Written in response to this post by Iris:
Iris asked: What do you think about using man-made and mass-produced items in craftwork and ritual versus naturally occurring?
New vs Recycled Tools
Iris wrote: “I’m sure witches of old couldn’t just buy a new mirror for $12! Witches of very old would have gazed upon the reflection on water, Witches of kind-of-old may have reused mirrors, or inherited them… Why do I need to buy a mirror??”
This is a conversation we’ve had, Iris and I, that I’m still struggling with. Can we just purify an old mirror? Can we cleanse a mirror (or other tool) and pass it on to another?
I’m a Capricorn. And an environmentalist. I cannot ethically condone wasting resources without it rubbing me the wrong way. In fact, much of what we have studied, Iris and I, in terms of acquiring, making, and owning has often felt very wasteful to me. I try very hard to remember that part of the work is the process of doing the work, building the tool, etc. But I have a closet full of tools that I don’t use or am saving for a time when I might be ready for them. (See Iris’ comment about how sometimes group work means you make tools before you’re ready for them because it’s part of the group mind or the teaching we’re doing at that time as a collective). Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly thankful for that momentum sometimes and the teachings I’ve received have changed my life so I don’t begrudge this process… just feel uncomfortable about it as an environmentalist/minimalist.
Iris wrote: “New” means “clean” and “fresh” in the subconscious of most people”
I don’t disagree with that. I think that we often feel this way and realistically, even if we cleanse an old tool, our minds might create narratives around them that will bespell them with energies we have cleansed. Or worse, we may not manage to cleanse old energies that are particularly strong and for some students/practitioners this might be problematic. However, that said, I do feel that whenever possible, we should be striving to repurpose things. Because honestly, that $12 mirror from China or item you bought in the cheap dollar store already has an energy signature. As a vegetarian, I have long believed that to some extent “you are what you eat” and thus, if you’re consuming dairy or meat that comes from animals who have suffered, you are consuming that suffering. I think the same to some extent can be said of your tools being also influenced by where they are made.
I know. That’s a tough one to deal with because quite honestly, we can’t completely get away from the suffering contained in the capitalist, industrial production system. From the paint I use to the paper I write on and everything in between, there are bound to be energy signatures that are problematic. All we can really do is consciously decide how far we are going to go with such a thing. Where our limits are. Which ultimately also harkens back to what we ultimately determine to be our comfort levels.
If you want to repurpose a mirror, I believe you can. However, before you make that decision, I want you/me to be aware of all the pros and cons of such a choice so that we can make an informed decision.
Iris’ famous mirror question can be answered for myself as such:
I bought the mirror. And used it once. And it sat in storage for several years before I actively cleansed it. Cut ties with it. Made damn sure that the working done in it was recorded and complete, the lesson absorbed and then banished from the tool. Then I repurposed it for my son to use in his bedroom.
Keep in mind that I was aware of the tool and what it’s use was. I felt confident that the working associated with it wouldn’t have a negative effect on my child. He was in the house when I did the work. He has lived through me realizing the work. And ultimately, if any lingering trace of the work remained, it isn’t the type of work that would harm him.
So can we repurpose tools. Yes, I believe so. But I would say that we need to be cautious about how we do so.
Would I have preferred to borrow or inherit someone else’s mirror. Absolutely. But it wasn’t an option at the time. Nor was gazing into the waters of the river near home. But perhaps, if I were to ever do such a working again, I would, like Iris, be more adventurous and try scrying into a bowl of water (perhaps I’d create moon water and then use it afterwords for plant magic… ooooohhhhh… something to try next spring!)
Iris shared that some of her tools were made for her. We share this narrative. We were blessed to have a coven mate who lovingly crafted tools for us. I cherish these tools because I know his heart was full of love when they were crafted. However, one I specifically remade for myself because the energy signature was wrong for me. My Lotus Wand, the one I made, is featured in this post, was remade because it was too heavy. I spent hours remaking it to my own specifications. And I’ll tell you a secret: each single petal is crafted from upcycled dryer sheets hand stitched around a metal frame that I hand formed (yes really). It took me a LONG time to do. But every time I pick up my Lotus Wand, I am reminded of the time and the love that I put into the piece.
