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Ritual Tool Substitutions- How to have the tools you want while at the same time not breaking any rules

One of the rules I have found it most difficult to get around in college is the no-fire rule. Meaning, no incense or candles or anything else that involves fire. For others like me who do spell work, this makes it impossible to use hot candle wax in spells or to write on candles. My CA (Community Advisor formerly known as Resident Aid) is a stickler on the no-fire rule, and wonít even allow us to keep candles as decorations. There's a rule stating no blades over two inches are allowed in the dorms, so most athames are not allowed. So, this presented me with a problem. First and foremost is the small space issue from living in a dorm room.  I also have to be able to keep things put away in case I have friends (or roommates) who donít know/approve of my religion. Then there's trying to get tools on a low budget, which is always fun. I have some experience in dealing with unacceptance because when I was living at home, I had to keep things hidden or camouflaged from my parents. 

This is a list of things I have found work in these situations. This is by no means a complete list, and only meant to be a starting point where you can get ideas.

  1. Altar Example
  2. Athame
  3. Candles
  4. Candle Wax
  5. Cauldron
  6. Chalice
  7. The Elements
  8. Incense
  9. Hiding a Ritual
  10. Making a Surface to Work On
  11. Space Problems
  12. Wand

Altar Example

To begin with, here is a picture of how my altar used to look, I have since totally revamped this. The things you see pictured lower in this page are items I used on my altar during ritual. The bags of things along the right hand side hold the stones, marbles, and other materials I use during ritual that arenít necessarily part of my altar. The table my altar is sitting on is actually a cardboard box that has been covered with black construction paper, edged with duct tape, and the top is surfaced with clear packing tape. When Iím not using it for ritual, itís the coffee table in my dorm room. In some cases, I will have to leave my altar set up for multiple days for a spell, in which case I push it out of the way and cover it with a black clothe to keep negative energies away from it, much thanks to my previous roommate for being accepting of this. The boxes holding my altar and ritual clothes, along with my Book of Shadows all sat on a ledge behind my bed (see picture of bamboo and fountain, my altar usually is next to them). Other minor tools and such that I donít use as often were under my desk with my jewelry making supplies as some of the stuff in there I use in the jewelry I make. This is just a sample, and as I said, I changed it. WHat you do with your altar is purely intuition and more than likely is never the same twice in a row.


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Athame- If you like working with an athame, this gets more complicated. Most dorms have a no-weapons policy so a serious, more authentic, traditional dagger/athame wouldnít be allowed. One thing you could use is a pocket knife, as the blades are small enough theyíre considered legal. A substitute that is safer, cheaper, and less noticeable is a black plastic knife. If youíre a person who prefers working with natural materials like metal, glass, and wood, try wrapping the handle with metal wire and create a grip with glass or wooden beads. You can always wrap the handle with black electricianís wire, then strip the wire and wrap the blade with the pure metal. Personally, I donít use one anymore but when I did it was a wire wrapped plastic knife. Another thing, for those who do clay work, is a clay knife or tool. Another way to fashion an athame is to make one out of pieces of wire, glass, stone and beads. This can be difficult, but the results can be stunning. A friend of mine found two pieces of stone, one for the blade one for the handle, and bound them together with wire. You can also get a piece of wood and carve it to look like a small knife, but the blade would be dull enough to obviously be incapable of damage.

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Candle- Battery powered lanterns (the Japanese kind), candles made of glass beads, and flashlights work pretty well. The key is to find something without flame that you can visualize as flame. Anything will work as long as you can visualize it as an actual flame. What I do is I have candles made of beads that I use on my altar for color magick then I have a paper lantern which I use as my actual flame visualization aid.

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Candle Wax

Candle Wax- Lip balm and beeswax (can get it in blocks at craft stores, in thread section) are the ones I use the most. This is a bit more restrictive depending on how you use it. I use wax to seal charm bags and other things so the lip balm works better for that, but if you need a chunk of wax for something, use the beeswax. Itís usually sold in craft stores as a thread conditioner you just have to find it. If a general craft store doesn't have it, try a store that specializes in bead work and supplies or fabric stores.

