I won’t lie — one of the coolest parts about being a witch is the tools.
Check out an instagram feed that features witchy things and you’ll see all sorts of pictures of crystals, candles, athames (daggers for you new folk), tarot cards, cauldrons, and chalices, all inscribed with fancy symbols that also look really cool and mysterious. One can spend all kinds of money on things like spell kits or statues of deities or talismans. The “witchy aesthetic” is so camera-ready and popular these days, that there is no shortage of people who want the look. And that also means that there are plenty of vendors out there more than willing to charge those people lots of money to have it. And of course, those of us who practice the Craft watch some of this going on and chide those who would seek the look of the Craft without actually undertaking the work of the Craft.
But at the same time, it’s worth noting that even the most seasoned, humble, unprepossessing witch gets a little flash of excitement when they find a shiny object imbued with just the right kind of energy that they most need. That object might be a beautiful silver amulet we see in an Etsy shop, or it could just as easily be a smooth stone we find by a riverbed on a hike with a friend. Although most witches know that an object need not be pretty or expensive to be powerful, we do, nonetheless, have a tendency to accumulate objects that become tools in our Craft. Most of us never get to a “Hoarders” style state of accumulation. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have cabinets and shelves filled with all manner of things — a rather extensive library of tools and objects that I can bring to bear on any magical working I have in mind. Most witches I know are like that. The memes you see online about witches collecting jars are totally legit.
And at the same time, it is something of an axiom among witches that the magic the witch wields lies within them, not in the tools they may carry. Don’t have your athame? Well, this butter knife will have to do. Don’t have your chalice? We’ve got a chipped coffee mug that says “Best Mom” on it. Let’s roll. The fact is, a lot of tools and trappings of the craft are more humble than you might imagine. A wand might be embellished with crystals and bits of string and carvings, but in the end, it’s a stick. You can find a stick most anywhere. Water might be blessed or come from a particular river or was collected from rain on the night of a full moon, but in the end, it’s water. You can get water out of your sink in a bathroom most anyplace. Maybe your spell works better with dirt collected from a particular place at a particular time, but most of us can get a handful of dirt from someplace not far outside our door, even if we live in an urban area. And that dirt will still work.
Don’t get me wrong, a witch in their prime working with their tools in a prepared, sacred space is a powerful, incandescent thing. There is really nothing more thrilling than the feel of that energy coursing through you and through a circle. But a properly trained witch can find themselves dropped in the middle of nowhere, with none of their tools handy, and should be able to use what’s at hand, and even nothing at all, to summon whatever magic they need. It might not have that same powerful thrum as when you can take time and care with trusted tools, but the magic always begins with the intent of the witch, period. In fact, when necessity becomes the mother of invention is when you often realize how much magic you actually know, and how much of it really IS in you.
Tools are important. They can provide a valuable assist as you do your work as a witch. They can help provide focus, assist in directing or containing energy, magnify certain types of energy, or protect from other kinds of energy. Witches spend years imbuing their core tools with the right energy, making them fit for purpose, and you can feel it. Some witches insist on making all their own tools, and that kind of intimacy with one’s tools is mighty indeed. Tools may become highly attuned instruments, which is why when I teach etiquette to those new to the Craft, the instruction around tools is clear — don’t touch other people’s tools and talismans without explicit permission. This is of course about courtesy to the witch whose tool it is, but it is also about your personal safety. Not every tool is meant to assist positive workings, not every witch’s energy is going to play well with yours, and many of us ward our spaces and our tools.
It’s important, however, to not let your tools become a trap. If a tool or a space becomes SO IMPORTANT that you simply cannot do a magical working without it, that’s a problem. That is no longer a tool, but a crutch. And there is no tool that can, on its own, supply magical abilities that you do not already possess. If you suck at scrying, the best, most beautiful, most witched up scrying mirror in the world is not going to magically transform your scrying ability. Only time and patience and practice can do that. And if a tool seems to be more than you bargained for, if it is fancier than you feel comfortable with, or somehow wrong in some way, even if it didn’t start out that way, then clearly that isn’t the tool for you. And that’s not your fault, nor is it the fault of the tool. There is nothing objective about what makes a certain tool right for a certain witch. And only the witch wielding the tool can say whether the tool is right for them or not. And just like two people can be perfectly honorable, wonderful and attractive humans but still not get along as friends, a perfectly good tool can be ill-suited to a perfectly good witch. A tool may look all badass and cool, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. And if it’s not, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or the tool.
It’s also important to not take your tools too seriously. Beautiful, expensive, complicated tools are not necessarily indicative of powerful magic. I’m a fan of high quality competition reality shows. Top Chef, Project Runway, Great British Baking Show, you name it, I probably love it. One of the most telling challenges are the ones where contestants are required to create something elevated from a pile of junk or using only a limited range of tools or techniques. It is easy for a trained chef to create a delicious, gourmet dish when they have a fully stocked pantry and the best of everything in the kitchen. But when you take away some of those tools, when you ask them to work with ingredients they don’t know or at first glance might seem to be “beneath” them, you gain a valuable insight into their craft. The chefs that win these challenges perform a kind of alchemy, taking foodstuffs that you might find in a dark corner of a Seven-Eleven and turning them into dishes that could be served in a Michelin starred restaurant. They have fun with the food that’s in front of them, instead of bemoaning what they could have had. The chefs that fail these challenges are the ones who get thrown off by the fact that they can’t have the fancy ingredients. They get confused by having to work with things that are out of their lane, and their transformative powers over food are, apparently, limited without their familiar tools.
A lot of witches have been discovering what it’s like to practice the Craft in a state of disruption these days, without some of the things they are accustomed to having. It’s been nearly a year since some of us have been able to circle with our kin in the same room for a Sabbat. Some of us have been ill, and now inhabit bodies that have been ravaged by the coronavirus. Some are struggling to just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, and don’t have the time or the energy to practice their Craft with the same dedication as they did before they lost their job. Some towns have lost their local new age bookstore or witch shop, leaving those communities without access to local suppliers or a place to exchange information. In some instances, they didn’t appreciate how important some of these resources, these tools, were to their Craft until they lost access to them.
Disruption, known by its more familiar name, trauma, is for some of us nothing new. Separation, illness, homelessness, hunger, joblessness and loss were not invented by the COVID pandemic. They have always been with us. COVID merely accelerated their hold in our lives. Some of us who have been through serious trauma have developed a set of coping skills — tools that help us to stay functional despite the disruptions that are wracking our lives. While no one can truly thrive while a deadly virus stalks the land, many of us seasoned in the ways of trauma have tools we can bring to bear that are born from the devastating experiences we have already survived. But sometimes, even though we have those tools, we don’t have the wherewithal to use them just now. You can have the best tools in the world, and the most skill in knowing how to use them, but if you are exhausted or overwhelmed, you won’t get much done with them. And that’s okay.
Judging your Craft by your tools is to sell the witch short. But expecting tools to compensate for poor Craft is to overestimate the service a tool provides. In the end, a tool is only ever as good as the witch who uses it. Caring about and for your tools is important. But caring about and for the witch that wields them must come first.