My Favorite Ritual Tool
Ritual tools are personal things. They are objects that we find evocative, meaningful, symbolic. They whisper stories to us, and those stories are folded into the meaning of the rituals which we perform with them.
Atheopagans vary widely in the kinds of ritual tools they use, including those who don’t use tools at all. The use of tools in rituals—typically, ritual knives (“athames”), wands, patens or pentacles, chalices and incense burners and so forth—is one of the threads of Western occultism that was woven into the fabric of Neopaganism as it arose in the mid-20th century, and it persists today in most of the Wicca-style Pagan traditions.
I use tools in most of my rituals. It doesn’t matter whether I actually “use” all of them; laying out items that have symbolic significance to me in a Focus for my ritual lends psychological power to the work. And there is something lovely about having beautiful, meaningful objects with which I carry out my religious observances.
Over the decades, I have collected or made a pleasing collection of these tools: an obsidian-bladed knife with an oaken hilt made from a branch I found in my favorite state park, which fits my hand perfectly; the rest of the branch is still embedded in the Earth atop a rise in that park. A ceramic chalice with a motif of grapes and grape leaves. A water-clear quartz crystal. A piece of slate engraved with the triple-spiral motif from the Newgrange passage grave in Ireland. A wand of redwood, with a silver dragon wound around its base.
That sort of thing.
But of all of my tools, one is most precious to me because it tells the most amazing story of all: the story of human evolution. It is an Acheulian handaxe, a quartzite stone tool typically found associated with the remains of homo erectus. Found in Libya and bought from a Dutch archaeological antiquity dealer, mine is between 200,000 and 800,000 years old.
It is hard to describe what it feels like to hold such a thing. I got mine when I was about 40, which means that if it is actually its youngest estimated age (200,000), and I live to be 80, I will have possessed it for point zero two percent of its existence.
It’s humbling, and awe-inspiring. And those aren’t even the kinds of time spans we try to comprehend when we consider life as a whole, or planets, or stars.
So when I am doing rituals that are about Deep Time, or the Big Picture, the Acheulian handaxe definitely comes out.
It’s common for humans to have things with symbolic meaning…what we often call “sentimental value”. Atheopagans are just more deliberate about it, and conscious of how to use these associations for our psychological benefit.
What are your favorite ritual tools?