Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wands and Orbs, Dumbledore and Damodred

Today it's time for another post about magic (just a note - when I use the word 'magic,' I don't mean legerdemain).  This time I'll be discussing the implements that many magicians use in their practice.

Most of you reading this probably don't know any practicing magicians as such.  For various reasons beyond the scope of this article it is unwise to advertise one's practice of magic (both due to societal concerns and because a certain degree of secrecy heightens magic's functioning).  However, you may know someone who practices without your knowledge, or you may yourself be a practitioner.  It's likely though that you do not have much familiarity with the practice of magic, except through a variety of media outlets.  To provide a nice contrast and tie in fictional worlds you may be more familiar with than the practice as it exists in ours, we'll look at the how implements work in the worlds of the Harry Potter series and the Wheel of Time series.

In the alternate modern world of Harry Potter, a tremendous amount of power is vested in wands.  The statement that "the wand chooses the wizard" is no aesthetic sentimentalization; it is simply how things work in that world.  A wizard without their wand is like a space marine without magnetic 'gravity' boots, an author without implements of writing, or a news anchor without a camera.  Nearly all of the magic used in this series depends on the use of one's wand, besides things like potion-making.  Wizards deemed unfit to practice magic simply have their wands broken and the power to control it is stripped nearly entirely away.

This is far from an accurate depiction of magicians, but it does fit the way J.K. Rowling chose to write her tale.  The characters come from the modern world with all of its banality, so their capability to move beyond that into a world of glamor must be explained by an object, especially given the materialistic rules of the Muggle consensus reality.  This approach does reflect on a certain aspect of real modern magicians - implements have a well-placed role in designating certain moments as liminal ones where the situation involves magic, and their absence in other moments can help remind that it's time to deal with the mundane side of the world.

In the Wheel of Time series, however, (at least as far as I am into it, which is not very at this point) there are no magical artifacts that would resemble the power of a wand at Hogwarts.  Magic, in this series, truly comes from within, and in the first book Moiraine repeatedly reminds characters who are less knowledgeable about magic that their function is chiefly to direct the attention of the mage.  Of course, Moiraine can do some incredible things when she directs her attention with an implement that has a long and legendary history, but the magic always comes from within.

It's probably fairly reasonable to make the assertion that a fantasy author's attitude towards magical implements and how necessary they are reflects certain attitudes toward technology.  These days many people get a great deal of stress simply when their internet service goes down, much less when they suffer a power outage.  They are certainly living in a reality-tunnel where the wand chooses the wizard.  Others simply go outside.  However, I don't want to confine our interpretation of magical implements in fantasy stories to a symbolic one, so let's discuss how they are actually used in the real world.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the chief reasons you would use magical implements at all is in order to create a situation where your beliefs don't interfere with your magical capabilities.  Even if you have embraced the possibility of magic, you are still operating from a mindset that is largely generated from life experiences where you and the people you see act as though magic is nonexistent or irrelevant.  Using an implement when you practice (and only when you practice) is a nice shortcut through this barrier.  And since your conditioning will accumulate, the longer you stick to a system like this the more effective it becomes.

Keeping the implement out of contact with your mundane life is one of the most important acts you can do to preserve its functioning.  In many schools of ceremonial magic, it's held that only you should touch your implement once it is consecrated, and that if another touches it you should re-consecrate it before using it again.  To me this seems to miss the point a bit.  The fact is, yes, you should not have the implement out where everyone can see it because then it just becomes another odd or end.  However, maintaining a restriction like this isn't necessary, though it may be a useful belief to help empower the implement.

Now let's talk a bit about different kinds of implements.  The traditional four, which you might recognize from the Tarot deck or their modified forms in ordinary playing cards, are the Wand, the Cup, the Sword, and the Disk.  These four correspond approximately though not perfectly with the four classical elements - the wand is a channel for the will, the cup receives impressions, the sword cuts through what does not belong where it is, and the disk functions as a map of the universe.  These four functions are each important in magical practice, but it's certainly not necessary to have a physical tool for each of them, or to have separate tools for each.  Implements whose functions are determined by their qualities rather than by some arbitrary correspondence to the four traditional implements work better, in my experience.

For instance, I use an orb in many of my own workings.  It's not a crystal ball though I do sometimes gaze into it to put myself in a trance - rather, it's an orb made of fiber optic material all oriented in the same direction.  Along a particular axis, light simply flows right through it, albeit filtered by the material.  So when I use the orb, I use it to open the way to other parts of the universes I inhabit when I practice magic.  If I need to experience the room as filled with a golden light, I direct my mind to a place filled with golden light and allow the light to emanate to where I am through the orb I hold.  If I need to bring in the stark tingle of alchemical sulfur, I concentrate on an imagined place where this principle is active and allow this energy to enter the working space through the orb.  When I work with entities, I place the orb between myself and the effigy I'm using to represent the entity, and sometimes I find myself imagining the entity with the orb between itself and a representation of myself.  The point is that anything wondrous enough to use as a magical implement has its own particular properties, and those should serve as an inspiration for the way it is used.

Anyway, I hope you've found this article at least interesting, and perhaps inspiring for your own practice.


  1. This is actually rather interesting. I've never really given the practice much thought before, I must admit.

  2. Interesting stuff, i knew of the cauldron, the sword or dagger called ATAME in my culture but i ignored the Disk entirely

  3. @Malkavian: If you don't mind my asking, could you disclose a bit about your culture, as you say? Are you a participant in the Neopagan revival, a disciple of Gerald Garnder, or a part of something older, perhaps?

  4. Well i was an eclectic Wiccan and had a girlfriend that was pretty deep in that stuff, 1 year and a half i studied with her but it was not meant to be. After that i never practiced or followed up on it.

  5. Sounds like an interesting life experience. I hope it didn't end too badly.