Between the closure of the Witches Voice, and the loss of the email archives for all of those pagan groups that were hosted at Yahoogroups, the Pagan world has lost of lot of stored knowledge.
I used to refer seekers to several of the groups there, but if they were interested in Wicca, the amberandetjet list was always my top choice. Sadly, when Yahoo/Verizon/Oath took down the archives, the list owners decided it was time to pull the plug on the list as well.
Filling the huge void left by the disappearance of these lists are a multitude of Facebook groups for the new beginners. Some of them are well-run, moderated and a close eye kept, ensuring that the groups are not spammed or scammed; others, not so much, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
One of the most frequent questions asked on these groups if along the lines of “what kind of crystals do I need to buy?”, “Do I need to subscribe to a Wiccan box?” (that one took me a few minutes to process the first time I heard it, it’s a subscription service that will send you a box of “stuff” that you “need” to practice witchcraft. Uh, no.) and my favorite, “Where do I buy my tools and what do I need?”
Come on, folks — this isn’t the world of that Kid Who Survived a Death Curse As An Infant And All He Got For It Was This Cool Lightning-shaped Scar”.
YOU DO NOT NEED to get everything at Diagon Alley. Their famous shops, such as SLUG AND JIGGER’S APOTHECARY, FLOURISH AND BLOTTS, and MADAM MALKIN’S ROBES FOR ALL OCCASIONS are not only unnecessary, they aren’t real.
Yes, if you search online you can find places selling those items, purportedly sold by those famous locations, but you don’t need to get anything from them.
You want a wand? Go for a walk outside, to a park, or wooded area. Find a stick you like, pick it up and POW! You have a wand. Sand it, peel it, paint it if you feel a need. But it is your wand, and it’s more yours because you put work and your energy into it. (If you want a living branch, there’s more I’d have to say about that, but for someone just starting out, a tree gift – fallen branch – works just fine.
Crystals – oh, my gods, the crystals. It seems like every third person posts a picture of their rock and wants to know what it is. If rocks, crystals are your thing, buy a book on gemstones or rock collecting, and go for it. If you’re just curious as to whether it’s an agate or feldspar, take it to a lapidary or rock hop and ask them. They should know, and it’s much easier to identify something if you are actually looking at it in person, than a badly focused cell phone photo.
Herbs – starting out, get your herbs at your local grocery store, in the spice section, or if feel the need for fresh herbs, in the vegetable section. Why? Well, 1) you’ll actually get the herb on the label, and 2) you won’t pay an arm and a leg for them. You don’t need a bunch of them. Ever heard that song – “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme”? Yeah, those are all HERBS, and they were chosen for some specific reasons. Use your internet skills and look them up.
Heck, we don’t even use most of our culinary herbs before they time out and go stale. AND you can use those same herbs to make … INCENSE.
That’s right, you don’t need to visit your local pot shop or tobacco store – or dollar store – to buy your incense – it’s really easy to make, especially if you keep it in loose form, rather than having to make it into cones or sticks, and you won’t need extra ingredients to do so (no Gum Mastic, Guar Gum, or anything else to bind it together. Just burn it in a heat-proof container, like a small dish, filled with salt, sand, or even cat litter, on a charcoal disk (not the kind you use in your BBQ grill, the kind sold specifically for incense. Religious supply stores generally carry them, as do most esoteric stores, or you can order them online.) Be sure you have good ventilation, as incense can be very smoky! And, if you dn’t want the mess of dealing with burning charcoal, Here’s how to burn incense using an oil diffuser.
Of course, for some types of incense, you’ll want to buy those, at least initially – Frankincense, Dragon’s Blood and Sandalwood come to mind. But pine, or cinnamon incense? Easy peasy. In fact, here’ a site that has very simple to follow instructions for making several types of incense. As an alternative to burning incense, you can also use essential oils in an oil diffuser.
But what about my pearl-handled silver athame? Yeah, good luck on that one, I’m still looking, after 50 years. ?
My first athame was purchased at a pawn shop that also sold daggers. I have another that I bought at a tobacco shop in Europe because I liked it. I have one that was hand-forged for me (it was originally part of a matching set for Raven and me, but somewhere along the past 30 years, her’s got misplaced.)
But what color of candles do I need? Do you really need candles? Yeah, they nice and atmospheric, but there’s this invention that illuminates a working space so much better, called electric lights. Candles are nice, though, I like candles. We buy tea lights by the dozens, and when we want to do a spell that calls for a candle, most often that’s what we use. Plain, white, tea-lights. The other candles we use most often for ritual are beeswax candles that we make at Candlemas every year. We also shop at our local dollar store for Novena Candles – the ones in glass jars with a picture of a Saint, Mary, or Jesus on them? Yeah, those. If you feel the need, you can soak off the paper label, or you can buy then without a label. For *our* purposes, the label doesn’t matter to us. As the saying goes, “your mileage may vary.”
A few words about colored candles: While the use of colored cords and cloths has a long use in magic, the use of colored candles is a recent development, dating only to the 19th century when mass produced paraffin candles became inexpensive enough to be used in the average person’s home. Once mass-produced candles became available, it was a logical extension to begin adding color to them. Every book on candle magic will generally include a table of correspondences as to which color to use for what.
They often contradict each other. Experiment with magic and ritual and let your feelings about it determine your color choices. For instance, Green may represent money or prosperity for many, but for you it may be something else entirely. (For many more words on the subject of colors in magic, see Color in magic, updated.)
But, back to that question of what tools do I NEED…
Gerald Gardner, often (erroneously) called the “creator of Wicca”, phrased it thusly in Witchcraft Today (page 114 in the 2004 expanded edition):
“There are three working tools which are essential and nothing can be done without them; that is, something to cut and stab with, something to strike with, and something to bind with.”
In other words, he felt that the only tools the Witch REALLY needed were the Athame, the Wand/Staff/Rod/Stang, and the Cord. Then he goes on to enumerate the tools that one would expect a FULL COVEN of witches to possess, so go figure.
As I was working on this, my housemates chimed in as to what tools you actually need. Their response was “a spirit.” That is, the one in you.
When it comes right down to it, that is the only tool you actually NEED. Everything else is stage dressing. Props to get you in the right state of mind to work magic.
And it’s very easy to get lost in the trappings of “being witchy” and forgetting to actually be witchy.
As to the online shops and purveyors of the Moon Boxes and Witch Boxes, I’m sad to say that they really aren’t all that new, either. The late Gwydion Pendderwen essentially wrote about them, or rather their predecessors, back in 1973, in his article, The Selling of the Old Religion.