Short answer: Nothing.
Long and nuanced answer: What material objects you need for exploring your pagan practice depends on your goals, path, who it is for, and personal makeup. What you really need is what works for you, and what is ultimately a help, not a hindrance.
The ideal might be to have only handmade objects that were made by fellow pagans using sustainable practices and materials. But that may not be affordable or even available for many pagans. This post series is intended to give strategies for acquiring items for a pagan practice that don’t cost a fortune. Not having all the cool stuff does not make you any less of a pagan.
First Tip: Start Small
Paganism are religions of actions. You are not a pagan because of what you believe, but because of what you do. Gods/spirits/whatever you reach out to don’t really care how much you think of them, they care what you do to honor them.
The most basic pagan practice doesn’t require objects at all. Simply walk in the woods and sit and meditate by a tree. But because this is a post about pagan stuff, the most basic items you need are a candle (or something to help you focus), a comfortable place to sit, comfortable clothing, and an image.
Especially in the beginning, a pagan needs to be flexible, because…..
Your Practice WILL Change
The only certainty about paganism is you’ll end up a different place than you think you will starting out. Pagans who felt the call of a particular call of a god in childhood, and continued to worship that god until death do exist, but they aren’t the majority. Most will build relationships with other gods, or try different paths, or maybe will need to adjust their practice as the rest of their life changes.
Don’t go crazy buying the finest statue of a god that appeals to you before you have even made an introduction. The first god you reach out to may not respond, or may give a referral. When you start practicing, it is common to get a poke from someone you weren’t expecting. Or after starting on the Druid path to realize Wicca has a lot more appeal. Or maybe you’re more in tune with the local land spirits and ancestors than gods.
Those are things you don’t figure out until you start practicing. It is only in doing you find out what works and what doesn’t. Spiritual growth is never done. Let the objects you use in your practice come into your life, or seek something specifically when you know you have a need for it. Be willing let go of objects that have served you in the past, but no longer, and need to find a new home.
What is the Stuff of Pagan practice?
Now that I have gone over why you don’t need to fill your basket of goodies at your local witchy store before you start a practice (although they probably would appreciate it) I will in very broad strokes go over the stuff pagans tend to use. After all, I can’t go through how to save money until I go over what to actually look for.
There are two types of altars: one for you, and one for someone else. An altar for you has what you need to enter the ritual frame of mind when you go before the altar, or simply what tools you use. An altar for someone else is where you put items for the use of that other, items to please the other, or items to be charged by the other. What is on that altar is going to depend on who it is for, but it is basically a welcome mat. Both are a place to lay offerings on, whether they are for a short period or extended time.
Common items include a candle, incense, offering plate/cup, a statue or artwork, and assorted objects like an athame or animal statues. Some people also leave divination tools on their altar to charge.
Tools are objects used for divination, ritual, and magick. They can be placed on an altar temporarily or permanently. An altar is also a collection of items and a space, rather than a single object. A tool by contrast doesn’t have to be on the altar to be used.
Tools can also include ritual clothes. This can include clothes from the historical period when a pagan religion was practiced, items from that culture, or simply stuff that looks cool and makes you feel witchy.
Part of figuring out works and what doesn’t is recording it. Journals are useful for keeping a record as well as analyzing your experiences. Rituals will change as better ways of phrasing and more effective actions are found, even if it is within the same basic structure. It is also good to record reference material, like outlines of rituals you do or what you learned researching the properties of Jade. While Wicca and Witchcraft have the official title of Book of Shadows, keeping a record is always good practice.
A Note About Psychology
Our brains take note of subtle cues our conscious mind is not aware of. If you only use an object for a certain purpose, or only do an action when a particular cue is present, or do actions in a certain order, at a certain time, in a certain place your brain will take notice. This is how habits are formed.
A habit is your brain being lazy. Cognitive deep thinking takes a lot of energy, so being able to fall back on habits allows you to use your mental bandwidth without being exhausted making decisions. Objects are things that can help form habits, or trigger your brain to know what to do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the object is, but how it is used.
Once a month I will make a blog post in the Pagan Thrift series with strategies for saving money while practicing paganism. I hope this will be useful for all reading, and if you have any feed back please contact me.