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Magical Tools

There are many magical tools used by the practising Pagan, but what are they and what do they represent?  In this article, we cover the most commonly used tools used on the Altar and  for magical workings and ritual

The Besom (Broomstick)
The besom was used by our ancestors as a household item for sweeping the dirt floors of dwellings.  It was crafted from twigs and wood gathered locally, and in Europe, it was traditionally crafted with a hazel handle, birch bristles and bound with strips of willow bark.  Each of the woods was readily available and a broomstick standing in the corner of a room attracted little interest from visitors, making it possible to create a magical tool and 'hiding it in plain sight'.  The woods used to craft the besom, had magical properties in their own right.  The birch has associations with birth, renewal and new beginnings, Hazel is associated with wisdom and psychic ability, and Willow is sacred to the Goddess and associated with healing.  The broomstick was used to create a protective circle in the dust floor, inside which magical which magical workings could be performed, and the then the circle swept away to remove all trace of it's existence.

The modern witch doesn't need to sweep the floor, but the besom is still used to cleanse and purify the working circle, is hung over a doorway to protect the home and because of the association with travel, often hung in cars for safe travel.  The association with birth and fertility also gave rise to the tradition of 'jumping the broomstick' in handfasting rituals and Beltane celebrations to encourage pregnancy.

The Wand
The wand it used to command, channel and direct energy.  It is often used as an extension of the practitioner to cast the circle, either by focusing energy from the body, or by physically marking the floor.  The wand is a tool of invocation, often used to draw invoking pentagrams in the air, or to summon and welcome the presence of the God and Goddess to the circle.  Within the  Wicca path, the wand represents the element Air.
The wand is usually made from natural materials - either woods, crystal or a combination of both.  Sacred woods and crystals carry their own energies peculiar to them, so a practitioner may have several wands dedicated to different tasks.

The Chalice
The Chalice represents the Element Water on the Altar and symbolises the Goddess and fertility.  It is used to hold a ritual beverage often served after a ritual to help replenish some of the energy used during the ritual.  Often used in handfastings to bless a union and the dipping of the Athame (Phallic Male symbol) into the chalice (Womb, Female symbol) is often used for fertility rituals.
Chalices are made of many materials these day, depending on personal preference.  It can be hand carved or turned in natural wood, made from pottery, ornately cast in resin, or cast in base metal silver plated for food safety.  Whatever the material, the chalice should sit comfortably in the hand and has it's place on the Altar.

The Cauldron
The most ancient of  cooking vessels, the cauldron is often the focal point of the Altar.  It is a container in which magical transformations take place.  To wiccans, the cauldron is a symbol of the Goddess and fertility and growth and represents the element Earth.  It is often filled with seasonal flowers on the Altar, used as a container to burn pine and other Yule offerings to welcome back the light at Yule, used as a container to burn parchments, symbols or even to hold charcoal discs and grain incense.  At Samhain, the cauldron is often used for scrying - filling the cauldron with water and studying the surface whilst meditating and allowing the eye focus to soften.  Patterns which reveal themselves on the surface of the water are often interpreted by scryers.
Traditionally, the Cauldron is crafted from cast iron, has a handle and three tripod legs, although wood, ceramics or even soapstone may be crafted to create a cauldron in today's modern world.

The Athame (Magical Knife)
The Athame represents the element Fire and is all about power and energy.  Traditionally, the ritual Athame is black handled, with a double edged blade for balance.  It is used for storing and releasing energy during ritual.  The ritual Athame is not a working knife, it's not used for cutting herbs, crafting wands or any other action that will disrupt the residual energy stored in the handle.  It is often wrapped in black cloth when not in use, black is a very protective colour and keeps the Athame safe from outside negative energies and influences.   The Athame is used within ritual to channel and direct power.  For indoor rituals, the Athame is often used to cast the circle, creating a boundary between sacred space and the outer world.  Modern knife laws make the using of Athames during outside rituals a little difficult, as they can be classed as a 'dangerous weapon', so the wand is often used for group outdoor celebrations in it's place

The Boline.
The boline is a working magical knife.  Traditionally white handled, it can be anything from a penknife size, up to a Druids sickle.  It is used for harvesting herbs, carving wands, fashioning staffs, engraving sacred symbols, or for any other magical activity that requires the use of a blade.

The Censer
The censer is a container used for burning resins and incense on hot charcoal to release the natural energies of the plants, woods and flora and resins.  It can be elaborate, crafted from brass and fitted with  a chain handle allowing the censer to be swung and the incense smoke spread, or it can be something as simple as a ceramic dish.  If ceramics, or natural wood vessels are used as censers, then it's a good idea to line the base with a good layer of sand which will absorb the heat from the burning charcoal, and preventing cracking and breaking.  The sand also gives a good flat surface to support small incense cones or sticks.

The Pentagram
Some representation of the Pentagram is usually placed on the Altar.  It can range from an elaborate, ornate brass paton, to a simple flat clay disc with the Pentagram inscribed on the surface.  The Pentagram is a five pointed star and in wicca, the Pentagram represents the element Earth on the Altar.  Items that need to be ritually charged - talisman, sigils, amulets, charms etc are often consecrated during ritual by placing them on the Pentagram.
Not restricted to the altar, the Pentagram is a protective symbol and is often found over doorways, windows and fire places within the Pagan home.  The Pentagram enclosed within a circle is know as a Pentacle and for magical uses, is pretty much interchangeable with the Pentagram.

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