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THE MAGICK TOOLBOX
THE ULTIMATE COMPENDIUM FOR CHOOSING AND USING RITUAL IMPLEMENTS AND MAGICKAL TOOLS
By CARL NEAL
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2004 Carl Neal
All rights reserved.
ACQUIRING ALTAR TOOLS
FINDING YOUR TOOLS CAN BE AS INVOLVED AS CONSTRUCTING SOMETHING WITH THE PRECISE DESIGN AND MATERIALS THAT YOU HAVE DREAMED OF OR AS SIMPLE AS GOING TO YOUR KITCHEN DRAWER. ALTHOUGH YOUR PARTICULAR TRADITION MIGHT HAVE DEFINITE GUIDELINES FOR ACQUIRING TOOLS, IT IS STILL A HIGHLY PERSONAL QUEST. ONLY YOU CAN SELECT TOOLS that you feel comfortable using. You might find some tools immediately and others only after long searching. Don't try to rush the process—the journey is often as important as the goal.
TOOLS FROM YOUR LIFE
Perhaps one of the best places to begin your quest for altar tools is right where you are. Look around at the objects that surround your daily life. You might find what you need right under your nose.
FINDING TOOLS AT HOME
There are many tools that you might find already in your home. Bells, athames, besoms, candles and holders, censers, chalices, staffs, pipes, and even cauldrons can be found in one form or another in many homes. Many magicians find their first tools in this way and might even retain some of these early tools throughout their lives. As time goes by, you will undoubtedly find tools from beyond your home, but those from your daily life offer some unique advantages over tools that you buy or create yourself.
TOOLS WITH HISTORY
Whenever you choose to use an object from your life as a magick tool, you take its energy with it. If you buy a new tool, or make one, its history begins at that moment. Whereas if you use an object that has long been a part of your life, you can gain the warmth, love, and energy stored within it. It is the advantage of history. Using a tool that you have often held or used gives the comfort of familiarity and memories.
It is even more powerful when you use a tool that once belonged to someone you loved. A tool that once belonged to a close friend or a relative, especially someone who has passed, often retains the "vibration" of that person. Using it reminds you of that person not only on a mental level, but a spiritual one as well. Even if the person you associate with a tool has not passed, there is an unseen "cord" that connects them to that object. When you use it or look at it, you become connected to that person by the same cord. If you have any concerns about inheriting negative energies along with the positive, you can perform a cleansing before you use the tool (see page 12).
SACRED VERSUS PROFANE
This is a topic that many Pagans and Wiccans have debated. As such, it is something that you will need to think about and decide for yourself unless you are being instructed in a tradition that addresses this issue. Some users of magick believe that altar tools are sacred and should be kept apart from "ordinary" ("profane," or nonsacred) items. These magicians are generally very reluctant to let anyone else handle their tools. They see that power grows from repeated use and familiarity and want to preserve that power for magickal use. Allowing anyone else to use, or even handle, the tool might alter the energy it contains or add undesired energies.
Other magicians regard the physical tool as a less significant part of the magick. A kitchen knife, used daily, is fine as an athame. An old cup makes a great chalice, and the cauldron serves as a flower pot when not in use. These magicians tend to not care so much who handles their tools and will use whatever tools are at hand.
Personally, I think that both lines of thought have validity. It is definitely true that a skilled magician can utilize nearly any tool, regardless of its regular purpose. It is also true that tools tend to accumulate energy with use and handling. Letting someone else handle your tools or using them for profane purposes will alter that energy. If you use profane tools in your magick, you are missing out on the benefits of stored energies or may find those energies tainted. However, those factors will not stop your magick from working. Keeping separate tools exclusively for magickal use will offer benefits, but I do not think you have to worry about any of your magick failing because you chopped an onion with your athame or use a bell that your children play with.
Before using a tool that has been used for profane purposes, it is a good idea to cleanse it. Cleansing is a magickal cleaning that helps to remove negative energies and to reorient the remaining energy to your goals. Cleansing can be as simple as holding the tool and visualizing the negative energies running off and away from the tool as if they were dirty water. It can also be as complicated as an involved ritual that will purify the tool beyond doubt. There are several cleansing rituals described in this book that are quite useful, but even a simple visualization exercise can do the job.
Cleansing is important because lingering energies can disrupt the magick you plan to work with the tool. Is it mandatory? No, you can survive without it, but to maximize the benefits from your tools you should cleanse. If you purchase or find tools, you should also cleanse those before their first use. You just have no way of knowing what has been done with them (or to them) before they found you.
