Ritual Tools and Supplies

Ritual Tools and Supplies

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[Wiccan Rede]
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[Building an Altar]
[Book of Shadows]
[Creating Ritual Tools]
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[Designing Rituals]
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I must say up front that not all traditions are the same when it comes to their ritual tools, which ones they use, how they are made, what they look like, etc. This section will necessisarily be something of a generalization.
In order to consider a cross section of traditions, the following material is based upon both my own experience and the scholarship of Scott Cunningham in "Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner", Janet and Stewart Farrar in "A Witches Bible Compleat", Raymond Buckland in "Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft" and Doreen Valiente with Evan Jones in "Witchcraft A Tradition Revealed". That said, we will begin with perhaps the most basic of ritual tools, the athame.

The Athame

Traditionally double edged, made of steel, with a black handle which is painted or engraved with markings which vary from one tradition to another. The Athame is one of the four elemental tools. The edges are not normally sharpened as the athame is a symbolic tool rather than a practical knife. The athame represents fire in most traditions, the only exception being those who follow the attribution of the knife to air as given in some early Golden Dawn documents. It is desireable to forge or construct the athame yourself if possible or at least form the handle. Buckland recommends marking your magical name on either the hilt or blade. Runes or another magical alphabet may be used for this. Cuningham states that no markings are necessary. The Farrars suggest markings based on Gardeners writings as follows (see diagram below). They stand for the Horned God, the ankh, the Salute and the Scourge, The Goddess and Scorpio the sign of death and the beyond on side one. Side two is The Perfect Couple, power springing forth, and the eight ritual occasions.

Practically speaking, unless you are a blacksmith, or know one, most of us must purchase the blade for our athames. If you can manage to produce a wooden handle and paint it black it will add to your connection to the tool. I found that Fimo clay, available at the craft store, made a wonderful handle for mine. You form it in the shape you want and then bake it in a regular oven and it hardens permanently. And talk about connection, it even has your fingerprints in it!

The Pentacle

One of the four elemental tools, the Pentacle is made of wood, copper, brass, silver, clay, gold, silver nearly any material; and either plain or ornamented with crystals and/or symbols. The Pentacle represents earth. The primary and often only marking is the pentagram. It is usually five or six inches in diameter. It may be used as the center piece of the altar.

Buckland does not mention the pentacle, nor does Valiente, neither of their traditions utilize it. The pentacle was in fact borrowed from Ceremonial Magic as is stated by Cunningham and Ferrar. In that tradition it is used as a defensive weapon. Ceremonial magic sources indicate that it should be a disk of stone, zin or wood four inches in diameter with a 1/2 inch border in which should be engraved the Archangelic and Godname of Earth. In their description the pentacle is engraved with a pentagram on one side and a hexagram on the other. The Farrars illustrate the pentacle with additional symbols on the face along with the pentagram and describe a circle of stones to represent the astrological signs, along with the symbols of those signs. Their pentacle includes the following symbolism (see diagram below): inverted triangle is the first degree, inverted pernagram second degree, upright triangle third degree, waxing and waning moons the Goddess, Taurus the God, the two S's represent Mercy and Severity as the Salute and the Scourge. The stones they used are Aries-bloodstone, Taurus-carnelian, Gemini-alexandrite, Cancer-moonstone, Leo-tigers eye, Virgo-saphire, Libra-opal, Scorpio-lapis lazuli, Sagittarius-topaz, Capricorn-jet, Aquarius-amethyst, and Pisces-pearl. Their design is by far the most elaborate that I have heard of and by no means represents what you should have. The symbolism is meaningful to them, they designed it, the example is given to indicate what you could design to suit yourself.

The Wand

One of the four elemental tools, the wand is traditionally made of wood cut from one of a number of trees, depending upon the use to which it will be put. Willow, elder, oak, apple, peach, hazel, cherry or nut bearing trees are all possibilities. A wand is made from a branch the length of the distance from the elbow to the extended middle finger. It is cut from wood of the current year, preferrably with one stoke. It may be carved, painted or written on in any of a number of ways depending upon the tradition. It represents air. There are a number of styles of wands, with crystals at one or both ends, with painted or carved designs, or with written or engraved symbols or runes. For certain Sabbats a more male wand is used, a nutwood wand tipped with a pinecone or acorn and wrapped with black and white ribbons interwoven like the snakes on a caduceus. The Farrars illustrate a wand that they use which has both male and female ends so that the most appropriate one for the ritual can be used. It has the symbols of the planets along the wand and beads and metal at each end. One end has a jet bead with copper wire, the other an amber bead with iron wire. Buckland mentions rowan, ash, willow or hazel but agrees with Cunningham that any wood may be used, including dowels purchased from the hardware store. The Farrar wand is illustrated below.
Hazel or ash is good for an all around wand with perhaps a venusian wood for magic regarding love, fertility, prosperity and such. Apple, cherry, peach or any of the fruit bearing trees is good for this second wand. You could theoretically have a wand of an appropriate wood, with appropriate crystals and markings for each planet. Suit your own needs, but one wand is enough for most.

