Ship of Tools


Please find below an exchange I’ve witnessed roughly eleventy-billion times over the course of the last two decades:

Wiccan Newbie – “I’ve been reading this book that says a wooden wand with a carved phallic tip represents the East and the element of Air. But I’ve got some feathers lying around, and I want to use those instead. Is that okay?”

Wiccan Oldie – “My dear, I haven’t used ritual tools in ages. They’re just crutches after all. Real Witches don’t need them.”

And now, a translation:

Wiccan Newbie – “I don’t want to put any actual effort into this. Please validate me.”

Wiccan Oldie – “I’ve never put any actual effort into this. Please validate me.”

A bit harsh, perhaps, but I gotta tell you, this is one of my biggest NeoPagan pet peeves: Not only seekers who try to find easier, softer ways right out of the starting gate, or teachers who’d rather put on fine airs and treat students like serfs than actually, y’know, teach, but that attitude of “real blah blahs don’t need blee blahs.” Real Witches don’t need tools; real Druids don’t need… important… Druidy things… okay, I don’t know what Druids need. But you get the idea.

Ritual tools are a lot more than seasonal decorations. I mean, the wand does correspond to the element of Air, but if that were its sole reason for existing, I’d glue some paper to it and make a fan; the ritual knife may be associated with Fire, but it’s got purposes other than to just sit on the altar being Fiery.

Merriam-Webster defines a tool as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task,” or “an instrument or apparatus used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” And just as a knife or a wand is more than a convenient symbol, so Witchcraft is not simply a belief system: It’s a vocation, a Craft in and of itself. And if I’m going to craft anything, I’m going to use the appropriate tools to do so.

Let’s say I want to hang a picture on my wall. I could try pushing a nail into the stucco without any outside help, which would probably work, but would take forever and obliterate my fingers. I could also try banging it in with the heel of a shoe, which would be more effective, but would still take awhile, and the clunkiness of the shoe would mess up my aim: I’d have to make several attempts to get it right. Or, I could just use a hammer, and have the nail exactly where I want it within five seconds.

But for fun and the sake of redundancy, here are a couple more hyperbolic examples:

“I don’t actually use Tarot cards to read Tarot. What I do is visualize the deck, and then I give a reading based on whatever cards I end up thinking about.”

“So you just think about the cards you feel best answer your clients’ questions?”

“You know, real clients have faith in my abilities.”

“It’s a minor outpatient procedure, in which we’re going to claw open your throat and tear out the lipoma with our bare hands.”

“Um… won’t that be painful?”

“Yes, but real patients don’t need anesthesia.”

Tools come in handy. They enable us to work exactly and efficiently. My knife is a tangible extension of my will; my altar is a touchstone and focal point that allows me to not have to put stuff on the floor; my cup keeps me from having to chug my consecrated sparkling grape juice straight from the bottle. And sure, there are a whole honking bunch of ways to practice Witchcraft without using them (because, as the late Peter Paddon once pointed out, if you can’t do magic naked in a bunker with a plunger, then you can’t do magic at all). But turning one’s nose up at a given tool without making the effort to obtain or understand it is just lazy. And real Witches are, as a whole, decidedly not that.

It’s tempting to toss out the aspects of Wicca that strike us as unnecessary, or boring, or just plain icky. However, the more we get rid of, the less we have to work with, both phyiscally and spirtually. And we should be working at this, you guys. We work a rite, cast a circle, tread the mill, turn the wheel; we bind, we cut, we open and close. Witchcraft, at its core, is an active, energetic practice.

So practice it. Break a sweat. Pick up a tool and get busy.

10 thoughts on “Ship of Tools

  1. I have to say that I have actually had quite a bit of success with this, personally:

    “I don’t actually use Tarot cards to read Tarot. What I do is visualize the deck, and then I give a reading based on whatever cards I end up thinking about.”

    But then they aren’t really your usual Tarot cards, and I might genuinely be *special* when it comes to visualizing things.

    Don’t mind me, I’m just being wicked.

  2. For the record, what druids need really depends on what kind of druid you’re talking about. But for me personally, I can get by without a lot of things, but without some kind of fire, I’m up a creek. That said, when I work magic, I’m often doing it in a witchy way rather than a druidy way because sometimes you just gotta go back to where you started. Eventually I’ll be able to do both, though, which seems like it could be cool. (Insert interesting theoretical discussion on the vagaries of druid magic vs witchcraft here.)

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