Last week I was interviewed by a student in cultural anthropology who is doing her bachelor’s thesis on Wicca. Her focus is on the mind- and consciousness-altering aspect of ritual and the use of tools. She came well-prepared and informed, it was a wonderful conversation and I look forward to reading her thesis. She asked me about my use of tools and how they help (or not).
Tools can most certainly have a purpose to a witch (or other pagan). They have no power in themselves, though they do have powerful symbolic significances. They can be an extension of yourself and are literally ‘tools’. An athame can help direct energy. With a broom or besom you can ritually cleanse the circle by sweeping. Every tool has its own use.
In old times, when people couldn’t be open about their practices, they hid their special tools. That is, if they had any! In these days it was also common to use everyday stuff like a kitchen knife.
Ritual tools are as individual as the witch who uses them. They can belong to a whole coven, a working partnership or an individual witch. The only tool that is hardly ever shared is the athame. Never touch another witches’ tools without her or his permission!
If you ask me whether I need tools, the answer is a definite NO. My body and mind are all the tools I need and otherwise I can find anything I might want to use around me. Sometimes, when I’m walking in the dunes for example, I spontaneously want to do a ritual. All I need is there. I can just sit down, meditate and do a complete ritual in my mind. No tools needed at all.
If I want an altar, I look for a nice spot and stuff to put on it. A feather for air, dew drops on a leaf for water, some red berries for fire and a nice stone for earth for example. I can cast a circle with my finger or with a twig. If I want to do some divination, I just look around for signs or watch the clouds to see patterns or shapes to interpret. It’s called aeromancy (from Greek aero: ‘air’, and manteia: ‘divination’).
Still, I do have tools. Why? Because I like them, and sometimes they can have added value. For years I didn’t even have a permanent altar. I made one when I did a ritual and put my stuff away when I was done. Nowadays I use my altar as a focus point in my room. I like to sit in front of it to meditate, or light candles for whoever needs my support. I now have statues, but at first I simply used images or tarot cards to represent God and Goddess.
Over the years I have collected quite some stuff, including tools. Some bought, some gifts, some self-made. Some people say that you have to make your tools yourself. That way they have your energy in them. That’s true of course, but you can also add your own energy to a bought or given item. You can add something personal and/or work on it (inscription, carving, wood burning, etc.). You get a bond with something by using it. Whenever I have a new tool, whether it’s bought, made or given, I wear it with me, meditate with it and before ritual use I consecrate it in circle. That way the tool becomes mine and the bond gets deeper with every time I use it.
I don’t think you have to make your own tools, but it can be fun to do so. I made my own set of runes, a shaman drum, a lead pentacle, brooms (besoms), staves, wands, cords and more.
Let’s take an example, the ritual knives. I have several. The athame has to be blunt (it isn’t used for cutting) and have a double-edged blade and black handle.
When I was in an Alexandrian coven I had to have proper knives. The ones I had/used were rejected because they had no wooden handles. Especially for the coven I bought two matching knives, cheap ones with wooden handles, black and white. That coven and I didn’t turn out to be a success together (to put it mildly) so I doubt I’ll ever use those knives again as they feel ‘tainted’ with bad vibes.
Years ago I bought a dime a dozen knife on a fair. I made it my own by wrapping the handle and protection cover in black leather, attaching it by lacing it with the same leather. I have been looking for a boline to accompany it for quite some time. I wanted a sickle, but couldn’t find the right one. The ones in pagan shops didn’t appeal to me though; they are all the same. Three years ago I met a blacksmith, that understood exactly what I was looking for. He forged a sickle from a 400 year old iron nail. I made a handle by wrapping white leather around it and lacing it to match my athame. I love this set and use these the most by far.
Another athame that I’m very fond of is the one, that my husband carved for me from wood he found when we were on a vacation in Belgium. He also gave me a pretty little Scandinavian knife that I used for years as a boline. This athame and boline may not meet the ‘official’ requirements, but they work fine for me. I especially like to use them when I perform a ritual and/or magic for my husband or for the two of us together.
You can see some of my tools in my Facebook album “Pagan stuff” – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.492586602271.269890.677652271&type=1&l=e1f1c544ee