Magic: chops

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Owl chop

I recently read Benebell Wen’s brilliant book The Tao of Craft after hearing her on Gordon’s show.

One of the things that really caught my attention in the book was the idea that a Fu sigil or talisman should really be signed and sealed — that is, in the same way that a decree from the emperor would be signed and sealed, a Fu sigil carries the authority and mark of the creator. I explained this idea to my partner, who thought it was equally interesting. And so I decided to make a chop — a seal stick — for her, in part as practice for making my own. Which is part of the reason I made that captive ball a few days ago: I want to get better at wood carving, because it’s a useful skill to pair with woodworking generally, and because it will be a nice fit with the automata work I intend to do when the woodworking shop is up and functional again.

My partner frequently uses an owl as her emblem, so I went online and searched for how to carve an owl. This isn’t the one that I used, but it’s close enough — a series of photos of an owl carving.  I used basswood, because I don’t carve jade or soapstone (slightly different and sharper tools, more patience and care required); and I had the tools for this already. It’s a fairly simple procedure to carve an owl. It was also fairly simple to reverse and cut the runic-style emblem my partner uses for her magical sign, into the base of the chop. Except, I still screwed it up — and I’m going to have plane the bottom of her chop flat, and then cut it again.  I don’t have the tools out to do that yet, butI can certainly do something else while I wait to make that set of tools available.

img_3232From there, it was fairly simple to find a procedure for carving a bear. His advice about frequent sharpening is good — I sharpened my cutting tools about six times in the course of carving the bear, and I still wound up using too much force and chipping his right arm off.   I chose to do a statue against a pillar for my bear, because I want to have a place to practice chip carving, on the back of his pedestal; I already completed the small chip-carvings around the base, and I cut my own version of an emblem into the bottom of this seal.  I still think this won’t be my final seal, for me — the missing arm is a bummer.

So here we have an object that shares kinship with a magical-scribal-calligraphic tool from Chinese Taoist magic: a seal. But it’s carved in a Western style, with a Western character sign that indicates a person. And it could be used in western magic to do the same thing it does in Taoist magic: sign and authenticate and command the results in the name of the practitioner.

Is it cultural appropriation — Or cultural inspiration— to draw on the techniques and tools of other traditions to add to and build to the existing Western tradition? Ironically, I think this is part of the reason why I broke my bear at the last possible moment… because the character on the base of my chop is one I chose for myself from Chinese characters a decade or more ago.  But it’s not my emblem to use, nor my tradition. And so, this one is broken, and I’ll have to make it again.

But I still think it showcases what’s possible, what’s within the realm of workability.  The folk tradition of carving already exists in the West; the tradition of ‘enlivening’ statues and statuettes has been part of Western magic since Egypt; the idea of a personal seal to accompany a signature has fallen out of favor in the last two hundred years, but there are still signet rings in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and early Enlightenment periods… and we have evidence of signets or seals all the way back into Babylon and Sumer, at least.

Maybe it’s time to re-awaken the idea of a personal seal.

Quilt Squares

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One of the things that came up recently was how to use Making to teach traditional subjects like, for example, history. I’m of the opinion that teaching Making for the sake of making things is valuable, but not everyone finds that argument convincing. So I figured, its time to learn some more advanced quilting techniques. A lot of the techniques, though, involve cut and reassemble: that is, assemble nine squares into a 3×3 block (or assemble 3 strips into a square);  use a rotary cutter or scissors to slice and dice the 3×3 in a variety of ways — mostly diagonals, and side-midpoints; and then sew and re-assemble. The first step, therefore, was the assembly process. I had to make up a number of 3×3 squares out of experimental fabric squares of various sorts. This has led to the creation of the various squares of fabric that illustrate this post. These are mostly 5″x5″ squares of fabric that I cut up from the remnants of my scrap bin — none of these squares would exist, were it not for other projects. But I find that I’m not entirely ready to slice and dice the 3×3 grids to make new things….Except that finally, I got over my fears. I did a four by four grid, to make an approximation of the form called the “Card Trick.”. I learned quite a bit about quilting from this one— the card trick is usually produced on a diagonal, and out of triangles.
 Finally, I got out the rotary cutter. And I sliced up one uninspiring 3×3 grid both directions: both diagonals, and both side-midpoints. Then I sewed these triangles together to form this crazy form of a cross. You can see that I need more practice at accurate cutting — but you can also see that complexity emerges from the Solve Et Coagula: the dissolution and recombination of parts. 
That is to say, when we take the raw material and subject it to both geometry and the knife, to both the straight edge and the rotation, new properties emerge from the old ones.

