Witches love stuff. We can have abstract conversations about materiality and assert all day long to seekers that, “You don’t need any tools!” That’s true, to an extent (more on that in a minute), but we still love stuff. And we often have a ton of it, whether it’s empty jars in the pantry, piles of salvaged wax and string, or expansive collections of books, bones, or stones (or all three). I co-taught a class at the shop a few weeks ago called “Are You a Witch?” and we started out by asking participants for their initial impressions of what a witch is. One woman’s kneejerk contribution was that witches are hoarders (her word, not ours), and those of us who’d been practicing for a while all had a chuckle.
So this post is dedicated to my favorite stuff and the artists who make it (go buy their work because it’s amazing). You may consider exploring some of these as potential arenas for the expansion of your own Craft, or simply enjoy the slew of pictures and personal adventures.
Bones and Skins and Critter Bits
Human beings are universally fascinated by our fellow animals, and this manifests in myriad ways. For witches and Pagans, this often entails the incorporation of animals into ritual practice, whether as familiars, totems, spirit guides, and all kinds of other things that I’m not qualified to speak on. This can involve actual live animals, their representations (statues, pictures), or their remains (skin, bone, hair).
There has been a great deal of discussion in the past few years about the use of the word “totem” and the appropriation of Native American traditions with regard to the use of animal parts (and language about animals), and I would advise thoughtful readers to make themselves aware of these conversations (showing up at an open ritual and declaring that “Wolf is my spirit animal because my great grandma was Cherokee,” is a surefire way to ensure that people roll their eyes about you when you’re not looking).
Also necessary are conversations about the proper acquisition of animal parts. All fox tails being sold on the Internet are not equal and there are more laws attached to feather possession than most people could ever dream. Aside from the laws that may or may not apply to you depending on your geographical location and the critter in question, there are moral issues to be considered. Something being legal doesn’t mean it’ll sit comfortable with your ethical code. All of this should be considered with great care as you move forward.
I’ve been incorporating animal remains into my ritual work for the past several years, and my practices have changed over time. Sometimes, it’s about incorporating the cultural/magical associations (not to mention the actual biological traits) of the critter into spell work. Other times, I’m invoking the spirit of an individual animal (not just “Wolf” the archetype/totem/whatever, but that individual wolf spirit that resides in that unique skull/tail/etc). I’ve got a number of foxes, for example, and my experience has been that each has a very distinct personality (and therefore different purposes, in and/or out of ritual). My experiences with skulls have been the same. In some senses, they’re still alive, magically speaking. I think of my critters as companions, with their own agency.
If you haven’t already checked out the work or artist and author Lupa, you’re in for a treat. I recommend her writing without reservation (and you can find plenty of material about cultural appropriation and animal parts laws on her website and blogs). My fox and coyote parts (and the periodic other beasty) come from her almost exclusively, because I trust her sourcing and have been totally satisfied with the care and quality of her work. I also majorly dig her artwork (and she’s working on a tarot deck right now!!1!OMG) and try to stuff as much of it into my life as possible.
Paper and Ink
Writing is a major part of my practice. I’ve written before about my penchant for journaling and recordkeeping, but my use of ink and paper goes beyond this. I do a lot of sigil magic. I also do a lot with petitions. Suffice it to say that there’s always paper and ink at hand. Now, the paper and ink that you choose doesn’t have to be the fanciest thing around, but I like to make things special where I can. That could mean hand-cut goose feather quill pens and ink you make with your own blood (*ahem*) or it could mean a consecrated Bic roller ball used exclusively for magical work. But in just about any kind of magic, specialness helps.
I’ve been known to get super fancy with blank books used for magical purposes. As a young priestess operating in an established tradition, I’m grateful for my predecessors who ACTUALLY KEPT FUCKING RECORDS SO I DON’T HAVE TO FUCKING GO BACK IN TIME AND IMAGINE SHIT I DON’T HAVE A TIME MACHINE. It’s been important to me to document both my own training and the growth of my own coven. I hope someday it’ll make things easier on my downline, or at least make it clear to them where I was coming from (because I’m planning on being too addled to recall things in detail). I try to choose books that are durable, with materials that can survive more than just a couple of decades of handling.
It’s also much more pleasurable to write when your tools are romantic and fun. Writing with a quill is fun. Writing in a special magic book that makes you feel like a medieval wizard is fun (I strive to feel like a wizard as often as possible). Journaling can be a challenging skill to acquire (and still harder to turn into a habit), and I’m a proponent of doing whatever you need to do in order to acquire said skill. Surround yourself with things that excite you. Don’t be afraid to write in an expensive blank book (people always tell me they’re afraid of “ruining” it)—that’s what it’s for. And it doesn’t matter what your handwriting looks like. Once the book is full, it’ll look badass. I promise.
Here are some cool places to buy books, ink, and other writing accoutrements:
Okay, so back to the not needing tools thing.
That’s true to an extent. I think there’s something to be said for aspiring to be able to cast effective magic without tools. However, I’ve never found myself in a situation where I literally had access to nothing. So in my mind this is a little like working to memorize the periodic table of elements when it’s right there on the wall in the lab.
Is there a scrap of paper? Some frayed string? A pile of dirt? Some broken glass? Water? These are all things you could potentially use as a witch.
Usually, what people mean when they say you don’t tools is that you don’t need to spend money. And that’s absolutely true. Plenty of newbies make the mistake of dropping wads of cash on tools that they don’t really have a handle on yet. If you have the means to do so and it makes you happy, by all means (it’s only a mistake if it involves debt). There’s no shame in rejoicing in materiality and materialism, as far as my own Pagan perspective goes. But most people can’t afford a $100 leather book or a fucking hand-forged athame. And that’s perfectly okay in terms of what you’re capable of magically. Your Craft need not suffer.
But I don’t know any witches that don’t collect stuff in some capacity, even if it’s just stashing empty baby food jars for later use in magic. We just like stuff. Stuff means potential. Some of the witches I know are like magical doomsday preppers (myself included). And I think a skilled witch strives, not to work with nothing, but to work with anything.