Thursday, December 2, 2010

Extending the Magickal Tool Set

As a competent witch or pagan, you will know how to wield the basic magickal tool set, which can be grouped under the four Elements, a practice that was started with the Golden Dawn and the promotion of the magickal use of the Tarot. The four suits of the Tarot have become the four Element tools in the practice of magick, which are Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. It doesn’t matter that this is a recently contrived organization, since it seems to work very well in classifying the types and use of magickal tools. Grimoires and magickal books from the Renaissance proposed the use of quite a large array of different tools, and all of them required not only special characters and symbols etched on the handles and even the blades, but each had to be consecrated in a special way. The tools used for magick in those times were purely functional and served no greater symbolic purpose - yet they all had to be consecrated in some manner. Still, I believe that the Golden Dawn system of classifying the archetypal four tools seems like a good idea, since it simplifies the number of tools and extends their symbolic quality to a powerful archetypal level.

For the archetypal magickal tool set, then, we are left with just four categories (the four Elements), and within those categories we can group more than one tool. Let’s very briefly look over these tools and analyze their qualities and their use in ritual magick.

Fire - Wand - A wand is one of three pointers that a magician can use, and it is a classical tool in the annals of ritual and ceremonial magick. A wand is usually made of wood (although a number of other materials have been used) and is terminated with some kind of knob or shaped tip; it can also be double terminated. The length of a wand varies, since it should be measured according to the length of the magician’s forearm, which is from the elbow to the palm of the hand. There are a number of recommendations as to what kind of wood should be used, the proper planetary hour it should be cut down or carved, and what kind of magickal characters should be engraved on it. I leave all of these aesthetic considerations to the owner, since the embellishment of the wand is a personal and artistic preference. The wand is used to call and summon gods, goddesses and amicable spirits through the artifice of drawing invoking spirals and magnetically attracting them down. Most witches would not want to invoke their Deities using a steel blade because that would be disrespectful or even threatening - just as it’s bad manners to point a blade at a fellow practitioner.

Water - Cup/Chalice - A cup or chalice is used to contain liquid sacraments, either consecrated salt water, which is used to make sacred space, or consecrated wine or ale. The cup was typically not a tool in most of the old grimoires (except a few, where it was used to capture blood from a sacrifice), since it serves a more liturgical than magickal purpose. A cup or chalice can be made out wood, ceramics, precious metals (silver or gold), or even pewter, brass or bronze. Typically, witches and pagans might have two separate chalices - one for the salt water, and the other for wine or ale. Since salt is highly corrosive, a ceramic or non-ferrous metal would be used to hold the salt-water or lustral water, and a more elegant one can be used to hold the wine or ale. The archetypal qualities of the cup are that it is female, a container or holder, and has the magickal ability to transform common liquids into sacraments though a process likened to transubstantiation. Analogues of the chalice are the cauldron, sacred well and an alembic (alchemical vessel).

Air - Dagger/Sword - A dagger is a very useful and practical tool, so it usually comes in a pair - one for magickal and the other for mundane use. Some traditional witches have differentiated between these two bladed tools by giving them different colored handles - one black, and the other, white. The black handled dagger is called the Athame, but it is still a basic magickal blade that is used to draw lines of force and to “cut” or differentiate between things and domains. A magickal dagger is, in a word, a kind of spirit knife and another magickal pointer. It’s twin is a plain or white handled knife that is used to engrave or cut things that are used exclusively for magickal purposes.  The sword is basically a large black handled magickal dagger, which means that its functions are enlarged over that of the dagger. A sword is used to ward the sacred space, charge the magick circle, to draw lines of force or points of the circle together. Both the black handled dagger and the sword are consecrated and used only for magickal purposes, but the white handled knife is kept sharp and used as a utility blade. In most cases, the ceremonial blades are kept dull so that they will not accidentally harm the magician or one of the attendees.

