Tools of Witchcraft

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft - Judika Illes 2005

Tools of Witchcraft

Different traditions and different practitioners require and desire different tools. It is unlikely that any one witch will own or use every tool listed here. The witch who is afraid of fire doesn’t need candles; the witch who works purely with verbal charms doesn’t require a mortar and pestle.

If a witch or practitioner uses any tool consistently in her magical work, it is, by definition, a magical tool.

Some tools, like the bolline, cauldron or mortar and pestle serve entirely functional uses, but in addition to practicality, witches’ tools are also magical tools—tools that are perceived as radiating their own magic power. Different tools radiate different energies. Individual tools express specific elemental energies that empower and enhance spells and rituals, for instance candles radiate the power of fire.

Among the ways of determining what type of power a tool radiates is to consider what kind of materials are used in its creation. Thus a wooden magic wand places the power of trees into the hands of its wielder. Sometimes this is obvious; sometimes the radiant energy is more subtle. The concept of gazing into a crystal ball derived from gazing into the moon. A crystal ball essentially brings the moon inside and enables you to access lunar magic anytime not just during the Full Moon. The moon is identified with water and women. These associations have passed on to the crystal ball, which is perceived as radiating feminine, watery energy.

Female and male energies, yin and yang, are considered the most powerful radiant energies on Earth. Unifying these male and female forces provides the spark for creation, and what is a magic spell after all but an act of creation? Instead of a new baby, ideally new possibilities, solutions, hopes, and outcomes are born from each magic spell.

A high percentage of magical tools radiate male or female powers. Many tools metaphorically represent the unification of these forces. Earth’s most ancient religions venerated the sacred nature of the human genitalia, representing male and female generative power.

Sacred spiritual emblems evolved into tools of witchcraft. Many magical tools now hide in the kitchen disguised as ordinary kitchen utensils including sieves, pots and cauldrons, cups and chalices, mortars and pestles, knives, dinner bells, and most famously, brooms. To some extent this parallels the hidden history of women: once worshipped or at least respected as goddesses, priestesses, and community leaders, for centuries (and still in some circles) women were perceived as the weaker, less intelligent, meek gender, fit for little other than preparing meals. Women’s old tools of power lurked in the kitchen with them. In recent years, however, witches and their tools have emerged from their broom-closets to reveal their long suppressed powers.

In fact many tools serve dual uses: few ancient people had the variety or quantity of possessions that many take for granted today. The average kitchen witch of not that long ago made magic with whatever was at hand. She didn’t have a catalog of wares to choose from. Rare, precious items were treasured but, by definition, these were accessible to only a very few.

Never permit the lack of a specific tool to stall a magical goal. Among the key ingredients of magical practice is inventiveness. The one and only tool that is a requirement is the spell-caster herself, her full and entire focus and commitment to a spell. According to French master mage Eliphas Levi (see HALL OF FAME) there are four requirements of successful magic: Knowledge, Daring, Will and Silence.

One cauldron served a family’s purposes: from creating nutritious soup to concocting healing brews to crafting magic potions. The mortar and pestle ground up botanical materials for whatever purpose was currently needed: healing, magic or cooking. In a holistic world, purposes may not have been considered distinct in any case. This holistic tradition still survives in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where medicinals are sometimes administered via food. Edible, medicinal ingredients are prescribed for the patient: the meal is the prescription and may contain magical protective elements as well.


Also sometimes spelled Athalmé, the athamé (pronounce a-tham-ay or ath-may) is a ritual knife. The origin of the name is unknown. It is usually, although not exclusively, black-handled with a double-edged steel blade. Whether it is sharp or dull is irrelevant as the athamé is not used as a cutting tool and is never used to draw blood. Symbols, such as runes or sigils, may be engraved or painted onto the handle.

The athamé, as with other metal blades, radiates male energy. Some identify swords and knives with the air element, others with fire. (The process of forging metal is complex and involves all the elements.)

Although the use of ritual knives, daggers or swords is common to very many traditions, the name athamé is almost exclusively Wiccan or Wiccan-influenced. It is among the standard tools of Wicca.

Image The athamé is used to cast ritual circles

Image The athamé is used to direct magical energy

Image Some traditions incorporate an athamé into the creation of Holy Water

Image Athamés are used for invocations and banishing rituals

Some traditions magnetize the blade by repeatedly, rhythmically stroking the blade from base to tip with a lodestone or magnet.

Black-handled knives have a long magical history. Their modern use derives from Celtic tradition but is reinforced by Ceremonial Magic. The athamé probably derives from the black-handled knives of Irish fairy-lore. In the eleventh century, the scholar Rashi (1040—1105) stated that a black-handled knife is required when invoking the “Princes of the Thumbnail,” the divinatory spirits evoked by scrying.

See also Bolline.


Bells are common in various traditions. Generally smaller hand bells, free standing bells with a handle, are used.

Image Bells are used for summoning and banishing spirits

Image Bells are used to vanquish and remove the Evil Eye

Image The sound of a bell ringing, especially a metal bell, is believed to exert a purifying influence and so bells are used for cleansing spells

Image Bells are protective devices: malicious spirits allegedly flee from their sound

Image Bells are used in fertility spells

Image Bells are a tool for magical healing: ringing bells facilitates healing, and sometimes healing potions are drunk from magical bells in the belief that the “cup” adds potency to the brew

Bells derive from ancient sacred images of human genitalia. The bell’s body represents the vulva while the clapper represents the penis. An alternative vision suggests that the bell’s body represents the womb while the clapper represents the child within.

Unlike other images deriving from sacred genitalia, the bell’s two components cannot be separated. (The horseshoe and nails is a similar emblem: the horseshoe represents the vulva, the nail hammered into it is the penis. However, horseshoes and iron nails are independently powerful: a bell is not a functional bell unless the clapper is retained within the bell.)

The fertility imagery is sometimes enhanced by crafting the body of the bell to resemble a woman. The handle is crafted to resemble her head and torso while the round bell is her skirt.

Bells are also hung from chains or incorporated into mobiles to serve as amulets or the equivalent of a magical guard dog. If strategically hung, allegedly the bells will spontaneously ring as needed. Devices from Pompeii and elsewhere in the Roman Empire combined bells with phallic imagery.

Bells were attached to the ritual clothing of the priests who served the Jerusalem Temple. Bells are still attached to clothing around the world to serve as protective devices to repel mean spirits and the Evil Eye.

It was a common European belief during the witch-hunt era that the sound of church bells ringing repelled witches and caused them to fall off their brooms if flying through the sky.

