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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The Wand Chooses the Wizard

As promised, I'm writing on the subject of wands.  Sort of.

So throughout the series of Harry Potter, they drop little hints of what they later call "wandlore" for our consideration; wanding woods and wand cores, length and how bendy or firm it is (to be honest, none of them looked terribly bendy in the movies), eventually even getting into things like Priori Incantatum and wand loyalties.

The interesting thing for me is the dichotomy they demonstrate- the wands have their own power, but so does a wizard, regardless of their wand.  Wandless spells, nonverbal spells, and strange magical abilities such as those possessed by Seers, Metamorphmagi, and Animagi.

That dichotomy is the one I always try to express to my students- yes, you have your own magic, but so do the objects we use.  Some things conduct magic in a way that helps us with our own gifts. 

See, I get really tired of people saying "I've outgrown the use of tools."  I always ask them things like "Really?  Outgrown which use, exactly?"  With the really useful tools we get, the tool grows with us- we learn how to do certain things without it, and then we learn new things to use it for.  If a person doesn't use a tool anymore for various tricks, great!  But the objects used in magic are more than toys- they're gateways to initiation, just like we are.

Anyway, enough about that, back to wands.

Wands have always been my favorite tool.  Like a conductor's baton crossed with a laser cannon and a "pointed stick" from Monty Python- how could anyone not want one?  And HP actually had a system for what made a good wand- I liked that a lot.

I liked it so much, I translated it into a real practice by which one chooses magical tools of any kind.  And now I'm sharing it with you.

1. The Wand Wood: the material the wand is made from has to be treated carefully, as there are lots of things that can go wrong in wand making.  It's why really good wandmakers are so well-beloved and respected.  In HP, the trees capable of being crafted into wands are special, as two oaks aren't always identical.  Magical trees are unique somehow- they have something special about them, perhaps a strong spirit.

Real Life Equivalent: in witchcraft, we talk about things which have an abundance of life-force in them- mana, wic, nwyfre... there are all sorts of words used to explain this kind of virtue.  Hell, in the old days they often just called it 'virtue,' so that's what we'll use in this article.  It beats calling it "energy."

In the practice of magical artifice, we often look for unique materials for our crafts.  We pursue quality materials, correctly harvested herbs, rare gems, and so on.  We recognize virtue.  However, virtue comes in many different forms- a set of plastic dice with an opalescent sheen may be just what the doctor ordered, because of the virtue they carry.  Magicians usually know when something has virtue because they feel it- when it is picked up and moved, it tugs at them or ripples across them.  So, that's the first step- when finding or making an object, first be sure that it possesses the proper virtue you need.

2. Wand Cores: in HP, all wands are crafted with a magical core.  Those cores are harvested from magical creatures- unicorn hair, dragon heartstring, and phoenix feather are the cores used by Garrick Ollivander.  Other cores in the books have included veela hair, thestral hair, and Kneazle whiskers (I have no idea what the eff those are).  Each of these is a powerfully magical substance which can, through wandmaker artifice, become a wand core of strength and versatility.  However, Ollivander's method of making wands from powerful materials and letting them be the chooser of their witch or wizard proved very efficient, as the wizards who had a wand which chose them seemed to have greater facility at learning and practicing magic, and often more strength.

Real Life Equivalent: witches often have spirit familiars we work with, who come to us through various means.  Sometimes we summon them, and sometimes they just show up on our doorstep.  Their bodies are often animal, but even more often they are non-living objects which develop strangely mystical and weird characteristics- a deck of tarot cards which seems to speak with the voice of a snarky diva, or perhaps a staff with the head of a snake and a tendency to draw people to touch him when left alone for too long.

Those two examples, by the way, are taken from my own host of familiars.  The two in question are actually some of my more powerful spirit-companions and allies.

However, a spirit familiar living in one body (the aforementioned staff, perhaps) will often be quite different in demeanor and behavior when they are moved or begin dwelling in another body entirely (a mirror, for example).  This is similar to the argument that a wand core will change the temperament of a particular variety of wand wood once they are combined, often with unpredictable results.

3. The Length and Rigidity: in Harry Potter, wands will often have attributes which they share with their wielder.  A wand which is "unyielding," such as Bellatrix Lestrange's walnut and dragon heartstring wand, is indicative of her character- ruthless and firm.  Lucius Malfoy is said to have the same rigidity in his elm wand (also dragon heartstring, which apparently is the easiest of Ollivander's three cores to turn to and master Dark magic, likely owing to its status as a core which requires its host to die in order to be harvested).

