Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tools: The Cup / Chalice

On the surface the cup, or the chalice, seems to be a simple tool - a vessel to hold liquid during ritual. Beyond the surface we find complex symbolism, similar to that of the cauldron. For many the cup is associated with water, and is considered a feminine tool, as it can be likened to the womb. (Bet you'll never look at a drinking cup the same way again...) It is a tool of creation and transformation.

The cup can preform several roles in ritual. The most obvious use is holding water or some other drink that will be consumed, or given in offering (or a bit of both), during ritual. In this way it can be seen as a tool of the life giving hearth, a symbol of fertility and abundance. In this way, it also becomes an important part of rituals that focus on the sacred meal.

The cup also plays an important role in rituals of hieros gamos, that is, holy marriage. Many are probably familiar with the Wiccan form, The Great Rite. Rich in sexual symbolism, the plunging of the knife into the cup to represent the union of the Goddess and God. Outside of the Wiccan mythos, it can still represent the union of opposites. Fire and water, conscious and subconscious, seen and unseen, and the lower/instinctual self and higher self.

The cup can come in many shapes, and be made of many materials - anything from a simple clay bowl to a fancy gem-encrusted silver goblet. Sea shells, drinking horns, dried gourds, and coconut shells are all other examples of items that can be used. Material, color, and design all really depend on what the cup means to you, and how you will use it. When doing rituals at home or in the yard, I use a blue ceramic chalice (pictured above). However, when I'm out on longer treks into the forest, I find a small wooden bowl works much better. It's easier to transport, and won't chip or break if it bumps against something else in my pack.

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