Image Grease scraped from church bells is a common component of Goofer Dust, the Hoodoo magical powder whose primary ingredient is graveyard dust

Image Slavic witches have traditionally used church bell grease to make similar concoctions

Image Grease scraped from church bells is allegedly a primary component of the flying ointment favored by Sweden’s Easter witches


The bolline is a knife used as a cutting tool in Wiccan spell-casting and spiritual rituals. The bolline is traditionally a white-handled knife with a double-edged blade.

An athamé traditionally has a black handle while the bolline’s handle is white. The athamé is the ritual knife; the bolline is the practical knife. Beyond metaphysical and spiritual significance, by colorcoding the handles, the two knives are easily and immediately distinguishable, thus lessening the chances of accidentally desecrating the athamé.

The bolline was originally used to harvest herbs and is believed to derive from the sickle. Older bollines often had a sickle-shaped blade although most modern bollines are standard knives. Among the uses of the bolline are carving and inscribing candles and wax tablets, chopping herbs, and cutting cord, thread or fabric.

See also Athamé.


Brooms represent the perfect union of male and female energies: the stick represents the male force plunged into and attached to the female straw. Himalayan shrines display sacred images of the phallus and vulva crafted from stone, usually designed so that the phallus fits snugly into the vulva without falling off or rolling out. They may be separated or unified by attaching and detaching. Some, the most sacred, are natural rock formations but others were created by talented artisans.

The broom may be understood as a similar symbol but one that may be spontaneously crafted by anyone. All you have to do is attach straw to a branch or stick. The primitive broom is an incredibly simple device, child’s play; no artisan is required to craft that kind of broom although modern artisans, woodcarvers, do create beautiful ritual brooms for witches that qualify as works of art.

According to Rhiannon Ryall, author of West Country Wicca (Phoenix Publishing, 1989), her journal of pre-Gardnerian Wicca, “broom” was old English country slang for women’s genitals. “Riding the broom” thus was slang for intercourse, and “Riding the witch’s broom” a reference to ritual copulation.

Although brooms are now associated with housecleaning, they may originally have been invented for magical and spiritual rites. The act of sweeping was a ritual act: the chore remained after the spiritual aspects were suppressed or forgotten. Depending on direction, sweeping over a threshold manipulates energy in or out, inviting or repelling.

In ancient Greece and Anatolia, brooms were the professional emblem of midwifery, similar to modern pawnbrokers’ balls. Midwives once did more than just deliver the baby; they were expected to magically supervise the birthing chamber, keeping it free from malevolent spirits and negative spiritual debris. The midwife was expected to provide protection to mother and child: magical protection rituals often incorporated sweeping, especially sweeping over the vulnerable thresholds.

The broom was among the sacred attributes of Hecate, Matron of Midwives and Witches. In recent years, the broom has evolved into an emblem of witchcraft. They are displayed as a badge of pride as well as a device to memorialize the Burning Times. As a bumper sticker proclaims, “My other car is a broomstick!”

Brooms were also used in agricultural fertility rites: women danced on brooms, men on pitchforks.

Brooms are men’s tools, too, although generally without the long broomstick. Herne, Faunus, and other horned gods carry short brooms, usually switches or whisks made from branches, especially birch branches. Whether this broom was intended to represent male or female genitalia is subject to debate. In Europe, Santa Claus’ dark helpers, like Krampus, usually carry this type of switch or broom. (Older images of Santa Claus sometimes depict him wielding a whip.)

This birch whisk remains a popular tool in the sauna and Russian bathhouse and may also derive from shamanic roots.

Of course, the most famous thing witches do with brooms is ride them. Another theory regarding the origin of brooms is that they are a shamanic tool for soul-journeying. The witch’s broom may have originated as a shamanic spirit horse. A hobbyhorse is essentially a broomstick with a horse’s head instead of a broom head.

In many witchcraft traditions, a broom alone is insufficient for flight: incantations and especially flying ointments may also be necessary components. The connection of the broom with soul-journeying may not be merely metaphoric. It is widely believed that the broomstick was a traditional tool used for topical applications of witches’ flying ointments. (See page 693, Flying Ointments.)

In Mexico and Central America, brooms and the act of sweeping are symbolic of ritual purification. Central Mexican codices display grass brooms placed beside crossroads, the traditional place for depositing spiritually dangerous or potentially contaminating items.

The broom is the emblem of the Aztec midwife-witch goddess Tlazolteotl as surely as it is that of her Eurasian counterpart, Hecate.

Purification and protection are closely linked: brooms are also used for protective magic. The footprints one leaves behind are believed particularly vulnerable to malevolent magic; someone who wishes you harm can do so via your footprints. An old spell suggests dragging a broom behind you to sweep away your traces; this way, no enemies can work on your footprints. (And indeed, the broom will sweep away footprints and without prints, no malevolent foot-track magic can be worked either.)

Baba Yaga performs similar actions: she flies in a mortar and steers with her pestle, but she uses a broom to sweep away her traces. (Russia had a strong tradition of foot-track magic.)

In Spanish witchcraft, brooms are used in love spells, sometimes dressed up as women. (There are legends of witches who could make these brooms dance!) A similar living witch’s broom entertains an elderly woman in Chris van Allsburg’s illustrated children’s book The Widow’s Broom (Houghton Mifflin, 1992).

Jumping the broomstick once indicated a marriage unsanctioned by the Church. It was a British folk custom and used by Romany. Slaves in the former British colonies were married by jumping the broomstick. The tradition has regained popularity among African-Americans as well as in Wiccan and Neo-Pagan handfastings.

It is considered unlucky to step over a broom. (The antidote is to step back over it backwards, as if rewinding a video.) Other traditions suggest that a broom leaned against or across a door keeps enemies away. They will be unable to cross your threshold and enter. A broom placed across a doorway at night allegedly keeps witches, ghosts, and spirits away.

See also BOTANICALS: Birch; CALENDAR: Easter; DIVINE WITCH: Hecate, Tlazolteotl; HORNED ONE: Herne, Krampus, Santa Claus; PLACES: Bathhouse.


Candles rank among the most popular of all magical tools in very, very many traditions. For further information please see MAGICAL ARTS: Candle Magic.


Cards are used for divination and for spell-casting. Cards (including tarot cards) are also used for playing games. It is impossible to tell by the existence of cards alone the purposes for which they were used. Perhaps for this reason, the Puritans called playing cards “the devil’s picture book” and considered it a sin to even keep a deck of cards in one’s home. In the fifteenth century both secular and religious authorities inveighed against playing cards.

