The Tools of a Witch
The bell has had mystical associations since ancient times and it is believed to possess a magical and spiritual power. They are associated with the divine: their sound is symbolic of creative power, their shape a symbol of the female force and celestial vault. The bell is an uncommon tool and there is no one way to use the bell. It can used to open and close the sacred circle or to Invoke the Goddess. It may be ruing to ward off negative energies, as well as invite positive energies, or used to signal different sections of a ritual or Sabbat.
The athame and the boline are the ritual blades of the craft. As with all ritual tools, they are very personal magickal items. Many witches make their own blades or "personalize" purchased ones with runes, carvings and other symbols; all of which serve to blend the magickal energy of the tool with the energy of the owner. Some witches have family heirlooms, such as letter openers which serve the purpose and some never use a blade at all.
The boline, which traditionally has a white handle, is used to cut wands and herbs, to mark and carve candles with symbols and to cut cords for use in magick. The boline can also be used to cast the magick circle, call the "quarters" or elements, and is part of many opening rituals, handfastings, initiation rites and any other ritual function requiring the use of a knife, such as cutting flowers for the altar. Traditionally, the boline was used to harvest herbs and had a blade in the form of a small sickle, but today it is normally a mundane knife used for carving or cutting. The athame, which has a black handle, is used only for magickal purposes.
THE BROOM (OR BESOM)
The broom or besom is a ritual tool of the witch, sacred to both Goddess and the God. The God; through its symbolic phallic shape and the Goddess; through its three-piece make up, the stick, brush and binding cord being symbolic of the threefold aspect of the Goddess. Traditionally the broom was made from three different woods. Ash for the handle, Birch twigs for the brush and Willow for the binding cord. Ash is protective and has command over the four elements. Birch is used to purify and draws spirit to one’s service. Willow is sacred to the Goddess. (see: Natue Spirits , "The Spirtual Properties of Trees")
The broom is used for a variety of purposes but most generally to purify and protect. It is used to ritually cleanse an area before magick is performed by symbolically sweeping away negative energies and astral build up. Of old it was used to guard the home and persons within against psychic attack or evil curses, this by placing it across the threshold, windowsills or doorways. It was also placed under the bed or a pillow to protect the sleeper.
Traditionally the use which most people identify it with, are the old wedding ceremonies where a couple leapt over the broom to ensure fertility, domestic harmony and longevity. The tradition continues today in Wiccan hand-fasting rituals which include a broom jump.
Candles have been used as a Witches' tool for centuries, as they have been used by many other religions for the setting of the proper atmosphere to help attract or to influence a particular power. There are many factors that play into the power of the candle, as it absorbs one’s personal energy from their consciousness and releases that energy in the dancing flame. The color of the candle is very important when performing rituals or magic, for each color emits a particular vibration and attracts certain influences.
One of the most recognizes symbols of witchcraft, the cauldron, traditionally with three leg, is used for brewing potions and cooking herbal remedies. It represents bounty and blessings, the concept of reincarnation and the cycles of birth, death and rebirth.
In their role of magical cooking pots, cauldrons are associated with the elemental nature of water and are sometimes used for "scrying". Cauldrons are also associated with elemental fire and small "ritual bonfires" can be lit in them for the ceremonial burning of sages or incense, as the cauldron has, in modern times and urban spaces, replaced the large bonfire for rituals.
Cauldrons range in size from the small altar models to the antique "floor" type. Many Witches have cauldrons in various sizes for different workings and purposes. Cats are particularly drawn to witch's cauldrons and will often use them as hiding places for their toys and treats
THE CENSER (OR THURIBLE)
The censer is a container that holds hot charcoal used for ther burning incense. This is best made from a fire resistant or material. The most common are fire proof "mini-cauldrons' of iron or brass types which come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
The incense itself represents the element of Air while the charcoal fire represents the element of Fire. The combination of these two elements is used to purify ritual areas, tools or the circle itself.
Sometimes hung on a chain, (a thurible), it is used in religious rites and ceremonies to bless or cleanse people and objects, usually with a prescribed number of swings or gestures.
The chalice or cup is used on the altar to represent the Female principle of Water. Chalices may be made of any material. Many use silver or pewter, but ceramic ones are now quite popular. Some practitioners will avoid "lead" crystal because of the Saturn energy influence. Libations of wine or water are often then poured to honor the Old Ones and the chalice is sometimes passed around the circle so each participant may take a sip from the cup. This is a bonding experience and often the words "May you never thirst!" are spoken as the chalice is passed.
Before enacting a ritual, witches usually create a ritual circle to provide a safe haven for the purpose of working magick. The Circle exists outside the boundaries of ordinary space and time. between the worlds of the seen and the unseen. It is a space in which alternate realities meet, in which the past and future are one. The circle represents unity, completion, continuity, and wholeness, as well as protection. and the circle also corresponds to the annual cycle known as the Wheel of the Year.
Many circles are not physical, but exist as energy patterns created by an enacted meditation of words, gestures and/or visualizations. Physical circle are constructed with stones, plants, candles, sacred symbols objects, sacred symbols or just a drawn circle to form the circle's perimeter, providing a clear boundary between mundane and sacred space for the enactment of ancient rites and rituals.