The Chalice

The last of the four elemental tools, the cup or chalice is used to hold water, wine or juice during the ritual. It represents water and is the primary feminine symbol on the altar. It is symbolic of the Goddess in several rituals of the calendar. The chalice may be made of silver, brass, copper, glass, alabaster, soap stone, or earthenware. It is unmarked in most traditions. Valiente states that the cup is symbolic of the Cauldron of Cerridwen, and she places the emphasis on it as opposed to the cauldron. Cunningham reverses this and places much more emphasis on the cauldron referring to the chalice as a small cauldron on a stem. Valiente includes the cup in her list of coven tools rather than an individual tool. Buckland does not mention the chalice at all. The cup is used to hold water, either plain or salted, when consecrating tools, amulets, etc. In Ceremonial Magic the cup is used as well,
in which case it is engraved with the Archangelic and Godname of the element water and is made of silver or copper, with glass as an acceptable substitute. The cup may be jeweled or decorated using correspondences to it's symbolic water and feminine connotations. It is symbolic of rebirth, reincarnation, wisdom and immortality. Venus is the appropriate planetary correspondence.

The Cauldron

The cauldron is considered a coven tool in many traditions rather than an individual one. It represents water, the Goddess, reincarnation, immortality and inspiration. As Cunningham states, it is "the container in which magical transformations occur, the sacred grail, the holy spring, the sea of primeval creation". He calls the cauldron "the witches tool par excellence". It is often used as the focal point of group rituals and can contain flowers, a ritual fire, charged water, or incense. It may also be placed empty on the altar as a symbol of the Goddes or used to prepare brews or for divination by filling it with water and using it as a focusing point. Cunningham suggests that the cauldron should be iron, the Farrars agree but also mention that brass or copper may be easier to find. Valiente considers the cauldron a coven tool and mentions all the same uses
described above and discusses the symbolism but she also emphasises that the coven must arrive at it's own communal understanding of what the cauldron means to them.

The Besom

Traditionally made with an ash handle, broom or birch twigs and a willow wrapping, the broom or besom is one of the more well known of the tools uses by witches. Every Halloween witch has a broom, and pretends to ride it, but not every real witch owns one. It is often considered optional, particularly by solitaires. Round is preferred over flat. The twigs can also be hazel or yew.
According to Doreen Valiente the symbolism is as follows: the handle represents the male aspect, the twigs the female, birch twigs represent birth and rebirth through the combination of male and female; hazel stands for fire, fertility, powtry, divination and knowledge; yew is the tree of death and resurection. The message of the besom is that only though birth will there be life, from that life will come poetry, art and knowledge. Yet because of birth there must be death and with death rebirth and resurection. Cunningham states that the broom is associated with water due to its purpose of purification. he states that the broom is protective and purifactory, used to ritually cleanse and area or guard a home and should be reserved for ritual use. Valiente and Ferrar agree as to the uses mentioned, in addition Valiente mentions using the besom as a gateway to the circle by laying it at the north in the gateway of the circle as it is cast. Buckland does not mention the besom, it is not used in his tradition. It is best to make your own besom and not really difficult. You need a branch about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and 3-4 feet long for the staff, a bundle of small twigs about 18-20 inches long for the broom part and something to tie the twigs to the handle with. Willow is traditional, but twine works well and is easy to obtain. Just insert the handle about 6-8 inches into the center of the bundle of twigs and wrap the twine tightly around them to tie them to the handle. Be sure you wrap and tie them tight, so your twigs don't fall out.

The Censer

Censers come in a wide variety of styles, material and colors. There are fewer convenions surrounding the censer than any other ritual tool. Some are metal suspended from chains, some are bowls filled with sand or salt, and every possibility inbetween. The censer represents air and may be made of wood, ceramic, soapstone, earthenware, glass, stone, brass, copper, iron; literally any material. The censer is often placed before the image of the Deity(s) in the middle of the altar. All authors who mention the censer agree that the design and material are unimportant, each practicioner should go with what they like. The incense represents air like the censer.