Cards were invented in East Asia; scholars debate as to whether their origins are in China or Korea. The earliest deck of European playing cards dates to fourteenth-century Italy. Before the invention of the printing press, cards were hand crafted. Many still craft their own cards for personal magical use.

With the exception of one card, The Fool, the cards in a tarot deck are numbered. Card number one is The Magician. Older decks sometimes call him The Mountebank. The magician is traditionally portrayed standing at a table laid with his magical tools, which correspond to the tarot suits: pentacle, wand/staff/stave, chalice, and sword (dagger/knife/athamé). The earliest surviving depiction of this image is found within the fifteenth-century Visconti-Sforza Italian tarot deck.

Cards are most commonly expected to provide an oracle but are also incorporated into spell-casting and used as meditation tools and amulets. In Roman Catholic folk tradition, Holy Cards depicting the Holy Family and saints are used for protection and luck as well as spiritual and meditative purposes. Roman Catholic Holy Cards are also incorporated into magical practice, although this is not sanctioned by the Church.

Tarot cards remain the most popular magical cards; however a regular pack of playing cards has profound magical uses too, as do traditional “Gypsy Fortune-Telling Cards.” Various special decks have been published over recent years specifically for divination, meditation or other magical and spiritual use. (See HALL OF FAME: Aleister Crowley, Marie Lenormand.)


The word cauldron is related to words indicating heat or to warm up. The English word is believed to derive from the Latin caldarium, “hot bath.”

Cauldrons metaphorically represent the female generative organs, the womb, uterus, and vagina. In old Egyptian hieroglyphics, the sign indicating “woman” was a pot.

Cauldrons and pots signify the universal womb.

Cauldrons are mythically identified with birth and resurrection. In an old Welsh poem, “The Spoils of Annwn,” King Arthur visits the Next World to bring back a magical cauldron of regeneration that will return the dead to life. Like a womb, the cauldron reproduces the birth process.

According to Roman writers, cauldrons were used in Teutonic human sacrifice. (As with the Druids, whom the Romans also accused of conducting human sacrifice, this may or may not be true: they were not necessarily impartial observers.)

Cauldrons are consistent motifs in Celtic mythology:

Image The Cauldron of Bran the Blessed is the cauldron of resurrection and rebirth

Image The Cauldron of Cerridwen brews the potion that confers all wisdom

Image The Cauldron of the Dagda leaves no one unsatisfied

Image The Cauldron of Diwrnach will not serve a coward

Various spirits and witches are closely identified with cauldrons:

Image Bran is the Lord of the Dead: ravens are his sacred bird. Bran resurrects the dead in his cauldron. Shamans are “cooked” in Bran’s cauldron, too. (Cooking may be understood as transforming raw material)

Image Branwen is Bran’s sister and the star of her own mythic saga. The Cauldron of Resurrection is her marriage dowry

Image Cerridwen brews the potion of wisdom within her cauldron. A cauldron serves as her primary attribute. Her name may derive from a word for cauldron. (See DIVINE WITCH: Cerridwen)

Image Medea rejuvenates an old ram in her cauldron; she then converts the cauldron into a murder weapon (See HALL OF FAME: Medea)

Image Ogun has among his primary attributes an iron cauldron (See MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers)

Image Teutates, an ancient Celtic (Gaulish) deity, drowned humans in his cauldron in the alder groves. Some believe he masquerades as the Grail legend’s Fisher King

Cauldrons were common grave goods throughout Europe and Asia. Hun graves, for instance, are often identified by their characteristic tall, slim bronze cauldrons.

Cauldrons were also spiritual offerings. Bronze and iron cauldrons were deliberately cast into lakes as votive offerings in the British Isles as well as throughout the European continent. Archeological evidence exists for the ritual depositing of cauldrons in lakes and marshes throughout the last millennium before the Common Era.

A great bronze cauldron filled with over two hundred pieces of bronze jewelry was discovered in Duchcov, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. The cauldron and its contents, presumed to be an offering to a water-deity, were placed in the Giant’s Springs—a natural spring that was the focus of much ritual activity during the third-century BCE.

The most famous cauldron is the gilded silver Gundestrup Cauldron, so called because it was discovered in a peat bog in Gundestrup, Denmark, in 1891. It had been placed on a dry spot within the bog sometime during the first-century BCE. The Gundestrup Cauldron is now housed in the National Museum of Copenhagen.

This ceremonial vessel measures three feet in diameter and is constructed from 13 plates, each one bearing repoussé images of deities or mythological scenes. The images include an antlered male deity, deities wearing torcs, and a ram-horned snake.

It is unknown where the cauldron was crafted; scholars suggest that it contains combined Thracian and Celtic elements, perhaps the result of interaction between silversmiths. Some believe it was taken from somewhere in Central Europe and brought to Denmark as war booty.

Cauldrons are used for spell-casting. Ancient spells frequently assumed that one had access to a hearth or similar open fire. This is rarely the case nowadays and cauldrons provide the safest substitute.

A Greek spell to conjure up a lover (whether a lost love or a brand new one) suggests that one wreathe a cast iron cauldron with red wool during a waxing moon. Add dried bay laurel leaves and barley grains and burn them within.

Cauldrons rejuvenate: Mullo are Romany vampire-ghosts who return and hover around the living. They may assist their relatives or torment them, however they feel inclined. Among the most feared mullo are those who were stillborn infants.

Once a mullo, always a mullo. A mullo is eternal. Baby mullos are boiled in a cauldron every year on what would have been their birthday by compatriot mullo. This invigorates and rejuvenates them.

Cauldrons are used to cook brews and potions but are also used to contain fire. A fire may be built within an iron cauldron. Conversely candles may be burned within. Should one wish to burn candles within a cauldron, it is advisable to spread a layer of clean sand, rock salt or similar within the cauldron beneath the candles for firesafety and easier clean-up. A lidded cauldron enables you to smother the flames within easily.

See also Tripod.


A chalice, sometimes known as a goblet, is a sacred or ritual cup or similar drinking vessel. Chalices are one of the four tarot suits, also known as Cups. This suit represents the element water and corresponds to the playing card suit, Hearts.

The chalice is one of Wicca’s four elemental tools. The chalice represents the feminine element of water. It may also be understood to represent the Womb of the Goddess.

The Grail is sometimes envisioned as a chalice. One traditional explanation was that this was the cup of the Last Supper brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea, in which he had caught Christ’s blood during the Passion.

