Tips-for-The-Frugal-PaganTips for The Frugal Pagan
Tools: Why, When, How?
Notes for the Beginner
Let me start out by saying this: You don't need tools.
I know - every Pagan book you've read has explained to you the
spiritual significance of the tools Witches use in ritual and worship.
I myself even gave you a list of commonly used tools in my Witchcraft
101. But when it comes down to what Paganism and Witchcraft are really
about, tools are unnecessary. You can honor your Gods anywhere and
anytime, and magic is worked through natural energy from your body and
So why do we use tools, if we don't need them?
Tools are useful. They help to focus our mind and our energy. They
speak the language of symbols - some might say, the language of our
Younger Self; others might say, the language of the unconscious. Either
way, tools are symbols, and symbols have power.
So what follow are some tips on how to find tools which will be both meaningful and affordable.
Do not feel that you have to go out and buy/ make/ acquire all of
these things at once. Improvise and make do with what you have. Over
time, you will be able to slowly buy/ make/ acquire your tools when you
have the money/ time/ opportunity. In addition, as your family and
friends learn more about your religion and as you acquire more Pagan
friends, your chances of receiving Pagan items as holiday or birthday
gifts will increase.
Making your own tools is nice whenever possible. It helps to charge
the object with your energy - and, of course, it ensures that your
object will look the way you want it to look! However, sometimes making
your own tools requires considerable time, energy, and possibly
And, finally, just because a tool is listed in books on Witchcraft
doesn't mean you have to have one. Everyone's tool kit is different.
Notes on Consumer Ethics
If you go to Pagan stores or Pagan festivals, you will notice many
lovely items crafted by Pagan artisans. These lovely items are often
quite expensive. This is not usually because the Pagan artisans want to
fleece you out of your money - it's because their market is not very
large, and so in order to make any kind of living selling their art,
they need to charge a lot of money. It is great to support these folks
by buying their products if you can, even if it means you need to save
up for a while.
In addition, some basic supplies (like candles, incense, chalices)
are available in craft or home stores as well as in Pagan stores. You
will probably pay a little bit more for them in the Pagan store;
however, your local Pagan store could probably really use your
patronage. In addition, your local Pagan store is more likely to have
supplies which were made locally (not by sweatshop labor in another
Now, if you don't support your local Pagan business by buying their
goods, then you don't have much right to complain when they go out of
business. However, many of us live on limited incomes. For a variety of
reasons, we can't afford to pay a little extra. So we make do with the
cheapest thing we can find. This is not ethically the best thing, for
the reasons listed above; but neither is bankrupting ourselves.
It's also important to note that sometimes Pagan-crafted products
won't fit your needs. People have different tastes, and it's always
possible that these products don't appeal to you aesthetically or
spiritually. For this reason, I've also included alternative ways to
make or find your tools; these alternatives may or may not be less
expensive than Pagan-crafted items.
Setting Up Your Altar
To set up an altar, you don't need any of the ritual tools listed
further down. In fact, if you prefer to be less obvious to visitors or
family, you may prefer not to include any obviously witchy tools. Your
altar simply serves as a place to honor those things you hold sacred.
It may include mementos of people, events, or times in your life,
representations of the four elements, symbols of the Gods, and/or items
related to magick you are currently working. You may keep it the same
all the time, set it up only for rituals, re-work it regularly with the
seasons or Sabbats, or change it whenever you feel the need.
People prefer different sizes, shapes, and styles of altars. I have
one friend whose altar is an enormous display taking up a whole wall of
a room in her apartment; another friend set hers up on one small shelf
of a bookcase. Space limitations are likely to affect your choice of
altar. In addition, some like to have an altar which is very obviously
Pagan, while others prefer a more subtle display.
If you have the space and money, it is nice to have a free-standing
table which serves as an altar, ideally one with drawers in it so you
will have a place to store your ritual supplies. However, many people
have neither the space nor the money to acquire such a table. A simple
solution is to clear space on a bookshelf to set up as an altar. This
can be less obtrusive, since it is common for people to display objects
on bookshelves. Alternately, what I have done when I've had very
limited space is to set up a plastic crate on its side and cover it
with an altar cloth (other supplies sit inside the crate, covered by
the altar cloth which hangs down).
You may wish to have a temporary altar which is not always set up.
The simplest version of this is to spread your altar cloth on the floor
and set out your tools and symbols on top of it. If you have some
drawer space, you can set up your altar in a drawer and open it or take
it out when you want to do ritual.
If you need a very small, portable altar, one option is to take a
large matchbox (the kind that sturdy kitchen matches come in), and
place inside a birthday candle, a feather, a shell, and a stone (the
four elements), as well as a piece of fabric big enough to place all of
the above on.
