The focus on the abstract and the symbolic in many modern traditions is a bit odd in my opinion. Not that the abstract and symbolic don’t have a place or value, of course. As a born mystic, these things have always intrigued and interested me. It’s the amount of focus and the importance placed that I think is a harmful thing for really growing and practicing.
As a specific example, my main objection to the Classic elements in folk magic is the lack of practical application to the real work. I can’t hold elemental Fire or Water or Earth or Air in my hands, I can’t mix them and make something out of them. But I can take the soil of the land and mix it with water from creek or pond or river or lake, to make mud, and form it into a figure of someone or something or a tablet or a disc for an amulet, and can sit it out for the wind and sun to dry.
You won’t hear a farmer use a blessing like, “may you have water and air and earth.” That is too abstract to be meaningful. You would hear something closer to, “may you have rain or irrigation water to water the crops, may you have fresh air to breathe and wind to blow away harmful insects, may your land be fertile and rich and produce.” Or something more along those more practical lines.
This holds true in many areas. What good does a symbol do if it isn’t applicable in a material or at least methodical way? The Work is about doing the work, not about symbols that can be meditated on but have no pragmatic purpose.
The toad bone was not obtained by some because it symbolized all the things it can be seen to symbolize. These symbols aren’t of no importance, nor are they not real, but they aren’t the point. The toad bone was obtained for very specific purposes, to control animals, to have power over people, and others. Read Andrew Chumbley’s The Leaper Between, and you will see the application is the major focus, not the symbolism, though that exists as well.
I come from simple people, even if I work in an industry far from that, and move at times in higher society. My ancestors on both sides were mostly farms, and when not farmers, still working class people. Salt of the earth, honest folk. This is why my grandpa lost everything twice, as to him, a handshake was a deal. This is why my father always felt more comfortable out with his drilling team in the forest pulling up rock core samples than in the office with those who were more concerned with politics than the work. My father tastes dirt to know what it is made of. My grandpa on my mother’s side worked the ground most of his life, as his father did, and his, all the way back to Germany and Prussia. I come from simple, working class, people, not academics or philosophers, not politicians or old money. And when you live that life, or come from that seed, or do that work, you do what needs to be done, rather than worrying what it means.
Both my father and my mother’s father were water witchers, and could find whatever they were looking for beneath the ground with their skill. It didn’t mater what the meaning of anything was, it mattered that it worked and they could find what they needed. My father used that skill with the drilling team, and they always hit the vein they were trying for when he told them where to drill. There was no symbolism, no hidden meaning, just a skill others couldn’t use that was accurate and got the job done.
Except among philosophers and theologians, symbols and meanings are secondary to what you can use the thing for. The Classical elements are great for discussion and even as symbols in ritual, but, as Bearwalker would say, you can you grow corn in them? The abstraction from the physical things that we interact with when we get our hands dirty to the philosophers’ symbols and metaphors is often a distraction from the work, work that only truly gets done when we get our hands dirty and do the work.