The chalice represents the goddess or the eternal, universal, sacred feminine. During some traditions the Great Rite is celebrated by plunging an athamé into a chalice. The chalice represents the Goddess, Lady or female principle; the athamé the God, Lord or male principle.

In some traditions, a chalice holds wine during rituals. This is passed between ritual participants and shared. Usually a libation or offerings are also poured out to the Goddess.

Chalices are identified with Circe as she used a potion to transform Odysseus’ crew into animals. Circe is commonly portrayed proffering a chalice, ostensibly to Odysseus. However she is often painted full-face looking straight at the viewer, her arm holding the chalice outstretched as if offering it to you.


Cords serve a variety of magical purposes. Smaller cords are used in knot spells, which are virtually universal, common to a multitude of magical traditions. Knot spells are among the most primordial types of spells. The underlying concept is that, as one pulls the knot tight, one’s wish, desire or command is activated within the knot. Knot spells are most commonly used for healing, love, sex, and protection spells as well as, most notoriously, for hexing.

Knotting is inexpensive, highly accessible magic, only requiring a piece of string or cord and human will or desire. Knotting is, however, amongst the most difficult types of spells to master: unless one is consumed with emotion, it can be difficult to summon up the intense focus and will necessary for success.

Long cords are used in Wiccan ritual. The Wiccan cord is frequently titled a “cingulam.” The standard cingulam is a nine-foot-long silk cord. (Other natural fabrics such as cotton or wool may also be used.) Style and color vary. It may be a single red or green braided cord or three cords braided together, traditional colors being black, red, and white. The cingulam is used in a variety of binding rituals and may be used to measure the circumference of a coven circle. The cingulam also enables a solitary witch to easily cast a circle:

1. Hold the end of the cingulam in what will be the center of the circle.

2. Mark the center by placing a large crystal or rock atop that end of the cingulam.

3. Rotate the cingulam’s other end in a circle; mark the cardinal points with additional crystals or, alternately, sprinkle salt or powder to denote the physical boundaries of the circle.

The power of the cingulam is stored within its knots. Typically a series of nine knots are made, which may be tied and untied as desired to release or sustain power, reminiscent of ancient weather magic spells.

The Witch’s Ladder names a knot spell, once strongly associated with hexes and so very feared. However it is also used for blessing and protective spells.

1. Three cords of equal length and nine feathers are required. Hen’s feathers were traditional, perhaps because they were most accessible; adjust as desired.

2. Braid the cords together while focused on your desired intent.

3. Knot a feather into the bottom, where the braid begins.

4. Continue braiding and adding feathers: the nine feathers are knotted into the cord at equal intervals, evenly spaced from bottom to top.

5. Reserve the cord in a safe, secret place. Should you change your mind, undo the knots.

In some Wiccan traditions, the cingulam is knotted at Initiation. It may be used to fasten a robe around the waist. When not worn or in ritual use, the cingulam may be maintained on an altar; alternatively, it is stored by wrapping it around a staff or ritual broom.

Crystal Balls

Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century images of witches and fortune-tellers often portrayed them gazing into a crystal ball. The image has somewhat fallen out of fashion but crystal balls remain potent magical tools.

They are used for divination (scrying), for spirit-summoning and for shamanic communication with other realms. A crystal ball is exactly what it sounds like: a round globe formed from crystal. The crystal ball of the stereotype is a clear ball; however crystal balls also come in colors. The crucial element is that it is a smooth surface into which the user may scry: i.e., one gazes into the crystal ball until one sees images, whether in the ball itself or one’s mind’s eye.

Crystal balls derive from the ancient tradition of lunar gazing, either gazing directly at the moon or into a basin of water into which the moon reflects. Thus they are associated with the feminine, lunar element of water.

Crystal balls are less popular than tarot cards or runes for two reasons: a fine crystal ball is an investment. They are not cheap and so inaccessible to many. Crystal balls can also be more difficult to master than cards or runes and hence more frustrating: scrying is an entirely intuitive, shamanic process. A beginner can read tarot cards, instructional guidebook in hand. This is not the case with a crystal ball. One may gaze into a crystal ball for weeks, months or even years before images dependably appear.

Traditionally, crystal balls are kept covered when not in use. They are cleansed using incense smoke or by careful cleansing with magical washes, usually herb-infused spring water or spring water to which flower essences have been added.


The archaic word used is “poppet” but that obscures the identity of what are plainly dolls. “Poppet” is related to “puppet.” In English that implies that a puppet-master manipulates the puppet. (The French word for “doll” is poupée.) Puppetry derives from sacred ritual and is still used so in traditional Indonesia. In Japan, as elsewhere in East Asia, dolls serve as oracles; legends describe some very special ones that actually literally communicate prophecies.

Traditionally dolls are handmade, however commercially manufactured dolls may be embellished for magical purposes. Dolls are crafted from bone, clay, cloth, wax, wood or any other possible substance.

Among the evidence brought against Bridget Bishop at the Salem Witch Trials was that several rag poppets were discovered in her former residence pierced with hogs’ bristles and headless pins.

The most famous dolls are those made for harmful magic but that’s partly because people like discussing the titillating, scandalous aspect of magic. Doll magic is also used for healing, romantic spells, protective spells, and especially fertility spells. Dolls were once used to stimulate pregnancy virtually around the world including indigenous North American traditions, Italy, and China. The tradition remains vital in sub-Saharan Africa. The most famous African fertility doll is the Ashanti Akua’ba, so prominent it has been featured on Ghana’s postage stamps although it has now somewhat devolved into a tourist’s souvenir.

Flying Ointments

Flying ointments, although still occasionally used by some, are not a common magical tool nor is it known whether they were ever common. However they are so commonly discussed during the history of witchcraft, especially during the Burning Times, that, even if they were rarely, if ever, used, they cannot be ignored.

Flying ointments are exactly what they sound like: ointments or unguents that allegedly enable people to fly, whether literally or shamanically (see DICTIONARY: Soul-journey).

The very earliest mention of a flying ointment may occur in Greek mythology. In the Iliad, Hera is described as anointing herself with fine oil before flying from Mount Olympus to Zeus on Mount Ida. Similarly, the hero in the second-century CE Roman novel The Golden Ass secretly observes a Thessalian witch transform into a bird and fly away after applying an ointment to her naked body.

During the witch-hunts, witch-hunters accused witches of literally using these ointments. Very often accused witches were tortured until they confessed that these ointments were gifts from Satan.

