Ship of Tools

Ship of Tools January 28, 2021

Over at The Gardnerian Librarian, Ash recently wrote about her favorite ritual tools, which got me thinking about mine: a brushed chrome paddle I bought as a souvenir the year I competed at International Mr. Leather. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t win.) I ritually consecrated it as a tool of purification, and it’s an excellent thing to have around for Discordian rites, since a) it’s more than a little ridiculous, and b) it doesn’t quite look like what it actually is — as one of my Australian IML brothers said when he saw it, “You can show it to yer mum and tell her it’s for makin’ pancakes.”

Hot off the griddle!

But let’s get back to what Ash was saying. Something she wrote really jumped out at me, and I want to unbox it:

Most books on Wicca tell seekers they don’t have to have tools to practice the Craft. They tell us that tools are “enhancements” and that Real Magic® “comes from the inside.” It’s particularly comforting to read those words when you have zero artistic abilities and not a penny to your name. I’m not disagreeing with the sentiment, so don’t jump the gun, but we can’t pretend that tools aren’t useful.

With this in mind, please find below an exchange I’ve witnessed roughly [checks notes] seven billion times over the course of the last two decades:

Witchcraft Newbie – “I’ve been reading this book that says a wooden wand with a phallic tip represents the East and the element of Air. But I’ve got some feathers lying around, and I want to use those instead. Is that okay?”

Witchcraft Oldie – “My dear, I haven’t used ritual tools in ages. They’re just crutches after all. Real Witches don’t need them.”

And now, a translation:

Witchcraft Newbie – “I don’t want to put any effort into this. Please validate me.”

Witchcraft Oldie – “My dear, I’ve never put any effort into this. Please validate me.”

Perhaps a bit harsh for a two-week-old blog, but I’ve gotta tell you, this is one of my biggest occult pet peeves: Not only seekers who try to find the easier, softer way right from the get-go, or self-proclaimed elders who talk like Endora, but that attitude of “real blah blahs don’t need blee blahs.” Real Witches don’t need tools; real Druids don’t need… important… Druid things… okay, I don’t know what Druids need. But you get the idea.

Ritual Tools Are More Than Decorations

The wand does correspond to the element of Air in some traditions, but if that were its sole reason for existing, I’d glue some paper to it and make a fan. The ritual knife may be associated with Fire, but it’s got purposes other than to just sit pretty and look Fiery.

Merriam-Webster defines a tool as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task,” or “an instrument or apparatus used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” And just as a knife or a wand is more than a convenient symbol, so Witchcraft is not simply a belief system: It’s a vocation, a Craft in and of itself. And if I’m going to craft anything, I’m going to use the appropriate tools to do so.

Analogies? I’ve got a shedful.

Let’s say I want to hang a picture on my wall. I could try pushing a nail into the stucco without any outside help, which would probably work, but would take forever and obliterate my fingers. I could also try banging it in with the heel of a shoe, which would be more effective, but would still take time, and the clunkiness of the shoe would mess up my aim: I’d have to make several attempts to get it right. Or, I could just use a hammer and have the nail exactly where I want it within seconds.

And now, for fun and the sake of redundancy, here are a couple of hyperbolic examples from other areas of my life:

“Hey, it’s your editor. Did you send me your latest article?”

“I did! I wrote the whole thing in my head, and then I visualized you reading it.”

“Um, maybe you could just email it to me instead?”

“I mean, I guess I could. But real freelance writers don’t need email.”

“Punish me, Sir! I’m going to pretend to feel the sting of your blows, while you glare at my back with intent.”

“I… was actually planning to physically flog you.”

“Ugh. Fine. Whatever. But real dom tops don’t need floggers.”

Let’s Give the Tool a Hand

Tools enable us to work exactly and efficiently. My knife is used for salutation and to carve out ritual space; my altar is a touchstone and focal point that allows me to not have to put stuff on the floor; my cup keeps me from having to chug my non-alcoholic apple cider vinegar drink straight from the bottle. And sure, there are a whole gaggle of ways to practice Witchcraft without accouterments (because, as the late Peter Paddon once pointed out, if you can’t do magic naked in a bunker with a plunger, then you can’t do magic at all), but turning one’s nose up at a given tool without making the effort to understand its purpose is lazy. And real Witches are, as a whole, decidedly not that.

When it comes to Witchcraft, the more we toss out, the less we have to work with, both physically and spiritually. And we should be working at this, y’all. We work a spell, cast a circle, tread the mill, turn the wheel; we bind, cut, open, and close. Witchcraft, at its core, is an active, energetic practice. So practice it. Break a sweat. Pick up a crutch and get busy.


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2 responses to “Ship of Tools”

  1. 1) I have seen so many witches use tools as a crutch and be completely useless without them, perfectionists frozen by their need to have things just so, lack of adaptation will kill a practice
    2) an expensive athame works just as well as a stick you find in a park, what matters is it works for you, even if what works for you is your own fingers
    3) some witches use their tools so much they no longer need them physically with them to have the same impact because muscle memory for magick is a thing
    4) the tools don’t make the witch

  2. I agree completely.

    A very good and very experienced magician or witch can do without most tools for most things (notice I didn’t say “all”). In fact, very excellent & experienced magicians often can dispense with ritual altogether.

    However, most of us are not at that point. Many of us may never be at that point. So in the meantime, it behooves us to acquire good tools and learn how to use them.

    I think there is too much emphasis on symbology and not enough on implementation. If a wand and an athame both “direct your Will,” then why have both, and what is the practical working difference? Is that being taught or even discussed? I didn’t encounter it 20 years ago.

    Also, tools have been used historically, going all the way back to the PGM, which are actual working spells by actual working magicians. If it’s good enough for Demetrios of Thebes ca. 350 A.D., it’s good enough for me.

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