Depicting that witchy aesthetic can be part of the fun of writing an urban fantasy novel. Crystals, fancy magical rituals, swirling doorways that rise from mist or dark shadows are cool. Using rose petals to cast a circle looks awesome and who doesn’t love a cupboard full of magical herbs and oils?
But let’s face it, all this stuff requires investment. If you’ve got a character on the run, on a limited or realistic budget, or if you’ve got a character who may live somewhere without access to all the “stuff”, how do you build their magic?
May I recommend sigils and other magical symbols?
Sigils originally referred to the magical signatures for angels and other beings—which is still an amazing “who done it” urban fantasy tool. Maybe you’ve got a magical detective looking through crime scenes seeking the sigil or the perpetrator and tracking them that way… Every work a person does leaves their sigil calling card, which can’t be erased, but can be obscured.
Or maybe you’ve got a lot of characters communicating across a distance. The sigil may be the only way they can verify who did what and when. It becomes an identifying code.
Or you could use sigils like chaos magicians do. They take a word or phase they want to embody and create a symbol out of the letters. First, they write words or phrases of the desired result. Then they cross out all the vowels, then they get rid of repeat letters. Finally, they pull all the letters together into a symbol. Sometimes the symbol is burnt, or drawn every time they want to call that power/energy. Sometimes the sigil is a meditation or visualization tool. Sometimes it’s a banishing technique. Other times the sigil is used so often its original origins are forgotten from the conscious mind.
I love sigils because they are flexible, easy and cheap to make, and because they can have so many uses and meanings. But I also love sigils because even the least artistic of us can create something cool AND we could add it into a book with very little work. Plus that symbol can be drawn, carved, or even hidden in another work. There’s a lot of layers and levels one could build with sigils.
If a character created enough sigils, they could use it as their own shorthand language. It could have the mystery of hieroglyphics with the modern utility of stenography.