Various formulas for flying ointments survive from the witch-hunt era. No recorded surviving formulas come directly from witches or shamans: all known formulas were recorded by clerics, witch-hunters, and early physicians. It is unknown where these formulas truly originated or whether they were even used. They cannot be verified. In general, they contain combinations of potentially psychoactive but definitely poisonous botanicals like henbane, belladonna, opium, and water hemlock.

Recent scientific studies indicate that some of these herbal formulas may indeed stimulate hallucinations, visions, and sensations of flying and transportation, if they don’t kill you first. Allegedly the highly poisonous combination of wolfsbane and belladonna produces a sensation of flight, for instance. If these ointments were indeed produced and used as described, this indicates that European shamanic traditions, replete with profound botanical knowledge, secretly existed well into the witch-hunt era.

Despite witch-hunters’ allegations, records indicate that these ointments were associated with shamanic, rather than literal flight, even back then:

Image The Dominican Inquisitor Johann Nider, writing c.1435, described a peasant woman who offered to demonstrate to Dominican observers how she flew with Diana. He wrote that she sat inside a basket, anointed herself with balm, uttered magic words and fell into such a deep trance that she failed to awaken even when she fell from the basket to the floor. When she awoke, she told her observers that she had been with Diana and refused to believe otherwise.

Image In 1545, the Duke of Lorraine lay ill; a married couple was arrested and charged with casting a spell on him to which they confessed. Their home was searched and a jug containing a salve was found. Renowned Spanish physician Andrés de Laguna (1499—1560) analyzed its contents and suggested that it was a green poplar salve base containing belladonna, water hemlock (Cicuta virosa), and other botanicals. He tested it on the local hangman’s wife who lay comatose for three days and was annoyed when awakened because she had enjoyed her dreams and erotic adventures.

The connection between brooms and flying ointment isn’t arbitrary. It’s believed that if these ointments were used, then certain parts of the body lend themselves to most effective application, notably sensitive, highly absorbent vaginal tissue. Some scholars perceived the broom as the applicator tool for the ointment. The ointment was secret; the broom became symbolic for witches’ flight.

One theory suggests that following the increase in witch persecutions, fewer ventured out to literally dance on mountaintops or forests. Instead shamanic flight to witches’ balls was substituted.

Traditional Swedish Easter witches usually fly brooms but are sometimes depicted riding vacuum cleaners or flying machines instead. These machines don’t fly by themselves. Easter witches must prepare their brooms or flying vehicles with a special flying ointment, which is rubbed onto the broom rather than on their bodies. On their way to Blakulla or wherever they ramble, they gather in church towers to rest and socialize. The desire to stop in church towers isn’t just the joy of sacrilege as some might imagine but because it’s a necessary refueling stop. Ingredients in their flying ointment include grease scraped from church bells and bits of metal scraped off the bells. Their ointment is stored in hollow horns.

In witch-hunt era Europe, similar ointments with similar ingredients also allegedly provided werewolf transformations, too. As with flying ointments, information regarding European werewolf-transformation ointment derives solely from witch-hunters’ records, however similar traditions survived in Haiti.

The Haitian loup-garou is usually translated as “werewolf” but may be more accurately understood as “transformed sorcerers in flight.” The concept of the loup-garou originated in Brittany, from whence it traveled to France’s American colonies. These wolf shamans merged in Haiti with various Dahomean traditions involving secret magical societies.

The European werewolf was almost exclusively male; the loup-garou is frequently female. She anoints her wrists, ankles, and neck with herbal preparations enabling her to transform into animal shape and fly. Her most common form is a wolf; others include black cats, black pigs, crocodiles, horses, leopards, and owls. Botanical ointments aren’t sufficient, however; transformative ability is ultimately bestowed by the deity presiding over loups-garoux, the lwa Ogou-ge-Rouge, Red Eyed Ogun, a sorcerer aspect of the Spirit of Iron. (See ANIMALS: Wolves and Werewolves; DIVINE WITCH: Ogun; MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers.)


The primeval admiration and awe for horns has not been forgotten but remains vital. Horns and their derivatives, cornucopias, still serve as ritual tools: they are placed on altars and are especially used for summoning spells for ghosts and/or spirits.

Image Horns are filled with candy as Day of the Dead treats for child-ghosts

Image They are traditionally stuffed with grapes to summon Dionysus

Image Some Wiccan traditions, Seax-Wica for instance, substitute a drinking horn for a chalice during rituals

Image Horned helmets or caps are sometimes worn during Neo-Pagan or Wiccan rituals, especially when a High Priest is impersonating a horned god

Image Among modern Masons, the cornucopia remains symbolic of joy, peace, and plenty

Image Easter witches carry flying ointment in horns in the same way that African witches carry hyena butter in gourds (see ANIMALS: Hyenas)

Image In sub-Saharan Africa, horns are frequently stuffed with botanical and other magical material to create amulets and talismans

Image In Italian and many North African traditions, small horns or replicas of horns made from various natural and synthetic materials are popular amulets. They are used for many purposes but the most common are protection of male fertility and libido and destruction of the Evil Eye

The cornucopia, ancient emblem of abundance, is a large hollow horn from which fruits and other botanicals overflow. Deities who carry it implicitly promise peace and prosperity. If one considers the numerous images of female deities displaying the cornucopia, then the number of goddesses associated with horns increases exponentially. These deities include Demeter, Persephone, Fortuna (Rome’s Lady Luck), Fauna, and Flora. Epona, the Celtic horse goddess of fertility and abundance, holds a cornucopia, too.

Cornucopias are still used today, often as festive table centerpieces, but they are rarely if ever made from real horns now. Paper or wicker cornucopias are far more common, thus many perceive it as an abstract, crescent shape and forget the associations with horns. However these associations are explicitly stated in the symbol’s name: “cornucopia” derives from the Latin cornu (“horn”) and copiae (“abundance,” “plenty”). By definition, the cornucopia is the horn of plenty.

Allegedly, the very first cornucopia was the horn of Amaltheia, the goat that suckled Zeus; he placed it in the sky as a constellation in honor of his wet-nurse.


The labrys is a double-headed ax used for agricultural, military, ritual, and magical use. It is a primeval symbol found in Paleolithic cave paintings but now most often identified with the Amazons and with Minoan women’s mystery traditions.

The labrys is associated with the labyrinth, the famous maze-like structure of the Palace of Knossos in Crete that allegedly once housed the Minotaur. (See HORNED ONE: Minotaur.) The labrys was the emblem placed on the door of the labyrinth.

The labrys is a mysterious symbol, ubiquitous in the ancient Mediterranean from tiny ornamental replicas to powerful battleaxes. A nine-foot tall labrys is believed to have stood beside an altar of Athena.

