I've been making handcrafted jewelry and fantasy artifacts for quite a while now, and I'd like to use this blog to describe some of what goes into the work I do. I'm also hoping that I can teach some of the techniques I've been using to others who might be interested in learning them.

If you like what you see here, please visit my personal webpages. I have several dispay galleries, loads of strange tales to tell, fun stuff, and free art to give away.

Splendid Fish Studio - Objects from the Dream World

They come from the water and they bring strange dreams.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Good and the Bad

Well, it's all about balance.

Bringing the year to a close is always hard - you have to say good-bye to the old, knowing that what has passed will never pass this way again, not in the same way.

But then, you also get to welcome in the new, and that can be pretty good.

Let's start with that, then.

The Good: The 2011 Midwest Witches' Ball 

OK... I'm late. The Ball was actually back in October. That I'm only just writing about it now should give you some sense of the chaotic condition of my life lately.

But it was a blast! In fact, it was so much fun that, in my memory, it looks like this -

In my clearer memories (which mostly come from early in the evening), I see things like this:

This is Amanda and Nathan. Amanda and Nathan are the people who won the boxed athame set which I donated and blogged about earlier.

These are some great people - I got to talk with them for a while, and I'm very glad that they won! I hope they enjoy it for a long time to come.

And they have the absolute coolest costumes! Aren't they great? The theme of this year's ball was Through the Looking Glass

This is my friend, Monk the White Rabbit, and his royal wife, the Red Queen. 
 I was a white rabbit too - but I was a bad bunny. Here's me as the White Rabbit Bunny Warrior of Death putting the smooth moves on my wife in the hotel lobby: 

This year, there was a vending event prior to the ball where sponsors could put up their wares for show and tell. 

Here's the fabulous Splendid Fish Studio display, manned by my wife: 

The vending was fantastic - here, like at the Goblin Market, you can get things you didn't even know exist. The big sellers for me were female springbok horns. I could barely keep these on the table long enough to sell them! I do have more now, though, so if you couldn't get one then, you might be able to get one now along with a lot of other unusual items at (www.magistercrow.etsy.com),

The Bad: Old Mr. Jenkins

Old Mr. Jenkins, the studio cat, passed away this month.

We're going to miss him a lot, although four of his daughters still live with us.

He was doing pretty well, right up until the end. When he got to the point where he could no longer eat or drink, we knew it was time.

I have no idea how old this cat was. We had him for eight years, and he was already old when we got him - we ended up taking him in because we knew he couldn't survive another Michigan winter outdoors, and so he ended up his life living in a luxury that he would have never been able to imagine while living on the streets.

He paid us back with the pleasure of his purr, and the touch of his fur.

We consider the debt paid in full.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why I Dream of Eagles Dead in the Mud

This isn’t about Alchemy or metalsmithing. This will most likely be the only political blog I ever write, but I had to get it off my chest…

A while ago I had a dream in which I found a bald eagle, dead, lying in the mud. When I asked some friends about it, one of them suggested that it had to do with my feelings about the current unrest here in America.. Well, that makes sense… but, at the time, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about that situation. What I did know is that, when I thought about it, I become, in turns, sad and angry.

So I retreated to my Fortress of Solitude for forty days and forty nights (I didn’t fast though. Smoked a lot though). This is what I came up with…

Thoughts From Your Reluctant Enemy

I am watching events unfolding in this country of ours - America. There are a lot of things here which - in my honest opinion - need to be changed, not just for the benefit of the country itself, but also for the benefit of ALL the people who call this place home. The two things are really the same - what is good for Americans is good for America, because America is made up of Americans.

I refer to myself as a “reluctant enemy” because, as much as I would like to support those who are working to produce these changes I find myself completely unable to do so. The reason for this dilemma is that - also in my honest opinion - all sides of this ongoing public “debate” are making serious and foolish mistakes.

If it were just me it really wouldn’t matter. Feel free to write me off as a fool also, if you want to.

But you do so at your own peril - at present, we still live in a democracy. Unless your actual goal is to overthrow our government and establish some sort of dictatorship, you will need to win over people like me (and there are a lot of us) by convincing us that you really have something legitimate to say. In order to do that, you will have to clearly state what that is, how you intend to achieve it, how it will improve the lives of our fellow citizens, and how we can do it without tanking our already tottering economy.

These are simple questions. If I were buying a used car, I would ask most of the same questions - what is it, how does it work, what will it cost me. I don’t need to ask how to get it - that I already know.

If these questions are not answered, I will wonder why. The two things that hop immediately into mind which might explain the silence are: A) people don’t actually know what they are doing or why, and B) somebody is hiding something.

I’d like to help out the people who are working for needed change. I’d like to join you. I’m not really your enemy, but I am an outsider, and, as an outsider, I can tell you how you look to other outsiders. This is very important to know, IF you intend to work within the democratic process.
Here is what I think needs to happen - if you want to win over the undecided middle:

1. Peaceful protests.

Before staging a protest, be very clear as to the specific, actual, physical goal you intend to achieve, and have a specific plan of action as to how that goal will be reached so that people will have something constructive to do while they are at the protest - unless the time frame is very short, like an hour or two. Then you can fill their heads with speeches, or sing Kumbaya.

Raising awareness” is not the goal. Prior to the protest, you raised awareness - otherwise, hundreds of people would not have traveled long distances to take part.

Now, you have them - many angry people confined to a small space, possibly for days… with nothing to do. If you imagine that anything other than anger, violence and property damage will come out of that, then you really do not know enough about human nature to convince me to pay attention to you.

If your goal is violent confrontation, this is exactly the way to achieve it. I’m probably wrong, but it makes me suspect that violent confrontation was the real goal all along - after all, as one of my friends pointed out, a movement is advanced when it can produce a few martyrs. Probably it was just clumsiness on the part of the planners, but next time, learn from your mistake - don't make excuses or blame others.

On the other hand, have clear goals and an actual course of action planned - something constructive for people to do while they’re there - and you might actually be able to achieve it.

2. Don’t tell people, even inadvertently, that you intend to overthrow the government.

Do not compare your protests to those which took place in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, et al. Those admirable populist uprisings had a specific purpose - to remove repressive dictators from office and establish democratic rule.

