How to Use a Stang

The Witch's hawthorn stang and other tools

A stang is a popular ritual tool in modern Traditional Witchcraft thanks to Robert Cochrane, however, the use of a forked staff is not restricted to Traditional Witchcraft and its traditions in the UK. Reverence for forked staves is found all over Europe, East and West, and in the Mediterranean. The stang is the ancient Tree danced around by witches during their sabbat rites. It is the pillar in the Pagan temple and the sacrificed god hanging from the Tree.

A stang is an altar and a ritual tool in one. If you have a stang you do not really need any other tools to cast circles and perform rituals or spells. A stang is portable and can be taken anywhere making it an excellent choice for outdoor rites and taking to festivals.

Why the fork? The ancients believed horns and antlers allowed animals to have heightened senses and intuition and that the horns acted as conduits of wisdom and knowledge from the gods and spirits. Gods with horns were believed to be especially powerful particularly when it came to being far-sighted and wise in all things –not to mention the horns could also be used as protection or a weapon. Three-pronged staves were considered especially lucky and powerful as were trees growing in the same formation. This is because they resemble a human being with the center as torso and the prongs on either side the arms. Two and three-pronged staffs are representatives of the World Tree as an anthropomorphized figure. We find the three-tined stave in ancient art being held by Hades, Poseidon, and Shiva. Is it a fisherman’s spear, a pitchfork, a hay-fork, or a magical tool? Maybe it’s both… Often the ancients did not separate the magical and the mundane for magic can be practical also.

Decorating the Stang

Many make a stang according to Cochrane’s instructions – a tall forked piece of Ash wood with an iron nail in the base, two arrows crossed at near the top and a wreath circling them. This is tradition specific, a stang can be made from any type of wood and instead of being naturally forked one could top a staff with a goat or deer skull or bind antlers or bull horns to the top with rawhide to create the fork. A stang can be any height – from three feet to six feet. I use a three-foot three-pronged Hawthorn staff myself.

To give it an added function, some witches put a candle between the tines or screw a hook into the wood to hang a lantern from. This is practical as well as representing the light of cunning and wisdom.

A stang can be as elaborate or simple as you desire. It can be intricately carved with animals, plants, and sigils, or just left plain and finished with oil and beeswax. One can hang bones of animal familiars from the tines so when the stang is used it also calls your allies to aid you as your perform rituals. Feathers can be tied beneath the hand-grip as symbols of flight – both for yourself and for gods and spirits. I would recommend decorating a stang with bits of a land animal such as a horse, deer, goat or cow and the feathers of a bird, so if using your stang for otherworldly travel, you can travel across land or sprout wings and fly to great heights as in the folktale “The Witch of Lok Island“. When it comes to hedgecrossing don’t forget that something physical in our world also exists in the Otherworld. A tie of feathers becomes a pair of wings and a staff becomes a horse.

Casting a Caim

A simple circle-casting method you can perform with a stang is casting a caim. A caim is a method left from the old Gaels and is a circle/sphere of protection that moves with you or around an axis –such as your stang. A ritual in the forestHold your stang in your right hand and point it outwards as you turn your body sunwise essentially “drawing” a circle with your stang. As you do so you can recite a charm or call the directions or the guardians (whatever your practice may be). When the circle is complete, drive your stang into the ground. The caim is cast! Let it be so! Now perform your rite, spell, or invocation while in this protected space between worlds.

Indoors and can’t drive your stang through the carpet or hard wood floors? Keep a medium-sized flower pot of earth on hand to do so. I like to collect earth from the base of sacred trees in the forest. The type of earth you use can reflect the ritual you will be forming. If you wish to work with the wild gods of the forest or nature spirits you will want earth from a forest. If you will be working with a mercurial deity you’ll want dirt from one or many crossroads, if you’ll be working with the dead dirt from a tree in a graveyard is fitting. The bigger and heavier the stang the heavier the flower pot will need to be. If you have a heavy wood stang topped with a heavy skull you’ll want to be putting some stones in your flower pot –these can also be collected from places of power.

Using the Stang as Conduit

Wood may not conduct electricity, but as part of a living tree it is a conduit for flowing water and tree sap. Water is an excellent conductor of heat, cold, emotion, sound, and of course spirits. All the fibres in a branch are aligned for this flow of up and down. This flow can be tapped into in order to channel energies to summon deities and spirits. Once your stang has been used to cast sacred space and is upright in the earth mimicking a living tree, Shapeshifting witches riding a forked staffit is ready to use as a conduit. Call spirits up from the underworld through your stang or draw deities down into it from the heavens. In this manner the stang acts as a doorway and an inhabited idol. How do you do this? Say so out loud. Leave offerings at the base of the stang. Draw sigils of the deity or spirit you are calling at the base of the stang or hang a charm or fetiche representing them from your stang. Sing songs or recite liturgy, play a drum, rattle, or sistrum.

