Columbus, Ohio, and its surrounding area is home to a wealth of these businesses and organizations, from Druidry stores to classic metaphysical shops. In Columbus and Ohio at large, the magic is strong.
By Cameron Gorman
As soon as I walk into WitchLab’s event space I notice the chandeliers. Hanging like glittering fish hooks from the ceiling, they’re of all different styles — unmatching yet dramatic, as if they’ve simply apparated here. The floor, checked black and white, reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. But I’m not in this cavernous room for a summoning, a spell circle, or a potion class. I’m here to talk about death.
WitchLab, one of Columbus, Ohio’s most well-known magic shops, has just opened the doors to this new spot in order to meet the demand for their goods and services, which includes everything from metaphysical supplies to Tarot tea parties. This event is meant to be a meditation on death, an invitation to face our own mortality. Black fabric is draped across long tables, flickering electric candles providing unnatural light. Maybe it should be unnerving, but I feel completely at home — in fact, I’m comforted.
I’ve been a practitioner of magic before. My maternal grandmother, a spiritual person, had books on tea leaves and divination cards. She had a confidence about her when it came to this folk magic — throwing salt over her shoulder and leaving bread out for the fair folk. I was spellbound, instantly smitten. As I got older, though, I found myself confused. In the age of the internet — and misinformation — I quickly grew impatient with my interest. Much like the young witches of TikTok, with their homemade spells and uncertain remedies, I took information and ran with it, foregoing research. I performed spells found on social media with no regard to their origin. In short, the practice questions hadn’t been completed before the test. Instead of finding fulfillment and routine, I felt scared and unsure of myself — fearful, even. I fell off the magical wagon.
Now, sitting in this cavernous room, I want to try again. It’s been an increasingly familiar feeling over the past few months —as I’ve reported through the world of Columbus’s thriving magical community, I’ve noticed some common themes – community and care. And in this line of business, working with energy and change, it’s almost impossible not to. Columbus, Ohio, and its surrounding area is home to a wealth of these businesses and organizations, from Druidry stores to classic metaphysical shops. Maybe it’s something in the air — or maybe it’s simpler than that. In the heart of this Midwest city, what’s obvious is that company and passion combined have created a rich subculture of interconnected owners, practitioners, healers, and spiritual leaders. In Columbus and Ohio at large, the magic is strong. This time, I’m doing my homework.
* * *
Tiffany Boggins, WitchLab’s owner and founder, describes herself as a witch.
“I think that witch is a pretty umbrella term for a lot of practices,” Boggins tells me from her office in WitchLab. It’s decorated the way you might expect from its exterior — from the moment you enter the store, you’re surrounded by curios, from taxidermized animals to antique surgery kits. A battered clown doll stares at me from behind her shoulder as we talk. It’s a gift for her daughter’s birthday — she’s a clown enthusiast.
“When I say witch specifically, I mean somebody who works with the magic, works with the energy of the things that we work with,” Boggins says “…Herbs, crystals, divination types like Tarot and things like that. It’s that sort of hidden layer that we work with that I think is the best definition of witch — that I can come up with —for me.”
WitchLab is an impressive space. Cavernous and smelling of herbs, the store houses everything a magical practitioner might need — from chime candles to natural skin care. Boggins founded WitchLab in 2009, out of her home. She had followed her job, piercing, all the way to Ohio. When she had her third child in 2008, she’d decided she wanted to make use of her growing magical interest — making products for her family helped her feel that she was contributing something important.
“As I was doing more research and working on my own practice, I realized I wanted to share this. Because as you start to learn things, the map of witchcraft starts to fill out for you,” she says. “…I’m not a master, but I can help other people at least get to where I am. And so I started offering classes, which were like, elemental classes and how to read Tarot classes. And it really created a small community that was wonderful.”
Boggins’ journey to witch-hood started years and years prior, all the way back in her home state of New Jersey. There, she spent much of her time in the woods, adding to her natural collections.
“As a kid, I spent my time stirring cauldrons and cackling. Just, you know, pretending to be a witch, or at least what I thought was a witch. Somebody who could change things, somebody who had control over their life. And I didn’t know this as a little kid, but evidently it was a strong female figure that didn’t need a man — and one of the few that we have.”
