Tips for The Frugal Pagan

Tips for The Frugal Pagan

Tools: Why, When, How?

Notes for the Beginner
Let me start out by saying this: You don't need tools.

I know - every Pagan book you've read has explained to you the spiritual significance of the tools Witches use in ritual and worship. I myself even gave you a list of commonly used tools in my Witchcraft 101. But when it comes down to what Paganism and Witchcraft are really about, tools are unnecessary. You can honor your Gods anywhere and anytime, and magic is worked through natural energy from your body and the earth.

So why do we use tools, if we don't need them?

Tools are useful. They help to focus our mind and our energy. They speak the language of symbols - some might say, the language of our Younger Self; others might say, the language of the unconscious. Either way, tools are symbols, and symbols have power.

So what follow are some tips on how to find tools which will be both meaningful and affordable.

Do not feel that you have to go out and buy/ make/ acquire all of these things at once. Improvise and make do with what you have. Over time, you will be able to slowly buy/ make/ acquire your tools when you have the money/ time/ opportunity. In addition, as your family and friends learn more about your religion and as you acquire more Pagan friends, your chances of receiving Pagan items as holiday or birthday gifts will increase.

Making your own tools is nice whenever possible. It helps to charge the object with your energy - and, of course, it ensures that your object will look the way you want it to look! However, sometimes making your own tools requires considerable time, energy, and possibly expense.

And, finally, just because a tool is listed in books on Witchcraft doesn't mean you have to have one. Everyone's tool kit is different.
Notes on Consumer Ethics
If you go to Pagan stores or Pagan festivals, you will notice many lovely items crafted by Pagan artisans. These lovely items are often quite expensive. This is not usually because the Pagan artisans want to fleece you out of your money - it's because their market is not very large, and so in order to make any kind of living selling their art, they need to charge a lot of money. It is great to support these folks by buying their products if you can, even if it means you need to save up for a while.

In addition, some basic supplies (like candles, incense, chalices) are available in craft or home stores as well as in Pagan stores. You will probably pay a little bit more for them in the Pagan store; however, your local Pagan store could probably really use your patronage. In addition, your local Pagan store is more likely to have supplies which were made locally (not by sweatshop labor in another country).

Now, if you don't support your local Pagan business by buying their goods, then you don't have much right to complain when they go out of business. However, many of us live on limited incomes. For a variety of reasons, we can't afford to pay a little extra. So we make do with the cheapest thing we can find. This is not ethically the best thing, for the reasons listed above; but neither is bankrupting ourselves.

It's also important to note that sometimes Pagan-crafted products won't fit your needs. People have different tastes, and it's always possible that these products don't appeal to you aesthetically or spiritually. For this reason, I've also included alternative ways to make or find your tools; these alternatives may or may not be less expensive than Pagan-crafted items.

Setting Up Your Altar

To set up an altar, you don't need any of the ritual tools listed further down. In fact, if you prefer to be less obvious to visitors or family, you may prefer not to include any obviously witchy tools. Your altar simply serves as a place to honor those things you hold sacred. It may include mementos of people, events, or times in your life, representations of the four elements, symbols of the Gods, and/or items related to magick you are currently working. You may keep it the same all the time, set it up only for rituals, re-work it regularly with the seasons or Sabbats, or change it whenever you feel the need.

People prefer different sizes, shapes, and styles of altars. I have one friend whose altar is an enormous display taking up a whole wall of a room in her apartment; another friend set hers up on one small shelf of a bookcase. Space limitations are likely to affect your choice of altar. In addition, some like to have an altar which is very obviously Pagan, while others prefer a more subtle display.

If you have the space and money, it is nice to have a free-standing table which serves as an altar, ideally one with drawers in it so you will have a place to store your ritual supplies. However, many people have neither the space nor the money to acquire such a table. A simple solution is to clear space on a bookshelf to set up as an altar. This can be less obtrusive, since it is common for people to display objects on bookshelves. Alternately, what I have done when I've had very limited space is to set up a plastic crate on its side and cover it with an altar cloth (other supplies sit inside the crate, covered by the altar cloth which hangs down).

You may wish to have a temporary altar which is not always set up. The simplest version of this is to spread your altar cloth on the floor and set out your tools and symbols on top of it. If you have some drawer space, you can set up your altar in a drawer and open it or take it out when you want to do ritual.

If you need a very small, portable altar, one option is to take a large matchbox (the kind that sturdy kitchen matches come in), and place inside a birthday candle, a feather, a shell, and a stone (the four elements), as well as a piece of fabric big enough to place all of the above on.

