Making a Magic Box: Stage 3

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Once I completed finishing the exterior of my magic box, I had to tamp down all my fears of failure and figure out how I was going to finish up the interior.  The whole point of this project was to create a place where I could store the bulk of my magical tools where none of them would be damaged if the box moved around, such as if I needed to travel to a circle.  I was particularly worried about my cup.  It’s vintage, it’s sterling, and it is light.  A solid knock could dent or even crumple it, so I like to treat it with kid gloves.  I knew, then, that I wanted to create inserts that were “custom molded” to all my pieces.

For this customization, I had thought about getting “pick and pack” foam, but it is a bit expensive.  Since I knew I eventually wanted to cover up the foam in fabric, it didn’t have to be the most good-looking foam out there, either.  Eventually I decided upon styrofoam, which broke my environmentalist heart.  However, it is pretty darn useful for this purpose.  Once you cut into it, all the little spheres that make it up easily brush away, which lets you “carve” to precision with very little effort or special tools.  In order to fit everything I wanted into the box, I needed two layers of 2-inch foam.  Styrofoam was still ridiculously expensive when I priced it out at craft stores and places like Joann Fabrics, but in one of my (many) recent trips to Home Depot, I realized that styrofoam insulation was the same thing as craft styrofoam, and it was way, way cheaper.  I think I picked up a 2×4 foot length of 2-inch thick styrofoam R-Tech insulation for maybe $8.  As it turned out, the plastic and foil covering the long faces worked out in my favor:  it made chopping the foam down to size much easier.

Once I got two lengths of foam chopped down to fit the inside of the box, I laid out everything I wanted to fit inside:  my wand, athame, white-handled knife, cup, pentacle, boline, pen of art, silver incense and salt spoons, and my cords and ritual jewelry.  I decided that I only wanted special compartments for everything but the cords and jewelry, which made laying everything out much easier.  For the second layer, everything was short enough that it could fit on one side, so I have a large, open compartment for assorted odds and ends on the other half.  Once I had everything laid out, it was actually a simple matter to carve the styrofoam.  I even used my white-handled knife to do it!  I used the “pick and pluck” method, so I cut straight down into the foam around the outlines I had made, then I cut a grid into each shape.  It made it easy to then pop out each cube, and then I used the tip of my knife and my fingers to smooth things out into the shapes and depths I needed.  (Pro tip: this is incredibly messy.  Make sure you have a vacuum cleaner on hand, lest you trail tiny bits of styrofoam throughout your house.)

Once I had all my shapes carved, I realized I had some areas I needed to reinforce because the divisions were so thin and the styrofoam so frangible.  One little brush, and several little spheres would break away.  Out of desperation, I turned to duct tape.  This was actually a brilliant solution.  It adhered well, was moderately repositionable if I made a mistake, and was very moldable.  In fact, once I reinforced the problematic areas, I decided to go ahead and cover the entire thing in duct tape for extra security.

This turned out to be a genius move on my part.  Once everything was covered in duct tape, I realized I could move the inserts around with no fear of damaging them or breaking them apart.  Better still, they provided a barrier to the styrofoam, which was a great benefit when I started to contemplate what adhesive I could use to stick silk to the inserts.  Eventually, I decided to go with a spray adhesive, 3M’s “General Purpose 45″ which is photo safe.  On its own, it would have melted the styrofoam, but the duct tape covering prevented that.

Now, I was terrified that I would create a huge mess with the spray adhesive and the silk…and the silk was crazy expensive even after a half-off coupon.  But honestly?  It worked beautifully.  A liberal coating of the adhesive on the insert was enough to hold everything, but not heavy enough to bleed through the fabric.  And the adhesive stayed positionable for several minutes, which let me get everything “just right”.  With all the crazy shapes, there was no way I was every going to get the fabric to lie perfectly straight, but I loved the rumpled look I achieved.  The only tricky bit were the two parts that I let go entirely through the styrofoam:  the cup insert in the first layer, and the “open space” in the second.  I had to cut through the silk and stick the raw sides to the foam, and it looked very messy.  Eventually, it occurred to me to take strips of the scrap, fold it to create a clean edge, glue it to the vertical sides with Fabri-Tac, and then pin the top border with straight pins to ensure everything stayed neat.  It worked like a charm.