Within traditional witchcraft, when one is taking part in a ritual or observing a festival, there is some form of bodily covering. Traditional witches do not worship while naked or “skyclad”. Outside of ritual, witches may have personal lifestyles that include being nude, however, while taking part in ritual they decorate or cover their bodies in some manner. Some rites might even call for the body to be marked with sigils, or covered with pigments, in certain prescribed manners.
Having "special" garments lends an "otherworldly" feel and sets ritual work apart from mundane life and many traditions or paths have a "standard" wardrobe which reflects the ethnic background of that path. (Scots may wear kilts and Druids may wear hooded robes.) Many embroider magickal symbols on their ritual clothing or "hide" small items sewn into the seams and hems to act as talismans for protection.
The true Witch is not born to "The Craft", nor can one just decide to walk "the path". The initiate must first be chosen by and then willingly accept a spirit entity, (usually a goddess), as their spiritual mentor along the path to becoming an "enlightened being". This mentor will often send forth an animal spirit called a familiar to help guide the initiate and to serve as a medium for the communion between the material world and the spiritual world.
The “classic” witch’s familiar is of course the black cat, this coming primarily from the legend of the black cat supposedly being an evil omen. While as a domestic animal the cat is often the companion of a witch, the raven, the crow, and the rabbit are common familiars as well. In general, the witch will commune with the animal whose special life lessons they personally need to learn and emulate.
A Grimoire is a witch's personal book of rituals and lore, which is usually handwritten and kept by the individual witch. The name “Grimoire”, (deriving from the Old French word for letters; “grammaire”), is a general term, as the true name for the book is kept secret by most traditions and even when the name for this book is discussed, it will often vary between the traditions. (In Wicca it is called "The Book of Shadows")
The witch's Grimoire contains rituals, invocations, traditions, symbols, poems, chants, legends, stories and anything else thought to be important by the individual witch. The contents are most often based upon the lore of a particular tradition, but it will also contain many personal flourishes as well. It is sometimes written in “runes” or pictures so that it cannot be read by the uninitiated. An apprentice witch's Grimoire is usually begun by being hand copied from a teacher's Grimore and then later added to by the apprentice as they progress in the craft.
A deep spiritual connection to the ancestral homeland lies in the heart of the true witch and “The Homeland” is quite possibly the most important aspect of Traditional Witchcraft.
The ancestral homeland is the home of the Gods and Goddesses, and in many beliefs the two are synonymous. The early inhabitants of Europe believed that the spirits they venerated inhabited the land itself. Many were migratory people, and when they traveled across the continent they took their deities with them. When these early Europeans wished to honor their deities, they created a connection between their ancestral homeland and the land where they now stood. In this way, the new land becomes a part of their ancestral homeland, along with its spirits and when a Witch wishes to connect with these spirits they evoke (or invoke) the spirits of the land itself.
THE MORTAR AND PESTAL
In every witch’s kitchen there is a mortar and pestle. The pestle is a heavy stick whose end is used for pounding and grinding, and the mortar is a bowl. A mortar and pestle are tools used to grind together herbs for spells, rituals and healing. In ancient times, herbalism was a mixture of medicine and magic and herbs have been used in magical rituals for centuries. They are one of the main tools of the Witch and Witchcraft has maintained a long tradition of honoring and keeping the ancient ways of the use of herbs.
A pentacle, (or when drawn “a pentagram" ), is a five-pointed star pattern, surrounded by a circle, with its apex pointing upward toward the Divine. It is one of the most potent, powerful, and persistent symbols in human history and also one of the most recognized symbols of witches and witchcraft.
The five points of the pentacle symbolize the four directions and the fifth is a symbol of the sanctity of the Spirit, with the circle symbolizing unity and wholeness. The five angles of the pentacle also represent the five metaphysical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. When used in rituals it is believed that the pentacle may act as a portal between the material world and world of spirits.
Many witches wear a pentagram as a sign of their religion, (like a crucifix or Star of David), or as an amulet, charm or talisman, and when made out of silver it is said to represent the moon energy. Ceremonial altars often feature a pentagram and the image is also found on many ceremonial tools such as cauldrons, and chalices. Originally formed from the clay of the Earth, today pentacles are more often crafted in metals such a copper, brass, silver or gold.
Often mistakenly seen as a mark of evil and a sign of the devil, especially when its apex is inverted, this erroneous image of the pentacle is fostered by many in the music and entertainment industries, as well as by certain political and religious elements, who wish to misuse the pentacle as a “negative label” for people and things they wish to associate with horror and evil. Yet the true of the meaning and intent of the symbol is just the opposite. As an example the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration for bravery in the U.S. military, is itself an inverted pentagram
This is all quite similar to what happened with the symbol of the “swastika”. The Tibetan Swastika is a very ancient and powerful symbol of good luck, prosperity and victory. Revered by Buddhist and others, the classic Tibetan Swastika faced left, or counter-clockwise, though images of the swastika facing the opposite way, like the inverted pentagram, originally still held the same positive meaning. Hitler and the Nazis Party much later adopted the swastika as the symbol of their movement, reversing the direction of the symbol to face right or clock-wise. The image then came to be associated with evil, just like what happened when others wishing to associate it with evil, adopted the inverted pentagram as their symbol. Though the reversal of the swastika is a much more subtle and therefore generally unnoticed difference, the inference is the same in that the pentacle and the swastika facing one way represents good and facing the opposite way represents evil. Though the power behind the icon itself does not change, its ultimate manifestation comes out of the perception and intent of the ones who seek to employ that power.
