Ritual Objects: a Beginners view of their meaning and uses

One of my first questions when I began my journey was “Do I need all of that?” Oh wait, I had another too “What’s the difference between and athame and a wand, don’t they do the same thing?” OK, I admit, I had a lot more questions then that. It can be confusing to the beginner; there are so many ritual tools and items. Some authors tell you that you need them all, while others say you need few if any. What is a neophyte to do with all this information? Dissect it. Seriously, Dissect it the way you had to dissect that frog back in high school. Choose what you feel you need and keep the rest for future review and possibly rethinking.

When one decides to enter into the path of Paganism (no matter which branch) one is overwhelmed by the choices available. Should you follow the Qaballah or follow Wiccan teachings…well the choices are truly endless. Once you have found the path that is right for you, then comes the choice in ritual objects. For the purpose of this article I will be explaining, to the best of my abilities, the ritual objects of a solitary eclectic Wiccan. First let me explain what I mean by solitary eclectic Wiccan; I am solitary, meaning I usually work alone; I am eclectic in that I incorporate several philosophies and methodologies to attain one that I find spiritually fulfilling; I am Wiccan in that I do adhere to the Wiccan rede, the law of three (albeit slightly attuned to my views), I perform ritual in a circle setting, and I do on occasion perform spells (only when absolutely necessary). Now that I have explained what I am, I shall move on to the tools of the trade.

Many authors will tell you that their way is the only way, or that you can only attain a certain result if you use all of the tools and items they tell you to use. Take that as you wish, but for the most part please take it with a grain of salt. It is not that they are telling you falsehoods, on the contrary they truly believe what they say and for you what they say could be the right way. But one method of practice for one person may not be the right way for another. One method for a circle ritual may include the use of an athame, statues of the Lord and Lady (or candles as representatives), altar candles, specific incense(s), stones and crystals, offerings, Element candles, salt and water dishes (separate of course); these are some of the “basics” for a Wiccan circle. Hold the phone…that’s a lot of ritual “stuff”, a lot of potentially expensive ritual stuff. For those of us on a budget, some of the tools of the trade simply are not affordable. So what do you do? What is the difference between a wand and an athame? Why is one preferred over another? Why so many candles? Do you need the salt and water? What crystals and stones? So many questions, so much time, so little money.

Now…take a deep breath…in…out…panic gone yet? Here we go – the first step into the world of what you should and should not have. Number one – you do not require anything. That’s right, I said it, you do not need a thing to perform ritual. One of the most wonderful circles you can have is one where you envision the circle around you; you can see it forming below, above, and to all the directions. You invite and offer thanks through words and song to the elements and the Gods. You give an astral offering, and conduct yourself in peace and love. No tools, no bells and whistles – just you and the Divine. OK…Now that I’ve offended some of the stricter adherents to the path – I shall now tell you what is appropriate for what and why.

Athame vs. wand vs. finger/hand. What is the difference? Easy – energy direction and control. I, too, was guilty of not knowing why you had to actually get an athame or wand. I could not wrap my head around why one was more or less important than the other. After all, was not my finger good enough? For that matter it took me the longest time to realize that the athame was for ritual alone and not for anything else (I had read someplace that it could be used for cutting herbs and the thought stuck with me too long). Now I know better (I still do not have one though) – never cut anything with an athame except for energy. It is not meant for anything but energy direction and focus, along the lines of a wand but different. Whereas an athame is for “cutting” and directing energy, the wand is used for focusing energy. Situations dictate that it is not always possible to cast a circle for every spell or every working you need to do. Sometimes you need to focus energy efficiently outside of the circle in order to attain a certain ends. Since you do not have the circle to keep the energy focused and contained you need a tool that enables you to focus the energy. An athame or a wand is what is needed at these times; they are also in contact with the hand chakra lending a greater and more controlled energy to your working. Now why did I include the finger/hand in that vs. sentence? Well, if you have no athame or wand a finger or hand will do in a pinch, though the finger would direct the flow better then the whole hand; size being the obvious reason. Since your finger is an extension of yourself it is an obvious choice for the direction of your energy, however, it does not focus it as a wand or athame would and it is more distant from the hand chakra. Whereas a wand or athame directs the energy in a straight flow or line, the finger could have off shoots that lead in directions not necessarily pointed at, which could be problematic depending on what you are working on. The prices for athames and wands can vary greatly; if you are crafty you can make your own, however, most purchase these items then personalize them. Search around until one of these items “calls” to you, as with all things do not rush it, it will come. Please do not forget to consecrate your ritual objects – I will discuss this part after describing the different ritual objects.