If you are modeling your actions on those of, say, Syria, please tell us who the evil dictator is. Is it President Obama, the man who ran for public office on a ticket of social reform, who was elected by a respectable margin via the democratic process, and who has been tirelessly working to get affordable health care into the hands of ALL Americans?

I sure hope not.

If you are not REALLY intending to overthrow the government, don’t tell people that that is what you are trying to do - even accidentally. It makes a lot of us very nervous.

And no, Big Business is not an evil dictator. What you call “Big Business” is a set of business practices. There is nobody you can overthrow to stop big business from unfair practices - that needs to be dealt with in an entirely different way.

3. Separate yourselves from extremists. Separate yourselves a LOT.

I’ve heard people frenetically babbling about all kinds of things, ranging from a communist revolution to the establishment of a Christian theocracy.

You can say “They are not us” until you turn blue and choke to death, but WITHOUT A CLEAR STATEMENT OF PURPOSE and a STRONG PUBLIC DISAVOWEL of their respective causes, nobody will hear you because those fringe groups are ALSO claiming to be speaking "for the people.”

Currently, it looks to me like the “leaders” of this movement are reluctant to distance themselves because they need those fringe groups to swell their numbers and make “the cause” look strong. This is a big mistake -

First, because middle of the road people (like me, whose opinions you MUST win over if you intend to work within the democratic process) get real nervous when we hear talk of that stuff (incidentally, this is one of the ways in which we - middle of the road people, are being manipulated by the media. For more on that, see number 7).

Remember what we (middle of the road people) are mostly middle aged, trying to pay off homes, we have families, reasonably decent jobs, ties to and in the community. We don’t want all we’ve been working for all our lives to be destroyed in some dumb revolution.

If THEY are shouting about a communist revolution and Christian theocracy, and YOU are shouting about socialized health care, and there is no clear statement of purpose and intent, what WE hear in the muddle of voices is Socialized Communist Christian Theocratic Revolution. And that ain’t a pretty picture at all.

Second, you want to avoid them because associating with these groups is like stepping in dog shit. Later on, no matter how hard you try to wipe it off, some of the stink still clings to you. If, for example, one of those groups does something really stupid, like launch an anarchist bombing campaign, then you, by association, will be smeared with the guilt - even if you deplore what they did.

4. Publicly disavow violence of any kind as a means to your end. Make Gandhi your role model.

According to a Wikki article I read (I know - you can’t trust Wikki. But it’s the only source I could find) more than 50% of your crowd, when asked, stated that they would be willing to use violence to achieve their goals.

This is troubling. Resorting to violence would mean that you have decided to reject the democratic process, and toss out the Constitution. If you are willing to do this, I can not be with you - and the same holds true for many others.

Do not suggest (or even imagine) that a revolution or civil war in this country will lead to any good for anybody - except undertakers and munitions dealers.

Until all the undertakers are dead.

To have a revolution or a civil war, there will need to be a split in the American military, resulting in two or more factions.

If you can imagine the total devastation that would come about if the military divides and fights against itself, while simultaneously fighting us (the citizens), bringing all the might of modern weapons, munitions, air power, and rapid transport into battle anywhere on this continent, you’ll understand that THIS civil war would be nothing like the rambunctious but jolly run through the park that the last one was.

With a war like that here, we’d be overly and undeservedly lucky if there were one single smoldering chunk of fused American granite left poking it’s embarassed nose above seawater.

If THAT isn’t enough, please consider - a massive American civil war would almost certainly spill over into Europe.

They’ll call that WWIII, if anybody survives long enough to give it a name.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if people trying to do good ended up being the ones who finally managed to destroy the entire planet???

If you think I’m an alarmist, read the stories of the Iranian kids who accidentally took over an American embassy for what was supposed to be an hour long sit in, and how it ended up in a protracted seige, or the story of a dumb kid talked into shooting somebody "for the good of the cause" starting WWI.

5. Don’t engage in hate speech in public. At all, ever - even when it is disguised as a “cute” expression.

This is about as cute as telling n****r jokes - very funny, unless the one hearing them is black, or is that type of person who REALLY does care about other people, at which times it becomes mean, obnoxious, pathetic, and inflammatory. If you are claiming to be the good guys, but behaving badly, I, and other observers like myself, are more apt to believe what we see, as opposed to what we are told. That’s why we are not already with you - we believe what we see.

I am an old man. I’m trying to learn what to do with Facebook, and really not getting it. I was pretty happy when my daughter showed me how to “Friend” people. There were a whole bunch of people whom I thought I knew, and respected, ready to be friendly. I figured that I’d read about their happy times, and so enjoy them with them, and read about their sad times, and I could lend them an ear to cry on.

Instead, almost instantly, I was buried in a flood of hate speech in the form of cute sayings with insulting messages. Even when they didn’t directly relate to me (and they usually didn’t), it was still horrible.

A few people lost my respect pretty fast. Fortunately, my daughter also taught me how to “unfriend” people. I feel like an absolute jerk every time I do it, but I have been listening to so much hate being spread in the name of “doing good” for so many years that I can not stand it any more. I doubt if I’m alone. Can anybody say “negative campaigning”? If you don't like it, don't do it.

I really don’t expect many people to care a whole lot about my respect, or my feelings, but there are an awful lot of people out there who, like me, are trying to make sense of all that is going on these days. We would like to do what is right for our country, but if you are spreading hate and imagining that by doing so you will gain the support of any caring and concerned people, you are a making a serious mistake.

“Eat the rich”? Seriously - this expression brings to mind (in any educated person) some of the worst events in a long line of communist atrocities. It may not matter much to you, but the expression stops being cute when the guy next to you is singing the glories of a communist revolution.

A clear statement of intent and strong commitment to nonviolence will help alleviate the concerns of people like me, and you can show how serious you are about being a decent person by watching your tongue in public (at least).

6. Do not allow the wrong people to speak to the public, or accept any financing from them. Pick the right person for that job.

Take a guy like Michael Moore. He was, for a long time, pretty popular with the “liberals.” In the time since his last film he has lost a lot of support, not only from “the other side," but from his own side as well. The reason for this is… people found out that he purposely tells outright lies to further his cause.

