Tuesday, July 5, 2011

From My Personal Grimorie: Reflections from the Beginning

 My dear friend, fellow blogger, and virtual coven mate Cordelia over at Cordelia's Cauldron (http://networkedblogs.com/k0bb0 just posted a terrific blog about purchasing a new pendulum and how she was 'found' by it. I believe that sometimes these types of tools do find us. Maybe we attract them with vibrations? There are times when I have walked through a store and something nearly leaped into my hands. There are other times when I have seen a book, or a deck or cards or something else that I was attracted to on one level, but didn't fully resonate with, so it stayed on the shelf...and I never went back to purchase it.

In the beginning ye verily in the stone age when I first discovered that what I was practicing was more than just attunement with Nature, there were no real tools. I used bundles of leaves, packets of dirt and stones I found at my feet because it was what was handy and spoke to me. I put together things instinctively, not really knowing what I was doing, guided by what I believe were the spirits of where ever I was, or those guardians that kept watch over what I was doing. The book Earth Power, by Scott Cunningham was my first real book of magick. I'd picked up others and promptly put them back down because they didn't feel right. I still have that shop-worn copy of Earth Power in my library today, and I occasionally thumb through it.
Cordelia's blog focused on how a beautiful amethyst pendulum presented itself to her, how it vibrated energy and felt 'right'. I've never had that experience with a pendulum yet. My pendulum is a small cut crystal drop that came from a necklace my Father gave me . I wore it all through my childhood until as I teenager I felt it was too 'babyish'. One day I dug it out of a drawer, clipped it onto a length of broken necklace, and it has worked just fine every time I use it- probably because wearing it all those years imbued it with my personal energy. It's especially sensitive to energy vortexes.  In the beginning of my Craft practice, most of my tools-when I finally was lead to use them- were everyday items that were found around the house. There were no metaphysical stores in the area where I lived, and the couple I'd been in in Philadelphia and Baltimore had no appeal to me other than curiosity. There was never anything better or newer that I wanted, and certainly none of it was more magickal than what I had at home, despite what the 'experts' were saying. 
My first 'cauldron' was a round black ceramic sugar bowl with a lid. It served well for holding water and spell contents or candles. I could burn things in it if they were small and I was careful. It sat on a plain white ceramic tile when  used. My first altar bell was a dinky silver-toned hand bell purchased for a dollar during Christmas. It came with a perky red ribbon bow ( I guess that was supposed to make to look more festive.) I took the bow off because it bothered me: I thought it made the bell look cheesy. The bell had a pleasant tone, and it was just fine for ritual. Somewhere along the way I found a red silk and polyester square scarf and that became my altar cloth. White utility candles were my first spell candles, along with the odd votive candle ( I was raised Roman Catholic, so they were laying around the house.) I anointed the candles with olive oil and holy water I got out of the font at the local parish ( I'm sure the poor priest, who was clueless, thought I was a devoted child destined to a life of prayer and married to Jesus, so he happily obliged and filled my little plastic bottle.) 