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Cauldron- For the cauldron you can get rather creative, there's a lot of different options. For those that are space confined but not necessarily restricted from using fire any sort of small fire-proof cup will work, but be careful to make sure that you have it on a surface that wonít burn. A good thing to use is a soapstone box. Soapstone is used to make incense holders and is fireproof, you can find these in most places that sell incense or oils. For those who donít or canít burn things in their cauldron thereís a larger variety of choices. Personally, I use a glass herb jar that is shaped like a cast iron cauldron. Something I used to use was a paint container since it had a lid and I only used it to hold salt and cinnamon (a healing herb as most of my rituals have to do with healing). I also have a soapstone bowl with a lid that I put things in during ritual to charge them. To sum things up, what you use is determined by your needs. My best advice though: if you plan on keeping salt or herbs in it long term, make sure it was a tight lid. My jar has a several different herbs and salt in it and I keep it sealed except during ritual. The smell is wonderful.

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Chalice- Chalices are fun to find. J You have to be careful with chalices. If you live with a roommate that has people in and out of the room a lot, you probably don't want to have a chalice that can be easily broken, like one of glass. If that isn't a concern, you can find all sorts of glassware at thrift stores. I used a mini Scope bottle (as in the mouthwash)for while. If you have a portable altar, then make sure you have a container of water to pour into the chalice. If you are especially space confined, you might want a chalice you can put liquid in and leave it there. For others, chalices can be any sort of cup or bowl. These are the ones that you can have the most fun finding and experimenting with. Craft stores are good places to look and so are thrift stores. Pretty much anything can work you just have to find what works and feels best to you. I recently found a tealight holder that looks like a smaller version of a martini glass that I absolutely love. You never know what you'll find, so stay open and keep looking.

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The Elements

The Elements- If you like working with the elements and want to bring them into your room without drawing attention to them or taking up a lot of space, hereís a few tips. Earth- Plants. Bamboo plants are easy to take care of. They only need watering every two weeks and they donít need a lot of light. They can live off artificial light and will do well in a dorm, office or dark bedroom. I have a bamboo plant and it's thriving despite how I neglect it. Another thing to do is look online for plants that do well indoors or in shadey areas. Make sure that you get enough light in your room for any plant you get. Another way is a zen garden or something of that kind. Water- Water is easy enough to bring indoors. Water fountains can be found pretty much anywhere and for low prices. I got one on a clearance rack for about $10 at Linens ín Things. If possible, you can get a bamboo plant or some sort of aquatic plant, put it in a bowl, lay enough gravel in it to hold the bamboo upright and fill it with water so you have two elements in one bowl. You could also have a piece of decorative wood in a bowl with dry ice to add a bit of a touch of air.   Fire- if you use incense during normal ritual as your fire representation, refer to the incense substitute. I keep a light ring on my lamp and when you donít want the oils to be released, just set it on top of the lampshade or at the base of the lamp. If you do not use incense as your fire, see the substitutions for candles. Air- This was a bit more difficult to find a representation of, but wind chimes are very pretty and can be hung from the ceiling where they will be decoration and be out of the way. I have about two sets that I have made, and though they don't make a whole lot of noise they're very pretty. They don't have to make noise, it's enough that they swing in the wind when it blows though sometimes the noise is nice. If you can't hang it outside, inside by a vent or fan will work, or anywhere where it can catch a breeze or draft. Mine hangs next to my desk and window. Guys don't have to be worried about looking girly for having windchimes. With a little effort, you can make a set of chimes from beer bottle tops and fishing line. Spirit- For those who want to have a bit of spirit in their room, my best suggestion is a pet of some sort, a living thing. Most dorms allow the students to have fish. Bettas (aka Siamese Fighting Fish) are easy to take care of...don't. They don't need to be fed a whole lot and all they need to live in is a small bowl All total it cost me between $10-$15 to get him set up. I bought the Marina(c) Betta Kit, which usually costs $10 but comes with everything you need except the fish and water. They come with food, water de-clorifier, gravel, and a plastic plant. Word of caution: don't use the plastic plant with a male betta, it tears up their fins. Don't put two bettas in the same bowl/tank, they will try to kill each other...this goes for a male and a female too. They're now spoiled, splitting a ten gallon tank with a heater and filter, but that's because the tank fits into my space better. Other ways to have spirit in a room is if you happen to have a familiar, have a statue of something similar to it in the room, have a dreamcatcher somewhere, or something you feel will draw spirits to the room. God and Goddess- I have a male and a female betta as symbols of the God and Goddess. I had to put dividers in my tank so they can't get to each other, but the dividers are clearso they can see each other, which makes both of them more lively and causes their colors to brighten. Another way is to incorperate colors that represent the god and goddess (green or gold for god, purple or silver for goddess is the general way this is seen) or have some sort of items that represent them out (wand and chalice, shell and horn, etc.).

