Disclaimer: Any of the tools or implements featured in this series of blogs are not my personally consecrated tools. They are either tools I have previously used which are no longer in service or pictures kindly donated. I have made the personal choice not to photograph my own working tools to protect their sacredness and integrity. This is my choice and a matter of personal opinion.
The Stang has possibly become one of the most quintessential implements of the Traditional Witches’ practise and so is the perfect place to start this series of blogs. Popularised by forbearers such as Robert Cochrane, nothing inspires and enflames me more than approaching the Stang with all its adornments. Standing before this sacred image is tantamount to coming home after a long, hard day and the Stang itself is far more than just a forked staff, its uses and symbolism are rich and varied and most importantly it should become one of your oldest and closest friends along the crooked path.
Creating a Stang should not be rushed. It’s very tempting, especially when starting out to want to rush and collect your tools as soon as possible. Trust me, it’s far better to take your time and get the right one, than just go out and collect any old Stang that a month or two down the line may not feel right and you have to start all over again and will have wasted not only your time and energy but damaged some poor tree in the process.
The best way to begin is by asking ‘The Powers’. This can be done through a simple prayer during usual devotional practises or, when out for walks, you can enter a visionary state and ask the spirits to guide you. They will either lead you to your Stang or they won’t. Don’t be disheartened, trust and most importantly be patient.
You may be shocked when you find the tree which will birth your Stang. Whilst Robert Cochrane and such like talk extensively about the importance of the Ash Stang, try not to limit yourself to this. If you should be lead to an Ash tree and take your Stang from that then so be it. Mine however is Hazel and I know when I hold it its right…I get knots and butterflies in my stomach and the wood seems to give in, almost melt beneath my touch. Better to be led by instinct and spirit, than books and other people’s experience…no matter who they are. Nothing in The Craft is or should be cast in tablets of stone.
Now you have found your Stang growing happily start to build a relationship with the tree. Research the tree, what was the wood traditionally used for? What references to the tree appear in myth and folklore? How does the tree or the wood feel? What impressions do you get from the tree when you spend time with it? Where is it growing? How does it grow? Keep notes… you may be surprised at what you find out.
This part of the process takes as long as it takes and the time to cut the Stang will arrive (yep you guessed it!) when the time is right. When the time does finally come, create a small ritual of thanksgiving to the spirit of the tree. On the day visit the tree, commune and hold your Stang whilst it’s still attached, let your energy mix with the tree’s. Ask the spirit of the tree and your Gods if you may take what you need. See what happens…you may get a positive or a negative sign. Assuming the sign is positive (if you have got this far in the process chances are you won’t get a negative response but you may get a “not now!”) I then bind my cord above the area I wish to cut. This amongst other things symbolically tethers and contains a portion of the greenwood spirit of the Stang. I then cut below the cord. I always cut the Stang slightly taller than I think the finished article should be. Cut too short and you won’t be happy with it and again you’ve wasted your time and a tree’s sacrifice. It is far easier to trim a Stang than try to add wood to it!! Be as quick as possible and do as little damage as you can. Once cut immediately wrap your Stang in black fabric and, until consecrated, it should not touch the earth (a black double duvet cover or sheet is perfect for this!). Then return to the tree and give thanks and offerings of water, bone meal, milk or even blood; whatever you feel is appropriate for the sacrifice. Seal the wound with horticultural putty to prevent infection or rot in the parent tree.
Others advocate or are not object to using fallen wood, its personal preference.
Now you can take you Stang home. Look at it, examine it. If you are planning to strip the bark now is the time to do that and in most cases the bark will peel off easily like skin off a banana but this all depends on how old the wood is and of course which wood it is. This is also a very important part of the process as this is when it truly starts to become *your* Stang so enjoy this process, take your time and bond.
The Stang should then be left in a dry ambient place to dry out (a room indoors with minimal temperature fluctuations is ideal). You will notice the wood become considerably lighter in weight and colour (although some woods darken). You can then sand, shape and carve your Stang however you feel is necessary. No two Stangs are the same so don’t seek to make a carbon copy of a Stang you may have seen elsewhere. This is unique to you and your practise.
