The Dutch Reformed church I was raised in was as stern as the dour expression on John Calvin’s face
. Prayers were mournful, rote-style incantations in the self-flagellation vein. Hymns were drawn-out dirges with ceaseless verses. There was no dancing. No clapping or swaying hands. No hearty Hallelujahs either. The only time that I ever witnessed anything approaching enthusiasm was during the Christmas Eve service, when the beloved Dutch Christmas song, "Ere zig God
" ("Glory to God") would be sung boisterously not just by the older Dutch immigrants, but also by us first-generation Dutch-Canadian kids. We didn’t know the language but enthusiastically faked the words anyway. I even remember my tough-as-nails grandmother getting tears in her eyes and my mother squeezing my hand. It was the only time I ever saw them get emotional in church.
Church was sombre, not celebratory. I longed for outward symbols of magic and mystery, but in my childhood church, even stained glass windows were considered too showy. I came to envy the Catholics their incense and candles, the Hindus their bindis, Muslims their colourful embroidered prayer rugs and Hare Krishnas their brash tambourines. When it came to these spiritual accoutrements, protestants came up pretty short.
It’s now time to make up for divine deprivation, though. My soul is in need of some serious spiritual bling. So armed with a wish list that includes a singing bowl, meditation pillow and a stout Buddha, I go shopping at Willow Den
, in St. Catharines, and Spiritual Emporium
, in Port Credit, Ont., two of the thousands of stores
across North America that are making billions from selling metaphysical merch, such as crystals, oracle cards, goddess jewelry, beeswax candles, statuary and essential oils. I give myself a $300 budget and call it “research.”
My skepticism is as sharp as the point in Calvin’s beard when I walk through the doors of Spiritual Emporium and see a shelf lined with “Charmed Floor Wash” products in “magic” scents, such as “Fast Luck Money Drawing,” “for good luck and prosperity,” and “Dragon’s Blood,” “to cleanse negative energy.” An instruction guide advises to “use [them] in warm water, scrub your floor as needed while concentrating on your desires.” In comparison, Mr. Clean seems like such a one trick pony. I pass on the “Alleged Bat’s Eye” that you’re supposed to carry in a purple satchel for protection against evil, but I’m tempted by the shiny rows of glass jars displaying dozens of herbs, from mugwort to mistletoe, and passion flower to patchouli. The ground sulphur is particularly compelling as it’s used for exorcisms (My spice cupboard now seems sorely inadequate).
I do find a few things that might enhance my spiritual practice. I finger strands of rosewood and turquoise prayer beads. Each have the standard 108 mala beads that have been used by myriad religions over thousands of years to encourage devotional chanting. It’s been decades since I prayed out loud; when I left the religion of my youth, prayer was one of the things I also left behind. Maybe these beads can offer a new approach to an ancient litany. I’m also drawn to a translucent, orange-coloured, Carnelian stone necklace, which promises “to connect one with the spiritual world when worn.” It seems to be the perfect accompaniment for “My Year of Living Spiritually.” At the check-out counter, I throw in a bundle of white sage and an abalone smudge bowl with a shimmering mother of pearl inlay. I figure that it’s time I get fired up about smudging, the ceremonial burning of herbs for “energetic cleansing” that’s de rigueur
among holistic hipsters. Even the esteemed Journal of Ethnopharmacology has reported on its benefits
. To purify my purchases, storeowner Maggie Costa bounces a small gong against a Tibetan singing bowl. Then she rings the till. I’ve spent $101.85.
With almost $200 burning a hole in my pocket, I head to Willow Den, which has an expansive selection of spiritual goods and an eager four-person staff, who help me navigate through the karmic tchotchkes. I pass on the “Attracts Money” incense cones — figuring they only work for the manufacturer — and the $2.75 “Answer Feather,” which promises to answer a burning question within the next 24 hours — after which you must “thank the feather and release it back to mother earth.” I’m briefly tempted by the $21.95 “Yes You Can Rock a Headband” (turbans are so passé), the lavender sleep stones, the CD of Rumi meditations and the “Clouds of Unknowing” perfume, a fragrance that promises to steep you in mystery. The kids’ section features a copy of Barbar’s Yoga for Elephants
and a “Crystal Growing Kit” (the new age equivalent of sea monkeys, I guess). I linger in the extensive essential oils section, sniffing scents from bergamot to tangerine. It seems too obviously Biblical — and expensive at $22 for a tiny vial) — to purchase the frankincense, so I opt for eucalyptus, orange and grapefruit varieties, and buy the $65 “Dew Drop Home Diffuser,” which will imbue my home with what I hope will be pleasant otherworldly aromas. I get talked into buying a $45 rough-cut Himalayan salt lamp, which is so popular that the store can barely keep up with the demand. They’re purported to clear indoor air of “electro-smog” from all of the electronic devices that we use. I don’t know about that, but they sure do look pretty, casting a warm, orangey glow due to their high concentration of minerals.
My final purchase is a heavy stone Buddha figure, because, well, Buddha.
I’ve blown my $300 budget, otherwise I would buy a crystal ball. They’re not for telling the future, storeowner Karel Zavadil tells me, but are used as a “gazing” focal point to improve meditation. As someone whose mind bounces around a lot during meditation, I can use all of the help I can get. Maybe next time.
In the end, I bring home a holy haul. Before these shopping trips, if you were to walk into my home, you’d have no idea of my spiritual status. It was bereft of Bibles and crucifixes, without a crystal or chakra balancing kit in sight. All I had was a melancholy-sounding wood chime hanging on the porch.
Now, my makeshift home altar — a table in front of my living room window — is brimming with spiritual bric-a-brac. Prayer beads hang from my bedpost, lavender spray is near my pillow, my home smells heavenly, the Carolinian stone necklace is a pleasant weight against my chest and the Buddha smiles at me from every angle. I’m hoping these items will serve as spiritual touchstones, reminding me to stop and ponder. And maybe even pray.