Tools of the Trade
Wicca is a path rich in symbolism. Ritual and symbols connect practitioners, forming a common thread which ties them to the same tradition. Solitary Wiccans are not necessarily as bound as coven members to follow the same protocols – after all there is no one working alongside them to see what they may or may not do in their private practice. But just as myths form a common heritage of wisdom which we can all draw upon, the traditional symbols of Wicca offer a way of joining both coven witches and solitaries via the same language. After all, symbols are not necessarily useful in themselves, but instead point us towards profound ideas and truths which we may not see in our ordinary lives.
The famous tools of the witch are an important part of traditional Wiccan symbology. As a solitary it is easy to ask why and even if these tools are required. For instance the athame, or black-handled knife, is a crucial part of circle construction in British Traditional Wicca. Is a solitary therefore stuck unable to construct a circle until obtaining one? Of course not. One of the hallmarks of Wicca is improvisation. Tools have the psychological impact of making one feel connected to and a part of Wicca, and at the same time they aid the new witch in using the most important tool of all: the mind. Visualization and the manipulation of energy by willpower is the basic practice of magic. It is completely possible to use no tools at all and perform successful spells. But when you are a beginner that’s sort of like trying to fly before you can crawl. If I use an athame to direct energy and create a circle my mind sees what I am doing and the visualization is reinforced. All of our tools are used in this way, in order to strengthen our skills and aid our practice. Here is a brief summary of the primary toolkit:
Athame – the black-handled knife used to direct energy, especially in circle construction; traditional Wiccans bestow this upon 1st level initiation to signify that the member has become a witch; commonly represents the element of fire
Cup/Chalice – a vessel which commonly holds wine or water to be consumed during ritual; many traditional rituals call for combined use of the athame (as the male symbol) and the chalice (as the female symbol); commonly represents the element of water
Pentacle – a flat disc inscribed with a five-pointed star; objects to be consecrated are typically placed upon the pentacle; commonly represents the element of earth
Wand – a length of wood (through sometimes made of other materials) used for invocations; commonly represents the element of air
Those four are the primary tools used in most rituals and representing the basic elements. There are also a few tools which are very useful for practical reasons, they are:
Censer – the incense burner; burning incense is a common way of identifying the working space as sacred; it also combines the elements of fire and air in a literal way on the altar (to likewise combine water and earth Wiccans can add salt to the chalice of water in ritual)
Cauldron – a large vessel traditionally made of cast iron and resting on three legs; this is a very practical tool for creating brews or herbal remedies, but can be used for a variety of purposes including as an alternate incense burner; strong symbolic links to the Goddess and reincarnation
This comprises the basic list of Wiccan tools. There are many others, such as the broom and the bell, which I will not mention here solely due to my unfamiliarity with them. Many witches might also add tools of divination like the crystal ball. Which tools one finds to be the most useful and necessary will naturally vary from person to person. In my own practice I focus on the tools which represent the elements and aid in the creation of ritual space.
After knowing what the tools are and why they are important the next question for a beginner is when to obtain them. I am not of the mind that you need to run right out to the nearest occult store and buy every tool on this list before you can begin. In fact I am emphatically against it. Sure you may end up with a shiny set of new tools, but if there is more of a process or effort in finding them the rewards are a set of meaningful tools that the practitioner can connect with and use much more effectively. Handmade tools can be even more useful, and one doesn’t need to be a master craftsman to be effective. Creativity can only add to the result. A simple knife can be painted black at the handle and consecrated for use. A found branch can be whittled to make a wand. The more personal the tools are the greater they will be in harnessing your energy and imagination, after all that is what you are imprinting them with when you make them! There is also something to be said for gradually obtaining or creating each tool as you progress in Wicca. Solitary practitioners have no one to tell them how fast or slow to go, and sometimes in our eagerness we want to do everything at once. That is when it is important to remember that it is not the outward symbols that are of primary importance, but rather the inner journey. Witches can have no effectiveness unless they are able to train their will, and while these tools definitely assist in that process, they are no substitute for the discipline necessary to harness one’s power within.
Journal for the Month of December:
Most of this month was taken up with frenzied holiday cookie baking and shopping! Currently I’m reading A Witches Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar. It’s a fascinating look at traditional Wicca as practiced in Gardnerian and Alexandrian circles, and as a solitary I’m drawing a lot from it in terms of structure for rituals and such. I’m not a big “follow the rules” kind of person when it comes to spirituality, but if I’m going to deviate it helps to know what I’m deviating from.
The holidays have confronted me with an issue I’m sure many of us deal with which is -how do I go about celebrating and do I tell my family anything about my new path? Do I start saying Yule instead of Christmas? Personally I have a very loving family who has never been anything but supportive – but I am not planning on telling any of them about my path in Wicca. Of course I don’t want to risk a bad reaction with people I love and see every year, but I think it is also because I just don’t want to make everyone uncomfortable. My family is Christian, though not overly-religious. I don’t know how much they know of Wicca, and of course I could explain it to them, but for something I am new at myself I don’t want to put myself in the position of defending something I am maybe not yet equipped for. I feel a bit sad keeping it inside, but I remind myself that this is after all a personal journey, and I understand that religion is a very sensitive issue to a lot of people. Once I am more comfortable and knowledgeable there might be a time to “come out of the broom closet” so to speak. But for now, I am planning on spending a wonderful solstice with my family and friends, and whatever name we all call it by, we are all there to celebrate the season with those we love – that part will never change.
Until next month, blessed be! )O(