The Wiccan Altar and Its Tools
The altar sits exactly in the center of the circle facing east, the direction of beginnings and of the rising sun. The altar should be covered with an altar cloth. The color depends on the type of spellwork you are performing. White and black are best and can be used for most any type of spellwork. A soilable altar cloth is best as you will likely be accidentally spilling things onto it such as oils, herbs, ashes, wine and candle wax.
The altar can be set up indoors or outdoors. A working altar for a circle is carefully put away when your working is done, unless it is out of doors. A decorative shrine type altar dedicated to one or more Gods or Goddesses can be set up anywhere and left up at all times.
the athame – a double-bladed knife, usually no longer than 9″ in length. This knife is the sacred ritual knife used in all Wiccan rituals. It is never used to cut anything on the material plane. If an athame has been used to cut something, a new athame must be sought. In the space between the worlds, however, it can be used as a defensive tool. The knife must be virgin, meaning that it has never been used to cut anything. It must be cleansed and consecrated and as all other tools, must be stored in a soft, opaque cloth of either black or white. It is used to draw the magic circle and is used in many spells. This blade can be of any length, but for many Pagan practices, the handle must be black and the blade must be roughly as long as the hand.
dish of salt – represents the Earth and the Goddess. The salt is a symbol of purity and is used to cleanse and consecrate objects. Placing objects in salt or in salt water under the full moonlight cleanses and charges them. Salt, as a symbol of earth, is also a symbol of the mother or Goddess. For your altar, you will need a dish of sacred salt. Sacred salt must be cleansed and consecrated especially for use in your ritual. Any kind of salt can be used but most agree that sea salt is best.
goblet of wine – the libation. This can also be of juice if you do not drink alcohol. The libation is used in ritual when it is time to partake of the earth or in celebration. After ritual, the unused wine or juice is poured out over the earth as libation to the earth and its spirits. Any type of wine or juice can be used, preferably of grapes or apples.
goblet of water – symbol of water and of the Goddess. During ritual, salt is sprinkled into the water and taken into the body to symbolize the imbibing of the Goddess and her elements. The water is also used in cleansing rituals for tools and for the home and sacred space. The water on the altar must be consecrated holy water, for which you will find a recipe later in this website.
the wand – Many witches use wands to direct their power and focus it for use in one area. Wands are not entirely magickal by themselves. They must be used by someone who knows what they are doing. Most wands are made for general purpose, but you can find wands made specifically for certain task such as healing. Many witches argue over the desired length of a wand. If you are making your own it should be roughly the length of your forearm. Wands must be made by hand out of natural materials during a certain phase of the moon. Wands created during the full moon are infused with power.
While this can be very useful, the power is unruly and can easily get out of hand if not used by a practiced magician. Wands that are made during the new moon are like blank pages. The owner of the wand can infuse it with their own power, making it more predictable and easy to use. It is probably best to get a wand created during the new moon. Wands can be made from a variety of natural materials. According to Bried Foxsong, there are two types of wands stemming from two different traditions: the metal wands represent the South and the element fire. These are used for ceremonial magick, controlling spirits, and conducting energy. Wooden wands are associated with the East and with air. They are used for natural magick and to tune into and utilize the surrounding natural forces.
“Traditionally,” says Foxsong, “most all-purpose wands are made from willow or hazel.” Copper is highly conductive and is commonly used to create powerful wands. Other conductive metals can also be used, gold being the second strongest and silver being the most conductive metal for use. These metals are often too costly to use in creating a wand. Gold or silver wire wrapped around a wooden wand can be quite powerful, however. Wooden wands help in nature magick and bring the force of life into your working. Certain woods, such as yew create very powerful wands. Branches that grow twining around each other pack an extra punch and are highly sought after. An ideal wand is on of twisted yew or other wood wrapped in silver wire and adorned with the proper gemstones.
Gemstones are not necessary for wands, but most witches add them for added strength or other specific purposes. If you are creating a healing wand, you may want to incorporate healing stones, such as rose quartz. Most wands are tipped with quartz crystal. A popular design is a wand with a clear crystal sphere at one end and a quartz crystal point at the other. Safe stones for any wand are quartz crystals and amber gemstones. Wands are always held in the power hand. If there is a crystal point, it should be at the end farthest from you. Always use your wand pointing in the same direction. Do not alternate using different ends as the tip.
Ceremonial wands are often plain. Women’s wands are tipped with a crescent moon (often incorporating a crystal) and men’s wands are tipped with a pinecone. After a wand is made or purchased, it should be cleaned with all four elements n a cleansing ritual and left for one night under the light of a full moon. Wands are easily charged by practicing with them. Practice sending your energy through the wand. Hold the base wit your sending hand and hold the tip with your receiving hand. Practice sending power out of your right hand, through the wand and into your left hand, back into your body. Wands are a masculine symbol and a representation of the element air and of the God. They are used for directing power, greeting, and as a symbol of the God. They can be used as a tool in ritual in place of the athame, sword or hand.
