Or: “What do you actually need to be a witch”
I am writing this after I just got done doing a bit of urgent witchery work for someone close to me. Urgent, in the sense of “I got the email, and dropped everything I was doing to go do this.” I didn’t have time to plan it out. I certainly didn’t have a chance to time it to a particular phase of the moon or to get specific supplies. Just me, in my apartment, with what I’ve got on hand.
Fortunately, I’m a well-stocked cabinet sort of witch.
I’ve been doing this witch and priestess thing for a while, so I do have a reasonably full set of tools and items. I have a set of ritual practices at my disposal. But when I need something right now, I usually turn to the basics.
- An offering or two or three.
- A focal point
- An act or object to shape the working
And then whatever else I’ve got that might be relevant and handy.
First, there’s the state of me. How am I doing, in this moment, where I’m about to go do magic? Do I feel balanced? Unbalanced? Cranky? What mood was I in before I made this decision? What else do I need to do in the next day or five?
Because I have chronic health issues, pushing past a certain point means I’ll feel lousy for a day or two, possibly a few more, even if I start from ‘reasonably good health for me’. That’s true when I do something physical (like travel), but it’s also true for magical and ritual work.
This particular working is worth the ritual hangover I expect to have in the morning, but not everything is. If I had something extremely important in the next day or five, I’d want to take that into account with how far I went in the ritual. (In this particular case, it affected things in my regular life for about two weeks.)
Next, I am my own tool, as it were. I am, as one of my favourite elders has put it to me, a “professionally trained stunt priestess”. I’ve been around for a bunch of stuff, and done my best to work through it sensibly. I can use that experience and that knowledge, and all the reading and learning that’s been tucked into my head to help me out.
(If you don’t have that experience – yet – then you know you might want to keep things simpler, magically. A sudden need is not the time to try a new technique.)
I often start with “What do I already know about dealing with this? What have I done that’s similar? How did that go? What’s different here?”. Along with that is a “What tools do I like when I don’t have a bunch of time to plan? What have I got on hand? What can I do with that?”
Before I get started doing the magic, I generally want to do a bit of cleansing on me, so I’m not bringing unwanted energies into the working. There are a lot of ways to approach this.
For this immediate need, I didn’t want to go have a shower (no bathtub in my current apartment) since my hair takes forever to dry enough so
Instead I went and washed my hands ritually and brushed my teeth.
I usually keep a stock of nice soaps on hand, and also keep sea salt in the house. Mostly I cook with it, but I also use it ritually (for blessing a space) and a pinch of it will go nicely in cleansing work.
If you want to add a little blessing in there, I’ve started adding a bit of rose water or orange water. Both are lightly scented and fairly available at grocery stores that carry Middle Eastern food items, and usually just a couple of dollars. You can also order online of course.
An offering or three
I’m a big fan of offerings. I do a daily one that just involves energy and a little time. But…
I do a weekly offering that usually involves a candle, some incense, and some kind of food or drink offering. That means I usually have a couple of useful things in the house. They may not be the most perfect thing for a given intention, but what I have will usually work well enough in a pinch.
Incense is a common offering, and I generally keep half a dozen kinds of scents handy. Frankincense is a great all purpose offering incense, so I tend to have an extra stash of that, but I like being able to choose something that suits the ritual. Obviously, if you can’t use incense for any reason, don’t worry about the incense.
What I keep handy
I usually have cream, local honey, olive oil, and some kind of wine or mead, as well as gin (which I often use as an ancestor offering drink). The first three I use routinely in cooking, and the last three I go through fairly slowly. (Honestly, still the same bottle of gin I got years ago.)
In this case, I went for cream and honey for a bunch of reasons, both of which I had on hand, and a stick of frankincense from my favourite provider (Devonshire Incense).
A focal point
It helps a lot of magic to have something to look at or something to hold a focus.
A candle is a classic focal point for a reason. It can help us anchor what we’re doing in a way that has life and magic. Also, a suitably sized candle is great for timing things.
I keep small ‘birthday cake’ size beeswax candles that take about 20 minutes to burn down. I sometimes have small rolled beeswax sheet candles that take about an hour to burn.
If you can’t use a lit candle, getting an LED version may be a great idea for a focal point (they even make ones you can blow out now.)
In terms of colours, most of what I get is white or natural coloured, but I usually have a couple of others around. Pick depending on what kinds of workings you’re likely to need regularly or on short notice. (In the US, green will do nicely for both prosperity and healing, for example.) If I were aiming at a small selection, I’d probably go for green, red, black, and a nice selection of white or neutral options.
Stones or crystals also work well for a focal point, if you have something suitable on hand. They don’t need to be fancy rocks, either – smooth river pebbles can work fine.
I get jewellery from two different (great) jewellery makers (Elise Matthesen and Wyrding Studios). I’ll sometimes pick up an extra piece expecting I’ll use it for magical work sometime, whether that’s for me or for someone else.
Music is a great way to set the mood, prepare yourself, or have on while you’re figuring out what to do.