Some people don’t know this because, since he tells them what they want to hear and blames who they want blamed, they never bother to check the facts. Others (and this is truly pathetic) excuse it because it‘s “good for the cause” (i.e. - I know it's a pack of lies, but so what? I believe it anyway).

But anybody who is actually interested in social causes, and REAL social reform has looked into it, and knows him for what he is. When your fellows sing his praises, people of the type I have described are very likely to write you (and your causes) off as an example of child-like and silly naivety. This doesn’t make your side look very good. And taking funding from him is the "liberal" equivalent of a "conservative" accepting a large "gratuity" from an oil company.

Find, if you can, somebody of the quality of Dr. Martin Luther King. I’m pretty sure that the last time things got this bad in America we would have ended up in a civil war if not for him. Dr. King was able to get both sides talking sense, and things improved fairly quickly for millions of Americans - and they had a hell of a lot more reason to be pissed than most people today. He should have a statue right next to Abe Lincoln’s. Possibly in front, because he actually managed to stop the war and resolve many of the problems before the war occured.

Where can you find somebody like Dr. King today? That’s a hard one. Nobody trusts anybody any more, and with good reason - everybody who speaks in public these days seems to be pushing his/her own lopsided and highly biased agenda. You don’t trust them, I don’t trust them, nobody really trusts them. I doubt if they even trust themselves.

My first choice to suggest for the job was the Dalai Lama. What we need here is some real compassion. He’s kind, gentle, and absolutely brilliant. He’s not going to make corrupt business men like you, or make you like them. He won’t make much headway with the religious right (what with him being a devil worshiper and all). But that doesn’t matter - all you need is enough… you don’t need it all.

But he has a lot on his plate already. Besides, there is a much, much better choice. I do believe that, if you can pull this off, you will move social reform not a mere 3 or 4 years ahead, but, literally, DECADES ahead in a very short time.

Who is this amazing person?

President Obama.

Consider - Show a groundswell of support, and elect him for a second term. This sends some very clear messages to the American people. It shows that the greater mass of Americans are willing and happy to have an African-American hold the highest possible office in this country - and keep it. It shows that the American voting public wants what he promised to provide - social reform. This will make it clear to everybody that no politician can get elected again unless they are willing to work to give the people what they clearly want, and we care more about that than we do about a person's race.

He hasn’t been entirely successful, but he has worked very hard. That’s all you can ask - he’s a president, not a dictator. He didn’t get as much done in his first term as we’d have liked, maybe, but he tried to set aside partisan politics and get a decent health care bill through. You can show all the other presidential wannabes that they don’t have a prayer of getting elected running on trash talk and Jesus. Give him a second term and he can do more. The second term is always the most productive anyway.

In addition, you will get his attention in a very positive way. Show up at those protests with signs reading “We believe in you, President Obama,” or “Save our nation, President Obama,” or pictures of him right next to Gandhi on big posters, and you’ll have his ear.

I hope he’s not the kind of guy who will bend down and kiss your hind end to get votes, but having a sympathetic ear in the highest of high offices is not, in any way, a bad thing. And when he knows that you are counting on him to set this nation right, I do believe that he will work even harder to do so. And the other politicians will find that they must fall in line and work with him - if they are ever to get elected in this country again.

If he does not get a second term, the message we send will be clear - you can't win on a social reform ticket.

President Obama has been an OK president so far. I believe that he has the potential to be the greatest American president since Abe Lincoln, and possibly even greater - if you help him to be that man. Praise him for what he sincerely tries to do, rather than blame him for what he was unable to do.

7. Be aware that your are being manipulated by others for their own purposes, and don’t fall for it.

I’m not talking conspiracy theory here.

I doubt that there are many of you out there who are unaware of the fact that every day you are subjected to a barrage of manipulative tactics by people who have a vested interest in what you do - politicians, news media, advertisers, and everybody else who can make some kind of profit or gain some sort of power by doing so.

Their greatest trick (and I should know - I’m not real proud of it, but I used to work in advertising) is to make you believe that you are too smart or worldly wise to be tricked.

So you’ve seen it happening on “the other side”? Well, good for you. You’re very clever.

Now look for how it is being done to you.

That would be smart.

We are all being manipulated - you, me, them. The only defense we have is wide open eyes and a sharp mind.

So open your eyes and use that mind of yours.

(See the section on Michael Moore for further details on propaganda.)

This will help you - decide what you are willing to do to achieve your goals, and how far you are willing to go. Then, do not go beyond that point, no matter how many lemmings are pushing you over the cliff.

In Conclusion…

In 1920, after watching the course of a disastrous and foolish European war which we now refer to as WWI, the poet William Butler Yeats wrote a poem called “The Second Coming.” This is the first stanza of that poem:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…

This is possibly even more true here and now than it was then and there.

And it’s a sad picture of my - of our - country. It’s time to drop the passionate intensity, and develop some decent convictions.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In The Cavern of the Metals

“In the cavern of the metals there is hidden the Stone that is venerable, splendid in color, a mind sublime, and an open sea.”

This quote comes from The Golden Treatise of Hermes. At first glance it seems to be a jumble of words arranged into a sentence-like structure, but empty of real meaning. It does, actually, mean something. It describes the place you need to go to find the stone.

The problem is that one can not understand what it means by reading it linearly - in a straight line where each word adds to the total meaning. This kind of writing can only be understood oceanicly - all at once, like being submerged in the ocean. Typically, a novel is written linearly, while poetry is oceanic.

To understand something which is written linearly you begin at the beginning, proceed through the middle, and end at the end.

To understand something which is written oceanicly you just jump in and flail around until you get a feel for the current. Then you swim. Alchemy will frequently require you to swim… that’s why there are so many references to the sea or ocean. In order to understand the text, you have to have read it, thought about it, felt about it, and tried it out. Only then can you understand what you had just been told.

Crazy. No wonder there are so few of us around these days.

The other trick to understanding this kind of thing is to know that there are TWO things going on at all times - one is the outer work, the other is the inner work. You can see it expressed like this:

“Behold, I have declared that which had been concealed, since the work is both with you and about you…” - Golden Testament of Hermes

“The work is both…” - two things are going on
“…with you…” - indicates that the operator will be working on his/her self
“…and about you…” - Here, the word “about’ means “all around” (as in “look about”), so the operator will be working on things around him/her - i.e.: material objects

This idea can be traced back to a line from the legendary Emerald Tablets which is usually translated as “As it is above, so it is below.” For the Alchemist, “above” means the realm of the non-physical (the heavenly or spirit world), while “below” means here on earth (the physical world).