When she was around 17, Tiffany’s family took a trip to Smithville — a recreationist colony — for a day trip. By that age, she’d begun dabbling in the metaphysical, a “witchling’ raiding her local mall for books on the Zodiac. A sort of magical shop had opened in the town. As it turned out, the owner didn’t live very far from her.
“I went over to her house one night, and she lent me a stack of books,” Boggins tells me. She asked for a return timeline — it would be a year and a day, the woman told her. And then she disappeared.
“I never saw her again,” Boggins says. “She moved. She closed the shop … I couldn’t find her.”
She does, however, still have the books. Graced with her maiden name, they’re direct remnants of the forces that brought her to opening her brick-and-mortar store in 2018. On opening day, the line stretched out the door.
“I knew some of the other shop owners in town, but I didn’t know them personally,” she recalls. “Like, I’d been in shops, and talked to them, but now it’s opened up a lot more. It’s really great.”
Boggins meets semi-regularly with other Columbus-area magical shop owners (she calls it the Columbus Pagan Mafia, but the official name is the Central Ohio Pagan Alliance). They’d like to eventually put together something akin to a magical pride festival.
That doesn’t mean that the shops don’t face detractors, though. When I finish my interview with Tiffany, she lets me into the private staff bathroom. There, employees paste religious fliers left outside WitchLab by believers — Are you saved? Choose freedom. A bust of Jesus completes the tableau. But despite its massive resident Baphomet display, WitchLab has oils and incense available for sale. I recall the altar of my childhood Catholic Church stacked with many of the same things — was it possible that magic and religion are not as separate as some think?
Mambo Liz, the owner of Big Liz Conjure, knows so. An initiated priestess of Haitian Vodou — as well as an academic and former professor — Mambo Liz is well-known as a spiritual leader and supplies provider. While Vodou is her religion, her primary magical practice is Hoodoo.
“Hoodoo is not a religion, per se, although I see it as a part of my religious composition,” Mambo Liz tells me in her Eastland store. “And that is the magic of African Americans that came out of the slave trade. People will say that it’s inherently southern. Well, that’s where most of the slaves were. But there’s been rich Hoodoo culture anywhere my ancestors were. It was a taking and conglomeration of various African magical and spiritual and religious practices.”
The store is a labor of dedication, buzzing with life. Glass display cases hold decorated chicken feet. A huge statue of a siren guards the entrance. Mambo Liz offers lots of classes in the space for both closed and open practices, including those on candle magic, gardening, and ancestral magic. When I arrive there for our interview, I offer to shake her hand — but she declines, letting me know that this kind of energy transfer is serious. This space isn’t just a store. It’s alive. When I put my backpack on the ground, she asks if my wallet is inside: It is. She tells me to pick it up — you never put your money on the ground.
Growing up between Chicago and Medina, Ohio, in her ancestral home, Mambo Liz went on to get multiple academic degrees. She read Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler — authors who imbued their work with the same magic she finds in herself today.
“You don’t read it from that perspective if you don’t know anything about it, you don’t believe in it,” she says. “…I used to think it was stuff that Black people just did. Or superstition, or folk tales, or old timey tales.”
But her grandmother — a little like mine — was very into the paranormal. Visiting her mother in the orange summers of the 70s, she would see a reader who lived in the building. Mambo Liz sat in the corner, listening to their hushed tones amid beaded curtains.
“My grandparents, they were spiritual people,” she says. “They just didn’t go to church. And so a lot of the things and the traditions that we had, I saw them once I started studying Hoodoo.”
For Mambo Liz, this journey began with a ghost. She’d been a professional photographer in her early 40s, and her mentors, Alan and Jeff — who now do business under the name BrujoBros — owned The Vodou Store. Though she’d hoped to focus on her art at that point in her life, things soon began to echo her childhood.
“We would hear stories of our dead coming back to visit, and the different things they’ve done, and the ways they appeared. But one thing is they used to play with me, they were trickster spirits,” she says. “…They really would get me on library books. I had a chair that we would put shit behind, just me and my cousin, just to do it. And it would disappear. And then it would show up three years later someplace else.”
Things had begun to go missing in her apartment again. She wondered — could it be early onset Alzheimer’s? Then, one day, she says, her laptop began to type itself.
“Then I saw keys clicking,” she tells me, emphasizing her memory with her fingers. “I saw the dots appear on the password screen. I’m sitting across the room. It logged in. It knew my password.”
She called her mentors, frightened yet still a bit reserved.
