I thought it would be nice to have a joint C & D post like I did last month with Athame and Boline, whilst at the same time as keeping with the Tools of the Trade theme but it does feel a little weak. This week I’m looking at the Cup and Chalice as magical tools and throw in a few thoughts about how you can also use a Dish in your altar set up.
Cup and Chalice
The Cup, or Chalice, is a powerful and evocative image within Paganism and without it. The first images it often stirs is of the Cup of Christ but the roots of this image and tool are deeper and not always so masculine.
In modern Paganism the Chalice represents watery, feminine energies, very much associated with emotions and psychic energies. When calling the quarters or setting out a sacred circle a water filled chalice in placed in the western quarter but it can also be used to hold libations before they are offered to the deities/ancestors. With the athame thrust into its centre the chalice represents the Goddess and feminine energies and anything contained within is blessed by these united masculine and feminine energies and then can be used to bless other items.
The Chalice (or Cups as it is generally known) is also found within the tarot and its playing card counterpart is the Suit of Hearts. In divination the both suits relate to affairs of the heart and interconnected relationships be they romantic or of an alternative nature.
The Chalice itself can become a tool of divination in itself and can be used for scrying. This is best done with a chalice with a dark interior, although a deep red wine or juice would be a perfect substitute should you have a metal chalice or light interior. Often water scrying is done by the light of the full moon or living flame, and the reader opens themselves to messages and images within the water within.
The most common image of the Chalice in peoples mind is that of the Holy Grail, the Cup of Christ used at the Last Supper to hold the symbolic blood of Christ and then later at the crucifixion to hold his real blood. Whilst I don’t want to go in to great detail about the various Grail myths I want to look at the origins of the Arthurian Grail Legends.
The Holy Grail is given various powers, such as healing grievous would and bringing warriors back from the dead, providing food and water to starving men as well as providing a way of transmitting the divine knowledge of God to the holder of the Grail. These motifs are also found in pre Christian mythology. The Cauldon of Dagda, Ceridwen’s Cauldron of Wisdom and the Pair Dadeni(or Cauldron of Rebirth) are examples of mythological cauldrons found within various traditions of the British Isles which all bear a power associated with Holy Grail. A physical cauldron of similar tradition is the Gundestrup Cauldron. Interpretations of the 13 panels varies but a general consensusis that various divine figures, both male and female, are represented and that the emphasis is on death and rebirth as well as kingship and Sacrel Kingship which is also consistent with Arthurian legend.
Immortality or never ending youth is also a power attributed to the Holy Grail, my favourite image will always be the ancient Templar Knight from Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail. You need only look towards the Greek Goddess Hebe, the first cup bearer of the Olympian Gods to find one possible source for this association. In myth Hebe had the ability to summon the Fountain of Youth and with its waters in her cup she could grant mortals with eternal youth (sometimes cited as immortality). This is what she did when she granted Iolaus’ wish to become young again in order to fight Eurystheus in the Eeuripidean play, Heracleidae.
As with the Athame and Boline there are so many different types and designs of chalice and cup available you will be spoilt for choice. Just remember that personal choice and intended use should be your guide, as should be your wallet. Below are three examples of cups and chalice’s that I have been bought or bought over the years that have remained personal favourites.
Why do I have three? Well my first one, the large blue cup with large knot work was a gift. As a symbolic vessel its lovely however drinking a full measure gets me very drunk so I don’t use it for libations I intend to partaking in myself. That is why I bought the second, smaller blue Chalice, which in itself illustrates you don’t need to spend a fortune as I picked that up in a charity shop for £1. My chalice of choice is the earthen wear chalice from Steve the Greenman Potter. It was my personal Indiana Jones moment, when I spotted it hidden away at the back of his display of predominantly purple and green heavily embellished cups and mugs. ‘There’s the cup of the carpenter’ or in my case, the cup of the ex-Methodist.
The dish isn’t always considered a must have magical tool but it is a wonderful practical standby to have. There are a multitude of services it can provide, particularly around the four elements and offerings.
Offerings – a dish can be used to hold dry offerings such as seeds until they are needed or even be the receptacle for offerings and libations to the Gods or Ancestors before they are ritually disposed of.
Earth – you can use a dish to hold earth to represent the Northern quarter, or salt for blessing, circle casting and cleansing or as an alternative representation of the North.
Air – a half descent dish, with high enough sides or thick enough base, can be repurposed to hold incense or charcoal discs. In the case of charcoal disc’s you will need to line the bottom of the dish with sand as an extra layer of heat proofing to make sure you don’t damage your surfaces or crack the dish.
Fire – a small dish could become an alternative candle holder for tea lights and votive candles (just make sure the flame isn’t at risk of touching the sides) or a representational cauldron containing a fire.
Water – a small dish can hold water to represent the Western quarter, or be an alternative representation of the Chalice. You could also use a dark coloured dish for scrying by moonlight.
In the foreground of the picture above are a selection of dishes. Not all were bought with the intention of representing the elements. The repurposed ashtray is perfect for incense cones whilst the agate bowl I bought with the intention of charging gem waters but it’s a perfect water representation. My favourite is the blue enamelled metal ash tray. Its small enough to hold earth and salt enough for a ritual, or be a small holder for water elements should I be on the move. It takes up some space but it fits in my travel altar kit if I know I’m going to want to call the quarters.