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Thoughts FromThe Four Gates

  • Writer's pictureKai

Tools of the Trade

So last time we talked about what you get from crafting your own things. It makes sense to me to take a look then at the things that we actually NEED to do our magic. There's 2 historical streams here, broadly speaking. There's the stuff that came from a place where our magical practice was at least somewhat out in the open, and there's the stuff that comes from a current where magical practice had to be hidden. The other consideration here is frankly how much money the average practitioners of a given art had.

When our magical practice is out in the open, the things that we use for it can get... bloated and impractical. The Golden Dawn is a great example of this. In many ways, while the techniques are good, Golden Dawn practice is all about STUFF. There's at LEAST 11 wands in the Golden Dawn tradition, for example. Many of those were used once, in service of initiation stuff, or purely as something like a staff of office. When it comes down to it, it's hardly something we NEED, right? Looking at other similar currents, Solomonic magic had a large number of tools, and things that "had to be" very specific. The amassing of and blessing and consecration of the STUFF became part of the process. By holding these things apart and sacred, there's power in these things.

Then there's the folks who's magic wasn't even always called that. Folks that had to hide what they did, or integrate things into their daily life, often because it was flat out dangerous to practice. Sometimes the barrier here is more money than anything, cuz if you don't have anything, you can't afford to set anything aside as sacred. Tools for these folks don't actually look like anything else, and often are used not just for magic, but daily life as well.

I'm fortunate enough, and I suspect most of my readers are as well, that I'm in a place where there's no real fallout for my magical practice. It's not dangerous physically for me to do what I do. I have lived at times and places where it would be risky in terms of family relationships, or work things, if it were to come out, but right now, I'm not there. So, for us there's a line that's a bit different for everyone. How much privacy do you have? How much freedom do you have to be open about what you're doing? Your magical practice needs to fit to your life. Doesn't matter how powerful the sigil for a promotion is, you shouldn't wear it if they'll fire you if they see it. For our long term stuff, money is a thought, secrecy is a thought, and how much energy you can put into things is a thought. Doing the best you can, for your situation, is important.

The things we use in magic have a couple different angles. 1st is the practical, mundane things that you need something to do. Jars and containers need to hold things. Ink and paper can be as simple as that, but no matter how fancy you get with that, it's still got to carry that mark. Scrying mirrors need to be suitable for scrying. There's the thing you'll do with something, that's just as important as any spiritual element. There's the stuff that's symbolic or representational for you, the core of what makes magic, magic. Then there's the stuff that's important to any spirits you might be working with. That's the order that I usually consider these things in.

The practical angle is something I consider before anything else. I like oil lamps as a way of working in larger ritual, as much because they provide a decent amount of light. I don't know if any of the rest of you have ever tried squinting at a ritual script or text by candlelight, but I'm kind of over it. I'll import many things from other areas, and really, if it couldn't perform the essential functions, is it actually any good? I'm looking at you, cute witchy brooms that can't sweep... Sometimes, the essential function IS symbolic. Sigils, seals, pentagrams, and the like are all mostly symbolic things. When it's possible, I like to see these things imported into something with some form of other practical uses. I love my coffee mugs that have sigils on them, as a way of being offerings in bigger rituals, but also an easy way to bring those energies into my life, and into me.

So, what are the practical or mundane things that we need to do in ritual, and what do we need to get there?

Lighting - Many folks don't work with artificial light for ritual. I get that, quite often for any bigger things, I'm one of them. The question becomes then, what do you use? of course, you'll have candles for symbolic reasons, and that works just fine. If you're going to try candles as primary light though, you'll want to build in enough symbolic layers for your candles, and figure out where they go, so that you have enough light to see to tie things, maybe engrave simple things, and of course read. Oil lamps are also a good option. a bit pricy if you're going to buy a bunch of them at once, but they're really not that bad. I figure they're safer in numbers than your candles too.

