Shaker Village

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Just inside the western border of Massachusetts is the Hancock Shaker Village, a museum dedicated to the history and artistry and agriculture of the Shakers. I’m going to be staying for a few days in the neighborhood, here at the edges of the “Burned-Over District” as described by the  author Mitch Horowitz in Occult America. 

I’ve been to the museum several time. It never ceases to astound me. High technology in the form of this remarkable barn, artisanry shops, and passive solar living. It’s not a permaculture community. But it’s close to that in so many ways. The shakers were the first great caretakers of American orphans; among the first to establish brand names — shakers were associated with high quality handmade goods — the first to imagine communal living in a more-or-less Protestant and  European context in North America. The things they made are beautiful. 

Magic: Offerings


It’s not my custom to say a great deal about magic.Various More

31DoM: Make a Mojo Hand


Today’s 31 Days of Magic project, from the strategic sorcery community around Jason Miller, is to Make a Mojo Hand.

A Mojo Hand is usually a bag, sometimes hand- or mitten-shaped, containing a combination of materials from the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. The materials are thought in some traditions to become a living spirit, an energetic thought-form, or a minor servitor spirit. The spirit serves a purpose, usually to achieve some magically-relevant goal, and is occasionally fed and re-fed with oils, with additional materials added to the bag (or sometimes not).  It is a representation of a certain kind of power.

31DoM: Mojo handThis morning I had a first-period class in the design lab, and I did not clean up after yesterday’s class on electricity. So I came in early, and neatened the place up — put away tools, swept up the leavings and the trash from several classes worth of debris in the corners, and otherwise made the place look presentable.

Then I did as I always do: I sorted through the garbage.  And as I did so, a thought occurred to me.

If you look at the first picture, you’ll see pencils, string, paper clips, batteries, blobs of hot glue, bottle caps, a button, a magnet, popsicle sticks, stones.  This was only the first photograph after the first sweep-up. There was more.  The discarded materia of the creative work of the design lab is always interesting.  Some of it goes directly back into the materials bins on the shelves. Some of it goes into the trash… but whenever possible I do a pre-sort before the trash can to separate the genuine waste from the overlooked treasures.

31DoM: Mojo handOnce I did this, I found certain treasures — animal, vegetable, mineral — that met my needs for a specialty mojo hand for the makerspace at my school. A spirit of materials awareness, of creativity, of cleverness in the concepts of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and dedicated to the idea that anyone can be a more effective creator through the learning of materials and process.  And so I found a spare bag, and began to select certain materials — animal, vegetable, mineral, and man-made — for my purposes:

  • A drill bit, to represent the power to drive deep into problems and solve them;
  • part of a broken file, to represent the power to use tools to shape solutions precisely;
  • a pair of googly eyes, to see problems with new eyes;
  • a plastic bottle cap, representing the power to reuse and repurpose materials;
  • a magnet, to find ways to make solutions both mysterious and attractive.
  • a paper-clip, a to-do list, and a schedule, to cultivate good organizational habits;
  • a piece of string, to enable the hand to tease out a thread of meaning;
  • pieces of copper wire, both insulated and bare, for intuition in solving electrical problems;
  • a spring, for increased skill in solving mechanical problems;
  • a heart cut out by a third-grader, in blue fabric — for generosity of spirit and nobleness of character; and a matching pink heart, for skill in fashion design;
  • a game piece, for cleverness in designing games;
  • a piece of PVC pipe, for awareness of the risks and benefits of using certain materials;
  • a bead, for sophisticated jewelry design;
  • paper-clip pieces and bits of finishing nails, for skill at designing wire sculptures;
  • popsicle stick pieces representative of skill at woodworking and structural design, and architecture;
  • a rubber band, for skill in developing structures that use and manage energy;
  • and numerous other items.

31DoM: Mojo handThen I consecrated it, and woke it up to be an assistant and helper to me and my students in this working space.

And of course, I am mindful of the lesson of the divine man from Nazareth, that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief of the corner.” Up in one corner of the the design lab is a sample structure left over from my Kavad experiments.  It’s already a consecrated home to the mercurial spirit of communication, cooperation, and design awareness who watches over the lab; and there’s already a mojo hand of sorts designed to awaken and improve creative ideas and dedication to see them through.

And with the permission of these two spirits, I made this new mojo hand at home, to watch over and guide both me and my students in the work we do together in this space.


Magic: The Book of Mars


I’ve said in the past that I don’t write much about magic.  I’m in the process, I think, of changing that.  But more specifically, I’m going to write about the intersection of magic and Maker culture, because I think that the two groups have a great deal to say to one another, and to learn from one another.  And maybe this is the beginning of a waypost for both sides.

As a school teacher, I’m aware that it’s kind of awkward that I’m interested in the occult philosophy.  I’m calling it the Occult Philosophy, or the Hidden Wisdom, because we tend to lump panpsychism and metaphysics and crystal-gazing and magic and a variety of other things under the same rubric: not in schools.  And yet, the Hidden Wisdom as taught by Henry Cornelius Agrippa and others since then has a great deal to say about and to modern schools: about ‘grit’ and persistence; about learning from mistakes; about scheduling  and organization; about proper planning and materials-acquisition; about design and technique.  (Yes, it also has a great deal to say about angels and daemons and unicorn horn and ancient gods and astrology and divination and alchemy and other discredited topics… but maybe there’s something to that which is important in modern Maker culture, and I’ll come back to that sometime).


