All about wand woods: Magick and meaning from Alder to Zebrawood
Posted by Michelle Gruben on
Welcome to the world of woods! As a wand-maker (or wand purchaser), you may wish to know more about the different woods that lend their character to your magickal tools.
This list is alphabetical and includes many of the most common wand woods. The woods on this list are drawn from three broad categories: The traditional Celtic (Ogham) trees, domestic trees that are more commonly found in American parks and backyards, and the exotic imported woods that are favored by luxury wandmakers. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. I’ve included an overview of each tree, personal notes about the energy of each wood, and some comments about its availability for the shopper (or scavenger).
Many wood properties and meanings have been subsumed into the lore of the Harry Potter universe. That’s fine for imaginative play, of course—and J.K. Rowling was clearly inspired by some of the occult traditions surrounding various trees. Still, for the serious practitioner, Potterania leaves something to be desired. For this article, we’re going back in time to learn the ancient meanings of each tree, and into the present to visit the experiences of “real” magick workers.
Obtaining wand wood
There is much tradition (and superstition) that concerns the gathering of wood for magickal wands. Some say that wands should be made from fallen branches only. Others maintain that the most powerful wands are cut from living branches (after observing the proper permissions and offerings to the tree spirit, of course). Each tree spirit has its own customs/prohibitions and preferred offerings.
Many Witches prefer to use wood from a tree they visit often, or even a tree that is under their care. Many also prefer to shape their own wand by hand—indeed, this is a beginner’s exercise that is required by some magickal traditions.
Making your own wand from a local tree is an excellent way to bond with your tool, but it's not strictly necessary. Follow your will. There’s no shame in using other avenues to obtain the wand of your dreams. Unless you happen to live in the tropics, you’re not going to be able to go out back and prune a branch of Mahogany for your wandcraft. Unless you have extensive woodcrafting experience and access to specialty tools, you may not be able to craft a wand that matches your inner vision of what the Wand should be.
Here are my (admittedly simple and animistic) thoughts on the matter of purchasing wand wood: Each tree has two spirit beings attached to it. It has an individual spirit (i.e., the spirit of the oak tree) that dies when the plant dies, and is primarily concerned with the health and survival of that individual plant. It also has a ruling spirit (the spirit of “capital-O” Oak). The ruling spirit does not die, but lives through every existing Oak, and is concerned with manifesting its greater purpose in the world.
Ideally, the magick worker would craft a wand in communion with both spirits. But, depending on the type of wood desired, that may not always be practical.
If you can’t make contact with the individual tree that provided your wand wood, at least take the time to study and meditate on the ruling spirit of that type of tree. Be creative with your offerings: A gift of energy or money toward distant conservation efforts could stand in for the more traditional offering of blood, milk and honey, or fertilizer.
Some wand woods listed here are scarce or threatened in their natural habitats. Some trees should only be pruned of branches at certain times of year (or not at all). These wood descriptions are provided for information purposes only. It’s not an endorsement of using rare or vulnerable trees for your wand. Seek out the most current information on these woods and use your best ethical judgement as a Witch.
And now, let's meet some trees!
The Alder tree is gentle in appearance but possesses legendary strength. Alder trees are associated with battle and steadfast survival. When cut, the white wood releases red-orange sap, giving the appearance of bleeding. Alder wood is resistant to decay and hardens when immersed in water, making it very valuable to European builders before the invention of concrete.
The Alder is a sacred tree in Germanic, Druidic, and Celtic lore, and is said to be a gateway to the Otherworld. It supports and protects humankind and is allied with human goals. In Irish mythology, the first man sprang from an Alder tree. The courageous Alder led the charge in the saga known as the Battle of Trees.
Wands made from Alder carry a Fiery energy that is excellent for spells of protection, motivation, and action. Working with the wood increases courage and determination. Alder wands are complex and somewhat unpredictable—you could say the wand of Alder is willing to change and evolve with its user.
Physically, Alder is a relatively soft, even-textured wood with a lovely honey tone. It is not considered a fine craft wood but has come into favor as an inexpensive lumber source. The fast-growing Alder tree is common across North America and Europe, where it is frequently planted for re-forestation and to stabilize wet soil.
The Apple tree symbolizes immortality and true love. Its wood is durable and sweet-smelling—an ideal wand for the loyal and heart-centered Witch. Apple wood embodies the feminine aspects of the Divine and is traditionally used for healing and love magick. (Pear wood has very similar physical and metaphysical properties.)
