They're nice to have. They make celebrating easier by providing a flat service on which to work.
Do they have to be made of a certain wood and carved in a certain fashion? Heck no - a coffee table or even a board supported by bricks can work quite nicely. I feel at this juncture, it may be prudent to mention care with regard to candles, an altar cloth and carpeting.
All of the above mentioned are EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE.
Another tip with regard to the candles - the wax drippings do not readily come out of carpet pile.
A small fire extinguisher within easy reach is a good idea whenever dealing with a flame.
An altar can be a terrific form of self-expression - how you view yourself Vis a Vis your faith. I try to add a decoration or two that reflect the season/Sabbat.
You can make your altar as fancy or as simple as suits you.
Many people use an altar cloth.
This can be something you have created yourself, embroidered etc. or it can be a scarf, which you find to be particularly beautiful and representative of the occasion for which it is used.
Expect the same effect from the candle drippings, it's a little easier to remove the wax from an altar cloth than it is from carpeting, but not much easier.
If the cloth is durable, try your hand at embroidery. Hand-embroidered symbols go a long way to making your altar cloth unique and special to you.
A concecrated (blessed) stone or metal object with a rune or other Magickal symbol on it. These objects posses powers based on the material and symbol.
The items of adornment you use for ritual should only be used for that purpose.
Everyday wear of items isn't a good plan - they can absorb unwanted, undesirable energies.
Ritual pieces also add a certain sense of why you are there - a reminder that this is a special time.
But, again - don't go crazy and max out your credit card.
You don't need a crown or headpiece - a nice pendant or ring is sufficient.
There are plenty of inexpensive but attractive pieces out there and again, try to create your own - it's not difficult.
Pick a pendant you like, adding a chain, perhaps the crystals/stones of your choice empower it and you have your own unique ritual jewelry.
A double edged blade used by some wiccans to store energies and draw their magickal circles. The athame is NEVER used as a tool for sacrifice, and is often dulled.
A controversial subject - some people believe only a handmade Athame is acceptable.
Others opt for a store bought one, which they then cleanse and bless.
Engraving your Athame with Magickal symbols is important - for this reason, a wooden or other engraving friendly surface is recommended.
You could paint the symbols but they will wear off after a while.
While a handmade Athame is a fantastic project - not all of us are so gifted.
If an Athame seems to be a necessity for you and you can't possibly fathom the method for creating your own - buy one.
Don't break the bank account though.
When you have found the Athame of your choice - you MUST cleanse it; bless it and empower it with your own energies.
This may take a while - this isn't a one shot deal.
I would recommend the cleansing, blessing and empowering to take place each night, 7 days prior to the Full Moon - with a full ritual on the night of the Full Moon to truly make it YOUR Athame.
NEVER, do this during a waning moon.
The waning moon is just that, the power is waning.
Be patient and wait for the appropriate time.
Do it right the first time.
Used to show the beginning or close of a sabbat (ceremony/holiday). Can also be used as a fertility charm or a talisman.
Depending on your tradition - a small bell is used to "call the quarters" just before the elemental powers are invoked.
A SMALL BELL - you don't need something the size of cathedral bells. A pleasant tone, not a bone-shaking clang.
A straw broom used today by some Wiccans to purify the area for the sacred circle. It is also used as a decoration and a sign of fertility.
A white handled working knife that has a curved blade. Unlike the athame(see above) this kife is very sharp and is used to harvest herbs, not harbor circle-casting energies.
Book Of Shadows / Grimoire
A personal journal of Magickal spells, tools, altar settings, and personal incantations of Wicca.
A Book of Shadows is a must.
It doesn't have to be fancy, It can be a binder, with regular lined paper; you can keep it on a diskette; it can be one of those hard covered blank books available at most stationery stores or it can be handmade.
I favor the handmade ones in this instance.
The Book of Shadows is by far your most important tool.
It contains all your rituals, your spells, recipes for oil blends/tinctures etc.
It is the personification of who you are as a Pagan/Wiccan/Witch.
A couple of pieces of a good quality wood, leather straps for binding, some lemon oil/beeswax - NEVER SHELLAC!! Drill three holes through both pieces to run the leather through and to hold in your paper and voila - your own handmade Book of Shadows.
Engrave it as you wish.
There is no limit as to how you wish your B.O.S. to represent yourself.
Make it as intricate or as plain as you want but make it yours.
Pen of Art
This is a special pen or quill used to write in your B.O.S. or for magickal workings. Keep it for that purpose alone. If you use a keyboard for your B.O.S - then that particular point is moot but you will still need a Pen of Art for your magickal work.
Bowls are absolutely necessary - they hold blessed water and salt for purification of the circle.
They don't need to be gold, crystal or silver however Mickey Mouse cereal bowls aren't recommended - they have a tendency to take away from the intent of the purification, but if that's all you have available - then go with it.
A candle is one area where I don't advocate scrimping.
You do need good quality candles.
Not only for their durability but because the cheaper candles emit far too much carbon when they are being burned.
DON'T EVER ATTEMPT TO LIGHT A METALLIC COLORED CANDLE!!!! While they may be sparkly shiny and Oh! so beautiful - they are also highly toxic when burned.
The larger votive candles that usually come encased in glass are a good bet.
If they are somehow knocked over, it lessens the danger of fire.
They also last much longer.
There are so many varieties of high quality candles out there, in all the colors you could wish for - there is no reason to hit the local bargain store and settle for something which could prove dangerous in the long run.
Scented candles are lovely but don't burn 8 or 9 different scents at the same time - you'll probably nauseate yourself and I don't think I have to mention what kind of effect THAT can have on a ritual ;never mind the carpeting.
A couple of complimentary scents are fine - a vanilla and a musk; an apple scent with a cinnamon; a lemon and grapefruit or dewberry.
There are natural scents available as well - white rain, summer breeze - that kind of thing.
The choice is yours but again, avoid the cheap varieties.
In this case, you get exactly what you pay for. Candles are important because they do set a mood - they provide focal points for concentration and meditation.
I consider them one of the more important accessories in ritual.
Psychology has quite a bit to do with any faith, with anything we attempt to do.
If the mood is right, the chances of success are greatly increased.
A cast iron, black pot, used to burn incense, brewing potions, or symbolically combinding the elements.
This is often used for spellcrafting and in some cases, actual cooking.
Obviously, if it is going on the top of your stove's burner or on your altar - keep it small and simple.
Cast iron cauldrons are traditional and do require special care, as rust is a problem.
When finished with the cauldron, ritual or the cooking is over - clean and dry thoroughly, then apply a small coating of oil to protect it.
Cast iron cauldrons are hard to find and expensive - if you can't afford the expense, then don't buy it.
Put a little bit of money aside, whenever you can.
It's not a necessity but it is a useful tool.
An incense burner, representing the element air during a ceremony.
It has long been known that certain scents can influence how we feel.
For this reason incense is a good tool to have.
There is some controversy with regard to incense - some purists believe only in the powdered type - which is sprinkled onto charcoal.
Some people use cones, others prefer the stick variety.
Again, some people believe only a certain fragrance should be used at certain Sabbats because they have "historical" or "magickal" significance.
If you are allergic to Frankincense or Sandalwood - it certainly makes absolutely no sense to use it.
It's virtually impossible to concentrate on the task at hand when you're sneezing, your eyes are itching and watery or you are searching around for your asthma inhaler.
This is not conducive to a successful ritual. I
I have found certain incense don't bother me and invoke certain emotions.
Jasmine, strawberry and vanilla work and while they may not be traditional; neither is a full-blown allergy attack in the middle of a ritual. A
Again, personal choice - may be borne out of necessity but a personal choice, none the less.
A sacred cup or goblet used to hold concecrated water or wine (sometimes cider).
Again - here is a matter of personal taste and choice.
If you want a silver or gold chalice - hey - it's your cash.
A glass or crystal wine goblet looks lovely in the candlelight and is far less expensive.
Your chalice will hold your ritual mead, wine or juice.
So make sure, if you choose a clay chalice - it hasn't been glazed with something lead-based.
Cords are often used to signify a Witch's degree, usually within a coven setting.
Cords are also used for knot magick, the binding or loosening of a spell.
A natural fabric is recommended.
If you are a solitary and you don't use knot magick, there isn't much point to having a cord.
Mortar and Pestle
These are traditional and are used to grind herbs, mixtures for healing or for magick.
Again, I would recommend their use - if only to keep with tradition.
They aren't an immediate necessity but eventually, they will be.
The symbol of a five pionted star. The lower 4 points represent the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and the top point representing akasha, or the focus of all energies combinde. The point is turned upward, signifying that all these energies are going to God and Goddess.
Must be present on your altar - it is a representation of who you are.
Again, it can be as elaborate as you want or as simple.
A good quality piece of wood with the Symbol engraved into it; a clay version ,fired properly so it won't dissolve into pieces; stained glass or just a larger pendant - but have one placed on your altar.
Meditate on its significance. The search for higher meaning, the feet planted on the earth/material world and the head to the higher power/spiritual world - the balance we aim to achieve.
A ritual robe is another one of the, not really necessary tools.
Again, a beautiful flowing robe, hand embroidered is a lovely thing to behold but absolutely not necessary.
Many Pagans celebrate ritual skyclad.
Avoid using a sewing machine - sew the robe by hand and empower every stitch.
Embroider it with symbols of your path and your Deities.
It can make you feel closer to your goal.
If you don't sew very well - by all means, use the sewing machine but try to embroider the robe by hand and empower your work.
If you must purchase a robe from a store, your sewing skills less than adequate - then again, at least do some work on it by hand.
Empower, empower, and empower.
Keep it simple, remember - you are going to have to wash the robe and iron it eventually.
Keep an eye out for the sleeves, bell sleeves are attractive but highly impractical, especially when working around candles.
Sleeves that are close to the arm and perhaps button at the wrist are best when waving the arms around a flame.
Celebrating the power of fire is one thing; actually becoming the fire is another one entirely and not recommended.
The Staff usually symbolizes the male energy, that of the God.
It should be engraved with this in mind.
Not necessary but nice to have and offers the owner a sense of fulfillment in having created it her/himself.
It's a stick, usually forked.
It is placed in the center of a circle as a symbol of the Horned God or other masculine Deity.
A representation of the Deity being invoked.
In some paths they are necessary - but make sure they aren't sharp - having to call the paramedics mid-ritual isn't a good thing.
Try explaining how a sword accident occurred to a couple of unimpressed police officers as the coven stands around in all their skyclad glory.
A Wand is one of those should but don't really need, items.
Your wand should be hand crafted from the wood pertinent to your path.
Carved with your symbols and of course, blessed and empowered.
Many people affix a crystal to the top, in order to absorb the energies/powers.
Make this one yourself, it's not difficult and it will absorb your essence as you work on it.