The magic wand is the most iconic of a wizard's magical tools. It is the transmitter of a person' will and desire, the very essence of magic. Of course, as a wandmaker, I could be a little biased. Yet, think of the ancient druids, think of Circe, think of Cinderella's fairy godmother! Magic or druidecht (as it is in Gaelic) is very often performed with the aid of a wand. In the folklore and ancient records of sorcery in the Classical Age or in ancient Egypt, we find wands. Even the staff of the old wandering wizard like Gandalf is a wand (in fact, his name means "wand-elf"). (The word "wand" is really synonymous with "rod." It is mainly a matter of length—if your wand is long enough to use as a walking stick, then it's a staff.)
Even more recently than Tolkien's Gandalf, J. K. Rowling developed another fictional world of witches and wizards with the Harry Potter series. We shall see if the books remain touchstones for real mages as they become "classics" of children's literature, though to the present moment, they have had a tremendous impact on wands and wandmakers. In the Harry Potter series, Mr. Ollivander (the wandmaker) and the Hogwarts professors teach the young Harry and his friends about how wands work. In Rowling's fictional world, there are certain trees that are "wand trees," and you can tell which ones they are because they are tended by "bowtruckles," little stick-like magical creatures. The young magic students also learn that the core of a magical beast inserted in the wand somehow makes it capable of directing the magician's spells. In the film versions of the stories, the wands become blasters that shoot blasts of light with enough force to knock someone across a room.
These stories are fiction, with the addition of sensational Hollywood special effects, but there are elements of truth in Ms Rowling's ideas. While I had never heard of wands made with cores of unicorn hair or phoenix feather prior to the publication of Rowling's novels, the idea is nevertheless perfectly applicable to real wands. Young wizards and witches write to me regularly to ask where I get my phoenix feathers. I tell them, Arizona. But the truth is that they come from the netherworld, that other dimension of existence that modern mages usually call the Astral World or the Astral Plane. Unicorns, phoenixes, dragons, and griffins, all exist in the Astral reality just as surely as trees exist on the material plane of being. Can they enter the material plane? I personally believe they can, to a degree, but the nature of their existence is quite different from our own, or the existence in the material plane of ordinary animals.
If there is one fundamental axiom of the magical arts, it is that spiritual things interpenetrate all material manifestation. Thoughts, dreams, visions, feelings—all exist on other planes of reality but also connect to objective things within our world of here and now. So, yes, dragons, griffins, and unicorns are real—you just have to expand your own consciousness to include more reality. In the Harry Potter stories, these beasts are called "magical," but actually they are heraldic beasts. Most of the meaning of these animals comes from their use by heralds as symbols on the shields of knights and in noble achievements-at-arms. This is the main way they manifest in the material plane. In the first instance they came from ancient and medieval legends and bestiaries.
What does it mean to include the bodily ephemera of some mythical creature as a wand core? Well, first let me say what it does not mean. It does not mean drilling a hole into a wand and inserting a physical feather or strand of hair into the wand. The hair and feather exist on the astral plane and therefore have no material existence like that of ordinary feathers and hair. They are enchanted into the wand on this astral level, for a magic wand also has its astral existence. It is (well, everything is, really) a polydimensional entity. We speak of the material plane, the astral plane, the mental plane, and the archetypal plane as if they were separate "places." In most modern parlance they are imagined to be something like a parallel universe. But are dimensions parallel worlds? Is "length" or "width" a world? Apart from the fictional tale Flatland, we do not usually think of dimensions that way. However, the astral dimension is more complicated because we have access to it mentally.
While human minds generally cannot see into the first two dimensions independently of the third (because our bodies are in 3D), we can see into the higher dimensions because we are also spiritual beings (which is to say that part of our being is in a higher dimension). Sages generally agree that our organism exists in all the dimensions, from the Divine plane down to the first dimension. Arguably, human consciousness even exists in the non-dimensional singularity. That said, most of us are not taught to shift our consciousness into other dimensions of our being. Or, I should say, the process is usually not considered outside the teachings of a particular religion. Religions preserve the idea that we are spiritual beings and have an existence beyond the material world, but it has been the secret traditions that have revealed and studied the matter in detail.
When we create a magic wand properly, we are not simply carving a stick or painting it. That is only the supporting material structure upon which is erected a structure of enchantment. The real wandmaking happens on the astral plane and the realm of spirits. In my own wandmaking practice, it is the dryad spirit of the tree that gave the branch, which is most important. The spirits of stone and mythical beast can also play a role, melding with the dryad's character to form a new whole.