This isn’t to say that all of these patterns are beautiful — some of the cutting and sewing results in asymmetry or dullness or plainness. Some patterns won out for being more interesting or vibrant — some lost for being less interesting or uninspiring.  But it’s clear to me that quilt patterns emerged from certain standard practices to preserve fabric waste, and the discovery that the principles of geometry (not necessarily formal geometry, but more practical elements of it — straight edges, diagonals, rotation, and other practices) could be applied to fabric. 

Remarkable realities lurk inside any raw material — wood, glass, paper, metal, plastic, and yes even textiles — but it’s the mind and hands of the artisan that bring these materials to the surface. 

New Book on Amazon!

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I have a new book on

The Mansions of the Moon

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-3-59-28-pmThe Mansions of the Moon, a collection of twenty-eight poems celebrating the angels of the Mansions of the Moon, and their images and lore, as described in Picatrix and other sources like Christopher Warnock’s book, The Mansions of the Moon, is available in Kindle format  here.

Current price is $4.99 for twenty-eight poems, greeting the twenty-eight angels of the Moon’s orbit as found in traditional astrological sources like Picatrix.

From the book blurb on Amazon…

In many ancient sources, the Moon is called “The Treasure House of Images” and this book helps explore that name. From at least the classical era, ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian civilizations divided the sky into twenty-eight Mansions, noting that the Moon spent a day in each of these places in the course of a month. As with the night sky divided into constellations, ancient astronomers named these Mansions and gave them images, and celestial rulers. Thus, the Mansions of the Moon are a ‘Zodiac’ of sorts for the Moon — a sequence of twenty-eight positions that the Moon occupies on successive days through her month-long procession across the sky.

In this sequence of twenty-eight poems, Andrew Watt explores what the Mansions have meant for hundreds if not thousands of years — the spiritual rulers said to reign in those palaces, the forces they put to work in human and earthly affairs, and the imagery that is said to adorn these Mansions. Each Mansion, and each poem, is thus a door or a window into a magical way of seeing the world. By following the Moon through each of the Mansions on succeeding days, the reader gains insight into the way the Moon truly is a Treasure House of Images.

Would you also like it as a downloadable PDF available through my store on Please let me know… In the meantime, you can get my Poetry for the Behenian Stars there, as well as on

Special thanks to Christopher Warnock.  Without his book, The Mansions of the MoonI would never have become so excited about this subject, or written these poems.


Fourteen Minotaurs


Blogos, over at Hermetic Lessons, wrote about the Fourteen Minotaurs recently, and I’ve been playing with this idea for a few weeks quite happily.  It’s the sort of thing that Robert Mitchell could really groove on with his Cabal Fang workouts, actually, so I’m sort of tagging him here.  And it’s also related to stuff from Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery course, so if you want to learn how to do this, consider taking his course, as well (an example of the wealth/poverty divide and thought process is here).

The essence of this idea is pretty simple.  Quantum mechanics indicates that there are maybe billions of “yous” in existence, because each time you make a decision, reality forks and you have a chance to become someone new — your ‘yes-self’ goes off into one alternate universe, and your ‘no-self’ goes on in this one, or vice-versa.  Charlie, a friend of mine, suggests that this is kind of like a tree model, where your first-ever decision to cry, or not-cry, becomes the root of your being — and each further decision ‘forks’ your reality until you end up at one of millions of trillions of possibilities.  Blogos argues, based on the book of Raziel, that that’s probably not the case, that maybe there are really only fourteen possible selves, fourteen minotaurs in the maze of human soul-in-animal-body, which you can become. As is common in much astrological and occult wisdom literature, these seven are associated with the seven visible planets (the ones that can be seen with the naked eye).  These are: More

Magic on 34th Street

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I’d never seen Miracle on 34th Street (1947) all the way through from beginning to end before.  It’s one of those movies that I’d caught six or twelve or fifteen scenes from, but out of order and with only a general sense of the plot without caring too much about the specifics.  Which is fine; I imagine that many of you have seen other charming movies in much the same way.

Yet this time, seeing it all the way through, two things stood out for me.  First, the movie is utterly without special effects.  It may be that there are ‘behind-the-scenes’ film-editing techniques that are creating astonishing results.  Yet those results are invisible to the audience member.  The whole movie is told with (sometimes campy) acting and storytelling, not with flash-bang and crazy imagery.