Earth - Pentacle or Paten - A pentacle is a round flat disk shaped tool, usually metal, but it can also be ceramic or wood. It often has a pentacle (pentagram in a circle) inscribed on its face. The pentacle or paten is used to charge and bless food, such as bread, salt, fruit, or other sacraments. It varies in size, depending on its use, but often, it is placed on the altar so that the chalice is resting on it, creating a sacramental unit. Often, I place a small mound of sea salt on the paten underneath the chalice, which is filled with spring water, as a preparation for the circle consecration rite. The paten or pentacle can also be held in the hands on its edge, so that the face (with the pentacle) is fully displayed before the wielder. When used in this manner, the paten projects a powerful sacramental force of earth-based energies, which can be used for healing or blessings.

Another way of looking at the four Elemental tools is to compare them to the four basic representations of the Grail, where the wand/staff becomes the lance, but the rest are represented as they currently exist - sword to sword, chalice to chalice and paten to dish. There are other analogues in Celtic and Germanic paganism as well, so it would seem that these four archetypal tools are quite useful and represent a rich source of symbolic correspondences.  If we are to add additional tools, they would need to fit into this already determined matrix, or allow it to be properly and rationally expanded. This is exactly what I intend to do. I will begin by first adding a new category, a fifth cell, to the matrix for Spirit.

Spirit - Crystal or Stone - The quality of Spirit has some particular correspondences associated with it, and these are determined by the definition that Spirit is the unique joining of the previous four elements, producing a synthesis which is also their source. The crystal is uniquely qualified to fill this position, and has many useful and important magickal properties. 

Crystals come in many different sizes, shapes, either naturally occurring or man-made; they have the variable qualities of hardness, cleavage, optical properties (clear, opaque, translucent, colored) and electrical conductivity. Some crystals have quite unique electrical qualities, such as quartz, which demonstrates piezoelectric phenomena (where mechanical stress produces electricity). Other crystals, such as germanium or silicon carbide, are used as semiconducting rectifiers, such as what has been used in the various layers of a computer chip. Crystals also exhibit the qualities of resonance and oscillation when a small current of electricity is passed through them (an anti piezoelectric effect). Thus, from a purely metaphysical perspective, crystals receive and store, unleash and vibrate or oscillate; these qualities make them uniquely useful in a magickal context.

The basic magickal premise of crystal magick is that a crystal can capture and contain the etheric or fusion-like energy that is produced in a magickal ritual. This is particularly true when the ritual magician bases all of her workings on the prismatic ritual structure of the magnetic spiral vortex. Vibrating patterns of magickal energy trace patterns within the crystal, and it can hold that energy indefinitely, or that same energy can be retrieved by the will of the magician. Multiple ritual workings can accumulate etheric energy in a crystal so that over time it will contain all of the workings that are performed in its presence.

So a crystal can act as a kind of memory receptacle, holding the energy until it’s needed or discharged by the magician. From a magickal perspective, crystals can be natural (hopefully, ethically harvested) or man-made. Each crystal has a unique magickal effect depending on its shape, size, clarity, color, facet characteristics and whether it is natural, manufactured, or made from molded and polished leaded crystal glass. All of these crystal types are useful in ritual magick, and the only arbiter is the esthetic sensibilities of the magician. Cleaning a crystal in salt water will clear it of all influences, yet anointing it with oil or sacrament does just the opposite - empowering and emphasizing a certain event.

A magick stone is any unique and eye-catching rock that one might discover, either in a store that specializes in such mineral products, or perhaps even on the ground while one is hiking. The stone can be rough, smoothed and polished, and of any shape, size or color. Less common rocks have more esthetic appeal, or they can be stones that are retrieved from a location that is significant to the magician. Because light is not usually able to pass through an opaque rock, it’s uses in magick are much more limited than crystals.

Crystals have the following qualities:

Collectors of magickal power - not only do they collect the light frequencies of discrete magickal workings, they can store them almost indefinitely, allowing the magician to retrieve either part or the full energy signature of a specific spell performed in its midst.