I covered a piece of poster board with the silk to line the bottom of the box, and I’m contemplating doing the same to the top with the piece I have left. I also covered the sides and the bottoms of the insert with some felt I had lying around, since it didn’t require hemming any ends.  I used Fabri-Tac and pins to adhere it, since I didn’t want to spoil the silk with overspray from the spray adhesive.

All in all, it looks far better than I thought it would and perfectly solves my tool storage issues.  I don’t have to worry when I transport my tools, and the box is perfect for daily storage, too.  Up to this point, I’d kept a full altar up, and frankly, that’s more bric-a-brac out than I’m comfortable with.  (I am NOT a tchotchke person.)  Now, I can simply keep my devotional altar up for daily purposes:  my deity figures and a couple candles.  I couldn’t be happier!

Making a Magic Box: Stage 2

The box's new finish.  I'm so pleased with how it turned out!

The box’s new finish. I’m so pleased with how it turned out!

Wow, it has been forever and a day since I started this project.  I bought the box on February 3rd, 2014, and I’d been searching for a good one months before that.  Where we last left off, I had removed the original finish completely off the box using 80-grit sand paper and 6 hours of sanding by hand.  At that point, I pretty much abandoned the project.  My arm was killing me after all that sanding, and I thought it would take another 8 hours each to go over it with 120-grit and then 220-grit paper.  And then there was the interior to contend with.  Let me tell you, ripping out 66-year-old silver cloth is no fun.  There was so much disgusting-smelling dust, and then what was left was firmly stuck to the inside with the remaining glue.  I just about wanted to die after I’d finished ripping out what I could.  I had no idea what to do to remove what was stuck on, so I essentially abandoned the project.

But now that I myself am moving, I desperately wanted to get my “large scale” projects done while I still have such things as a back yard and a garage to facilitate the process.  I wish I had taken photographs of my different stages, but as I believed I would firmly screw it all up, I did not want photographic evidence of my failure.  (Also, there was no way I was touching my iPhone with dirty hands.)

First, I finished sanding.  As it turned out, I only had about 45 minutes left of work to do on that front; once the old finish was gone, it was so easy to just go over all the surfaces and smooth things out.  I eventually took the hinges off the box to make sure I sanded in every nook and cranny.

Once that was done, I turned my attention towards cleaning out the inside.  I took a gamble that the glue was waterbased and that I wouldn’t warp the project with a “liberal” application of water…and I essentially filled up the inside of the lid and the main box’s body with a couple of gallons and let it soak for 15 minutes or so.  Then I poured out the water and set to work scraping with a putty knife.  To my eternal amazement, it worked!  I repeated the process about three times in order to get the worst of it off, then I let the box dry for four or five days and took the 80-grit paper to the inside to remove what remained.  To transition off to the next stage, I lightly sanded the outside again with 220-grit, just in case the water raised anything, checked the box for square, and washed the whole thing–inside and out–with mineral spirits to remove all the dust.

After I let the mineral spirits dry off for a day or so, I stained the entire exterior of the box with one coat of Minwax’s dark walnut stain.  I’d originally wanted to stain the whole thing green, but when I went to go buy the stain, I couldn’t find any place local that carried the colors.  Since I wanted to finish the project ASAP, I went with my next choice.  I am very glad the fates conspired against me!  The dark walnut beautifully pulls out all the details of the wood grain and makes the project look timeless.

When I first applied the stain, I thought I’d destroyed the box.  The wood instantly absorbed all the pigment, and even thought I wiped the surfaces down immediately rather than waiting the recommended time, the box was black.  But I decided to roll with it; after all, what’s the worst that would happen?  When the stain dried, I went over the whole exterior with WATCO’s butcher block oil and finish.  Rubbing the oil into the wood actually removed quite a bit of stain and let me see the beautiful grain again, so I was pleased.  I ended up doing about two coats of oil.

