Fire and Water: A Tool for Steam-Powered Enchantment

Admittedly, it’s weird to see the WordPress write-post screen so frequently lately after so long without writing anything.  Quoth Alan Moore’s “Promethea” issue #19: “Man, this is like city transport.  You gonna wait forever for a beautiful woman, then three gonna show up at once.”  Then again, I suppose that’s the nature of inspiration: having the time, being at the right time, and having the resources available to present themselves.

Like everyone else on Facebook, my news feed (I remember back in the days when we just called them “walls”) is filled with videos, sometimes funny, sometimes stupid, sometimes educational.  One such video demonstrated a series of eight physics tricks, often involving magnets and batteries, but there was one in particular that caught my eye because it relied on water and fire.  While I couldn’t find the original video in a way to show here, I did find another video from Grand Illusions (whose channel is full of wonderful toys, tricks, gimmicks, and projects demonstrated by an amazing wizened Brit) that shows the exact same thing with a better description and demonstration:

The presenter isn’t sure what to call the thing, but it is similar to the kind of toys known as “pop-pop boats”, which use a tiny boiler to propel a tiny boat in water, making a continuous pop-pop sound.  This, however, isn’t quite the same.  Rather, it’s better described as a steam-powered top, constructed out of a bit of copper tubing extended through some corkboard, with its ends projecting out underneath and facing opposite directions.  The copper tubing is filled with water, then the “boat” is set on top of a bowl or container of water, and a candle is set on top of the platform under the coil.  The candle, once lit, heats the water inside the coil, turning it to steam and pushing it out, and then as the vapor cools in the coil not directly heated by the flame, sucks water back in, producing a top with sudden bursts of movement followed by slow periods of inertial spinning.  In a way, it’s a neat demonstration of the same principle underlying an aeolipile, but with a different setup and arrangement.

A neat little gimmick on its own, sure, but when it comes to matters combining fire and water, my mind starts thinking about possible occult applications.  And, for this, I think the occult applications are shockingly wonderful for how simple this would be as an extra tool in my kit.  Consider: it is not uncommon for us to bless, enchant, or otherwise bespooken liquids in our work, yes?  We normally achieve this by praying over the water, adding certain ingredients, setting it out in sunlight or moonlight, or extinguishing candles in them (either by setting a candle in the water and letting it burn out into it, or lighting a candle and quenching it in the water).  Separately, we often use candles in our work, which forms the entire field of candle magic unto itself in addition to being used as integral parts of other ceremonies.  We anoint, engrave, or dress candles, set them atop petitions, or use them as a means to empower other workings.  However, it’s not common to see an explicit merging of candle magic and water magic given the intrinsic opposition between fire and water, but the steam-powered top has a way of doing precisely just that using an almost-alchemical apparatus.

My idea for combining the two is, essentially, another technique to empower or enchant an amount of water by using the candle (dressed appropriately) to transfer its power directly into the water, but in a more prolonged and directed means than simply by extinguishing a candle in the water itself.  Assuming the copper tubing is clean and the corkboard itself doesn’t disintegrate (and it might be worth it to replace the corkboard with something more stable and hardy at some point), the water isn’t contaminated by any pollutants or additions, making it perfect for an innocuous substance that only the magician would be inclined to recognize as empowered.  Plus, instead of another method where one might heat a container of water directly using enchanted fuel (such as a cauldron heated by sacred woods and incenses), this can be done on a much smaller scale with a lot less overhead.  Additionally, the steam-powered top does its own job at keeping the water mixed through its constant spinning, though different videos show it spinning in different directions; the YouTube above shows a clockwise-spinning top, but other videos show it spinning in counterclockwise motion.  Either way, the tool seems to be useful in transferring the energy and intent of a candle directly to water, in a clean and full way that doesn’t leave residue or candle remnants.