Emitters of magickal power - crystals not only collect magickal power, but they also can transmit that power as well.

Processors of magickal power - multiple magickal workings stored in a crystal can be condensed averaged, summed and even multiplied.

The basic temple arrangement uses three crystals in the typical magickal working. These are:

1. Base Crystal or Collector - This is a large crystal, usually natural and consisting of many terminated points. Can be clear, smokey quartz, or of any color, as long as it retains some clarity, allowing light to pass through it. The collector crystal is kept either on or at the foot of the main altar. The collector is used as a kind of recording system for any and all magickal rituals performed in the temple. It can recall any part of any ritual performed, recall a series of rituals in a working, or process the magickal power collected.

2. Controller or Transformation Crystal - This is small crystal that is worn around the magician’s neck on a necklace. The controller is a crystal that records the impression and energies associated with the individual magician. The controller can draw and direct power from the collector into itself for the magician to use at any given moment, regardless of the actual physical distance between them. The controller can be worn underneath a shirt or blouse when the magician is in the mundane world, allowing him/her to access and project magickal power from the temple complex while far outside of its normal influence. When used during an evocation, it is called the crystal of transformation, since it assists the wearer to fully experience the domain of the spirit that is invoked.

3. Transmutar - This is a small crystal that is affixed to the end of a wand. The transmutar wand is a hybrid tool, an amalgamation of a wand and dagger. The transmutar wand can draw power into itself, and disperse it to the controller or the collector, or both. The transmutar wand is also a powerful emitter, channeling magickal power into itself and amplifying it into the temple confines. Because of its obvious nature, a transmutar wand is usually used in a temple or a grove, but it can be hidden on the person of the magician and used in the mundane world. The transmutar wand is the tool that is used by the magician to access the base crystal, recall previous energy structures, and either re-emit them into the magick circle, condense them with other structures or even erase them. How this is done is through a process of sensitive touch and focused visualization. Sometimes it helps to have a very bright LED light source with a very narrow focus to aid this process. Strobe lights and black lights can also be used to access the contents of a crystal. Once a magician is able to readily sense, touch and visualize the magickal energies stored in a crystal, it then becomes a natural part of his or her regimen.

Another tool is the Stang, used by traditional (non-Gardnerian) witches as a marker or sign for the immanent presence of the Deity as personified by nature. The Stang is literally a pole surmounted by horns, or horn like tines on a bifurcated pitch fork. Other embellishments can be added to the Stang to dress it up, but the essential characteristics are the pole crowned by horns. There are many mythic elements that can be attributed to the Stang, and these overlap the attributes of the staff, such as the World Tree, Ladder of Lights, or the World Pillar. However, the Stang, as I use it, acts as a placeholder for the Divine, symbolizing that at this spot, the emergence of Spirit and the ascent of human endeavor meet and merge into one. The Stang, like the staff, is usually held by the wielder, but it can be erected to stand on its own, either in the magick circle, grove, or in some sacred precinct.

Finally, let us consider the architecture of the temple or the grove. The simplest construction will have a central altar and some kind of a boundary, such as a circle or other demarcation. A grove can be embellished, but it usually functions better if it is unencumbered. A temple is a very different matter, though, and often is quite embellished.

Depending on the ritual structures that the magician will deploy, the indoor temple can become quite complex. Simple workings don’t require much in the way of furniture, but if one is going to employ the ritual structures of the extended energy theory of magick, then a more elaborate layout is required.

Eight Point Circle - To fully deploy the eight point magick circle, then the magician will need to somehow mark those eight points. I am, of course, referring to the four cardinal directions and the in-between points, or angles. My solution is to place small tables at each of the eight points and place on them an oil lamp. The cardinal directions are marked with colored glass lamp covers, and the angles are left plain. One of the altars in the four cardinal directions can act as the main altar, and another can act as the focus for the shrine. A shrine is an altar that houses the statues of the gods and goddess, which are used in the personal spiritual cult of the magician. Other sacred objects may be placed on this altar as well - it should act as the spiritual focus of the temple. In the center of the temple can be another small table that functions as a central altar. I use a portable table in the center of my temple, one that can be easily disassembled and taken down.

