Before listing the actual tools used in Wicca, and their properties, please
So then, why bother with tools at all? Some people don't. Some people have excellent powers of concentration, focus, and will power and have trained themselves to perform complete rituals in their mind. You can train yourself to do this with some effort. In the meantime, the tools help you to concentrate, focus, and learn about yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses. Tools let you know that you are now in ritual space; that it's time to ground and let go of the mundane world, and prepare ourselves to commune with the Lord and Lady.
There are certain protocols applied to tools. You never touch another witches' tools without permission. The same can apply to their jewelry since oftimes that is charged for a magickal purpose as well. All tools that are on the altar need to be Consecrated first. Any tool can be made from whatever materials you have, you don't need to run out to the nearest New Age shop and purchase them! Tools that you make yourself work better because you make them using your own energy and intent. Any tool purchased will need to have something done to it to add your original energy and bind it to you. This can be a simple carving, adding a gem or stone, painting it a different color - whatever. Our forebears practiced their religion without many tools, if any at all. And the ones they had were hidden from the Church officials, sometimes in the most obvious places, by being used as household items.
Description: A black handled knife, with a double edged blade. It can be longer than a regular kitchen knife, but is shorter than a sword. The handle is traditionally made of wood, so that symbols may be carved on it, and painted black. Many tools today that are used as athames do not fit this description, in that their handles are neither wooden, nor black. If you are a solitary practitioner, you can decide for yourself how your athame should look and feel.
Element: Fire or Air - many traditions associate the athame with air similar to the Tarot, where the swords represent mental aspects. I also associate it with fire, since that is the element most crucial in tempering the blade.
Uses: The athame is used to direct energy of thought, or will. It is not used for actual cutting, and indeed the blade probably should not be sharpened as a safety precaution. The blade is double-edged to "cut both ways" and is used for astral cutting only. For the tool to use for cutting, see boline. The athame is also used as a sort of battery, holding the energy or charge in the blade until it is released. It is often used to cast the circle, call the Watchtowers, charge an item, bless the cakes, and it also represents the Male Force, or God, in the symbolic Great Rite.
Description: A double or single edged sword, with a blade longer than an athame. There really isn't a sword in our tradition, so if we use one in circle it doesn't have to have any particular attributes. In fact, I think that the use of the sword comes more from the Hermetic Orders and the Ceremonial Magician's traditions, and was simply incorporated into Wiccan rituals because often practitioners were members of both groups.
Element: Air - to signify the energy of thought, this comes to us from the Tarot cards, as mentioned before.
Uses: The use of swords is more limited in circle than the use of the athame, mostly because of it's length. We use it to cast the circle, for Drawing Down the Moon (by laying it on the HP's shoulders in our tradition) or we also use it to ritually signify passing on the leadership of the coven at certain times (by "passing" the sword ceremoniously to someone). We do not have a sword at every ritual, and this tool is certainly not a "required" one.
Description: A sharp, single edged, white handled knife. The blade doesn't have to be straight, as some have a curved blade, rather like a scythe. The blade is also usually shorter than the athame. I have seen boline's made from a variety of different materials, my own has a handle made from the tine of a white-tailed deer and the blade is short, curved and kept very sharp.
Element: I am not aware of an elemental association attributed to this tool, but I assign it to Earth because of it's uses.
Uses: The cutting blade for ritual use, this knife is for inscribing on candles, cutting or harvesting herbs, cutting cords, cutting wax, etc. Some traditions specify that this can only be used in circle, ours only specifies that it be used for a ritual purpose, such as cutting flowers from my garden for use on the Altar. They are a very handy tool to have.
Description: A cup or wine glass shaped drinking vessel, any size, made from any material that isn't toxic. Chalices come in many shapes and sizes, and there are some very lovely ones being produced. I do caution against two materials: glass and brass. Broken glass and bare feet are not a good mix in ritual! Use a glass chalice if you wish, but be extra cautious. Brass has a chemical that produces a toxin when mixed with wine and some other drinks. If you notice a funny taste to your wine from your chalice, don't use it!