In Mediterranean regions, the labrys was intensely identified with women. As a weapon, it was identified with the Amazons (and, further north, with the Valkyries). The use of the term “old battle-ax” to describe a powerful, sharptongued older woman may derive from the labrys. In ancient Greek art, the labrys was almost exclusively depicted as a woman’s weapon; men rarely if ever wield it, with one crucial exception: according to Greek mythology, Athena was born fully-formed from Zeus’ head after he swallowed her pregnant mother, Metis. Hephaestus performed the equivalent of a cranial caesarian section by cleaving Zeus’ skull open with a labrys so Athena could emerge. The labrys remains among Athena’s sacred attributes. It is also identified with Ariadne and with Demeter, who used a labrys as her scepter or magic wand.

Various origins and symbolism are attributed to the labrys, none mutually exclusive:

Image The labrys derives its shape and name from the labia, the vaginal lips; the handle of the ax might represent the phallus or the vaginal canal

Image Archeologist Marija Gimbutas suggested that the labrys derives its shape from that of the butterfly, itself symbolic of the human soul, reincarnation, and rebirth

Image The two heads of the labrys represent the waxing and waning moon

Image In ancient times, the labrys was sometimes mounted between bull’s horns, intensifying all three of the symbols and meanings listed

In the ancient Mediterranean, Anatolia, and Middle East, the labrys was a woman’s tool. However, the double-headed ax is also associated with Thor (Northern Europe) and Chango (West Africa, African Diaspora)—both intensely masculine thunder-gods whose myths feature episodes of cross-dressing.

In the twenty-first century, the labrys has emerged as a feminist and lesbian symbol of pride. The labrys is also incorporated into various witchcraft and Neo-Pagan women’s spiritual and magical rituals. Some believe the labrys is the ancestor of the magic wand and that when deities like Circe are described as holding a “wand” what is really meant is a labrys. (See page 703, Wands.)


Masks serve so many spiritual and magical functions that a thousand pages could easily be devoted to them alone. The invention of the mask is so primordial as to be unknown and unknowable. How old are masks? Masks are as old as art, religion, spirituality, and magic. They appear all over Earth and are common, in one form or another, to virtually every human culture.

Image A cave painting in Lascaux in southwest France (dated to c.17000—12000 BCE) depicts a birdheaded man, generally assumed to be a shaman wearing a bird mask. He is depicted near a birdcrowned staff, similar to modern African magical and spiritual staffs

Image The oldest known surviving mask is estimated to be about ten thousand years old. It depicts Coyote and was found in what is now Mexico. (See ANIMALS: Coyotes)

Masks are crafted from and embellished with wood, metal, fabric, leather, hemp, clay, quartz and other crystals, feathers, seashells, papier mâché, stone, beads, and animal hair and horns.

Masks are shamanic tools; they are portals to other realms and existences; they enable spiritual possession. Putting on the mask enables a person to enter the realm of the sacred, to become another person or another being.

They are ceremonial objects. Some masks are believed to possess or radiate their own personal power as, for instance, Balinese barong masks. Masks are power items. They are the receptacle of divine force or the manifestation of normally invisible divine forces. For centuries, masks were the most precious, valuable possessions of many spiritual traditions around the globe.

Masks are created for countless purposes:

Image Masks are used in religious ceremonies

Image They serve as talismanic shields; some are believed to deflect malevolent spirits

Image Masks have served as votive offerings

Image Masks were used to cover faces of the dead; death masks cast from corpses but preserved by the living may have served as oracles or in necromantic rituals

Image Masks are components of various magic spells, especially those for healing

Masks are also used for protection and privacy. During the witch-hunt era, many witches wore full- or half-masks when attending gatherings or dances in order to maintain anonymity and prevent identification. Many wealthy nobles allegedly wore masks while attending witches’ balls, whether as participants or observers (it was the medieval equivalent of slumming) to protect their privacy and prevent blackmail. The concept of the masked ball is believed rooted in witches’ balls.

Image Horned shamanic masks continued to exist in Europe until the twentieth century when most finally ended up as children’s toys (see HORNED ONE: Krampus).

Image The Schemenlaufen Festival is Austria’s most famous masked festival. “Witch masks” are worn. In medieval times, masked figures chased malevolent spirits away to ensure a good harvest. The festival is still held every three years in the town of Imst.

Image Ancient pre-Christian Central and South American masks are now worn during Christian festivals; many of these festivals, however, are rooted in indigenous traditions. Sixteenth-century Spanish priests disapproved of masks representing ancestors and spirits. Horns were added to the masks, which were then renamed “devils.”

Image In Russia, masks were traditionally associated with Pagan ritual, especially with mid-winter festivities. Tsar Ivan the Terrible was accused of dancing in masks as an example of his alleged sorcery.

Image The Hekataion is a carved wooden image of Hecate. The earliest may have been a pole or post hung with masks, perhaps facing in three directions, placed where three roads met.

Image In Italy and Sparta, masks were associated with Artemis. Clay masks discovered in the Temple of Artemis Orthia in Sparta, dating from the seventh and early sixth centuries BCE, were made in imitation of wooden masks used in rituals and performances dedicated to Artemis

The most famous modern Western masks are those associated with Halloween costumes and with Carnival/Mardi Gras traditions. Both derive from ancient shamanism. Halloween masks are now largely mass-produced. Fine Carnival masks are still handcrafted from beads, sequins, and (especially) feathers.


Modern mirrors are commonly crafted from glass but ancient mirrors were usually created from smooth metal, usually copper, highly polished to be reflective.

Magic mirrors are popular in many traditions including ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Western Ceremonial, Aztec, and Italian folk magic. They are used for the following purposes:

Image Divination and scrying

Image Love magic

Image Lunar magic

Image Protective spells

Image Spirit-summoning

Mirrors are frequently found among the remains of Scythian priestesses and/or queens. (We don’t really know exactly who they were, only that they were people of importance based on their grave goods. No writings or explanations survive.) Mirrors were also found among the grave goods of women at Çatal Hüyük.

Mirrors are identified with specific deities:

Hathor, among the most primordial of Egyptian deities, presides over beauty, love, sex, fertility, romance, cosmetics, magic, and copper, the material from which ancient Egyptian mirrors were crafted. She and copper share the same essence: to hold a mirror in your hand is to hold Hathor. This was made explicit in ancient Egyptian mirrors, which very frequently incorporated an image of Hathor’s face and characteristic flip hair-do into the mirror’s handle. To hold a Hathor mirror and gaze into it is to absorb a little of the goddess’ own beauty, power, and essence.