Mars Book

Book of Mars

And it’s in that context — of planning and preparation and materials-acquisition — that I present the following project: The Book of Mars.  

The Book of Mars is my own creation.  I decided to make one after making another album according to this design.  It’s five sheets of 12″ x 12″ paper, sliced and diced in various ways; two are one shade of red, the other two are another shade; and the third is the patterned paper that is a common theme throughout the work. There’s also the addition of additional sheets of printer paper run through a color printer to produce the textual and technical and visual elements within the book.

Red, of course, is the color of Mars, both the planet and the god of war from ancient Rome; and the astrological identity which rules over men’s matters, conflict, war, sieges, aggression, assertiveness, severity, command, and other matters.  It’s a color of projection, of force, of deliberateness, of intention and fierceness and bravery.  The image on the front cover comes from the work of the modern American sorcerer Jason Miller.   Maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating the culture of violence that Mars represents, of course; but maybe some of his other powers and virtues — of assertiveness, of command, of deliberateness, or bravery, of self-discipline — should be things that we ask students (and ourselves) to cultivate and develop. Mars Book

Within the book, Mars rides by twice; between his chariots that ride on the wheels of Capricorn and Scorpio (symbols of passing time, and the necessity of putting one’s life in order and under one’s command, in a sense) is the Kamea or magic square of Mars — an ancient mathematical puzzle designed to teach complex addition and larger number theory in an age without calculators.  Someday, additional Martial (Mars-like) symbolism shall appear here; for the moment, this seems to be sufficient (although we should always be conscious that coincidence doesn’t always mean correlation).

Mars BookBut open the Book of Mars again. A new layer appears.  Here’s a photograph of a famous statue of Mars, and the Kamea of Mars again.  And the emblem of Mars, also (I’m leaving space above it for further texts about Mars, as I find them or they emerge.

I’m making a genuine effort here, to build up a lot of Martial images in the same place, on an appropriate background, with appropriate visuals, text, and emblems.

Mars Book As each additional layer of the book is opened, more layers of Mars — images, text, mathematical representations, ideas, and symbolism, emerges into the viewpoint of the reader/examiner.

The book expands outward, revealing more and more layers of Mars imagery and ideas.  Poetry from Thomas Taylor, and two of my own, as well: one for Mars from my Neo-Orphic Hymns, and one for Mars in Exaltation. In fact, the book opens and expands eight times, in eight different ways, revealing more and more layers of meaning, more and more texts and prayers designed to call upon Mars to refrain from violence, to help the reader explore the virtues of bravery and assertiveness without resorting to aggression or violence, and to explore the mysteries of Mars as a spiritual and metaphysical concept.

It is, if you will, a scriptural volume, an experimental sutra, an illuminated book of astrological hours and days, for working with and studying and understanding the powers and capacities of Mars.  It was simpler to build than some of my other books, although some of those others would make rocking magical volumes on various subjects.  No matter.  This one is what it is (I’ll probably build six more, but not eight more, because I tend to work only with traditional planets, not the three Outermost and Recent discoveries).

It’s also just a bunch of pieces of paper, taped and glued together in a nominally pleasing way, designed to help the viewer understand some things… as books and albums and decorative objects like this have always done.  We’re left with an overall impression of who and what Mars is, and how he/it interacts with us.  It’s an effort to work with available materials — both cultural and intellectual on the one hand, and physical and technical on the other — to produce a rich, enduring experience which is portable, intellectually comprehensible, emotionally interesting, culturally intriguing.

Did I succeed?  Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe not yet. Maybe so.  Maybe you’re already thinking of ways to make one of your own.

Mars BookThe Designer’s Mentality

If so, then in a sense I’ve succeeded.  The modern definition of magic is something like “To cause changes in consciousness in accordance with will.”  Magicians do this by practicing on themselves first, and then (maybe) on others.  My goal was to make something that designers (and teachers of design) would find visually interesting and intriguing, but that might also appeal to magicians of a particular brand or stripe…. and yet might also be intriguing to magicians of many different stripes.

Surely some of each are looking at these tiny photographs and thinking, “I could do it better.”

Now… the designer would say that this is egotism at work.  But the magician, who believes in other layers of reality besides the physical one, will look at this, and be moved by other forces — call them spirits, or angels, or daemons if you like.  Gordon calls them the Neighbors, and I like that language.  In some places they’re called guides.  Maybe you call them your Patronuses after J.K. Rowling.

But I have to ask… do the spirits and forces that you acknowledge and recall and remember want such a thing?  When you call out to them in your mind, does another spirit answer back, like an echo of a string on a guitar, to say “Yeah, I want one of those.  But not to Mars.  Make it about me.  For me.”  For some magicians, or designers, the answer will always be “no, I don’t hear that.”  They don’t see or feel or hear the appeal; the universe doesn’t sing to them that way, or call for them to be makers of objects and creators of things.  They have other roles and purposes in the world.

