Ship of Tools

[A conversation between myself and Rok.]

Me: “Did I ever show you the awesome paddle I bought while I was at IML?

Rok: “You did not, but I’d love to see it!”

Me: “Great!” [digging through my paddle bag] “Let’s see, where… aha, there you are! C’mere, little guy…”

Rok: “Wait. Did you… did you just talk to it?”

Me: “Well, yeah.”

Rok: “…”

Me: “How else is it going to learn to respond to the sound of my voice?”

While our friendship is solid, Rok occasionally can’t even with me, and I’m pretty sure this was one of those times. And okay, so I probably don’t need to talk to my paddles as often as I do (most of them don’t even bother talking back), but they are extensions of my will, and as such, I need to put the same care and discipline into handling them as I would any other tool.

With that in mind, please brace for sudden segue and find below an exchange I’ve witnessed roughly eleventy-billion times over the course of the last two decades:

Wiccan Newbie – “I’ve been reading this book that says a wooden wand with a carved phallic tip represents the East and the element of Air. But I’ve got some feathers lying around, and I want to use those instead. Is that okay?”

Wiccan Oldie – “My dear, I haven’t used ritual tools in ages. They’re just crutches after all. Real Witches don’t need them.”

And now, a translation:

Wiccan Newbie – “I don’t want to put any effort into this. Please validate me.”

Wiccan Oldie – “My dear, I’ve never put any effort into this. Please validate me.”

A bit harsh, but I gotta tell you, this is one of my biggest NeoPagan pet peeves: Not only seekers who try to find easier, softer ways right from the get-go, or teachers who’d rather put on airs and treat students like serfs than actually, y’know, teach, but that attitude of “real blah blahs don’t need blee blahs.” Real Witches don’t need tools; real Druids don’t need… important… Druidy things… okay, I don’t know what Druids need. But you get the idea.

Ritual tools are a lot more than seasonal decorations. The wand does correspond to the element of Air, but if that were its sole reason for existing, I’d glue some paper to it and make a fan; the ritual knife may be associated with Fire, but it’s got purposes other than to just sit pretty and look Fiery.

Merriam-Webster defines a tool as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task,” or “an instrument or apparatus used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” And just as a knife or a wand is more than a convenient symbol, so Witchcraft is not simply a belief system: It’s a vocation, a Craft in and of itself. And if I’m going to craft anything, I’m going to use the appropriate tools to do so.

Let’s say I want to hang a picture on my wall. I could try pushing a nail into the stucco without any outside help, which would probably work, but would take forever and obliterate my fingers. I could also try banging it in with the heel of a shoe, which would be more effective, but would still take time, and the clunkiness of the shoe would mess up my aim: I’d have to make several attempts to get it right. Or, I could just use a hammer and have the nail exactly where I want it within three seconds.

But for fun and the sake of redundancy, here are a couple of hyperbolic, kink-related examples:

“Okay, so now just put your hands behind your back, and I’ll visualize the rope around your wrists, and you won’t be able to move.”

“Wouldn’t it be more efficient to use actual rope?”

“Of course not. Real rope bondage riggers don’t need rope.”

“Punish me, Sir! I’m going to pretend to feel the sting of your flogger, while you glare at my back with intent.”

“I… was actually planning to flog you with this flogger.”

“Ugh. Fine. Whatever. But real doms don’t need floggers.”

Tools come in handy. They enable us to work exactly and efficiently. My knife is used for salutation and to carve out ritual space; my altar is a touchstone and focal point that allows me to not have to put stuff on the floor; my cup keeps me from having to chug my consecrated sparkling grape juice straight from the bottle. And sure, there are a whole gaggle of ways to practice Witchcraft without accouterments (because, as the late Peter Paddon once pointed out, if you can’t do magic naked in a bunker with a plunger, then you can’t do magic at all), but turning one’s nose up at a given tool without making the effort to understand its purpose is just lazy. And real Witches are, as a whole, decidedly not that.

It’s tempting to toss out the aspects of occultism that strike us as unnecessary, or boring, or just plain icky. (Click here for a relevant quotation on the subject.) However, the more we get rid of, the less we have to work with, both phyiscally and spirtually. And we should be working at this, y’all. We work a spell, cast a circle, tread the mill, turn the wheel; we bind, we cut, we open and close. Witchcraft, at its core, is an active, energetic practice.

So practice it. Break a sweat. Pick up a crutch and get busy.

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