Real Life Equivalent: through long exposure to a magician, a familiar spirit will gain attributes and abilities similar to said magician.  Likewise, magicians gain various powers just by associating with a specific spirit for a long period of time in intimate ways.  Many magicians believe in destroying servitor spirits or egregori after they've accomplished a specific purpose.  However, others believe in nurturing a long-term relationship, and providing strength and independence to their familiars long even after the magician has died.  It really depends on your tradition and your own opinion, in the end.

In any event, we can see a similarity here- a spirit has its own nature, the object has its own virtue, and when it awakens to a relationship with its magician, it begins to develop new qualities, a unique animus which can be helpful or frustrating depending on how well-suited the magician is with his or her new familiar.

This key is what I use whenever choosing any magical tool, and it serves me very well.  By letting myself choose familiars not based on my own greedy sense of entitlement, but rather by letting them find and choose me, I have managed to collect a rather formidable host of loyal spirit allies and friends, many of whom I consider family.  They often act of their own accord, in order to assist me.

And all of that, from reading a series of fantasy books originally meant for children.


Soon, I plan to post Part II of this blog article, wherein we examine the use of the wand and how it translates into our real magical practice.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them!  Do you subscribe to the Ollivander method of Familiar Work?  Or do you follow a different practice?

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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.


  • G. B. Harte
    G. B. Harte Saturday, 24 August 2013

    I have several 'wands'.
    I have a wand I obtained at a Renaissance Festival years ago.
    I also have small 'twigs' salvaged from the ground.
    I do not have anything like the 'wand' described in the article.
    I never knew anything about such 'wands'.
    I thought I was doing good to rescue/salvage a 6 to 8 inch fallen branch/twig.
    I have used such 'wands' for years.
    That was a very informative & enlightening article.
    There is much to think & study upon in that article.

    18:08 pac.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Saturday, 24 August 2013

    My collection of wands is fairly extensive too- I have everything from driftwood pieces to Atlantean power rods to the Ebony Wand from Alivans. *chuckling*

    The important thing I would focus on when working with one's magical objects, be they a 'wand' or a mirror or a necklace or a pair of shoes, is to connect with their inner spirit. If you're animistic like I am, that's a literal being with a face and a voice, probably. If not, it might just be their 'essence' you're connecting to, or what they represent as an archetype.

    Or, if one must, you could just "connect to their energy." I personally have already mentioned in my blog that I LOATHE the use of the word "energy" for nearly all metaphysical references, but to each their own. *smiles*

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Saturday, 24 August 2013

    Thank you for your post. I tend to experience relationship with most things we call objects and try to be mindful of our collaborative workings.

  • G. B. Harte
    G. B. Harte Saturday, 24 August 2013

    Perhaps I am just having another very-quiet 'fuzz-out' day but is it even possible to have 'energy/energies' (of whatever kind/type/shape/form & function) wiithout first some kind/type & form of 'presence'?
    I can & do understand your anathemic reaction to 'energy'.
    At least - I think I do.
    It is overly generic & overly unspecified unspecific.
    'Presence' means a 'presence' of 'sonebody' or 'something'.
    Working with & thru that thought of 'presence' & yes, that 'presence's energies' I am able to use a found branch or twig as a 'wand'.
    I live with, associate with & work with & thru several 'ethereals'.
    Less 'work with' than 'study under guidance & direction of' said 'ethereals'.
    With all of that having been scribed .....
    I must admit to the student's inquiry of -
    "Atlantean power rod? Ebony Wand from Alivans"?
    I know not of either of these.
    What are they & what to they do?
    I think I will remain with my 'salvaged' twigs for now......

    19:19 pac.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Saturday, 24 August 2013

    Precisely- "energy" is either an adjective or a noun, a descriptor or a subject!

    As to your other questions-

    The "Atlantean Power Rod" is simply a wand made from copper tubing, quartz crystal, and leather wrapped around it. I'm quite fond of them, although I rarely use them.

    The Ebony Wand from Alivans is my Harry Potter themed wand- it's made from ebony wood, carved in an elegant stylus/conductor's baton style like the ones seen in the Harry Potter movies, and it's actually the wand I use most often. It's quite useful, not to mention beautiful.

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