Element: Water - also associated with the Female Force or Goddess
Uses: It is used to hold liquid on the altar, and to be used as a representation of the Goddess during the symbolic Great Rite. It also represents the Cauldron of Cerridwen, symbolizing life, death, and rebirth - all aspects of the Goddess. In our group we each have our own chalice which we bring to every ritual and sabbat, our own or others. Be practical, passing a chalice around among 80 people at a Sabbat is asking to get sick. Magick never releaves you of your own responsibility.
Description: A round bottomed kettle, usually made from iron or metal, with three legs. The three legs is kind of important, if it doesn't have any legs it could be a dutch oven, or a casserole dish! I have used cauldron's made from other substances besides metal when they were for show only, or for holding water - which can rust iron. Cauldrons come in many sizes, and are not limited to large and bulky. The cauldron represents the womb of the Goddess, and is a symbol of transformation and rebirth.
Element: Water - once again, this tool is associated with the Goddess, mainly Cerridwen.
Uses: Cauldrons can hold water for scrying, or for the Watchtower of Water (put some seashells in the bottom for a nice touch too!). They can be used to ritually burn parchment paper or other magickal workings in, and also used to build a small fire when you can't have an outdoor firepit. We have put them in the Fire Watchtower and burned candles in the bottom, or even used ours to pop popcorn in for one of our Mabon Rituals. They are very versatile and useful, and allow for a lot of creativity in magickal and ritual workings. They do need some care, especially if you burn things in them, or use them to hold water, you will have to heat and oil the iron ones, just like your old iron frying pans.
Description: Traditionally a piece of tree branch of 1" or less diameter, that reaches from your elbow to the tip of your longest finger on your power hand. Wands were made from birch, as the Goddess's wood, but today wands are made from crystal, glass, copper tubing (with lights!), and any other kind of material you can imagine. There are glass wands with crystals set inside in the chakra colors that are tiny and hang on a neckchain. There are wands that are made from clay, like a pipe, and have feathers and beads hanging from both ends. Many of these are not made for magickal use (unless you plan to be very careful with them!) and are not practical in the long run as a tool.
Element: Air - for directing mental energy
Uses: In directing energy the wand can be used for casting the circle, calling in the Watchtowers, inviting the Lord and Lady, to charge items, and many things that can be done with the Athame can also be done using the wand. (Except represent the Male in the symbolic Great Rite)
Description: A length of tree branch, about 2-3" in diameter, that stands from the ground to your shoulder in height. Some people like them longer, some shorter, but that is the general concensus. As with the wand, the staff has become more highly decorated than our ancestors would have used. It can be topped with a carving, stones or crystals, feathers; I have even seen one that lit! Often people will carve their magickal names, runes, or even prayers on the staff. Woodburning looks very nice, also.
Uses: A staff can be used to cast circle, and in fact it is my tool of choice for doing just that. It can also used to raise energy (by rythmically thumping on the ground), and don't forget it can be used while walking all over the festival site! I happen to like the staff very much, and our household has several of them. They are easy to find and make, and very fun to decorate and get creative. Note: when you are harvesting a staff or a wand, be sure to first ask the tree's permission if it is still attached to the tree. It is also customary to leave a gift for the tree as a thank you. While many people will leave a crystal, or a coin, I prefer to leave the tree some fertilizer, or food, or something else that the tree might be able to use to grow. Use your own intuition.
Description: A witches broom, the besom was traditionally made from birch, willow, and ash. Many brooms were also made from broom corn, as you can see if you attend country fairs where homemade brooms are still being made in the same manner. Be sure to store your broom upright, as it keeps the bristles in good shape, and also keeps the "good fortune" from being grounded and lost. The besom is a symbol of the Goddess.
