The other night, at the magical experiments meetup, I got into an interesting conversation with Victoria and Sara (Two of our regular members) about whether magical tools are essential, in and of themselves, or if they are just props. Sara made an interesting point that when people argue that magical tools are just props or window dressings, they are being dismissive of them, instead of recognizing the important role they can play in a practitioners work. I have, on occasion, argued that magical tools, herbs, crystals, etc., are props or window dressings, so when Sara made that point, I listened. When I've used that phrase that magical tools are props/window dressing, I've used it to make a point, namely that what makes those tools effective has more to do with the magician and his/her need of those tools as a means of working with the forces those tools represent. In other words, I treat magical tools as symbolic, and feel that once a magician understands what the tools represents, s/he can work with the underlying principles directly instead of continuing to use the tools.
Sara's argument is that magical tools have something inherent to them, which isn't symbolic. And she has a point. For example, the effects that herbs can have on a person aren't symbolic. So there is something to be said for working with certain types of magical tools and recognizing that those tools have something to them that goes beyond symbolic. An additional point to consider is that some magical tools are used across traditions and have a history of specific uses and purpose that, for people within those traditions, and that specific use can't be replicated by the magician alone. Something else I've considered is that the tools create the atmosphere, set up the space that people work in. A lit candle, incense burning, chants, and ritual tools, all of it creates a space people can work in.
With all that said, what I really came away with from Sara's conversation had more to do with being aware that how some people treat magical tools and their importance is going to be different then how other people treat them. The question is can someone like my respect that difference. And the answer is yes. I can respect that the importance and meaning a magical tool has differs from person to person. At the same time, I also know my own view on magical tools, which is that they have their uses, up and until the magician no longer needs them. For some people, no longer needing a tool may never be an option and this doesn't make that person less of a magician. It just means that person works within a specific system where those tools are essential. On the other hand, a person who can work with a tool and then at some point no longer need the tool because of how they understand the principles the tool embodies also isn't less of a magician because they don't perceive magical tools in the same way that the other magician does.
Each magician has to decide what the relevance of magical tools are, in relationship to their practice. I can tell you what the relevance of those tools are to me, but that doesn't really matter. Whether you consider magical tools essential or you consider them to be props doesn't change that magical tools serve some type of role in the practice of a magician. I use magical tools in my practice. Over time, some of those tools are no longer used because I've embodied those principles. But at one time I did use them and even now what they represented, the principles they embodied are still relevant to my practice. Magical tools have relevance and importance. The degree varies from person to person, but that doesn't change that they fulfill a specific purpose and function.