“I was always enchanted by the paranormal,” she recalls. “I wasn’t necessarily scared, but I didn’t necessarily want to be bothered. I didn’t know what it meant, and I was really trying to concentrate on my art. I was just really not trying to deal with no ghosts. Because that’s what I’d been taught they were, they were just simply ghosts, and I’m like, I can’t help you get to the other side. I’m not the one! Well, I was the one.”
Instead of doing a cleansing, her mentors performed divination. That’s how she found out that the “ghosts” were not simply strangers — they were her spirits. One of them, a tall, thin man in a top hat, appeared when family members passed away. It became clear: He was Bawon Samedi (The Baron), a Gede spirit of the dead.
“The brainwashing of the Christian church was heavy on us. Because they didn’t want us practicing this stuff. They were scared of it too, number one. Number two, it works. It’s powerful. But, see, what a lot of the time gets ignored about Vodou and Hoodoo is they were liberation practices,” Mambo Liz explains. “…A woman would bind a man to her to keep him from being sold. There was a lot of resistance.”
African cosmology, Mambo Liz explains to me, is not just “magic.” It transcends that label, entering the spheres of the magical, the medical, and the mundane. These belief systems are closed practices — meaning they can only be practiced by those in the communities who originated them. Why?
“Because we could be killed if we practice these things. So they stayed with our people, they stayed in our communities, they stayed on an initiatory or family level.”
That’s part of the reason she chose to open her physical store — there were no solely Black-owned metaphysical stores in the area before she opened, her business having outgrown her home.
“I’ve always been an educator, and I’ve always been about having safe Black spaces. And as you can see, we’ve abundantly had to have more and more of those as time has gone on.”
I am a guest in this space, so I’m excited to find that the store offers open classes as well as closed ones — including a candle magic class taught by one of her mentors. When I arrive, the day of, I feel lucky: I get to see this close up. It’s immediately clear to me that I’m learning from an expert — I learn all about wax shapes, colors, and even how to make an at-home lamp for lamp magic. (It involves a cotton ball, foil, and a basin of water to prevent fires.) I fill up pages and pages of notes. This time, I want to do things right.
At their sort-of-monthly meetings, WitchLab and Big Liz Conjure are joined by a long list of fellow practitioners and their businesses, including Spirit of Tiphereth, Blessed Be, Violet Flame, WitchLab, Big Liz Conjure, Cobalt Nui, author Patti Wigington, and — perhaps the most visible of these entities — The Magical Druid. This is partially due to their hosting and sponsorship of the Columbus Witch’s Ball, an event that’s been going on in the city for more than twenty years.
“The store wants to be a community hub. One of our first by-lines, or slogans, was all paths lead to the sacred center. We want to be that sacred center for people regardless of your path,” Seamus Dillard tells me from the back room of Magical Druid’s brand-new location. A bag of herbs, to be packaged later, sits in the corner.
The space is huge, sprawling far past the limits of their previous Clintonville location. Tables and shelves of oils, herbs, and totems line the store. In the front room, a wall of fake stone masonry has been set up behind the checkout counter. The beginnings, an employee tells me, of an indoor cabin.
Dillard describes himself as a pagan, and practices “granny magic” — akin to folk magic. Though he grew up culturally Christian, Dillard’s Native American grandfather introduced him to Appalachian magic.
“He would be the one to go pick four herbs, mix it up, put it into a salve and put it on your arm if you had a bee sting or a rash,” Dillard says. “And these would be things that his mother would have taught him.”
But his true door to the world of magic was thanks to — of all things — the Girl Scouts of America. The daughter of a friend was working on her crystals and gemstones badge, which took them to the local bookstore. To Dillard’s surprise, books on the subject weren’t just scientific, but metaphysical as well. He didn’t buy a book on crystals, but he did walk away with a cookie cutter tome on Celtic magic.
“It’s kind of like bad pop music,” Dillard recalls. “It got me into it, and the more you explore, then you find the Beatles.”
By his late 20s, Dillard had started taking his interest seriously. Standing in a beer line at a concert, he spotted a young woman wearing a pentagram — the first he’d ever seen in public. They began dating, and Dillard fully embraced Paganism. (He and his wife have been married for over 20 years.) He became involved with a Columbus-based Druidry group, Three Cranes Grove, eventually ascending to the rank of Vice Archdruid. Still, it wasn’t quite right. Dillard and his business partner weren’t getting the specifics they wanted — it was all too Wiccan, too focused on witchcraft. It’s unsurprising — at that time, more than twenty years ago, Columbus’ witch scene was still germinating.