Any herbs I used either came from the seasoning rack in the kitchen or from the yard- there were plenty of things growing around the house, so I learned by trial and error what did and didn't work. This was long before I ever cracked the cover of a magickal grimorie to check for correspondences. I already knew about the phases of the moon: my Grandfather planted by the seasons and signs a la the Farmer's Almanac, which I committed to memory. He thought I was interested in gardening and had little idea of what I was doing- although he was curious about those little handfuls of stuff I had drying in the windowsill of my bedroom!  So were our cats, who kept eating it. That's when I learned about tying bunches of herbs and hanging them from the curtain rod, well out of feline reach. Most everything else-including fine grade sea salt- can be purchased at the grocery store.
My first ritual blade was a small paring knife used throughout my childhood by my Grandmother. When it was determined that the blade would no longer hold a sharp enough  edge to be safe in the kitchen, it was retired to my Grandfather's basement workbench, where I serendipitously rescued it from a life of prying things. I still have it, too; in fact, it's the only black handled knife I own to this day. My brand spanking new athame has a white pearl inlay handle decorated with three black ebony bands. Both knives hold and conduct energy just fine. I used the fancy one for public rituals and the little black one in private just because it's simpler to handle in a confined space.
I have yet to purchase a commercially made wand; I've made all of my own. I've been fortunate with small tree branches presenting themselves to me- I've found them in city parks and back country hikes. My latest and currently favorite wand was made from a half inch thick piece of Oak approximately 18 inches long on a walk through downtown Raleigh two years ago. There had been a storm the night before, and a lot of little bits and pieces of wood were scattered on the ground; I stepped over this one particular piece, and it literally called to me to turn around a pick it up. It knew it was destined to be something other than kindling! The most unique feature about this wand is that it has a slight bend near the end, so it's ergonomically correct when used to point at something. What a great gift from the tree it came from-and the Universe!
I have a little iron cauldron now...everyone thinks it's really cute sitting next to the witch figurine in my bedroom. (They just shake their heads, thinking it's a hold-over from my extensive collection of Halloween decorations.)  The sugar bowl/cauldron has been re-purposed to hold salt and small items for cleansing and re-charging. Small fancy relish dishes make great offering bowls. My small  personal-sized pewter chalice-purchased in a resale shop, has been replaced by a lovely glazed charcoal , full-size chalice with a Celtic pentacle molded on one side. It sits on a hand-made Paten I purchased on eBay around two a.m. in a fit of boredom  when I was assigned to  the 'graveyard' shift at the hospital. You never know when you're going to find things!
A word about grimories: there are many beautifully crafted books out there for sale. The ultimate version, in my personal opinion, is made by another friend, Sabrina the Ink Witch. It is supremely gorgeous because it is illustrated in pen and ink in the old fashion.Sabrina is a master illustrator, and the book fairly oozes with her energy. I don't own one myself because it is  quite rightfully an expensive item considering the craftsmanship involved, and I haven't had the spare cash on hand. It's on my witchy wish list of things I'm going to reward myself with in the future for surviving a long bad period in my life. Most of my personal grimoiries (yes, there are a number of them) are spiral bound sketch books which lay flat. I like the quality of the paper because it takes the pen well and is comfortable to write and draw on. I have other Books of Shadows ( I actually prefer the term Book of Illumination, because to me, my personal Craft has progressed out of the shadows) which are three ring binders- easy to add things to and move pages around in- which also lay flat. They hold most of my ritual materials, while the others hold spells, quotes, journal entries and other non liturgical materials. The pages in these BOSs are computer generated, which allows for decorative expression but also to change the fonts for places in the ritual where there is instruction or other emphasis needed.( I f you don't know already, the Witch School site has some lovely, illustrated pages available at no charge-simply cut and paste them. Thank you Rev. Don Lewis and company for providing these! )
It is not all about "the tools". I like psycho-pomp and therefore love symbolic ritual things, but while they are  nice to have, all the bright and shiny stuff is unnecessary. I spent the first few years of my practice using my imagination and visualizing things, blending the astral and physical worlds, and I'm glad I did. My visualization skills are much more acute and I am able to focus quickly and strongly because I had no other choice in the beginning. I have never become dependent on the tools, and my personal feeling is that you should be able to perform the entire ritual, and any spells, in your head- because there may come a time or you may find yourself in a place where you cannot use them. Goddess help us that never happens, but there are still situations that warrant this in our world. A genuine practitioner of the Craft, a true Witch, is able to conjure on multiple levels of reality when the need arises.
A few words about being a 'true' practitioner of the Craft ( you have no idea how much I despise that phrase, really). I believe you are a true practitioner when  you come full circle, from learning spell work as a natural progression, through many years of trial and error, using what is on hand and not just what's available in the Azure Blue catalog ( I love them by the way). I believe you need to learn to make your own tools and write your own rituals and spells, and then go out and treat yourself to the really neat stuff. Learn to make substitutions,and to do this until it become second nature where you aren't flummoxed when you don't have a particular ingredient or it's the 'wrong' phase of the moon...because you should be able to return to the humblest of beginnings, and therefore honor the Craft which you practice.



  1. RE: "I believe you need to learn to make your own tools and write your own rituals and spells, and then go out and treat yourself to the really neat stuff." All I can add to that is a big YES! So many folks who start out feel they need to buy everything new. (Yes, I was that way at first!) So many tools already exist in your home and already hold your energy! Be creative! Wonderful post my friend!

  2. Very well said! I thoroughly believe that the strongest 'tool' we have is our own ability to create from within ourselves. Be it crafts, spells, or lifestyle what we create will always have more meaning to us than what we buy.

  3. Wonderful post! I've purchased tools (and yes, in most cases they "yelled" at me) but the tools I love the most are those I've made. I too have had downed wood call out to me (it was near Medicine Lake in the Mt Shasta area ... it made a lovely healer's wand) and once had a walnut tree drop a branch in front of my truck ... of course I took it home. :)


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