Now let’s talk about the representations of the elements. For the Elements candles are best, one at each cardinal point, preferably in corresponding colours to the Element in question. These are probably the least expensive part of casting a circle as you can go to your local dollar store and buy them for less then the cost of a chocolate bar. Alternatively, you can make your own; not only will you get what you want this way but they will be more powerful since your energy has been poured into them. I have only ever used the candles to represent the Elements (or envisioned the four points in my mind in their corresponding colours) but I’m sure there are other ways of representing the Elements and paying them tribute. As for the corresponding colours to the Elements I’ll tell you the ones I use, but these vary from user to user. For the East I use yellow for the air and intellect, the South I use red for fire and passion, the West I use blue for water and healing/empathy, for the North I use green for the earth and stability/mothering. As stated before these vary and what I placed here is right for me, but may not be right for someone else – research it.

On to our beautiful Lady and gracious Lord. I, for one, use two white candles to represent them – note: you can also use white candles for the elements if you have no coloured ones. These can be anointed with essential oils if you choose, they can also be coloured candles meant to correspond to the deity of your choosing. If you have or can afford statues to represent the deity of your choice then by all means do so. You could even select a stone or other object as a representative – it is all about what you are comfortable with and what you feel is a “right” way to represent the Divine – and research! I will not say any more on this, to me it is one of the most important things, but it is the one with the least variation (well item wise not God/dess wise).

Altar candles…well…you cannot work in the dark. You need light and most who practice the ways prefer to work by candlelight as opposed to man-made light. Since the candles representative of the elements should not be lit until the circle is being cast and the candles for the Lord and Lady should not be lit until they have been invited to the circle the next logical choice is to have altar candles to produce said light. They can be of whatever colour you choose. They can coordinate with the season of the year, the moon’s path, the planetary alignments – whatever your heart feels is right. There are other times that candles would be used and that is in candle magick, but these are for specific spells and must only be lit as per the spells directives (or when you see fit as per your own spell crafting).

Are the offering and the salt and water dishes necessary? Use your judgment and research your working. You do not want to offend the Lord and Lady, that is why an offering is made – what that offering is depends on the person, event, working, etc. That being said, can the divine be offended? That’s a whole other topic I will not get into here but I will address it in a future article. The offering can be bread, wine, juice, fruits, nuts – anything that can be absorbed into the earth can be made as an offering, even your own words (this being an offering mostly when you are working without ritual objects at all, or when you simply do not have access to anything). So, is it necessary? Yes. Why? Because an offering is a way of giving thanks to the Divine, of honouring the Divine, and it is so simple a thing to do I cannot imagine why someone would not want to make an offering. Now about the salt and water bowls or dishes. If you are consecrating an item one of the ways to do it is by placing the object in salt or water or both. Therefore, if you have your ritual objects with you, you should have the water and salt dishes. Not only do they pay homage to the Gods, but also they may be needed in your ritual for consecration or ritual purposes. Besides water is free and salt is cheap – there are no excuses here unless you are doing a bare ritual (my little term for a ritual without tools or objects). Of course, if you have no plans to consecrate anything and you need to cast your circle in a hurry (not suggested but sometimes necessary) then it would be fair to say that you can leave them out it is your choice.

