Traditional Witch’s Tools
Witchcraft, like any other occupation, has its tools of the trade. To be clear, it is possible to practice witchcraft without any tools whatsoever. I personally know witches who can put up a circle with a snap of their fingers or by rapping on each wall of a room. However, these are experienced, trained witches, who occasionally find themselves in impromptu or dangerous situations that require them to “batten down the hatches” and do some spell work in a hurry. For less experienced witches, something tangible is necessary, if for no other reason than to help focus energy, and get in the right “headspace”. There is more than a little of the theatrical in witchcraft.
Although the word “traditional” appears in the title of this article, I certainly don’t mean “hallowed”, “mandatory”, or any other intimidating or restrictive concept. Although witchcraft in one form or other has been around for thousands of years, Wicca, the religion that has been conflated with it in mainstream culture, was – for
all intents and purposes – invented by Gerald Gardner sometime in the late 1940s and made public in the early 1950s. Thereafter, many other forms of Wicca sprang up all over the world. Thus, while Wiccans have certainly dominated the Pagan book market for decades, each “denomination” does things a little differently. To make
things more interesting, there are witches who aren’t Wiccan at all. Some identify themselves as following practices that are demonstrably older than Gardner’s. Others are studying the Malleus Maleficarum to determine what was invented by Church hysteria and what was real, and then working backwards. Still others are
parsing more accurate, less Victorian, translations of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology, in an attempt to recreate the practices of the ancient world. The point is that there are witches of all flavors, so what constitutes “traditional” is exceedingly broad. Thus, the following list is also broad, varied, and subject to individual interpretation – much like witchcraft itself.
A witch’s altar can be anything from a tray to an intricately carved table. Many a witch who lives with roommates, nosy evangelical Christians, or heavily restrictive parents will need an altar that can become something else in a heartbeat. At its most basic, the altar is a witch’s workspace. The altar is the surface upon which a witch places the representatives of the Elements, the ingredients for whatever spell she is about to perform, and images of any deity to which she is allied. The altar is frequently the power center from which a witch casts her circle.
The athamé is a dagger. It is usually made from stainless steel, has two sharp edges and a sharp point, and a hilt that is either black or a similarly dark color. The point of the black or dark color is to absorb any energy in a working. For witches who prefer a knife that’s closer to nature – particularly if they’re working with the Fae – there are athamés with blades made from bone, wood, or flint. Some witches view the athamé as a tool that represents Fire, whereas others – who align more with the ceremonial magick side of things – view it as an Air tool. As a Fire tool, the athamé is associated with the South; as an Air tool, it is associated with the East. It is also viewed – by those who attach importance to such things – as representative of the Masculine. Inasmuch as witches will agree on anything, the consensus is that the athamé is the tool for casting the circle. The reasoning behind that is that the circle is meant to keep out anything or anyone that the witch doesn’t want present. The
athamé, being the shorter version of a sword – and therefore a martial tool – is therefore the correct tool to keep any unwanted entities and energies at bay. It represents action, power, and domination. The athamé is also the tool of choice for binding magick, or any kind of spell asserting dominance. For many Wiccans, the athamé is also the primary tool for the manipulation of energy.
The wand is usually made of wood, but witches also use wands made from various metals, crystals, clay, etc. – and there are quite a few wands that incorporate many, or all, of these materials. Some witches view the wand as an Air tool, while others see it as representing Fire. As an Air tool, it is associated with the East; as a Fire tool,
it is associated with the South. The wand’s phallic shape is considered representative of the Masculine. It is also associated with divination, prophecy, and divine wisdom. The wand is used to manipulate and direct energy. It can also be used to cast the circle.
The chalice can be any vessel that holds liquid. However – unless you only plan to fill it with water – it must not be made of brass or copper, because brass and copper turn drinks like juice and wine into poisonous substances. The chalice is usually placed on the altar to represent the element of Water. It is associated with the West, and the cauldron of poetic inspiration, rebirth, and immortality. The chalice represents the Feminine – the womb of the Goddess – and can be used in fertility spells. Some witches have another chalice for toasting or pouring libations of wine or some other appropriate beverage.
The pentacle, sometimes called a pentacle paten, is a disc that is painted or engraved with a five-pointed star inside a circle, otherwise known as a pentagram. It is used on the altar to represent the element of Earth. As such, the altar tile is considered a symbol of the Feminine, and associated with the North. The pentacle represents the five
Elements of Nature, the five senses, and the head and limbs of the human body. Pentacles can be made from nearly any material such as wood, metal, pottery, or stone.
The censer – sometimes referred to as a thurible – is a vessel for the burning of incense. There are different kinds of censers, depending on what sort of incense the witch burns. Cone and stick incense are popular choices, and many witches also burn herbs or resin over self-lighting charcoal. Although burning incense combines the elements of Air and Fire, the censer is usually used as an Air tool, and is thus associated with the East.
Candles come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. They not only embody the element of Fire, they can also represent other elements and goals in spell work. As representatives of Fire, candles are associated with the South.
A broom, or besom is used to clear the working area of any psychic debris. It can also be laid across the threshold to provide magickal protection. The broom is associated with the Element of Water and the West. It should be new, made of natural materials, and never actually used to sweep the floor. Many a witch wedding ends with the bride
and groom leaping over a broomstick to symbolize the beginning of their new life.
Alternative Witch Tools
Just as there are infinite varieties of witches, there are also infinite variations in the kinds of tools they use. Some witches use a cauldron instead of a chalice, or they use both. Others use fans to blow away psychic debris, instead of brooms, or they will ring a bell to clear the air.
Quite a few witches live in places where they aren’t allowed to burn candles. In such circumstances, an LED “candle” is a fine alternative. Similarly, some herbs tossed into some boiling water will create a fragrant steam that makes an effective substitute for burning incense. There are also essential oil diffusers that will imbue a
space with scent without tripping an overly sensitive fire alarm.
What if your environment is so restrictive that even an LED candle and fragrant steam are off limits – or will run the risk of freaking people out? In such cases, altar tiles inscribed with pictorial representations of the elements will do the trick. Where there’s a witch, there’s a way!
Other Useful/Cool Things
A boline is basically a utility knife for doing things like harvesting herbs and inscribing symbols into candles. Traditionalists insist on a white handle, to differentiate it from the athamé, but it can be whatever color the witch finds pleasing.
If you think of your altar as a table setting, it only makes sense to have altar cloths that reflect what you’re doing or celebrating.
If your incense burner gets hot, it’s a good idea to put something heat resistant like a trivet or some other base, so that you don’t burn your altar or its cloth.
Most of us don’t have prodigious memories, but even if you do, you’ll still want to write down what spells you’ve cast and when, so that you’ll know what worked and what fizzled. A Blank Book or Book Of Shadows is invaluable.
Some witches go all out for the parchment, while others make to with plain old letter paper. Whatever you choose, it’s a good idea to have a stash that’s specifically earmarked for your magickal work, so that you’ll have it when you need it.
There are some spiffy magickal inks out there for witches to dip their quills or fill their fountain pens. However, witches also use ordinary pens, pencils, markers, etc. Again, you’ll want to have a supply on hand when you need them.
A Final Word
Magick is the birthright of every human being on this planet. Tools are just that – tools. They can help you get in the right frame of mind, aid your focus, and provide a conduit for the energy you raise, but the most important factor is you.