The work is, then, both spiritual (in the common sense. Spirit means something else to the Alchemist) and physical.

The “physical” part of the initial quote regarding the Cavern of the Metals refers to the now obsolete belief that the metals all begin as a single substance. Deep in the center of the earth this substance is acted on by a mysterious force and goes through a series of transformations, each of which further purifies the metal, advancing it along a line from lead to gold.

This idea made sense at the time. Veins of metal and metallic ores are generally mixed with other metals - for instance, platinum, which is roughly the same color as silver is generally found in silver or gold veins. Platinum, however, is very, very much harder than silver, and does not tarnish. To the Alchemists, this suggested that the silver was on it’s way to turning into a more “advanced” form of silver, some of which was already there in the silver vein. The Alchemists called platinum “true silver” because it was what silver was destined to become.

Was this crazy thinking?

Yes. We now know that this can’t happen in the center of the earth. It actually happens in the center of stars - the only place known in nature that can reach the temperatures and pressures required to turn hydrogen into helium, and then into everything else…

So “the cavern of the metals” is this imaginary place where the transformations take place.

But remember - this is only half of the story. There is also the non-physical part to contend with… This is where you have to have understood other parts of the book before you can understand this (read oceanicly). This cavern of the metals is INSIDE the operator.

In this part of the explanation, the cavern of the metals is the place inside you where a mysterious force (“the Stone”) brings about changes.

The Stone is described as:

Venerable = made sacred because of it’s unbelievable age
Splendid in color = shining, brilliant, startlingly beautiful
A mind sublime = A mind of transcendent excellence. The word “sublime” comes from the term “sublimate” which means “to change from one state to another directly, without going through an intermediary state, generally from solid to gas without first becoming a liquid (you can see this happening if you ever have a chunk of dry ice). For the Alchemists, this would generally mean either dissolving something in acid, or causing something to precipitate out of a solution - either taking something from a physical state (a solid) into a non-physical state (dissolved), or bringing something out of a non-physical state into a physical state (the precipitate). Or, on the non-physical side of the explanation - a mind that can turn thought into experience, or experience into thought.

So what is this thing, this “Stone“?

The Stone (the Stone of the Philosophers, or the Philosopher’s Stone) is that force which drives change, whether physical or non-physical.

What is the force within you which drives you to do what you do, and to be what you are?

Find that and you’ll have the Philosopher’s Stone.

For my next blog I’ll take you on a little tour of my personal Cavern of the Metals - Splendid Fish Studio - where I AM THE STONE.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2011 Midwest Witches’ Ball door prize

- Deluxe Cased Athame set -

As one of the sponsors of the 2011 Midwest Witches’ Ball (http://midwestwitchesball.com/) I’ve been given the opportunity to donate a door prize. Because it’s a donation I don’t (obviously) get paid for it.

Which is fine, because…

As an artist, I have many ideas for fantastic and incredible objects to make - they just come up out of the deep and swim around in the shallows of my thoughts until I do something with them.

Unfortunately, because I am a “professional” artist, one of the things I have to do with those fishy dreams is to turn them into something I can sell. This means that “doing something with them” generally involves simplifying them, and figuring out how to reduce costs. I’m afraid that I don’t have extremely wealthy customers.

I think I do pretty well - I make unique and beautiful pieces and I sell them at affordable prices. Come and take a look at what I have and let me know if you agree - http://www.splendidfish.etsy.com/.

But (and this is a big butt. If you’ve ever had to contend with a big butt, you know how distracting it is), sometimes I like to forget all about costs and sales and just cut loose with a project.

That’s what I get out of doing a donation like this.

My teacher, who is Hermes the Three Times Great, tells me “As long as you seek to make gold, you will never make Gold.”

The key to understanding this quotation comes from noticing that the word "gold," is used twice. In the first usage it IS NOT capitalized, while in the second usage, it IS capitalized. This indicates that the words "gold" and "Gold" indicate two different things.

In the first usage (which is, according to English rules, correct) “gold” is used to indicate “common gold.” This would be the metallic element, gold. It also means “money” or “wealth” because the value of money used to be in it’s content of precious metal, the most precious of which, used in coinage, was gold.

The second usage capitalized the word “Gold.” This indicates that it is being used as a special term, in a way which is peculiar to Alchemy. In order to understand the statement, you need to know what “Gold” is used by Alchemists to represent (just like you need to know what an up quark, down quark, top quark, and bottom quark are in physics).

This might be a bit confusing… I’ll try to speak as straightly as possible.

Most people who have heard of Alchemy but don’t know much about it will say that the Alchemists were trying to make gold out of lead. Those who know a bit more might say that gold is used to symbolically represent “perfection” (whatever that is…). The idea behind that is this - since gold doesn’t oxidize (rust or tarnish), it is “incorruptible” (doesn’t rot. In Alchemy, rust on metal is like the crud that grows on rotting food), and is, therefore, perfect.

While this idea is roughly correct (call it a first level understanding), it is also misleading. Here’s a more correct way of expressing the idea:

In Alchemical writing and thought, “Gold” (with the capital “G”) is used to symbolically represent an end state produced when the component parts of the subject (that which is being worked on) have gone through a series of transformations, been recombined, and arrived at it’s (their?) highest level of being.

Or, to make it short, “Gold” is the ideally imagined end state of a procedure.

Any procedure.
Understanding this alone will help you in reading the classical Alchemy texts. Creating permanent, lasting Gold is the overarching goal of Alchemy. It is also the end goal of many sub-procedures leading up to that grand goal (the Magnum Opus).

Back to the phrase, then: As long as you seek to make gold, you will never make Gold.

I can now translate this into standard English for you - As long as you are doing it for the money, your work will never reach it’s highest possible state.

So - now I’ve gone full circle. The beauty of a donation is that I get to do my work without thought of profit or reward. That frees me up to bring the work to the highest level of perfection of which I am capable of bringing it.

