Have you ever had a day where you were sick of being depressed about something and wanted to venture out into the world, without quite knowing what you needed? Maybe just to be around people again or to see if the sun was still out there?
After going through a bit of a difficult transitional time, I was having a staying-in-bed-too-long day and scrolled through Instagram mindlessly and stopped on a photo of a friend at a retail shop opening party for a place called Specter. I clicked on the shop account and was instantly drawn to the aesthetic. It was a refined darkness I thought of as “grown-up goth.”
The shop posted a photo of a beautiful display with bowls of dried flowers on an antique tiered tray. It said there are free “Self Care Love Spell” jars leftover from the opening, and a list of ingredients to help draw things like wishes, calm, sweetness, and attraction to the possessor.
As I recently made a pact with myself to make 2018 a year of a little more magic, I was convinced acquiring a Self Care Love Spell jar was just the thing to get me out of bed and out into the world. It was a grey, cold, and damp Wisconsin winter day. I was still feeling so full of emotion, I felt if I tipped in one direction something might pour out. Probably not a good day to go out in public, but here we were.
I stepped in to the shop on the rapidly growing 5th street, and my eyes adjusted in the deep colored walls and candle lit space. The perfume of hand-poured candles was warm and inviting. Thick sheepskin blankets were draped on antique furniture, a few small animals frozen forever in taxidermy greeted me at the door along with the shop owner, Kate Howard.
The aesthetic is refined, and everything is beautiful and lovingly crafted with organic material. Textiles begged to be touched, scents begged to be experienced and every object had perfect harmony with with other. It’s a place for the senses.
Not really sure what I was doing in public quite yet, I looked around and sheepishly asked about the spell jars. Howard is one of those women who are intimidatingly poised and beautiful, but so warm when you meet her that you are quickly put at ease. She guided me to the empty jars to fill as I needed with all the rose petals, cardamon pods and other dried bits of nature to fulfill my quest for the day.
Feeling even more emotional after carefully dropping dried dandelion “for wishes!” into my jar, I couldn’t stop myself from over-sharing with Kate my current life state and a few tears pushed out.
I was embarrassed for unloading on her, but she told me about Iona, in Scotland. The first area referred to as a “thin place” - where the space between heaven and earth is thinner. She has felt the shop is located in such a place, and her eyes welled up a little, too. “Lots of connections and emotions happen here.”
As ma and pa shops are typically started by very passionate and dedicated people, I was curious how hers came about. She told me a little about her past life in retail sales, management and visuals on Michigan Ave. in Chicago.
“Moving up here from Chicago was a rough transition for me. I wasn’t making a ton of friends and I missed the culture of the bigger city. I got pretty depressed and my husband is the one that was like, ‘DUDE. OPEN YOUR OWN STORE. Do it now.’ And he helped me get started. I did some soul searching and started settling in to this community and through that process, learned a ton about myself and the world that I wanted to carry with me everywhere and incorporate into the goal of the shop. It couldn’t be just another retail store. That’s not my style really, and having left the retail industry to find something more fulfilling I needed to be doing something that was more… just more. I’m still figuring out the actions that make it so (community involvement, workshops and classes, etc.) but I think the artists and makers I’ve found, and continue to reach out to, have collectively given this place the life that it has. Some real magical things just seem to happen here.”
Apparently life transitions are something Kate was familiar with, and I’m sure you are too, dear reader. If you need a thin space to connect you to the constant that exists outside of our selves and surround yourself in the beauty of the senses created in this world, step into the thin space of Specter and maybe make yourself a self love care jar while you’re at it.
Specter is located on 713 S 5th Street in Milwaukee, Wis.