I recently saw a post at Ayslyn’s blog on spiritual house cleansing, which is very comprehensive. She mentioned the use of a bell and I wanted to write on The Use of Bells in Witchcraft and Magicke since I have not seen much written on the subject before.
We’ve all heard of the term “Bell, Book and Candle” from the Kim Novak movie. To a real witch the Bell represents air and water and is a symbol of the Goddess. The Book symbolizes the power of the written and chanted invocation and evocation. And the Candle represents the light and fire of the God.
The sound of a bell travelling through the atmosphere is a vibration of air, but it seems to act more like the rippling of water, which is why i attribute both elements to its use.
In Tibetan Buddhism the bell is called a ghanta and represents the Goddess, as the vajra or thunderbolt represents the God. But a ghanta is complete in itself as the handle is usually a vajra shape. And in fact all bells symbolize both sexes as the clapper is the male and the bowl of the bell is the female.
The bell has been manufactured and used for mundane and spiritual purposes for as long as humans have smelted metal. A bell rung in a village called out across the countryside to gather people for announcements, or to call them together to fend off pending attacks. Bells in Christian cathedrals and Hindu and Buddhist temples are rung to call the gods and to carry our prayers to them. In liturgy a bell is rung to emphasize important parts of it, or maybe to just arouse participants from their snoozing off. Bells are rung at wedding and funerals, at both joyous and somber events.
In Witchcraft and Magicke it seems ringing a bell while chanting does through out a vibration that penetrates throughout the temple and house, even into the walls, getting into every nook and cranny.
Negative spirits do seem to dissipate when we use this method. I once did a house exorcism and cleansing with my Priestess, which was recorded for TV, and I rang a bell and swung a censor of incense to the chant of Apo Pantos Kakodaimonos (Greek for – Be gone from me all evil spirits) while my Priestess pointed her athame in every corner. A nasty little incubus imp appeared to her, showed its needle teeth, then took off like its ass was on fire.
But good spirit like the fey of the woods also seem to like the sound of a bell. I know pagans who say to not use metal when working with the nature spirits, and I do not use my athame or sword when working outside. I think if it is metal that is sharp or pointed, something that could be used to harm trees or animals, then they shrink away from it. I don’t think it is the type of metal as much as how it is used because people say they fear iron, but fact is the entire core of the earth is molten iron. Bells are usually made of brass or bronze, so that is a different vibe I guess, more balanced and softer. No one, whether human or fey likes a sudden loud clang of a bell startling them. But I think they like the softer sound of smaller bells like in a wind chime.
In our Coven we ring the bell after calling the Watchtowers, and is to both to call them and to honor them. At All Hallows or Samhain we ring the bell 40 times to call the dead we wish to honor. Its hard to get the clapper to just ring 40 times so I usually just hit the bell with the athame to achieve this number. I am reminded at 9/11 commemoration ceremonies how they ring a fireman’s bell when they read the names of the fallen.
In choosing a good bell it is all about the sound, not the size or fanciness of it. One of the prettiest bells I had was Russian, but it sounded dull because it was not cast well. I tend to not buy ritual tools over the internet, Tibetan ghantas and singing bowls are well made so these are probably safe to buy that way. But I think it is always best to just go to a flea market and buy one directly to feel it in your hand and hear the sound for oneself. Old school bells, old servant’s bells or even Austrian crystal Hallmark holiday bells work well, and actually the less fancy bells have plainer surfaces that are easier to engrave or paint with the symbols of your craft. Blessed Be!