Uses: Used to cleanse the circle area astrally before casting sacred space, the besom doesn't touch the floor, but is held just a bit above. It is also used for protection of the hearth and home, and stored upright near the front door, will protect your home from negative forces. It is used to protect the newlywed couple, and to promote fertility also, when the couple "jumps the broom" after the ceremony. The decorated broom that was used at the handfasting, now adorns the main room or the main doorway of many Wiccan couples' homes. It is speculated that the besom was also the hiding place of the wand, by using it as the handle on the broom - hidden in plain sight! To truly symbolize the union of the Goddess and the God, a besom can have a phallic symbol carved into the end of the handle that is inside the "skirt" at the bottom.
Thurible, or Incense Burner
Description: Any heat proof container that you like. Some traditions will have definite views on this one, I'm sure, and may use the kind that hang from chains, or have fancy handles, and that's fine. Ours doesn't, so we use whatever we like. There are 5 in my ritual closet right now: a brass one with a cover, two ceramic dragons of different designs. a small copper cauldron, and small ceramic pot decorated all over with white rabbits and colored eggs that was originally sold as a pot for plants. Just add sand, or kitty litter, or aquarium rocks to the bottom, and viola! And use a "sacred potholder" please! We list that in our tools for our coven as I have seen people almost burned when these things get too hot, as they sometimes do. You use charcoal to burn pebble type incense, and not the kind for Bar-B-Q's; charcoal that is designed to burn incense on is samll and round, with a slight depression in the center wbere the incense is placed.
Element: Air and Fire
Uses: Many traditions use a thurible to cast the circle with, as ours does. It is also used to purify, smudge, and consecrate items, tools, and people. We very much prefer to use charcoal and pebble type incense for this kind of working, when possible. However, indoors it can get pretty smoky and hard to breathe if you are in a small area. If that's the case, then try using the powdered, self-igniting incenses. You don't need to put them on charcoal, and they burn faster and don't make quite as much smoke. Last to use is the stick incense, as it really has much less "power", it's so compressed and mass produced. Use it only if you have no other choices.
Description: A 9 foot length of cord, usually made of natural fibers, can be braided and with a knot at both ends. Many covens use silken cords that are easily accessible in most needlecraft supply stores. Or you can braid or weave your own, from wool or from ribbon. Colors will vary by tradition, and many also vary by degree.
Element: Earth - as the cord can be used for grounding.
Uses: The cord is worn about the waist in ritual, and is used to ground the person while in an altered state of conciousness - it is your connection to the earth, similar to the "silver cord" spoken of by astral travelers. It can also be used for knot magick, and is traditionally 9 feet long as it was used to measure an outdoor circle.
Description: A five pointed star, enclosed in a circle, and inscribed on a "freestanding" surface. It is called a pentagram when it is simply drawn as a symbol on paper, or is a charm on a chain. A Pentacle is the tool itself, which can be woodburned into wood, painted on a copper or other metal plate, made out of clay and inscribed, made from wax and inscribed, drawn onto parchment paper and cut out, etc.
Uses: This tool is used for focusing a charge, and can also hold a charge, depending on the material it is made from. Place an item to be charged on the pentacle, raise the energy, then direct the energy to the pentacle and the item. It is usually placed on the altar for this, but it can also be placed on the ground or floor if you wish to dance around it. You can also put candles on it, to increase their magickal effectiveness, and it can also have the chalice or libations bowl placed upon it.
Description: Any bell can be used, of any size and sound. We don't normally have a bell in our circles, but I have added it here since I know of many who do use one regularly. I have not been told, read, or observed that there is any traditional type of bell or tones preferred, so if I am wrong, please feel free to correct me.
Uses: A bell is used to cleanse the area of negativity through the use of sound. It also attracts the fairy spirits to an area, and is said to attract beneficial entities or spirits also. Some traditions use a bell after invoking each Watchtower, others use it to signify a change in the procedure of circle, such as after all the Watchtowers have been invoked, or after the circle has been completely cast, etc. There is most likely a strong history of bells being used by our ancestors. One indication is that windchimes are still very popular. Another is that the Catholic Church, whose practices are known to stem very strongly from the Pagan religions of the pre-Christian era, use bells in their services quite often.
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Description: While many people may not consider this to actually be a magickal tool, I do. Candles will be in the shape, scent, color, and size necessary to the magick being done, and can be inscribed with the runes, symbols, names, etc, that will focus the working. They should be dressed for the occassion as well!
