Monday, July 4, 2011

The Tool Box

The Standard Tools of the Craft

If you skim through the average book on modern witchcraft, you get some pretty standard information about the supposed tools that witches use in typical practice.  Open up Cunningham, Moura or Beth and you'll find the same list for the practice- the wand, athame, chalice, cauldron, pentacle and cord.  Obviously, those tools are primarily used in the religion of Wicca, not the general craft but their use has expanded to be used by all types of practitioners  of the craft.  

I was guilty of being a slave to the idea that those are the sole tools needed for the circle, and it really wasn't until the last three or four years that I began reconsidering what tools really are meant for my own path.  I think the origin of the popularity of those particular tools starts with Gerald Gardener and Wicca, but the origins for a lot of those tools probably start in Traditional witchcraft, European folk magic and Druidism.  Wherever it all began, I don't think they are the most important tools in the tool box, at least not for me.

I think this obsession with standard tools is pretty easy to understand: everyone is looking for the road to what they believe is their calling, and in search of that path they come across some basic information that gets circulated and recirculated to death.  I remember being a little skeptical at the idea that non-Wiccan craft and cunning would all use the same sorts of tools.  

When I became involved with CR and Celtic paganism, the tools made more sense when put in the context of mythology and history- the stone (like the Lia Fáil), the spear (like Lugh), the sword (like Nuada's blade), the cloak (like Airmid's cloak she spread herbs upon), the club (like Daghda's massive killing club), the cauldron (like Undry), wicker effigies (spoken of by Caesar) and runic talismans (like those found in Northern European and Icelandic paganism).  Over time, tools began to take on a different meaning and I realized that an item used in ritual, rites and charms need only be things I feel lend to my own focus and empowerment.

What constitutes a "tool"?

In my opinion, tools and items used in ritual are anything you want or need (with some exceptions).  Every culture has their own definition of traditional tools of their craft, as does every spirituality, path or tradition, and I personally feel that when you subscribe to a culturally based tradition exclusively you need to subscribe to their idea of ritual items to practice accurately, for those of us with more eclectic tastes, we get a wider variety to choose from.  

Some tools are used because they are functional and make practical sense- like dishware, jars and/or vessels that contain offerings or paraphernalia for ritual (herbs, water, bones, etc).  Then there are effigies, idols and statues- some sort of symbolism that represents the divine, spirits or any entities associated with your practice or whatever ritual.  Then there are specifics that depend not only on your spirituality, but your tradition/path, your preferences, your personality and your practice.   

Some practitioners really do prefer to work with the "standard tools" that are popularized by Wicca, and I respect that, but  I do want to stress that tools have no power unless you give them power and that there is no true "standard" when it comes to the craft; it's all about you and your own path and the restraints of your chosen tradition therein (for more, see HERE).  

In my practice, which is a type of green witchcraft (and no, I don't mean green wicca or Moura/Beth defined GW- I mean the craft which is based solely on nature and natural energy), many of the tools used in ritual and in everyday craft life are handmade (because it means more when you are the creator/maker) and are associated with connecting to nature and the otherworld through nature.  For those of us based in Celtic spirituality, the otherworld is connected to through nature herself- the sky (heavens), the sea (underworld), the earth (middle world or material world).  I have many tools used for crossing/traveling- representatives of my tie between the worlds.  During trance and meditation which are the precursors to crossing, the only material tools I implement tend to be keys, talismans I made to represent protection and the waking of the mind, entheogenic herbs in various forms and offerings for whatever help I receive.  

Some tools in my box...

I don't openly discuss everyhing about my path and Dilis Glas, especially not my private usage of tools or a lot of other aspects to my craft, but here are some harmless basics from inside the box of the Ivy Path.

A wand: I have been carving wands for ten years, it's the only form of woodworking I'm pretty good at to be honest lol.  I made Trisha's wand, and wands for some of my old circle sisters.  I don't really know why I started, I think I really like the idea of them, and what they represent, not to mention that wands is my favorite suit of the tarot.  For me, the wand isn't some mystical staff that makes sparks fly lol, it is a piece of a tree, which are sacred and divine entities in my spirituality.  I keep a wand with me for symbolic purposes.

Tarot cards: I need to write more about tarot- I get more requests to write about that than anything else lol.  After downsizing, I own seven decks and I keep one of three (Klimt, Morgan Greer or Botticelli) with me at most times.  Tarot reading is my passion, I even got the chance to read professionally for two years at Eco downtown with some other really wonderful readers and I just feel an affinity for the cards like nothing else.

A blade: not an athame, just a knife.  A lot of pagan literature defines the athame as being a black-handled blade used exclusively for ritual purposes... well, I'm a green path, I have no use for something I can't use all of the time for any purpose I see fit.  My blade (which I showed off earlier in THIS entry) is just a simple sharp blade you can buy anywhere, custom carved by Andrew and is used for everything- carving candles, scraping subcutaneous tissue, cutting thread, anything I need.  

The Key to the Forest: Andrew carved it a few months ago for me if some of you remember and it's a crossing symbol.  I love keys, and I've been collecting antique keys since I was a kid (along with about a million other things, I'm a hobbyist dammit)

Various stones: I've been collecting gem stones my entire life, the ones I keep in my box are ones I loved best.  Some were dug from the Mountains up north by my grandpa and me when I was a child.  Sentimental energy.

Cup: for offerings to the spirits and deities, I have about a dozen, usually use brass or glass but the ceramic one is just for special occasions.