The generous Apple tree provides fruit, shade, ornamentation, and excellent timber for the smoker and fireplace. Cured Apple wood is widely available, and fresh branches can often be found for free, especially if you know a landscaper or arborist.
The Ash tree grows abundantly across North America and Europe. The Druids considered it the most magickal of all trees. Some people also say that Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse cosmology, is an Ash tree. It has long been associated with wisdom and noble sacrifice.
The wood of the Ash is quite hard but also resilient, as it bends to resist shattering. The wood is pale beige to medium brown, with a wavy grain that somewhat resembles Oak. An Ash wand will amplify and enhance just about any kind of magick: Protection, power, knowledge, love, justice, wisdom, and prosperity.
The Ash tree is common to many regions, and the wood can be obtained either commercially or in the wild. Ash is tough and is less expensive than Oak, making it a popular choice for furniture, tool handles, kitchen utensils, and sporting equipment. (And wands, naturally.) White Ash produces the finest Ash timber—it’s an appealing blond wood that’s odorless and gives an even finish.
Known to Pagans as the White Lady of the Woods, the Birch tree represents rebirth and fertility. As a fast-growing, upright-standing tree, the Birch makes an ideal wand for the magickal novice. (Read our in-depth article on Birch here.) Other magickal properties of Birch include adaptability, inspiration, and fearlessness.
Birch wood is easy to work with, sustainable, and reasonably priced. Its uniform grain and light color means it takes wood stains exceptionally well. Birch can be finished in any color from blond to ebony. Birch lumber is most commonly used as a plywood/veneer, but thicker logs and branches may be available to the woodworker.
An exotic hardwood native to equatorial Africa, Bubinga is a strongly magickal and luxurious choice. It is reddish in color and heavy, with a prominent dark-brown grain that may be wavy or straight. Bubinga veneers are popular in the construction of fine stringed instruments, which makes the wood an appealing choice for the bardic magician.
Bubinga carries the energy of the Moon and Jupiter, with a hint of fiery Mars. A Bubinga wand is excellent for bringing about positive changes, especially in matters related to the emotions. Its attributes are passion, courage, intuition, creativity, charisma and influence.
Cedar is the Grandfather of trees—one of Earth’s oldest beings, nearly unchanged since the primeval forests. Magickally, Cedar corresponds to wisdom, protection, and longevity. Wands made from Cedar are ideal for cleansing and warding, as well as creating sacred space where learning can flourish.
Cedar has a reputation as a difficult wood to work, especially on a lathe. Its irregular grain and variable hardness means that it reacts unpredictably to the woodworker’s tools. However, the wood is still prized for its swirled patterns and spicy fragrance. A Cedar wand, when patiently crafted, is a beautiful and unique tool that displays the unique character of this ancient tree.
Nicknamed "New England mahogany," Cherry is one of the finest woods North America has to offer. It has a distinctive light reddish color and beautifully figured grain. (A lot of "Cherry" furniture is made from Maple that has been stained to resemble this elegant timber.)
All fruitwoods are sacred to the Goddess. Cherry has an especially harmonious, feminine energy and is good for healing, love magick, unity, and community. A Cherry wand will not react badly to being shared, so it's a good choice for teachers and covens. Divination, mediumship, and the detection of magick are also properties of Cherry.
A dense black hardwood native to India and western Africa, Ebony is synonymous with luxury. Ebony carvings have been prized for thousands of years, with some specimens being found in Egyptian tombs. The small tree yields a silky, tightly grained wood that rewards fine craftsmanship and a high polish.
Ebony is regarded as a wood of pure power. It is attributed to Water and to receptive, feminine energy. Ebony amplifies without discriminating. This is a wood that does not guide, but instead lends its power to whatever the bearer intends. Its amoral nature means that Ebony is best suited to the mature practitioner.
Ebony is expensive, but available from purveyors of exotic hardwoods, especially in small pieces. (Know your supplier: Ebony is threatened/endangered in many areas, and the Ebony trade is rife with corruption, overharvesting, and smuggling.) Wear respiratory protection when carving or sanding Ebony, as the dust is toxic. If a wand of pure Ebony is out of your budget, consider incorporating a band, bead, or inlay of Ebony into your wand’s handle or reservoir.
The venerable Elder tree is associated with the Crone, the death phase, and the Faery realms. She is a keeper of some of the oldest and deepest magick. Working with an Elder wand requires patience and courage, but it will reward the true seeker with transformative wisdom. Magickal properties of Elder include healing, banishing, and underworld journeying.
