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Ritual Tools 101
Some Basic Information About Ritual Tools by Maggie Shayne

What are the Tools Witches Use?

  • The Athame

A double edged dagger, sometimes with a black handle, but not always, which is never used for actually cutting anything, but is used only for directing energy.  It is a phallic symbol, associated with God energy, is placed in the south or the east, and associated with fire or air, depending on your tradition.

  • The Wand

Made of metal or wood, and traditionally the length from your elbow to your wrist, or elbow to the tip of your longest finger, and often tipped–with a crystal, an acorn, a pine cone, etc.  It’s a phallic symbol associated with God energy, is placed in the east or south, and is associated with air or fire, depending on your tradition. 

  • The Chalice

A cup, often elaborate, and usually filled with blessed water, it is the symbol of the womb of the Goddess, the place where life gestates.  It’s placed in the west, and associated with water.

  • The Cauldron

Like the chalice, it’s a symbol of the womb, but a little more tied in with death and regeneration.  It’s feminine, tied to the Goddess, is sometimes used interchangeably with the chalice, and sometimes placed in the center, depending on your practice, and is associated with water or spirit.  Usually, if the cauldron is placed in the center it is used to represent the fifth element, spirit.  Many witches place a lit candle inside the cauldron to illustrate the spark of life.

  • The Pentacle

A symbol of the Earth, and of man in his physical form.  The top point is our head, the others our arms and legs.  The points also symbolize all the elements, earth, air, fire, water, and spirit at the top.  The circle around the star means they’re all connected, all one, and the coming together of them all is what creates the physical realm and all we see as reality.  Usually inscribed on a wood or metal disk, it is kept in the north part of the altar, and also worn as a pendant around the necks of Witches. *The inverted or upside down pentacle is the symbol of the second degree initiation in Wicca.  Some Satanic groups have adopted the symbol as their own, and this is one source of much of the confusion and misinformation that confuses Witches with Satanists.  Wiccans do not believe in, much less worship, the devil, by any name.

  • The Broomstick

The broomstick is phallic, while the bristles represent the female genitalia.  The broomstick represents the male and female together.  It is used to figuratively sweep away any unwanted energies.

  • The staff

Similar to the wand, only on a far larger scale, and for me, a much more personal one. Normally associated with the male, and for me, air and the east, my staff is almost a traveling altar.  It has sacred feathers, an antler, my power bag, bells, beads, carvings–many meaningful things attached to it.  It, too, is used to control and direct energy.

  • The Bolline

This is the traditional white handled knife that is kept for cutting things to be used in ritual, such as flowers, herbs, and that sort of thing.  This is solely so that the sacred Athame never need be used for actual cutting.

  • The Censer

This is just the tool we use for burning incense.  There are many types.   I have a beautiful three legged brass pan full of black sand, for burning cone incense, or charcoal tablets on which I sprinkle loose incense or raw herbs.  There are also stick burners, brass “kettle” type burners with lids full of elaborate holes to let the smoke escape, and the type on chains, so you can swing them to waft the smoke.

  • The Cords

Many Craft traditions use cords of different colors to mark the levels of training.  There’s a cord for first degree, second degree and third degree.  Some also give a cord for eldership, and specialty cords for those who master various areas of study.  The cords are nine feet long, and have knots tied at various spots in order to allow the witch to use them to accurately measure circles of 3, 9, or 13 feet.

  • The Dish of Salt

I use a geode, or sometimes a hollowed out quartz crystal, to hold my salt, which is always sea salt.  This is typically placed in the North.

  • Candles

Special candle holders hold a candle for the God and one for the Goddess.  I also use a candle of the appropriate color at each of the four cardinal points.  Green in the north, yellow in the east, red in the south, blue (a floating candle if possible) in the west.

  • Deity Figures

I keep statues of the Goddess in her various guises, and of the God in his, all over my temple room.  Indeed, all over the entire house.  But there’s no need to spend a fortune.  On the altar something as simple as a holey stone can represent the Goddess, an antler, the God.

  • Bells

Some rituals call for bells to be rung, so I like to keep bells around the place.  I also keep candle snuffers and lighters at hand.

  • The Scourge

I don’t know too many groups that use this anymore.  In Gardnerian Craft, the scourge is used during various rituals, particularly initiations.  A prescribed number of lashes of the scourge are called for at various points during the ritual.  We do not use this tool in my tradition, nor is it used widely in many others.

  • Robes

Some traditions do their work in “street clothes.”  Others work “skyclad” or in the nude.  And still others make use of ritual robes; articles of clothing they don’t wear for any other purpose besides ritual.  Some work in one color at all times, others have many robes in various colors, and wear what’s appropriate for the season, or perhaps for the work they’ll be doing.  If you’ll be calling up fire, for example, you might want to wear red.

  • Drums and Rattles

Drums and rattles are some of the most important tools of the Witch.  Frame drums are used to beat a steady, heartbeat like cadence that doesn’t vary, and leads the witch into trance and shamanic journeying.  African drums and rattles, on the other hand, are used to raise energy during magickal rituals, or just for making music to dance around the fire with a group of friends.

These are the tools most commonly used in the craft.

But remember, the most important tool is YOU.  No one should feel they cannot perform ritual until they have collected all these things. I have most of them, and mostly, use my athame or my hands.  You don’t need any of them.  In fact, the tools are aids, to help us visualize what we’re doing more clearly, to give our magick a boost by feeding our imaginations and our inner child, who loves shiny trinkets and toys.  But the wise Witch often finds herself ignoring all her tools and working with her hands, her voice and her will alone.

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