Another alternative, and one which may be less noticeable, is to
have smaller altars for different things. You might represent the
element of Water in your bathroom with a simple seashell and a white
candle; or a particular god or goddess in an area that symbolizes them
(Hekate in the doorway, or the Sun God in a sunny window). These altars
might serve for smaller, more focused rituals having to do with those
particular symbols; or they might simply act as daily reminders of the
sacred. Obviously you can also make outdoor altars if you have the
outdoor space to do so, as long as you create it from durable objects.
You can make cairns of stones or weave branches together to honor a
particular element, concept, or deity.
The easiest way to procure an altar cloth is to buy yourself a
piece of fabric large enough to cover your altar (larger, if you want
the edges to hang over the sides of the altar). This can be relatively
cheap at the fabric store, depending on the fabric you choose. I
recommend some kind of cotton or other washable fabric, as the chances
are fairly high that you will spill something or make a mess on your
altar at some point (candle wax, ritual juice/ wine, charcoal - the
possibilities are endless!). These fabrics are also usually cheaper
than more high-maintenance velvets and silks. If you want the edges to
look neat, you can hem them yourself by hand (simply fold over the edge
of the cloth and sew a straight line along it) or get a friend with a
sewing machine to do it.
Alternately, you can buy a cheap scarf, tablecloth, etc.
It's up to you what color or design is on your altar cloth. I have
a couple of different ones, and I tend to vary mine depending on the
seasons. In the summer I might put a gold-orange one with sun designs;
in the winter, a dark cloth. If you just want one to start out with,
green is a good basic color that can fit year-round. White is equally
universal, but not very practical.
The Four Elements
Earth: Earth can be represented by a small bowl of salt, or a stone
or rock. During ritual, any fruit, bread, or other food you place on
the altar represents Earth. You can also use a statue of an
Earth-related animal (a bear comes to mind). Many people like to keep a
pentacle on their altar to represent the element of earth and/or to
symbolize the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, spirit).
Pentacles can be made out of wood, clay, paper, or any other material.
The cheapest way is to make one yourself:
- Draw a pentacle on a piece of oaktag or other stiff paper.
- Make some kind of play dough and trace a pentacle in it (here are
some recipes for making play dough) - most kinds of play dough will
harden if left out.
- Get some thin wire and shape a pentacle out of it. If you want some color, wrap thread around the wire.
Air: Air can be represented by a feather you find on the ground; a
bell or a string of bells (small, cheap bells are easy to come by at
craft stores); or a statue or picture of a bird (an origami bird would
be perfect). Incense also represents air. Also, any air symbol that
hangs over the altar provides a beautiful visual representation of the
element, as it sways and swings in the air currents (origami is great
for hanging, and so are bells, which ring or tinkle when the air
Fire: The most common representation is a candle, whether lit or
unlit. An image (such as a photograph, drawing, or Tarot card) of fire,
flames, or a desert landscape can be used. You can also have a statue
of a fire-related animal such as a phoenix or lion. Red pepper or
another hot spice (like curry powder) could be placed in a small bowl
or shaker; you can smell or taste it when you invoke fire in ritual.
Two other visual ways to represent fire are by having a bowl of
brightly colored glitter, or using a piece of brightly colored fabric
like a red scarf.
Water: Obviously, a bowl of water represents water! A seashell is
also easy to find if you live near the water, and probably inexpensive
if you don't (fake seashells are usually available in craft stores as
well). A chalice is a symbol of water, especially if it is filled with
water, wine or juice (though I don't recommend leaving it there when
your ritual is over!). A statue or image of a fish, dolphin, or other
water animal is always good.
God and Goddess Symbols
Pagan-oriented statues of the God and Goddess (or of specific Gods and
Goddesses) are often some of the more expensive items to be found in
Pagan stores. Some suggestions for alternatives:
- Tarot cards often have lovely god/ goddess images which you can set on your altar.
- Find statues in antique stores. These may be pricey, depending on the store.
- Make statues yourself, out of clay or Sculpey or home-made play dough.
- Find symbols that represent the God and Goddess to you, such as a sun and moon, or animals you find meaningful.
- Go to art/ history museums where there are statues of the deities
you honor, and get yourself postcards of the deities to put on your
altar. Or make color copies of deity images from library books.
- Set out candles of different colors to represent the Gods you are honoring.
Athames, Bollines, and Other Ceremonial Knives
A simple kitchen knife can serve perfectly well for a bolline or
any kind of knife that you are planning to use to cut symbols into
candles, cut slices of fruit during ritual, etc. You can decorate the
handle of your kitchen knife as you choose (especially if you select
one with a wooden handle, in which case you can paint it or carve it
with runes or symbols).
For those who are not Wiccan purists, a kitchen knife can also be
used as an athame (a knife used to direct energy). However, Wiccan
legend has it that a traditional athame is double-edged and dull. If
this is an important criterion for you, it may be more difficult to
find an athame. You can check antique shops (though they may be
pricey); but Pagan merchants are probably your best bet. You can find
some inexpensive athames here (but keep in mind you will have to pay
A couple of alternatives:
- a letter-opener (can be wood, metal, etc.)