Another alternative, and one which may be less noticeable, is to have smaller altars for different things. You might represent the element of Water in your bathroom with a simple seashell and a white candle; or a particular god or goddess in an area that symbolizes them (Hekate in the doorway, or the Sun God in a sunny window). These altars might serve for smaller, more focused rituals having to do with those particular symbols; or they might simply act as daily reminders of the sacred. Obviously you can also make outdoor altars if you have the outdoor space to do so, as long as you create them from durable objects. You can make cairns of stones or weave branches together to honor a particular element, concept, or deity.
Altar Cloth
The easiest way to procure an altar cloth is to buy yourself a piece of fabric large enough to cover your altar (larger, if you want the edges to hang over the sides of the altar). This can be relatively cheap at the fabric store, depending on the fabric you choose. I recommend some kind of cotton or other washable fabric, as the chances are fairly high that you will spill something or make a mess on your altar at some point (candle wax, ritual juice/ wine, charcoal - the possibilities are endless!). These fabrics are also usually cheaper than more high-maintenance velvets and silks. If you want the edges to look neat, you can hem them yourself by hand (simply fold over the edge of the cloth and sew a straight line along it) or get a friend with a sewing machine to do it.

Alternately, you can buy an inexpensive scarf, tablecloth, etc.

It's up to you what color or design is on your altar cloth. I have a couple of different ones, and I tend to vary mine depending on the seasons. In the summer I might put a gold-orange one with sun designs; in the winter, a dark cloth. If you just want one to start out with, green is a good basic color that can fit year-round. White is equally universal, but not very practical.
The Four Elements
Earth: Earth can be represented by a small bowl of salt, or a stone or rock. During ritual, any fruit, bread, or other food you place on the altar represents Earth. You can also use a statue of an Earth-related animal (a bear comes to mind). Many people like to keep a pentacle on their altar to represent the element of earth and/or to symbolize the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, spirit). Pentacles can be made out of wood, clay, paper, or any other material. The cheapest way is to make one yourself:
- Draw a pentacle on a piece of oaktag or other stiff paper.
- Make some kind of play dough and trace a pentacle in it (here are some recipes for making play dough) - most kinds of play dough will harden if left out.
- Get some thin wire and shape a pentacle out of it. If you want some color, wrap thread around the wire.

Air: Air can be represented by a feather you find on the ground; a bell or a string of bells (small, cheap bells are easy to come by at craft stores); or a statue or picture of a bird (an origami bird would be perfect). Incense also represents air. Also, any air symbol that hangs over the altar provides a beautiful visual representation of the element, as it sways and swings in the air currents (origami is great for hanging, and so are bells, which ring or tinkle when the air moves).

Fire: The most common representation is a candle, whether lit or unlit. An image (such as a photograph, drawing, or Tarot card) of fire, flames, or a desert landscape can be used. You can also have a statue of a fire-related animal such as a phoenix or lion. Red pepper or another hot spice (like curry powder) could be placed in a small bowl or shaker; you can smell or taste it when you invoke fire in ritual. Two other visual ways to represent fire are by having a bowl of brightly colored glitter, or using a piece of brightly colored fabric like a red scarf.

Water: Obviously, a bowl of water represents water! A seashell is also easy to find if you live near the water, and probably inexpensive if you don't (fake seashells are usually available in craft stores as well). A chalice is a symbol of water, especially if it is filled with water, wine or juice (though I don't recommend leaving it there when your ritual is over!). A statue or image of a fish, dolphin, or other water animal is always good.
God and Goddess Symbols
Pagan-oriented statues of the God and Goddess (or of specific Gods and Goddesses) are often some of the more expensive items to be found in Pagan stores. Some suggestions for alternatives:
- Tarot cards often have lovely god/ goddess images which you can set on your altar.
- Find statues in antique stores. These may be pricey, depending on the store.
- Make statues yourself, out of clay or Sculpey or home-made play dough.
- Find symbols that represent the God and Goddess to you, such as a sun and moon, or animals you find meaningful.
- Go to art/ history museums where there are statues of the deities you honor, and get yourself postcards of the deities to put on your altar. Or make color copies of deity images from library books.
- Set out candles of different colors to represent the Gods you are honoring.

Ritual Tools

Athames, Bollines, and Other Ceremonial Knives
A simple kitchen knife can serve perfectly well for a bolline or any kind of knife that you are planning to use to cut symbols into candles, cut slices of fruit during ritual, etc. You can decorate the handle of your kitchen knife as you choose (especially if you select one with a wooden handle, in which case you can paint it or carve it with runes or symbols).

For those who are not Wiccan purists, a kitchen knife can also be used as an athame (a knife used to direct energy). However, Wiccan legend has it that a traditional athame is double-edged and dull. If this is an important criterion for you, it may be more difficult to find an athame. You can check antique shops (though they may be pricey); but Pagan merchants are probably your best bet. You can find some inexpensive athames here (but keep in mind you will have to pay shipping costs).

