Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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Swish and Flick: Wands Part II

I told you all in my previous article on wands that they were my favorite tool, and I wasn't kidding.  I've always loved the idea of waving a wand and casting a spell.  I used to carry around wands, staves, and rods as a kid- some made of driftwood, some more ornate deals of crystal and metal.  It helps having a mother who was a sci-fi fan and also essentially pagan, when one is secretly training to become a first-class sorcerer and witch.  That was my ambition as a child, and honestly I'm rather happy with how things turned out.

But I digress- the point is, I've had wands of all shapes and sizes since I was very young.  And one thing always used to drive me crazy about them.

There wasn't ever an instruction manual on how to use them!

I'm serious!  Every book I read, ever show I watched, people just vaguely gesticulated in a dramatic fashion with the things, and magic shot out of the end.  And while that's great for "energy workers" and the like, it always seemed highly imprecise and inelegant as a method of magic to me.  What sort of sorcerer worth his salt and incense would be caught dead with such a banal method of magic?

So, I started researching wands in specific cultures- the dorjes of Vedic magic, the pointing bone of various necromantic traditions, the spindle and the world tree from European folklore...  All of them had a completely different philosophy on how a wand "worked."

And yes, all of them had a thing in common- you just point the thing and say the word.

Truthfully, it wasn't until Harry Potter came along that I had any indicator that anyone else had any sort of interest in actual gestures with a wand.  Until Professor Flitwick said those famous words, wand magic was point-and-click, not swish-and-flick.

For me, Harry Potter was gold- here was a system of magic that centered around wands and their use.  It was clear that one couldn't just wave the wand around with no consequences- they were like loaded guns coupled with paintbrushes.

Unfortunately, Jo Rowlings didn't take it terribly much further than that.  There were a few described gestures in the books and movies, but that's all.  Witness my deep disappointment.

On the plus side, this was enough to get me really motivated.  I created my own entirely-relevant-and-functional method of wandwaving, and said goodbye to inelegant point-and-click magic.

The following steps are advice for those who would like to do the same:

  1. The idea of what makes a wand work is different to nearly every culture and tradition.  As I described in the previous wand article, Harry Potter's wand magic is similar to working with a Familiar.  It relies upon a spiritual source of magic at its "core." 

    This is standard in all forms of wand-work.  Pointing bones work through the power of the dead- the souls of the deceased bound to the bone enact the will of the caster.  Dorjes are like the lightning rods of Indra and Shiva- they conduct heavenly power from above unto this plane.

    What this means for you: the power source your wand draws from will often have other aspects of tradition associated with it.  Those influence will impact how you design your gesturing system.

    This is also true in geekomancy- if you draw your wand practice from Legend of Zelda's scepters, you'll want to know what kinds of scepters and rods they have, and how they were used.  After all, the Rod of Seasons couldn't be used just anywhere- you needed an old stump to stand on, so you were in touch with the Maku Tree and the forces of Nature.

  2. Create a gesture for each different kind of change there is in your wand's magical system.  There are 24 runes in the elder futhark- if you're casting spells from the Germanic spindle-wand method, you'll probably want to use a set of gestures reflecting those.  Likewise Hebrew letters, Sanskrit, Enochian symbols, and the Alphabet of the Magi- learn the basic symbolism behind those symbols, and work out how to create wand gestures representing each and every symbol in the alphabet.

    If you're working with the Chinese system of chi based on the Eight Trigrams, you'll probably want a gesture for each of those, and also gestures for old and new yin and yang chi.  You'll also want to work with the eight directions, as those are central to the practice of Taoist sorcery.

    Likewise, geek and pop-culture magic have lots of different ways of measuring change too.  In Final Fantasy video games, there are six elements, and each has a different kind of magic.  D&D has eight different schools of magic, and around 39 different domains of clerical power.  These are examples of kinds of magical change one can enumerate using gestures.

  3. Make your gestures fluid: wand-waving is a practice which must look elegant and must flow together.

    For example: if one works with the ogham fews, gesticulating with the wand to "draw" the forfedha in the air is probably not the most effective and fluid way to use the wand.  Better still might be a set of gestures representing which of the five "realms" one is drawing from, and which of the four "zones" in that realm one is casting, coupled with the name of the few.

    Actually... ogham would probably be relatively easy to turn into wand magic.

    In any case, remember that your gestures shouldn't look obviously linked to a tradition- don't just draw a rune or a Sanskrit seed-syllable over something with a stick.  Work out a gesture which moves fluidly from one gesture to another, and can be masked as simple theatrics. 

  4. "It's leviOHsa, not levioSAH."  Practice with your wand, and speak your incantations in harmony with your gestures.  Whisper or chant or howl the spell as you like, but move your wand in tandem and in sync with the spell.  Working with both wand and word allows one to create two threads of spellcasting, working simultaneously on different planes of attention over the subject.  The wand catches the eye, the words the ear.

Interestingly enough, a few of my friends have a form of "Paper Rock Scissors" using five of Harry Potter's wand spells.  Three of their gestures are similar to motions I use in my wand magic.  *grins*

Questions or comments about wand magic?  Have any interesting stories to share?  Leave a comment below!  :)

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S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno. He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.


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