For the 31 Days of Magic today, we’re supposed to use part of an animal. Part of me briefly considered hauling out the fox skull and working with it. But while it is magical, it’s not really Maker work… and for these 31 days of magic, I pledged myself to treat my best wood-cleaver to a taste of my finest whetstone. What the hands make, the mind understands.
Let’s put it another way for the allegedly-wise — what we imagine in Chokmah and more fully delimit in Binah (and later on in Geburah) expand upon in Chesed, decide to bring about in Tiphareth, and then put through our own particular experiences of Netzach, Hod, and Yesod… Why not go the extra distance, and bring it into Malkuth? Doing that completes the circuit, and sends the current all the way back up the Tree to the top.
I get that the last few steps down from Yesod to Malkuth are difficult. For those not versed in magical theory, let me explain — this is one way to describe the process of taking an idea from daydream into physical reality… of planning a work, and then working the plan.
And one of the ways we do this is by putting an animal to work. In this case, the animal in question is a bone folder or two.
For those not versed in the art of bookbinding, a bone folder is a tool made of bone. You can buy plastic ones, but they’re nowhere near as beautiful or as elegant or visceral as one made of bone. For origami, they’re much better than a fingernail at smoothing out a crease in a piece of paper.
Today I put my bone folder to work smoothing out creases in 144 individual pieces of paper. These 144 pieces of paper each became four pages of a book — a book of my poetry that I’ve assembled painstakingly in such a way that every six pages form a signature, or bookbinding unit. The next task will be to make front and back covers for the book, where I’ll have some leeway to be inventive, but not as much as you might think, because creativity happens within rules. There are always pre-existent elements of any project, some off-the-shelf, and some the result of your own prior experimentation. Even then, your own projects are built out of the leavings and leftovers of other beings’ projects: today I worked on a project that was made of the leavings of someone else’s carpentry, which was itself the the result of someone else’s work in a lumber yard and sawmill, which was itself the end product of a murdered tree somewhere in Maine, which was the result of sixty to eighty years of that state’s tepid sunshine. Even the paper for the book comes from somewhere else — perhaps the pulped remains of my other project’s cousins. We are constantly in relationship with all other beings, near and far.
The bone in my bone folder is probably cow bone. But it was likely made in some far-off corner of the world. Maybe it’s a Chinese prisoner’s femur. Maybe it was a cowboy, and not a cow bone. Regardless, it’s a superlative tool for creasing, folding, and precisely bending paper over. The creases in the pages which will become three copies of my magical book are as precise as I know how to make them.
Once completed, I’ll weight them: they’ll rest under a stack of books for three or four days, maybe as much as five or six weeks, until I’m ready to bind the books in new covers. I’ve not decided if the cover will be leather, and the binding long-stitch; or if the covers will be paper-covered boards, and the binding coptic. It will be easier than the book of the Geomancy poem that I did with wooden pages, and fire.
Folding a hundred forty-four pages was time-consuming. In fact, it was gross. It’s slow to do by hand, and the temptation is to fold six or eight or ten pages at once. But the quality of the finished book is so much better when the work is done one page at a time, by hand, with care and attention to detail. I threw out and recopied a few ruined pages, too.
The resulting work is a stack of signatures, each of which contains twenty-four pages of the finished book. Stacked one on top of another, and then weighted down to press the pages and relax the fibers in them, they are in a real sense angels — messengers from my mind to the eventual readers, whether a month from now or a millennium. The book probably won’t last that long, but you never know. Even great deeds done by magic can be forgotten utterly, wrote the novelist George Selden, in the young adults’ book The Genie of Sutton Place. But it’s also possible that small deeds done by magic can be remembered until the ending of the world.
Maybe a handmade book of magical poetry, from the early years of the 21st century, will be a nearly-priceless treasure in times to come.
You never know.