THE BASIC TOOLS OF A WITCH
You are the most magickal tool of all. It is your intentions and
energies that determine the results of any magickal work. Many Witches
never use any other tool but their own personal energies! And some of
the most powerful workings can be done without ever leaving your
armchair. It is the focus, concentration, intentions and desires that
reside within YOU that are the real 'tools" of the Witch!
ATHAME: (pronounced "a-thAM-ay" or "ATH-a-may")
Many Witches own one or more ritual knives. These are commonly
known as "athames" in Wiccan circles. In the Scottish traditions, the
knife is called a "yag-dirk" and in Sax Wicca it is known as a "seax"
(see-ax). As with all ritual tools, the athame is a very personal
magickal item-one which you will want to take some care in obtaining.
It should fit well and comfortably in your hand, for one thing. You
certainly wouldn't want it to go flying across the room while you are
casting a circle. This type of occurrence could cause a drastic drop in
the attendance level at your next circle!
Many Witches make their own blades or "personalize" purchased ones
with runes, carvings and other symbols; all of which serve to blend the
energy of the tool with their own magickal intentions. Modern
Witchcraft books almost always state that the athame is a "black
handled double edged iron blade." You may call this model, "the
classic', if you like! But many other practitioners now use athames
made from stainless steel, copper, silver and various other metals, or
even carved stone. Some have family heirlooms, such as letter openers
which serve the purpose. Some Witches never use a blade at all! So you
can see, it is more important that the tool you choose suits you
personally rather than reflect the latest fashion craze.
The athame can be used to cast the magick circle, call the
"quarters" or elements, and is part of many an opening ritual,
handfasting (wedding) or initiation rite. It is associated with the
element of Fire and the South. It is customary in some traditions to
have your blade given to you as a gift. Some Witches or ceremonial
workers give their tools a magickal "name". (This practice has become a
common reference in many role playing games and fantasy novels.)
Almost all materials written state-and most Witches/Wiccans, with the
possible exception of the Sax Wiccans, agree- that magickal tools
should not be used for any other purpose than ritual work. Often the
blade is left "dull" or unsharpened because of this. (Another blade,
the "boleen", with a white handle is sometimes used to harvest herbs or
carve symbols, but not used for ritual work.) Some Witches will not let
their tools be touched by anyone other than themselves. Some covens or
working groups share common tools. It is, other than for those who are
dedicated into a specific Tradition, what you are comfortable with.
The broom or "besom" is used for cleansing ritual areas, hence the
term "making a clean sweep". In handfasting rituals, couples often jump
over the broom if they want children. (If you don't want children,
DON'T JUMP! The combination of the "brush" and the handle are a very
powerful fertility symbol.) Many Witches have a broom-brushy side up-by
their door to protect the home from unwanted outside energies.
Bells have been around for many years, they come in different shapes
and sizes, as well as different tones and sounds. The most popular bell
in the US is the liberty bell. Another popular bell is the Noter Dame
bell found France. It is a wonder why we like these bell. It might just
be the rhythmic sound and vibrations. People have been singing Songs
and carols about this beautiful instruments for years, that might just
be why there are associated with winter holidays. The bell also has
magical associations. It has been believed for centuries to possess a
magical and/or spiritual power. They are associated with the divine:
their sound is symbolic of creative power, their shape a symbol of the
female force and celestial vault. The bell is an uncommon tool. Yet,
once you use it in a ritual, you might just feel the need to keep using
it. There is no one way to use the bell, use your imagination! Here are
a few ideas; you can use it to open and close the sacred circle, Invoke
the Goddess, ring to ward off negative energies (as well as invite
positive energies ), or use it to signal different sections of a ritual
and/or Sabbat. But most of all have fun, create your own rituals using
the bell! (bell thoughts submitted by Rain')
One of the most common symbols of Witchcraft, the cauldron was once
found sitting by the fireplace in almost all homes. The
cauldron-traditionally with three legs- represents bounty and
blessings. In some Celtic Traditions, it is associated with
otherworldly figures such as Bran the Blessed and the Goddess
Cerridwen. Based on these myths, the cauldron has also come to
represent the concept of reincarnation and the cycles of birth, death
and rebirth. Many Witches believe in some form of reincarnation or the
transmigration of souls.
