Understanding Wiccan Ritual Tools: Broom or Besom?
Besom, broom, wand , athame... when seeing these items for sale or mentioned on the internet Non Wiccans can easily misunderstand their purpose, but they are not the only ones. Practitioner's that are new to paganism sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by the variety of ritual tools available to them and the uses and correspondences related to them. This article hopes to serve as a guide to lay person and new practitioner alike by revealing a little of the history and purpose of the common ritual tools associated with Wicca and related pagan paths.
What is more symbolic of witchcraft than a broom? A besom of course! While two names for the same object may seem only designed to confuse there is actually a commonly accepted small difference in definition for the two words~ besoms are usually made of twigs and are rounded, whereas a broom is flat and made of primarily straw. Does it actually matter which one you use? Not much, either will serve the same purpose, but owning a traditional witches besom may aid you in creating a sense of magickal awareness. The besom is used traditionally to clear negative energies from ritual space by sweeping. Often it is considered a masculine tool due to it's shape being similar to that of a phallus, but in a traditional besom made of ash handle and and birch twigs would represent both male and female elements.
The athame has a more modern heritage having been introduced into witchcraft, in it's modern form at least, by Gerald Gardener in the 1950's. There is some historical significance that ties it to the Key of Solomon in which mention is made of a black handled knife called the athame. Today athames come in a variety of materials and colors, giving the practitioner ample room to chose one that suits their personal taste and path. The athame is probably the most misunderstood and demonized ritual tool used by wiccans, ahead of even the wand. The athame is not used to let blood or in sacrifice as some would suppose, but rather to direct energy to a fine point when aiming it at something during ritual. The athame may also be used to cast the circle within which ritual takes place. Most Wiccan traditions forbid the use of the athame for cutting anything at all, in which case the practitioner must also use a boline which is traditionally a white handled knife to cut herbs, cord, ribbon, wax or any other ritual ingredient that needs to be cut. While the athame can be used as either a masculine or feminine tool, it is most often viewed as being the masculine counterpart to the feminine polarity of the chalice.
While the layperson may think of Harry Potter like tricks and spell casting when seeing the wand, Wiccans know better, and are often very fond of their own personal wand. The majority of traditions see the wand as a representative of the element of air, though there are some who associate it with fire. The use of the wand is very similar to that of the athame as it is used to concentrate and direct energy. Wands can be made of any of a number of materials and are often elaborately decorated or left plain to suit the tastes of the particular practitioner.
The chalice is the cup you will often see represented in pagan art. It is often depicted with the athame in a symbol of divine union. This depiction shows the use of the chalice in Wicca's Great Rite, although many practitioner's and traditions use the chalice for other rituals as well, including acts of communion, offerings, and libations.
Other tools common to the altar of the Wiccan may include a bell for clearing negative energies, a censer for burning incense, a bowl for containing salt or water, alter cloths, candles and candle holders~ in fact an alter is a very private spiritual space for many and there are as many ways to set up an altar and special tools for use in ritual as there are 'witches' who use them.