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.

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.