Tools, Altars, Dress, and Ritual Jewelry
Your Own Tradition
MOST WICCAN TRADITIONS use the same tools, with a few additions among certain groups. Since the tools are virtually mandatory in Wiccan ritual, you won’t have to spend hours deciding on which to include in your new tradition. However, you can determine the exact forms of these tools, their symbolism, and ritual uses.
For review, these are the main Wiccan tools:
•Images of the Goddess and God. Many traditions place them on the altar. The nature of these images are of great variety. Some simply use candles; others use natural objects representative of the Goddess and God. Still other Wiccans use handcrafted sculptures or drawings. Genuine clay is available that, when dried in a normal oven, becomes quite hard. It can be used to create your own interpretations of the Goddess and God (good ideas for designs can be found in archaeological books).
•The Book of Shadows. This handwritten book records the heart of any Wiccan tradition: rites, rules, magical techniques, and other information. (See chapter 21.)
•The athame (knife). A director of energy used to create the magic circle.
•The censer. In it, incense or herbs are burned to invite the presence of the Goddess and God, and to cleanse the ritual space. (A small box, bowl, or bottle to contain the unburned incense is also used.)
•The cup (or chalice). This holds wine, water, or other liquids for use during ritual.
•The white-handled knife. This is used for actual cutting purposes either within or without the circle.
•Salt. Generally used for circle casting, consecration of tools, and for other purposes.
•Water. For purification of the circle.
•The pentacle. This is a flat disk or plate bearing, at the least, the symbol of a five-pointed star.
•The wand. A traditional tool, it’s generally used in either power-raising or while inviting beings to attend the circle.
I’ve listed the tools here because they’re an integral part of Wicca, and all Wiccan tradition should utilize most, if not all of them. Why? Because the tools are among the outer aspects of Wicca by which we define our religion. If you created a tradition that never utilized any of these tools, it probably wouldn’t be Wiccan. Hence, the tools should be used unless you decide to forge out on your own.
Other tools that aren’t as widely used can be incorporated into your Wiccan tradition as you see fit.
•The cauldron. Some Wiccans utilize cauldrons as symbols of the Goddess, and they can be the center of religious rites. Fires are sometimes lit within them.
•The bell. Bells can be rung at specific points in rituals.
•The broom. My first teacher always cleansed the ritual area with her broom before ritual.
•The cords. Of importance in initiatory groups, in which cords often symbolize the bond of love and responsibility shared by the members, cords are also used in some initiation rites. Cords can certainly be used by the solitary Wiccan, but needn’t be constantly on the altar. The cords are truly tools of coven workings.
•Altar cloth. Some Wiccan traditions prescribe a specific color altar cloth for use on the altar. Certain designs (such as pentagrams) may be embroidered or painted onto these cloths. Many traditions, however, don’t use them. (My first teacher usually used white cloths on the altar for full moons. I honestly can’t remember [after all, this was twenty-one years ago] whether we used cloths for the sabbats.)
Such tool lists can be extended: bottles of ritual oils, candle snuffers, incense spoons, and swords immediately come to mind. Other objects may well be on the altar with the other tools from time to time: flowers or seasonal greens, sketches or runes, or photographs for magical purposes.
In deciding which tools to use in your new tradition, always rely on your experience. You may read that the athame should be double edged in one source; in another, single edged. Some books state that the athame must be razor sharp, while others say that it can be dull. You must decide what’s right for you. Make a decision and keep it.
Put all such decisions in writing, first in rough notes and eventually in your Book of Shadows (see chapter 21). You may well write in your Book of Shadows, “The athame—a double-edged, black-handled, hilted knife used for power-direction. It need not be sharp.” This, then, will become part of your tradition.
As the physical center of your religious observances, the altar is of prime importance. Theories concerning the significance of and the proper arrangement of tools on altars vary. That altars are necessary, however, is rarely questioned. Once again, altars don’t necessarily make the Wiccan, but the use of such altars is one of the defining yardsticks of Wiccan practices.
