There are many systems, traditions and paths of Witchcraft and magickal work. The tool descriptions outlined below are VERY simple guidelines and reflect perhaps the most "popular" interpretations of these items and their uses. This is not the 'final word" on magickal tools by any means. Some Witches use other items and some use none at all. Some work in very elaborate ritual settings, some just stand in the moonlight and silently offer their words to the night.
This list is simply a starting point for those new to the Craft or those who are simply curious about Witches and how they practice their belief system.
You are the most magickal tool of all. It is your intentions and energies that determine the results of any magickal work. Many Witches never use any other tool but their own personal energies! And some of the most powerful workings can be done without ever leaving your armchair. It is the focus, concentration, intentions and desires that reside within YOU that are the real 'tools" of the Witch!
(pronounced "a-thAM-ay" or "ATH-a-may")
Many Witches own one or more ritual knives. These are commonly known as "athames" in Wiccan circles. In the Scottish traditions, the knife is called a "yag-dirk" and in Sax Wicca it is known as a "seax" (see-ax). As with all ritual tools, the athame is a very personal magickal item-one which you will want to take some care in obtaining. It should fit well and comfortably in your hand, for one thing. You certainly wouldn't want it to go flying across the room while you are casting a circle. This type of occurrence could cause a drastic drop in the attendance level at your next circle!
Many Witches make their own blades or "personalize" purchased ones with runes, carvings and other symbols; all of which serve to blend the energy of the tool with their own magickal intentions. Modern Witchcraft books almost always state that the athame is a "black handled double edged iron blade." You may call this model, "the classic', if you like! But many other practitioners now use athames made from stainless steel, copper, silver and various other metals, or even carved stone. Some have family heirlooms, such as letter openers which serve the purpose. Some Witches never use a blade at all! So you can see, it is more important that the tool you choose suits you personally rather than reflect the latest fashion craze.
The athame can be used to cast the magick circle, call the "quarters" or elements, and is part of many an opening ritual, handfasting (wedding) or initiation rite. It is associated with the element of Fire and the South. It is customary in some traditions to have your blade given to you as a gift. Some Witches or ceremonial workers give their tools a magickal "name". (This practice has become a common reference in many role playing games and fantasy novels.)
Almost all materials written state-and most Witches/Wiccans, with the possible exception of the Sax Wiccans, agree- that magickal tools should not be used for any other purpose than ritual work. Often the blade is left "dull" or unsharpened because of this. (Another blade, the "boleen", with a white handle is sometimes used to harvest herbs or carve symbols, but not used for ritual work.) Some Witches will not let their tools be touched by anyone other than themselves. Some covens or working groups share common tools. It is, other than for those who are dedicated into a specific Tradition, what you are comfortable with.
The broom or "besom" is used for cleansing ritual areas, hence the term "making a clean sweep". In handfasting rituals, couples often jump over the broom if they want children. (If you don't want children, DON'T JUMP! The combination of the "brush" and the handle are a very powerful fertility symbol.) Many Witches have a broom-brushy side up-by their door to protect the home from unwanted outside energies.
Bells have been around for many years, they come in different shapes and sizes, as well as different tones and sounds. The most popular bell in the US is the liberty bell. Another popular bell is the Noter Dame bell found France. It is a wonder why we like these bell. It might just be the rhythmic sound and vibrations. People have been singing Songs and carols about this beautiful instruments for years, that might just be why there are associated with winter holidays. The bell also has magical associations. It has been believed for centuries to possess a magical and/or 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. Yet, once you use it in a ritual, you might just feel the need to keep using it. There is no one way to use the bell, use your imagination! Here are a few ideas; you can use it to open and close the sacred circle, Invoke the Goddess, ring to ward off negative energies (as well as invite positive energies ), or use it to signal different sections of a ritual and/or Sabbat. But most of all have fun, create your own rituals using the bell! (bell thoughts submitted by Rain')
The chalice or cup is used on the altar to represent the Female principle of Water. Another chalice or cauldron is sometimes placed in the West as well.
The chalice along with the athame, sword or wand are the modern tools which are used in the enactment of the "Great Rite"-the union of the male and female principle from which Life will spring.
Chalices may be of any material. Many use silver or pewter (be careful with untreated metals when serving wine), but ceramic ones are now quite popular and readily obtainable. Some Witches have many different kinds for different types of rituals. Many a practitioner will avoid real "lead" crystal because of the Saturn energy influence.
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 passed throughout the circle with the chalice.
Libations of wine or water are often then poured outside to honor the Old Ones and "sabbat" cakes are also offered back to the Source in a similar manner.
THE CLOTHING MAGICKAL:
Clothing is "optional" for many Witches. If you are dedicated into a Tradition, you may practice "skyclad".
The clothing-robes, capes, jewelry and other items-used in ritual work is usually dedicated to only these uses. Having "special" garments lends an "otherworldly" feel and sets ritual work apart from mundane life.
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 magickal items in the seams and hems to act as talismans for protection.
The PATON OR ALTAR PENTACLE:
The Altar pentacle is usually a disk or plate of metal or wood inscribed with the five pointed star in a circle. (See our pentacle section for more details on the pentagram and its meanings.) This is set upon the altar and used to consecrate various other tools and as a focal point of concentration for magickal workings. It is associated with the Female North and the element of Earth. Some Witches use a paton when calling in the elements as well.
Patons (sometimes "peytons" or "patens") can now be found made of ceramic and glass. You can even make your own from clay or simply draw and color one on stiff paper. In some references, it is stated that patons in the 'old days" were only made from disposable materials so that evidence of your beliefs could be quickly burned should the authorities come knocking at your door!
The staff is a very important tool in some traditions. It is used to mark quarter points or as a "stang" to hold banners representing elements or other unique symbolic flags.
The staff may be used in much the same manner as the wand. It is usually matched "to your measure"- which means it reaches to your shoulder- making it easy and comfortable for you to handle without either knocking yourself upside the head or having it trip you up from behind. Any such incident will amuse your friends, but do little to enhance your image in the magickal community!
With the coming of the modern "Celtic Revival", the sword has become a very popular-and quite showy- magickal tool. It can used in place of, or in addition to, the athame. Most groups who hold rituals indoors usually limit the use of the sword to just one for the Priest/Priestess. Ten five- foot swords in a small room could get a bit messy, I would think! However at festivals and outdoor rituals, Witches often bring their own swords to mark the boundaries or quarter points of the circle. There is now a growing interest in actual "sword play" and entire festivals have sprung up which feature events based on swordsman- or woman!-ship.
THE THURIBLE OR INCENSE BURNER:
A container used to contain a hot coal for burning incense. This is best made from a fire resistant or fire proof material. The most common are the "mini-cauldrons' of iron and the various brass types which come in wonderful shapes and sizes. Some even hang on a chain. The incense itself represents the element of Air while the fire (charcoal) represents Fire. The combination of these two elements are used to purify ritual areas, other tools or the circle itself.
The wand represents the element of Air and the Male East. You can purchase a ready made one or collect one from your friendly neighborhood tree. (Ask first, if you want to harvest one from a living tree- and leave a small token of thanks.) Even dowels, such as those sold in hardware stores, can be painted and decorated quite beautifully.
The wand can be used to cast the circle or direct energy in other magickal ways, such as in spells and incantations. There are wands of glass, copper, silver and other metals, but the "classic" material is still wood. Various woods have different magickal associations and uses. It is very common for a "Wand Witch" to have many wands of various types in his/her magickal closet. Witches who do not use athames often use a wand instead.