I’ve been forging iron jewelry, shaman’s bells, and other magical iron objects for nearly 15 years, and am still experimenting with different styles and designs.  It makes me happy and feels like something I’m “supposed” to do. 

Amulet

Amulet

I’ve been asked to write an article for Sacred Hoop about my blacksmithing and shamanic work.  The magazine explores modern shamanic practice and its connection to various aspects of traditional shamanism.  So the article needs to be more than just a description of how I work (as a shaman and a blacksmith) and what I make.  It needs examples that illustrate why and how people use the shamanic or ritual objects that I have made.  The point is not to write a long advertisement for my work!  Instead, I want to show that forged iron “shaman’s tools” are being made and used in powerful, living, and evolving ways – they are not simply a historical curiosity to be found only in museums.

I have a request:  If  you have bought one of my iron items – a bell, a piece of jewelry, a blade, or whatever – and would like to explain how you use it, what it does for you, and anything else of interest – please send me an e-mail (OR if you don’t mind other people reading your story, you can simply comment on this post).  Please also let me know whether you’re comfortable with me quoting from your story or including some of its details in the article.  I won’t be using people’s names.

Thank you all!

Iron Magic

March 17, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I took a custom order from Nicholas Breeze Wood, publisher of Sacred Hoop, the British quarterly magazine on shamanism.  He wanted Siberian-type forged iron shaman’s ornaments:  cone bells (traditional style, not the curly ones that I usually make), a miniature sword, and a miniature bow with arrows.  I hadn’t thought about making this sort of thing for awhile, since I’d been more focused on jewelry.   A couple of days later, I went hiking in the desert and found a rusty pair of old (circa 1930s) Craftsman pliers.  I cleaned them up and found that the handles were decorated, probably to give a better grip in the days before dipped-plastic handle covers, but still a nice magical touch.  They are quite similar to the old pair of pliers (bought the swap meet in Georgetown, KY) that I’ve used for 15 years – a hard size to find, but indispensible for just about everything I make, so it’s great to have a second pair in a slightly different and very useful shape.  These are NOT the blacksmith’s tongs that are used for grabbing pieces in the forge.  They are used for twisting, curving, and shaping pieces of hot iron that are too small for the hammer.

Antique Pliers

Antique Pliers

Here’s the finished set of shaman’s ornaments.  The bow is four inches long.
Shaman's Cone Bells, Mini Bow and Arrows, Mini Sword

Shaman's Cone Bells, Mini Bow and Arrows, Mini Sword

I was inspired to design a new cone bell style, nice and loud but a bit too heavy for jewelry – they’ll be strung on a chain.  Here’s one with firescale removed with a wire brush, but not yet polished or blackened.  The small cone acts as a clapper.  When several of these double bells are strung together, the small cones will also add a high-pitched tinkling overtone to the hollow clanking of the bigger cones.
Double Cone Bell

Double Cone Bell

Surprise Agave Spike

March 14, 2009

One of the agaves in our yard has begun to send up a flowerstalk.  I had expected this plant to grow much larger and live for several more years, but the high elevation and relatively harsh environment may have triggered an early bloom.  This is Agave colorata, native to the Pacific coast of Mexico but widely planted as an ornamental in Tucson.  Clusters of four-foot plants are commonly seen in gardens.  It doesn’t grow as large as the immense gray Agave americana, but it’s still an imposing plant.  The lovely banded blue-green leaves have prominent teeth and a long dark spike at the tip.  Wild plants are reported to flower after 15 years, but cultivated plants are more variable, and the age at which they bloom depends on elevation, local microclimate, and whether or not they receive supplemental irrigation.  I have ten agave species in my yard and water some of the plants occasionally, but not this species, since it rots too easily.

Agave colorata

Agave colorata

Here’s the spiking plant in my yard with boulders and native southern Arizona oaks (Quercus oblongifolia, Mexican Blue Oak, and Quercus hypoleucoides, Silverleaf Oak).  Note the cluster of small agaves at center left, behind the large plant.  That’s another A. colorata that I put in at the same time, in 2002.  Both plants were nearly identical and about six inches tall, but one of them grew larger and had a few offsets (young rosettes), and the other stayed small and produces dozens of short-lived offsets each year.

Like all agaves, this one will die shortly after it flowers, but the offsets will survive and continue to grow.  Meanwhile, it will be fun to watch the beautiful spike develop and flower – the ultimate Ace of Wands!

Agaves are native to Mexico, central America, and the southwestern U.S.  They are NOT cacti.  They are closely related to the lily family and to similar large desert succulents such as yucca, nolina, and sotol.   The best guidebook to this large and complex genus is the classic Agaves of Continental North America by Howard Scott Gentry (1982, University of Arizona Press, 670 pages).  It has descriptions, photos, drawings, and range maps for all species, as well as taxonomic keys and plenty of background information on genetics, ecology, economic uses, ethnobotany, and many other interesting details.  Unlike many field guides and botanical manuals, it’s a very readable book.  It was written with a genuine love of the plants and an appreciation for the land in which they grow.