Day 207: Elements and the Witches’ Tools

A disk picturing several witches’ tools, including the cord, scourge, censer, wand, stang, cup, pentacle, white and black handled knives, broom, sword, bell, boline, and cauldron.

Witches are fond collectors of their esoterica.  I’ve even known some practitioners who have multiple sets of everything, either as a byproduct of acquiring them as their tastes change or as a purposeful move; for example, they might have a set to use with a coven or in public, a set to use in private, a set to use with certain holidays, etc.  I’m even a little guilty of this myself, what with the three different athames I’ve had in my history, plus three different cups, two different pentacles, and a wide assortment of homemade wands.  And then there’s the rather astounding list of additional tools.

It’s all a little boggling, but–of course–none of these tools are absolutely essential to the practice of witchcraft and only four are really major.  These are, of course, the aforementioned athame, cup, pentacle, and wand.  Each of these is strongly aligned with a particular element (and gender) Roderick gives the descriptions of these tools below:

AIR, WAND:  The wand is usually a length of wood (traditionally willow for a woman’s wand and oak for a man’s wand) that a Witch uses to summon spiritual energies.  Witches also use the wand in lunar rituals and in rituals that involve “drawing down” the goddess or god into a priest or priestess.  Witches sometimes ‘load’ their wand by carving out a whole in the top and bottom and filling it with magical herbs and/or stones.  (Considered the masculine/feminine tool.  Some traditions also consider it the tool of fire.)

FIRE, ATHAME:  The athame is a double-edged, dark-handled knife.  The athame is the essential Witches’ tool, used to cast and summon magical forces.  Traditionally, a witch might magnetize the athame’s steel blade using a lodestone.  This practice allegedly assures the athame’s appropriate ‘attracting’ powers.  (Considered the masculine/masculine tool.  Some traditions also consider it the tool of air.)

WATER, CHALICE:  The chalice is traditionally a stemmed cup, but truly any cup or bowl could be used for the chalice.  It can be of any material, since the shape itself aligns with the energies of the goddess.  However, many Witches give preference to cups  made of silver (or silver metals).  Witches use the cup for blessing and fertility rites as well as for making potions and magical elixirs.  (Considered the feminine/feminine tool.)

EARTH, PENTACLE:  The pentacle is a disk that has a five-pointed star engraved upon it.  The disk can be made of any earthy materials.  Traditionally, Witches make the pentacle from wood, wax, clay, or copper.  The pentacle is a tool of fertility rites, blessing rites, and of summoning the goddess.  (Considered the feminine/masculine tool.)

Many witches use these tools personally, and many groups use them collectively, too.  In particular, many groups–such as Hartwood Grove–ask their members to bring their own chalices and athames to group rites while everyone uses the collective wand and pentacle.  Another practice is to maintain a few tools, the “grand tools”, specifically for group practice.  These are essentially just like the personal elemental tools, just scaled up in size:

AIR, STAFF:  Essentially a giant wand, the staff is a wooden branch rather like a walking stick.  It represents the coven’s collective link to air and their collective knowledge.  It, like all the other masculine tools, can also represent the phallus.

FIRE, SWORD:  Essentially a giant athame, the magical sword is a double-edged blade used only in ritual.  It represents the coven’s collective link to fire and their collective will.  It is a tool used in summoning the god and in casting the coven’s magical circle.

WATER, CAULDRON:  This is typically a deep set iron pot used in a ritual instead of a culinary context.  It represents a coven’s collective link to water and their collective power to dare.  It also represents the goddess’s womb.  Many individuals also use their own cauldron in various workings and as a ‘thurible’.

EARTH, HUMAN BODY:  As da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man clearly shows, the human body is a pentacle in itself.  In certain group rituals, the body can become a grand pentacle with the limbs and head representing the five points of the pentagram.  Some traditions hold that the priestesses’ body become this grand tool; however, many other covens believe either gender can be magically effective.