I wish I could do this more often, but, Alas! I need gold…

Here’s what I’ve used this opportunity to create.

This is a cased Athame set. Let me point out of few of the subtle features which make this set so special!

The Athame itself (I have three similar Athames on my Etsy site: Splendid Fish Studio ) measures 18 inches in length, 12 inches of which is blade. The blade (which I did not make) is forged from high carbon steel - the correct steel for a blade (don’t be fooled by bright and shiny stainless steel, or something labeled “440“. Your ancestors would have recognized stainless as crappy metal for an edged tool) - in the form of a Scottish dirk. The blade has traditional file work decorations on the spine.

The guard is hand carved (by me this time) from a solid bar of cold rolled brass. This is far superior to the cheaper cast guards you see on many tourist quality knives. Cast brass is subject to fracturing when struck or dropped, while the carved, cold rolled brass is much less brittle.

Between the guard and the handle is a brass band, called the “wedding band” because it “weds” (joins) the handle to the blade. The wedding band is lightly decorated with a simple file carving. In addition to joining, the wedding band also serves to strengthen the cut end of the bone. If not reinforced, the bone has a tendency to split from a cut end. The other end, where the joint is, isn’t a problem because the fibers of the bone are twisted and entwined at the ends, and so end joints don’t split.

The actual bone I used came from a deer - a doe, actually. In the spring I wander the woods and find many interesting things - among them are the carcasses of deer that die over the winter (called “winter kill”). By the time I find them, the bones have been mostly cleaned by nature’s little helpers - the decay organisms and scavenging insects. Because they’ve been cleaned in nature’s laboratory instead of mine, the bones absorb some colors from the minerals in the soil, and some green from the algae which grows in the pores of the bone. I lightly polish them, giving them the look and feel of old ivory.

The scabbard is made of hand carved hardwood - in this case, poplar wood. Poplar is a smooth grained, fast growing wood, and is a renewable natural resource. This is the wood which was used in Europe for lining sword scabbards back in the old days.

I’ve dyed the scabbard a nice chocolate black and given a traditional finish of hand rubbed boiled linseed oil. I’ve also carved the scabbard so that it’s shape reflects the shape of the blade, including the file carving on the spine.

What makes this a deluxe set, though, is the fancy box.

For the case, I picked out some really nice bits of tiger stripe maple. The “tiger stripes” in the wood come about as a result of twisting growth patterns in the tree. When the maple is cut and sawn, the tiger stripe pieces are picked out and saved to be sold at a premium.

This wood has nice stripes… And I’ve dyed it bright red using aniline dye. The dye is much better than hardware store wood stain because stain is made of finely ground pigment, like paint, and tends to obscure some of the little details of the wood. Aniline dyes, though, are dyes. They aren’t made of pigment, so, when used, the grain stands out at maximum clarity.

The only problem with aniline dyes is that they are permanent, and they don’t wash off. My hands have been bright red for two weeks now. Remember to always wear gloves when you use aniline dyes…

And I’ve also used boiled linseed oil for a hand rubbed finish on the box also. Oh, and by the way - the inside is lined with red felt.

Topping it all off, which I think adds the final, very witchy touch, is the label on top of the box. I reads “2011 Midwest Witches’ Ball” - handwritten on a lovely toad skin. Do you know how hard it is to find lovely toad skins? I spare no expense and use only the finest materials… This leather came from the Philippines, although the toad came from Australia. A while back the Australian government brought in an Asian toad, the cane toad, to help control the bugs in the sugar cane. The toads like Australia, it seems, because they have been breeding like honeymooners, and parts of the country are overrun with them. They have to kill them to control the population, and, once they are dead, they don’t need their skin anymore…

Incidentally, I've also donated this little Nibelung's horde of Viking style forged copper bracelets for the gift bags which will be given out at the vending event. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Where have I been? Where am I going?

Oh my, looky there!

It's been a hellaciously long time since I've had a chance to update this blog!

I don't know how you all do it - you blog, tweet, Facebook, squidly, bla, bla, bla. Don't you ever take time out to goof off, do something stupid, get drunk, snuggle with somebody cute, take a bath?

Well, neither do I. That's why I find it so amazing that you all can spend so much more time with this kind of thing than I do.

Seriously (I actually do many stupid things), I really want to get back to work on this blog. All nine of my subscribers have been clamoring for more ("clamoring" may be too harsh a word. Maybe "have completely forgotten about the existence of this blog" would be more accurate).

I guess that an explanation is in order.

Being of a philosophical temperament I will present my explanation in the form of a syllogistic argument:

A. Given the existence of excrement,
B. Given the existence of ventilation devices,
C. Given a long enough time period
It is inevitable that, sooner or later, the shit will hit the fan.

So the shit hit the fan... But things are better now. Once more I have used my powers to pull my buns out of the fire before they charred. Currently, there is less pulverized poop misting the atmosphere, and I can actually get back to the work I love - which I have missed terribly.

So here's a quick rundown of the bits I've currently got in process, and which I will be showing in the near future -

1. The door prize for the 2011 Midwest Witches' Ball.
This is a HUGE PARTY, and huge fun. As a sponsor, I get to donate a door prize. I really like doing this because it's a time for me to pull out all stops and do something really extraordinary, without worrying about making it affordable.

I'll have pictures up soon - this is the kind of stuff I would do all the time, if I only had some very wealthy customers... But as it is, somebody is going to be very, very happy...

Here's a teaser pic... more to follow...

To find out more about The 2011 Midwest Witches' Ball, follow this link: http://midwestwitchesball.com/
Look for my add on the sponsor's page!

2. A brass bra.

I've laughed about making one of these for a long time, and now I think it's finally time to produce one.

I've been filling my idle hours studying the anatomy and form of female breasts, my sketch book is full of boob sketches, and I think I understand them well enough now. I believe I can adequately and attractively encase them in a firm support of metal. I have some rough ideas sketched out, and, of course, my research continues, with the grateful assistance of my wife and some friendly friends.

I've also been studying up on leather work. I haven't done any of that in a long time, so I need to brush up on it in order to make all the associated straps and harnessing needed to support such a complicated bit of engineering.

My intention is to line it with rabbit fur in order to provide tickley comfort and reduce the famous "colder than.." factor.