It’s a good idea to give the finished Stang a good treatment of beeswax or boiled linseed oil to protect the wood from atmospheric influences but even then it’s advisable to keep your Stang away from temperature extremes or humidity (so not in the bathroom, not outside and not near radiators!)
So now it’s time to dedicate your new Stang. I am not going to tell you how to do this or how I do this, that’s down to your personal methods, practises and / or tradition. The principle is the same as if you were dedicating any tool, providing the wood is virgin wood it shouldn’t need ‘exorcising’ so dedicate it to your Gods, Spirits and / or Ancestors according to the ways prescribed by your path. If this is the first time you have dedicated any working tool then cutting a circle, presenting the tool to the four winds and the Gods with a heartfelt statement of intent is sufficient for now. Some choose to bind their tool to them with blood or spit, some people even name / baptise their Stang!
There is one element which should be incorporated into your dedication. It is said that the Stang should always be ‘Iron shod’ which basically means should have an iron foot (i.e. a nail or iron plate) to stop the power and spirit of the Stang going to earth. I used horseshoe nails for this but the importance of this step and the symbolism is deeper than this alone and as I said before it’s important to understand this and come to your own conclusions…these are not things of which I should speak!
Now you have your very own Stang and it should serve you a lifetime with care. But what of its use, its meaning and symbolism?
On a more mundane level the Stang can be a prop or a walking or ‘Thumb’ stick, a support or a crutch. As mundane as these uses may appear they can provide valuable insights into the Stang’s deeper significance within the circle.
As I said before, I am not in a position to talk directly about the Stang’s ritual meaning. This isn’t due to some terrible Oath, it’s because everyone should discover the significance the old-fashioned way…independent study and hard work. The symbolism of the Stang is extremely deep and varied and combined with the adornments is an alter ‘a la Cochrane’ and its meaning can and does change dependent on the adornments (Crossed arrows, wreath and such like) and its position in the circle. You will continually modify and evolve your ideas the more familiar you become with your Stang.
To give you a head start let’s look at what others say of the Stang:
It is an Altar
The Tau Cross
It is the Bond between the feminine and the masculine mysteries
The Horn Child
Represents the Trinity (Mother, Father and Child)
It is the Middle Pillar
A symbol of Yggdrasil / The world Tree / Axis Mundi
It is a gateway
It is phallic
It is the moon
It represents life and death
It represents the triplicity of Fate
A symbol of The Horned God
The talking stick
A divining rod
The Two Faced God
Guardian of the Gateway
Sleipnir (Odin’s Horse)
All these definitions are equally valid and worthy of study and meditation. The Stang can be found in a multitude of magical and mythological traditions from Western Hermeticism and Kabbalah right through to Norse Myth and Legend. But remember work and practise with the Stang is the best way to understand why it has become such an integral part of the Witches’ repertoire.
You may decide in time to collect different Stangs for different uses. Most famous is the dreaded Blackthorn Stang used for darker perhaps even more Malefic rites depending who you ask. Bear in mind too that not everyone uses a dual-forked branch as Stang, some traditions use pitch or hay forks, some three pronged…in fact the two-pronged pitch fork, as described by Robert Cochrane amongst others is a truly wonderful sight to behold by the light of a roaring fire adorned in all His finery. Gemma Gary has a wonderful picture of a wide variety of Stangs on her website and I highly recommend visiting the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall which also exhibits an awesome collection of all Witches’ implements including Stangs.
Happy Hunting and Good luck!
‘The Roebuck in the Thicket: An anthology of The Robert Cochrane Tradition’ By E. J. Jones and R. Cochrane. Edited by Michael Howard. Capall Bann Publishing.
‘Western Inner Workings’ William. G. Gray (Sangreal Sodality Series Volume 1) Published by Weiser
‘Traditional Witchcraft; A Cornish Book of Ways’ By Gemma Gary. Troy Book Publishing
‘Witchcraft; A Tradition Renewed’ by E. J. Jones and D. Valiente. Robert Hale Publishing.
‘The Robert Cochrane Letters’ by Robert Cochrane with E. J. Jones. Edited by Michael Holward. Capall Bann Publishing