I am a music-driven human, so I always have a bunch of playlists handy for different moods. Even if I don’t have a perfect one set up for a given need, I can usually either put something together
My usual supplies
I usually have plain white tea lights (my default candle for quarter candles and general ritual use), some tiny white birthday candle style ones, and usually a small selection of small tapers.
As I said above, I like the rolled beeswax sheet ones for quick magical work. They burn down in about an hour, take oils or powders well if you use them.
I burn everything but the tealights stuck in a small cauldron (about 3 inches across) with incense sand in the bottom, because then I don’t need to fumble around looking for a safely sized candle holder. (You’ll need to add/replace the fine sand periodically.)
I have a selection of small stones I can use if needed – they’ve come from a variety of places and people. I also have the jewellery pieces mentioned above.
My playlists have a bunch of different kinds of focus. I maintain lists for different seasons and elements, but for ritual work I’ll often snag something that works for me.
For this ritual, I used a mix of a meditation track from brain.fm for part of the working, and Book of Rounds from October Project, when I shifted into just sending energy.
Something to shape the working
I find it really useful when doing magical work to have something physical that helps me bring the pieces of what I’m doing together in a single focus. If I’m doing cooking magic, that’s the cooking part, bringing the ingredients together and making something new. Same thing with blending an oil.
When I’m doing something on short notice, I tend to go for fibre magic in some form: I usually have the supplies on hand to do something, and most of those ritual actions are fairly well contained. By which I mean I can start the thing, do something meaningful, and wrap it up in an hour or so, without a lot of set-up or cleanup.
Many of them are things I can do when I’m feeling a little more clumsy or fumble-fingered. If you don’t sew, having a rainbow set of embroidery floss can be great and easily adaptable. You can braid or twist them, use them to hold something together, wrap a strand around a candle base for a goal (careful as it burns down).
Obviously, what you want to keep on hand for this is going to depend what your preferred go-to magical form is. For some people that’s going to be fibre, for some people it’s going to be markers or pens in different colours and blank paper. For some people it may be herbs.
Herbs are a thing I’d use in many cases. I have the sort of collection of random herbs a witch who’s danced with herbalism more seriously on and off for a decade and a bit has (plus my spice cabinet selection, which is not small…)
In this case, however, it was a specific need that I haven’t done much with before, and I didn’t want to take time to do the research to figure out the best options. So when you’re dealing with an urgent need, having a backup that doesn’t take research is good.
Since I like fibre, I usually have some spinning fibre and a bunch of yarn (I knit). For this particular ritual, I went for thread, because I’d just gotten a set of jewel-tone quilting threads for another project. You can braid them, tie them into patterns, twist them around other things, etc.
I also pulled a few snips of herbs out of my garden. Nothing super focused for this goal, but things I’ve tended and grown myself. (I grow these herbs in part because I like them, but also because they have some broad general uses…)
Whatever else might be handy
I have a fairly sizeable collection of ritual oils and other material these days (though my selection runs more to the stuff I do all the time, and not so much to the stuff I do less often.) That means that there were several things I could apply as relevant.
You shouldn’t go out and buy a bunch of stuff to have it just in case, but as you consider buying or making things, having some things that you can apply in various situations is definitely handy.
The same goes for stocks of magical herbs, essential oils, and whatever other supplies you might think of.
- Start with getting one or two things for something you care about a lot – prosperity, creativity, healing, protection, whatever those things are.
- Branch out next time you need to get something. Think about the gaps in your current supplies, and what might add something new to your cabinet.
- Learn more about what you’ve already got handy. Take a look at your spice cabinet and the magical properties in there, sometime.
Bringing it together
So what does that mean for a supply cabinet? Here’s a list of options that will give you a good range of flexibility, without being particularly expensive.
Don’t feel you need to run out and get all these things at once. Some of them may already be in your kitchen. Some can be gotten inexpensively from thrift stores or your grocery store. As you develop your skills and personal style and preference in magic, you can then branch out
As noted above, if you can’t use candles or incense for whatever reason, leave those out.
- Candles (tea lights and tiny tapers to start) and holders
- Offering (local honey, olive oil, cream, or alcohol that suits)
- Incense (general one for offering/ritual, possibly a sample of other scents.)
- Embroidery floss, thread, or ribbon in a rainbow of colours.
- Pens (selection of colours) and plain paper
- A few interesting stones
- Small amounts of 5-10 herbs
- A cup or bowl for water
- Method of lighting your candle or incense
- Music or sound that speaks to you
Salt. Sea salt is often preferred but ordinary table salt or kosher salt are both readily available in grocery stores and work fine. You only need a cup or so to cover you for a long time if you’re using it in pinch amounts in a ritual blessing or spell, but you’ll want more if you want to use it in a pre-ritual bath.
Candles and appropriate holders. I recommend two kinds of candle. It’s often useful to have something like tea lights or votives for ongoing ritual use (between 4 and 12 hours depending on which one you pick and the material). It’s also often handy magically to have something that will burn in a single use. Birthday cake candles are great for this (and you can get beeswax ones online, if you prefer to avoid paraffin). You may also want to check out chime candles or the rolled beeswax candles.
