Sometimes I wonder whether would-be magicians ever really think about who they’ll be on the other side of their process of becoming magicians. First off, you’re never really quite done with training to be a magus or a Druid or a sorcerer or what-have-you. It’s always an unfolding process, always a becoming rather than a being. Even once you hold the rank you sought in whatever system you’re trying to learn, that’s only the beginning… the end is much further on in the process. An initiation is just that — a starting point, not an ending. And second, of course, just because you’re a magus or a druid or a sorcerer or what-have-you… that’s no guarantee that people will beat a path to your door, asking you to work magic on their behalf… or that you’ll want to. And third, just because you work magic for people, that doesn’t mean either that you’ll be successful at the magic — or at getting paid for the working.
On the other hand, sometimes a task comes to you that is clearly your responsibility. Such was the case with shoveling the driveway on Christmas Day (so we could go collect an elderly, house-bound relative and bring her to Christmas dinner). Or moving stacks of wood for another elderly relative so she could load her wood stove efficiently. Or doing dishes on Christmas Day (you do know that ancient folk magic, right? — a man who does dishes reduces his chances of being murdered.)
Or repairing this bracelet (which the owner described as ‘magical’). The task came to me over the holidays, and here I am with a magnifying glass, a very thin needle, and some strong polyester thread wrapped in gold(ish) foil of some kind. I’m trying to repair a break in the thread, but even my super-thin needle is breaking each bead almost at the moment that the needle passes through the eye of the bead. I’ve broken about six such beads so far, and the chips of glass from the breakage have cut my fingertips in several places; or they’ve embedded themselves in my skin.
As I do this, I’m reminded of stories about Hiroshima, and the atomic blast there on 6 August 1945 — how the explosion shattered windows to slivers; how the slivers embedded themselves deeply in both objects and people; how the slivers came to the surface of survivors’ skins very slowly, sometimes even decades later; how the hands of a watch face were fused to the glass of the dial at the exact moment of the blast. Deep inside of me, something flinches at this memory, my recollections of video collected by the Enola Gay crew of the mushroom cloud, the videos of test blasts in the Arizona deserts, the remembered horror of research for a history project. Glass, for me, carries memories of war crimes.
It’s not just war crimes, though. I’m reminded, too, of my cousin’s childhood friend Oliver, now a glassblower and artist. I’m reminded of a childhood visit to Webatuck Craft Village in Dover, NY, and a glassblower’s studio there — where I picked up a too-hot ball of blue cobalt glass from the floor of the studio; and the burn mark it left. I recall playing with my father’s marbles, learning to shoot those beautiful half-century-old spheres across a ring scratched in the dirt.
My memories recall, too, the slipperiness of a glass that fell from my hand six years ago. I relive the horror I felt a year ago, on discovering that I’d eaten a meal out of a bowl that was un-chipped when I filled it with food; but chipped when I went to wash it afterward ( I appear to be unharmed). My memory calls up the experience of starting a fire with a lens (this very lens, in this photograph, in fact); and using this same lens to build a MintyBoost cellphone charger, the first time I ever used a soldering iron. I recall another thing about glass, the way that original 17th century windows look, with the glass slightly ‘drooped’ toward the bottom, where the properties of glass as a slightly-thrixotropic solid have caused the glass to run. I recall learning about the difference between windows of blown glass and windows of plate glass, too.
In other words, the experience of repairing a necklace made of glass beads recapitulates and re-excites all the nerve endings that have ever touched glass, or been cut by it (as they’re being cut by it now). My whole being, my whole body and soul and etheric form is currently telling me all that I’ve ever learned about glass in my entire life — from how it’s colored and faceted to how it’s made to how it feels when it slices into skin by accident. It’s comparing and contrasting with obsidian and flint, steel and plastic and paper and quartz.
And it’s getting on with the work, too.
I break another bead. Damn. And I give myself another micro-cut on my left hand.
I’ve broken about eight of the larger beads, at this point. The result is that I’ve lost about 2″ of the necklace by trying to repair it using the methods that my prior experience and inspiration have suggested to me.
I do some research.
I learn that when a necklace or bracelet of knotted beads breaks, the best option is to re-string it. If a cord snaps on a knotted-strand necklace, then it means that the beads tend to be tiny and fragile — pearls or glass. The holes are sometimes uneven, and these openings cannot be polished properly; the strand is likely to be cut somewhere in the middle of the strand if the beads can move. If the beads can move, they will rub on their cord, and cut it eventually.
And so I stop trying to repair this necklace with a tiny patch job by repairing the cord with knots and thread strung through the last two beads on each half of the strand. I understand how glass cuts; I know more about glass beads, now, than I ever thought I would. I’ve added to my store of knowledge about beading and about glass and about string and about repair. I’m better-armed for my next encounter with this sort of work; better-armed for a sense of how to respond to this sort of request: “you’d do better taking it to be professionally restrung. It may not be worth the time or effort or money.”
But then… for the magician, for the Druid, for the Maker, it may be worth the time and effort. The vagaries of our Work — poorly-paid though it may be — requires us to know and remember useful and interesting information, and to recombine it. Here, the failure of one method of repair suggested another, and opened fruitful lines of research. It awakened the mind to other possibilities, other lines of inquiry. It helped recollect facts, and sorted them in new ways. It recalled long-forgotten information, and the sources that information came from. Out from this magical necklace, which really is only a strand of knotted silk and some amber-and-clear glass beads, came a treasure-house of memories… not the memories of its owner and previous wearers, but rather my own. The process of touching this necklace awakened a range of knowledge that had long laid dormant.
And this is some of what it means to be a magician, or a Druid, or a sorcerer or a witch or a what-have-you —a Maker or Shaper or that sort of worker whose work doesn’t really have a name. It’s not only people that speak to us, you see. Things and Materials and Stuff and Plants and what-have-you speak to us as well. They tell us of the world that is, and was, and might yet be. And we listen.
And sometimes, even in failures, we learn a new way of seeing the world.