After the oil had dried, I was very pleased with the final result, but it still looked very matte.  I decided to do a final “seal” of wax and rubbed Miss Mustard Seed’s Furniture Wax into the wood, which removed a little bit more stain color, gave the project an incredible luster, and makes the wood feel like satin when you touch it. And I am going to take one moment to say how much I love this wax.  It’s just beeswax and carnauba wax, and it’s whipped to the texture of softened butter.  It’s positively luxurious to work with, and it’s one of the best furniture waxes I’ve ever used.

Finally, I taped off the outside of the box and sprayed the interior with Rust-Oleum’s Black Hammered spray paint.  Normally I wouldn’t have used the Hammered product and would have just used a brush and acrylic to apply the paint, but even with all my ministrations, the interior wasn’t “flawless” and I thought the Hammered paint would add enough texture to camouflage my remaining sins.  It took three coats and an entire can to provide enough coverage, but it worked out in the end and I was pleased with the final result.  My housemate then helped me clean up the hinges with some ammonia and re-install them, and voila!  The exterior was (finally!) finished!

The before and the after.

The before and the after.

I can’t believe the difference all that work made.  Though my younger brother says I spent too much time and money to make the box look exactly the same, I think the devil is in the details.  I erased all the damage of the past 66 years.  I smoothed out the gouges and the nicks, and I sanded out the burns.  I got rid of the plastic-y lacquer finish and achieved something that feels “alive” and sensual when you touch it.  And the color is now something that isn’t trying too hard to be elegant.  It could go perfectly well in contemporary, country, or classic decors.  I think I’m going to have this box around for quite a long time.

Pagan Pride Day and Tolerance

This has been a very odd week for me.  I’ve been busy navel-gazing with my own spirituality, preparing for Soma Sidhe’s “performance ritual” at the Central Sound Pagan Pride Day which was this past Saturday, and generally minding my own business.

Pagan Pride Day was certainly interesting.  In between snippits of shopping and getting to know different people in the area, I sat down on a bench to chug some water, rest my feet, and maybe create a new Facebook status update.  But that got waylaid.  My Facebook feed was full of messages from my undergrad friends posting about a high school classmate and friend of theirs.  I won’t post his name here–the last thing he needs at the moment is his name popping up on some Pagan blog–but you’ve heard about him if you’ve seen the news over the past couple days.  He’s the Indiana man who is currently next up on the Islamic State’s beheading block.  He initially went to the Middle East as an Army Ranger, but returned after his honorable discharge to become a humanitarian worker who trained civilians in medical treatment for refugees.  He was captured last October while traveling to eastern Syria as part of his relief work.  During his captivity, he converted to Islam.

But that’s unlikely to keep his head attached to his neck.

It was supremely surreal to learn of this news–and how close I was to it–at an event for religious tolerance and community building.  As I flicked through Facebook and felt my horror escalating, I felt keenly how different life must be in the Middle East.  The CSPPD coordinators had been worried that there would be protesters at our event, given some missives they’d been sent by various other groups in the area and by the events at Antelope Valley’s PPD.  We were worried about yelling people with signs.  In the Middle East, non-Muslims worry about abduction, torture, and death.

That makes our concerns seem like first world problems.

With that in mind, I think we at the PPD missed a real opportunity.  The event was fun–don’t get me wrong.  It was awesome to see so many Pagan and paganish people all in one place and to put faces to names and groups I’d only encountered online or by reputation.  But we didn’t really do anything to strengthen our community other than showing up and buying things.  There just wasn’t space for any meaningful dialogue.  Despite a huge turnout, the workshops, talks, and rituals were underutilized.  For example, there were maybe 6 people at the class on religious tolerance I went to, and the class itself was pretty much just a speech prepared by the leader…a speech I barely heard over the noise of the crowd.

If we’re really going to be the change we need to see in the world, we need the space to start that discussion and to be heard.  There’s not much interfaith infrastructure in Paganism, let alone between Pagan Paths and other religions, so opportunities provided by events such as Pagan Pride Day are few and far between.

From what I experienced this week, we can’t let even one of these opportunities pass us by.

Samhain Decoration Idea: Wineglass Centerpiece

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I saw this picture online and knew I had to replicate it for the centerpiece of my Samhain dumb supper this year. It’s so simple it takes practically minutes to pull together, but the effect is really quite classy.