THE POWER OF MAKING VERSUS PURCHASING TOOLS
Making tools can be a very fun pastime. It is quite fulfilling and a valuable way to spend your time. On the other hand, the sheer joy of finding the perfect tool cannot be understated. Whichever approach you use, and I hope you will try both, the quest for magick tools is worthwhile for mages of all levels of experience.
When you make a tool yourself, you give "life" to it. That is a powerful thing, and it creates a permanent bond between you and the tool. Even if you are making the tool for someone else, your energy has shaped the tool at its outset. The process of creation is a bonding between you and the tool. You have total control over the materials that are used and how they are combined. Your creative energy is powerful magick that is at the heart of visualization. That creative energy can have a lifelong effect on every tool you create.
It is important to remember this when buying tools made by others. Only buy from toolmakers whom you trust. If you sense great negativity or any unsettling feelings from a toolmaker, avoid that person's work. If you find a toolmaker with a wonderful, positive energy, try to buy something from her even if it is only a small piece.
Another reason to make tools yourself is the commitment. When you invest your time and effort into a project like that, it shows that you are serious about growing along your magick path. It is a physical demonstration of your internal efforts to expand your knowledge and experience. Perhaps the tool you create is not as beautiful to some people as something purchased in a shop, but to you it will always be an object of true beauty. It was crafted with your love and energy, and it will remain special to you forever.
A fact of life is that most of us have limited budgets. Making tools yourself allows you to stretch your budget farther. When you purchase an item made by someone else, you not only have to pay that person for the materials that were used but for his labor as well. If you provide the labor yourself, you can spend more on the materials for your tool. You might be able to create a tool yourself that you simply couldn't afford to buy. Either way, making tools definitely allows you to conserve your funds.
Sometimes, no matter how much you might like to make a tool yourself, it simply is not an option. You might not have access to the materials or facilities needed (like a forge or a kiln) or you might have a vision for a tool that is beyond your skills to produce. In that case you have no choice but to find one made by someone else.
Although you are not creating the tool yourself, the process of finding a tool can also be a chance to externally demonstrate your internal commitment to your chosen path. Even if you have not been given a vision of a tool you seek, the process of viewing and examining many tools demonstrates your commitment. This can also be an opportunity to learn patience, since such a quest might last for many years. Usually the perfect tool turns up just before you absolutely must have it.
Buying tools can also demonstrate commitment in another way. Purchasing an altar tool requires a sacrifice of money. The sacrifice might be large or small, but it is usually required. There are vendors who will barter for tools if you possess skills for making tools (or other items) that they prefer not to make. But for the most part, finding tools from a seller will require money. I always advise people to buy within their means. It is foolish to bankrupt yourself buying an altar tool, but sometimes the right tool commands a high price. You need to weigh that decision carefully, but never endanger your economic welfare when buying a tool. If the tool is meant to be yours, it will come to you without a future-destroying price tag. Just know that sometimes a tool will demand a high price to test if you are the right purchaser.
Both buying and making tools are valid choices. Both can demonstrate your commitment to your goal before the goddess(es) and god(s) of your path. Sometimes either option can require great patience, which is also a part of the quest. In the end, the choice is up to you. You might even try one path first and discover that you should have taken the other. That is a good learning experience as well—never regret such growth.
KEY POINTS TO ACQUIRING TOOLS
No matter how you plan to acquire your tools (buying, making, or finding at home), there are a few basic things to remember that apply to all tools. The first of these is the energy of the item. Some tools simply "feel right." An experienced user of magick can feel the energy, and its orientation, that is stored in an item. If your instincts ever tell you not to use a certain tool—listen to those instincts. There may well be nothing wrong with the tool; it might simply be destined for someone else. Any tool that you consider buying or using should have a palpable, positive energy that you can feel. Even novice users of magick should sense a definite energy from their tools.
A second factor is how the tool feels. Is a tool actually infused with emotions? That depends on whom you ask, but in my experience there is life and emotion in all things. If you pick up a tool and listen carefully, the tool will let you see its energies and may even "speak" to you. If you walk past a shop and find yourself drawn inside directly to an object, it is likely trying very hard to get your attention. When it comes to tools for your altar, listen when one speaks to you. You should not only listen to tools that call to you, you should also listen to see if a tool is telling you not to use it. If you hold a tool and do not sense a positive flow of energy, set it down and move on.
