If there’s one thing I get about a million questions on, it’s witchcraft tools. People want to know which tools they need, how to use their tools, which tools can be substituted for others, and which can be omitted entirely. As much as I wish I could give everyone a straightforward answer, this is a complex subject! Witches, magicians, and sorcerers have been debating this subject for as long as we’ve been doing magic and for good reason. There are merits to both using tools and not using tools. Today we’re going to take a look at why you might want to use tools or not, what the benefits and drawbacks are of each magical modality, and how to get the most out of your tools.
Tools vs. No Tools: Why Do We Care?
For some people, the answer is that they don’t care. And that’s ok! Some people aren’t interested in digging into the theory and metaphysics behind their magic, they just want results! That’s a perfectly fine way to approach magic and if you’re in that camp, I’ll simplify this whole thing for you: Use your tools and work magic by the book. Not because working with tools is inherently better or more powerful, but because it’s the tried and tested way to go. Yes, it’s more expensive and it can be difficult to get what you need at times but if you want results without having to do a bunch of experimentation and figuring out how to harness magic in less concrete ways, then this is the most direct way to do it.
If you’re interested in maximizing your efficiency, cutting down on the expense of magic, or learning more about the theory and principles that make your magic work then read on. There is no one size fits all answer, so I’ll be presenting the pros and cons of each method. You will need to weigh your needs, desires, and proclivities against the benefits and drawbacks of each to determine the best way of working for you.
Pros & Cons Of Using Tools
There are so many great reasons to use tools in your magic. First and foremost is that tools have a long history of use in a wide variety of magical traditions. There’s no shortage of learning materials to help a witch make the most of their magical tools. As I said earlier, for those who just want magic that works without having to dig into the how and why and metaphysics of witchcraft, using tools is the way to go. It gives you the most robust and defined path to effective magic.
Tools can also be excellent for newer witches and witches who are simply less confident in their skills. This is the essence of what tools are for. They allow us to focus our energies and intentions and translate the magical and energetic actions that we are taking into the physical world. For many people, this more tactile experience of magic is incredibly useful. Not only does it allow the body to be involved in the magic but it helps to focus the mind without necessarily needing to have rock-solid focus to begin with. It is much more difficult to become distracted if you are using a knife to carve out your sacred space than it is to get distracted when you are trying to create that sacred space with only your mental faculties.
Likewise, for many people, the tactile sensations that come along with using tools are vital for actually creating and moving magical energy. Sensation is a very effective way to move energy. By incorporating all forms of sensation through things like tools that you hold such wands and knives, tools that you create sound with such as bells, tools that provide visual stimulation like words or symbols or colors, or tools that excite the sense of smell like incense, or even taste, we ease the burden of moving that magic considerably. When we experience these sensations, our minds and our bodies move the energy naturally without the need for the application of any kind of extra focus or force.
These benefits should not be underestimated! This is not the lazy form of witchcraft. It is not somehow nobler or more magical to be able to move energy without tools and the use of sensation. For many people, this is the only viable, powerful form of magic available to them. Some people are simply more sensate than they are cerebral and for those people and the sensory experience is not just helpful but mandatory.
There are of course also drawbacks to the use of tools and magic. Tools and ingredients can often be hard to come by, either because of actual scarcity or because of a personal inability to acquire that thing due to financial constraints, space constraints, or the need to remain secret in your craft. These things can all make acquiring and using tools far more difficult. And if you are reliant on tools to work your magic and find yourself in a situation where you cannot acquire the necessary tools, then how do you go about working magic? Do you find a way to substitute? Do you give up on the spell entirely?
In addition to this, the use of tools can make spontaneous magic and the use of magic in unusual situations almost impossible. If every spell requires you to have an entire set of tools and a whole list of ingredients then the chances of you being able to cast that spell on a Tuesday afternoon while you’re out of the house and don’t have your magical toolbox with you is slim to none. There are some people who prefer to work with tools who manage to keep a witchcraft emergency kit with them or those who find low-tool methods of working that might not be ideal for them but that can still get the job done in a pinch. One good example of this kind of magic would be sigils. Most people can create a sigil with a little more than a scrap of paper and a pencil.
