Under the Spell Tree: Community-building with the unknown

There's magic in the everyday – from the joy & perseverance of queer communities to a tree in the nearby park. Author Genevieve Jagger explores local magic and shared secrets in Glasgow's Southside

Article by Genevieve Jagger | 18 Apr 2024
  • Illustration

Queen's Park, the Southside of Glasgow. A bustling community hub, speckled with duck ponds and swaying trees. A safe-haven for barbecuers, winter sledgers, duck feeders, sun bathers, late-night ravers, and hangover-weary queers. Built on a proud hill with a billowing flag pole, the park is surprisingly large – it’s easy to tumble down a wild mud path and end up lost, forever losing and finding your bearings. 

Here’s what I know: Queen's Park swells with secrets. Secrets shifting beneath the shadows. Secrets bursting into flame during hot summer’s nights. Secret party kids dancing moon-drunk. Secret teenagers beneath the bandstand, vaping and hiding from the rain. And, of course, the secret of the Queen's Park Spell Tree.

The Southside is known casually as the ‘queer area’ of Glasgow. It’s safe for the gays to wander freely, immaculately dressed in disastrously clashing patterns. With queerness comes camp and with camp comes a love for the fanciful, that which flips the finger to accepted societal norms. Perhaps this is what draws the presence of so many mystics to the Southside. Spirituals, tarot readers, wiccans – identities that refuse ‘logical’ beliefs and seem so often to intersect with queerness.

I live at this very intersection – an astrological bisexual, existential in nature and commanded by fantastical whims. My Scorpio sun makes me brooding and moody. My Sagittarius moon compels an innate love of mystery. What’s more, I’m a proud lover of the Southside.

Spring last year, an indulgent melancholia dragged me to the park. Disinterested in my usual loop, I strolled into a grove of sapling trees. There, I found a pair of magpies fluttering together. I’ve always viewed magpies as mystical birds. 'One for sorrow, two for joy' – a superstition to which I abide. And so, when the magpie duo chittered as if acknowledging me, then fluttered into a nearby copse of trees, it seemed my duty to follow. They flew to a branch in the distance then looked back, waiting for me to catch up on human legs. We continued this dance until, finally, they took to the sky and flew in a perfect circle around the top of a beautiful beech tree, as if to say, “You’re here.”

The tree itself is magnificent. Roots cascading down a short, steep hill, trunk engraved with initials by lovers long ago. At the base, a small cave is hollowed into the trunk. Poking out was a bouquet of pink petals.

I climbed the roots to investigate, wondering who the flowers had been left for – a memorial perhaps, but there was no card to tell me such. As I sat at the base of the tree, I realised the flowers were not alone. Inside the cave sat a strange collection of objects: three moonstone crystals, tiny and mushroom-shaped; a trinket box covered in mirrors and beads. Maybe it was gauche of me to open it but the magpies were settled in the branches and I couldn’t escape the feeling that they wanted me to. Magpies are thieves after all, treasure hunters. I pulled off the lid. Inside was a strange, silver coin, hand-pressed and carved with a mushroom symbol.

At that moment, I was certain: I was holding someone’s spell. Witches often use ritual objects to hold magickal intentions. The coin had been placed there to make something happen. Another secret. 

I had a little bag of runes in my backpack. I drew one, seeking a sign of confirmation: it was the rune symbolising the world tree, algiz. Upon sight of it, I decided to believe that the tree was magick. A grand realisation blossomed – I was not the only witch in town. 

I visit the spell tree often. I have left and found myriad objects there. A tiny goat statue, bundles of thyme, a handful of coffee beans, cat fur, little candles. Once, a large, handwoven wreath of holly and pine. The objects appear, then disappear, and are replaced. The only constant has been the mushroom crystals. There must be a mushroom witch in our midst.

I wonder who I might be communicating with. (The potential for pixies and fairies cannot be easily dismissed.) A large part of me assumes that whoever they are, they’re queer. Both Queen's Park and witchcraft have long roots in queerness: historically, Queen's Park has been a cruising ground for gay sex. This lineage stretches back to the 1880s, 100 years before Scotland legalised homosexuality. Meanwhile, witchcraft was once used as an excuse to commit violence against marginalised groups. As such, the practice has been reclaimed as an expression of queer power. When the straight-laced government refuses you any tangible authority, where else to go but the campy realm of whimsy? Local trees. Little candles. Incantations. Luminescent mushrooms, lovingly placed.

Perhaps I simply hope that they’re queer – out of love for my community, one I know needs joy more than most. May their spells bring miraculous blessings. Or even disastrous curses. Whatever they need, I endorse. 

I have considered leaving a letter to be found. But receiving a response may destroy the joy of the secret. I’m afraid of collapsing the magick. Without mystery we’re back in reality. That’s why I can’t give you directions to the spell tree. Seekers must face the unknown. I’d advise befriending two kindly magpies.

Genevieve Jagger's debut novel, Fragile Animals, is out with 404 Ink on 25 Apr