Burn and incense: I keep loose incense or burn (wood chips infused with herbs and oil used as kindling for the cauldron fires) handy for as many situations as possible.  They make great offerings for the spirits and some are just for my own pleasure.  Some I buy from Eco, some from fellow local witches and shaman friends, some from Forest Grove, the rest I make myself and keep to myself... I'm stingy about tools I make, which is why nothing I make and show off is ever for sale, lol. I'm a hoarder and I despise mass production... not my style.

The bee is one of my most favored lifeforms- I'm not a big insect fan to be honest, I'm just not into the creepy crawlies but where moths, butterflies and bees are concerned, I'm a sucker, so I always like to keep something bee related handy, like clover honey, beeswax, or my carved bee amulet.   The bee, of course, is one of the most mystical symbols of travel between the worlds and is a powerful spirit of nature and fertility.

Altar cloths: only ones I hand-dyed myself (on another note, look over to Naturally Dyeing, that blog is amazing and she recently did entries about fig leaves and herb Robert for dye that I can't wait to try out).  I keep two or three small ones handy.  I embroidered them and dyed them, which means I'm a part of them, my energy running through them.

Idols and Effigies: I have a growing collection of idols I made by hand.  I talked earlier in my blog about being inspired by Z. Budapest's mother's Hungarian folk artwork as a kid, and I really hope I've done the style justice and made it my own.  For general altar work, I use my beloved yoni mother, because sexuality means so much to me.

Tools of the craft are really what you make of it.  A person's spiritual tools are the things he/she likes and needs to feel centered, focused and imaginative.  If that's not the standard set, than so be it, there is no rule and every culture and religion has its own view of what is proper for ritual use or for the craft. 

I think it's important to use whatever makes sense to you, not what you read in a book.  There are no set rules for the eclectic, only preferences. And of course, as a natural skeptic, I don't believe these objects alone have some mystical power or spiritual importance, but what YOU put into them and how you feel about them and the work you do with them is what makes them powerful, because they make you feel powerful.  And really, that's all just energy being moved and exchanged.  No hocus pocus about it.  

A tool is there to help you achieve your goal, to give you that boost in imagination we all need to connect to that realm outside ourselves where we feel empowered.  I don't care for all the mystical garbage that gets thrown here and there or the mass production of these sterile and flamboyant objects- I choose to keep it simple because logic tells me that the glitz and glam doesn't mean shit when you get down to it, it's the mind that needs the tools, and that's good enough for me.  

One thing I really despise about the fluffdom that gets injected into the craft is the desire to make a spectacle of yourself by being as flashy and outrageously "witchy" as possible, which doesn't say much about WHO you are.  If I buy, I buy from people who make everything by hand and do not have some assembly line of clone objects.  I want to know that what I am buying for ritual was thought about and cared for, not pushed through a machine, glued together with every "witchy" motif possible and wrapped in a thousand layers of plastic.   But, then, that's just me, and that's what it's about.

It's your toolbox, fill it wisely.

For more information including ideas and research of tools in Celtic-based paganism:
The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom (A Celtic Shaman's Source Book) 
by Caitlin & John Mathews

The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles by Ronald Hutton

Magic of the Celtic Otherworld: Irish History, Lore & Rituals by  Steve Blamires

The Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green

For some beautiful, practical and handmade tools online, see below....

Carolina Gonzalez at the Hoodoo Shop
The Forest Grove Botanica
Red Moon Designs
LiorahLleucu's shop


  1. Great blog, I really enjoyed reading this.

  2. I've always been a skeptic (and if I'm being totally honest, downright pessimistic quite frequently) and when I finally put the general pagan label to my lifelong faith system I began to read, a lot. There are several things I've always had a hard time wrapping my head around the notion of, but the big box of fancy, pricey and flashy tools was the biggest one. Given, as a novice, I tried out the many tools on the altar thing, set up just so and it didn't click with me. I'm glad a lot of it was thrifted or gifted and that I spent nominal funds on it.

    Nowadays I use my beloved crystals, the wand I made from a branch my husband gifted me, artwork of deities, a glass, a bowl for offerings, a hand formed plate for feathers, seeds, bones and beads, my oracle cards and an all purpose knife - which I'd like to upgrade to a slightly larger one as this one is only slightly above pairing size, but sharp as hell. I mean, there are other things that come in and out of usage, but those are the main ones.

    Thanks for sharing, lovely. And for letting me ramble again. I'm a bit inspiration sapped so it's nice to come and visit and be able to talk. ;-)

  3. I find it interesting that the blade, chalis (vessel), cord, wand (staff), and couldron (pot of some sort) are almost like universal tools or necessities in many ancient religions and practices world wide...I should send you some of my old Anthro stuff. :)

  4. @Anastasia- thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoy it ^_^

    @Danni- you must visit more often lol, but I do keep tabs on you (are you feeling better? get the gaming out of your system yet?) and you feel free to ramble, I like it ^_^. I have skepticism too, and I hope no one was offended by my judgement, I'm just a very picky and particular witch I am.

    @Kenn- yes, yes you should. My favorite part of anthro in college was when we got to the tools of civilization and I saw how basic they were and how universally they were connected. Let's here it for homo sapiens sapiens!
    Ps. I miss you, come home, you can stay with me at my new apartment :D

  5. I keep thinking of things I should ask you about...
    Here's my email address, I'd love to get to know you a bit better if you fancy a chin wag :)




  6. I feel like tools are as personal as the path itself. I have a deep affinity for certain tools and have others that I have just never wanted to use and probably never will. I have a lot of similar opinions on tools that you have, but there are definitely some differences. And I think that is how it should be. Your posts always make me think. I appreciate that.