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Wiccans' Working Tools
While worshipping the Lord & Lady may well
be accomplished with little more than a heartfelt
prayer, certain traditional tools are
used to focus our energies and concentration. Do
not feel as if you must go out and buy
all of these things; patience is a virtue when
it comes to acquiring ritual tools. If you keep
your eyes open, the "perfect" tool for you will show up,
usually in some totally unexpected place!
Do remember the old Wiccan rule:
Never haggle over the price of magickal supplies!
Your altar may well be the first thing you need to think about. It is a wonderful thing to be able to set up a permanent working space, with an altar you use expressly for the purpose of ritual; however, it is rare to have the right circumstances to pull this off. Many Wiccans use their coffee tables, or their working desks, and covered with an altar cloth, these are perfectly acceptable as altars. You need a space big enough to hold all of your ritual elements; three feet by two feet is usually about right for a Solitary's altar. It is amazing how quickly your ritual space will fill up, so if you're buying new, buy as big as your space will allow.
Some traditions face their altars to the North; North is the direction of darkness, the night, the mysteries of the Moon. Others face their altars to the East; East is the direction of the rising sun, of beginnings, of divinity. If you haven't decided to follow a prescribed tradition, you must decide which way to face your altar, according to what it means to you (a friend of mine always faces her altar to the West, since Water is her Ruling Element, and she feels more connected to the setting sun.) Make sure that you have a reason, though, and don't just do it because 'someone said so.'
Altar cloths are a great way to tune yourself to the nature of your ritual. They are also very cheap if you just go to the fabric bin at Wal-Mart and buy a couple of yards of sale fabric. You can hem it if you like, even embroider or paint on it with fabric paint; personalizing your magickal tools is always a good idea. Choose your colors carefully, according to the type of work you're doing. Many people simply use white for Esbats and general occasions, and only change colors on the Sabbats. I prefer to use the color which most closely identifies with my spell or ritual; for instance, I have a blue cloth for healing work, a green cloth f0r herbal work, etc.. I do use white on Full Moon Esbats.
You may hear some traditions stating that the altar must be round, or square, or rectangular. There are many differing opinions, and you're free to choose the one you like, or simply go rectangular because your wife won't let you cut her cofee table down to a square! Good luck in finding an altar that works for you; if it doesn't feel right, get another, since this is your space between the Worlds, the place with which you will become more familiar than any place on Earth.
A note on outdoor altars: They're wonderful! If you can manage a lonely place in a forest or thicket, and can find an old stump to work on, choose this spot over indoors every time! Wicca is a religion of Nature, and the closer we come to the natural world, the closer we come to the God & Goddess.
A thurible is a dish or container of some kind used for burning incense. This piece of equipment will accumulate lots of mileage, so choose something meaningful, attractive, small enough to carry, and most importantly, heat-proof. You will be carrying it around, so make sure you can hold it while incense is burning; some people like the swinging censers, some like carved or molded figures which hold incense, and some just use an attractive dish of brass or ceramic. Regardless of the style you choose, fill it half- to three-quarter- way full of clean sand or salt, to absorb heat. Never leave a censer or thurible burning unattended where it may catch something on fire. Those little charcoal rounds get hot!
A witch's athame is perhaps his or her most personal possession. An athame (usually pronounced 'ah-THAH-may') is the practicioner's knife of power; it is used to direct power, to gather power, to release power, and to do many other things in ritual. It is very important to choose an athame that speaks to you. Some traditions state that the athame should be double-edged, and others that it be single-edged. Most agree, however, that it should have a black handle, usually carved with Craft symbols and perhaps runic language. It is best to keep the length of the athame under 18", especially if you will be in a tight space or around other witches; the athame is not meant to give anyone an accidental haircut!
When you find your athame (or it finds you,) you will want to cleanse and dedicate it to your deities. many Wiccans annoint the blade with a couple of drops of their own blood (menstrual blood is great for this, ladies!); this will be the only blood your athame ever tastes. You may never use your athame to cut any kind of flesh, and it is best not to use it to cut anything at all. A boline, or white-handled knife (see below) is your cutting tool; your athame is strictly for ritual.
Keep your athame wrapped and hidden when not in use, and most Wiccans discourage anyone other than themselves from touching their athame. Your power mingled with the power of the Goddess will build up in your athame over time, and you don't want to do anything to interrupt this flow.
An altar paten, sometimes called (somewhat erroneously) a pentacle, is a round piece of material with a pentagram (five-pointed star) carved or painted upon it. It symbolizes the Earth in ritual, just as your Athame symbolizes Spirit (sometimes Fire), your incense symbolizes Air, your candles sybolize Fire, and your dish of water symbolizes Water.. A paten may be made of any material other than iron (iron negates magick) and it is a lot of fun to make them yourself. They are usually about 5" to 7" in diameter, and are often made of oak, which denotes strength, or ceramic, which is made of the Earth. You will use your paten when calling upon the powers of the Elements by touching a ritual object or your athame to the paten while calling upon the element of Earth. Use your paten only for ritual (it is not a coaster!) and cleanse & dedicate it just as you did your athame.
Your Dish of Salt
A small dish of salt is necessary in most types of ritual. You will use the salt when casting your circle, and when purifying an obect. Many Wiccans use a seashell or a piece of horn to hold their salt; it need not be very big at all, as the salt is for symbolic purposes and it doesn't take much. Salt is used to cleanse, to symbolize the Earth, and to symbolize the semen of the God. The semen of the God (salt) is added to the womb waters of the Goddess (dish of water) to symbolize their union, and this salt/water mixture is then used to sprinkle sacred objects, an area, or a person. Some prefer to use sea-salt, but good old Mortons is fine.
