Written May 20th, 2016 | Edited: 27th February 2019
Right, so in this post i’ll be talking of something more theoretical: the tools of ceremony. When I was starting out, I perhaps had the toughest time figuring this out.
In all fields of the occult, one common recurring thing is the tools we use. They differ according to tradition, but things like wands, daggers, altars are common, and these days there’s a lot of flexibility and free flow of ideas. What most often confuses people is the practical importance of tools, the way to make and use them, and how to reconcile seemingly conflicting ideas across traditions, like should one use a dagger to represent the element of Air, like the Golden Dawn did, or a Feather, like many Wiccans do. I find very little on the internet regarding this, so let me try and answer from experience.
One can broadly divide ritual objects into three categories: permanent, like wands and daggers, consumable, like candles and incense, and lastly sigils. This post will focus on the permanent objects, which i’m referring to as tools.
EDIT (2019): For seals and sigils, click here.
History of Ceremonial Tools
Well, in all magick, we use objects that have spiritual power during our practice. It may vary from the elemental weapons, to cauldrons, to statues, to circles and triangles, and even apparel like rings and robes, and have been used pretty much since the beginning of the occult traditions in the olden days. But, this is not just something found in the modern occult, but all spiritual philosophies throughout the ages.
Whenever historians discover strange artifacts, like a horned helmet, little dolls, stone cubes and lingams, that do not seem to have any practical or decorative use, they conclude that it must have been a ritual implement. Human beings have used ritual tools for as long as we have been spiritual. One can even find small holes in ancient settlements in Turkey, built around 11,000 BCE, where ritual implements are though to have been placed, as they don’t seem to have any other purpose. Some of these objects are found in mythology, and have legendary status, such as the Holy Grail.
You’ll be interested to know that just about every civilisation that ever existed has used them, although as religions developed, the importance of these implements was reduced to mere formality .Think of the idols of the Hindus, the headcap and tunic of the Muslims, the Crucifix and the Altars, the Statues of Christ, the Turbans and daggers of the Sikhs and just about anything that counts as a “religious object”. Most of these started out as occult tools (although many, like turbans, were of cultural significance instead, but that still owes to their occult symbolism), which made their way into religion, where the only thing that seemed to matter was their appearance, and this led to their mass production.
These days, there is an obsession with these relics, and they often become more important than the spiritual aspect itself. When Mohammed warned against idolatry, this is what he meant. People had become so infatuated with idol worship, they had forgotten the importance of actually connecting to the Gods themselves.
EDIT (2019): To think that I would ever agree with the Muslims on something, lol.
But clearly, ritual tools are important. Some tools are ancient, and thus common in all traditions, most notable the wand, dagger, staff, and statues. Some, are more recent, and can be found in specific schools, like the cup, pentacle, skulls and steel crosses. Most of them are deep archetypal symbols. So, what exactly are these strange objects, and why are they so important to a magician?
What are Ceremonial Tools?
Well, in a simplest sense, they are symbolic objects that contain our own energy, and act as extensions of the magician’s body during rituals (although one might note that our body itself is a tool, and really just an extension of the Self, along with the psyche, personality, and even individuality. A better way to see it would be that everything is an extension of the unchanging Self/Spirit.)
You must have noticed that most ancient grimoires emphasise the importance of making these tools yourself, and often in very strange and convoluted ways, which leaves people utterly confused. After all, no one really wants to make a lion skin belt, or raise a black rooster, ensure it never has sex, and then kill it and use it’s skin. Fortunately, we have more resources and information these days, and we can understand the exact purpose of a tool. We can decide ourselves whether it’s use is desired and how we can substitute complex tools for simpler ones. But keep in mind they ARE important, and the specific process of creation behind them is as well, which is more symbolic than literal.
The complex instructions in some cases are also just metaphor to keep sacred knowledge away from prying eyes.
Uses of Tools
These tools have many uses, but there are five important ones. I shall list them in ascending order, from the least to most important reason we use them.
They serve a real purpose: There are few of these, so I wanted to address this first. Of course. They are unique as they have a practical function, and often are not directly part of the ritual. I’m referring to things like the offering bowl, the candle holder, a carving knife or a pin to draw blood. In their case, one must be realistic and should usually follow instruction close to as they are given. So, if it says use a stone or clay container to burn incense, you may use glass, but don’t just use wood or plastic, for obvious reasons.
They Are Symbolic: Of course, the most basic reason is that they symbolize certain things. Take the elemental weapons for example, the represent the four alchemical elements. The symbolism is what matters the most in this case, rather than what physical tool you pick. Always get your symbolism correct, and know what a tool represents in your tradition, so that you can use it properly, and substitute if required. For example both the staff or the wand are perfectly viable representation of fire. The magic dagger, used for the LBRP, can be substituted with the index and middle fingers extended out. Bear in mind that many symbols are deeply rooted in the human psyche and common across traditions and cultures (like the sword, phallus, wheel etc.)