Let’s give some examples of use, shall we?  Say that a friend has contracted a prolonged sickness, and some investigation shows a possible spiritual influence.  Dress a candle with the intent for health and shaking off spiritual gunk and set it atop a small name paper of your friend on the corkboard, then use the top in a bowl of clean water.  Administer the water to your friend in the form of baths and drinks to cleanse them internally and externally.  Being “nothing more” than clean water, perhaps with a faint metallic aftertaste, such a water could be used innocuously and without notice, or for those with sensitivities to particular herbs or oils.  Instead of giving it to them to drink or bathe with, you could also use the water in a humidifier, or set it in a pot to boil, so as to fill an entire area with the water, or use it in the washing machine for a load of laundry to do the same.  Alternatively, for a more malefic use, say you want to get rid of a troublesome coworker in the workplace, but the usual methods of doing so would draw too much undue attention, such as the laying of powders, dressing with oils, or other charms or tricks.  Dress a candle with hot-foot or get-fired oil and pray over the water to do the same, then once empowered, bring the water with you to work in an otherwise-normal water bottle (that you may not want to ever drink out of again).  “Accidentally” spill the water on your coworker’s uniform, shoes, or desk; it being water, most people would think no-harm no-foul, but you know better, don’t you?  Or, if they have a habit of leaving their desk or supplies unattended, put a few drops in their coffee mug on their desk or on their chair when they’re not looking.

If you’re comfortable with doing so, of course, there’s nothing saying you have to use plain old water for this sort of tool; most herbal infusions would likely work fine, though you’d do well to make sure they don’t corrode copper or corkboard too quickly, and that you thoroughly clean the tubing before and after each use to prevent both spiritual and material contamination.  Alternatively, the water could be used as an ingredient in other recipes, with the steam-powered top enchantment providing a kind of “pre-blessing” to prime the recipe as a whole.  I’d refrain from using this tool with anything with a high alcohol content, of course, given the obvious dangers of open flame around flammable liquids, though with a different construction of such a top in a fire-safe chamber, perhaps this wouldn’t be so much an issue.  The YouTube video above links to the Grand Illusions website where you can get your own pre-made steam-powered top for a not-unreasonable price, which I’ve already done and I’m excited to put to work when such an opportunity presents itself.  However, it wouldn’t be hard to make one of these yourself, though getting the copper tubing (or some other non-corroding heat-conducting metal) fixed in just the right direction may be a challenge for some.

On Media and the Medium of Media

I sometimes have a fascination with what might be considered by most modern people to be outdated or obsolete technologies; heck, to this day, one of my favorite online libraries to browse is textfiles.com.  I generally don’t catch on to too many techy fads or get swept up in this or that new platform, and instead like to rely on…well, things with less complexity.  As a software engineer, I can affirm that as a system gets more complex, it gets more complicated, and thus less secure as well as less robust.  It’s one of the reasons why I don’t like an Internet of Things for my house: while the idea of remotely setting my thermostat while I’m in another country does sound quite nice, there’s little to assure me that the server used to connect will be reliable in the short term, the platform used to support the server will be supported in ten years from now, that the app/site I’m using to connect to my thermostat will be available whenever I need it, that the system is secure enough to not have a local prankster set my house to 100°F in high summer because he brute-forced my password or hijacked my wifi, and so forth.  Heck, there’s nothing to even guarantee that you won’t piss off the developers themselves and have them remotely brick your garage doors from opening when you want them to or that some savvy jerk won’t have your smart fridge manipulated to show potentially off-putting porn vids of kinks you don’t like.  (For more examples of why I generally dislike smart technology, check out the Internet of Shit twitterfeed.)

Like most Americans, I have a smartphone, a respectable Android phone that’s only a few years old that serves me well.  To be fair, it took me a while to get anything of the sort; for the longest time, I was using those indestructible Nokia phones that had maybe a camera—if I was lucky!—before I finally upgraded to get a touch-screen feature phone, with enough technology to store more than just a few songs at a time, shortly after college.  It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally succumbed to getting a proper smartphone (Android, of course, because I dig open-source and Linux and I’ve long since divorced myself from Apple in general).  I gotta say, while I did take my dear sweet time getting around to getting a smartphone, it actually has helped, and it is worth it.

Mostly, at least.

By far, probably the most useful feature of a smartphone is that it’s less of a phone and more of a general-purpose computer.  I mean, even the old indestructible Nokia candybar phones had quite a few features that could reduce much of a technological burden for someone, but a proper smartphone nowadays generally has at least the following:

  • Calculator, clock, timer
  • Radio
  • Voice recorder
  • Phone (shocking, I know)
  • SMS
  • Compass, accelerometer
  • Memo
  • Fitness tracker, heartbeat monitor
  • GPS
  • Camera, flashlight
  • Music player
  • Internet browser (and any number of apps that are basically site/DB-specific browsers, not just for WWW,  but for other protocols like email, Twitter, banking, etc.)
  • General extensibility for arbitrary applications, including games
  • &c &c &c.

