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.
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.
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