Stones, crystals, incense, OH MY! All right, it was a bad joke – but these objects are not something to be laughed at. I will say right off that they are not necessary to have in a ritual but…they can heighten it and add a level of awareness you may not achieve otherwise. Incense can be trance inducing all on its own. There are so many scents to choose from now that to not use it almost seems to be robbing yourself of a heightened experience. However, if you are like me and are pitifully allergic to orris root you need to be careful. Stick and cone incense contains orris root in order to hold in the scent and colour. I am still able to use some of the lighter scents such as lily, rose, lavender, sandalwood, sage, and their ilk; strongly scented incense cause strong headaches in me so even if a spell calls for it I have to avoid it and find an alternative (there is almost always an alternative, it may not be as powerful but it is there). Loose incense should then be used for allergy sufferers and test it on yourself first before heading into ritual and finding out it gives you migraines. Essential oils are also a good alternative to the stick or cone incense. You can control how strong or light their scent is and since they are all natural there is no fear of reaction unless you are allergic to that specific oil (such as if you are allergic to roses do not use the essential oil, it is derived from roses directly and therefore would possibly contain the allergen). I love essential oils for this reason, one of my personal favourites being Patchouli. Oils are excellent for consecrating objects and are used in candle magick as well to increase the potency of the spell being crafted. Do not forget to research correspondences before you begin, unless you have been told in dream state or meditation what to use. Note: when consecrating objects do not forget to focus your intentions on said object; if you are preparing a candle for healing someone, focus on that person and your intentions for them – this gives the spell direction and potency; same goes for consecrating an object for ritual purpose – focus on that fact to increase it’s usefulness.

Stones and crystals: the argument for or against them. Yes I know I introduced them in the last paragraph but it felt right to give them their own space. Stones and crystals have so many uses and so many correspondences that I could right a hundred books on them and never be done. Are they necessary to ritual? No. Are they of use in ritual? You better believe it. Some stones and crystals can heighten the experience of ritual to the point that it is difficult to return. It is always useful to have a crystal or stone on the altar that corresponds to the purpose for the ritual. Alternatively a good all around crystal for just about anything is the clear quartz. Clear quartz has the ability to take on whatever qualities are needed; of course you have to charge it for said purpose before hand. What do I mean by charging it? First you have to cleanse the crystal of your choice. This can be done in several ways; leave it over night in salt, salt water, water from any natural source, burry it in the earth, there are so many variations my suggestion is research it, and feel out what the stone or crystal wants. Once the crystal or stone is cleansed then you need to charge it. This can be done several ways as well – leaving it in the moon light is the way I am familiar with. Depending on your intentions you should research whether to charge it in the new, waxing, full or waning moonlight; each phase has a purpose, the full being for all intentions. Each crystal has a personality, an energy force as individual as our own and they must be treated as such. If a book tells you to treat your stone or crystal one way and you sense that it is not right then do not do it. Your crystal or stone will let you know. Think of books as guidelines and your senses as the final product. Of course, to research correspondences books and the Internet are the sources to seek, unless you have a mentor or teacher who can aid you. Now to the cost of these items, which have a potential to inflate. The cost will be dependant on the quality of the stone or crystal, the cut, roughness or polished, whether set in some kind of metal or freestanding, and where it is being sold. For instance I can go to the local stone guy and buy a carnelian polished stone for $3.00, alternatively my crystal ball (about 2 ½” in diameter) hand smoothed cost $125. There is a huge difference in price, but also a huge difference in quantity, quality, and form. You get what you pay for and at the same time you do not. You have to trust in what you are being sold, and watch out for the snake oil dealers, they are out there. My carnelian may have been a lot cheaper then my crystal ball but it also serves a different purpose, and is no less important. That’s my opinion at any rate.

I have just covered the “basics” of ritual objects; I hope that it has helped you in your quest. One thing I want you to remember is that no matter what you choose make sure it is for spiritual reasons not for show. An object that is not loved and cared for will be of no more use then if it were not there at all. Above all be sure that you are doing it for you as you see fit, not as someone else dictates to you. Paganism is about freedom of choice; never forget that. Of course, what I have described previously is only one way of practicing, each branch of Paganism has it’s own ways, research them and decide for yourself what is right for you.

Yours in the light and love of the Divine,
October 22, 2004

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