TOday’s 31 Days of Magic project from the Strategic Sorcery community around Jason Miller is to lay a powder.
As anyone who has been reading along with the previous 23 days knows, I don’t do things the way a good many other magicians do things. I’ve recently gotten my scroll saw set up in the basement, after several years of owning it but having no place to put it. And now it’s up and running. I’ve had a couple of projects put on hold as a result of not having a scroll saw to work with. It was time to get back to that work.
And so I glued some of the pattern pieces down to the boards of the right thickness, and got started. First up were these small washers for an astrological instrument I’m building called a Nocturnal. The design of the instrument isn’t mine; I got it from Clayton Boyer. Once I got these washers cut out, I’d made some powder in the form of sawdust, and scattered it around. And I thought, Wow, this is great! LEt’s do some more. So I did.
Next came the main mobile plate of the instrument, the dial. This required drilling a hole n the center of the wood, and then cutting out the piece. OK, I did that backwards, but it still got done. More sawdust, more powder laid. Making progress, here, toward moving some projects along.
And then came the hexagonal caps which will serve as the decorative top-elements of the nocturnal, holding the other parts together. These were particularly tricky. When the blade is whooshing up and down at high speed, how do you know where it’s going and what it’s doing? It could be doing anything at all, and about to cut your hand. Also, when working with such small parts, how do you hold the part in a steady way, so that the blade cuts just outside the line, and not over/inside the line?
The magic here, of course, is the intense level of concentration required when working with power tools. A drill press can take off a part of your finger if you’re not careful; a scroll saw or a circular saw or a bandsaw can take off your hand. This is not the sort of equipment that you use in anything other than an altered state of mind — by which I mean, an intense mindset of deep and careful concentration, without any sort of medication or drug flowing through your system. This requires your own mind, thinking about nothing else.
You’ll notice that in this photo, the piece of wood is actually nowhere near the blade. This photograph is a set-up… or more accurately a piece of propaganda. But look! Powder! (And you magicians among you — you have no idea what sort of secret correspondences lurk in the mixture of pine, birch, and the chemical components of plywood glue. But it works wonders! I promise. Sorta).
It’s worth noting that this is the sort of mindset that Jesus must have practiced while learning his earthly father’s trade. Maybe not the band-saw speed-kills issue, but the mindset of careful and deliberate attention.
But I didn’t buy the right thickness of wood for the main body of the instrument, so I had to set these aside for a bit. I’ll come back to that later. For now that I’ve practiced on the scroll saw again, the correct astrological hour has come around at last for a particularly special working. I’m going to summon an angel.
The nature of scroll-saw work is that you have to work simultaneously from the inside of the work and the outside. If you want beautiful internal hole-work (and you do) within your scroll-sawn piece, you need a shape that has the right combinations of thick and thin places, and straight edges and curves. This means that you have to drill holes into the middle of the work (with a drill press, ideally), so that you have a place to put the scroll saw blade through the work, cut it out, take the work off the scroll saw blade, and go on to the next work.
It’s absolutely necessary to understand that Rufus Opus, in his working of the Trithemius operations, insists on exactly the same level of care and attention to detail that the scroll saw angel requires. Choose the correct hour, draw your circle with intention, apply the wand, gaze through the crystal to the work, question the angel constantly about its identity, and gradually separate the angelic identity from everything which is not the angel. It is careful, exacting work, and I do not let my concentration waver. The powder does its work well for me, and gradually its mystical power to separate out the non-angelic parts from the angelic parts succeed in doing their part.
Alas, the hour goes too quickly by. A signal appears which indicates that it is time to stop. I say farewell to the angel, at least for the moment, and make a promise to return to the work again when the foretold hour returns again. In the meantime, I have greater clarity about who my spiritual guest was, and what I have learned from my period of inquiry.
One of the things that I have learned, or rather been reminded of, is how hard scroll saw work can be. I feel like the angel has been hammering on me, wrestling with me constantly as I found this spirit and drew it out a little at a time with my saw blade.
When I have put away my working tools, I come upstairs from my magical work for the day, and relax by checking out some things on social media. My friend Gene has posted an article which draws my attention, Why I am not a Maker, by Debbie Chachra.
Indeed. The author mentions the metallurgist Ursula Franklin, who contrasted prescriptive and holistic technologies, and the prescriptive and holistic artisans who use these technologies. My goal, always, is to be a holistic artisan: to know as much whole process of what I am making, from beginning to end. I don’t want to be the sort of person who sends their work out to be made for them; I want to be the sort of person who makes things for the joy of making them. And this is part of the goal of many grimoires, whether they be cooking grimoires like Alice Waters, or The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals, or the book on scroll saw work that a friend lent to me.
My goal as a maker needs to be focused and refocused back on people, constantly. It’s easy to get attached to the idea that this or that object needs to be made. But I’m a school teacher — and my goal is to help students awaken to what it means to work with and know and care about other people. Sometimes we do this by helping other people. Sometimes we do this by making (not necessarily the same thing as Making) something for them, like food or a box or a garment.
And maybe, for me, this defines the difference between a Maker and a Magician. A Maker prioritizes the work, the thing made, as the most important part of the activity. The Magician, on the other hand, prioritizes the internal experience which arises from the creative endeavor, and the interactional experience when the creative endeavor is seen and experienced and understood by others in the magician’s presence. The Maker loves the work; the Magician loves the people for whom and by whom the work is made.
Not everyone will agree, I know. And maybe it’s the wrong set of distinctions. It’s hard to be sure. All I know is that now that I’m done for now, and my powder is scattered as it should be, is that I want some coffee, and some time in the company of others.
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