The Bell

A feminine symbol used to invoke the Goddess, ward off evil spirits, evoke positive energies; to mark the beginning, end, or sections of the ritual. It is used for the vibrations the sound produces so it is important to find a bell with a pleasant sound, clear and sweet. The bell may be engraved or decorated if desired. Not all traditions use the bell, only Buckland and Cunningham mention it. It is often ;used to punctuate various high points in the rituals of Ceremonial Magic as well. The bell represents air if it can be considered to represent any of the elements.

The Sword

It represents fire and is used for many of the same purposes as the knife. Its main use is for casting the circle. All authors agree that the sword is optional, and that a replica is appropriate. Most suggest that some part, either the handle or an inscription be added to make a purchased sword more personal. All agree that if it is possible the sword should be made by the owner or a coven member, but unless you are a blacksmith you are unlikely to be able to manage the blade. The handle could be made however. There are a number of suppliers of fine replica swords that cater to the SCA and Renn Faire groups, keep your eyes open and you may find just the one for you.

The Staff

Represents air and is in effect a long wand. Hardwood, equal in length to the height of the owner, and decorated with feathers, leather, crystals, carving or engraving according to Buckland. The staff has little practical use being largely ornamental. Farrar and Cunningham do not mention it. Valiente tells of her traditions use of the Stang, a type of staff. It serves as an emblem of faith and walking aid to and from meetings, a sign one is of the craft, and a personal altar. The stang is forked at the top. It is of ash, cut during the full moon with your knife. A small coin just be left with the tree as payment for taking the branch. The stang must be shod with iron by driving a nail into the bottom of it, the purpose being to hold the magical charge within the stang once it is consecrated. Garlands and arrows are hung on the coven stang for the four major rites. No other author mentioned the stang, it is peculiar to that one tradition. A staff or walking stick can be a very personal accessory since there are so many options for decoration. One can afix any number of items to leather cords to dangle from the top, and it can be carved with symbols, runes, the owners magical name - any meaningful words you like. I recomend putting a rubber cane tip over the bottom to provide traction and avoid marring floors.

The Robes

This is perhaps the most controversial item in this section. For those of you who believe that the only way to work is skyclad (naked), by all means, proceed. I'll not argue with you, work as you like. There are those of us, into middle age and living in cooler climates, who like robes. Robes also appeal to the more theatrical among us who enjoy costumes and for whom the robe sets a mood. This area is best left to personal opinion. Robes can be quite ornate, with hoods, rope belts, long and flowing fabrics; or very simple. The matter of color is a personal one as well. Many prefer black, being the color of the night sky, mystery, and the unknown. Some feel black has negative connotations and wear white, it is up to each witch to decide for themselves. In Ceremonial Magic robes are worn in planetary colors, elemental colors, and the colors of the office held by the individual. You may decide to utilize color correspondences appropriate to the particular magical working you will be doing when choosing the color of your robes. Do what suits you.

Miscellaneous Bits and Pieces

The Boline or white handled knife is the usable, practical knife used to cut herbs, cords, whatever one must cut. It is a simple kitchen or hunting type knife that is sharpened and has a painted white handle. Cords are used in some traditions as an indication of the rank or degree the individual has attained. Different ranks are distinguished by color. Most are 9 feet long. Valiente uses a red cord for initiates and a black one for full members. In her system the officers are as follows; Lady-silver, yellow or orange for East, gold or bright yellow for South, black or dark brown for West, black or white or both for North. She mentions that there is a difference of opinion on the number of knots to be tied, 13 or 9, she prefers 9. The Farrars suggest tht everyone should have a set of at least three cords, they suggest red, blue and white, 9 feet long with knots at each end only. Buckland recommends a 9 foot, red cord made from three lengths of cord braided together, knotted at each end. The 9 foot measurement is after braiding. The cord is used for cord magic, not worn. The color red represents life. This last version is the one that my former coven used, and to get 9 feet after braiding you really need three pieces of rat tail cord about 29 feet long. Solitary practitioners rarely use cords as an emblem of rank, some use them for cord magic. The Scourge is only mentioned by the Farrars. According to them it is purely symbolic and used to help induce self hypnosis for gaining the sight. It has eight tails with five knots in each tail. The tails on theirs are embroidery floss set on a nut wood handle. No markings are on the scourge.