THE QUILT PATCH
Swatches of material make up sections of a quilt. Each patch consists of the witch's initials and their religious name. Various symbols are also included which are indicative of the paths they follow within The Craft. These quilts are kept within a family and are passed down from generation to generation.
The word "rune" comes from the Old English word “rown”, which means "mystery" or "secret". The first runes were carved and not written and “to rune” something means to inscribe upon an item with a secret language and thus give magickal effect to what is inscribed. Throughout history, many magickal alphabets have been formed out of pre-existing alphabets. By changing the old alphabets slightly and adding personal flourishes, one is able to make a runic alphabet. After a runic alphabet has been designed, it is usually dedicated for the purpose as such.
Runes can be used for writing things which one does not want others to be able to read; a form of encryption. They can also be written or inscribed for magickal workings. (The use of magickal alphabets was forbidden by early Christian priests because of their use within Heathenism and magick and as late as the 17th century people were killed in Iceland for the use of runic alphabets.) To read the runes aloud will release something that is bound and to inscribe the rune on an object takes on magickal meanings and the runing of the object and is said to imbue magick and power onto it.
THE SMUDGE STICK
Smudging is an essential component of many different traditions and cultures spiritual ceremonies. Sage and other herbs are burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out bad spirits, feelings, or influences, and also to keep bad spirits from entering the area where a ceremony takes place.
Smudging is done with herbs tied in bundles called smudge sticks. Smudging can also be done with a censer or cauldron with the appropriate herbs directly lit or burned on a coal. In either case the smoke is 'washed' over the person or object with a feather or by fanning the smoke with one's hand.
THE STAFF (OR STANG)
The staff is a very important tool in some traditions and it represents the ancient Tree pagans would dance around during their sabbat celebrations. The staff has many applications such as being used to draw the ritual circle or to hold banners and other unique symbolic flags. Many witches will use the staff in much the same manner as the wand.
Often with two forked prongs at the top like the antlers of a deer, (the stang), it represents the "Horned God" who is lord of the woodlands, the hunt and the animals. Commonly used as an altar piece, the stang is associated more with Wiccan beliefs than those of traditional practitioners.
With the coming of the modern "Celtic Revival", the sword has become a very popular ceremonial magick tool, especially when employed in elaborate public rituals and are often used in place of the athame . Mostly employed in Wiccan ceremonies, those who hold indoor rituals usually limit the use of the sword to just one for the priest or priestess to perform such tasks as marking the boundaries of their circle. At outdoor festivals some will often bring their own swords as symbols of their particular station.
Wands are used to channel energy, although a wand is not mandatory to channel energy. Wands may be used to cast a circle, to invite and control entities and may be used for manifestation. The wand is considered to be a phallic tool and therefore of masculine element and male energy.
Some traditions correspond wands with the element air and some traditions correspond wands with the element fire. In some traditions, the element is determined by the materials and decorations, including runes and other magick writing.
In many European based witchcraft traditions, the magick wand is a simple unadorned stick of natural wood, often with the bark still intact. In earlier times witches broke off dead wood, never sawing or cutting live wood. When picking up sticks for use as a wand, the witch will pick a natural stick that looks right and feels good when held. A witch will recognize the right wand in the hand because it “feels” right in the heart.
Various kinds of wood are associated with specific kinds of magick and the witch will find a wand from the right kind of tree for the magick to be performed. (see: Natue Spirits , "The Spirtual Properties of Trees")
Contrary to the public’s widely held belief, tarot cards are not tools of Traditional Witchcraft. The popularity of the Tarot, as an implement for occult study, came out of the Theosophy Movement of the late 19th Century, led most notably by Helena Blavatsky, with this earlier movement being the predecessor of what has now come to be called the New Age Movement.
Certain other mystical occult groups of the period, such as the Rosicrucian Order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and certain splinter groups coming out of Freemasonry, also picked up on the Tarot as a tool, originally for the purpose of spiritual insight, but later devolving into a tool for divination. The Wicca Movement, which evolved more from the ideas of these groups, than it has from underlying principles of traditional witchcraft, also picked up the tarot and has added it to their tool chest.
Although there is no consensus of opinion as the exact origin of the Tarot it is fairly clear that evolved out of the mystical practices of the Egyptian and/or Kabalistic mystical orders and is not related to the Earth based/Goddess centered principles of practitioners of the Traditional Craft..
Almost all materials written state that magickal tools should not be used for any other purpose than ritual work. Some Witches will not let their tools be touched by anyone other than themselves though some families or working groups share common tools.