Overall the use of tools, especially if you feel the tools are mandatory, can be very restrictive. It restricts when you can do magic, how you can do magic, and whether or not you can even do magic at all depending on the availability of tools and ingredients. For some people, this will not be a problem. Many people never need magic on the fly. Many people are perfectly comfortable working their magic at home, alone, with all of their tools present. But for those who travel, those who spend a great deal of time away from their house, or those who feel the need for more flexibility, tools can hold back your magic considerably.
Pros & Cons Of Not Using Tools
The biggest benefit of not relying on tools in your craft is the freedom and flexibility it gives you. When you don’t have to consider heavily whether you need an entire tool kit, a bunch of herbs, special oils, candles, incense, or any of the other trappings that come along with magic then you are able to create magic wherever you are, at any time, with whatever you have on hand. Notice here that I am not saying that you necessarily have to forgo the use of tools entirely to get these benefits, but rather that having the ability to do magic without tools allows you to use the tools that you have on hand while filling in the gaps with methods that do not rely on physical objects. For example, I might decide to cast a spell and realize that I have no candles in the house but I do have incense and some paper and a pen. If I’m not hung up on the necessity of having a candle for this particular spell I can probably craft a spell that will be just as effective by using more mental and cerebral forms of magic.
This is a huge plus for people who travel a lot, don’t have a bunch of extra money to blow on fancy tools, people who live in smaller spaces or with people who wouldn’t accept witchcraft, or people who simply want the flexibility to do magic at the drop of a hat.
Doing magic without tools also opens doors to a deeper understanding of magical theory and the forces that we are working with as witches. If using a tool creates a sensation that then moves energy, the tool is all that is necessary for creating that effect. You do not have to have a deep understanding of what is happening and why it is happening for it to happen. To recreate that same effect without the tool, you must understand the mechanisms that create the movement of energy in the first place. This can lead to an incredibly robust understanding of how your magic functions. This deepened understanding allows far greater flexibility, creativity, and freedom in your witchcraft. When you understand the theory and the forces at play behind your magic then you begin to understand how you can adjust, edit, and recreate your magic in entirely new ways. If you’ve ever heard the saying that you have to learn the rules before you can break the rules, this is what I’m talking about. It’s the difference between being able to play a song masterfully on the piano and being able to masterfully compose your own song on the piano.
For some people, the ability to compose is vital. It is the thing that keeps them interested and engaged with their craft and it is the thing that allows them to create a magical practice that suits their needs. For others, there is no desire to be able to compose. For some people simply being able to play the music or in this case to perform the magic is enough. Not every musician is a composer and not every witch will have an interest in the theory of magic and the design of new spells.
The drawbacks of working without tools can be a bit harder to swallow for some people. It does raise the chances of spell failure significantly, especially when you are first learning to work without tools. Just as you might expect a high rate of spell failure for a brand new witch you can expect a high rate of spell failure for a witch who is trying to learn a brand new method of spell casting. This can be very frustrating at first. There are many skills that you will need to learn to utilize magic in this way. And for some people, the effort that it takes to learn these skills simply is not worth the payoff. Some people will find that no matter how hard they work at it their spells still suffer when they don’t use tools.
Spells done without tools can begin to feel very immaterial. If all you’re ever doing in the craft is casting spells that involve no tools and no ritual whatsoever, then it can begin to feel as though you’re not practicing magic at all. For many people, the ritual and active practice of magic is what makes magic feel like magic! If you strip all of this away, in some cases it begins to feel like you are simply throwing wishes into the universe and hoping that they come true. If you truly can’t feel like there is magic being worked if you’re not lighting candles and incense, mixing herbs, or using your ritual tools, then attempting to make the switch to tool-free magic is going to feel like doing no magic at all.
The blending between witchcraft and new age spaces has made this very apparent. Many people that I speak to who feel like they’re “not doing enough witchcraft anymore” are, in fact, doing a lot of spiritual and magical practice that simply doesn’t involve tools. They’ve picked up practices like meditation, energy work, spirit work and because these things don’t have the same physical trappings as performing a spell with tools does, it feels insubstantial and they have no external marker by which to measure their engagement with the craft.
