Wiccan altar with candles, chalice, cauldron (bowl), wand, and athame
When most people hear the word “Wicca” or “witch” stereotyped images typically come to mind. Whether it’s a green skinned hag with warts or a beautiful seductress using magic to overcome the will of others, few people unfamiliar with Wicca/Paganism have clear and accurate images of who these people are and what they believe. Central to these stereotypes are tools used by Wiccans in their practice. Whether it’s a cauldron, a magic wand, a cup, or a dagger, outside of “the Craft” and often even inside it, the primary and secondary tools used by the majority of Wiccans remains poorly understood. Here’s a quick primer on some of the most common tools:
Athame: a dull-edged knife or dagger (typically more dull than your typical letter opener), often with an ornamental hilt, athames cut only air and spiritual energies. They are used to define and sanctify a space for worship and release the area back to its normal use after. Hence there is a “calling” and “dismissing” of spiritual energies with the athame. Unlike the wand whose job is to invite energies, the athame is used primarily to repel unwanted energies and spiritual entities. In other words, it serves a protective function, cleansing the defined inner space and warding against everything outside the defined boundaries so that only positive energy can enter and negative energy is kept away. Masculine, yang force tool.
Wand: typically made of wood or crystal, wands also define worship spaces, but differently than athames. While athames repel unwanted energies and spiritual beings, wands invite desirable energies into the worship space. For that reason, many rituals begin by “casting the quarters” first with an athame, then with the wand to first repel what a person or group does not want, then invite what the person/group welcomes. The type of material a person uses for a wand affects the direction of the invitation (see http://www.gildedquill.net/GQWands.htm for several wands with their associated wood meanings and uses). Masculine, yang force tool.
Cauldron: a bowl or cooking pot, often made of cast iron with tripod feet, the cauldron originates as the primary household cook pot used to prepare meals. As such, cauldrons tend to retain their traditional associations with foods and food stuffs. Sometimes used as a brazier for burning incense, candles, or herbs, the primary focus of most cauldrons remain on food, hearth, and home. Symbolically the cauldron represents female, yin force energy as the cauldron closely resembles a woman’s womb in appearance. Regular, modern cook pots can be used as cauldrons, particular in kitchen witchcraft.
Chalice (cup): probably the most universal religious tool, the chalice’s ritual use transcends time, space, culture, and religion. Intuitively, the chalice’s first and primary function is that of a drinking vessel, holding the milk, juice, water, or wine called for in religious ceremonies. As such, it is the most versatile. A female, yin force symbol, the chalice resembles the female reproductive track in appearance and therefore is the most feminine of the tools used in Wicca.
Candles: from small chime candles to thick column candles, the variety of candles individuals may use is limitless. Usually the type of candle used is decided by functional needs and the color(s) is decided by spiritual or symbolic considerations. For example, green candles may represent balance, harmony, money, wealth, or nature. Pink candles are often associated with love-both romantic and non-romantic. Purple candles tend to have spiritual connotations-and so forth.
Candle snuffer: a safety tool, candle snuffers may be large or small, silver, brass, copper, or another preferred metal. Their function is implicit: to extinguish candle, incense, and other small fires by depriving the flame of oxygen.
Incense: whether in powder, cone, or stick formats, incense is a blend of herbs and/or resins that are burned for the aromatic and/or spiritual properties. Used broadly across numerous world religions, Wiccans often interpret the smoke of incense as symbolic of air (element).
Boline: a sharp ritual knife or dagger typically used to cut plant materials such as fruit, vegetables, prepared foods, and/ or plant stalks. Unlike the athame whose purpose is purely symbolic and spiritual, the boline is a practical object, a cutting implement used in sacrificing plants or simply to facilitate the serving of ritual foods such as a loaf of bread or a pomegranate.
Essential oils: part of the herbalism aspect of Wicca, essential oils are concentrated oils derived from plants and resins used for their spiritual and aromatic properties. Most oils need to be blended with a carrier oil such as almond or olive oil before they can be applied to the skin for healing. Oils can also be mixed with water and sprayed in a spray bottle or sprinkled into an area for a spiritual or physical impact. For example, lavender oil mixed with water and sprinkled onto a pillow or bedding is a well-known remedy for sleep disorders. Spiritually lavender is known for its protective qualities (see http://www.religions-and-spiritualities-guide.com/herbs-magics.html).
Herbs: important to kitchen witchcraft and its focus on herbal healing, herbs/spices are more than just flavorful for your ordinary cooking. Herbs have both physical and spiritual impacts, promoting health and healing on all levels of the person when used mindfully. The number of resources on herbs and herbal healing are too numerous to list, but one nice one for beginners is athttp://www.linsdomain.com/herbs.htm. My favorite source for herbs and herbal teas is athttp://www.13moons.com/.
Mortar and Pestle: used to grind whole herbs into a powdered form and mix herbs together, mortar and pestles are important tools for making herbal teas and combining spices for cooking. An essential tool in kitchen witchcraft.
Bells: used in numerous religious traditions, bells can serve many different functions. They can define spaces using sound. They can signal the start of worship. They can represent the element of air. They can also be used purely for their musical tones. The uses are almost endless according to individual preferences and outlook.
Besoms: also called “brooms” or “broomsticks,” ritual besoms are probably the most stereotyped of the tools used in Wicca. Contrary to stereotype, besoms are not used to mix toxic brews or for riding on at night, but are used to sweep away unwanted negative energies and form protective spaces. Many Wiccans keep their besoms in places of honor-above chimneys, doorways, or other entry-points of energies. They are literally used to sweep an area-but not free of loose floor debris like their non-religious counterparts. Instead a besom sweeps spiritual energies. They are typically round and may be of any number of sizes or compositions.
The tools of Wicca are often the same tools used in other religious traditions, just used for different specifics. They are highly individual in design and function. Yet together they help individuals and religious groups shape religious and spiritual experiences.
For more information on Wicca and its tools, please consult:http://www.tylwythteg.com/wheel.html, http://www.willowgrovemagick.com/wiccan-ritual-tools-athames-and-swords.aspx, http://www.gildedquill.net/GQWands.htm, http://www.religions-and-spiritualities-guide.com/herbs-magics.html, http://wicca.com/celtic/bri/cndlcolor.htm,http://voices.yahoo.com/wiccan-ritual-tools-besom-2031629.html?cat=34