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”

If the four basic tools aren’t enough, there’s also a wide variety of other tools with their own unique, specialized purposes.

The boline and white-handled knives (Roderick gives air and fire as the respective elements for these tools) can be interchangeable terms for a “working knife” that cuts physical items, since the athame is traditionally a knife for cutting and drawing only ethereal items.  The boline can also refer specifically to a small sickle knife used specifically to harvest magical herbs.  The white-handled knife–as a single-edged sharp knife–can also be used for this purpose, but its straight blade is more conducive to a greater variety of things, such as chopping herbs, inscribing candles, and cutting cords.  Either are good “utility” tools.

The thurible (fire) is also a common utility tool.  It’s just a fire proof vessel that can be used as an incense burner or to burn items in ritually.  It’s often made of iron, and as such many choose to use one cauldron as both a utilitarian liquid container and fire-burner.

The broom (earth) is also a strongly practical tool.  It can be used in fertility rites, since the masculine staff meets the feminine whisk in one tool enabling it to represent sexual conjoining.  However, it’s also used practically to clear a ritual space of physical dirt.  Many also envision sweeping out stale energies along with the physical mess, too.

The bell (air) is something of a unitasking tool.  Ringing the bell is often done to signal the start and/or finish of ceremonies and rituals.  However, it can also be used in summoning energies and entities or to raise or influence energy.  The scourge (water) is also a vague unitasker tool.  Many traditions don’t even use it, but British Traditional Wiccans use it in initiatory rites and to rase or influence energy.  It is sometimes also used to purify the chakra system, since flagellation can stimulate the root chakra.  Cords (earth) an also fall into the unitasking category.  Used in the initiatory rituals, they are otherwise almost exclusively used to cinch robes at the waist even though they can be used in spell and prayer work.  Skyclad witches also often wear their cords as a badge signalling their degree within their tradition, and gain their earth connotations through that umbilical connection to community.

Other tools commonly used within Wicca are the Book of Shadows–a traditionally handwritten book containing the rituals and spells particular to a tradition or group.  Many witches also develop their own personal book, which many solitary witches call their Book of Shadows.  Group practitioners may call their personal book their grimoire.  Since even a group book can be considered a grimoire, the terms are largely interchangeable, especially outside the Wiccan context.  And then, of course, come all the odds and ends tools:  candles, incense, essential oils, herbs, divination tools, magical jewelry, robes, crowns, garters, statues, plaques, candle holders, bowls and plates…the list can get very lengthy very quickly.

In his description of the magical tools, Roderick concludes by asking us to ponder the following questions:

  • Which of the tools seems to be ‘mismatched’ with an element?
  • If you were to make your own correspondences, which of these tools would you match with elemental energies?
  • Consider the tools of your daily life (your car, fridge, lights, garbage disposal, etc.)  How might each of these ordinary items align with the elements?  Take time to consider this and commit your thoughts to paper.

I’m actually good with the elemental correspondences Roderick gives.  In Hartwood Grove, the athame is a tool of air and the wand a tool of fire, but that’s not something I agree with.  I can see tree branches swaying in the wind and the heat of the forge shaping the blade’s metal, so the athame:fire::wand:air associations make much more sense to me.  If given a list of tools, I think that I’d probably duplicate Roderick’s associations, though I might have gone with fire for the boline, air for the broom, and air for the book of shadows (which Roderick gives as spirit.)  Blades are ‘fiery’, and I stir up so much air and ether with brooms, and grimoires are all about communications.

Tools of my daily life?  My work things are all “airy”.  Books, pens, paper, Kindles, computers…it’s all communication.  Clearly a lot of my ‘cleaning’ things are watery–soaps and brushes.  My pots and pans are odd combinations of fire and water, my kitchen knifes are fiery, my furnishing and decorations are earthy…I think I probably have a normal balance of these energies in the mundane tools that surround me.

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