Posted Under Paganism & Witchcraft

The Witch and the Wand: Dryads and Gesture in Magic

Magic Wands

For the past eighteen years I've been a professional wandmaker, so it may not come as a surprise that I would consider a wand to be a witch's most versatile magical tool. The wand represents and embodies the alchemical element of Fire, which is the element of the will or intention. What does that mean? We often hear people talk about having "passion" and "drive." You might remember Joseph Campbell's famous phrase, "Follow Your Bliss." That means to know what you want and what you need at the deepest level of your being, and then to have the faith in yourself and the Cosmos to follow the path towards that goal.

Yet, your "bliss" is more than a feeling; it is like a special spirit, a guide that will lead you and protect you, and which you can safely follow. It is to be distinguished from biological urges or appetites that arise from the body, rather than from the soul. Soul-desire and soul-intention comes from one's whole being—spiritual, material, intellectual. Put in terms of the four elements, the intention of your true self incorporates your earth nature, water nature, and air nature; that is, body, feelings, and thoughts. From these, a Fire is formed that carries the intention of your whole being.

A magic wand is the tool to express and direct this holistic desire. It is a tool of the magical will, but it is also a partner, because it embodies your whole self. Now, when practicing the Art of Magery, you need to engage the whole You, and that means the part of you that extends into the world, the nine planes of existence and even to the Absolute Being. You exist at all these "levels" of being and when using your wand or any other magical instrument, you must feel that whole expanse of your own being.

Part of using the magical will is learning to feel how your own existence extends into Nature and connects with all things—then, to open your consciousness into those connections. For the wandmaker and the witch employing a magic wand, the spirits of the trees are especially important. My first understanding of the dryads as spirits of the trees came when I was studying in England many years ago. I read about a wandmaker who included the dryad spirit of the tree into his wooden wands. Some years later, when engaged in the Ovate grade training of my druid order, I realized that a tree-spirit can be a powerful and faithful familiar for any witch or druid.

Dryad spirits are not separate from the trees. The ancient Greeks described them as appearing in the form of young women, just as they described naiads and nymphs. Humans tend to personify other beings—turn them into quasi-human form. While this might help us to relate to other entities, it can also prevent us from seeing how different these beings are from us. Dryads are like a human spirit in its essential nature: it animates the physical body of the tree and it extends beyond that body far into the many planes of existence. This is why you can cut a branch from a tree, make it into a magic wand, and re-awaken the tree's spirit in that small piece of its physical body. The spirit resides in every part of the being, just as our own spirit resides in every limb and organ of our bodies. Every witch knows that material ephemera such as nail clippings, hair, bodily fluids, or teeth may be used as a substitute for a person who is the object of a spell. It is so, because spirit adheres to material parts of a body.

A wooden wand taken from a particular tree not only embodies the spirit of that single tree; it also contains the spirit of the whole species of tree, for trees are intimately connected with each other. They have less individuality than humans have themselves (but humans tend to overlook how interconnected they are to other humans and to their ancestors). A tree has no brain. What passes for a nervous system and senses is different from ours and is less centralized. When you talk to a tree, you are engaging in communication that is really non-verbal. The language of trees is almost wholly gestural. This brings us to a crucial aspect of using a magic wand. Not only does a witch or wizard need to connect to the dryad spirit of the wand, but she must also join it in that language of gesture.

All spells involve some kind of gesture, even if it is no more than a glance of the eyes. Scholars of languages hypothesize that before words, our ancient ancestors used gestures to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Indeed, words themselves—that is, the production of sounds from the larynx—are also gestures. Breath, tongue, teeth, hands, eyes, head, feet—all are used to gesture and communicate. Feet you say? Yes, in dance! All these gestures are used in magery as well. A witch's dance is a powerful focus of etheric force and attunes a group of witches together into a stronger whole. The dance of a solitary Artist is a powerful means of communicating the intention and desire.

