A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.
Primary Wiccan Tools
Basic information on tools is something every Wiccan should begin to learn about in the early stages of their study, though more in depth study of each tool will occur in time. It takes time to fully understand a tool, appreciate its role and learn to work with it. In my first article in this series I gave a basic overview of tool use in Wicca. In this part of the series, you'll learn about the main tools of ur religion.
The primary tools are the ones that have been used in Wicca since its inception, and most commonly found on any Wiccan altar. Four of them come to us from Ceremonial Magic, and the fifth is an addition from Wicca’s founder, Gerald Gardner.
Each of these tools is aligned with an element, and they are the prime symbols for that elemental energy on the altar. Four of them are also associated with genders, promoting the balance and polarity of genders in the circle.
Some of My Wiccan Tools
5 Primary Tools of Wicca
Book of Shadows
Free Printables for Your Book of Shadows
Check out my own designs and use them for your personal book:
Blank Book of Shadows
First Wiccan Book of Shadows
Wiccan Tool: Book of Shadows
I’m listing the Book of Shadows first because I actually believe it is the one tool every Wiccan should have, and the first tool every Wiccan should get.
The Book of Shadows is a combination inspirational journal/record keeping system. It is not a spell book or a book of magic instruction (that would be a grimoire, which is not a specifically Wiccan tool). It can, however, contain spells and instructions. It should also contain information you learn about Wicca, your thoughts and revelations, your spiritual experiences, information about your Gods or your pantheon, information about your religions rituals, rites, beliefs and practices. If you like, it can also contain everything from herbalism notes to Tarot Card meanings to your favorite Esbat cakes and ale recipes. The only rule is that it should be a work-in-progress for as long as you are Wiccan.
There are some published Books of Shadows that claim to be ‘complete’ and to have ‘all you need’. Some of them are regular paperback or hardcover books put out by publishers trying to make money from the popularity of Wicca. Some you can find hand-made (or at least, home-printed and designed to look hand-made). There are fully constructed Book of Shadows on E-Bay boasting 1500+ pages (what they neglect to mention is that these pages are almost always copyright infringements or plagiarized; they grab randomly from any book or website they can find on Wicca). They are nicely decorated and bound with quite a dramatic looking cover-- often these bindings suspiciously resemble Books of Shadows featured in prominent television shows and movies with Wiccan characters. Some even claim to be ancient—you’ll hear stories of how someone’s Wiccan great-great-great-great-great grandmother managed to hide the book just before the persecutors dragged her off to the stake (unfortunately for these imaginative story tellers, Wicca and the Book of Shadows tool are no more than 70 years old).
The problem with these published Books of Shadows-- aside from the ones that irresponsibly steal the work of other authors-- is that they defeat the purpose of the tool. Your Book of Shadows is supposed to be about your own religious journey, not someone else’s.
The BOS is generally associated with the element of Spirit because it’s a reflection of your spiritual journey. It is not aligned with any gender, though—or perhaps you could say it is aligned with both.
A Page from My Book of Shadows
Wicca's Main Ritual Tools
Wiccan Tool: Athame
An athame (pronounced ath-AHH-may) isa ritual knife or daggar. Traditionally, it’s a double-edged blade and has a black handle. It’s main purpose is for directing, manipulating or severing energy. It’s sometimes considered a bit more aggressive, so some Wiccans don’t use it for invoking Gods. Some do; it really depends on the trad.
Originally in Wicca, it was sometimes used for inscribing symbols on candles or things of that nature. By the 1960s there was a developing mindset that the athame should never be used for any kind of physical carving or cutting; it was considered a tool used solely to wield and manipulate energy, and using it for mundane cutting or carving purposes was thought to defile it in some way. They would refuse to even sharpen the edges of the blade. Wiccans would use a white-handled knife, called a bolline, for actual utilitarian cutting like preparing herbs or carving candles.
Yet as time went on, many other Wiccans argued that the whole purpose of knives is to cut, and did not see how cutting could affect an athame. They dropped the bolline and they used their athames for utilitarian purposes as well as spiritual purposes in the circle. Unless you are in a coven that has a particular stance on whether athames should be used for cutting or not, you will have to mull that one over for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Some will tell you emphatically "it's forbidden to use it to cut things!" and all I can say in response is, "not in my trad. We believe using it (even for cutting, though of course not harming anyone/anything) lends it power."
Which element it’s associated with also depends on the trad. In my trad, it’s associated with Air. This is because we consider it an item that requires intelligence to forge and weild. Some trads associate it with fire, because they associate it with passion and energy, and it’s forged in flame.
Gender-wise, there is no argument. It’s seen as a masculine tool (phallic symbol).
How to Use an Athame
A Terminated Quarts Wand
Wiccan Tools: Wands
The very notion of a wand draws up the image of the ‘magic wand’ in fiction. We think of Harry Potter’s world, where wands have unicorn hairs or dragon’s heartstrings, where they can shoot firebolts or make things float and fly through the air. As much as I wish I could be like Mrs. Weasley and just flick my wand at the sink to make the dishes wash themselves, it just isn’t what wands are about in Wicca.
A wand is largely used for directing energy like the athame, though it’s seen as a less aggressive tool. Some Wiccans prefer it for invocation for this reason, particularly of elementals who were thought in some traditions to be shy around steel. Others just see it rude to attempt to ‘command’ or ‘summon’ Gods at blade point, and felt the wand a more appropriate option.
There is no specific substance from which you make your wand. Traditionally they were thought best when made of something once alive, like wood or bone, but I’ve seen them made of metal rods or even crystal. I would suggest you put some thought behind the substance you choose.
Also a masculine tool (phallic symbol), it is sometimes associated with Fire. Unlike an athame, a wand requires no forethought or skill to create and use; it’s a tool of passion and impulse. Some Wiccans associate it with the element of Air, though. To be honest, I don’t understand why this became popular and I’ve never gotten a real reason; I think some people who associate the athame with Fire just ended up with the wand/Air association by default. Again, these associations are something you would get from your coven, or you would have to figure out what is right for you. While there are common correspondences between elements and all other things, there is no universal agreement.
Some people don’t feel the need for both an athame and a wand since they largely accomplish the same thing. Someone with small children in the house may prefer a wand for safety reasons, while someone who prefers the athame may never feel the need for a wand. While it’s traditional to have each of them on the altar, it’s not a requirement.
Pentacles are Also Called Altar Tiles
Wiccan Tools: Pentacle
There is a bit confusion caused by the name of this tool, so let me see if I can make it clearer here. When you are talking about geometric shapes, the words ‘pentagram’ and ‘pentacle’ are technically synonymous and interchangeable. Whether they have a circle around them or not is irrelevant, they both refer to a 5-pointed symbol. Modern Wiccans generally refer to the star without the circle and a pentagram and the star with a circle as a pentacle to distinguish between the two.
In Ceremonial Magic, they used a tool they called a pentacle. The pentacle in Ceremonial Magic is an amulet. This pentacle could have any symbol inscribed upon it— not just pentagrams, though a pentagram was common. This tool made its way to the Wiccan altar via ceremonial magic.
Traditionally, a pentacle (the tool) has a pentagram/pentacle on it (the geometric shape) in Wicca. But it is not a requirement it be inscribed with the star; you could just as easily use a Germanic rune script, a wheel of Hecate, or a Celtic cross.
A pentacle is a flat disc usually made out of wood or clay. It’s associated with Earth, and therefore feminine by nature. In Wicca, it’s where you might place items for cleansing, consecration, charging or blessings. It’s also often used to hold the cakes for the cakes and ale portion of ritual.
My Own Chalice
Wiccan Tool: Cup or Chalice
The cup is naturally associated with the element of Water since it’s a vessel; it’s also a symbol of the womb of the Goddess. The cup may hold water or, more often, the ritual drink.
There is nothing specific a cup must be made of—you can get a fancy, jewel-encrusted gold chalice or a nice wine glass from the dollar store, you’re fine. Just make sure if you’re using any kind of clay or ceramic that it’s fired and safe for drinking. Also be careful of certain metal cups which react badly with acidic beverages like wine.
The cup and the athame are the tools used for one of the most sacred ritual acts in Wicca—the symbolic Great Rite, which symbolizes the union of God and Goddess. With a few reverent words about the union of opposites, the blade is plunged into the cup to symbolize sex. After that, it’s sipped from and passed around to participants with the wish ‘may you never thirst’.
Wrapping it Up
These five tools are by no means an exhaustive list. There are what would be considered secondary tools, such as you can find here: Secondary Tools of Wicca.
There are also a host of other minor tools and supplies that a Wiccan may want to have on hand.
Just don’t think you have to run out with some major shopping list to be Wiccan. Remember, the tools are part of ceremony and ritual, but the real heart of Wicca is your relationship with your God and Goddess, and living your life by Wiccan tenets. Tools are something you pick up as you go along, not something you have to have first.
Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on July 03, 2015:
It doesn't have to be black-handled, that's just the traditional color chosen. Mine is actually grey with chain metal wrapped around the handle. Never had a problem with it. Thanks Lizzy!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on July 02, 2015:
Very interesting. I do have a knife/dagger. It is rather "fancy" and silver-colored, all metal with a metal sheath having blue inlay decorations that are not 'tree of life' or anything symbolic.
It was previously used for ceremonial purposes, in a WHOLE other kind of ritual, so I set it outside overnight with the full moon, sprinkled it with salt and lit a sandalwood incense to purify it from its former purpose...(although there was nothing evil in that; it was just part of another lifestyle)...
Given that I am on a tight budget, I think it will have to do, since it was what I had on hand, left from the days when we still had spending money, but it is not "black-handled" or any of the other descriptions I've read for what an athame is supposed to be. ... I also noticed, much to my dismay given my current political feelings, that the blade is stamped with "made in China" :-( Grrr...