Things that are handy to have around
When one thinks of religious ceremony, they envision vestments, incense, chalices and other trappings. Generally these things are not required for religious observance, but their presence nevertheless contributes to an atmosphere of ritual, which is important for focus of mind, and generally has strong symbolic meaning.
There is a growing trend for books to list every object that could possibly be used in ritual as a “working tool”. In fact, the term refers to only nine specific objects. Initiated Wiccans are expected to know the proper use of these tools, just as initiated Freemasons are expected to be familiar with very specific, basic tools of the masonry trade (from which Freemasonry originated). Among other things, the trend to label everything a Wiccan could possibly use as a “working tool” encourages the notion that to be a good Wiccan, one should run out and acquire tons of trinkets. The fact is even the working tools will have little effect on your practice if one does not understand the meanings behind them.
The following is not a shopping list. Collecting items does not make you a better or worse Wiccan. Shop with care, and don’t be hasty. One really appropriate item is far more important than a boxful of trinkets. More expensive items are not necessarily better. I’ve found that, on average, people with very showy tools tend to know very little about their purpose or even wider Wiccan practices. You cannot buy knowledge or experience. You have to gain the hard way.
Also, don’t be overwhelmed by advertisements for items that have been specially blessed or consecrated or that have been created by a High Priestess of the umpteenth Order – it’ll have little or no bearing on its use in your hands. Quite the opposite, these items are your personal tools. Many Wiccans do not like other people handling their tools (particularly their athame), much less deliberately channeling energy into them. If you want them blessed or consecrated, do it yourself. The consecration of tools is a very basic ritual.
Ritual knife, traditionally black or black-handled, and traditionally double-edged. Used in the directing of energy, commanding of spirits, and, most aptly, making symbolic divisions, the most common of which is the casting of a circle, a cutting out of sacred inner-space in which to work.
Many believe that an athame should never be used to cut physical objects. This injunction goes back at least as far as Janet and Stewart Farrar’s The Witches’ Way. It might be Traditional, but it’s not mentioned in the published version of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. In fact, there is a mention of cutting marks into other tools with the athame. The Farrars explain that the function of the athame is an entirely ritual one. Presumably the logic is that cutting with it profanes the item, in which case the objection is more to it being used for non-ritual purposes than specifically for cutting. That’s a fair enough objection if you have a particular blade consecrated and dedicated for ritual use. However, the rule seems to be spouted most often today in white-lighter attempts to prove to the world that we’re not sacrificing babies with our athames. It’s a silly, overly defensive argument that no one who cares will believe anyway.
Swords are commonly used in group work but are unwieldy for a solitary practitioner. It is used for all the same reasons as an athame. Often the coven as a whole owns one sword, while nearly every Wiccan, whether Traditional or Solitary Eclectic, owns his own athame.
A knife, traditionally white-handled, used for ritual cutting, most often of herbs in preparation for ritual. They are most often employed by those who believe an athame should be never be physically used. It is included in the Gardnerian BoS.
Used in directing energy and inviting spirits. Some view the athame and wand as interchangeable, but there is a significant difference. The athame commands while the wand welcomes. Choice of tool depends upon the power being approached and the relationship one wishes to enter in with it. One does not command a god to appear, for example.
Some people craft different wands for specific functions, or even for specific spells. The use dictates the type of wood used and any stones or markings applied to it.
Wands are probably the most marketed magical tool available today. Hugely ornate metal wands bearing great crystals are relatively easy to find. Purchasing a wand is acceptable, but find one that is appropriate for you and your work, and not just the one that looks the coolest. The ornamentation is largely superfluous.
Cup or Chalice
The chalice’s most obvious function is to hold a drink that is passed among the group. It can also be used to simply hold water as a representative of the element of water or as a libation. It is furthermore representative of the Goddess, particularly when used within a symbolic Great Rite.
Caution should be taken when purchasing a chalice. There are many places that sell decorative pewter goblets. Pewter was traditionally made with lead, although nowadays lead-free pewter can be found. Make sure any goblet you buy is meant to be drunk out of of – not all of them are. Lead is a poison that causes permanent brain damage.
This is simply an object bearing a pentagram, generally put in a central location on the altar.
Used to burn incense, which has a variety of purposes.
This item has mostly vanished from published books, probably because it sounds naughty. The scourge is still used by some Traditionalists during initiation or to help with trance. In both cases, the intent is to cause a tingling on the skin, NOT to break the skin or cause other significant damage. It is a purifier. The scourge also has significant symbolic value. It represents the pain and effort necessary to reach goals. Finally, coupled with the kiss, it represents the dichotomy of Mercy and Severity.
Within a Tradition, these may be used to denote the degree of the wearer. Otherwise, they may simply be a part of your ritual garb, worn around the waist. They can be employed in cord magic or used to measure out or mark the boundaries of the circle. They are also used to bind an initiate during initiation.
The following are not working tools but nevertheless frequently show up in rituals, for better or worse.
The use of the broom in Wicca probably derives from the mistaken belief of the Burning Times – if witches were accused of using brooms, then brooms must be part of the Old Religion. In fact, during the witch-craze witches were more often depicted riding sticks than brooms, but brooms are what have become popularly associated with witchcraft.
Brooms are generally used for purification, used to “sweep clean” an area. The bride and groom sometimes jump over one during handfastings.
Candles are almost always placed at the four compass points of a circle. They may be colored in accordance to the corresponding elements of each point, or they may be a specific color dictated by the purpose of the circle. Two candles also also frequently lit on the altar to represent the God and Goddess.
Cauldrons are often described as a larger version of the Cup. However, one cannot easily drink from a cauldron, and a cauldron full of water will more often than not simply be a large and cumbersome object that gets in the way. Like the broom, Wicca probably picked it up via popular witch imagery. The only practical use for a cauldron that I know of is to burn things inside it, and even then it’s usually only appropriate for coven work.
Whatever you wear for ritual should be comfortable. Avoid dressing for drama – the gods don’t care. Choose a color you find appropriate – black is not a requirement. If you choose to apply symbols, be sure they are appropriate – don’t feel like they’re necessary and draw out the first handful you find. If you’re considering letting your robe double as a Halloween costume, you should probably rethink its design.
Some replace the wand with the staff in coven work. Like the cauldron, however, I suspect you’ll find a staff overly cumbersome than not. Some witches employ a forked staff known as a stang.