For those of us who practice a form of spiritual art, or even a religious one, there are often a set of sacred objects or spiritual tools that we employ. We do this for many reasons. Some use tools to allow them to become better focused on the task or ritual at hand. Other use various objects and tools to help the spirit recognize the human and vice-versa. Still other tools are used for trapping or banishing spirits away from a place or a person. Other tools are used for protection, healing, or divination.
So what does one usually find in the tool bag of a practitioner? Well, the short answer to that question is just about anything you can imagine. Since every person walking the spiritual path is different, so to will the tools he or she chooses to use. A surgeon wouldn’t use the same tools as a carpenter, yet both use tools to create or repair things of great beauty and complexity. The tools that are used by someone who practices Nepalese Shamanism is going to look entirely different from the tools used by a Bolivian Shaman, for example.
And then there is the question of whether or not ritual tools are really necessary. Truth is, they’re not; they just make things a whole lot easier. Think about it this way. Is it possible to insert a nail into a piece of wood until the head is flush with it without the aid of a hammer? Yes, of course, it is– but the hammer makes it a whole lot easier. Just keep in mind that ritual tools- or any tools for that matter are just that– tools.
In my experience, ritual tools can be divided into a few basic categories:
Sacred Space Tools– These tools are used to help the practitioner create a place of sacredness for ritual work, either in the physical or spiritual aspect of reality or within their own persona.
Communication– These tools aid in communication- between the spirits, humans, animals, or some combination thereof.
Control– These tools are used to help control things or entities within the ritual– either spirits, humans or animals. Often these tools are used to banish, trap, or otherwise contain things.
Defensive- These tools are often used for protection purposes, and along with the control tools when something doesn’t go according to plan.
Auxiliary- These tools are those used for the mundane things associated with ritual activities– such as chopping, holding materials, etc.
Things such as idols, pictures, or other representations of gods or spirits, or humans, I don’t consider tools necessarily. They’re just representative items. Fingers pointing at the moon, if you will.
So what are some examples of each of these types of tools? Here are a few of the most common. Keep in mind, that a tool can have more than one use as well.
Sacred Space Tools
These tools can include things such as smudging sticks, altar cloths, chalk, sand, or stones to mark the sacred area to name a few. They can also include things such as candles or crystals, or ritual knives as well. The important part is how they are used. Personally, I like to keep things simple; a bit of sage or sweet grass, a bit of salt, and maybe a few small stones are usually all I use.
The tools in this category can be extremely varied. They can include bells, ritual paper, gongs, different types of herbs or plants (hallucinogenic or otherwise), to name a few. They can also include such things as scrying mirrors, divination tools (tarot cards, I Ching, etc), journals, or objects used to act as mediums. I also would place things used to make a stronger connection to the various animal spirits, such as furs, teeth, blood, or feathers in this category, since they help to make a stronger connection for communication.
Tools in this category that I often use include a ritual bell, I Ching sticks (never been very fond of coins, but they work as well) and perhaps a few feathers, pieces of fur, or something of that nature. Again, I’m not a huge fan of what I see to be unnecessary complications.
The tools used to control spirits, animals, humans, or other entities should not be used lightly, and in most cases, they are not required in normal ritual settings. In fact, most of the time, they can become a hindrance to the process. However, if used by people who are trained correctly, and in the proper situation, they can be quite useful indeed. The actual tools can include such things as chains, binding cords, talismans, banishment or trapping spells, crystals, mirrors, or ritual drawings.
My control tools include a few talismans and a set of binding cords. Fortunately, I have only had to use them sparingly in my practice.
Much like control tools, ritual defensive tools are often not needed in everyday practice. For most people, the ritual circle or sacred space provides enough protection. However, defensive ritual tools are somewhat comforting to have around, just in case. Defensive tools can include such things as talismans, ritual shields, ritual mirrors, protection symbols, amulets, and blessed or ritualized weaponry.
Again, I like to keep things simple– a few talismans, and a toli- sometimes called a shamanic mirror- is all I usually use.
Ah yes, the mundane tools. These are no less important, and in some cases more important than the ritual tools for the practitioner. These can include such things as a broom and dustpan, a knife for cutting things, a sharpening stone, bottles or bowls to hold things or any other practical mundane item that you can find a use for.
Is all this Stuff Really Necessary?
Absolutely not. Remember, these things, these tools, are just that – tools. They are used to make the process easier, and honestly sometimes more engaging. However, it is important to remember that tools can be taken from you, used against you, or you can become too reliant on them, so be aware. A hammer can hit your thumb just as easily as it can hit the nail. Learn about your ritual tools, become familiar with them, learn to use them, but never become beholden to them. Always remember that the person who walks the path is you and you alone.
© 2016 – 2017, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.