Who says a witches' tit in a brass bra has to be cold, anyway?

Here's a sketch of the current design for one of the breastplates. The pattern will be pierced out to show the rabbit fur lining. The rabbit skin will be removable for those really naughty occasions when flesh is more fun...

I can't decide if I should cut a nipple hole in the center, or if I should mount a nice bullet cut garnet cabochon there so it will look nice under a sweater.

3. And, finally, my recycled animal parts projects.

This is kind of funny...

I was looking around  for some odd bits of bone, horn, and shell to make projects like this little bottle made out of a warthog tusk:

Or this little bottle made out of a piece of deer bone:

Or this wand made with a turkey leg (it features a concealed compartment in the other end):

So I found what I was looking for, but I also found that when I buy individual pieces (of bone or whatever), the price is much, much higher than it is if I buy a bunch of them at once.

And, to make a long story short, I figured that, as weird as some of this stuff is, if I can use it to make unique and interesting items, then so can others. Hence, the birth of a new business enterprise, http://www.magistercrow.etsy.com/ .

I now buy and sell peculiar items that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else.

While I'm wheeling and dealing I pick out the bits that I like best. I have quite an assortment of stuff which would like to be made into things both elegant and lovely... Not to say unique...

Starting at the top and traveling clockwise, you have a couple of ram's horns, some enormous steer horns, male springbok horns with a red fox skull sitting on top, sea urchin shells, water buffalo horns, a huge warthog tusk, a coyote skull, a pile of female springbok horns, a stack of toad skins, and, right in the center, a very nice warthog skull. All this will be going up for sale on my Magister Crow site in the beginning of November.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Brief Interlude: A word about a word… and the word is “Alchemy”

I did a google search using the words “Alchemy” and “metalsmith” partly because I’m conceited and wanted to see myself on the internet, but mostly because I wanted to know if this little blog here had been picked up by the search engines and indexed yet.

A blow to my ego - no, I didn’t show up, but I did come up with 112,000 different listings - which roused my curiosity because I’ve never met another actual metalsmithing Alchemist and I was curious as to what all of those people I’ve never met were up to. Sooo… in the true spirit of experimental philosophy, I opened up all 112,000 of them and had a look (just kidding. I breezed through the first page). What I discovered was not unexpected, but it was still disappointing.

The word “Alchemy” has pretty much lost it’s meaning.

What I mean by that is that people use the term - maybe because it sounds mystical, magical, or neat-o cool - but have little, if any, idea what the word means. At best it seems to be used as a synonym for “change,” or the more exotic “transformation,” which is, I suppose, correct in the very, very vague way that the word “dog” means “friendly.” Change is certainly an important part of Alchemy, but it is hardly the defining characteristic.

I said that this was not unexpected. From the time of the Renaissance when ancient manuscripts made their way into Europe via the Middle East, along with Middle Eastern (primarily Muslim) works extending and developing the ideas found in those manuscripts, right up into the 18th century, Alchemy was an extremely important - if not THE most important - world view in Europe. Pretty much everybody engaged in any kind of intellectual work, ranging from mathematics, to physics, to medicine, to philosophy, and even the arts, was working from a background based on Alchemy. The philosopher/logistician Emmanuel Kant, the philosopher/mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, the mathematician/scientist Sir Isaac Newton, to name but a few, were Alchemists. Not just until they learned better - they were Alchemists until the day they died, and all the ideas, all their work, all they accomplished - were based on their explorations in Alchemy.

In the work of Shakespeare a person knowledgeable of the symbolic language of Alchemy (called “the language of the birds”) can find many Alchemical ideas clearly expressed. This is perhaps most clearly seen in Shakespeare’s final work, the hauntingly beautiful The Tempest.

In this play, the dual creative/destructive power of Hermes (Hermes is energy, and energy can be either or both creative and/or destructive) is played out between the “Airy Spirit,” Ariel, and the destructively ignorant Caliban. Miranda and Ferdinand form the royal couple in the sacred marriage, while Prospero acts as the master Alchemist who brings about the Grand Conjunction and union of opposites, transforming himself in the process. (We don’t know enough about the life of Shakespeare to know for sure whether he was a practicing Alchemist or not, but the Alchemical content of his plays is part of the evidence used to support the theory that Francis Bacon - philosopher, scientist, lawyer, statesman - and Alchemist - wrote them.)

And then… suddenly…

As the centuries slip from the 18th into the 19th, Alchemy vanishes from the face of Europe and the collective memory of Europeans. The foundations of the very thought processes which created the modern world we live in were completely forgotten. It’s as if, after having gone to college, earned your degree, and found a job, you suddenly forgot all those years you actually WERE in college. You knew what you had learned, but forgot the whole process of learning it - the ups and downs, the successes and failures, the leads that panned out, and the ones that dead ended - to say nothing of all those good times you had with your friends after hours.

So Alchemy vanished.

Sort of.

But not really…

A better explanation is that it blew apart as a result of the energy it generated.

Because Alchemy was a complete, integrated system in which all aspects of human experience and knowledge interacted, as each separate facet of knowledge reached a critical mass and began to develop exponentially, there was suddenly too much for any one mind to hold or even make sense of - order moved to chaos by taking the road marked “Complexity.”

In order to restore order, complexity had to be reduced. This was done through an act of separation (in Alchemy, we refer to this as “distillation”). The individual “fields” of knowledge were separated from one another, and each pursued by people who became increasingly specialized in one particular field - and, consequently, ignorant in the others.

Hence, the physical part of Alchemy became “Natural Philosophy” which divided into chemistry, physics, geology, botany, biology (you can see how this separation has continued. Biology is now cellular biology, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, etc., etc.).

The internal, mental part of Alchemy became philosophy and psychology - both of which explore what we know and the way in which we know it.

The third part of Alchemy was the exploration of the soul (in Alchemy, things are typically divided into three parts - the physical part - referred to as “Salt,” the mental/intellectual part - referred to as “Sulphur,” and the soul part - referred to as “Mercury”). The exploration of the soul fell, for a long time, into the hands of powerful organized religious groups and languished due to their control. Currently, with the influx of religious thinking coming into Europe from other cultures, and the rise of new forms of spiritual expression - or the reemergence of old ones - the strangle hold of Western organized religions is loosening, and this area is beginning to advance as well.