Who needs statuary when you have a ritual tool that can be possessed by your Witch Gods? As with any such practice don’t forget to send spirits you summon back where they came from and close any doors you open and in that order (spirits can’t travel through a closed door) so your stang returns to just being a piece of wood.

Your stang can also act as a conduit for you. Sit or lay beside your stang in protected ritual space when you practice hedgecrossing. You may find having a stang as conductor for your spirit to travel down to the underworld or up to the heavens significantly aids in your travels. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “riding the stang”. Think of the stang as a shaman’s horse or chariot. It is your ride to the otherworld. If you wrap yourself in an animal hide while performing this rite you will be able to practice hag riding as when your spirit travels through the stang it will take on the form of the animal. You will “ride” the animal rather than your stang. Don’t have an animal hide? Sew feathers onto a cloak, coat, or shawl to mimic the shamanic costumes found from Siberia to Ireland.

The Stang as Tool of Fate

This use is for the spinners and weavers out there. Stangs uncannily resemble distaffs, a tool thousands of years old, but rarely used today. Distaffs hold raw carded fibres for spinning into thread representing the raw materials of magic and of absolute potential with no determined Fate as of yet. From a stang as distaff one can spin thread to represent a specific person’s soul, a specific thread of Fate someone wishes to happen, or simply to spin magical thread counter-clockwise for use in spells and charms.

Thread can also be wound and woven around the tines of a stang to weave a specific course of fate, to bind someone, to unbind someone, or to trap mischievous or evil spirits.  To bind someone or a spirit, the woven thread is kept sealed in a box or bottle after it is taken off the tines (without cutting it). To unbind someone, the thread is removed and burned or cut up with a ritual knife. The thread generally used is red to represent life force and energy.

The Norns weaving destiny by Arthur Rackham, 1912

Join the discussion 29 Comments

  • Riverhorse says:

    What a wonderful post! Thank you Sarah! I love the pictures and how you explain the uses of this ritual tool. I learned so much. I’m about to venture into the redwood forest now and will look for a stang. I will collect water from the stream where it runs off the rocks and mossy stuff to put on my woodland alter. I have a question. I just received a beautifully carved mugwort wand from a witch in England. How should I use this particular wand, being that it is mugwort wood? I drink the tea sometimes and float away and dream, but what would the wand be used for? Thanks for all your valuable information. I read your posts religiously! Joey in California

    • I would use a mugwort wand as a conduit for flying and astral travel. You could probably also sleep with it under your pillow with the intent to receive prophetic dreams.

      Slàinte!

      • Riverhorse says:

        Thank you, Sarah. I will try that. I think I’ll write my intent on paper and wrap it around the wand, put it under my pillow and see what happens. Thanks much!

      • Is it hollow? You could whisper your desires into it. There is power in breath and words spoken out loud.

  • Seillean says:

    As always, this was very helpful and gave me lots of good ideas and insights that I will be using :) I’ve said it before, but you always have a knack for giving me just the hint I need when I need it most in these posts! Many thanks,

  • Neheti says:

    I was just thinking the other day about making a new stang, and now this pops up. Thanks for the nudge and the great information. :)

  • Eric says:

    Awesome post, thank you~!

  • ~*Rhi*~ says:

    What a beautiful post! I’ve been looking for my stang for a while now. I can’t wait until it presents itself!!!

  • Mike Howard says:

    A good exposition of the stang.

    It is interesting that some followers of the Old Craft regard the two forked stang as a symbol of the witch god and the three forked version as a symbol of the witch goddess.

    It is also worth mentioning the Cochranian practice of moving the stang around the circle or compass following the Wheel of the Year and decorating it with seasonal flowers, foliage and symbols.

    Although Cochrane has been credited with inventing the stang there are pre-modern illustrations showing witches holding forked staves or flying to the Sabbat on them.

    • Indeed, I found mention of it in Gypsy and Druid lore too, but for them the three-tined branches and trees were masculine. If one thinks like a preteen the middle tine is kind of a phallic “third leg”… As my small stang is made of hawthorn and looks like an old rustic distaff I do use it for work with my witch goddess rather than my god though. I still want to make a larger stang with antler tines or goat’s horns as the fork. I’m on the lookout for a good piece of oak.

      I like that practice of decorating and moving the stang with the seasons because it further mimics a real tree.

  • Glad to have inspired you all! Remember that fallen wood on the ground can be rife with insects and water damage! I like to go collecting for freshly fallen wood after wind storms or heavy snows. Otherwise it’s a safer bet to take from a living tree – plus any tool made from a tree still living gets the added bonus of a powerful spirit tied to it. Even ritual drum frames used to made from living trees and if the tree died it was bad luck for the owner of the drum. Happy crafting!

    • Dver says:

      Do you have any basic guidelines you could share about how to properly prepare wood from a living tree to use as a staff/wand/stang/etc? I’m unclear on the right amount of time to dry it, should heat be applied, etc.

      • I got told by someone who makes wands and staffs for a living that the wood should be left to dry in a horizontal position for six months.