Likewise, the gestures made with the hands and the wand are parts of that dance. We should think of them in that light. When you gesture with your wand, you direct your attention and the attention of the Cosmos and its tutelary spirits. Gods, goddesses, and the spirits of place or Nature all dance together and understand the language of gesture. The incantation, song, or sound utterance of the witch follows the direction of her wand like a choir follows the baton of its director. Gesture is used to draw runes or sigils in the air or over the other material components of a spell. If such signs are drawn in ink or blood, it is nevertheless efficacious to trace them with one's wand. It is not the material writing that carries the magic; it is the etheric writing you do with your soul.

The Wand is Fire—not a destructive force, but one that transforms. This is the essence of much witchcraft: to transform one thing into another. By this, I do not mean turning princes into frogs or yourself into a pig. Far more spells are used to transform circumstances. When you spell for love or good fortune, wealth or protection, you are transforming the circumstances surrounding the object of the spell. Indeed witches know that circumstances (despite the literal meaning of the word) do not merely surround or encircle us. Every one of us is imbedded in a web of such circumstances; we are a part of that web, along with many other people. To magically shift a strand of that web to affect your fortune or happiness is a more delicate operation than brain surgery. The gestures and movements used are similarly delicate and precise. However, in the case of witchcraft it is not the material gesture alone, but the etheric gesture it guides, which is delicate and subtle.

The precision in using a wand to direct elemental Fire comes not only in gesture with your wand but also in the gestures used to make the wand. Every carving, inclusion, and symbol of the wandmaker's art is a kind of gesture that stays with the wand. A handle carved in the shape of an owl will carry the spirit of the owl into the work of the wand. The choice of wood also matters very much, for different trees are sacred for different types of magic. That is, the character of a beech tree, an oak, or a birch is tuned to particular uses. So, a birch for the bards, beginnings, and purification. An oak branch for protection, strength, and deep understanding. A beech for seeking knowledge and for study. A branch of yew for communication with your ancestors. Each wand embodies the particular dance and gestural language of the tree species from whence it came.

The witch's wand is used best when the dryad spirit of the wand is blended with the spirit of the user. Moreover, wands may contain crystals and stones, each of which carries its own spiritual qualities. The spirits of stones are as different from those of trees as trees are from us, but they are nevertheless spirits. So, they blend into the spirit of the wand when it is made and enchanted.

Finally, you may enchant into the wand a "core" using the etheric ephemera of an animal spirit—the feather of an owl, the hair of a unicorn, the delicate feathers of a phoenix, a shard shaved from a dragon's scale. So-called mythical beasts are as real as any other spirit in the astral plane. I myself feel the inclusion of that sort of animal spirit into a wand to be a particular stabilizing force when harmonized with the dryad of the tree. Animal, plant, mineral are thus united to the Human realm of the witch and the wand thus represents all creation.

This does not mean that every wand must contain all these elements in its construction. No, each is unique, but each will attune to certain patterns in the web of creation through these many elements. That can be good, if a witch feels it is manageable. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with a simple, pure wand of holly or maple, elegant and smooth without stones or crystals, symbols or any complication. I never leave out the animal core, however, unless a client specifically requests me to do so. It seems well to me that the enchanted core allows the weaving together of the dryad with the witch's own totem animal, which is really a part of herself.

In sum, a witch's or wizard's wand may take an almost infinite number of forms. Many witches have more than one wand, each dedicated to a special purpose. In my new book, The Witch's Wand, you will find suggestions on wands designed for each of the eight festivals of the year and many other particular purposes. Any wand can be used for any kind of spell or ritual, but sometimes you desire to have something specific to the work at hand. Cultivating your relationship to your own wand is the work of years, and should be approached as you would getting to know a friend or a member of your coven or grove. Or perhaps, as you would approach getting to know a part of yourself.

About Alferian Gwydion MacLir

Alferian Gwydion MacLir is a Druid Companion of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, a traditional British Druid order. He is Chief Druid of Geal-Darach Grove (O.B.O.D.) in Minneapolis, and a 32nd degree Freemason. In ...

Related Products

Please note that the use of Llewellyn Journal articles
is subject to certain Terms and Conditions
Link to this article: