil, oil, or something that will easily wash off. I understand there being some reservation about using Styrofoam or plastic cups if paper ones are not available. Normally, I couldn't agree more, but if you find yourself in a place where this is all that is available, use it for your ritual, then use it as your regular drinking cup for the rest of your stay. This will cut back on the waste and make your beverages magical.
Wand or Athame: Need I remind you that your pointer finger is a built-in tool of energy direction? This is why it is considered rude to point. But if you are looking for something with a little more flair, you have choices. First, you can borrow a knife from the kitchen of your hotel. Simply ask for an extra set of silverware when you order food. Then, take this clean knife and cleanse it with some salt water and dab some oil on it. You now have an instant athame. When you are done, thank the knife for being your athame, hold it in your hand, and say, "I now release you back to life as an ordinary kitchen knife. Huzzah." If you prefer a wand, you can use a wooden pencil and follow the same steps you did with the athame.
Salt: Hello, salt packets. These are easily accessible in most places where food is served. Salt is really powerful as a magical protector, cleanser, and barrier, so you don't need a lot. If you are going to be drawing sigils, glyphs, or symbols as part of your magical working, consider using salt as your medium. It has the huge benefit of being able to be put down the sink when you're done, leaving no physical trace behind.
Oil: If you find yourself without any of your trusty oils you can always order a salad with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on the side. Along these same lines, you can really order a side of oil with almost anything. It will even come in its own nice little container, ready to go. This is another good medium for drawing symbols and whatnot because they can be easily washed away. It will save the housekeeping crew some heartache if you make it a point to wash it away yourself.
Pentagram: It's already been mentioned that you can use salt or oil to draw a myriad of shapes, and the pentagram is no different. If you want something a bit more solid, though, you have many options. You can use some wooden stir sticks, a shoelace, some sticks or stones you find outside, or even draw one on a piece of paper or soap. If you have a nice witchy book with you, there's a fair chance a pentagram will be on the cover or inside. The act of making one, even if it is just drawn on paper, adds magickal oomph and intention to your spell.
Candles and Holders: These are a bit of a tougher item to just find laying around, so think about the role of candles in your spell's purpose. If you are using them for lighting, consider unscrewing a few lightbulbs in the room to give it ambience. Or you can use the light from your TV, phone, or slightly opened blinds. If your candle has an active element, then go drop a dollar or two on birthday candles and melt the base to a bar of dry travel soap to serve as an impromptu holder. If all else fails, crayons can used in a pinch and can even be color coordinated. A word of caution, though: hotel rooms have smoke detectors; use your candles away from the detector, preferably near an open window, and make sure they are thoroughly extinguished before you go out sightseeing.
Cauldron: Most people do not pack a cast iron cauldron into their suitcase when travelling. Luckily, if you need to put together a potion, burn a petition (please see comments in the above candle section), or need the symbolism of the womb, you have a bathtub (or at least a sink) at your disposal. For many of my spells, I incorporate the bathtub directly. Not only is it self-care, but it is full-body magic. It's one thing to cast a spell; it's another to immerse your full body in it. Delightful.
Cakes and Ale/Offerings: So now, you've got your on-the-go spell casting supplies. There's just one thing left before you are ready to do your work. That's right, the cakes and ale or food and drink for offering. Luckily, continental breakfasts, while not always filling, do serve up a supply of things like orange juice, apples, milk, and pancakes, any of which would please the gods and goddesses. When you go for breakfast, just grab some extra to bring back. If your hotel doesn't have a breakfast, get creative with the vending machine (I'm thinking granola bars and juice boxes, myself).
Other Things to Consider: Beyond the basics, you can use the natural foliage of the place where you are staying to attract land spirits. A few sprigs of Juniper, a holly leaf, acorn, a couple of pine cones—nature is the ultimate supplier of magical wares. If you need statues, carved shapes, or a petition that doesn't burn, use those travel soaps mentioned earlier. If you save the paper, you can bring that soap with you as you continue on your travels and have it safely wrapped up.
Magic on the road is not so much about what you use when you are in a magical bind, as your ability to find something that works for your purpose. In a perfect world, our tools could come with us anywhere we go, and the phase of the moon would always be favorable. In our imperfect world, when a spell needs to be done, you do it. You find a way to make it work. Traveling, especially to places with a lot of Pagan history, should not prevent us from practicing. Au contrare: they should encourage us to take our rituals and spells to places we have never considered. May your travels inspire the magic and ignite the fires within.
Awyn Dawn (Denver, CO) is a Pagan High Priestess who has been working with spiritual seekers for nearly ten years. After being incarcerated and overcoming her own life challenges, Awyn dedicated herself to the Pagan path and ...