What you’ll need are a large platter, an assortment of stem-ware (beer glasses, wine glasses, hurricanes, margarita glasses, etc.  The more varied the shapes and heights, the better), miniature pumpkins and gourds small enough to fit under the glasses, votive candles in a fall color, and clear votive cups (not in this picture). You’ll also want pine cones, acorns, grapes, dried flowers, or some other small-ish item to strew around the glasses on the platter. I think it is important to use votive cups here as the candles will burn down and puddle over an hour or so and make a mess otherwise.

Just place the votives in their cups, place the pumpkins on the tray, up-end a glass over them, and place a votive on the wine’s base. Strew some pinecones between the glasses, light up the candles, and you’re done!

The Story of How I Realized It Was Time to Ask for Second Degree

I have been dithering about asking to take the second-degree elevation for awhile now.  There’s so many things I feel that I need to do first, and–honestly–I could write several substantial posts on those alone.  But this is not that post.  This is the story of how I realized it was time to request second.

This past weekend, the Washington faction of Soma Sidhe took a road trip to Eugene to meet up with our Oregon faction to celebrate the Autumn Equinox, or–as we call it–Harvest Home.  Initially, the four of us were to travel down together…but due to real life problems like work schedules, that was a short-lived plan.  So I found myself on a road trip with nothing but NPR and my own thoughts for company.  Alas, the ISIS in contemporary news is not the Isis I’d like to hear about when traveling to a Pagan spiritual event, so NPR got nixed somewhere just south of Portland.

About two seconds later, I saw my very first dust devil.

It was just a little one in a harvested wheat field, and it was over almost as soon as it began, but I was thrilled to see the funnel of dirt rise, fall, and twirl about in the air.  I was pleased to have had the opportunity to see something so relatively rare, and it made me a little nostalgic for my Indiana hometown and tornado season.  I filed that away in my “blessed to have experienced” mental file and proceeded down I-5.

Holy geez. Over the next 90 minutes, I think I saw about 200 different dust devils.  Just past Salem and Corvalis where the valley opens up toward the east, I almost stopped the car, there were so many in my line of sight all at one time.  I counted just over a dozen very big, dark, obvious ones.  They were great columns of dirt sending debris maybe 150-200 feet into the sky.  Interspersed around them were some 30 or 40 smaller ones that were of various sizes between 15 and 30 feet, and which were much shorter-lived.  My jaw was on my car floor.

Dust Devils near Albany, Oregon that I stole from someone's Flickr because I was not about to try and kill myself by stopping to take a picture on I-5.

Dust Devils near Albany, Oregon that I stole from someone’s Flickr because I was not about to try and kill myself by stopping to take a picture on I-5.

Honestly, it was a visual image very close to some of my nightmares. As nostalgic as I am for the amazing storms and tornadoes of my childhood, a nightmare I have fairly frequently is watching tornado after tornado appear and snake through the sky, destroying everything in their paths as I watch in horror. They keep coming, these tornadoes, one after another, until I wake up shaking.

But without the strength and violence of a tornado, I could see these baby twisters in a different light.  Sure, they turned everything helter-skelter for a little while, but when they fizzled out, everything returned to a new order.  Maybe another one would form soon thereafter and the cycle of tumult would occur again.  Maybe it wouldn’t.  But eventually, the changes the dust devil brought would fade and life for all the little bugs and things it disturbed would return to normal.

One major part of me putting certain things off, things like requesting second degree, is because I feel a bit like I’m caught up in one of these twisters.  It’s not terribly violent, but I feel things swirling around all the time, and it’s not coming to a rest.  When I do end up in a lull, I’m too afraid of the next blowup to make any commitments or create anything new.  So I stagnate.  But in watching the dust devils, I realized that even if things are temporarily tumultuous and might become so again in the future, I’ll be able to roll with the punches.  So why not take on what I can now?  I’ll be able to fit it into any brave new world.

And so at our Harvest Home festival, I officially asked to take second.