For example, if I craft a wand of oak with a malachite reservoir stone and a core of dragon scale, the three kingdoms—animal, vegetable, and mineral—come together to form the wand's character. Oak is magically linked to the constellation Leo. It holds power to draw lightning or the bolt of inspiration. The Sun, which rules Leo, is the source of life and light. Psychologically it is the center of the Self. Oak symbolizes all solar heroes, those who venture out from their homelands to achieve great deeds and bring home wondrous treasures. Oak traditionally provided not only one of the most durable woods for construction and fuel, but also the acorn from which the early tribes fed their pigs throughout the winter. Oak is one of the longest lived trees, thus embodying great wisdom as well as strength and long life. The name for oak in the bardic ogham is Duir, and this is related to the Elvish word dwyn, "door" or "portal," the great door of a manor dwelling. It is also, of course, often linked to drwyd, "druid" or "wizard." As the wizardwood, there is no more magical wood for wandmaking, and it is especially noted for enhancing the endurance of spells against time and counterspell. The acorn is associated magically with a helmeted head and so to the crown chakra. Oak is especially well-suited to magic of kingship and wise rule, personal sovereignty, authority, power, protection, sealing or opening doors, endurance, and invocation of wisdom, fertility, and abundance.
To this rich character we add the stone malachite. This dark green stone with swirls and stripes of lighter green is reputed to confer the ability to understand animal languages; it is also valued as a protective stone, revitalizing to the body and mind. It repels evil spirits, inspires tolerance and flexibility, opens communication, and stabilizes energy. It is an excellent stone for creating through magical manifestation, strengthening the intuition and the power of transformation. Malachite acts as a psychic mirror, amplifying the energy one projects into it and drawing one into other worlds in meditation. We must use our intuition to fully grasp how these characteristics merge with those of the oak dryad. Malachite's green color derives from copper, another important alchemical metal, this one expressing the power of Venus. Used as a reservoir stone in the pommel of the wand, this feminine power is very powerful and balances the masculinity (yang) of the fiery oak. Malachite's coppery association with Venus energy makes is a stone attuned to the alchemical element water.
The third ingredient in this spiritual architecture is the core of dragon scale. A more natural choice to echo the qualities of oak would be the hair of a winged lion or a griffin (the rear end), but dragon scale will add a whole different character to the oak wand. Dragons shed their skin like snakes, and this allows wandmakers like me to take shards of their scales suitable for wand cores. Using our imaginative power, the core is enchanted into the wand. While the wood and the stone have both material and astral being, the dragon scale has only astral being. I find that this forms a strong bridge between the material and astral dimensions of the mage and the mage's will, and a central part of doing magic is to project one's will into the higher planes and shift one's consciousness into the astral plane. Actions in the astral plane can have a causative relationship to those in the material plane, and this is how ordinary reality is transformed.
Now, dragon scale lends the spiritual character of the dragon. There are many kinds of dragons with widely differing characters, which makes dragon scale one of the most versatile and adaptable core materials; for the sake of example, let's say it is a common Welsh Red. Apart from enhancing any magic to do with Wales and the Cymric people, such a dragon lends the quality of ferocity, intensity, and aggressive self-assertion. The character of greed often attributed to dragons is not really greed; it is simply an instinctive appreciation for treasures—rather like the magpie's instinct for picking up shiny things. In the typical dragon's nest, one finds a lot of other shiny things besides gold, silver, and jewels. Now, this characteristic is handy for the mage who wants a wand to find treasure; whether seeking material riches or the treasures of the mind and spirit, the magic is the same and the dragon in the wand will assist. The dragon's intensity will draw more power into all magic done with the wand. It will also intensify the qualities of the oak and malachite.
These considerations of what comprises the spiritual architecture of a magic wand are also influenced by the birth time of the wand (that is, the time of its enchantment as a wand of magic). I generally try to include as much fire in the elemental configuration of the wand's birth chart. Astrologically, each sign of the Zodiac has an elemental quality, and Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are the fire signs. If the sun, the moon, the ascendant, or the Midheaven are in these signs, so much the better. The moon of course should be waxing or full at the moment of enchantment to present the intensifying energy of its sign. I also pay special attention to Mercury, the planet that rules magic, and Mars, the planet that rules will. Planets appearing in the eighth house are also desirable (if they are aspected well), because this is the house of magical and esoteric business.
A wand is not a human being, so the astrological nativity of a wand must be interpreted differently than that of a person. But, it does have a bearing on the personality (so to speak) of the wand. Every magic wand is capable of doing any kind of magic. These qualities and shades of character only lend a certain talent, as we might say, for particular kinds of magic. If the wand is being made for a specialized purpose—for example an air-wand or water-wand—then the appropriate wood, stone, and core, and the appropriate timing of the enchantment to include more of the element air or water will fine-tune the wand for elemental weaving.
Wandlore is a big topic. That is why I've written a book on the subject; if you wish to learn more, pick up a copy of the book. Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool is a complete guide to every step in the process of wandmaking, from design to carving to enchantment and consecration. Go well!