last post for this feature, I talked a little bit about the history of wands in a general sense. Wands are used in so many different forms both magical and non-magical through out all the cultures of the worlds, it really is too broad of a topic for me to cover quickly here. Thus, I would like to note that my information here is based in a combination of personal experience and my religious education in Western magical systems (predominantly of a U.S. version of Wicca).
A quick look at the picture I just posted here, there is an assortment of items that include a few things that don't seem to belong. The first three from the left are more typical examples of wands. The first (with the bright, bright pink thread tied about the head of it and a feather hanging off) is one that I made myself. The crystal that tops it is quartz that is wrapped in wire. It was intended as a focal piece for a necklace but when I got it at the store I knew it was perfect for a new wand. The bead hanging off is a bit of moonstone from a set of meditation beads I had to restring and (despite the fact I had the full number on the cord) it was left over. The feather is one of the wing feathers of a female blue jay.
The second from the left is a stunning example of polymer clay and related materials being turned into a magical tool. The crystal at the head is also quartz. It is literally the heaviest of all the wands I own. It is a little fragile, but it directs energy nicely, so I just baby it. It was given as a gift to me from A. (which I treasure and just can't stop looking at how pretty it is). Third from the left is a polished wand of apple wood that was given as a gift from E. It is just a little heavier than the first wand pictured, but it sits nicely in the hand and has a nice warm feel to it.
Fourth from the left is a pencil. Depending on the day, it could possibly be a pen. It lacks the adornments of the first two wand examples, but it does an excellent job in their place. Beside it is the final 'wand' I use, which is a wooden spoon. This comes out of my practices as a 'kitchen witch'. The writing implement as a magical tool sounds about as silly as a spoon for most 'serious' practitioners but they meet the criteria for what is a wand.
Now, one may ask, what to all of these varied items have in common to make them good wands? The answer is actually very simple. They act as an extension of the arm and hand. Thus, they can conduct spiritual/magical energy into a specific direction or towards a specific goal. The wands with the crystals at the end are generally understood to do a better job of focusing the caster's energy. The pointed tip on the apple wand serves the same purpose (as does the pointed tip on a pencil or pen). The wooden spoon has a bit 'wider' of a range in some exercises than others because it not only transmits this subtle energy but can also act to directly impart that energy into that which it touches more readily than the others.
Copper is a popular metal used in wand making because it is an excellent conductor of electricity, and is considered to logically be equally good for conducting spiritual/magical energy. Wood is often chosen on the basis of its popular/mythic associations. Apple, for example, is connected with domestic harmony, love, and the fairy realms. Poplar (the wood that the other one is made of) is associated with martial strength, lightning, and transitions. Pine (the wood that the pencil is made from) is associated with peace, communication, and wisdom.1
The most basic wand is a tool that represents the authority of the spell caster. It is also a tool by which the spell caster enforces their will upon the universe. As such, this is why they are considered to be a magical 'weapon.' If you look into the ancient myths, you will find that there are characters who carry wands and do use them as weapons. Perhaps the most poignant is that image of Skirnir threatening Gerda in the tale of the courtship of Freyr and Gerda, pitting magic against the giantess's will with a very decisive use of his wand.
Now, there are some who would argue that the wand is a more ... polite version of waving a penis around. It is an argument that I can't really turn aside. The argument is equally valid for the aspergilium used by the Catholic church in their rituals of worship. If you look at all magical tools derived from body parts that have been turned into fetishes of some sort, the logical answer that the penis is the origin of the aspergilium is impossible to deny. The wand as a derivative of the aspergilium is another origin argument that is not too hard to accept because much of ritual equipment in the more modern occult society consists of a re-envisioned perspective upon the ritual tools and regalia of formal worship.
Next installment, I will be taking a look at how to create your own wand and how to maintain and use it.
1. These associations are based on general common associations made in the pagan community that I live in. With a little research, you can find the different associations of trees with concepts quite easily. A good place to start is in the ancient Celtic cultures, where trees were openly revered. There is some historical documentation about this reverence (some contemporary such as the writings of Tacitus and some modern findings).