I’ve had this project in mind for a long time. What with one thing and another, though, I’ve started and stopped it so often that the pages have become warped and damaged through neglect. I still felt like I should finish it, in order to have closure around the work.
The Elemental Book is, at the moment, a set of four pages or ‘rooms’ and a cover of white cardstock. Each ‘room’ is formed of a 12″x12″ sheet of cardstock, ‘wallpapered’ with patterned paper in the colors of the Four Elements of western ceremonial magic, earth, water, air, and fire. The cardstock is folded into quadrants; one of the fold lines is then cut, and the quadrants are re-arranged (and one is folded on a diagonal, to form the floor) so that the ‘room’ is formed and the walls get made double-thickness on one side of each room. The book is designed so that it can be opened and oriented so that the Air room faces east, and then it can function as a kind of altar or shrine to the Elements. This came out of my work on the Kavad a few years ago — because western Europe apparently built grimoires and sworn books and magical papyri instead of kavads.
The book folds flat, of course, once the paperclip or the clothespin is removed. Or, it would fold flat if I hadn’t kept taking up and putting down the project, and letting the pages get warped by putting it in too damp a spot, or using the wrong kind of glue, or … well, in truth a host of things went wrong with this project. It’s based, too, on the preliminary work shown here in the video, and that is based specifically on Tamara’s work here on making this four-room album/dollhouse.
Back to that whole issue of grimoires (i.e., books) vs. kavads (or magical storytelling boxes) I mentioned a paragraph back: Papercraft is a major route into Maker culture today. it’s not as respected as electronics, or as cool as robotics. But it teaches engineering and precision; it’s more forgiving than soldering work; and there’s a long tradition of building books of art which can then be used to train up the mind and body to do amazing and magical things.
I think there’s a case to be made that the act of making the book is an important part of the learning of the magic. It’s one thing to read a book on how to do magic, but it’s quite another to make the book that does the magic. And it’s not as easy as you might think.
But Bookbinding is a skill that gets better with practice. And, unfortunately, it’s also a skill that declines rapidly when it’s not practiced frequently enough.
Powers lost and regained
It’s a holdover from the “Victorian lodge magic” era, I think, to assign the Elements to the cardinal directions, and to associate those Elements with colors: Air with the east and with yellow, Water with the west and with blue, Fire in the south with red, and Earth in the north with green. Maybe it’s earlier than that, too; I see evidence of directionality being a thing of some importance in some older magical texts, and personal experience attests to this to some degree.
For a good long while I said Resh regularly. This is a set of four prayers said at ‘the doorposts of the day’: dawn, noon, sunset, and midnight. One of the side effects of saying Resh — which I understood as ancient Egyptian prayers, but which maybe have their origin in that same era of Victorian lodge magic so roundly criticized these days — seems to be that you start to develop an inerrant sense of time, and an inerrant sense of space. These skills fade if you stop practicing, of course; but you do get the ability to predict the correct time within about 2 minutes after only a few months’ of practice, and to know the precise directions of North, South, East and West.
The other day I was in a meeting, and someone by happenstance asked where East was… and I realized that I’d gotten turned around inside the building, and that I didn’t know anymore. And I checked my internal time-sense before I checked my phone’s clock. That’s when I realized that my lack of practice recently had also affected my time-sense, and that I was not able to predict accurately what time it was. You never know you’ve lost a magical power or two until you try to use that power unconsciously, and discover that you’ve forgotten how to access it.
Fortunately, I have a pretty good idea how to get this particular power back. I have to take up the practice of facing the direction at the right time of day, and praying. Six weeks, maybe eight, and I’ll always know where east-south-east is. At least, I will have it forever — until the next time I abandon the practice.
I have to ask my more magically-inclined readers: have you made a grimoire? I mean, maybe it’s just a three-ring binder with a mix of family recipes and stuff you found on the internet. But have you made one? Have you taken the time to write down and copy out the text and images that matter to you, that represent part of the core of what you consider sacred, important, beautiful, honorable in the world?
Gordon and I never speak directly to one another, exactly, but in his podcast this week, his new publisher Peter reminded us that it’s important to read widely in this business — which I take to mean that the King James Bible and Gilgamesh and the Tao Te Ching and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms are likely better for your spiritual and magical and intellectual health than another perusal of a book about broomsticks.
But I’d like to suggest that the Making matters as much as the Reading. “What we build with the hands, the mind understands and remembers.” I will never forget how a force pump works because I have built it with my own two hands; and even though “it’s only a model,” it is as sure in my mind as Camelot. Coconut shells are a useful stand-in for horses in the right circumstances; radio dramas come to mind, for example, but not — at first glance — feature-length films.
More seriously, though, where’s your script for a feature-length film? Why doesn’t it have coconut shells in it instead of horses? I mean, Shakespeare got away with telling his audience to imagine horses in the prologue to Henry V. Have you made your movie into a radio drama yet?
Have you Made anything lately? How have you taken the vast, nigh-unknowable, spiritual substance, intellectualized and emotionally weighted it… and then brought it into material form?
Deb Castellano gets this, I think. Her blog, and Etsy store, demonstrate how important it is to be One who Makes in this line of work we’re in. When we change one small thing, we’re bringing reality into a closer alignment with our ideals. It doesn’t have to be huge, it doesn’t have to be enormous.
But the authors of the grimoires and the papyri, and their later copyists who dragged quill over parchment much more laboriously than we mouse-click in Photoshop or choose from sixty fonts the right one to express a clichéd poetic spell for the second page of our own notebook, still understood the hard labor necessary to make a THING come into being from raw materials. This wood, cut from that tree at this time, shall be your wand.
Some people have power such that they can simply BE, and power flows from them. But some… probably most of us, definitely me… we have Strength when we Are; but find a greater power when we Do.