- a clay modelling tool (easy to find in art/craft supply stores)
These alternatives may also be helpful for those who feel
uncomfortable working with blades (dull or no) or don't like the
symbolism of a knife. In addition, there's no reason you need to direct
energy with a knife if you don't want - you can use a wand, or simply
use your hand.
Again, a kitchen broom will suffice and will be less obtrusive if
you're concerned about what visitors may think. I especially recommend
this if you're a beginning Witch and trying to put together some basic
tools for yourself; or if you're a teen Witch living at home. You can
use your regular broom if you already have one, or buy one cheaply at a
household supply store.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to make my own broom during a
workshop at a pagan festival, for only a small supply fee. If you want
to make one on your own, it may take some time and some expenses on
craft supplies. How much time and expense will depend on whether you
want a really functional broom (i.e. a broom that sweeps physical dust
and dirt) or a ceremonial broom to sweep energy only.
Here is a quick set of directions for a broom which is probably not
too functional: Classic Halloween Costume: Witches' Broom. Alternately,
here is a more involved set of directions for a more functional broom:
Making a Broom.
Overall, I recommend going with a simple kitchen broom unless and
until you feel you have the time to put into a major craft project.
It is probably cheaper and easier to buy candles than to make your own.
Grocery stores and discount stores like K-Mart often have candles
available for very cheap. Soy wax candles are really nice and
environmentally sound if you can afford them.
In case you want to try making your own (I've done it once, with
friends, and it does take a good deal of time, knowledge, and
carefulness), here's a great site about Candle Making Techniques.
Cauldrons can be used to burn paper or herbs, to hold candles (or to
float votive candles in water), to burn incense on charcoal, or simply
to hold water, representing either the Goddess or the element of water
on your altar.
A real cast-iron cauldron can be fairly expensive - even a small
one may cost you $25 or more. They also take some maintenance - they
should be seasoned before using, just as gourmet cooks do with cast
iron cooking pots, and they may need to be seasoned again later on.
Here are some instructions for seasoning a cast iron cauldron.
Instead of cast-iron, you can find a cauldron made of some other
substance, like copper or brass. These cauldrons can be found in craft
stores or kitchen stores. The advantage to brass or copper cauldrons is
that they will cost less, will probably require less maintenance work,
and will be less visibly witchy.
A simple solution for an inexpensive chalice is to simply go out and
find a nice wine glass whose shape and appearance appeal to you; you
can probably find one for a few dollars. If you or your family already
have a wine glass, you can simply use that (and return it to the pantry
after ritual!). If you get your own, you can choose to paint designs on
the outside of it with glass-appropriate paint. Or if you like, some
craft stores have acid for etching designs into glass (but be very
careful to use it correctly and safely).
I have seen a lot of lovely pottery chalices (including one which
was given to me as a gift), but these tend to be more expensive. This
is something you might be able to ask your friends and family to give
you for the holidays without requiring too much explanation. If you
happen to have access to a pottery studio, you could make your own.
You can buy ones made out of other materials, such as silver, which will be less breakable than either glass or pottery.
Stick incense is your friend. It is cheap and easy to find, and all
you need to burn it are some matches and a cheap wooden incense burner.
I do NOT recommend cone incense. It's difficult to light, and even more
difficult to put out (as opposed to stick incense, which you can snuff
out easily partway through - this saves you incense, which saves you
Burning real incense (small chunks of resin which are dropped onto
smoldering charcoal) is more expensive and messy, and it take more
work; but it is really nice for atmosphere and the scents are more
authentic. Charcoal is also difficult to light and can't be put out
once it starts to burn. You can do this in a cauldron or other vessel
on top of a bed of sand or salt.
Some people wear jeans and a t-shirt to ritual. Some people prefer to
go naked. Others like elaborately decorated ceremonial clothing. Still
others wear simple robes or flowing clothing. This is a style
preference, and it's up to you. You shouldn't feel any pressure to
dress the way you think Witches "ought" to dress.
If you do want to make a robe, there are patterns you can find
fairly easily for monk costumes or choir robes. If you are not a gifted
sewer or don't have access to a sewing machine, making your own robe
may be difficult. In this case, put off making a robe until you have
more time or money, or a friend who's good at sewing.
Some people like very fancy wands, decorated with gems and wire and
other trappings. My personal preference is for a simple stick. This is
very easy (and obviously inexpensive) to find, simply by going out into
the woods or into a park near you and finding a stick which speaks to
you in some way. If you want more decorations, you can carve things
into it or paint on it. Make sure to check which kinds of paint work on
wood. If you do want to incorporate gems, copper wire, or some other
type of additions, wire and other supplies can be found fairly cheaply
at craft stores, while gems can usually be found cheaply at nature/