When I was a little teen witch the books I could get from places like Barnes and Noble told me about tools like wands, athames, cauldrons, pentacles, herbs, candles, and all the rest. Though these texts did emphasize that tools did not make a witch and that tools did not necessarily make your magic more effective, like many other modern witches before me I went in search of my tools. Candles and herbs I found easy to use and very useful. Athames and other ritual implements were less useful. Sure, I waved my little knife around in the air with plenty of conviction and I sort of trusted that even though I couldn’t feel anything that *something* was happening. After all, I’d gotten results with candles; I was probably getting results with my athame even if I didn’t recognize it.
All the same, the lack of feeling that accompanied my use of an athame, wand, and several other tools made me very disinclined to experiment with them. I stuck with candle magic, essential oils, herbs, and occasionally crystals. I took comfort in the books that told me that tools weren’t necessary to do magic; they were at best a physical illustration of subtle principles at work. Tools provided an interface to help me manipulate energies but they did not bring much energy on their own.
Of course, given enough practice I did start to notice that the tools weren’t quite so meaningless. Herbs like cinnamon and mint brought very particular energies that, say, lemon peel and apple chunks did not. Tools did in fact have some energy of their own – so why couldn’t I connect with a wand? Why was the perfect athame so elusive?
Emphasizing that tools do not make a witch is important; recognizing the tools help train a magician but do not by their presence grant authenticity is valuable. However, I know how easy it is to take these thoughts to a more intense level, seeing absolutely every object as nothing more than Dumbo’s feather, an infantile crutch lacking intrinsic value, meaning, or spiritual substance. After all, what use are tools when meaning is assigned and reassigned by human perception alone? Why bother with tools when energy is everywhere at every time and available to every person?
It might surprise my younger self to learn that tools can indeed be incredibly important. They have lessons to teach us. They can carry distinctive energies and therefore make it easier for us to recognize those signatures. Yes: energy is everywhere and always available BUT if we don’t know what a particular energy signature feels like, tastes like, sounds like then how will we know that we have accessed the right current? These principles are incredibly valuable and deserve to recognized.
I began putting together a much more tool-intensive ritual worship practice about 5 years ago; that came after around 7 years of increasingly tool-intensive spirit work practice. When I started my ritual worship practice I wasn’t a stranger to the use of tools or to understanding that they could bring something potent, distinctive, and valuable to an undertaking. However, worship for me had always been a very simple affair. Prayer and incense were the extent of it; if I was getting real fancy I’d have a nice candle or even some music. I didn’t feel that worship required lots of tools. After all, expressing affection for the gods in my life didn’t require the use of lots of implements, just heartfelt sincerity and a humble attitude.
This remains entirely and absolutely true. Worship is founded upon sincerity, humility, affection, and a willingness to take an emotional risk by opening to the gods. My early devotional practices with Loki and Hela gave me a rather skewed view of what worship could actually entail. The Norse Powers tend to be low on fuss. They like direct interaction with the help of uncomplicated offerings. I might be forgiven for thinking that all gods were more or less like that.
The Powers that have come into my life since then (and that have reemerged as major players in my spiritual life since being set aside temporarily for Team Norse) really really like elaborate expressions of ritualized devotion. Yes, They also love spontaneous, uncomplicated, heartfelt devotion – who doesn’t? – but going deeper with Them involved learning a much different way of approaching Them.
So when my darling deities started making noise about various implements I took Them at Their word that these were things They wanted. I didn’t understand what, say, a cup of water brought to the worship practice. How was it any different than the oil lamp and incense I had been using? What did offering a piece of fruit change? What difference could vermillion powder honestly make?
I was very ignorant and I was corrected. Each and every item brings a different energy to worship. Each and every item is valuable because it does something that nothing else can – at least, certainly not at my current level of energetic sensitivity. I might be able to sense the differences between each implement but I cannot see how they all melt together into undifferentiated energetic bliss. Perhaps in another lifetime or ten.
I started with light and incense, then added water and fruit. To this was added vermillion powder and later beautiful perfume. A handheld fan was requested as the weather got hotter. I purchased a hibiscus plant this weekend and the brilliant red flower did something entirely unlike any other flower I’ve ever offered.
I don’t know why these implements are different from one another. I don’t know why the Gods seem so personally keen on having a drink of water. I don’t know why the jasmine essential oil perfume (from Wytch of the North!) is so very pleasing to some but simply acceptable to others. I don’t know why using a handheld fan in ritual brings an airy cooling energy or why a red hibiscus flower has a sharp metallic sweetness drawn in a line on the back of my tongue while it causes my head to feel like it’s breaking open. I only know that it does.
These things are a sacred mystery and I wouldn’t have experienced any of it without tools.
This isn’t to scare you away (or gods forbid, to brag about my own accomplishments because there aren’t any to speak of). Rather, I want readers to recognize that tools sometimes accompany very important processes. Sometimes the Powers *want* particular objects and even if we don’t understand why those objects are valuable.
Part of real devotion is accepting the Gods as They are, complete with Their preferences in interaction. This can sometimes mean that yes, we are supposed to turn our backs and walk away until They come to find us. We have to be open to the possibility that They will say no to us sometimes. Interaction doesn’t always proceed on our own terms; it can require a big investment in one’s own education in order to learn the proper ways to interact with these Powers. I spent several years searching for the right tools, studying books, speaking with practitioners, and taking guidance from more experienced members of my traditions. I spent a couple years conducting elaborate daily practice. Though I continue to practice daily my routine has become simpler over time with elaborate interactions reserved for special occasions (or simply for days when I have 45 minutes to spend in front of the altars). I’m still not good. I still have a whole hell of a lot to learn. Being shown what these tools can do in no way indicates mastery of them or transcending their importance.
Perhaps the real lesson in all this has been humility, to remember to be humble to the process and to trust the Powers to lead me to a place where we work best together.