I am a crafty person, so I am lucky enough to be able to create several tools from hand. But before you think that I am always able to realize exactly what I envision, let me dispel you of that myth. Every time I look at my Lotus Wand, I also see it’s flaws. I see the way the glue is smudged at the end. I see how my stitching is uneven and how some of my paint colours aren’t exactly right or are smudged. But I am also ok with that because I like to think of it as a reminder that we are all the divine, manifested imperfectly, in creation. As is my tool; so am I!
So when Iris writes that one of her friends and close advisor counsels that he feels people should go through the challenge of making their own tools, making their own magical children as it were, I don’t think he is wrong. There is merit in making your own tools. And handcrafted tools can have a depth of connection and energy that is harder to find in a store bought tool.
That said, I have also purchased tools. Some because I simply didn’t have the skill set to make the item (hello Athame, I see you). I don’t have access to or the ability to hone stone or bone into a blade. So while a naturally crafted Athame would be lovely, it’s just not in the cards for most of us.
Some of my tools have been purchased simply because it was easier. I suppose I could have gone out hunting for the perfect piece of wood for my wand and scourge but I didn’t. I purchased wood dowels from my local hardware store and crafted my tools from them. Would my tools have been more unique had I done the extra work? Absolutely. Would they be more effective? Possibly? Possibly not?
And then there are the tools I bought because I knew that my abilities wouldn’t please me aesthetically and it would always bother me. My rune sticks were purchased from an Etsy artist using natural polished woods. They’re lovely and please me every time I use them (the rare times I use them).
Tools and Consumerism
I think that in all honesty, as I work my way through my response to Iris’ post, what I see emerging is more a reflection on the wasteful nature of collecting tools in the craft that we never use. My crystal ball is lovely, but I never use it. My rune sticks and Enochian Tablets are great, but I don’t use them. The same can be said of so many of my tools. Perhaps one day I will use these tools and having them already made will help facilitate that process. After all, I never thought I’d make alchemical tinctures, but I did.
But I would definitely argue in favour of simplicity and practicality in our tools. I would encourage people to repurpose, repair, and even share certain tools when possible. I do believe that part of the process of making tools, be they made with natural materials or mass produced goods, is about doing the psycho-spiritual labour around the teaching/art. I recognize that Iris has claimed to be hard-headed about making tools. She is not alone. I have a half finished fire wand that I just can’t seem to find the will to finish. If some of my Golden Dawn tools hadn’t been gifted to me by Faunus, I’d probably have a longer list of half finished tools.
On the other hand, I have also plowed through making tools with a single minded devotion at times that I cannot account for. Making the Enochian Tablets was not something I ever thought I’d do. But when it was proposed as an activity, I just picked up the momentum and to date, according to my teachers, I’m the fastest person they ever met to complete them (no, it’s not a competition, merely an expression of how sometimes there is a current of energy around teachings and tools that you cannot always anticipate – this is especially true given that I may also be one of my teacher’s students who resisted Hermetic teachings the most).
Very few of my tools are what you’d call “Natural.” They have been influenced by mass production one way or another. I do not have a scrying mirror made of a natural stone I found on the shore or a wand made from a natural branch. As a solo practitioner, I have no stang or broom as I’ve never felt called to own such things. I didn’t go out and collect the perfect stones for my runes.
But I bet that if I did, I would enjoy the energy in those tools. I would enjoy what the tools meant to me and the lesson behind them. But I don’t think that “unnatural” tools are necessarily less effective. They’re just different and over time, you build connections with them in a different way. My Athame, man made, store bought, is my magical child just as much as my handcrafted Lotus Wand. The years of use and relationship built between myself and this tool has attuned me to it in a way that I’m still not connected to my Lotus Wand, even though I spent an age crafting it. And I suspect, hand collected stones painted with the runes, would be the same. Ultimately time and use is what make the tool, not “naturalness”. Handcrafted or natural can facilitate the process but they aren’t the only thing that makes a tool your magical child.
An unused tools, natural or not, handmade or not, is just an item sitting on a shelf. Yes, the work involved can be part of a psycho-spiritual teaching, but if the lesson has been integrated and the tool is sitting on the shelf, it might be the perfect tool to gift to another who will benefit from it. Perhaps the ultimate lesson of such a tool, is knowing when to help another who is aspiring to learn?