Pre-Orders for Cecil Williamson’s Book of Witchcraft Now Up!

cecil-williamson-special-edition1As the story goes, Steve Patterson spent part of 1996 helping the new owner of the Museum of Witchcraft, Graham King, with refurbishments to the collection.  He happened upon a handwritten manuscript by the Museum’s founder, Cecil Williamson, that was a bit of a esoteric hodge-podge:  there’s a record of spells and charms and divinations, but there’s also a history of Williamson and the Museum, an explication of Williamson’s concept of traditional witchcraft, a recount of his meetings with Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner, and so on.Patterson took the manuscript, edited it up into a 304 page book, and has now made it available for sale through publisher Troy Books.  There’s four different editions: hardback, special edition, fine edition, and special fine edition, and they range in price from £30.80 GBP ($52) to £400 GBP ($670).

The books are available for pre-order now through Troy Book’s website, and the book is to be officially launched in two events:  one at the Museum of Witchcraft itself, and another at Atlantis Bookshop in London.  Both of which will happen sometime in early September, from what I can gather.

While the prices of the book (even it’s standard hardcover edition) are a bit too dear for me at the moment, it is a book I am interested in and can see having value to the traditional witchcraft community.  I can’t wait to read it!

Wand and Blade: Which is fire and which is air?

Do these associations make sense?

I think it takes approximately two seconds of reading any two different pagan books to realize that one chunk of the community associates the athame with fire and the wand while another chunk hold that the athame is air and the wand is fire.  That’s kind of a big discrepancy, isn’t it?

Or do these?

From as best as I can tell, most Wiccan traditions influenced by Gerald Gardner practice the athame:air::wand:fire analogy.  However, it does not appear that this association was handed down from Gardner.  Frederic Lamond, one of the last surviving members of Gardner’s last coven, wrote in his book Fifty Years of Wicca that “each tool symbolizes one of the four elements”, “although the Book of Shadows does not state it” (90) and also that “Gerald Gardner did not tell us that each of the magical tools symbolizes one of the four alchemical elements, which is well known in other magical traditions” (125).  Nevertheless, Lamond notes that while he’s personally felt that the blades represent fire, Gardnerian tradition holds that they are air (90).

I believe that the Gardnerians et. al drew these associations from ceremonial magic traditions that were popular in the middle of the twentieth century.  It’s well known, for example, that Gardner drew a deal of influence from Aleister Crowley, and Crowley’s Thelemites practice the dagger:air::wand:fire analogy, too.  Some of the O.T.O. initiates I am acquainted with have told me they consider blades to be air tools because blades–like air–can penetrate all things.  Similarly, wands are fire tools because they are made of wood and can burn, which indicates that fire resides within them.  The Golden Dawn–the granddaddy of modern magic–also holds this association:  Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn lists the “four elemental weapons” as “the Fire Wand, Air Dagger, Water Cup, and Earth Pentacle” (323).

The Golden Dawn’s Air Dagger and Fire Wand

In the Golden Dawn system, these elemental associations are primarily made with joining elements to the phrases “to Know” and “to Will”.  The airy quality of knowledge here is defined as the ability to make distinctions, that which allows us to “slice up” the known universe into understandable metaphors that then allows us to see the necessary magical dualism in the singular universe.  Golden Dawn practitioners also tend to point out that this association of sharpness and the intellect is such a deep one that our very language is littered with idioms that reinforce the pairing.  For example, we have the phrases “sharp mind,” “honed reason,” “keen wit,” and my favorite “sharp as a tack”.

Conversely, within the Golden Dawn the Wand/Fire paring draws heavily on the association between Will and Fire.  The wand is basically a pointer:  a tool that directs someone’s attention to that which you desire them to see.  It’s a tool, then, that communicates the bearer’s will.  More importantly, though, is the Fire Wand’s direct association with the human penis and sexual will.  Unlike the stereotypical Wiccan wand, the Golden Dawn’s Fire Wand is tipped with a fairly large bulb.  This was done to emulate the scrotum and make the already phallic wand more penis-like.  Of the four Golden Dawn elemental tools, then, it is the most masculine and most akin to the creative, sexual will.  Naturally, Golden Dawn practitioners demonstrate the elemental link with sexual will in the idioms our language has acquired.  A flip through any Harlequin novel will expose dozens of phrases like “burning loins,” “fiery lust,” and “flaming passion.”

