"Oh, well, you don't *really* need tools. I mean, they're just there to help you focus - the magic comes from inside you! Tools are just crutches."
Ask any of my students: when I hear this, it gets me a'twitching, because there is so much wrong with it. Let's look at some of this, shall we?
Symbolism in the Group
First and foremost, on a very practical level, tools serve a valuable purpose. Even if we set aside the basic occult concept of magic, tools are part of the language of symbols. We interact with tools on a conscious level and a subconscious one. There is value in learning and mastering the language of symbols: like any language, it is used to communicate effectively.
On a personal level, our subconscious (or better still, the Deep Mind, as some streams of the Craft would call it) understands symbols independently of our conscious mind. In fact, it often understands them in spite of it. Craft tends to use very simple symbols, things of an often-agricultural or rustic origin. Now, while very few of us live agricultural lives these days (let's be honest - the last time many of us have been anywhere near a farm was in a Facebook game),Deep Mind remembers. We have spent the sum total of human culture as we have any concept of it as agricultural creatures, minus the last hundred and fifty years, give or take. This is deeply imprinted on who we are as societal creatures. Even if you don't know the nuances of the meanings behind the sheaf and the sickle, or the wheel with candles set in it, rest assured that Deep Mind does. Rest assured that it understand that Blade = Will and Authority, while Chalice = Reverence and Encompassment.
Deep Mind knows.
On a more practical level for those of us who interact magically with others on a routine basis, knowing this language (and knowing it comes wholly through experience) allows us to communicate things to one another. When my circle-mate lifts her athame with her right hand, her posture regal, feet set to give her a powerful foundation, I instinctively know what she is doing. She raises her Will as she raises that Blade, and whatever comes next comes from her authority as a witch and initiate of the Mysteries. Likewise, when a priestess dons a mantle or veil, and takes up the Cup, I know what is happening without ever having to be told.
Compare, then, to the group who simply stand there, "performing magic" with only the power of visualization and their minds. Lots of people like to claim that they "sync up" in such instances, prepared to work Grand Occult Wonders wholly in the realms of the unseen. But really? They're usually all just standing there waiting for someone else to make the first indication that the "work" is at an end.
Towards a Physical Praxis
Speaking of the Realms Unseen, most witches I know do not aspire to dwell wholly in the realms of spirit, thought and ephemera. "What is holy, witch?" one might ask, and there will be many answers, of course. But among them will be some version of "this world". If we claim to find holiness in this world - not just a world that is not profane, but one in which actual, divine holiness resides - how can we make this claim while simultaneously eschewing the role of things physical in our Rites?
Put another way, it's been said that the witch's true home is "at the Crossroads" - that is to say, liminal places and times. Be it at the crux or transitions of the seasons, when the moon rests full or dark at the mid-point between waxing and waning, as day bleeds into night, or night unfolds into day, or at the stroke of midnight, balanced between two different days. Perhaps we meet at the seashore, where Land meets Sea, or in the groves, where Wood touches Meadow, in the graveyard (balanced between death and life) or even in the Circle, where the lands of the physical and the lands of the gods are admixed.
If we accept the power of the liminal, the power that builds naturally where two things which are unlike one another meet and mingle - Fire and Water, Male and Female, Thought and Emotion, Body and Soul - how can we claim to find any virtue in discarding one of those aspects. If the powerful visualizations, trance states, otherworldly Sight and starlight vision, meditative practices and all the other tools of the unseen are of value, why would we use them without those tools of the physical world. Where Intent and Literal meet, where Will and Blade are, these are the places of power.
The Magic of the Incarnate World
Finally, as a practitioner of a couple kinds of low magic - two separate kinds of witchcraft, as well as old-fashioned Southern conjure (or hoodoo) - I'm here to tell you: the tools you use, the herbs you employ, the colors you bring to bear all have power. And it's not "your power channeled through them." It's a power of their own.
We do bring magic with us, of course. It is within - it is no more correct to say that all magic comes from the items and tools you use than it is to say that it all comes from within us. It's an admixture of these things. Again, liminality, where the magic of the incarnate world, as found in tools, herbs, oils and a myriad other things, meets with the intentional, motivative magic within us. If our tools and correspondences are the ingredients and tools of a chef, we ourselves are the chefs. Those ingredients aren't going to turn themselves into a feast, any more than the tools themselves are going to work magic on their own, either.
This isn't about proclaiming tools to be the source of magic. Rather, it is about honoring them as part of the magic we do, just as surely as our own Divine Will, occult intents and mastery of our states of mind are part of it. It is the whole of both aspects, working beautifully together, that is the source of magic in what we do.
-Joseph Carriker, ©2012
Thank you Joe for taking the time to put this together.
Also, everyone go read his blog.
"Lost in a thicket bare-footed upon a thorned path."