However much we may enjoy spontaneous rituals in a moonlit forest, while watching a desert sunset, or lying on a grassy plain, structured rituals are an important part of long-standing Wiccan tradition, and structured rituals (more often than not) are performed with altars.
Many books contain altar designs and layouts that you can use to create your own. As most Wiccan traditions utilize a specific altar arrangement, so, too, can your tradition. Here are some basics:
• The altar is always round. The altar is always square. The altar is always rectangular. The altar can be of any shape. This pretty much sums up Wiccan thought regarding the appropriate shape of the altar. Many use round altars to symbolize, among other things, the Goddess. Make your own decision.
• The image or symbol of the Goddess can be placed to the left of the altar as you stand before it; the image of the God to the right.
• Tools associated with the Goddess (the chalice, bells, sistrums, brooms, cauldrons) are often placed to the left. Tools associated with the God (swords, wands, the white-handled knife, bowl of salt, the censer) are often placed to the right on the altar. Other tools may be placed in the center: the pentacle, the censer, fresh flowers, or greens.
• A totally different method of arranging the altar takes the elements into account. Earthy tools (pentacle, salt) are placed to the north; the censer and incense to the east to represent air; a red candle to the south to represent fire; and the bowl of water, chalice, cauldron, bell, and other tools to the west to represent water. (This and the above system can’t be used simultaneously, and neither is more correct.)
• Candles are usually placed where they can’t easily be knocked over, such as to the rear of the altar.
• Leave space on your altar for your opened Book of Shadows. If not, create or find a small stand on which to place the book during rituals. Though our rituals should be memorized, we can all have lapses of memory and it’s nice to have a reminder close at hand.
• The altar is sacred. Not that the Goddess and God live within it, but because we utilize it and the tools that it bears for spiritual purposes. Thus, only objects directly connected with Wicca and/or magical rites performed in the circle should be placed on the altar.
• If, after ritual, the altar is used for other purposes (as, perhaps, a coffee table), at such times it ceases to be an altar. Only when it’s covered with the tools of our religion and used as a focal point for ritual does it become an altar.
From these generalities, and by studying the sample altar designs included in other Wiccan books, you should be able to come up with a suitable design for your tradition. Include a sketch or a diagram of your altar design in the Book of Shadows.
Be certain that you know the “whys” of your arrangement. If you decide to place the athame directly in front of a Goddess image, with its point directed at her symbol, know why you’ve decided to do this.
Many Wiccans dress in special robes for worship. Such garments are usually worn solely for ritual observances, and may be plain or decorated with symbols or embroidery.
Some Wiccans worship naked. This is a personal decision. Though a robe might seem to be useless to a solitary Wiccan that practices ritual nudity, it’s still good to have a robe around somewhere, in case you ever change your mind, or are invited to a robed ritual. It does happen.
Patterns for robes can be found in most yardage shops. If you make your own, use natural cloth. Polyester and other synthetic fabrics will leave you hot and uncomfortable in circle, and will hardly connect you with the deities of nature. Robes are also available at many occult shops and from mail-order businesses.
By “ritual jewelry,” I’m not referring to rings and necklaces worn on a daily basis, even if they’re symbolic of the Goddess and/or God. This term refers to jewelry worn only in the circle for ritual purposes.
In many Wiccan traditions, a necklace is considered the ideal piece of ritual jewelry for women, for it symbolizes reincarnation as well as the Goddess. Some traditions virtually demand that women wear a necklace of some type in the circle.
Other traditions may use bracelets (usually flat and inscribed with runes or symbols) or rings in ritual. The famous garter is usually worn only by High Priestesses of certain traditions.
You can simply wear whatever you wish in the circle. Alternately, you may wear a special piece of jewelry that you specifically dedicate to your tradition, or may even state in the Book of Shadows that a certain piece of jewelry (such as a moonstone ring) should be worn in the circle at all times. If you’re expert at jewelry making, you may create a unique piece: a beaded necklace, a ring, or pendant created by the lost-wax method.
Remember: ritual jewelry isn’t worn outside the circle. When it is, it loses its specialness and its direct links with ritual. Other pieces can be worn around the clock, but if you choose to use ritual jewelry, save it for the circle.