So, what are the bare basics, the things that will help you get started immediately? The options below won’t make it possible (or easy) for you to do every spell or ritual you come across in any source, but they are enough to get you started with solid basic practices without breaking the bank.
Go for the best materials you can afford. For example, glass is not much more expensive than plastic, but it’s a much better magical tool. In general, natural materials (glass, wood, stone, metal, ceramic, cotton, wool) are preferable to purely man-made ones like plastics.
Keep your eyes open: You can often find lovely and inexpensive options at your local thrift store. Large home stores (including Walmart, Target, etc.) also often have things on sale that make for lovely ritual use – especially colored glasses, candle holders, etc.) Oil cruets can be great for consecrated water, and these places also have lots of little lovely dishes that can hold salt, herbs, an incense cone, or a small candle.
Who has nifty stuff? If your friends or family have herb gardens, ask if you can snip a bit to dry and use at home. If they buy from big warehouse stores, ask if you could have a bit of their culinary herbs to take home to tide you over? Are they looking to find a home for something you could use?
As you can, let people know what would be useful: You don’t need to tell them exactly what you’re going to use it for – but you can share that you’re really enjoying candles right now, or that you’d love a gift card to your local bookstore. And interesting stuff may just fall into your lap, too, with people saying “I thought of you when I saw this at the rummage sale” – even if they have no idea why.
My altar, for a long time – my first couple of years – cost maybe $25 or $30 total, not counting jewelry and other things that weren’t actually necessary. A lot of things I either already had, or found very easily and cheaply (or got given) when I started focusing on my path.
- Cup or small bowl (glass, ceramic, metal: doesn’t need to be a chalice shape)
- Candle (and something to light it with and put it on). Votives are great, so are tealights. LED candles work if you’re somewhere you can’t have real ones.
- Notebook + pen that are appealing (a pretty journal cover, or one you draw and design yourself.)
- Flat surface (for altar/shrine)
- 1-3 recommended starting books with exercises and things to try. If you get these used, they’ll be cheaper. (And you can live without the book for a month or two.)
- Salt (table salt is fine: sea salt is a little better, but use what you have.)
- Holy water (You can begin with regular tap or filtered water, if you need to. You can leave a jar of water out under the full moon light when you get a chance.) And something to hold it in. A mason jar is fine, if that’s what you have, but a lid is helpful.
- Some item of clothing or jewelry you set aside only for ritual use. This can be very simple, or it can be more elaborate. A shawl, sarong, or other large rectangle of fabric is particularly handy, but you can use what you already have.
Begin by learning basic skills: centering, grounding, shielding, breathing. The candle is a great focus as you practice basic meditation.
Set up a small shrine to your practice on the flat space. Learn more about cleansing a space, and you can use the salt and water to do that. (Combine them, bless them, and then sprinkle with your fingers in little droplets). You can use the cup for a self-blessing (bless the water with your intentions for the day/week, then drink it) or for scrying.
Total cost: about $30-40, most of which is the books. (the rest is probably under $10)
In the near future (2-3 months)
- Images, or better, paper + colored pens/markers/pencils for drawing.
- Branch (and sandpaper, and maybe wire and stones) to make a wand
- Simple seasonal decorations (fresh cut flowers, an indoor plant that suits the season, etc.)
- Several small dishes + containers (candleholders, salt+water dishes, etc.)
- A few more candles (for your main altar space: Lord and Lady, for example, or Lord, Lady, and Quarters.) plus appropriate safe holders.
- A larger container of salt to use in the bathtub (a cup or so at a time) or a specially cleansing bar of homemade/artisan soap can be a great option.
Start keeping your eyes open for affordable craft supplies. Simple craft supplies – several colors of felt, rolling beeswax for candles, some muslin bags (for herbal bath spells), markers or colored pencils, drawing paper, scissors, thread, etc. These will give you more options for magical work.
Embroidery floss is cheap and comes in lots and lots of colors: a great way to add color to your workings. (Buy white or natural colored candles. Need a green one for a money spell? Wrap the base in green floss.)
Polymer clay is not a natural substance, but it’s easy to work with, and great for making small objects for a shrine, a pentacle, etc. if you don’t have an easy way to work with other materials. (It goes for $2-3 a block, which is enough for a set of practice runes, a small object or bowl, a pentacle for the altar, etc.) You can also explore other self-hardening and oven-bake clays. (And, unlike wood or stone, it doesn’t take a sizeable investment in tools, or a lot of storage space to get started with: you do need to keep tools you use separate from eating tools, but can use an old knife, toothpicks, etc. easily.)
Total cost: $20 or so, not including the cost of plants or supplies (see if you can get cuttings from friends, or from nature.) Supplies could be very cheap ($5 buys a lot of embroidery floss) or more expensive, but you can keep your eye out for good sales.
In the following 3-6 months:
- Some kind of divination tool – Tarot decks run $10-20, you can make runes out of wood, painted glass, or even polymer clay, etc.
- Scent (incense, perfume or EO) and whatever you need to hold that safely. Stick or cone incense is probably cheapest.
- A range of common culinary herbs with magical uses: An ounce or two of each will last you for a while. Herbs from bulk herb suppliers and health food stores tend to be a lot cheaper than from the supermarket.
- Another couple of books, perhaps.
For herbs, I’d suggest starting with rosemary, lavender, sage, basic, cinnamon, thyme, rose petals, dill, and anything you feel really strongly called to. (Culinary herbs tend to be pretty safe to work with, though there are some that can cause allergies or are risky in large quantities during pregnancy.)
Total cost: depends a lot on your choices, but you can do a whole lot here with $10-15 or so a month over 6 months.
What’s not here:
The athame is perhaps the most obvious here, but it’s often the most expensive if you want a good-quality blade. Rather than spending money on something that isn’t right, it can make more sense to wait and save up for the right thing.
A good substitute is to use the first two fingers of your dominant hand. (which one’s dominant? Put your hands together without thinking about it. The thumb on top is the dominant one. It’s usually but not always your writing hand.) Using two fingers means it’s a more deliberate act, something you won’t just do casually while pointing something out to someone.
Alternately, there are a number of inexpensive mass-produced blades out there: a number run under $10.
Pentacle: This, you can make: from oven-hardening clay, by getting a wooden blank at a craft store and painting it, or even by drawing it on paper and attaching it to something solid. There’s a tradition of them being made from dripped or carved wax, too.
Cauldron: It is very useful to have a small container in which you can put a candle and burn things (things you wish to release, etc.) Cauldrons are designed well for this: they’re held up off the ground so the legs don’t burn the carpet or floor. This would probably be my first recommendation for a larger purchase, as they’re also useful for storing things, mixing things (with appropriate cleaning) and so on.
You can often find them cheaper at camping and farm supply stores than at Pagan ones. For personal use (i.e you by yourself, not a group ritual), a 3-5″ diameter one is plenty. (They get a lot heavier as they get bigger, too, which matters if you end up paying for shipping.)
Boline: as I said above, a decent pair of kitchen shears can do a great job, especially if you’re mostly harvesting plants anyway.
The larger tools: sword, staff, besom are all lovely, but if you’re working on your own, there are plenty of alternatives, including just plain not using them.
You might also want to read:
- Tools : an introduction to tools (and some alternatives that work well.)
- Finding time and space
- Shrines and altars
[last edited January 8, 2011]