A wand is a thin, light-weight rod that is held with one hand, and is traditionally made of wood, but may also be made of other materials, such as metal or plastic. A wand that is used for magical purposes is often called a magic wand, rather than simply a wand. Wands are distinct from scepters, which have a greater thickness, are held differently, and have a relatively large top ornament on them.
In modern times, wands are usually associated with stage magic or alleged real magic, but there have been other uses, all stemming from the original meaning as a synonym of rod and virge. A stick that is used for reaching, pointing, drawing in the dirt, and directing other people, is one of the earliest and simplest of tools.
In British formal government ceremony, special officials may carry a wand of office that represents 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.
Wands were introduced into the occult via the 1200s latin grimoire The Oathbound Book of Honorius. The wand idea from the Book of Honorius, along with various other ideas from that grimoire, were later incorporated into the 1500s grimoire The Key of Solomon. The Key of Solomon became popular among occultists for hundreds of years. In 1888, there was the publication of an english translation of the Key of Solomon by Samuel Mathers (one of the co-founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), which made the text of the Key of Solomon available to the anglophone world. That 1888 english version inspired Gerald Gardner- the creator of Wicca, to incorporate the wand and various other ritual objects into Wicca.
The creators of the Golden Dawn got their idea to use a wand, as well as their other main ritual objects (dagger, sword, hexagrammic pentacle, and cup), from the writings of the mid-1800s occultist author Eliphas Levi. Levi himself mentioned most of those objects (all except for the cup) in his writings because they are in the Key of Solomon, whereas he got the cup from the tarot suit of cups. In Levi's 1862 book Philosophie Occulte, he wrote a fake excerpt of a hebrew version of the Key of Solomon, and that fake excerpt was part of the inspiration for the Golden Dawn's ritual objects, and especially their lotus wand.
Ceremonial uses may have several wands for different purposes, such as the Fire Wand and the Lotus Wand in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In Wicca, wands are used to summon and control angels and genies. Wands serve a similar purpose to the athame, although the two objects have their distinct uses. While an athame is generally used to command, a wand is seen as more gentle, and is used to invite or encourage. Though traditionally made of wood, they 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. In Wicca, the wand usually represents the element air, or sometimes fire, although contemporary wand-makers also create wands for the elements of earth and water. Wands are most often used by Neopagans, Wiccans, Shamans, and other people, in rituals, healing, and spell-casting.
The suit of wands is one of the four suits in the 1909 Rider-Waite-Smith occult tarot deck, and other, later tarot decks that are based upon that deck. The suit of wands replaced the suit of batons from earlier, non-occult tarot decks. The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck also replaced the suit of coins from earlier, non-occult decks, with the suit of pentacles. The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck was designed by two members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn- Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. Waite provided the general guidelines for the deck (including the names of the four suits, and thus the suit of wands), and detailed guidelines for the designs of the major arcana, and he hired Smith to do the painting, and to make original artwork for the minor arcana. Waite instructed Smith to not paint actual wands in the wand cards, but rather to paint large tree trunk staffs with some foliage growing on them, so as to make an association between wands and Eliphas Levi's phrase "the flowering rod of Aaron" from Levi's fake fragment of the Key of Solomon.
The earliest magical rod in European literary canon appears in the Odyssey: the rhabdos (, meaning 'rod') of Circe, who uses it to transform Odysseus's men into pigs. Italian fairy tales put them into the hands of the powerful fairies by the late Middle Ages.
In the 1700s ballads Allison Gross and The Laily Worm and the Machrel of the Sea, the villainesses use silver wands to transform their victims into animals, in emulation of the Odyssey that preceded them. In C. S. Lewis's 1950 novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch's most feared weapon is her wand, whose magic is capable of turning people into stone. This, again, employs the Odysseyan motif of an evil female witch who uses a magic wand to maliciously transform her victims.
In the mid 1900s, the MGM and Disney media companies popularized magic wands via four movies, in which wands were wielded by benevolent female fairy characters. Those movies were The Wizard of Oz (1939; MGM; a wand-staff was wielded by a fairy-witch), Pinocchio (1940; Disney; a wand was wielded by "the blue fairy"), Cinderella (1950; Disney; a wand was wielded by a "fairy godmother"), and Sleeping Beauty (1959; Disney; a wand was wielded by each of three fairies). In The Wizard of Oz and Pinocchio, the fairies' wands are embellished with a star-shaped ornament on the end, whereas in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the fairies have wands with traditional plain tips.
Magic wands commonly feature in works of fantasy fiction as spell-casting tools. Few other common denominators exist, so the capabilities of wands vary wildly. In Joanne K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the first book of which was published in 1997, personal wands are common, as necessary tools to channel out each character's magic, and they are used as weapons in magical duels, and it is the wand that chooses its owner. A wand is also present in the Children of the Red King series in the possession of Charlie Bone as well as the popular MMORPG World of Warcraft where caster classes such as the mage and warlock use wands offensively.