Folk wisdom has it that Elder branches should never be cut or burned. The Wiccan Rede states: “Elder be ye Lady’s tree/Burn it not, or cursed ye’ll be.” When making a wand from Elder, use fallen branches only and finish by hand, using no fire nor metal tools. An Elder wand should be used for benevolent magick only, as any curses cast with Elder are sure to have unintended consequences.
Perhaps due to superstition, and perhaps due to the tree’s small stature, it’s difficult to find Elder wood for sale. (Box Elder, popular with hobbyists, is in fact a relative of Maple.) To find wild Elder, the dedicated wand-maker will need to seek out hedgerows, scrubs, and wastes. Elder’s beautiful white flowers and edible berries mean that domestic plants are sometimes available in nurseries—though you will need to wait a while before any branches are large enough to be suitable for wandmaking.
Elm is the Elven tree—strong, practical, and magickal all at once. Elm is both an earthly protector and a gateway to the Otherworlds, a medicinal plant and an emblem of death and transformation. The Elm spirit is an impartial observer and arbitrator. Its elements are Earth and Air.
Elm wood is similarly multi-faceted. An Elm wand puts the energies of love and protection in balance. Its magickal uses are diverse, and can include protection, counter-magick, attracting love, and connecting with nature spirits. An Elm wand is ideal for both the advanced magick worker (who can appreciate its complexity) and the beginner (who can be guided by its possibilities).
There are many Elm species, and Elm lumber varies widely in color and texture. It’s not particularly pleasant to work—being coarse, porous, and fuzzy—and the green wood has a strong urine-like odor. (Don’t let any of this deter you if you are drawn to work with Elm.) Elm trees are gentle in temperament and usually do not mind being pruned for their branches. Harvest Elm branches only in the early growing season (before the Spring Equinox) to avoid exposing the cut tree to disease.
Hawthorn is the third part of the “Oak, Ash, and Thorn” triad of Celtic magickal trees. Hawthorn has strong ties to the realm of Faery, and in European lore it symbolizes both fertility and death. Hawthorn energy is powerful and complex—it is one of the only plants attributed simultaneously to Mars and Venus.
A Hawthorn wand is a traditional tool for spells of love and fertility, as the tree has folkloric associations with the festival of Beltane. (To bring the flowers indoors is considered bad luck, but no such prohibition exists for the branches and thorns.) Hawthorn is both a medicinal and magickal healer of the heart…it is also a tenacious protector of its occult secrets. To work with Hawthorn requires patience, tolerance, and a keen sense of discovery.
Hawthorn branches are white to yellow—often small and twisted with a darker figured grain. This wood is not often found commercially. (In Britain and Ireland it may be called Whitethorn and sold as a material for walking sticks.) In North America, Hawthorn trees are planted as hardy ornamentals. As it is sacred to the Faeries, one most always ask permission (and wait for an answer) before taking branches from this tree.
Hazel is a tree of wisdom and learning. Its forked branches represent decision-making, and it is said that meditating beneath a Hazel tree will bring clarity in any dilemma. The Hazel nut is a repository of knowledge in Celtic folklore, and the origin of the phrase "in a nutshell."
A wand of Hazel brings inspiration, increases psychic abilities, and helps put the bearer in touch with the wisdom of nature. Hazel is attributed to Mercury, and it is said that the messenger god himself carries a staff of Hazel.
In Celtic magick, Hazel is one of the most traditional trees for wand-making. It is sacred to Brighid, and often grows near sacred wells. In the American South, Witch Hazel is used in dowsing rods for water witching and other folk magick customs and formulas. (Witch Hazel isn’t closely related to true Hazel, but the plants bear a superficial resemblance to each other.)
With its short stature and thin trunk, Hazel has never achieved viability as a commercial timber. Nevertheless, it is hard and close-grained, finishes beautifully, and is sometimes planted as a landscape tree. If you seek Hazel wood, try asking an arborist, or seek out individual sellers on Etsy or eBay.
One of the densest woods available, Hickory is synonymous with strength. Hickory is hard, stiff, and heavy and yields tough, inedible nuts. It is structurally sound even when cut thin, and is popular for tool handles and golf clubs. (In Texas, we treasure this slow-burning wood for the barbecue pit!)
Hickory wood is an ideal choice for the stubborn or resolute mage. Protection, power, and direction are its magickal traits. A wand carved of straight-grained Hickory is an apt symbol of the unbending Will.
The evergreen Holly tree embodies both protection and peace. It happily endures the changing of the seasons—for this reason, it is a symbol of immortality. Physical strength and sacrifice are also attributes of Holly. It is a symbol of the warrior, when the warrior is also spiritually aware and true of heart.
