If you've read this far through the site you'll already be aware that we'll argue about almost anything, if the mood takes us. These arguments may be less Oxford Union Rules than Marquis of Queensbury Rules, but unlike most arguments on pagan lists, they still leave room for views to actually be changed. This is an atmosphere that we call "good-natured banter", but which others have described as "their form of tact is well, they don't have any".
Any Tool Can Be A Weapon
(..if you hold it right)
Magickal tools are a perennial discussion point. Even a question as basic as "do we need tools" produces a dichotomy of viewpoints. Amongst such friendly souls (if we have any) why is this? Well, views held on tools tend to be central to the way of life of the people involved. I tend to be fairly eclectic, although I shouldn't even use that term because just to say "eclectic" takes sides.
Terry Pratchett sits in the bar at the Old Ship and listens to whoever is holding forth. He has long ears and occasionally summarises the discussion on tools in words such as "any fool can be a witch with a fancy knife it takes real skill to be one with an apple corer". Simon Hawke, however, pointed out with equal clarity that "sometimes, the only valid symbol for a sharp knife is a sharp knife".
For me, the Tibetans have the right approach to the topic: both "grasping" and "aversion" are to be avoided. Do not be wedded to having certain things, but equally, do not look for advantage in not having them. The union of blade and chalice can often be symbolised by encircling two fingers with a gently clenched fist. There are times when you can't use symbols at all. And it may be that occasionally a physically real "sharp knife" will come in useful.
A wiccan ritual space can resemble a Victorian sideboard. Sex on the altar, as described by Dennis Wheatley, would be painful in the extreme. Even were a virgin available, there would be nowhere to tie them down without spilling the salt. This great attachment to ritual items is strangely at odds with Gardner's "Craft Laws"; In 1953, he wrote:
"The same with the working Tools. Let them be as ordinary things that anyone may have in their homes. The Pentacles shall be of wax that they may be melted or broken at once. Have no sword unless your rank allows you one. Have no names or signs on anything. Write them on in ink before consecrating them and wash it off at once when finished.
...adding, quite splendidly, in 1961:
"...Do not Bigrave them, lest they cause discovery. Let the colour of the hilts tell which is which."
In extremis, I can do a banishing on a railway station concourse, without having to chalk stuff on the floor, which would probably lead to someone coming and putting me in a nice comfortable jacket with arm restraints. When you get an SMS that simply says "incoming", it's best not to need the infusion of subtle herbs you left in the fridge. So, why use tools at all? Well, my training suggests that there's no benefit in making life more difficult than it already is, and sometimes having the right tool for the job helps. I also like making things and I admit that there's a certain satisfaction in getting something right.
But then there's the other side of the coin (made of wax, of course, so that it can be melted down). And that's getting addicted to having it "just right". As an example, I was lurking on an email discussion about what kind of wood to use for a wand. Someone asked if there was a trick for using pinon. An East Coast city-dweller suggested that they should get out into the country more often - somehow missing the trivial detail that querent lived way out in the wilds of a semi-desert.
The mentor declared that wood for a wand had to come from one of the trees in the Celtic Tree Alphabet and be cut from a living tree. Sadly, none of the peoples whose world-views are commonly lumped together as "Celtic" knew of pinon, which muxt make wand-building somewhat complex for Arizona residents.
The tree then required a blood offering. Well, those at least are commonplace. The cutting tool slips, blood fountains and you make like a cat and try to look as if you meant to do that all along. Your human audience may be fooled, but sadly the genius loci knows that you did the same thing last week changing a radiator valve. The valve was presumably sacred as well.
In my book, the trick is to go with the meaning as well as the words of the instructions. Presumably, lacking a wand, a native of chamber-grave era Brittany would have used something meaningful from their own landscape, rather than looking for a trader to import the same wood used by their great-grandparents in another country. Mediaeval directions for making a scrying mirror ("speculum") with a "virgin" surface ask you to cast it from scratch and silver the thing specially for the one working. Fine, if you have the time, equipment and inclination. But the meaning may simply be that the reflective surface has never been used for anything else. Get a cheap circular picture-frame (buying it without haggling, of course), clean the glass with meths and spray the back with car enamel. The reflective surface is at the interface between the enamel and the glass, so if you need to use it again, strip the enamel off, and re-spray it instant new "virgin" surface. It may be more important for you to have put something of yourself into the mirror, than to have commissioned a specially silvered one from a specialist occult supply store.
Candles are another cause for working out which way to read old texts. At times, they're great. You can re-melt them and carry them forward from one working to the next, the symbolism of living light being split and multiplied is unmistakable, and they give a really nice soft light, which you can use as a behavioural trigger. Sometimes, though, they're a pain. In a mediaeval text, a candle may simply represent "a light source that allows you to work after dark without knocking the chalice over".
So, there may be no good reason not to use rings of red LEDs to mark the quarters at a sacred site. They don't blow out, don't scorch the site, don't leave wax on the stones and don't set fire to robes that get too close. A 1.5 volt AAA NiMH, eight red LEDs and a suitable resistor should do the trick. "Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the North, send forth your sacred amps to endow this place with enough light to avoid us tripping over at an embarrassing moment".
If getting the invocation word-perfect matters enough that you need to read it, then why take chances? Why struggle to read a black-letter manuscript when a PalmPilot is great if you set the text size big and turn the backlight on? Just as with a wineglass for a chalice, any tool can be a magickal tool if you work at it. In outdoor ritual, sacredness sadly doesn't prevent mishaps. Using a mobile phone to get help for a heart attack when everyone is naked may be embarrassing, but it's better than the alternative and our forebears were nothing if practical. There's a tradition that electronics and magic circles don't mix, but I suspect that people once said that about new-fangled stone circles when they replaced the traditional ditch. Sure, mobiles are unreliable at the Rollrights, but you can take your pick as to whether that's simply because the nearest Vodafone radio tail is over the local horizon or because Wyrm doesn't want people giving press interviews.