The second thing I was aware of is how much Miracle on 34th Street looks like magic.  Or more specifically, how frequently magic works exactly as it’s presented in this movie.

Consider: a series of coincidences results in the real Kris Kringle being able to replace the old lush who was intended for the parade.  The real Kris has a variety of people come to his aid.  Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbal come to various detentes and agreements because it seems to be good business.  The right place for Kris to sleep opens up for him.  The Post Office delivers the letters on exactly the right day, exactly at the right hour, to release Kris from custody and win the day.

This is what magic looks like.  Don’t expect lightning flashes and Goetic emblems to manifest in the air in fire as you cast spells (though that sometimes happens).  Don’t expect demons to manifest in lightning and cloud (though admittedly they sometimes do.).  Don’t expect powers and principalities to respond to your requests with voices like thunder and volcano (though that sometimes happens).

No — instead, recognize that your magic is likely to manifest in synchronicity and coincidence, like a 1947 movie about Santa Claus.  The letter or the check arrives in the mail on the right day.  The bill is delayed from arrival for a little while.  The old lush gets fired and a job opportunity appears for you.  The friend has a spare bed in the right neighborhood.  The right opportunity opens at the right time.

So… recognize that you are in the business of altering probabilities. Creating synchronicities. Inventing coincidences.  And accepting certain benefits that arise from that.  You cannot expect that your magic will ever generate Hollywood-style special effects, of course.  But that doesn’t prevent your magic from generating spectacular results that are nonetheless perfectly natural.

But it does to some extent depend on believing in Santa Claus.

Baby Quilts


This is the first time I’ve ever made quilts in sewing work (I try to avoid typing “sewer”, because you as the reader never know how to pronounce that, I’d I’d rather you thought of me as someone who sews rather than something that transports filth).

img_2312I’ve been making a pair of baby quilts for two friends of mine (technically two pairs of friends), who have recently had babies. The first blanket has already gone to the loving home of the happy but tired parents; the second will probably be delivered this weekend.  These quilts had their origins in two rolls of fabric squares that I bought at IKEA several years ago, and only found again while packing up my things to move.  These fabrics are normally used for quilts — bright colors, interesting patterns, natural materials… and already cut in squares.  Perfect!

Quilt assembly is not particularly complicated. Straight seams work, mostly — sew five or six squares together to form a column; sew five or six columns; sew the columns together in rows; press the seams flat regularly; trim/pink with shears periodically.

img_2316The quilt front is then paired with a parallel back panel, usually a single sheet of fabric. Between them is a panel of a material called ‘batting’ — a dense felt of natural cotton or wool intended to serve as a warming layer.

These three layers are then quilted together.  Quilting, technically, is the name given to the process of stitching these three layers of fabric together; the ornamental squares on the top, the batting i the middle, and the backing fabric on the bottom.  Some quilting patterns get very fancy; vines and leaves and roses and wings are not uncommon.  My quilting was simply big squares, following the rough outlines of the squares of the front side of the quilt.

img_2319I ran into my share of challenges. At one point, the timing of my sewing machine came undone. This is probably the most serious set of troubles a sewing machine can have. Fortunately, the YouTube provided me with a set of guidelines and how-to videos on how to fix the timing. Replacing the needle, as well, provided additional help. The two quilts challenged the limits of my thirty (maybe forty-)year old sewing machine, as the layers became thicker. I had a lot of occasions when I had to cut and rip stitches out, and replace them.

img_2320But…  Gradually, things did come together. First of all, someone introduced me to pre-made quilt binding. The edges of a quilt have to be ‘bound’ with a tape of some kind, usually fabric of a solid color that’s been fed through a bias-tape maker, a little device that nominally takes a narrow strip of fabric and folds it in on itself twice to make a sort of tube that clamps around the sides of the three layers of fabric that make up the main body of the quilt. The bias tape hides the interior guts of the quilt, and finishes the edges.

I had never wanted to make a quilt before, because the task of making the quilt binding for the edge seemed so daunting. But then someone told me that you can buy pre-made quilt binding. What a revelation! It made everything so much easier! Instead of fumbling with the stupid little doohickey, I could just spend my time pinning the bias tape (also called quilt binding), and sew!

I finished the second quilt with this gray quilt binding that you see at the right.  And that quilt is now done — this funny, bright, crazy color of the front side, and this red vine pattern with gray binding on the edges to complete the quilt.