Holly wood is dense, fine-grained, and creamy white in color. (It is among the hardest and palest of the hardwoods.) Holly blanks and dowels may be purchased the wandmaker. Holly’s popularity as an ornamental tree/shrub means that it is also easy to find in urban and suburban areas.
Mahogany is a luxurious hardwood valued for its straight grain and luscious, reddish-brown color. Mahogany conducts vibration well, which has historically made it a favorite wood for fine musical instruments. It has a deep, warm, energetic tone that matches its rich color.
Spiritual growth, guidance, and strength are the magickal properties of Mahogany. Mahogany is a sophisticated, balanced wood—imbued with energies of both Earth and Fire—and seeks a magickal partner who is equally well-rounded.
Mahogany is prized as a craft material, and several varieties are available from specialty wood shops. It is medium-hard and easy to work. (Use protection. Like many tropical woods, Mahogany dust may irritate the lungs and skin.) Some types of Mahogany are threatened by over-harvesting—consider the source when purchasing.
A quintessentially North American tree, Maple yields both sweetness and strength. It is a smooth, blond-colored wood that sometimes shows semi-translucent or chatoyant effects. It is hard, but not excessively heavy or brittle. "Curly” Maple has irregularities in the grain that form a desirable wavy pattern.
Maple conducts and stores energy exceptionally well. (The high mineral content which gives Maple its characteristic sheen also contributes to its energetic properties.) Maple is ruled by Mercury. Magickally, it is versatile and forgiving and is said to contain both masculine and feminine energy. Known as the "traveler's wood," Maple aids in many spells including healing, communication, learning, creativity, beauty and abundance.
This beautiful wood is available commercially in many different grades, shapes, and sizes. Midsummer is the best time to cut fresh Maple branches, as they will not be over-full of sap.
The strong and hardy Oak tree and has been known as an ally of humans for millennia for its wood. Oak timbers have a mostly straight grain with some swirls and rays. Its watertight properties make Oak historically valuable for boat-building and vessel-making.
Oak has long been regarded as one of the most sacred trees. Sometimes called the "Lightning Tree," the Oak tree is associated with sky Gods. Its magickal attributes include authority, leadership, focus, wisdom, truth, and personal sovereignty.
White Oak is light to medium beige, with an olive-yellow cast. Red Oak is a slightly softer wood that comes in shades of reddish tan. Oak has a strong, friendly energy that is comforting and empowering to handle.
Oak grows widely and many excellent varieties are available to the wand-maker.
Pine is one of the Celtic Ogham woods—however, it’s not a traditional wand wood. Pine is more soft and resinous than deciduous hardwoods. It dents easily and the sap tends to gum up tools, which can limit its utility as a fine craft material.
Even so, countless Witches wield Pine wands because it is the most common wood available at craft and hardware stores. Pine does not make the most durable or powerful wand possible. Instead, it is a wood that rewards creativity and spontaneity with its low cost and flexible energy. Magickal properties of Pine include prosperity, purification, and protection against negativity.
Poplar (also known as Tulipwood or Whitewood) is a creamy yellow timber, sometimes tinted toward grey or green. Lightweight and supple, Poplar wood has little visible grain and grows very straight.
The fast-growing Poplar tree has an affinity with the element of Air. Versatile Poplar is suitable for most magickal applications. It's especially known for attracting money, bringing eloquence, and adapting to changing circumstances.
Poplar is related to Aspen, and the two are basically interchangeable for magickal purposes. It's widely available as a craft wood.
An exotic wood from Central and South America with a dramatic natural purple color. When first cut, it’s often greyish-brown, but the color deepens to wine as the wood is exposed to ultraviolet light. Purpleheart is among the heaviest of all craft woods. It is an ideal partner for the imaginative, the spiritual, and the creative magick worker. Purpleheart can feel different to each user, but its main attributes are divination, aspiration, knowledge, spirituality, and transformation.
Purpleheart (and its relatives, Yellowheart and Redheart) are prized by woodworkers for their rich color, and can be found at most specialty wood shops.
Rosewood refers to any number of richly hued tropical timbers. It is named for its sweet, floral aroma—which is strongest when the wood is freshly milled—and not for any botanical relation to Rose bushes.
Rosewood has a very special energetic quality, full of mystery and dark magick. It is not the darkness of negativity, but of repose and inner knowing. Rosewood is said to bring true and lasting love, psychic openness, and healing energy to magickal spells. Rosewood has a compassionate, receptive energy that makes it well suited to reflecting matters of the heart. A desert plant, Rosewood remembers what it is like to thrive despite hardship. It is traditionally used for love magick, divination, and healing.