To many, the sight of a host of candles burning on an altar is one of the hallmarks of paganism. In many ways, this is true. The candle, along with incense, has been used for centuries in many religions to act as a sort of messenger to the Gods; the spreading glow of the fire and the gently rising smoke from a candle help light the way for our intentions to be made manifest. As a visual symbol, the candle can't be beaten. You will naturally want to begin collecting different colors of candles, because each color is used to symbolize something different (see "Color" in Tables of Correspondence.) The size and shape don't usually matter, unless you need a figure candle, seven-knob, or something special like this; a beginner need 0nly worry about finding various colors. It is best not to buy scented candles, because the properties of the scent may clash with your spell; you will use oils and incense to supply the proper scent. You will also want to look for suitable candle-holders- again, these need not be fancy yet, just safe. You can slowly accumulate attractive accessories as you go. Wicca is not meant to be 'instant;' if you decide to follow this path you will spend at least one lifetime collecting little items that call to you and make your experience more personal. For now, votive holders, taper holders, and glass plates are your best bet, and are often found cheaply and in abundance in dollar stores or thrift shops.
A boline is the knife you will use to harvest herbs, cut cords, and do all your magickal 'housekeeping.' It is often found with a white handle, and is sometimes curved like a scythe or sickle; I find the sickle-types pretty but hard to use. Your boline should be more of a useful knife than your athame; it can be decorative, but make sure it is fully functional, i.e. easily sharpened or repaired. Any good knife, in fact, can become your boline; mine is an old kitchen knife that I started using over nine years ago and finally got around to re-handling last year. It is important, though not as vital, to try to use your boline strictly for magickal purposes; this will help you develop the sense of presence you need when out harvesting herbs, for instance. Keep it wrapped and with your other magickal tools.
If you are anything like me, you will become addicted to incense! Finding and trying out new mixtures is one of the activities which will immediately appeal to your inner child (or inner flower child!) By all means, try stick and cone incenses, but if you do, don't buy the cheap gas station stuff. Locate a good metaphysical shop (AZURE GREEN is one of the best) and try their higher-end sticks and cones. But for a really magickal experience, use charcoal blocks and powdered or natural resin incenses. This type of incense is one of the oldest known forms of worship; practitioners have sent their wishes and prayers up to the Gods on clouds of scented smoke for thousands of years. The basic resin incenses are frankincense, copal, myrrh, benzoin, and dragon's blood. These are the natural resins obtained from trees or shrubs, and are by far the most potent. Do be careful, though, to have adequate ventilation, as one frankincense tear can fill a three-bedroom house with billows of smoke quite quickly!
Formulating your own incense blends is an art, and an appealing one, at that. Powdered herbs each burn with a specific vibration, and can add much to your rituals. Keep in mind, though, that burning herbs smell very little like the plant originally smelled; burning lavendar smells quite a lot like marijuana! Don't worry about it, though, because it is the vibrations which are important, not the smell. If you want more of the 'true' smell, use essential oils on your burning charcoal- only a drop or two at first! With oils used as incense, it is fairly important to find real essential oils, not artificial ones, to keep a good smell. There are many scents, however, that you will only find in artificial; some of these, such as Musk, are harvested from animals and are prohibitively expensive for the home user, so artificials are used instead. The main thing is, burn something you like! There are many magickal substitutes, and no one incense scent is ever the 'only one.'
"But we're supposed to work skyclad!" you say (skyclad=clad only in the sky=no clothes to hinder our union with the Gods=buck naked.) Even if you are able to work skyclad most of the time, it is still a good idea to start finding a suitable robe or tunic that you use only for ritual. It is inevitable that you will want to work outdoors in a place where you may be discovered, or want to go to a large Sabbat gathering where clothing is appropriate at least during the potluck dinner.. Again, you need not go drop $100 on a robe right now; you can even set aside 'sacred pajamas' in which you hold ritual. The style is important only for psychological reasons; you are able to fall into the required state of consciousness more easily if you look and feel the part. The color of the robe is not important unless you or your tradition says it is important. It is actually quite easy to make a simple robe that you may decorate with your own symbols, deities, etc; Raymond Buckland's book The Complete Guide to Witchcraft has a pattern and some good suggestions.
There are many tools that I have not yet listed that different covens and solitaries use. These tools are as optional as you believe they are.
The Staff- This is a perfect example. Most traditions do not hold the staff to be necessary for every member, but I cannot feel quite right without one. When used, the staff is another way to direct and control the power flow in your Circle, and can be as simple or elaborate as you like.
The Wand- The wand is another power-working tool. Many people who utilize wands use them for enchanting herbs, healing, and blessing. Again, these may be as simple as a hazel twig or an elaborate model made of silver and quartz.
Cakes & Ale- This really should be up there in the 'necessary' section. Having a goblet of wine, ale, or juice and a few cakes, cookies , or breads not only connects you with the abundance of our Mother, but also brings you back to this planet, and grounds you. It can actually be dangerous to drive or operate kitchen utensils without proper grounding after ritual; you will find yourself drifting slowly farther into the "Between" as you continue to practice. The act of eating and drinking brings you back to reality.
The Cauldron- Another familiar symbol, the witch's cauldron symbolizes the womb of the Great Mother. Cauldron magick sometimes involves water, sometimes fire. A small cauldron (8" to 12") is often sufficient for a Solitary, but covens often go together to purchase large, stand-alone types.
The Chalice- The chalice, or goblet, is another symbol of the Mother's womb. Some witches make a distinction between their "cakes & ale" goblets, some don't. Ohters use the chalice to hold the water/salt mixture, adding the symbolic "semen into womb" theme.
More coming Soon!