The Great Rite in Token

Here’s the thing: the Golden Dawn’s rationale behind linking their wand to fire is exactly why I think Gardnerian-influenced Wicca is a little misguided in following the athame:air::wand:fire analogy.  In our religious practice, sexual union is most commonly enacted symbolically by inserting the athame into the chalice.  In many BTW traditions, this is enacted as part of the consecration of food in Cakes and Wine, and–very often–it is accompanied by words such as “As the athame is to the male, so is the cup to the female, and so conjoined they bring blessedness and delight.”  While we can use, and sometimes prefer, the wand for this act, nine times of ten we reach for the athame.  Therefore, in practice our most masculine tool, the tool of sexual Will, is the blade and not the wand, and if we followed logic like that of the Golden Dawn, the athame would be a tool of Fire, not Air.

Indeed, I think that there is far more intuitive evidence to support the athame:fire::wand:air analogy than there is to support the Gardnerian-influenced one.  For example, when I asked my Gardnerian HPS a year ago why we aligned the athame with air and the wand with fire, she essentially asked me to meditate on a few questions, one of which being “How might a knight rule with a sword and how might he rule with a scepter?”

I don’t think my answer to that was quite what she thought it would be.  To my mind, a leader who leads by military control–or the sword–is one whose reign is characterized by his own needs, not those of his people.  As history has demonstrated time and time again, those rulers who secure and enforce their sovereignty by military control almost always earn the label of ‘despot’.  Magically speaking, this type of totalitarian ruler is far too Willful.  On the other hand, those leaders whose people grant him sovereignty through the symbolic scepter might be a monarch, but they are very often also the heads of a collaborative government that–if not elected by the people–still often represent the people’s best interest to their monarch.  The scepter here is a tool of order that the monarch might use to point to an advisor to grant him permission to speak and let his will, and that of the people’s, be known.  This type of collaborative ruler is always in search of the best possible information in order to make the decisions that will benefit the most people.  Magically speaking, this type of ruler thrives through knowledge.

If we look at the manufacturing of each of these tools, I think we’ll also find a natural alignment between the blade and fire and the wand and air.  Though both the wand and the athame are created from materials that come from the earth, the argument could be made that both are ‘tempered’ in their respective elements.  For example, casting and shaping the athame’s blade requires a great deal of heat to melt and temper the metal.  Similarly, wands are harvested from tree branches–not the roots or the trunks.  Therefore, they come from the parts of the trees that are shaped by the wind:  branches must be pliable enough to bend with the breeze but strong enough to resist its forces.  Wind, then, tempers branch wood as much as flame does metal.

As I mentioned earlier, my O.T.O. acquaintance argued that wands corresponded to fire since they can be burned, which he interprets to mean that fire resides within the wand.  But, as we all know, metal is capable of producing fire…and it doesn’t have to be destroyed to do so.  Anyone who’s watched a Hollywood sword fight knows that steels spark when struck.  Sparky knives were even common in the time before man could work metal.  In the stone age, many tools were made of flint, which also sends out a spark when struck with a harder surface.  Since blades can emit literal fire and not be destroyed, I would say they contain the element of fire within them.  Similarly, wands contain air within them, too.  They are the only one of the four elemental tools that is crafted from a formerly living substance.  They were capable of drawing air into their cells, using oxygen, and emitting carbon dioxide.  Air was–and still is–in them, but it doesn’t consume them as, say, oxidation does to metals.

In the end, I believe that in the context of Wiccan practice, the analogy of athame:fire::wand:air makes far more logical and magical sense than athame:air::wand:fire.  When I use the athame as air during work with my Gardnerian coven, I have to admit that I do feel like I’m beating someone to death with a knife.  In the end, good magic is made–the person does eventually die in my metaphor–so the tool does work in this air capacity…but it works much more efficiently to stab with fire.

I suppose every practitioner should honor the couplings as taught by their tradition when working with and in that tradition, but I do strongly encourage all practitioners meditate on these couplings and work out the couplings that personally feel right.  You might be surprised at the difference it makes.