I've been thinking about tools a lot lately, and am going to have a bunch of thoughts on individual tools, but I first wanted to explore the general concept of tools. There is a huge range of opinions on tools, from the very ceremonial outlook that tools must be made by you, in a very specific manner, each detail lined out and explained. On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that tools are completely unnecessary and the self is the only tool you need and the rest is just fluff and glitter to make you feel special.
I fall somewhere in between, and my use of tools varies with my mood. I have tools, some of which I have made myself and some of which I have bought. I have tools that are fancy and tools that are simple. Sometimes I work with the tools of my body (gesture, word, posture), sometimes I work with the tools of my mind (visualized and astral rituals) and sometimes I work with no tools at all (just pure desire sent out).
Many of my beliefs about tools were formed early on. When I first started practicing, much was made about the interaction between the talking self, younger self and higher self. The higher self being the soul or the divine part of us, the talking self being the conscious mind and the younger self being the subconscious. I really do think that we work magic through accessing the higher parts of our self. By tapping into that divine within us, we effect the divine in everything else. But I do also know that my talking self tends to try to talk me out of things. It is where my fears and insecurities live. And I think of the younger self as the child me, doing whatever it thinks the other two want it to do.
The problem is that the younger self doesn't really respond to words well. Like a young child just learning to speak, actions and emotions speak much louder to the younger self. So if I have a pretty little chant for a spell, my younger self might only understand a few words. Think about a poem or song verse you really like, and then pick three key words out of it. It probably won't make much sense anymore, and worse you could probably combine those three words to mean very different things.
This is where tools really shine. They give the younger self something to fixate on that it can understand. And the more you use them, the stronger the connections are formed for the younger self so the quicker and better it gets involved in your workings.
Tools are really more than just the blade and wand or what many people think of as tools. The candle we light and the paper we burn with our wishes on it are both tools. The ritual bath we take before hand is a tool. The music we have playing in the background is a tool. If you think of it like a play, the talking self can read a script and understand what is going on, but the more props, costumes, theme music and acting going on, the more the younger self can follow what is happening.
I think it is more important to use tools when you are first starting out. It not only helps the younger self to work with you and achieve your goals, but it also clearly defines 'magic time'. When you get out the tools, slip on your robe (or whatever ritual clothing/jewelry you use), your entire mind realizes something special is going on. As you get used to working, you will find it much easier to get in the right mind frame without all the ceremony. That isn't to say you can't start your practice without any tools, it will just be harder for most people.
It makes me sad, to read beginner books now, that don't explain why tools are useful. There is something very Harry Potter to me about a lot of modern books. They kind of make it seem like the stuff is magical and you are just using it. The magic is within, the tools just help us to touch it until we can recognize it's feel and see it all around us.