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
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
"The athame is never edged."
An unsharpened athame is a stick. It is perfectly appropriate to feel
that a dagger simply shouldn't be used in ritual work. Wands and even
hands are often presented as interchangeable with athames. But if you
wish to incorporate an athame, you should be comfortable with it's nature.
The athame is a blade. Blades by definition have edges. You may keep your
particular athame dull for safety reasons, but don't think that dull is
part of an athame's definition.
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.1 The Farrars explain that the function of the athame
is an entirely ritual one.2 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.
"...and I can stab someone with it for self defense!"
If you happen to be carrying your athame when someone attacks you, by
all means use it to defend yourself along with any other object you can
get your hands on. But carrying your athame for defense is like a Catholic
priest taking the communion chalice down to the pub for a beer.
The bigger problem
with this idea is that it's usually hugely illegal. Concealing an athame
upon your person counts as a concealed weapon. States also have varying
laws as to the legality of blades over certain lengths and some ban double-edged
blades altogether. It's also, quite frankly, a poor choice of weapons,
particularly if you're untrained. Mace is far easier to use, and if you
feel the need to protect yourself with lethal force, for heaven's sake
get a gun.
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.
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
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
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
Cup or Chalice
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.
simply an object bearing a pentagram, generally
put in a central location on the altar.
burn incense, which has a variety of purposes.
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.
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
are not working tools but nevertheless frequently show up in rituals,
for better or worse.
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.
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.
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.