Tables - A lot of focus is put in some circles on the type of altar you have. Really, this comes down to 2 different things. 1 is a working space, that you will do everything on, and the second is that kind of space devoted to some spirit or another. For many folks, all these things share one space. Sharing that space with your spirits is good. Space for a spirit should be set aside from the working at least enough that you've got clear working space. I tend to try to separate my working space from permanent set ups for spirits, but I have the luxury of that kind of space. If you need spaces for your spirits, but need to be able to tuck it away, I've written a whole blog post on it here. Let's look at the "working" altar space then. How tall that kind of thing is can be very important. There's methods of constructing altars that use your height as a unit of measure, and that's kind of ideal, but unless you're a better woodworker than me, you likely don't have the ability to put something like that together. Look for something then that falls to about the middle of your waist. You can stand and work at it comfortably, but also then sit on a taller stool or chair to work on it. Wood is traditional and probably easiest to work with, although covering a wood table with some thin metal tops would be probably easiest to clean. I'm not a big fan of carved or woodburned designs, as they make lumpy spaces on your altar, that can be ways to tip things over. Altar cloths make things look good, and are an easy way to spruce up a plain table, but remember that you've got a lot of open flame involved in many rituals. While the "best" table is a bit subjective to your practice, something small enough to go in the center of a circle will be something you'll likely need eventually. I mostly dress up plain tables with tops and the like. My main altar now is an old welding table, solid steel and way bigger than I "should" use.

Blades - There's a lot made of blades in magical practice. Some folks figure that your blade should be entirely symbolic, and never cut anything physical. I don't agree with that exactly, although I AM a believer that ritual blades in most senses should be symbolic. I don't hold myself to this one blade for energy and one blade for physical stuff. Basic cutting of things or whatever that IS a ritual element, is something that I believe your ritual blade should be able to cover. A note that blades are actually one of those things that represent things like elements and planets in a ritual, and I would rather look the other way, what do you want to represent? A dagger often represents the element of Air, or Fire. I prefer Air to fire, but really, this is something that's directed by tradition. Swords have a very Mars association, and are exactly the weapon you think they are. Most folks don't really have one anymore, although the idea is certainly worth talking about.

Cups/Glasses/Chalices - There's always a fancy wine glass on an altar. Representing the element of water, and often one of the prettier things on that altar. This one is very practical in some ways, and mine doesn't usually look like that. I've got a glass that is entirely unique, although looks more like something we should hold sweet tea in, rather than a wine glass. I also do much of my offerings AND sacred drink as coffee, or another hot beverage, so something closer to a coffee mug is often what suits me for this.

Pantacles/Discs - Another one with 2 categories, many traditions have you make one with unique symbolism that represent your symbolic universe. This represents the element of Earth in the tradition, and I've still got one. I'll use them for places to bless things in general practice, but often this is where you come in and add different things. Many of your sigils or seals of spirits or the like fall in here as well. Those are ways of bringing the spirit or the intention into your ritual, and fill a very different role than the other type. I usually do both, for different reasons. There's all sorts of history behind this kind of thing, and most of if quite bound to tradition.

Wands - *sigh* This is the hardest one. So first off, wands/staves/scepters are a thing that's used as a symbol of authority for many ceremonial traditions. Again, the Golden Dawn had 11. At it's core, the wand is a symbol of energy or directed attention. Even as an "Elemental Tool" there's this disagreement between Fire and Air for the wand. I'll say that I'm in the Fire camp, and that's mostly determined by tradition. Mostly, other than this elemental representation, the wand is just a way of directing energy. For me, because I walk in a ritual context quite often, but a full staff is too much often to run into a store with, I'm a fan of a cane AS a wand. I've had one for a long time.

Scrying surfaces - This is something with a more technical purpose, of that dark reflective surface for looking into. You can get fancy ones, but I find that basic works best. I like a mirror, but many traditions scry in a dark liquid. I tried it with coffee for a while, but I kept drinking my scrying medium lol.

Cauldron - Lots of more witchy inspired traditions LOVE their cauldrons. Boiling stuff in it, burning things in it, and the like. Even if you like the traditional cauldron, keep in mind that this is fundamentally a workhorse practical choice. I'm rather a fan of either my normal pots and pans, or a big dutch oven works just fine for things going over a fire.

For the most part, everything else is practical first. Pins and the like for carving, incense holders for burning things, all mostly practical.

Really, what you'll need is determined by the style of your practice. Hopefully this gives you an idea of what you might be looking at in starting your practice, and the kinds of things you might need.

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