World beyond

Longmont's metaphysical, mystical and witchy shops — and what they tell us about American spirituality


Two parakeets, named Moonbeam and Pierre, chirp next to a bookshelf filled with books on witchcraft, astrology and meditation at Longmont’s Magic Fairy Candles. A shop cat named Wizard ambles atop a glass case displaying crystals and various animal bones. 

The back of the shop is filled with herbs and supplies for the shop’s owner, Kim Brain, and her team of “badass magic fairies” to make candles and ritual kits — like the one for Tuesday’s spring equinox that includes a specially crafted tea (a mix of elderberries, roasted dandelion root and red clover among other herbs), wildflower seeds and a booklet of affirmations and recipes. A new line they’re working on includes spell kits for love, protection and honoring grief. 

“I wanted to present my personal magical practice in a way that didn’t feel, how should I say this? I wanted it to be accessible and welcoming,” she says. “And clear. But also open to your own interpretation. I wanted to bring ritual to your doorstep.”

She’s not alone in bringing magic to Boulder County. In fact, there’s a cluster of other metaphysical shops right on Main Street. For the last several years, Longmont’s Downtown Development Authority has recognized mysticism as a defining characteristic of downtown due to the concentration of metaphysical shops. Its website features a short blog on the shops and has a “metaphysical” search filter for its business directory. 

“We’re always looking at niche markets,” says Kimberlee McKee, executive director of the development authority, “and this was definitely one that we noticed was emerging.” 

That recognition by a city entity speaks to the growing mainstream embrace of the metaphysical, mystical and witchy. 

Brain, who started her business making candles at her kitchen table two decades ago, says interest in her shop peaked in 2019 and has continued steadily. “I like to say I became an overnight success 20 years later,” she says. 

Over the last several decades, the landscape of American spiritual practice has shifted away from organized religion amid growing distrust of institutions and toward “individual spirituality,” says Deborah Whitehead, associate director of CU Boulder’s Center for Media, Religion and Culture. 

“Metaphysical stores and bookstores have been around for a very long time — small numbers — but I think we’re seeing an increasing number of them to kind of meet this increasing market demand for stores that kind of cater to this broad, exploratory spiritual path,” she says. 

Out of the broom closet 

Boulder County has been home to metaphysical practitioners for a long time. 

Helen Gilman, born in 1892, was a psychic who read tea leaves and fortunes for 75 years in Boulder and ran a shop out of her home called Ye Old Tea Room.

In October 1974, the Daily Camera featured an article about Rhonda Swearngin, who owned the Pentagram, “a small shop that specializes in plants, herbs, incense, charms and occult paraphernalia.” 

In July 1980, the Camera’s Sunday magazine cover featured a picture of Nickie Marshall, “a practicing witch from Longmont, annoint[ing] a candle with Eucalyptus and Cleopatra oils during a worship ceremony dedicated to the Moon Goddess.”

Magic Fairy Candles hosts a broom class around Halloween. Credit: Kaylee Harter

“Based upon secrecy, the ancient practice of wicca prospers in Boulder, where herbs and incense are more common than crucifixes,” the cover reads. 

Some of that secrecy was likely, in part, a result of discrimination those trafficking in the metaphysical faced. In 1972, a traveling mobile exhibit on the “dangers of occult practices” came to CU Boulder and included tarot cards, clairvoyance, transcendental meditation and astral projections as occult practices. 

“Those communities tended to be small, and they tended to be fairly insular because they often have encountered discrimination and lack of acceptance and even some of them, their jobs had been put at risk if they dared to out themselves. So, there’s this phrase, ‘in the broom closet,’” Whitehead says. 

Now, that’s starting to shift. Some scholars have theorized that shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed helped mainstream ideas of “the world beyond” in the ’90s and early aughts, Whitehead says. 

“Maybe there’s more acceptance now of diverging from the past organized religion and finding your own way,” she says. 

In the past, teachings on the metaphysical came mostly through word of mouth, but now there’s more information than ever available online. On TikTok, #WitchTok videos have amassed more than 54 billion views. 