A couple of alternatives:
- a letter-opener (can be wood, metal, etc.)
- a clay modelling tool (easy to find in art/craft supply stores)

These alternatives may also be helpful for those who feel uncomfortable working with blades (dull or no) or don't like the symbolism of a knife. In addition, there's no reason you need to direct energy with a knife if you don't want - you can use a wand, or simply use your hand.
Again, a kitchen broom will suffice and will be less obtrusive if you're concerned about what visitors may think. I especially recommend this if you're a beginning Witch and trying to put together some basic tools for yourself; or if you're a teen Witch living at home. You can use your regular broom if you already have one, or buy one cheaply at a household supply store.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to make my own broom during a workshop at a pagan festival, for only a small supply fee. If you want to make one on your own, it may take some time and some expenses on craft supplies. How much time and expense will depend on whether you want a really functional broom (i.e. a broom that sweeps physical dust and dirt) or a ceremonial broom to sweep energy only.

Here is a quick set of directions for a broom which is probably not too functional: Classic Halloween Costume: Witches' Broom. Alternately, here is a more involved set of directions for a more functional broom: Making a Broom.

Overall, I recommend going with a simple kitchen broom unless and until you feel you have the time to put into a major craft project.
It is probably cheaper and easier to buy candles than to make your own. Grocery stores and discount stores like K-Mart often have candles available for very cheap. Soy wax candles are really nice and environmentally sound if you can afford them.

In case you want to try making your own (I've done it once, with friends, and it does take a good deal of time, knowledge, and carefulness), here's a great site about Candle Making Techniques.
Cauldrons can be used to burn paper or herbs, to hold candles (or to float votive candles in water), to burn incense on charcoal, or simply to hold water, representing either the Goddess or the element of water on your altar.

A real cast-iron cauldron can be fairly expensive - even a small one may cost you $25 or more. They also take some maintenance - they should be seasoned before using, just as gourmet cooks do with cast iron cooking pots, and they may need to be seasoned again later on. Here are some instructions for seasoning a cast iron cauldron.

Instead of cast-iron, you can find a cauldron made of some other substance, like copper or brass. These cauldrons can be found in craft stores or kitchen stores. The advantage to brass or copper cauldrons is that they will cost less, will probably require less maintenance work, and will be less visibly witchy.
A simple solution for an inexpensive chalice is to simply go out and find a nice wine glass whose shape and appearance appeal to you; you can probably find one for a few dollars. If you or your family already have a wine glass, you can simply use that (and return it to the pantry after ritual!). If you get your own, you can choose to paint designs on the outside of it with glass-appropriate paint. Or if you like, some craft stores have acid for etching designs into glass (but be very careful to use it correctly and safely).

I have seen a lot of lovely pottery chalices (including one which was given to me as a gift), but these tend to be more expensive. This is something you might be able to ask your friends and family to give you for the holidays without requiring too much explanation. If you happen to have access to a pottery studio, you could make your own.

You can buy ones made out of other materials, such as silver, which will be less breakable than either glass or pottery.
Stick incense is your friend. It is cheap and easy to find, and all you need to burn it are some matches and a cheap wooden incense burner. I do NOT recommend cone incense. It's difficult to light, and even more difficult to put out (as opposed to stick incense, which you can snuff out easily partway through - this saves you incense, which saves you money).

Burning real incense (small chunks of resin which are dropped onto smoldering charcoal) is more expensive and messy, and it take more work; but it is really nice for atmosphere and the scents are more authentic. Charcoal is also difficult to light and can't be put out once it starts to burn. You can do this in a cauldron or other vessel on top of a bed of sand or salt.
Ritual Clothing
Some people wear jeans and a t-shirt to ritual. Some people prefer to go naked. Others like elaborately decorated ceremonial clothing. Still others wear simple robes or flowing clothing. This is a style preference, and it's up to you. You shouldn't feel any pressure to dress the way you think Witches "ought" to dress.

If you do want to make a robe, there are patterns you can find fairly easily for monk costumes or choir robes. If you are not a gifted sewer or don't have access to a sewing machine, making your own robe may be difficult. In this case, put off making a robe until you have more time or money, or a friend who's good at sewing.
Some people like very fancy wands, decorated with gems and wire and other trappings. My personal preference is for a simple stick. This is very easy (and obviously inexpensive) to find, simply by going out into the woods or into a park near you and finding a stick which speaks to you in some way. If you want more decorations, you can carve things into it or paint on it. Make sure to check which kinds of paint work on wood. If you do want to incorporate gems, copper wire, or some other type of additions, wire and other supplies can be found fairly cheaply at craft stores, while gems can usually be found cheaply at nature/ learning stores.

Here's a WitchVox article about Altars for the Frugal.

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