      • I hope to eventually publish a small chapbook or article on woodworking for ritual tools. It’s hard for me to give up that knowledge as it’s something I’d rather train an apprentice for in person, but there’s very few pagan woodwrights in my area.

        I’d recommend a library book on the basics of woodworking to start – a book can teach you how to cure wood, how to follow the grain for carving and splitting as well as the differences between hard and soft woods, etc.

    • The wood for my stang (which I’m still making) was given to me from a tree I often visited and was floating in the pool. I fished it out and stripped off the bark as soon at it was dry. The water has made lovely patterns all over it, so I won’t be carving into it.

  • Faidh says:

    Very educational. I’ve always been in the habit of using a crook which I inherited. It no doubt had plenty of experience walking the moorland before I got hold of it. It has disadvantages, such as a thimble foot and although I suspect it to be hazel, I can’t clarify it, but I’ve always been fond of it. Still, not a very lively tool.

    Seems stangs are pretty practical though and so I’ll keep my eyes out next time I’m in woodland. I especially like the idea of using it as a tool of fate. Bonuses such as being able to hold a lantern tempt me further into making one.

  • Kim says:

    I have been playing with the idea of stang, forked walking stick, or a Slavic style ax for this use. Still haven’t figured out which yet but you answered a lot of questions for me about stangs. Also it reminds me of something I stumbled on when in High School and knew nothing of The Craft. I lived by a Cement Factory and a lot of land around the factory was fenced around because of the concrete dust and people weren’t supposed to go there. Well, I climbed the fence one week-end out of curiosity and walked pretty deep into the woods area. I found a small clearing with a stang in the ground and an animal skull on it’s top. A few feet a way and in the woods there was a circle made out of broken beer bottles with the necks in the ground bases in the air where they were shards. The inside of the circle was swept clean to bare dirt and I remember thinking it was odd that no leaves were in there since it was Fall. There was a type of thorn tree at the very end of part of the circle that actually had some of it’s branches growing in the circle. Out of curiosity I actually stepped inside the circle and got the shock of my life. No sound. No birds, no wind, no insects-nothing and the hair on my arms and neck stood straight up. I also got the feeling of being watched and I actually touched the tree branch and got a distinct sense of weariness and dislike-not hate but a bit of shock like who are you and what are you doing and how can this be? It scared me so i stepped out of the circle and sound came back. That did it-I ran all the way home.

  • Kim says:

    I know I walked into a place of power and I know that it wasn’t Wicca style craft that I walked in on. I’ve been to different kinds of circle work in different paths both in ritual settings and in other permanent circles before. I’ve felt power raised in drumming circles and felt it in a stone circle that was made for community oral sharing of song, stories, poetry-but I have never ever experienced a place that had that sheer amount of power or where sound itself seems to have fled. I’m still curious as to why the broken beer bottles but never have found a clue on that as of yet? Any ideas from anyone would be welcome. Also I still to this day am not very found of thorn trees because of that experience and find you to be very brave to work with them Sarah.

  • Great post! Ive been carving a branch of white oak for my stang, which i plan to stain green and golf leaf, this gives me a lot to consider, thank you ^_^

  • sara says:

    What a well-timed post :) I have pomegranate wood drying out which I am planning to make various tools out of, and am finally going to make a stang. It’s been so much of timing, in general. I wanted one for ages, but it was never the right wood from the right place. Or I could tell a tree had lost a limb painfully, which made me not want to use that, etc.

  • Valiel says:

    Wow, thanks for the article… Very inspiring.

  • Michael Sebastian Lux says:

    Also interesting to note to add onto what you already mentioned by the stang or a stang-like object being used in the Mediterranean in addition to the traditional use of the stang in traditional forms of witchcraft is that one of the most traditional and perhaps original eidolons belonging to Dionysos was a large bough with a Y shape being used upon which was hung a mask, animal pelt (mostly deer but possibly even more costly fabrics and skins) which was crowned with ivy. This “tool” I find particularly useful in my workings with that particular deity and have used in cthonic workings in much the same way as used in witchcraft to guide the spirits.

  • This is a timely post for me (and for a lot of other people too, it seems); I already have an antler I want to use for the top of my stang and am hunting for a piece of wood to serve as the base. Thanks for the tips, especially on gathering earth for the pot. Do you have any advice on gathering wood specifically for use in a stang?

  • I do disagree with the fact that fallen wood has no spirit in it. A few months ago my betrothed found a piece of wood on the ground when we were out in the forest and handed it to me saying “this would be a good height for a walking stick”.

    A couple of weeks later I took it out when going into the same forest for a bat walk. Some time into the walk I became aware that something was wrong, so tuned in. It was the stick worrying that it would be thrown away and wanting to be used for something…

    I plan to carve some protective ogham when the stick is dry enough and I have tools and a vice set up, but it’s now happy to be used as a walking stick and I use it at present to cast a circle.

  • Valiel says:

    I’d love to see articles about woodworking too. :)

  • I really enjoyed this post it explained a lot.i wanted to know if a person who hasn’t yet found a stang could they use a wand/athame until they found a stang.