But some are looking upon this book, even in these tiny photographs, and are hearing the call to build it and make it anew.  But if you’re going to build this book, you have to accept that there might be things you don’t know how to do, like build the book, for example; and you will have to submit your will to Loretta long enough to learn how she did it — and how I did it. You’ll be joining a ‘school’, if you will, of crafters and artisans that you might feel some shame or weirdness about joining… but at the same time, you’ll be growing your capacities to work with new materials and with new ideas, and growing your insights.  You will, as you Make, be unfolding yourself in new patterns.

The magician builds this book, or others like it, to grow in wholeness — to grow in a sense that they are attuned to all things: this plant, that tree, this planet, that star.  The designer builds this book in order to grow in skill: to grow in a sense that they can do or make anything that they set their mind to build.  The one is seeking power and understanding, the other is seeking community and recognition.  I’d be hard pressed to tell you for sure which is which, though.

Greeting from a Thunderstorm


Greetings and good evening.  It’s not all that often that I get to sing to myself like crazy on a porch in a massive thunderstorm on a Thursday  — and on the eve of the Lectisternia, besides!

The audio file is new as of a few minutes ago, singing the Thomas Taylor translation of the Orphic Hymn to Jupiter to my own tune, while the thunderstorm rolled by — the poem below is several years old, and part of my practice of calendar-based celebrations that I’ve decided to release at this time.

September 13 – Lectisternia

Great Zeus, great Hera, and Athena great,
Heaven’s king and queen, and wise advisor!:
Well do you rule what you did not create.
Strong is your command, with none the wiser,
Since so deep and so able comes your rule
That all obey your decrees without thought,
And do your bidding without compulsion.
Thus anyone can be your perfect tool,
Through whom your wishes in the world are wrought
To churn great destinies into motion.

Yet we in turn call forth your three-fold form —
Gray-bearded king, white-armed queen, maiden fair:
We tell the tales that keep you safe from harm;
We speak you solid, from dreams and thin air.
By our prayers alone can you master fate,
Else Zeus’s will should move not to its end.
Then should men dwell in realms of random chance.
You rule us when we open myth’s great gate.
Then none turns aside from what you intend;
You set in order both dancers and dance.

Thus we by our strength grant you your power,
And through your great power you make us strong.
We are the roots to your gracious flower,
And your bright bloom inspires us to song.
Your three-fold form rules us by our praises,
And your law heartens us to seek glory.
So life builds, through causality and choice.
Athena, Hera, and Zeus: the roses
Of our lives blossom as in a story,
When we speak our desires through your voice.

May you all have a lovely eve of the Lectisternia, and may your day tomorrow be full of the triple benefits of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva — right rulership, gracious counsel, and manifest intellect in service to the highest good!

The Five Platonic Solids


The Five Platonic Solids

Originally uploaded by anselm23

Via Flickr:
So here they are. They’re built. In Ancient Greek elemental theory, the cube represented Earth; the tetrahedron represented Fire. The dodecagon was Universe. The icosahedron was Water. The octahedron was Air.

Mathematically, a cube has six sides (the Doctor says "seven — including the INSide"). The tetrahedron has 4 (five, says Doctor Who). The dodecagon has 12 (13!). The icosahedron has 20 (21! Why must I keep saying this??), and the octahedron has eight ("nine! Nine sides muhahahahahaha… Oh, wait… Wrong tv personality.")

Hot geometry in planar solids.

For Saint Ita (January 15)

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There are two famous and important Irish saints, apparently: Brighid or Bridget, and Ita.  Today is the festival day of Saint Ita (in addition to being the feast of Martin Luther King, Jr., among Episcopalians).  She ran a school for boys in Kileedy, and was called the “Brighid of Munster.” (This suggests that Brighid is a title , in the same way that abbess is a title, and maybe in the way that Merlin might be a title.) Her claims to fame seem to be that she wrote a lullaby for the baby Jesus, and died of cancer. She died sometime between 570 and 577.

The entry in Wikipedia is practically non-existent.  The entry in Shirley Toulson’s book is even shorter, mentioning only that she was the “foster-mother of saints,” and that she has connections with Saint Brendan the Navigator and numerous others.

Huh.  Another scholar-saint, who is the teacher and foster-mother of the man medieval Ireland claimed discovered ‘America’ in a coracle.  A teacher of astronomy, then, and perhaps geometry and advanced mathematics.  Odd roles for a woman in the Church, but perfectly OK for a druidess, I expect.  OK, here goes:  (Image from

Hail to you, Ita, instructor of saints,
working at crossroads of old and new ways:
you died of cancer, yet without complaints,
you were too busy teaching, all your days,
how number- and star- lore added to God.
How you ran schools in the back of beyond —
Latin grammar under thick roofs of sod,
Pythagoras and Euclid, and the sound
of a monochord singing Plato’s cave.
How the OtherWorld must have beckoned them.
To cross Atlantic, pious and brave,
and find Faerie: you mothered boys to men,
and made men saints: Be a “Brigid” to me,
and raise me to service of Deity.

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