Rosewood is rich brown (with darker veining), very strong and heavy, and takes an excellent polish. (Brazilian Rosewood is perhaps the most coveted of all the craft woods.) It was overharvested in the 1960s and 1970s and trade in most varieties of Rosewood is now restricted on the world market.
Still, some types of Rosewood are available to the wand purchaser. Indian Rosewood, or sheesham, is commonly found in imported crafts. It is a true Rosewood (though softer and more porous than finer varieties) and its energetic properties are similar to its rarer cousins.
Also called Mountain Ash (though it’s not a true Ash), Rowan is a smallish, high-dwelling tree with red berries. It has a long folkloric association with witchcraft. In Scottish tradition, Rowan was used to make dowsing rods and walking sticks (for protection), and non-magickal uses of the wood were forbidden.
Rowan is associated with protective magick, and Rowan wands are excellent for warding, banishing, and commanding spells. Other meanings include insight, inspiration, persistence, and Faery blessings. Rowan branches are thin, but the wood is light-colored and good for hand-carving.
Rowan is found mostly in Europe and Britain. Its small size and remote habitats mean it’s rarely available as a timber. In the United States, it is occasionally planted as a shrubbery, and is better known to landscapers as Mountain Ash. Seek out specialty craft wood suppliers to purchase Rowan. Bundles of Rowan twigs are occasionally found as a rustic décor item.
Walnut trees are large, hardy and slow-growing members of the Hickory family. (An old Dutch proverb says, "By the time the Walnut tree is tall, the planter will surely be dead.") A Walnut wand is ideal for the magician who wishes to cultivate patience and strength. Walnut contains the combined energies of Air and Earth: clarity and intelligence, confidence and wisdom. In Italian tradition, it is said to shelter dancing Witches at their Sabbats.
American Black Walnut has an unmistakable chocolate-brown color. It is durable but also fairly light, and for these reasons it is much sought-after by fine furniture makers. The grain is highly figured near the roots, but becomes straight as it travels up the tree's trunk. Neither "zingy" nor sluggish, the energy of a Walnut wand is a good balance between the two.
Walnut wood is available to the wandmaker in lumber, in dowels, and in turning blanks. American Black Walnut is widespread across the eastern United States, and other species may be found in most temperate climates.
Willow has been known since ancient times as a Witch’s tree, or tree of enchantment. Willow has flexible branches, but deep roots. One of the lessons of Willow is to hold fast to the Earth, but to bend with the breeze. Willow’s “weeping” stance reflects its association with changing emotions, especially grief.
Indeed, one of Willow’s main magickal uses is for healing. (This is a water-loving tree whose bark has medicinal properties.) As a Lunar tree, Willow wood believed to increase psychic sensitivity. Willow is also sacred to poets, as the sound of its rustling branches was said to inspire song and verse. A Willow wand is an ideal choice for poets, bards, healers, and seers.
Willow wood is non-durable and vulnerable to rot, so it’s rarely available as a craft wood. Bundles of Willow twigs can sometimes be found at craft and décor shops. Willow needs to be dried thoroughly (and protected from insects and warping) if it’s to be used as a wand wood.
Yew is a sacred tree that can live well over 1000 years, and there are Yews in Britain that are reputed to be much older than that. Some say that it is the only living thing that is theoretically capable of living indefinitely.
Yew is a being whose life outspans all other creatures—its mysteries are deep and difficult to understand. Most parts of the plant are poisonous. It is attributed to Saturn and linked to death and immortality. Yew wands lend themselves to dark and complex magickal workings.
Yew is rarely seen as a craft wood due to slow growth and centuries of overharvesting. Older trees are usually hollow, and almost all lumber is riddled with pips, knots, and voids. English Yew is not commercially available due to the protected status of many old groves. Still, it is possible to make a Yew wand responsibly if you are content with using a smaller piece of wood (or Pacific Yew rather than English).
This exotic West African wood is named for its unique black-and-gold striped pattern. Its magickal attributes are love, luck, creativity, and beauty.
Alternately hard and soft, Zebrawood is prone to warping and requires skilled cutting, carving, and finishing to display its best character. It is usually sold in quarter-sawn panels or small pen blanks. It may take some searching to find a piece of Zebrawood that is wide and long enough to make a wand…or even a wand handle. Consider using Zebrawood (and other rare woods) as part of a multi-wood wand design.
Thank you for reading, and happy wand-ing!
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