The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Tools of Witchcraft
The distinction between staffs and wands often comes down to size. The staff is longer, thicker, and often doubles as a walking stick. A staff should be long and sturdy enough to lean on comfortably. (Thus a tall person requires a longer staff than a shorter person.)
Staffs are now identified primarily as wizards’ tools. The most famous modern image derives from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle, whose wizards Gandalf and Saruman do battle with their staffs. Staffs are also closely identified with the biblical Moses and his opponents, powerful Egyptian magicians.
Deities identified with staffs include Odin and Eshu-Elegbara. When Hermes isn’t carrying his caduceus (see Wand), he substitutes a shepherd’s staff instead.
Like most magical tools, staffs have other uses besides magic, being associated with walking sticks and shepherds’ staffs.
The staff is not a subtle tool: it’s a big piece of wood. When walking sticks (and perhaps walking in general) fell from fashion, so did the magical staff. Its niche has somewhat been filled by the smaller, and thus more subtle and versatile, magic wand.
Magic staffs are now most profoundly identified with Obeah, the African-derived magical and spiritual traditions of the British West Indies. The Obeah or Obi Stick is a carved wooden staff, frequently ornamented with a serpentine motif. The Staff of Moses is a more elaborate staff that usually features a carving of a snake encircling the staff from top to bottom.
Staffs were once also powerfully identified with Nordic spiritual and magical traditions. Staffs were engraved with powerful runes to further empower and direct their inherent energies. Many traditions recommend hollowing out a staff and filling it with botanicals, amulets or other magically empowered materials.
Staffs radiate male magical energy; they are the direct descendants of sacred phallic poles, especially those carried in Dionysian processions. Wooden staffs radiate the power of the type of tree they were crafted from.
Staffs, also called staves, are among the tarot’s four suits, corresponding to the playing card suit of Clubs.
See also Wands; ANIMALS: Snakes; DICTIONARY: Obeah; DIVINE WITCH: Hermes, Odin; HORNED ONE: Eshu-Elegbara, Hermes.