“It was still not something everybody felt comfortable with, coming out of the broom closet,” Dillard says.
What is surprising is that, even then, Columbus was a hub for magical stores. Though most of them — Fly By Night, Salem’s West, Shadow Realm — are now gone, they were integral to the community in an era before social media. Now, the Magical Druid has taken up the pagan mantle. It strikes me as a sort of catch-all — the items here range from clothing to books on Wicca. The store also offers events, including classes and group rituals.
“It’s always humbling to know that people are supporting stuff like this, because everybody knows you can get this stuff everywhere now,” Dillard says. “But there is at least a portion of the community who wants to buy locally, and wants to buy from Tiff or wants to buy from [Mambo] Liz or wants to buy from us. And we never forget that.”
But it goes beyond the retail experience — Seamus hopes The Magical Druid can provide safety.
“We start with the very smallest stuff — weekly blessing rituals, full moon rituals, high day rituals, things that don’t translate to money,” Seamus says, “Because it’s not about money, it’s about building a community and giving people the opportunity to share what their belief system is.”
This shared sense of community is the first thing I notice when I enter Metaphysical Melanin. Located in the very building that housed Columbus’ first Black-owned hospital, the store is the brainchild of Monica Jeffries. Much like other store owners in the area, she started her practice out of her home.
“I describe myself as a healer,” Jeffries says from her store in central Columbus. A picture of Dr. William Method, one of the hospital’s founders, graces the wall — a reminder of the history that’s brought us here. “Metaphysical Melanin is about normalizing self-love and self care as medicine.”
Jeffries focuses on natural and spiritual healing, though she does use the word magic in her practice. (Her definition? “Being able to create your reality based on your faith,” she tells me.) As I sit across from her for our interview, I notice that she radiates a sort of calm assuredness — a peace that I’ve found comes only from within. One wall of the bright store is covered in photos of her “supportive clan,” people who have helped her on the journey from her two bedroom apartment to this lushly stocked location. Lining the shelves are bottles of homemade body care items, crystals, and oils — everything someone seeking healing might need.
Jeffries, born in Akron, Ohio, grew up in a spiritual household. Her mother is an Apostolic Christian, while her father’s side practices African spirituality. Jeffries’ family has been tracking their ancestry, including their spiritual practices, for hundreds of years.
“The people that come in here, they’re looking for someone they can trust,” Jeffries says. “That’s the first thing. And they’re looking for community, they’re looking for someone to understand them. Most of the people that come in the store, they’re the first person in their family that’s doing this. My family has been doing this for 300 years.”
Everything Jeffries does is imbued with her spirituality, she tells me, from washing her floors to watering her plants. It aligns with what both Mambo Liz and Tiffany have told me — that part of magic is rooted in the everyday. Monica hopes to foster community with her store, something crucial to any kind of magic.
“Elders are important, because in my practice, practicing African spirituality, community is the number one thing,” Jeffries says. “Respecting your elders, honoring your ancestors. Without you doing those things, you cannot do anything else.”
But that connection goes both ways. Jeffries takes care to source her products from sustainable sources, including buying her crystals from Indigenous miners.
“With this being a Black-owned store, it’s very important that everything I possibly can be Black dollars circulated. The herbs come from Indigenous places. The only thing that doesn’t really is the product bottles that I make my products in. And once I find a Black manufacturer that will switch. So that is very important to me.”
It’s clear that Metaphysical Melanin is an intentional effort, a place of care and support. Jeffries offers a spiritual mentorship program through the store (with one on one weekly meetings), as well as her physical products. She tells me she plans to run a series called “Healing Girl Summer” from June to September, and even has a plant hospital — nursing sick greenery back to health. Her aims, she says, have shifted from widespread growth — opening multiple stores — to focused quality.
“If I’m not making the product, they’re not going to work. I’m the magic. I’m the reason the products work because I tell the products to work,” Jeffries says. Her new goal is to make Metaphysical Melanin a quasi-tourist destination, a one-of-a-kind experience. Monica’s returning customers and community certainly seem to support it.
