A wand is a hand-held stick or rod made of a variety of materials from wood, stone, ivory, plastic or even precious metals like gold or silver. Generally, in modern language, wands are ceremonial and/or have associations with magic but there have been other uses, all stemming from the original meaning as a synonym of rod and virge, both of which had a similar development. A stick giving length and leverage is perhaps the earliest and simplest of tools. Long versions of the magic wand are usually styled in forms of staves or scepters, often with designs or an orb of a gemstone forged on the top. For example, six to eight-foot-long staves with metal tips adorning them are carried traditionally in Freemasonry during rituals of the Craft.
In ecclesiastical and other formal ceremonial settings, special officials may carry a wand of office representing their power. Compare in this context the function of the ceremonial mace, the scepter, and the staff of office. Its age may be even greater, as Stone Age cave paintings show figures holding sticks, which may be symbolic representations of their power.
In Pharaonic Egypt, different articles were left in the tombs such as weapons for use against possible enemies, amulets to protect against serpents, often together with magic texts and a magic wand which enabled the ba (soul) of the deceased to use them.
In classical Greco-Roman mythology, the god Hermes/Mercury has a special wand called a caduceus.
In the Pagan world, the wand usually represents the element air, or sometimes fire, although contemporary wand makers also create wands for the elements of earth and water. The wand is most often used by Neo-pagans, Wiccans, Shamans and others in rituals, healing and spell casting.
In the Tarot deck of cards, “Wands” is also another name for the suit of Staves, Batons or Rods. It is normally associated with the element of fire, representing creative energy, passion, confidence, and charisma.
Though traditionally made of wood, wands can also consist of metal or crystal. Practitioners usually prune a branch from an Oak, Hazel, or other tree, or may even buy wood from a hardware store, and then carve it and add decorations to personalize it; one can also purchase ready-made wands.
The earliest magical wand in western literary appears in the Odyssey: that of Circe, who uses it to transform Odysseus’s men into wild beasts. Italian fairy tales put them into the hands of the powerful fairies by the late Middle Ages. In the ballads such as Allison Gross and The Laily Worm and the Machrel of the Sea, the villains use silver wands to transform their victims. In the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch’s most feared tool is her wand, whose magic is capable of turning people into stone.
Magic wands commonly feature in works of fantast as spell-casting tools. Few other common denominators exist, so the capabilities of wands vary wildly. Note that wands fill basically the same role as wizards’ staffs, though staffs generally convey a more ‘serious’ image; a fairy godmother would often use a wand, possibly with a star or some form of decoration on the end, while Gandalf would most likely not (however, in The Hobbit, he is said to use a wand, referring to his staff, to fight the goblins of the Misty Mountains and their Wargs). Gandalf’s name is Northern Mannish (one of Tolkien’s invented languages, similar to North Germanic languages) for “Elf of the Wand”, a reference to the staff he carries. In dramatic fiction, wands can serve as weapons in magical duels. Personal wands are common in the fictional world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, as necessary tools to channel out each character’s magic; it is the wand that chooses its owner. A wand is also present the popular MMORPG World of Warcraft where caster classes such as the mage and warlock use wands offensively.
For magicians, their wand is not so much a physical tool like a hammer or screwdriver with practical physical functions, but instead, it can aid the user to change or manipulate the world around them. It essence, the wand is used to aid in the illusion change in the material reality that is around us and to manipulate the subjective conscious experiences of the audience watching their magical performance. That we can affect material reality for the pleasure of others is “real magic” of the wand and indeed of the magician. Perhaps this is why, magicians ritually break a wand when a fellow magician dies.
This post incorporates text from a public domain publication: Herbermann, Charles, ed.(1913), Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton; See also: Wandlore: A Guide for the Apprentice Wandmaker ISBN 978-0993328404