“That really changed the face of the tradition from being practitioners who tended to be older and met in person to now you have several generations of young people who were saying, you know, ‘I identify as Wicca because I bought this book off Amazon and taught myself this magic in my bedroom’ or ‘I learned on the internet’ or ‘I watch videos’ or whatever,” Whitehead says. “And so I think the internet’s role in spreading these ideas and popularizing them really can’t be underestimated. It’s huge.”

An eclectic practice

Each of Longmont’s metaphysical shops has its own thing. 

“I don’t carry so much witchy stuff. Mine is more spiritual. So it’s all about ‘the light,’” says Mystic Sisters owner Eleanor Perreault. Those offerings include crystals, singing bowls and candles. 

Apothecary Apotheosis, which clinical herbalist Liz Giles opened just over a year ago, carries a wide variety of herbs, specially formulated teas, some crystals and tarot decks. 

Liz Giles opened Apothecary Apotheosis in February 2023.
Credit: Kaylee Harter

Blackbird House, which opened about six months ago, is more “nature, homestead-y stuff,” says Taylor Hood, who owns the shop with his girlfriend Kirsty York, who also owns Blackbird Ink, the tattoo shop upstairs. 

“I love being on Main Street, and I love the synergy,” says Brain at Magic Fairy Candles. “There’s so many offerings, and each store is really unique. Everyone has something different. I never look at it as competition.”

Brain’s store carries “tools and maps” from a range of practices and traditions. 

The smorgasbord of offerings both between and within the stores is similar to that of the New Age movement of the ’70s and “very reflective of the current moment,” Whitehead says. 

“It’s sort of a tradition that’s very, very oriented towards experimentation and kind of whatever works and newness and growth,” Whitehead says. “I think in that way, it sort of fits in perfectly with this contemporary attitude towards spirituality, which is very much about making use of what you can and bringing in whatever works for you.” 

That type of eclecticism in often-white spiritual spaces is sometimes criticized for cultural appropriation and a lack of attention to tradition and history. In the New Age movement, for example, 85% of practitioners are white, according to Pew Research Center data. Of the 22% of Americans who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” 64% are white, according to Pew Research Center. 

“There are certainly caution to be received, and potentially criticisms to be raised about the way in which many white consumers of these goods and these traditions can sort of pick and choose and use things for their own purposes without being respectful or attendant or even aware of these things,” Whitehead says. “But these really are practices that are used by communities that have been marginalized and still experience marginalization.”

For Brain, who is Druid Pagan, it’s important for those who come to her shop to have lots of tools to choose from as they embark on their own healing journey.

“Our mission up front is to be of service to the community,” she says. “We really try to have a broad range of tools for people. My personal belief is that it’s the universal mind or Christ consciousness or like, we’re all praying to the same thing. So that’s kind of the vibe we try to have here is that everybody’s welcome and there’s tons of crossover.” 

Searching for something

Longmont’s metaphysical shop owners say a big part of their job is guiding people who may not know exactly what they’re looking for. 

Brain often recommends tourmaline, quartz and selenite as a starting point, and frankincense resin for those who want to clear the energy in a space. Giles might suggest nettles, red raspberry or tulsi for someone looking to improve their general wellbeing. For “stagnant, stuck, negative feelings,” Perreault has a variety of sages, palo santos and candles. 

Magic Fairy Candles’ community altar. Credit: Kaylee Harter

Magic Fairy Candles offers tarot readings and a range of workshops and classes. Mystic Sisters offers crystal ball readings, chakra alignment and aura cleansing. Apothecary Apotheosis recently hosted a manifestation workshop.  

“I think that’s another really important function of these metaphysical stores, which is they don’t just sell but they are ritual centers, they provide classes, they provide lectures, they can guide, the owners can give you advice,” says Whitehead. 

Brain says she sees the growing interest in the metaphysical as an indication of an openness to exploration. 

“I would love to believe that people in general are curious about their own personal spirituality,” she says. “They’re seeking, they’re curious. They want to know themselves better, want to manifest something in their lives and they want to meditate or just have a solid practice because it’s really grounding. It’s like a safety net.”

For Giles, helping people find their way to a practice that works for them is part of a larger ripple effect. 

“There’s real power in ritual,” she says. “It helps keep us stable. If we’re not doing rituals, we’re not stopping and slowing down and being conscious. We’re not getting into those states of being where we shut out the world and put our intention toward something bigger than ourselves.”