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Hiding a Ritual

Hiding a Ritual- If you live in a situation where your rituals are likely to be interrupted and you don't want anyone to know about it, there's a few ways you can hide a ritual quickly. One thing is that if you absolutely have to have tools, keep them in a shoe box. During the ritual, leave your tools in the box and take them out only as you need to handle them. If you are interrupted, simply put the lid on the box and push it to the side. Another method is to use almost the same technique, but have your tools in a drawer or cupboard like in a desk. For example, if you do your rituals on the floor or on your bed in your bedroom, it would be very easy and fast to have your altar in a box because it can quickly be moved to somewhere out of the way. If you do your rituals on your desk, a drawer in the desk would work. In the case of an interruption, slide the drawer closed or close the door on the cabinet.   One method that I used a lot was to have an altar clothe spread on whatever surface I was working on, then if I was interrupted I simply grabbed the corners of the clothe and slid everything under my desk and out of view. Any of these would work and  you can sorta get the idea of how hiding a rituals works from here. A tip to those who use boxes: make sure that the box gets put in the same general place or out of view. It's less likely to be noticed if it's always in the same place. For those who use drawers or cabinets, make sure you're the only one who goes into them before setting things up in them.

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Incense- light rings: these things are nifty! Theyíre rings made out of heat resistant fabric, brass, or terra cotta. You put oils in them and set them on a light bulb. Turn the light on, and as the bulb heats up the oils evaporate and are released into the air. I highly recommend the terra cotta ones, the oils last longer in those and they can handle higher wattages. Most of the cloth or brass ones only go up to 60 watts, terra cotta can handle up to 100 watts. However, I have a cloth one I used as a censor on my altar during ritual, and another I use on a lamp to get the scent to the rest of the room. Other things you can use as an incense substitute include potpourri, scented stones, or air fresheners.

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Making a Surface to Work On

Creating a Work Surface- Anything from keeping your materials in a box and using the top of the box, to using the inside of the box, a shelf, or anything. Beds or floors are already there and require no effort, but if space is tight and there's a risk of discovery, keeping your altar inside a box, drawer or cabinet is safer. The best thing to use, in my opinion, is a box. It is easily moved, can be used to store materials, and is sturdy enough to support an altar. Drawers and cabinets can be more risky if someone goes snooping around, but for those who don't have to worry about people snooping as much then this is a good way to handle this issue. If you want to create a table of some sort and don't want to or can't use wood, card board boxes work just fine. My "Ghetto Table" consists of the box for my TV and the bottom of the box for my fridge, covered with black construction paper, duct tape, and packing tape. Get creative ^^

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Space Problems

Space Problems- Another fun thing to try to get around is space problems. For those in unaccepting households, this tip could work for you too. Two words: portable altar. I used to keep my regular altar in a black Chinese food box that I got at a candy store (my dorm had an eastern theme to it) so I could leave it out without having to worry about anyone messing with my tools. I also have a smaller altar in a black satin bag that I take with me when I travel. The key here is to find a container that your altar will fit in while at the same time be inconspicuous and safe. Some of your tools can stay out in the open if you're not too worried about people messing with them. Wands are easy to keep out as decoration if you so choose as itís a more accepted tool in society and most wands are pretty enough to be considered decoration by people who arenít pagan. A chalice or cauldron is easy to do this with as well if you use them as decoration like the wand or if they're not obviously a pagan tool. However, if you have serious space issues, unaccepting people, or small children/pets in the house that might handle these things without permission and/or break them, leaving them out can be hazardous so find a container that they will fit in too along with your other tools. Any container would work, from a wooden box picked up at a craft store to a plastic food container, just make sure that if you don't want people to see your tools that the box is opaque.

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Wand- Personally, I donít use a wand but some things that might work are spoons held with the cup in the palm, a chopstick, or a folded fan. Wands are generally easier to find and hide, so just find whatever works for you. :)

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This list will grow as I work on it more. You can submit your own suggestions by clicking here. I will add more things as I think of them. Until then, merry met and I hope that you find this list helpful!


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