Category Archives: Magical Tools
I’ve always thought that witchcraft is the best path for spiritual materialists, because we get to play with so many toys (only we call them tools). I have assembled most of the common implements of magic such as broom, cauldron, crystal ball, wand, athame, white handled knife, girdle, sword, chalice, pentacle necklace, and holey stone. I have materials to make a scrying mirror and staff, but have never gotten around to it. Still, I think the typical discussion of witch tools has some glaring omissions. One important tool seldom mentioned is the comb. Another is the distaff. At one point I speculated that our magical arsenal should be updated to include the key, such an important part of everyday life and filled with so much spiritual symbolism. Naturally when I began to research the subject I found that actual keys, as well as symbolic ones, have long held an important place in Pagan magic.The earliest locking mechanisms date back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and it is speculated that they were originally contrived to guard the treasures in the temples. It was not until the Roman Empire that anything resembling the modern key arrived. There are two important deities that are often pictured holding keys: the Roman god Janus and the continental Celtic triple goddess The Matrones. Barbara Walker writes in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects:
I often use keys in my magical practice. I prefer a blank key that you can get at a hardware or hobby craft store, though I have cleaned and recycled a few. That way it’s not holding old vibrations and not fitted for a specific lock. Charge it like you would any other magical tool. You already know how to use it.SourcesBourg, Rain. “History of Keys.” Historical Keys.Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Checkmark Books, 2008.Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.
Keys had so many occult connotations that medieval magicians made great use of real keys as magic tools whenever any sort of opening, releasing, or letting go was wanted. Iron keys were buried with the dead in Ionia, to unlock the gates of the underworld. Germans kept a key in a baby’s cradle so the fairies would not be able to seize and kidnap the child.
This isn’t so much a review of Thomas R. Quakenbush’s book Relearning to See, considered one of the best books explaining what is called the “Bates Method,” as it is an exploration of how the principles of natural vision have changed my thinking and my life. Although most people will elect to go the route of glasses and surgery to correct vision problems, and a few lucky people have perfect vision without considering the issue, I think these insights have implications beyond correcting eyesight, implications especially for the magical practitioner.I first decided to use natural vision methods over twenty-five years ago, when I was at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I was camping out at the festival with several thousand women, and I rolled over my glasses in the tent while I was asleep, breaking them beyond repair. I was a day’s drive away from home, and my girlfriend did not know how to drive, so I had no idea how we would be able to get home. I was in a bit of a panic. In the end, some women scrounged up materials and pieced the glasses together so that they could stay on my nose long enough for the drive – but that was the turning point. I saw that my life was hanging by a thread, depending on these implements to interface with the world, and I vowed that I would find a way to emancipate myself from the tyranny of eyeglasses. I had never heard of “natural vision,” and I didn’t know anyone who had successfully thrown away their glasses, but I was determined to be free.Looking back, I can see that it was no coincidence that my commitment to better vision began here, just as it was no coincidence that my vision problems started in my first year of college. That year I began complaining of headaches, and my mother made an appointment for me at the “Vision Clinic,” as it was misnamed. It should have been called the “Adjusts to Poor Vision Clinic.” Sure enough, my eyesight had deteriorated. The explanation given was that I was spending long hours hunched over books, often under the glaring light of the library, and this was putting a strain on my eyes. I don’t dispute this explanation, and William H. Bates himself says that eyestrain is a big culprit in poor vision, but this is a surface explanation, like saying your car got dented because something hit it. What happened?College is a period of indoctrination as much as a period of learning. The biases, prejudices and imperatives of Western civilization bombard the young mind, as the institution struggles against itself to teach that mind how to think while dictating to it what to think. Especially for a woman, the incongruities are fierce. I took what amounted to a minor in English literature, and in all those classes read exactly one book written by a woman. The thing that bothers me most about that is that I didn’t “see” it. I majored in economics, and it was never mentioned that most wealth is in the hands of men and poverty disproportionately affects women. What bothers me now is that I didn’t “see” it. For a woman higher education is a period of great strain, one she survives by turning a blind eye, or at least a myopic one, to what is going on.Since I had not been inured to wearing glasses at a young age, of course I hated them, and I only wore them when reading a textbook – something that should have been instructive. When I graduated from college and began working for a large corporation, I began needing higher prescription lenses to read it all, and eventually needed glasses even to drive.Michigan provoked the turn around. This was in the earlier days of the festival, before the rise of organized attacks that changed the timbre of the music. I had to never been in a crowd of so many women. I had to never been in a large public gathering where men were completely absent. I realized with a shock that for many years, perhaps most of my life, I had lived in heightened alert against the threat of rape, both in and outside of my house. I had never reflected on this, never even noticed it, but the absence was startling. My body was conditioned to tighten at the sound of a low voice or a rustle of leaves – but then I would remember, “I am safe here.” This is what the early days of Michigan were like.It was also at Michigan that I met my first witch, or at least the first witch who would talk to me. I had imposed myself once on a woman who was pointed out to me at a local coffee house, who admitted to being a witch. I asked her where I could learn how to fly on a broom, and she brushed me off. But at Michigan there were lots of witches. I took a tarot class taught by Daughters of the Moon designer Fiona Morgan. I remember nothing about the class except that I felt excited to catch a glimpse of some thing totally new. Something was shifting in me. Looking back I see that my fuzzy eyesight was the distortions of patriarchy and my eyeglasses were the coping mechanism that allowed me to function. I left Michigan determined not to throw away my coping mechanism, but to dispense with the need for it altogether. The clearer vision that ensued allowed me to penetrate the occult realms.As often happens when I write a blog post, I have discovered that I have more to say than I thought I did. I will continue the topic of acquiring clear vision in another post.