Making a wand: Wands can be made from felled tree branches or cut from trees. You may wish to make your wand out of a specific type of tree. Research the trees that are found in your area and learn what they look like. Try to remember if you have seen any of that type of tree around in your yard or in the park. Decide what type of wood you want for your wand and go look for it. Here is a short list of some properties of woods commonly used for wands:
Apple – wealth, money, love, fertility
Ash – healing
Birch – cleansing, new beginnings, dawn, purity
Elder – Witchcraft, banishment, magical art, waters of life
Hawthorn – protection, fairy magick, wishes
Hazel – divination and wisdom
Holly – Holiness, consecration, material gain, physical revenge, beauty. strength, will to survive
Oak – power, strength, protection
Pine – Strength, life and immortality, rejuvenation
Rowan – protection, magick
Willow – Moon magic, psychic energy, healing, inspiration, fertility
If you cut a branch from a tree, you must be sure to ask the tree first. If you get a bad feeling when you take hold of the branch ten it is not for you and you must move on. Thank the tree after you have removed the branch that you want and leave some fertilizer behind.
Prepare your wand any way that feels right to you. You may wish to sand it down and give it a nice silky sheen. If you remove the bark, coat your branch with some fine beeswax or linseed oil to protect it. Decorating your wand is very personal and may be a little difficult. Do only what appeals to you and increases the power of your wand. Many witches inscribe their wands with symbols, runes, or spells stating exactly what the wand is to do. These can be inscribed with a knife, carving tool, wood burner or with paint. You can attach a crystal or other symbol to the tip of the wand. Metal wire or beads can also be used to decorate it – it’s entirely up to you. Just remember to keep the materials natural and, if you must use glue, use it sparingly. Bless and consecrate your wand after you have finished.
incense – symbol of air and fire. Symbol of the God. Incense is used in most spells. Later, you will learn which incenses to use for which spells and purposes. The smoke from the incense and candle flame are used along with water and salt in cleansing objects and sacred spaces. Make sure that you ONLY use stick incense or the preferred charcoal incense. NEVER use barbecue charcoal as it is dangerous and toxic to your spellwork. Only use the charcoal disks made especially for incense. To use this charcoal, purchase an incense burner which has a long foot or one which hangs. The burner will get very hot very quickly and you will need something to carry it with. Place the disk of charcoal in the center and light it. You will know it has been lit because it will turn a little grey all over very quickly. It should not hold a flame. Place your herbs (dry or moist) on the charcoal and allow it to smoke. You will have to replace more herbs every once and awhile. Only use a little bit of the incense if you are working indoors.
incense burner or censer – The censer can be of any size and shape and can be made of most any material except wood, but must have feet on it or chains with which to hang it so that the heat of the burning incense does not reach the altar.
cauldron – symbol of water and rebirth as well as the womb Goddess. This tool can also symbolize death and the return to the earth as well as birth from the earth. Symbol of fertility and harvest. Used in many rituals and for scrying which you will learn about in a later lesson. This tool is unique as it is often used to decorate the home, much like the broom and is often left in a place where it will be seen.
the pentacle – symbol of earth, used in consecration and is the most important tool. The pentacle should be a tile of sorts that sits flat in the center of the altar. It can be made of any material (except probably iron as some believe that cold iron is not permitting to spellwork). Usually they are made from wood or ceramic and is about five to seven inches in diameter. You can make your own by painting a pentacle onto a tile or round disk of wood. They can also be drawn on fabric, such as a placemat. This symbol of the five elements represents all that is sacred and is always used in ritual to consecrate objects. This item should be wrapped up and stored away safely when not in use.
altar cloth – cloth draped over the altar. It can be of any color, but it is best to use colors that coincide with your working. A white altar cloth is best as it reflects all colors. Black altar cloths are most popular and absorb all colors.
statues and pictures of deities – if you choose to work with deities, then you may want to put statues, pictures or icons of your deities (or angels or Jesus if you are a Christian witch) on the altar to help invoke them in your spellwork or rituals. These are not necessary, but are popular. This practice is popular in all religions and is used even today in voodoo.
illumination candles – one on either side of the altar is good. They should be white, but can be colored to suit your spell requirements. These candles are only for supplying light in darkness and should not be in the way of what you are doing.
burning dish – this is required in some spells for the burning of papers, wishes, questions and spells. It should have some sort of foot so that no heat reaches the altar. The dish can be made of any material so long as it is not flammable and can be shaped like a bowl or a plate.
silver bell – a silver bell is used to call the quarters and is also necessary in some spells. Many stores will sell cheaper bells of brass, but the bell should be made of silver. If a silver bell cannot be obtained then it is acceptable to use a bell of brass. It is a standard ritual tool, but is not mandatory. Ritual can be done without using a bell. The bell is used to call certain spirits and deities or to begin and end spells and prayers (much like an “amen”).
sword – this tool is also not absolutely necessary. It can take the place of the athame and the wand in some cases such as drawing the magic circle or be used in defense while in the astral realm. I have never used a sword in any of my rituals and many people find them too cumbersome or expensive.
boline – this is a sickle-shaped curved-bladed knife with a white handle. The boline was a tool used by ancient Druids for ritual. Today, we use the boline for making sacred cuttings. Because the athame cannot be used to cut materials on the physical plane, we use the boline instead. This tool is mostly used for cutting herbs and other plants for magical purposes. The crescent shape is symbolic of the moon and the color of the handle is symbolic of purity. A boline does not have to be crescent-shaped. It can be any small knife with a white handle.
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