Element: Fire, of course!
Uses: Candles have an incredible number of uses, from simply creating the proper mood (and altered states of conciousness) to representing the Lord and Lady on our Altars. Candles are also used in doing magick (see Spellcraft for more information) for meditating, for scrying, and also just as lighting. Candles can be homemade with a minimum of skill and supplies, and there are plenty of books in the local library on how to do it. Add oils to your candles (sparingly), add perfumes, or roll them in oil and then in herbs. Decorate them in the colors and flowers of the Sabbat or season and use them on the altar or give them as gifts. Candles are a very versatile item, and I do definitely consider them a tool of the Craft.
Book of Shadows (BOS)
Description: Traditionally, a black covered book, filled with rituals, meditations, and spells, written by hand on parchment paper. Our coven uses a 3-ring binder, and puts the parchment paper in "plastic sheets" to protect them from candle wax and spilled wine, but they are still hand copied. Many covens have their BOS on disk, for easy storage and passing down. If you are a solitary, you can choose to use any medium you prefer. If you are going to work within a tradition, you will probably receive the "coven" BOS which should not be changed in any fashion, but handed down complete and "as is". If anything is added to the coven BOS, it is added by the HP and HPS only, and is duly notated as to the date and circumstances of the addition.
Element: If I were to assign one, it would be of Spirit.
Uses: This is your record of your journey through the sacred space of your life and your learning and growing in the Craft. Regardless of whether a witch is solitary or traditional coven, each witch should have her own BOS. In it will be detailed your magickal workings, and their outcomes, your personal mediations and observations, and anything that you find important or that you wish to include. My first BOS was a beautiful book I received as a gift, with gold leaf edges on the pages, and blank inside. I had to add "tabs" after a while to find things, but I still refer back to it for certain spells and rituals that I wrote. Since then I have several more that are filled or partially so, and there is no limit on how many BOS a witch can have! You may want to have one for just magickal workings, and use it as a magickal diary, another for just rituals and poetry, and maybe another for your personal meditations and insights into your life. This is a powerful tool for spiritual and personal growth.
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Other Items Used in Ritual
There are other items that are also used in ritual that bear mentioning here. If you don't work skyclad, then a robe is usually used, to let your younger self know that you are now in sacred space, as opposed to wearing your everyday jeans, for example. On the altar, you will also need holders for your water, salt, and oil, used in casting the circle and consecrating the participants. (see the article on Circles for more information.) Also use a "sacred potholder" as described above in the section on Thuribles and Incense Burners. After the working section of the circle, you will need to have something to eat and drink, so in addition to the chalice you will need a plate to hold the cakes or cookies. You will also need a libations bowl if you are having ritual indoors , to offer some of the cakes and wine to the Gods. A "working candle" or "maiden candle" is also used to provide light at the very beginning and end of the ritual, when no other candles are lit. It's also used to read by, as it doesn't have to stay on the altar but can be passed around to whoever needs it wherever they are standing.
As time passes, and each witch becomes more comfortable with her own rituals and workings, she will decide for herself what tools she needs and what tools she doesn't particularly use all that much. Remember to look for tools at flea markets, yard sales, and second hand shops also, and not think that you have to purchase new tools, or indeed that you have to "buy" any tools. Every tool can be made, given a certain skill level and accessories. I know not everyone has access to a forge, or would know how to use one, so many people will purchase athames. You can, however, find them less expensively in many catalogs, from knife companies. You don't have to go to a Renassaince Fair two counties away to get one! (In fact, the dealers from the Renassaince Fairs are buying them from these same catalogs.) This may be heresy to some, but I am a frugal witch, and choose to spend my prosperity as wisely as possible.
One last note on buying tools - don't haggle over the price. It cheapens the tool, and makes you appreciate it less, whatever you may think to the contrary. If a tool is worth the price to you, then buy it. If it isn't, then don't buy it. You can look for it for the best price, but once that price is set, don't argue. The tool represents more to you than just the cost of the item.