Finally, consider the physical characteristics of the tool. Does it fit your hand well, or is it the perfect size for where you need to store it? Is it pleasing to your eye? That does not mean it has to be classically beautiful. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I have seen battered, tarnished censers that were absolutely stunning. An old broom from your grandmother's house might be an unassuming powerhouse of magick. On the other hand, a perfectly shaped athame is not a good choice if it's too heavy for you to wield it easily. The real question is, does the object look and feel right to fill its role as you see it?
There are a couple of unusual traditions about buying tools that I thought I should mention. If you are being trained in a tradition that is concerned with these points, be certain to follow your training. If your tradition does not address these points, you might consider these ideas for yourself.
One school of thought teaches that you should not haggle over the price of tools that you purchase. If you follow this philosophy, you have to make a choice about tools based on that asking price. If you feel the tool is too expensive, then it is obviously not the right tool for you. By the same token, if you follow this school of thought, you should never try to sell a tool for an inflated price. You are responsible for asking only a reasonable price for your investment of money and labor.
Another school of thought teaches that tools should not be purchased at all. Tools should either be made or, more commonly, given as a gift from one person to another. If you belong to a community with such a tradition, you should cherish each tool you receive. In an odd contradiction to this philosophy, it is also traditional in some parts of the world to never give a knife as a gift. Any time a knife is given, at least a token payment must be offered to avoid bad luck. If you give an athame, you might consider accepting a tiny payment in exchange.
Finally, when buying a tool you should have a definite budget before you begin to shop. As long as you know the limit to the amount you can spend, it is safe to look. I always advise that people not even look at tools beyond their budget. It is truly unfortunate when you a find a tool that calls to you but that is totally beyond your means. Just look at what is within your budget and don't harm yourself by overspending. If you find yourself with enough money to buy any tool you wish, then indulge yourself. Otherwise, have a clear budget and don't exceed it. But if you find a tool outside your budget, and you do not mind haggling, then make the seller an offer. Perhaps they will come down to your budgeted price.
ACQUIRING MATERIALS FOR MAKING TOOLS
There are also a few things to keep in mind when selecting materials for toolmaking. First, try to use locally available materials. This not only helps your budget, it also helps to physically tie your tool to your local area. It is also a great way to keep your money, or bartering, within your local community. If you need to buy a material that another magick crafter can sell you, try to keep that transaction within the magick community.
Do not forget the power of items from your life. Even if you are creating a new tool, look through your own possessions and see if there are materials to use for your tool. That personal energy can be carried over into a whole new tool. It can be old and new at the same time.
Finally, do not forget that just as a tool needs to be cleansed before its first use, the materials you use to make a tool should also be cleansed before use. When you are ready to create a new tool, gather all the components together and cleanse them before you assemble the tool. This will ensure that outside influences will have a minimal effect on the tool before its first use.
Whenever you choose to craft a tool yourself, understanding what you want to make and how you plan to use it is critical. You can build a tool and then learn its use, but your tool will come out much nicer if you understand its purpose ahead of time. Imagine trying to make your own shovel without knowing how one is used! Some tools are quite simple to understand. Others might require that you use them in your rituals and meditate upon their use before you will understand them enough to build one from scratch.
NOTES ON CRAFTING
Creating your own tools, or modifying existing ones, often requires a bit of skill in arts and crafts. As you work on various projects, keep in mind a few basic crafting tips. Flat objects or objects with flat bottoms can benefit from the addition of felt "feet" to keep them from sliding or scratching the surface of your altar or table. Painting might require more than one coat for complete coverage and proper color. Always use a fixative that is proper for the materials you are connecting. Ordinary white glue is great for paper and wood, but metal requires solder or epoxy for a secure connection. Your local craft or hobby center is simply filled with products and ideas that can turn ordinary objects into tools of great beauty.
REMEMBER THE BASICS
You might find some tools at home, make some others, and buy even more. No matter which course you might choose, just keep in mind the basics that apply to all tools. Make certain that tools have good energy, that they "speak" to you, and that they fit your physical requirements. Tools with a long history in your life, or the life of loved ones, have an energy that can't be matched in a newly created tool. Conversely, a tool that you crafted or long quested after also contains a unique energy. Most people slowly add to their collection of tools using all of these methods. Finding the right tool often requires patience, so enjoy the journey too. It might take you years to find all the tools for your altar.
Excerpted from THE MAGICK TOOLBOX by CARL NEAL. Copyright © 2004 Carl Neal. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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