I have written an article on the comb as a shamanic tool at the Return to Mago blog.
To finish up the broom series, I will share some tidbits about consecrating the magical broom (also called a besom). There is no consensus about how this should be done, but many witches believe consecration is important. Carrie Moonstone says in her Witchvox article How to Make a Besom, “Once you have finished the besom, it needs to blessed and consecrated as you would with any other magickal tool. You may dedicate it to a spirit or deity of your choice and charge it with protective energies.” As Moonstone implies, the broom is not unique in this; most magical tools are consecrated in some way.In Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life, Pauline Campanelli says you must first “name your broom as you would a horse.” She tells you to “anoint it with oil as you would a candle, and consecrate it in the names of the Gods:
Besom of Birch with Willow tiedBe my companion and my guide.On ashen shaft by moonlight paleMy spirit rides the windy galeTo realms beyond both space and timeTo magical lands my soul will sailIn the company of the Crone all rideThis Besom of birch with willow tiedSo do I consecrate this magical TreeAs I will, so must it be!
Tess Whitehurst gives a detailed ritual for full moon consecration of a new broom (which is too long to quote here) in her book Magical Housekeeping: Simple Charms and Practical Tips for Creating a Harmonious Home. She uses frankincense, candle flame, salt and rosewater to consecrate the broom to all four elements. Christine Zimmerman gives a four-elements consecration here. Yvonne at Earth Witchery does not believe there is anything unique about the broom in this regard and advises to “Consecrate the finished broom as you would any ritual object.”Radomir Ristic in Balkan Traditional Witchcraft maintains that “The broom itself has magical power and it does not require consecration.” I myself lean toward this point of view.SourcesCampanelli, Pauline. The Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1989.Moonstone, Carrie. “How to Make a Besom.” At Witchvox.Ristic, Radomir. Balkan Traditional Witchcraft. Michael C. Carter, Jr., trans. Los Angeles: Pendraig, 2009.Whitehurst, Tess. Magical housekeeping: Simple Charms and Practical Tips for Creating A Harmonious Home. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 2010.Zimmerman, Christine. A Pray or Ritual for a Broom Cleansing.In honor of the last article in the witch broom series, apropos of nothing, I leave you with my favorite magic broom video.
SourcesMonaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.Plants for a Future. Salix alba.
In pagan imagery, the broom is not just a symbol of witches, but of wives. The Celtic goddess Brigid has among her many functions the charge of housekeeping, and her followers report that they often see her with broom in hand. Women used to leave their broom outside the front door when they left the house, as a signal to visitors that they were not at home. The ordinary broom used for household chores, as opposed to the witch’s ritual broom, is married to the house; when a family moves it is customary for the broom to remain at the house rather than being brought along to the new location.Many people are familiar with the phrase “to jump the broom,” which means to get married, and this custom relates to the broom as symbol of housekeeping and mature womanhood. The custom of jumping the broom was common on the American frontier when ordained ministers were scarce. A couple might be awaiting their second child before their marriage became official within their church, and the broom served to sanction their union until then. Broomstick weddings were also common among African American slaves, who were denied “real” marriage by slaveholders and Christian authorities. The association of brooms and marriage has antecedents in so many cultures that it is impossible to trace the origin of the custom, other than to say that it almost certainly did not originate in America.In many pagan weddings today, it is the jumping of the broom, rather than the exchange of rings or the words “I do,” that is the core part of the ceremony. The couple, holding hands or with hands fastened by ribbons, jumps over a broom lying horizontal on the ground. While in the air the spirits of the couple become joined, and when they hit the ground that union becomes sealed in the physical world. Superstitions about broom handles touching the ground suggest that in the older ceremonies the jumping broom might have been elevated or propped against something.