For myself, I use my own smartphone for the following:

  • checking Facebook, including sending messages (major means of communication)
  • checking Twitter, including sending private messages (also a major means of communication)
  • browsing the internet
  • checking email (eh)
  • alarm clock (regrettably important)
  • GPS (pretty vital)
  • camera (useful!)
  • texting and calling people (…I guess)

Lately, I’ve been wanting to scale back down and get something simpler, something like a Nokia brick again, where the battery lasts for more like eight days instead of eight hours and it does just the bare-bones functionality.  I’d still be able to call people (except that I never really do), and I could definitely rework how I consider communication.  I know Facebook and Twitter are both still text-message-friendly to an extent, though it could be a little obnoxious; I could also just wait until I get home or to my office desk (in either case, to a real computer) to do any real or heavy communication.  I’d still have an alarm clock, but I’d lose the GPS, which would actually hurt.  Plus, most of the old-style brick phones either don’t have cameras or don’t have good ones.  So, in exchange for one general-purpose device, I’d have to break down into getting three separate devices, each with their own costs and upkeep.  Not a great deal, in some aspects, especially when it can be hard to get such an older phone integrated into modern infrastructure.

In many ways, it’s much like the Evolution of the Desk, except, well, yanno…mobile.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I don’t think I can reasonably go back to a dumbphone again.  I do like only having one device instead of ten separate devices, most of which are pretty complicated things in their own rights.  Rather than fantasizing about, say, an old hand-cranked washing machine from the 1930s, which is both simple to use and easy to maintain from spare parts, a smartphone isn’t really any more technologically complex (or personally maintainable) than a GPS or modern camera; the only way I could get a net simplification out of going to a dumbphone would be to forsake the GPS or camera functionality entirely, the former of which I’m unwilling to (because getting around in my metropolitan area is hell) and the latter of which I’m unable to (due to hobby/profession needs).

While there’s the definite sting of “but I miss having a Nokia”, it was another thing entirely that put me at peace with being too far along to go back to them, and that’s my recurring fascination with toki pona.  Yes, I’ve talked about it before around here, but last time I mentioned it, I suggested that it’s a good thing to keep things simple; with a lexical inventory of only 120-some words, there’s not a lot of nuance; in fact, there’s barely any nuance at all, and most of the time, what’s understood must be understood from context and other cues.  While, in some ways, viewing things at their core in the simplest terms possible using a restricted vocabulary can be useful, simplicity has its cost, and it’s not something I mentioned back in 2015.  I like to use the Chinese expression “10,000 things” to refer to the (literally) myriads of things in the cosmos, from the smallest hair-split concept to the largest possible intergalactic superstructure; for this, and all the shades of variations of differences of types of kinds of sorts of things, sometimes a single word really does work better than a roundabout explanation, and for that, a language of 120 words puts me at an extreme disadvantage.  I cannot envision rewriting Agrippa’s Three Books, for instance, in toki pona; heck, I’d have a hard enough time in English, when I have the option of using Greek or Latin derivatives for their subtly different meanings (pneuma or spirit?), straight-Latin or French-Latin (destruct or destroy?), Greco-Romance or Germanic (apotheosis or godhood?), all of which offer subtly (but importantly) different meanings or reflections of a single topic.

In other words, while I many use toki pona to verbalize a particular instance of existence into simplicity, I cannot operate in toki pona to construct types of thinking when there are necessarily more things that can be conceived of than exist.  toki pona is too simple to think in when it comes to something so nuanced as deeply-explored theurgy, and as such, would be a burden to use compared to another language.  Likewise, it’d be more of a burden to go from my smartphone to a dumbphone, when I’d have to re-add in otherwise redundant or obsolete devices that bring in more complexity to the overall system.  So, while I’d like to use toki pona as an actual conversational language, I’d also like to use a Nokia brick.  They would be nice, but not worth it in the end except as thought experiments or sandboxes to try certain things out in.