Cauldrons can be used to represent water and used for scrying. It
is sometimes used in association with elemental fire as well and small
"bonfires" can be lit in them to burn spells or incense. Jumping over
the cauldron has replaced the "bonfire" leap in modern times and urban
spaces. It can, depending on intent and use, be placed in the Female
West or Male South. Cauldrons range in size from the small altar models
to the antique "floor" type. Many Witches have cauldrons in various
sizes for different workings and purposes. Cats like to store their
toys in them, too!
The chalice or cup is used on the altar to represent the Female
principle of Water. Another chalice or cauldron is sometimes placed in
the West as well.
The chalice along with the athame, sword or wand are the modern
tools which are used in the enactment of the "Great Rite"-the union of
the male and female principle from which Life will spring.
Chalices may be of any material. Many use silver or pewter (be
careful with untreated metals when serving wine), but ceramic ones are
now quite popular and readily obtainable. Some Witches have many
different kinds for different types of rituals. Many a practitioner
will avoid real "lead" crystal because of the Saturn energy influence.
The chalice is sometimes passed around the circle so each
participant may take a sip from the cup. This is a bonding experience
and often the words "May you never thirst!" are passed throughout the
circle with the chalice.
Libations of wine or water are often then poured outside to honor
the Old Ones and "sabbat" cakes are also offered back to the Source in
a similar manner.
THE CLOTHING MAGICKAL:
Clothing is "optional" for many Witches. If you are dedicated into a Tradition, you may practice "skyclad".
The clothing-robes, capes, jewelry and other items-used in ritual
work is usually dedicated to only these uses. Having "special" garments
lends an "otherworldly" feel and sets ritual work apart from mundane
Many traditions or paths have a "standard" wardrobe which reflects
the ethnic background of that path. Scots may wear kilts and Druids may
wear hooded robes. Many embroider magickal symbols on their ritual
clothing or "hide" small magickal items in the seams and hems to act as
talismans for protection.
The PATON OR ALTAR PENTACLE:
The Altar pentacle is usually a disk or plate of metal or wood
inscribed with the five pointed star in a circle. (See our pentacle
section for more details on the pentagram and its meanings.) This is
set upon the altar and used to consecrate various other tools and as a
focal point of concentration for magickal workings. It is associated
with the Female North and the element of Earth. Some Witches use a
paton when calling in the elements as well.
Patons (sometimes "peytons" or "patens") can now be found made of
ceramic and glass. You can even make your own from clay or simply draw
and color one on stiff paper. In some references, it is stated that
patons in the 'old days" were only made from disposable materials so
that evidence of your beliefs could be quickly burned should the
authorities come knocking at your door!
The staff is a very important tool in some traditions. It is used
to mark quarter points or as a "stang" to hold banners representing
elements or other unique symbolic flags.
The staff may be used in much the same manner as the wand. It is
usually matched "to your measure"- which means it reaches to your
shoulder- making it easy and comfortable for you to handle without
either knocking yourself upside the head or having it trip you up from
behind. Any such incident will amuse your friends, but do little to
enhance your image in the magickal community!
With the coming of the modern "Celtic Revival", the sword has
become a very popular-and quite showy- magickal tool. It can used in
place of, or in addition to, the athame. Most groups who hold rituals
indoors usually limit the use of the sword to just one for the
Priest/Priestess. Ten five- foot swords in a small room could get a bit
messy, I would think! However at festivals and outdoor rituals, Witches
often bring their own swords to mark the boundaries or quarter points
of the circle. There is now a growing interest in actual "sword play"
and entire festivals have sprung up which feature events based on
swordsman- or woman!-ship.
THE THURIBLE OR INCENSE BURNER:
A container used to contain a hot coal for burning incense. This is
best made from a fire resistant or fire proof material. The most common
are the "mini-cauldrons' of iron and the various brass types which come
in wonderful shapes and sizes. Some even hang on a chain. The incense
itself represents the element of Air while the fire (charcoal)
represents Fire. The combination of these two elements are used to
purify ritual areas, other tools or the circle itself.
The wand represents the element of Air and the Male East. You can
purchase a ready made one or collect one from your friendly
neighborhood tree. (Ask first, if you want to harvest one from a living
tree- and leave a small token of thanks.) Even dowels, such as those
sold in hardware stores, can be painted and decorated quite
The wand can be used to cast the circle or direct energy in other
magickal ways, such as in spells and incantations. There are wands of
glass, copper, silver and other metals, but the "classic" material is
still wood. Various woods have different magickal associations and
uses. It is very common for a "Wand Witch" to have many wands of
various types in his/her magickal closet. Witches who do not use
athames often use a wand instead.