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. Hold 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, it 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.