This got me to thinking: what about spirituality?  I mean, heavens and hells know that I’m in the middle of a lengthy initiatory process that is, in its own unique ways, strikingly parallel to Hermetic stuff…at least in one mode of Hermeticism, I suppose.  Between ancient Athenian/Anatolian, early classical Alexandrian, late classical Neoplatonic, and a variety of strains from medieval and Renaissance continental western Europe, there’s a lot of development in my theology, and that’s not even including the more recent injections into my mind.  For me, it’s crucial to be nuanced and delicate and excruciatingly specific so as to better track, organize, and discuss my own thoughts for particular ends, and how they play out and map onto the cosmos, both the modeled one I expect to encounter and the experienced one I actually encounter.  Of course, yes, it is possible to split hairs and make meaningless distinctions, but I’ve started to get enough good sense to begin to avoid doing so or to be able to test/model distinctions for usefulness when possible.  On the whole, trying to ELI5 my philosophy or spiritual perspective on things in an elevator speech would probably be more damaging to both myself, the listener, and the dignity of my thoughts themselves; there’s no “explaining things to a barmaid” in this except by means of nuance and measured complexity.

It’s no shame to have a complex worldview, philosophy, religion, or spiritual practice; after all, the world we live in is inherently complex and complicated.  Being able to take the time to take in that complexity and fully grasp its nuances, ramifications, and gestures is one of the guiding aims we should all have in investigating our lives and actions.  Still, it does neither you nor anyone any good to make things more complicated than they are, nor is it helpful to simplify one aspect of your world at the cost of increasing complexity to other aspects.  Don’t try to paper over complexity by handwaving it into mystical oversimplification, but don’t make yourself to appear more profound or mysterious by spewing arcane gobbledegook, either.  The models, grammar, tools, and vocabulary you use to describe and interact with your world should favorably match the level of complexity of your world.  If your world is simple, be and talk and act simple to match it; if your world is complex, be and talk and act complex to match it.  If you want to simplify or complicate your world, work towards it, and modify your modes and methods and means accordingly.

On Light in the Darkness of the Home

Winter is rough.  Sure, some people like it, but even for those who do, it’s not the easiest season to survive.  Full of short days and long nights and temperatures lower than high school students’ ages, it gets pretty bleak at the best of times, and downright deadly when it gets really bad.  I know of several people whose houses don’t have heat due to shoddy contractor work or slummy sleazy landlords, not to mention other friends who’ve gotten into accidents from driving on icy roads.  Historically, winter is the whole point of having a giant harvest season, because if you didn’t put in the work earlier in the year, you were setting yourself up for starvation and death.  Hell, even in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the phrase “winter is coming” is famous and ominous at the same time, and for good reason.  All told, winter isn’t exactly the gentlest of times.

This isn’t just a mere weather-based inconvenience thing, either.  In the winter, the Sun is so weak so as to be close to death or is only freshly reborn, far from being king over all during his summer solstice height.  Plants in general die or go into stasis and animals hibernate, depriving the world of motion and activity to keep things flowing properly.  The cold itself saps life away, and buries everything in a locked-down sense of malaise.  Even sound loses its echo after a snowfall, leaving words themselves drained of any power you put into them.  The long nights induce depression in those who are seasonally affected, and can even bring down the brightest of moods in those normally manic.  The unseelie court wields power, for those who’re into faerie lore; the strict Holly King rules.  We’re having to build ourselves up from scratch while living on so little.

It’s during this season that having Light in the home is most important, moreso than any other time of the year.  I’m not just talking about the usual Solar work, either, but I mean real, actual fire that you burn.  Whether it’s a fire in the hearth or a simple candle by your bedside, I’d urge you to follow through.  Keep the Light going, and it’ll make your life easier.

When I do a thorough house cleansing, like if someone’s having issues in their home due to spiritual malignancy or moving into a new place, one of the first things I do is I set up Light throughout the house.  I take a large white candle, either a pillar candle or a novena candle, and a number of white tealights, as many as there are rooms in the house.  After gathering them all together in the center of the home (central hearth, stove of the kitchen, whatever), with the large candle in the middle and the tealights around it, I inscribe or write on the symbols from the Key of Solomon (book II, chapter 12):

Characters for Consecrating Candles from the Key of Solomon

After this, I anoint each candle with holy oil, starting first with the large candle and going clockwise with all the other tealights.  I then light the large candle, and use my normal candle benediction, a slight variation on that of the Trithemius conjuration:

I conjure thee, oh thou creature of fire! by him who created all things both in heaven and earth, and in the sea, and in every other place whatever, that forthwith thou cast away every phantasm from thee, that no hurt whatsoever shall be done in any thing. Bless, oh Lord, this creature of fire, and sanctify it that it may be blessed, and that it may burn for your honor and glory; so neither the enemy, nor any false imagination, may enter into them; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