Done.  Two quilts, something like four or five days of partial effort.  A lot of straight seams, a lot of planning and thinking and a fair bit of seam-ripping and cursing.  Quilts, especially the first two, do not come easily.

img_2381But neither are they particularly hard, either. I mean, there’s one long (long) seam for the quilt binding/bias tape. There’s (in this second case) eleven straight seams from one side of the quilt to the other, six in one direction and five in the other. There’s a number of crazy seams in assembling the blocks of the front side of the quilt — but even there, the quilt is six squares by five squares: that means there are five seams in each row of six, and four in each column of five. Even allowing for some seam-ripping and errata, there’s something like thirty seams, all straight, in the front side of a baby quilt of simple squares.

And simply put, it’s magic. This will keep a baby warm through the winter, possibly for several years.  IT will pass into a family’s treasured heirlooms after a while; or maybe get passed on to another family, to keep another infant warm for thirty months; and then another.  It will cycle through the wash numerous times, becoming softer and more flexible and useful.  It will ever bear the marks of its hand-made-ness, an expression of practical love and care and concern.

And it is well within the capacities of the average Maker program to teach a group of students to churn out three or four quilts a year — and the students will learn to sew, besides keeping infants warm and parents less concerned.

Synching Up

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One of the ways that I — and I think any good magician — deals with the world is through the use of synchronicity; and we create opportunities for synchronicity by deliberately engineering our world so that synchronicity happens more often.
In order for synchronicity to occur, though, you need to have some triggers or tools that help you notice the synchronicity.  These tools need to be connected to questions of time and space.  For the practitioners of the seven liberal arts, time is one of the key components of music, and space is one of the components of astronomy (which for medieval astronomers was just as closely connected with astrology, or the belief that the stars had some effect on who we are as people).

Choose Your Tools

In that spirit, I put the Marini Consort’s album, “Secrets of the Heavens” (which is itself an initiatory journey through the music of the spheres); and Gustav Holst’s “the Planets” on my phone. Whenever I’m driving somewhere, the music is on random shuffle, and I generate synchronicity wherever I go. Here’s how:
As I drive around, some piece of music comes on. If it’s from “Secrets of the Heavens” or from “the Planets”, I check the Hours app on my phone that shows what astrological hour it is, and I note the time. Yesterday (a Tuesday), II. Venus from “The Planets” came on during a Venus-hour. That’s a synch! The next song to come on was the VII. Neptune movement of the same suite. Neptune in Holst’s “Planets” is “the Magician”, which itself is another synch. It’s saying “pay attention, magician.” The next three or four songs were, if you will, some advice about some creative and romantic projects about the next few days; and then one of the Mars songs from the Marini Consort album came on, closing out the communication.
About twice a week, this happens — the song that comes on is connected to the planetary day or the planetary hour. The next few songs, or the next few moments of physical location where I am, and what I’m doing, have particular relevance. It happens more frequently, in a sense, now that I notice it and look for it.  Some of that is psychological, of course — it can’t always be the case that the spirits of the planets are somehow looking in on me personally, and changing the randomness of my phone…  but when I behave as though they are, I have a sense that the larger sweep of forces in the cosmos are providing me with synchronicity that empowers me and makes my day more beautiful.  It doesn’t have to actually be that way, at the level of objective reality, for me to gain benefit from it.
But that’s sort of the point.

Working It

Ancient and medieval peoples divided up time differently than we do. They invested it with meaning in a different way than we do.  They trained their minds to think about time differently than we do.  They developed creative ideas and intentions around projects differently than we do.  We know this — and we think that they were stupid for doing it, because they didn’t have iPhones and bicycles and automobiles and computers and nuclear weapons.
And yet… ancient and medieval peoples didn’t have access to the same kind of energy that we do.  They didn’t have access to coal or oil; they couldn’t make gasoline and kerosene and jet fuel in the quantities that we do, and they couldn’t collect and burn natural gas.  So many of the wonders of the modern world are dependent upon fossil fuels, both for the energy to make them run, and the plastics to house them.
So is there benefit to combining the medieval ideas about music and timekeeping and astronomy with the tools of the modern world?
I’ve found that there is.  But it’s impossible to explain how I’ve benefited — only that I have.  How does hearing three or four songs in a row, and treating them as a message from the spirit of creativity and beauty in the world, benefit anyone?  It’s the case that I must treat this message as one intended for me, rather than for everyone.
But I invite you to try the technique.  The tools are available to anyone;  the trick is in using them, and treating the results as relevant.  Let me know in the comments how it goes.

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