Tezcatlipoca is known as the Lord of the Smoking Mirror. The omniscient, all-knowing Aztec Lord of Sorcery, Tezcatlipoca observes everything in his obsidian mirror. He is the equivalent of the All-Seeing Eye, similar to The Lord of the Ring’s Sauron. Tezcatlipoca was the sponsor of Aztec shamans and sorcerers. We know that pre-European-conquest Aztec wizards used magic mirrors for divination and spiritual communication; the practice remains popular in Mexico and Central America. The most famous of the Aztec obsidian mirrors belonged to Dr John Dee and is now in the collection of the British Museum.

Magic mirrors remain popular with witches, spiritualists, and Pow-Wow artists.

Because magic mirrors derive from the tradition of scrying in water, they are associated with feminine, lunar mysteries and energy. Ancient mirrors were most commonly crafted from copper, traditionally considered a feminine metal. Copper is identified with the planet Venus and with powerful goddesses of love and beauty like Aphrodite, Hathor, and Oshun, but this feminine identification applies strongly to modern glass mirrors as well which bear even stronger resemblance to the moon or to a body of water like a lake.

Mirrors frequently serve as protective amulets as they are believed to repel the Evil Eye. Small mirrors are sewn on to clothing and furnishings. They are hung from the rear view mirrors of automobiles. Mirrors repel the malevolent forces that Feng Shui terms “poison arrows”; the ba gua is an octagonal mirror placed outside the house to repel these dangerous forces and provide safety, security, and stability for the inhabitants.

See DIVINE WITCH: Oshun, Tezcatlipoca; HORNED ONE: Hathor; PLACES: Groves: Nemi.

Mortar and Pestle

Mortars and pestles are ancient, primal tools used for grinding. The modern mortar and pestle is now most commonly used to grind herbs, whether for cooking, healing or spell-casting, but it was once also used to prepare flax for spinning.

More sophisticated grinding tools such as food processors have largely replaced the mortar and pestle for the purposes of cooking, but for magical purposes the mortar and pestle is irreplaceable for two reasons:

Image The manual act of grinding puts one literally in touch with the spell-casting materials: by simultaneously concentrating on one’s desired goal, visualizing its accomplishment, one is able to insert one’s intentions and desires into a spell in a way that merely pressing a button will not afford you.

Image The act of grinding with the mortar and pestle metaphorically reproduces sexual intercourse. What is a magic spell after all but an act of magical creation, the birth of a new reality or new outcome? Mimicking the literal, physical process further empowers the spell as well as imbuing it with sacred male and female energies.

If one lacks a mortar and pestle, it is preferable to substitute manual methods for grinding materials rather than automated ones. Place the material between folded wax paper and use a rolling pin or hammer as a pulverizing tool.

Mortars and pestles come in all sizes, from huge to miniscule, and are crafted from various materials: stone, terracotta, glass, brass, and marble. The molcajete, the traditional Mexican variant on the mortar and pestle, is created from volcanic rock.

Mortars and pestles were once visualized as witches’ transportation devices, perhaps a subtle reference to the use of psychoactive herbs in witches’ flying ointments.

The ointments would likely have been prepared using mortars and pestles.

Image Baba Yaga flies in a mortar and uses the pestle as her steering device.

Image Witches and goddesses, according to various legends, convert mortars into boats and travel across the sea in them.

Image Witches were sometimes envisioned riding pestles like others ride brooms.

Pentacle (Pentagram)

“Pentacle” and “pentagram” are now frequently used synonymously but technically a five-pointed star is a pentagram: a pentacle is a small flat disc on which a pentagram has been engraved or inscribed. So the pentagram is the geometric shape and a pentacle is a round amulet or magical tool that displays a pentagram. Many people use the words interchangeably, however, and do not distinguish between the two.

Pentacles can be formed from clay, wax, bone, and wood; most frequently they are made from metal. A practitioner on a low budget could cut a round pentacle from construction paper and inscribe it with a pentagram. Pentagrams may be drawn in the air, with an athamé or other ritual knife, in each of the four directional points to consecrate a magic circle.

Over the centuries, pentagrams, five-pointed stars, have been used to represent witches and to protect others against them. The pentagram has been used to symbolize Jesus Christ and also to represent Satan. Talk about contradictions!

A German folk name for pentagram is drudenfusz, “witch’s foot.” German folk tradition indicates the use of pentagrams as protective talismans against evil spirits. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, pentagrams were painted on homes or mounted within them to protect against evil spirits and witches.

The Pennsylvania Dutch hexafoos also indicates “witch’s foot” and is sometimes used as a synonym for hex signs. It also names a specific architectural motif involving an arch or decoration painted beneath a barn window that was expected to protect against witches. (See DICTIONARY: Drude.)

Pentacles are traditionally a protective talisman. In much of the ancient world, especially the Middle East and North Africa, the number five radiates protective energy and is the number most associated with protective spells. The pentagram may, thus, be understood as related to five-fingered hand-shaped amulets like the Hand of Fatima or the Hamsa, which symbolizes the all-protecting Five Fingers of God.

Master magus Cornelius Agrippa explains that every pentagram reveals the ideal qualities represented by the number five: it demonstrates five triangles, five obtuse angles, and five acute angles and is an excellent symbol for counteracting demons or malicious spirits.

Pentacles are one of the tarot suits where they are also called coins. They correspond with the playing card suit of Diamonds and represent the feminine element Earth. Pentacles represent Earth’s bounty, abundance, and protective energies. A parallel image would be the cornucopia, the horn overflowing with fruit and wealth. (See page 695, Horns.)

The pentacle is one of Wicca’s elemental tools, representing Earth, usually serving as a protective talisman. It has evolved into the religious emblem of Wicca in the manner of the cross for Christians and the hexagram (Star of David) for Jews.

Pentacles are ancient; earliest surviving images date back to over four thousand years before the Common Era. The pentagram within a circle appears on rings worn by members of the Pythagorean brotherhood. Pentagrams, both with and without surrounding circles, appear in Kabalistic writings, and they are among the sacred, magical images associated with Onmyoji, the wizards of Japan.

The pentacle may be interpreted in various ways:

Image The pentacle may represent a human figure

Image The pentacle may represent a parturient (birthing) woman

Image The pentacle’s solitary point may represent spirit while the others indicate the four elements (air, earth, fire, water)

Image Magus Eliphas Levi suggested that the pentacle represented the triumph of the human will over the power of the four elements

Image East Asian cosmology perceives five elements (air, earth, fire, water, metal) not four, and so the pentacle may represent the eternal interplay of the elements.