“Those people have been here through the journey,” Jeffries recalls. “…And I personally cannot name one business that I have stayed committed to for a number of years. So to have people do that with things I make in my kitchen — that’s magic.”
The atmosphere reminds me a bit of Brewing Intuition’s. Located in Hilliard, an offshoot of Columbus, the store’s a little nook of peace. Emily Dane, resident head witch and owner, greets me with a cup of tea. I wait for her on a green velvet couch, my eyes roving over displays of herbs, bath products, incense, and more. Though she’s been in business for five years, she tells me it’s only been about three since she claimed the term “witch” — around the same time she opened her first brick and mortar location. (Brewing Intuition finally settled into its largest space yet in 2022, an airy spot full of natural light and plants.) Growing up under the influence of Christianity, she was initially averse to the world of magic. Now, she embodies it.
“I’m still learning,” Dane says. “It’s just evolving all the time. That’s what the shop is. The shop is constantly evolving, and it is a place for people to come in and be able to safely learn about self-reflection and transformation.”
The business — a “modern apothecary” — grew out of Dane’s initial interest, crystals. From stocking the stones to making jewelry, Emily was fascinated by the vibrational properties of stones such as quartz. She opened up an online business through Instagram, and soon expanded through Etsy, Shopify, and her living room.
“I needed a space to grow — to be able to offer more at a more accessible rate and variety. But the true goal of it was to have more of a connection to the community,” Dane says. “…I connected a lot with people online, but it felt like there was a need for personal connection.”
Again, I’m struck by the intense similarity between the goals of Brewing Intuition and of other magical businesses in the area. I’ve yet to find someone who hasn’t extolled the virtues — and necessity — of community. Though Emily isn’t part of an official coven, she does work with other witches, both in and outside of Brewing Intuition.
“I’ve always been really a solo witch, or solo practitioner, where I have these people by my side, and we create magic together, but they almost would identify as solo practitioners as well,” Emily says, “where it’s very much about self-reflection and self-growth. And then we come together and kind of put that out in the world, or create those safe spaces for other people.”
Emily’s practice ranges from the mundane — such as shower rituals — to divination. She considers these small moments to be just as valid as larger ones.
“It’s those moments you connect with your body, or show up for yourself, or connect with nature or somebody else.”
As her circle has grown — Brewing Intuition recently partnered with hOm Sound Baths for an event at the Columbus Museum of Art — Dane’s hopes for the business have evolved. She wants Brewing Intuition to be a community resource, a place for others to find magic in affirming ways.
“Magic is watching a little squirrel eat the peanuts right in front of you, or listening to the birds. I mean, it sounds so cliché and cheesy, but like, babies smiling or sipping on your tea. These little things in life that people overlook as magic,” Emily says. “…If we aren’t seeing that as a form of spiritual alchemy — and magic —I think we’re definitely missing out on a lot of opportunities to transform ourselves.”
When my WitchLab class finally starts, I try to quiet my mind. The facilitator splits us up, table-by table, and I’m soon sitting with Rivka, WitchLab’s general manager. (I remember her — we’d talked previously about the store’s resident ghost, Susan.) Next to us is a young woman with soft eyes. She says she’s here because she’s afraid of dying.
I’m not scared of death, but I am wary of time. My journey through the world of local witchcraft has revived my love of magic — and put into perspective how much work is ahead of me if I want to try again. For in Columbus, the metaphysical is not some vague and frightening thing. Rather, it’s what I’ve always suspected: Alive and well.
The facilitator asks us to close our eyes — to focus on what images appear there. Flowers open behind my eyelids, and I wonder how much of what I’m seeing is unbidden. We are to pair up. One of us, eyes open, acts as the “sender.” The other, eyes closed, is the “receiver.” (Me.) The sender focuses a sensation — hot, cold — on the receiver’s hand. They should be able to tell the difference.
I don’t know what I’m looking for yet, only that I should be feeling something. I won’t force this, I think. If this is real, I’ll let it show me. Slowly, one of my hands begins to tingle. I fight the flutter in my chest, open my eyes. This one? I ask Rivka, uncertain. She smiles. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
Banner image courtesy of WitchLab.
Born and raised in Ohio, Cameron Gorman (she/they) is pursuing their MFA at Ohio State University. Cameron holds a BS in journalism from Kent State University and is an associate poetry editor for The Journal. She loves sitting in gardens at night, scary movies, and magic.