What had once been an idea - that all areas of knowledge are intimately connected, intertwined, with each supporting and illuminating the others - was lost to specialization.

And a funny thing is now happening.

While I know that Alchemy, as Alchemy, will never really come back - it’s been too thoroughly forgotten - the basic idea behind Alchemy is returning. Thinkers, such as Edward O. Wilson, are pointing out what should be obvious - if what we learn in chemistry is true, it should tell us something about biology, which is based on chemistry. If what we learn about biology is true, it should tell us something about psychology, which is based on biology. And, to extend the thinking, - if the soul has a place in the body, understanding psychology should tell us something about the soul.

These people are telling us that all branches of knowledge are intimately connected and intertwined, with each supporting and illuminating the others…

Hmmm… it seems like I’ve written that before…

So this is what Alchemy REALLY is - not the freakish abortion of pre-scientific thinking, but the very essence of knowledge itself - the belief that all things are interconnected (Hermes sez: As it is above, so it is below). It’s the whole ball o’ wax, the big enchilada, the grand theory of everything.

Welcome to the return of Alchemy - the theory that everything which IS fits together, and the way in which it all fits together can be understood, and, being understood, can be used to accomplish tasks that seem magical. Maybe we are standing on the razor’s edge of the first real golden age for humanity - not as idealized legends, but as an actual reality.

Maybe we can make it, or maybe not. But I do think it is up to each of us to decide whether we are willing to do the work necessary to bring order out of chaos. And those of us who are trying are the New Alchemists.

Think about that the next time you hear the word “Alchemy.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Preparing The Lyre of Hermes or, How to Tune a Jeweler’s Saw

Hermes sez: Tis true without lying, certain most true.

I’m going to break my promise not to get all scholarly on you for just this once. The above quote is actually the first point in The Emerald Tablet, as translated by Sir Isaac Newton. The Emerald Tablet is the legendary beginning of Alchemical knowledge, which, according to legend was written by Hermes the Thrice-Great (Hermes Trismegistus). There are only about 12 or 14 points in The Emerald Tablet (depending on the translation you are using), and they are supposed to present the foundations of all the arts and sciences, so there’s not a lot of room to spare in those 12 or 14 points.

However, it seems that people have a tendency to breeze over this particular point, treating it more as a formalistic address than as a meaningful point. And there is, I suppose, a good reason for this. You will find statements like this in an awful lot of Alchemy texts. For instance, in The Golden Testament of Hermes, you will find this:

“He therefore, who now hears my words, let him search into them; I have discovered all things that before were hidden concerning this knowledge, and disclosed the greatest of all secrets.”

There’s a good reason why the writers of these texts needed to tell their readers that they were telling the truth, that there is something to what they say. The reason is this - until you are competent to judge for yourself, you’d never believe it. As soon as you come to something like this (also from The Golden Testament): “…the vulture standing upon the mountain crieth out with a loud voice, I am the White of the Black, and the Red of the White and the Citrine of the Red; and I speak the very truth.,” you’re going to think that you’re reading the random ravings of a disordered mind. But you’re not. Until you understand what you are being taught, you have to have trust in the teacher.

I bring this up because I am, by profession, a teacher. One of the things I teach is metalsmithing, in a high school. And I’ve taught hundreds of students how to use a jeweler’s saw, so I know just about everything a person will do wrong with one. And I’m going to tell you exactly how to use one so that it will work perfectly, and you’ll be able to cut straight lines or graceful curves through metal with - literally - no effort at all.

But if you’re like most of my students, you won’t believe what I tell you. You’ll try to do everything I tell you not to do, and not do everything I tell you to do. And nothing will work right until you resign yourself to doing it the way I tell you to do it. Save yourself some time and just begin by trusting me. Or learn the hard way, then come back and see that I speak truth.

There’s an interesting philosophical issue here. Every good teacher desires that his or her students will, one day, surpass him/her. And it is the job of every good student to go beyond the master’s teaching. This means that, sooner or later, you’ll end up doing things differently from the way I tell you to do them. This is entirely appropriate - BUT not until you understand WHY I tell you to do them in one way, and not to do them in another. To surpass a master, one must first master what the master has mastered, then master more (feel free to quote me on this any time you want to annoy somebody). You can only learn this by following my lead at first. So trust me for now. Tis most certain true.

I’m also going to do something very irritating. I’m going to give LONG explanations. There are thousands and thousands of books where you can get short explanations, and if this is what you want, try them. However, to understand the philosophy of a thing, you need the long explanation.

You should know that there are two ways to go through life - one is by following simple directions, in which case the one directing you will always be your master, or by learning philosophy (the art of careful and clear thinking), in which case you can become your own master. I prefer the latter, but it’s really up to you… Personally, I don’t want to be nobody’s master no longer than I needs to be…

So… on with the show…

Here is a jeweler’s saw, and some saw blades:

Notice how delicate and fragile it looks, and how thin and tiny the blades are. This is one of the first places you have to forget what you think you know. Go to black before proceeding.

You think that metal is hard, that you need some kind of power tools to cut it, and that cutting it is going to require a great deal of force. Please forget that.

The jeweler’s saw, with it’s thin, fragile blades, will cut through pretty much any metal you want to throw at it. It does this with grace and elegance, and without the use of force on your part. In fact, one of the biggest problems that beginners have is that they try to use force, and then nothing works right. The jeweler’s saw uses the magic of nature and of nature’s laws to cut - all you have to do is steer it (Hermes sez: Nothing can be accomplished unless it be in accord with nature).

If you look closely at a saw blade, you will see hundreds of little teeth. Each little tooth, as it glides over the metal being cut, takes a tiny sliver of metal off. Multiply one sliver by the number of teeth on the blade, and you get a lot of slivers. Then multiply that by the number of saw strokes per minute, and you get about two inches of metal removal per minute - or, as you gain experience, more. So, once you learn to use this saw, you can cut a five inch diameter circle out of copper, brass, silver, gold - or even steel - in about two or three minutes.

