Crafting Ceremonial Tools

Every witch or book on witchcraft will tell you that tools are not needed to direct energies or to do magic – it comes from within, and a finger can work just fine. (Is seven years as an active, circle-casting witch a record for still using a finger most of the time?)

The other great wisdom often quoted is that you can find tools anywhere, and they will feel right to you. Well I have looked many times, but none of the huge number of ‘witches tools’ offered for sale have ever felt right to me.

Tools I have looked for include a wand, a chalice, and an athame. I have acquired various knives for ceremonial cutting of plants or for whittling, dedicated several household objects I already had and loved for use in ceremony, such as a suitable bowl for water, plate for offerings, and candle holders, and even created an altar cloth, clothes and jewellery to wear. It was only in the last month or two however that I realised the best person to make the tools I want to use is me – so that they may be crafted in harmony with the natural materials around me, and full of the intentions of the use to which I wish to put them.

As with previous craftings, I am not going to show photographs of any finished items I use in ceremony. However here is my mostly finished athame I have been whittling out of a Prunus Pandora tree that is very special to me, and which had to be pruned this month. There were really too many side shoots for a perfect blade, but that is the way cherry grows. My first attempt was actually in Holly which was much smoother and more even, but just too hard for my knife to work. I may have kept it too long before starting, or it may simply not have been the right wood for me for this purpose. One day I may find something even better, but until then I am really enjoying using the cherry and it fits nicely in my hand.

Athame made from Cherry

Athame (not finished) made from Cherry

One of the side shoots left a hole in the handle, which I turned into the centre of a triple moon symbol; there will be some carving on the other side as well. I found it was an interesting wood to whittle, being a novice at this type of woodworking, quite hard but straight grained and with thicker bark than I anticipated. When freshly cut the bark was very pale and green inside, but on exposure to the air turned this richer brown colour. It is not the black of traditional athames, but is dark enough for me. I originally started making it as a single bladed knife, changing my mind as I realised a dagger shape would make better use of the hardest wood down the centre of the knife; the point is surprisingly hard and capable of cutting a candle should I wish. Also being symmetrical it has the advantage of directing energy straight down the centre line of the branch. However the blade will need some protection, such as oiling it, if I wish to dip it into liquids regularly. (I anticipate doing a bit more smoothing too, before it is declared finished and ready for consecrating!)

It occurs to me that a boline would be great fun to whittle, if I found a suitably curved branch of light-skinned ash or similar! Meanwhile I may look out for some wand material, and I’ve always wanted to carve a bowl in the shape of a leaf… The tool I use all the time though is a staff, which I really should complete one day! I have used a particular staff when journeying in the lower worlds ever since I found a hazel pole about five years ago. When I journey it is always complete, in ordinary reality it isn’t. And recently I have acquired a second staff for mainly upperworld journeys – which I am told I should use for ceremony as well. So I have two to make now! Watch this space, as they say…

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Conscious Participation

I have been exploring the idea of conscious participation over the past few weeks, inspired by a comment I read from Laurie Cabot (Salem, Massachusetts witch and writer) suggesting there is no such thing as a passive observer; you are always a participant.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as the human influence can be seen working at every level: in quantum physics where light can behave as particles or as waves depending on which you are looking for; in mind experiments controlling where a ball falls; in dowsing where clear results come for anyone openminded enough to believe in the possibility – and frequently not working at all for people convinced it won’t.

At a group M and I enjoy, the person who runs it thanks everyone for being there at the end of each session. Not for coming, for being there. I found this odd the first time, that she should be thanking us rather than the other way around, but now recognise that she is acknowledging how each person’s presence influences the group and is welcome. I notice how I learn different things and have different experiences depending on who is there and how they are being, and it is frequently precisely whatever I am needing at the time.

In canoeing there is an often repeated phrase for swimmers (ie those who are unintentionally parted from their boat in whitewater) that they are not a victim, they are an active participant in whatever rescue is needed. I have been on both sides of this, rescuer and swimmer, many times, and know there is nothing to be gained except a feeling of helplessness if I don’t take an active part when needed. Sometimes that job is to observe, especially in a group situation, as signals might need to be passed up or down river. But passive observation it is not! Alternatively, even at the distance of a few years since I was last in a boat, for any rescue I can remember (and there are a few!) I can still picture every person who was there, even if they were merely passing along the footpath. Sometimes I made use of complete strangers, having to use intuition for who I could trust to help.

Similarly, in any situation of performing in front of an audience: musicians, actors, dancers, speech givers, and in every situation from concert halls and theatres to office boardrooms to the street, every person present or passing by is a participant if only they knew it! The most uninterested or bored observers will have an effect on the performance just as much as those clapping or cheering.

This is also true in witchcraft. I would never invite anyone to ‘observe’ a spell or healing I was doing, but if I felt their energies were positive might ask them to participate – the intentions of each person present and assisting will influence the outcome. After all, we ask the stars and planets to aid us in our magic, just as I am discovering many do in biodynamic gardening, which is a pretty subtle influence – as are other correspondences such as crystals or herbs used. But they can all add up to a very powerful whole.