They Contain Our Energy and Intent: When you make a tool, it becomes imbued with your spiritual essence, and once you consecrate it, it contains your intent. The more you use it, the more powerful and energised it becomes. It is yours, and used to manipulate our own energy. As I said before, the Tools are an extension of you, and so they should be carefully stored and kept clean, so as to not accumulate foreign energies. It’s best not to let the others touch them, or in some cases even see them. For this reason it is usually recommended that you make items yourself.
A more detailed account can be found here.
They Correspond of Specific energies: One of the big reasons we use ritual tools is to tune the frequency and energy of the temple space and altar to the energy of a specific spirit. When you craft ritual objects, you should know what it’s purpose is and use corresponding items.
So, now you know why the grimoires are so specific about what colours and materials to use when making something, because correspond to the energy of certain spirits and forces. Knowing correspondences will also help you with substitution. Once you realise that gold and the colour yellow correspond to the sun, you can make a yellow paper sigil and also put gold jewelry on the altar, rather than purchasing an actual solid gold sigil.
EDIT (2019): This particular paragraph is obviously a gross oversimplification. Using a black paper dagger is not a substitute for an iron one, and sometimes objects have immaterial power and significance too. This point is really about psychological correspondence. I should mention though, that MANY famous correspondences (such as the flashing colours of the Golden Dawn) are actually arbitrary. Make of that what you will. Practice, and see what works and what doesn’t.
They Appeal to the Subconscious: This is by far THE most important use of ritual tools that no one seems to talk about. When you perform a ritual, the whole idea is to enter a trance, and that is where tools play a big part. The word “impress” means to leave a lasting impact, and has two uses for a reason. You can “impress someone” or “impress upon something”, and means the same thing. In magic, this someone/something in both cases, is the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is simple, naive and easily excited. It is deeply affected by symbols and visuals, and the magick tools help it enter the certain state that is desired for a ritual. The Subconscious mind is incredibly powerful, and is the one who actually does the magick.
Impressing the Subconscious
Ritual is like a date with the subconscious, where you must impress it to manifest results. Think about it like this, if you were not a magician, and wanted a ritual done, what would impress you more: a guy with a intricate mask, in fancy hooded robes chanting in an ancient language, standing in a circle inside a dark room with candles all around him, and a table before him with strange objects and spiraling incense, raising a dagger made of horn, or a dude with tshirt and jeans, holding a butter knife, in a well lit room, calling out to deities with badly pronounced names?
The whole point of ritual is to impress the subconscious mind. The subconscious can’t tell what is good or bad, and what is real and unreal, so it believes the tools have some deep value, even though the most valuable thing in magick is your intent. That is one of the reasons we approach the altar in special clothing: be in robes, or witch’s clothing. The subconscious identifies that something is “different” about what you’re going to do. This is where ceremonial tools come in, and why they look so fancy and intricate. Once you enter the trance, the colours, words, smells that you perceive all affect the subconscious, and activate certain parts of it. Ideally, there should be one thing to affect each of the senses: visuals (sight), incense/oils (smells), chants (hearing), offerings (taste), fine materials and clothing (touch) and visualization (the sixth sense/magick). The ancient Egyptians would also consider speech to be a sense, and so you had to vibrate certain words and names.
Images like these are what draw wonder and awe towards magicians throughout the ages. Imagine these people in their living room in casual clothing, with no props. A big part of the effect a ritual produces is the mood it created among all participants and observers, and stirs their energy and emotion. You may even impress the spirits with your grandeur. After all, do they not show up with great splendor?
When you invoke a specific God, you usually dress up like the God and hold the implements they are portrayed with, all so that the subconscious genuinely believe you are that God, flooding that energy into you. This is also the reason religious figures dress in a certain way, so they they are imbued with a sense of power, authority, and superiority to the masses. The Catholic Church is the most notorious example.
Many a times, you may also use things that were put into your subconscious during your childhood. So, if you were raised Christian, your subconscious might associate the crucifix with protection, so you can use the crucifix during an exorcism. This is the main and most important reason why we cannot just ignore all the drama of ritual and it’s tools.
When i make ceremonial tools, I make them look as nice and fancy as possible. I always use the best materials I can find, and never cut corners. It may not be perfect, but it HAS to be the best I personally can do.
The most important thing to keep in mind when making an object is that it should appeal to YOU. If you don’t like it, chances are the subconscious also won’t like it. Magick rituals are essentially elaborate forms of self hypnosis, so perform them with as much splendor and aesthetic appeal as you desire.
Substitute where you must, but ensure they are amazing and resonant. With magical tools, half the magick is already done before you even say the first word.
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Until We meet again.