The sphere is often used as a divination tool. The user gazes into until images are seen in the mind or projected by the depths of the crystal, to reveal information or insights. It can also be used as a way to receive messages from the gods, or to store energy. Traditionally, the sphere falls on the Goddess side of the altar because of its round shape. Quartz crystals are by far the most common, but due to popularity, real quartz is sometimes difficult to find. You can often distinguish it from fakes by irregularities and inclusions in the stone.
The cup is exactly what you think it is—basically a cauldron with a stem. It is a symbol of the Goddess and fertility. Sometimes it holds water (a common part of an altar) or it can hold a special drink for a ritual.
The altar pentagram is a flat wood or brass pentagram that often graces the altar. This symbol, as previously discussed, is an important part of Wicca because it symbolizes the five elements. As a part of the altar, it is sometimes used to summon the gods. It has other uses; it can be hung over a door or window for protection, or be used to draw in energy from the earth.
Next to the broom, the bell is one of my favorite tools of the trade. It is a ritual instrument that can be used outside of a rite. Its ringing vibrations ward off evil spirits and invoke good energies, purifying the area. Placed like a pentagram over a door, it guards the home. It can also be used to begin and/or end spells, and invoke the Goddess, as this is one of Her symbols.
Book of Shadows
The Book of Shadows is the Wiccan’s workbook—it’s the place where you record everything to do with your faith and exploration, from spells to runes, governing magicks, rituals, and so on. It is not a book that’s been passed down through generations of witches; it is your book. And in this digitally modern age, it’s now generally acceptable for your BOS to be in any format that floats your boat, even if it’s a Word document. (Although I personally recommend keeping a handwritten BOS as this ensures you’ve had an active part in actually writing and remembering.) No matter what format it takes though, it’s a good idea to use a blessing or protection spell on your BOS. And remember, the things you record there are your guide, not your Bible. They can be changed, elaborated, shortened, whatever you need them to be.
Tarot cards are commonly used as a divination tool. Despite a lot of speculation, the origins of the tarot are rather obscure, but today the standard deck is the Rider-Waite-Smith (to be looked at on a later date). Today, there are dozens of different decks, from the female-based Round MotherPeace to the Vertigo deck. One of the things I find most interesting about the tarot is the Fool. Its number is zero, and yet there is a lot of variation as far as its placement within the major arcana. The cards do take time to learn, but they’re very useful once you’ve mastered them. Check out this recent post by a fellow Wicca blogger about tarot: http://tinyurl.com/5sbnzpr.
Mortar and pestle
Mortars and pestles are an ancient combo. For eons, together they have been the icon of the medicine woman, the source of many a healing potion or cream. The herbs that are crushed and ground here are used in cooking as well as healing. This was there the spice that kept bland at bay came from before they invented store-bought herbs. Most often, mortars and pestles are made of ceramic, but other common materials include wood, stone and glass. They also come in a variety of sizes, from the small ones that will fit in your palm, to ones that will occupy a whole table.