So as this weekend was Beltane, I have of course been celebrating. Some folk might talk of ‘observing’ a festival – but this is not the pagan way. For several years now I have actively created a ritual at each Sabbat so that I may learn something from it. These are generally solo and thus fairly simple meditations and activities that I have used to give my life greater depth and meaning, connecting to the Earth as the seasons progress. However this weekend I have finally understood why many pagans talk (or write) of helping to keep the wheel of the year turning. It is not that it would stop without our efforts, (actually it might if Earth enters a higher state of consciousness, but that is a different story!) it is more that by actively participating in the celebration of the seasons, I become part of it too. By showing my love to each sign of Spring I add my consciousness. I am not a mere ‘audience’, I add my appreciation and encourage the flowers, the birds, the sheep and other field animals, the bees, the ladybirds, to greater efforts. I have become a co-creator with nature: an active participant, part of the turning wheel. That to me is something worthwhile.

Water Witching

The word ‘Dowsing’ covers several methods of tapping into knowledge that is usually beyond our conscious selves, using forked hazel sticks, metal rods, or pendulums made out of a variety of different materials. Dowsing can also cover a huge variety of outcomes, from finding things to divining, decision making or helping with health issues. However, one type of dowsing, that relating to water, has its own special name: water witching.

There is magic and mystique in finding that essential substance for life, water, where none is apparent on the surface of the earth. It would have been a vital skill for pioneers trying to settle in new countries, but not all could dowse for themselves. The fact the results are so visual and seem to come from nowhere only increases the intrigue to the uninitiated. I mostly use a pendulum, and rather than finding water (the convenience of being on the mains with relatively good water quality and taste negating the need for a well) I have dowsed to find stoppages or leaks.

We apparently have a leak at the moment. There is water in the road, starting about 20m down from our house, and they could hear water drawing from our mains. However, that bit of verge has been dug up before and proved to contain an old gas main that fills with water when the ground is saturated. It hasn’t stopped the water board digging up outside our wall, and providing us with much amusement as one man delivered the plastic signs and barriers, two others dug the hole, two more filled in the hole and we are still awaiting collection of the barriers… But the wetter soil on our side of the wall can almost certainly be explained by the change of geology at that point – it is well known locally that digging on our side gets clay, and the other side gets coal. We have known people move house just to cross the road. As for the leak, well it needs a bit more investigation, but given the water wasn’t turned off during their testing we have our suspicions. Time will tell if my dowsing proves correct.

However I am also put in mind how I discovered paganism and witchcraft as a living religion. I wanted to become a better dowser, and after various searches on the ‘net tried “water witch”. The website I found (on witches rather than dowsers) no longer exists, but I found my home that day, Imbolc as it turned out, and I have appreciative memories every time I dowse for water.

I am also celebrating this blog being one year old. To those who have followed me from the beginning, I hope your journey over the past year has been as enlightening, liberating, enjoyable, creative and fruitful as mine has been. Happiness is something that grows with each passing day, as I learn to dream and then honour those dreams. May you all be filled with light.

Blessed Be.
Sorrel.

Why Write?

Ever since I was a teenager I have liked to explore ideas through writing about them. Strangely I got into writing because I was very poor at expressing myself by talking; the words I wanted always seemed to arrive long after the time they were needed. I started keeping a diary as a teenager, like so many people do, and found an outlet, a way of exploring what I was feeling, of working out what I should have said at the time. The diaries (there were two) served their purpose in allowing me to express myself and work out what I was feeling, but gradually they went from a daily exploration to something to be written when I was feeling unhappy or lonely. They became downward spirals, dwelling on what was wrong without any balance of what was right, or even any plans for the future. When I found them during a clear-out in my early twenties, I burned them. I had moved on and didn’t want that in my life; with hindsight transforming them with fire was probably the best thing I could have done.

A little later I became a letter writer. This was a much happier form of writing, as there was someone to respond to and it was a two-way process. The friendship aspect of this was and is important to me, but on a personal level there was a greater benefit. I came to realise that by the time a letter arrives any negative thoughts no longer apply; they frequently either made no sense to the recipient, or else simply worried the recipient into thinking there was something wrong when in fact it was now fine. I therefore found myself editing them out and trying to put a more positive spin on what I was trying to say. It helped me to see things in a different way as well, and with a bit of distance, see what I learned from whatever experiences I had been through. I found this a helpful process in my life.

Earlier this year I started this blog, for a whole range of reasons, but a key one was that some of my letter writing was coming to an end and I wasn’t ready to stop writing down my experiences in a way that I could continue learning from them. One of the most fascinating things I have found is how I sometimes find myself writing truths that I didn’t know I knew. For example, the new page I have created, “About this blog”, wrote itself from just the germ of an idea, triggered by this post, and I now fully understand why I am a witch and not a shaman or a druid. Aconitum (12 July) told me about itself as I was writing, and I made the hitherto unconsidered connection with Yew. There have been others, including some still unpublished posts, where I started with one idea and then learned something quite unexpected.

There are of course many other benefits to writing a regular blog. It gives me a reason to write regularly and not make excuses as to why I can’t find the time this week. Another is maintaining my sense of self, not always easy with a toddler underfoot. It even gives me an incentive to complete a craft project that seems to be taking weeks, or to go out with a camera when I want to include some photos in a post.

However there is a good reason why witches often carve runes or sigils or other forms of writing onto candles before using them as part of a spell. Words have power and intent, and used positively, can create real change. For example, I can have an idea of something I would like to do, but the chances of success are around 30% at best. Writing down my ideas or desires increases the likelihood of them happening – because I have stated my intent clearly, and over-ridden some of my doubts or negative programming. I probably have a 60% success rate when I do this. But telling others of my intentions, such as blogging about them, increases this power to the point that, provided the circumstances don’t change, they happen. Success rate is at least 90%. Magic.