If you can’t use open flame, consider an LED candle – they make them in all sizes.
For candle holders, I have some small tea light holders (a plain flat dish will do fine), and put my tapers in a small cauldron of incense sand to hold it up right and steady. A small ceramic bowl will do fine for that. If you’re more organised about your candle size and storage than I manage to be, you can get a holder that fits the tapers you buy.
Something for an offering: Staple foods are common offerings in many cultures, so whatever a staple is for you works well (rice, bread, etc.) However, those may not be handy in a form you can offer if you need to do a ritual or working quickly.
Olive oil and honey are both largely shelf stable, and I regularly use cream for cooking (and tea), so it’s usually in my kitchen. These also conveniently cover the cultures of deities I’m likely to be making offerings to. That should give you an idea of where to start with your own list.
Incense is great for intention setting, for blessing your working materials, and for putting you in a ritual mindset. I keep frankincense on hand as a general ritual use, and then half a dozen other types I can pick and choose from for specific rituals.
I use stick incense almost entirely because it’s easiest to manage. (I have asthma, and while most of the time thoughtfully chosen incense isn’t a big deal for me, there are some times where I need to put it out quickly and let the air clear. That’s a lot harder to do with loose incense on charcoal or a burner.)
If you can’t use incense, consider whether scent is something you can add via perfume or something like rose water or orange water. If using essential oils, make sure they’re well-diluted in a carrier oil.
Embroidery floss or thread in different colours is inexpensive, easy to store, and very flexible when it comes to magic. I recommend keeping some on hand just because it’s so practical. You can braid it together, use it to anchor an intention to a candle (don’t have a green candle? Wrap a little bit of green floss around the bottom – just be careful as it burns down.)
Markers and paper – or whatever writing tool you like that comes in colours. Crayons, coloured pencils, gel pens, etc. are all fine too if that’s what you like or have. I think it’s good to have a rainbow here too (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black will cover many possible needs.)
A couple of interesting stones or rocks. Use these as a focal point, to hold or charge. They can be specific kinds of minerals or rock, or they can just be “pretty river stone I found that one time.” Tumbled is usually easier for holding or sticking in a pocket.
5-10 herbs with a broad range of purposes. I always have lavender, rosemary, rose petals, dill, basil, and some sort of warming spice around. (For me that’s usually cardamom. I love cardamom). It may take a bit of research to figure out a set you like, but you’ll notice that all of those are cooking herbs, though roses can be trickier to get.
A cup or bowl for water. This doesn’t need to be fancy, but it should be something that can hold a cup or two of water, and ideally be easy to clean. (Ceramic is easier than stone or wood…)
Sometimes you may want to charge water with energy and drink it or wash your hands with it. Pick a dark coloured bowl and you can try scrying in it. Mostly, though, liquids just need a container.
Method of lighting your candle or incense. I have a smaller butane lighter, but I also have a USB rechargeable lighter that’s really quite handy. Matches work fine. (Again, if you can’t do things with fire or smoke, don’t worry about this one.)
Music. If sound or music matters to you in ritual, invest some time building some playlists or other collections of music you can use in ritual. To start with, something you can use for meditation or focus is great (usually that means no words and no demanding melodic/harmonic structure.)
You may want to add additional items.
Small bowls and containers. Some ritual methods (including my tradition’s) want you to bless a small amount of water as part of circle casting. That involves a small jar of salt, a small dish for water.
In general, having lots of small dishes that will hold a few pinches of items is never a bad thing. Small is good because your altar can get crowded, and you don’t usually need a large amount of any one thing for most workings.
More herbs. Once you’ve gotten your basics down, you may want to expand out into other things. You might grow them or buy them, and they might be in different forms. It’s often pretty easy to add a couple of new options slowly over time, either as you need them or as you get interested in exploring them.
To keep costs down, I recommend starting with culinary herbs: they tend to be easier to get, and most of them are pretty inexpensive in cooking-size amounts. (There are exceptions, like saffron.)
Different kinds of items for making magic. We’ve talked about some basics, already, but you can expand on that.
- Like scent in your rituals? Explore perfumes (there are some great natural perfumers out there), essential oils (with appropriate safety precautions), extracts, herbs used to scent things, different kinds of incense. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is a great place to start for scents.
- Enjoy fibre? Maybe add some ribbon, yarn, or spinning fibre to your personal collection.
- Consider some small pieces of fabrics you can use for charm bags or poppets. Check out “fat quarter” options of quilting fabric to find a wide range of colours and patterns in a very usable material (usually cotton.)
- Like drawing or pens? Try different kinds of pens or drawing tools. Maybe some stencils. I have watercolour pencils that are fantastic for ritual work, because I can colour in the shape, and then ‘activate’ it by brushing the water across. There are a wide range of stickers and other stationary supplies that can be great for magical or ritual work too.
You get the idea. Whatever your thing is, start collecting things that give you a few more options at a time.
Written September 2020, posted October 10, 2020.