If you’ve been feeling like this, you might consider incorporating more tools into your craft! How we feel about ourselves as witches is incredibly important. If you feel like you’re not a very good witch or like you’re not doing enough witchcraft, I guarantee that you are probably going to do even less witchcraft. Anything that we feel bad about and then hold against ourselves is going to create a negative feedback loop and we will instinctively begin to avoid doing that thing. This means that a lot of people who really love witchcraft find themselves not doing much witchcraft at all because they simply don’t have the positive feedback that comes from sitting down at their altar and actually performing spellwork.
Structuring Your Craft
Okay, now that we’ve gone through the pros and cons of this topic, how do we decide what to do in our own magical practices? This is where things get fun. This is where we get to play around with our magical practices and engage with our own preferences and strengths.
The one thing that I want you to keep in mind above all else is whether you are enjoying what you’re doing. This is going to be the best indicator of whether or not you’re doing magic in the way that is right for you. If you find working with tools clunky and boring and it feels like you’re just going through the motions rather than doing magic then you’re not going to do very much magic. And if you find doing magic without tools arduous and taxing but are convinced that you’re not a good enough witch if you can’t do it, then you’re not going to do very much magic because it feels awful to do it.
The concept of willpower has been greatly over-exaggerated. Willpower does have its uses in many parts of our lives, but anything that we want to do regularly has to be something that we actually enjoy. If over time, we repeatedly use willpower to force ourselves to do something that we do not want to do, it will become increasingly more difficult to convince ourselves to do that same thing. You will need to use more willpower and more effort to do that same exact thing every time you do it because your mind is building up a negative association with that action.
This is why so many people struggle to do things like build exercise habits. We decide to start exercising and choose a type of exercise that we feel like we “should” do and then we start forcing ourselves to do it in the hopes that somewhere along the line if we force ourselves to do it long enough it will eventually become a habit and we’ll no longer have to force ourselves. What happens instead is that we force ourselves to do it, get no real reward out of it, and try to ignore the discomfort that comes from it. Over time the amount of effort that it takes to get you to go to the gym becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle. Rather than working with what we enjoy or finding ways to incorporate enjoyment into our lives we are convinced that we are better off gritting our teeth and forcing our way through unpleasant experiences.
The solution to this is not to just get more willpower. The solution is to find ways to enjoy the things that we are trying to do more of. In the case of exercise, the best thing to do is to find a type of exercise that you like doing. Or, maybe, you find a way to incorporate something you do enjoy into the experience of exercise. Maybe your favorite musician drops a new album and you decide that you are only going to listen to that new album that you love while you are exercising. This creates a positive association between getting to do something that you enjoy and exercise.
Similarly, we can do this with our witchcraft by choosing to do forms of magic that actually feel good to us. This might mean choosing to do forms of magic that feel effective and this gives us the positive feedback of feeling like we’re spending our effort wisely (and lets be real, the feeling of working powerful magic is its own reward). This might mean using things like incense, music, and ambiance to create an environment that we find pleasurable to work magic in. This might mean that we avoid forms of magic that feel particularly strenuous or exhausting in favor of forms of magic that feel energizing and exciting to perform.
Whether you use tools or not is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong choice. This is simply a matter of deciding what you need out of your craft. What feels good to you when you are practicing magic? What do you enjoy doing? What are you motivated to do in your craft? For some people, the theory behind magic is fascinating and incredibly motivating. For them, learning to take advantage of it without the use of tools is a super exciting project. For other people what gets them excited is being able to use their favorite crystals, their favorite incense, or their ritual robes that make them feel gorgeous and magical. Do what feels good to you!
And finally, it’s important to note that this is not a black and white decision. You do not have to decide to always use tools or never use tools. Most witches fall somewhere in between these two extremes. They will use some tools that work particularly well for them and they will use some methods of tool-free magic that work well for them. Many witches will simply use what feels right for that spell and that moment depending on what they have available and what they feel the spell itself needs. Some spells may feel like they need more ritual and more structure to truly get the effects you desire, while other spells may be easier to perform without tools. The important thing to consider is what you need out of your craft and what you actually enjoy doing. If your magic hits both of these points then you can be sure that more effective magic will be the result.