The solitary point may be considered the pentacle’s head. A pentacle may be positioned head up, down or sideways. Satanists have adopted the inverted pentagram but not because of any witchcraft associations. Many historians suggest that Satanists adopted the inverted pentacle as their emblem because early Christians used the pentacle as a symbol of Christ with the uppermost point indicating his head. Thus turning the pentacle upside down was perceived as a hostile, desecrating act.


Among the magical tools hiding in the kitchen disguised as mundane kitchen utensils are sieves. The term refers not only to the modern metal strainer but to any type of sifter including grain winnows, which may have been the first sieves. The sieve may derive originally from agricultural rites associated with the Corn Mother.

According to legend, when her beloved Osiris was murdered, Isis collected the dismembered parts of his body together in a sieve. Her act was ritually re-enacted during the annual harvest festivals that commemorated Osiris the Grain God’s death.

Sieves for culinary use are now mainly identified with sifting water from a pot. One removes pasta from boiling water, for instance, by pouring the contents of the pot into the sieve: the food remains while the water drains through the multitude of holes. However, herbalists also use sieves to sift botanical materials. Henna in particular must be very finely sifted in order to create henna paste, a natural dye used to ornament and magically empower the body, the equivalent of a temporary sacred tattoo. (To understand how finely henna needs to be sifted—and the effort required—an appropriate makeshift henna sifter can be concocted by stretching panty hose over a bowl and sifting the botanical powder through the exceedingly fine mesh.)

Sieves are crafted from all kinds of materials; North African and Middle Eastern frame drums, women’s magical, musical, and practical tools, are sometimes riddled with tiny holes so that they served as sifters too.

Sieves are used in divination and various spells, especially for fertility, healing, and weather magic. Witches were once popularly envisioned using sieves as a travel device, by converting them to boats.

Bulgarian witches were rumored to cause lunar eclipses by drawing the moon from the sky using a magical sieve. (Why would they wish to do this? Not merely to terrorize people. Allegedly they were able to temporarily transform the moon into a cow and milk her before letting her transform back and return to the sky. Presumably this was very powerful, magical milk.)

See CREATIVE ARTS: Music: Drums.


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.


Magic swords have historically played a role in Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, and Persian magical traditions. They remain popular in East Asian magic, High Ceremonial Magic, and modern Wicca.

Magic swords may be actual functional swords complete with sharp blades or ceremonial replicas. Swords invoke primal metal magic although wooden swords also exist, particularly in East Asia. Swords are powerfully associated with the primordial magical traditions of metalworking (see MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers).

Swords radiate masculine energy; the scabbard is its feminine partner. Swords are most commonly associated with the element air, however this is controversial; some also identify swords with fire. Swords do not fit neatly into elemental categories being the product of all elements. The raw material for swords is dug from Earth and the process of crafting a sword involves the interplay of air, fire, and water.

Crafting swords was a secret, magical operation. Spell-casting and spiritual invocation was once involved in the creation of powerful magic sword (and in some cases it still is). Rumors periodically circulated that blood sacrifice, including human sacrifice, was required to forge magic swords. Vestiges of these legends survive in Japanese mythology.

Swords may be engraved with runes, sigils, Names of Power, Kabalistic inscriptions or other magical embellishments. They are used for casting circles and for various magical practices including protection spells, exorcisms, spirit-summoning, and banishing spells.

Swords are among the four tarot suits, corresponding to the playing card suit of Spades.


No, not a camera tripod: this tripod is based on ritual equipment from the Oracle of Delphi. The Pythoness at Delphi sat atop a tripod, a high three-legged stool, overlooking a steaming chasm that allegedly inspired psychic vision in order to deliver her prophesies. The key to the tripod is the three legs.

Early Greek altars were sometimes placed on a tripod. The most common modern tripod is essentially a cauldron standing on three legs (see Cauldron).


Harry Potter to the contrary, it is crucial to recall that a magic wand is but a tool. Magic power ultimately derives from the person who wields that tool. The wand serves to enhance and direct that power but never substitutes for it.

Wands rival brooms for the title of tool most associated with magic and witchcraft. It is important to note that, as with brooms, not every practitioner uses a wand. They are not a requirement of magical practice, merely among one of its most popular tools.

Wands represent male phallic power but are used by both male and female practitioners. Wizards use wands but so does the sorceress-goddess Circe. Female fairies are commonly depicted employing wands. The Maenads brandished Dionysus’ sacred wand, the thyrsus. The wand may put masculine power in the hands of a woman in the same manner that a broom or birch switch places feminine power in the hands of a man.

The wand may be understood as deriving from ancient sacred phallic images and is closely related to the staff. It may also be understood as deriving from the ancient feminine mysteries of the labrys (see page 696).

The wand may be understood as tapping into the power of trees. Different types of wood are believed to radiate different energies and thus suit different magical purposes.

A magic wand carved from apple wood, for instance, is believed especially beneficial for love magic, while a wand carved from yew, oleander or hemlock, poisonous plants all, enables necromancy. Some practitioners only use one wand; others collect different wands, using each for specific purposes.

Although less common than wooden wands, wands are also crafted from metal.

Wands specifically direct the power of humans: there’s a crucial reason why most children are taught early on that it’s rude to point. Pointing is a potent magical gesture, quite often used in spontaneous, hostile magic: the curse that just slips out of someone’s mouth is usually accompanied by a pointing finger directing hostile words in their intended direction. The wand may be understood as an extension and enhancement of that finger of power.

Wands may be ornamented with crystals, feathers, and amulets. They may be engraved with sigils, runes, hieroglyphs, Names of Power or magical inscriptions. As described in the Harry Potter novels, wands may be hollowed out and filled with a reed or some other material, however due to limitations of size, obviously less material can be placed within a wand than inside a staff.

In the German mythic epic The Song of the Nibelungs (Die Nibelungenlied), the dragon’s treasure hoard includes a tiny gold wand that enables its possessor to rule the world.

Don’t have a magic wand? Not to worry. Substitutions are easily made: an umbrella serves as a magic wand as does a cane, folding fan or flute. (And when in need, one’s finger really can substitute!) The crucial thing is to recall that once the instrument has been designated as a magic tool it must be treated as such: an umbrella magic wand is potentially no less sacred than a more conventional wand. If one expects it to behave magically, it must be treated with the respect and care due any magical tool.