We have now gone over the four basic magickal tools and have shown that these may be extended to include other tools, all of which are used in the simple additional ritual structures that assist one in graduating from a basic wiccan or pagan magickal practice, to one that is more aligned to the complex workings of the ritual magician. Certainly, there are other more complex tools and techniques in my repertoire, but these should suffice to allow the basic practitioner to advance the next levels of ritual practice.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Hi Frater Barrabbas, thanks for the clear explanation of the tools, especially crystals, which I haven't used much in the past. You've inspired me to pay them extra attention now.

    I'd like to comment on the attribution of wands to fire and daggers to air, which I know works well for many people (any attribution will work, if you are consistent in its use), but which I consider to be a blind. I feel the knife has a more natural affinity to fire, and the wand to air. I know this debate may seem done to death, but I have some other points to add to it that I've never read anywhere else.

    We all know that blades are flame-like in their shape, and involve great heat in their production (as well as earth (ore), water to temper and air to feed the fire, but fire seems the hero of the day). We also know that wands while still branches grow up into the sky and hang out with the wind their whole lives.

    But also consider this: In Hebrew, 'flame' and 'blade' have a single word, lahab. And trees, more than just growing in the air, are quite literally made of air. Photosynthesis transfers carbon from carbon dioxide gas into the living structure of the tree, where it combines with small quantities of minerals mined from the ground to form wood, bark, leaves etc. Just consider: if all the bulk of the tree's material were drawn from the ground, it would end up growing in a hollow, whereas trees actually form mounds around them. They are solidified air.
    I can appreciate the traditional explanation of daggers as representing the cutting/dividing quality of analytical thought. But I feel this is just one small element of mind/intellect, and that at a more fundamental level thought follows less linear, more meandering and branching structures, more akin to the branching of a tree or the tributaries of a river. Our modern Age of Reason has placed formal linear logic and structured analysis on a pedestal, but the basic mode of thought is not analytic division and isolation but rather the synthetic establishing of connections and drawing of associations between thoughts, emotions and perceptions.
    The network of mind formed by such connections, and the flow of consciousness through this network, creates structures that are far less linear and rational than the common application of the dagger would suggest. To explain further would take us deep into the fields of Cognition, autopoietic networks and information theory, and I couldn't do it justice within the space of one comment. But I do feel there is some lovely symbolism to be harnessed here, as an alternative to the common GD approach.

    And I'm glad you pointed out that elemental attributions are modern innovations, not strictly necessary to the consecration and use of our tools. I have a blade currently under construction, the steel of which I wrestled from the rusting hulk of a steam locomotive which had fallen down a bank onto a barren rocky beach, where it is gradually being eaten by waves and tide. There's so much water/sea energy in this blade, as well as air/steam, that I don't think I can consecrate it as a tool of fire! But it will be an athame none the less, and a tool of surpassing magic.

  2. Thank you Ben for your comments. I knew that someone would bring up this issue, so I have responded to it in the next blog article, which you can examine. I don't subscribe to one method being true and the other, false, of course, whatever works for you is the correct association.

  3. What should I do if a crystal brakes into 2 or more pieces? Some say it's better to bury it, because its mission is done, while others say to keep using the pieces.

    My little amethist broke into 2 pieces, apparently by accident, a year ago and I've kept the pieces covered in salt for a few days. Then I inserted them into holy water in a clear glass and let them absorb as much sunlight and moonlight as possible, for another few days. Then I used the pieces in my practices and they became totally clear over time, like glass.

    Now they seem to slip out of my hand and fall on hard surfaces and little shards brake off. Does this mean they are telling me it's time to stop using them?