In order to cut metal, the saw blade has to be harder than the metal being cut. The blades are made of a steel alloy, and hardened until they are very, very hard - hard enough to cut steel which has not been hardened. The problem with this is that there is a trade off. The harder a material is, the more easily it fractures because “hard” makes things “stiff,” and “stiff” doesn’t bend well (in Alchemy, this is called “calcification,” which means, literally, “turning into stone”). If a stiff thing bends too much, it breaks (think of a sheet of glass. Glass is very hard - you need a diamond to scratch it - but a stone tossed at it by a child will cause it to fracture into a million pieces).

This means that the very, very hard saw blades will break very, very easily if they bend. That’s why tuning the saw frame is so important (think of the saw frame as the body of a stringed musical instrument - the Lyre of Hermes - and the blade as the string. To get it to work properly, you have to make sure the string is tight enough). The saw frame - if you work with it and not against it - will hold the blade in such a way that it doesn’t bend. But it can only do this with your help.

Check the orientation of the blade in the saw before you go any further! The teeth MUST point away from the saw frame, and be angled downward, toward the saw handle. If the blade is in backward - with the teeth pointing toward the inside of the saw frame - you will know as soon as you try to cut something because you will saw and saw and nothing will happen.

If the blade is in upside down, with the teeth pointing away from the handle, you will be able to cut, but you will also spend a lot of time cursing. With the blade in correctly, the motion of cutting pushes the metal down against the v-block (which I’ll explain later) and all the energy you expend in moving the saw goes directly into making a smooth cut. If the teeth point upward, the action of cutting lifts the metal up, wasting your energy, and the jittering metal ends up with a raged edge that looks like it was chewed on by psychotic beavers.

If your eyes are as bad as mine, you can easily check for correct blade orientation by running your finger - very gently - along the front of the blade. The teeth will catch on your fingerprints as you move away from the handle if the blade is in correctly.

I will sometimes run into people who insist that they can cut with the blade placed incorrectly. If you run into somebody who tells you to use some kind of eccentric cutting method, check the quality of their work before you accept their teaching. I’ve never met anybody who does quality work with a badly placed saw blade. Generally these people treat cutting metal as if it is some kind of divine penance they have to put up with instead of the gentle meditative pleasure it actually is. And they’re right. If you try to work against nature, you will pay for it.

Once you have the blade clamped in, you will need to tighten the saw. To do this, first make sure that the length adjusting thumbscrew is loosened. While standing (and it really works much, much better if you stand), place the butt of the saw on a firm surface, like a table top (NOTE: This will leave a dimple on a wooden surface. You may want to put down a small piece of pine board so you don’t mess up the table). With the butt on a board, and the handle hanging over the edge of the table, grab the crossbar (between the lower clamp and the length adjusting screw), and push down. If you are on the small side, lean your body over the saw as you push to get a bit of leverage.

When the blade tightens up, tighten up the length adjusting screw. Hold the saw frame with the mounted blade up in front of your face, and pluck the saw blade like a guitar string. You should get a nice tone out of it. Enjoy the musical sound of success! - recite a brief poem of praise to Hermes.

If you don’t get a musical tone, or the blade feels soft instead of tight, try again. You can’t cut with a limp, unmusical blade…

Before you begin cutting, there is one more thing you need to consider - and this is often overlooked, much to the sadness of the metalsmith.

Blades come in different degrees of coarseness (the number and size of the teeth). The size breakdown goes about like this - starting with the coarsest blades and getting finer: …5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, 00, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0, …

Now, the coarsest blades are thick and heavy, while the finest ones look like hairs, so the beginner is often tempted to try using the coarser blades, thinking that thick is more sturdy and less likely to break. Then, after trying to saw for ten minutes, the saw ends up in the garbage, and the aspiring metal smith ends up going into accounting, or advertising, or something else unfun.

The problem is that the blade has to be correctly matched to the THICKNESS of the metal being cut, not the QUALMS of the one doing the cutting. Attempting to use a blade which is too coarse for the thickness of the metal makes sawing nearly impossible - and entirely impossible to do well (thickness of metal is generally identified by “gauge” - the higher the number, the thinner the metal. For instance, 14 gauge is quite thick for jewelry work, 18 gauge is somewhat thinner and fairly common, 24 gauge is quite thin, but useful for lightweight earrings and such).

Ideally, you want about three or four teeth resting on the face of the metal you are cutting as you cut. If you look at a nickel from the side, picture how small the teeth would have to be in order to get 3 - 4 of them on there. Then look at a dime, and imagine the same thing. To understand why you need 3 - 4 teeth on the metal while you cut, take a look at this picture:

When three or four teeth ride on the edge of the metal, they scrape small slivers off like they are supposed to, and they also guide the teeth above them, keeping them from hooking the edge. However, when there are fewer than three teeth, the teeth above the metal tend to hook over the edge and get stuck. When this happens the metal smith tries to use force to get the saw moving and the saw blade either breaks or tears a ragged chunk out of the metal - or both.

Here is a link to Contenti, a supplier I use frequently. This chart shows which blade size to use with what metal gauge. There are some funky varieties of blades - spiral blades and skip tooth blades, for instance. Don't bother with these until you've learned what a regular blade will do. Also, the better blades are German, Swiss, or American - avoid the cheaper blades from India, unless you are cutting steel - the Indian blades are somewhat thicker, which makes them harder to steer, and they tend to dull faster.

In the next article I’ll explain how to actually use the saw to cut something. Until then, browse around at the Contenti website, look over the saws and saw blades, and think about this:

According to legend, on the night of his birth, Hermes stole the cattle which belonged to his half brother, Apollo, which explains why Hermes is not only the messenger of the Gods, but also the god of thieves. He is also the protector of prostitutes, if that kind of thing matters to you.

Anyway, While taking the stolen cattle back home, Hermes found a turtle, a couple of horns, and some leather strips. He put them all together and made the first musical instrument - the Lyre, kind of a harp-like thing.

When he got home he ended up in big trouble because Apollo didn’t much like having his cattle stolen. However, Hermes started to play his lyre, and Apollo was so entranced by the music that he traded his entire herd for that lyre.

In Alchemy, Hermes represents the “force/power/energy” which causes things to happen (the carier of action/intermediary between the Gods and humans), while Apollo represents intellectual thought (the active principle/the Sun). What, then, do the cattle represent, and what about that lyre?