From this central candle, I light each of the other candles in turn.  Once all the candles have been lit, I energetically link the primary candle to the smaller ones, so that the same blessing is set upon all of them at once.  Then, with all the tealights lit, I move them and set them in all of the rooms in the house, such that no matter where you are, you’re always within eyesight of one of these little flames.  This includes bathrooms, walk-in closets, sheds, and the like, so that literally every part of the property has light burning inside.  I leave the primary pillar candle at the center of the house, and return to it after moving all the tealights everywhere; there, I pray over it, and from it radiate Light and warmth and blessing throughout the entire place.  Whether it’s my own prayer of lightbringing or another prayer more focused on a particular problem at hand, by means of this central focus candle, I fill the entire house with the same prayer and the same oomph.  After this, I go through the house doing my thing, and leave all the candles to burn out on their own.  The remains are then collected together and disposed of respectfully.

This is a little ritual I developed on my own as part of a thorough house-cleansing and -blessing, as one of the first things I do.  Think about it: if a house is filled with gunk and filth, or if you have crusty crap stuck on your stove or sinks, you want to get rid of it.  However, some of the tougher gunk tends to be harder to remove, so what do you do?  You soak it in cleaning agent for a few minutes before actually scrubbing it off.  The candles set up above do a similar thing; the Light weakens any darkness and any filth that may have accumulated, so that when I go through and actually banish the place by suffumigations or prayer, the groundwork has already been established to weaken the filth and to further empower me as I go about my work.  In addition, the candles in each room act as a kind of warning-canary; if the flame of a particular candle gets weak, flickers a lot, or goes out on its own, then it’s a signal that there’s something especially rough in the vicinity of that particular candle.  If such a candle goes out, I relight it and pray over it specifically before re-linking it back to the focus candle in the home’s center; I focus on that room specifically before continuing on elsewhere, making sure it’s sufficiently emptied of gunk and filth before going on to another room.

That said, I’m also in the habit of just having a candle burning in the center of the house anyway all the time.  For me, it’s partially related to the small work I do with Hestia as overseer and mistress of the home, and the goddess of the hearth herself; with a fire burning under this goddess, it helps ensure my house and home and family that we always have fire to warm ourselves, power to strengthen ourselves, purity to cleanse ourselves, and protection to keep ourselves safe under her watch over the most sacred of all places, the οικος-domus-home.  In point of fact, for myself and my housemates, I’ve noticed our mental health levels decrease and malaise increase over time the longer we don’t have at least one fire going in the house; we tend to slack off, leave more messes behind us, and generally feel crappy.  This is essentially us starting to lose our own inner heat without an external heat to empower us; if we get too cool or go cold, we start on a slippery slope to nowhere good.  When spiritually-inclined friends come over, if we don’t have a candle burning, they tend to sleep rougher and with more active or disturbing dreams; sure, myself as houseowner may be used to it and shrug it off, but for people who’re used to their own levels of protection in their own environments of familiarity, it can be a jarring experience.

Keeping at least one fire burning, whether under the watchful eyes of Hestia or the Virgin Mary or God himself, in the home for the sake of the home is always something I’d recommend to everyone.  Heck, this would go for people traveling, too.  Whenever I’m in a new room I’m unaccustomed to sleeping in, especially hotels, I always bring a candle with me and keep it lit when I’m asleep.  Sure, the hotel may not exactly approve, but it’s something I prefer to do to bring some of that extra protection with me (in addition to the normal wards and protections I set up).  Some people insist on having a candle burning by their bedside no matter where they sleep; if I’m doing a particular working that demands light at all times, I’ll do this, too, but normally that’s just overkill for me when I keep my own stuff up and running.

Of course, never forget the usual warnings about keeping fires burning, especially unattended.  Make sure pets or children don’t reach them, make sure they’re stable enough to resist being knocked over, keep them enclosed, &c.  Don’t burn down your house for want of warmth, even if you do have a generous insurance plan.

Current Status

So, I haven’t made a post in a while.  I apologize, guys, even though I’m not usually one to do so; this is my blog, after all, and I post when and how I feel like it.

No, I haven’t abandoned you, or my Work, or my spirits.  However, I’ve got a lot going on in my life and certain threads are being weaved in unexpected directions; I had my own designs for the warp and weft of this year, but clearly it’s not turning out the way I expected it to.  It’ll still be beautiful and awesome, though, trust me.  However, in the meantime, my plate is rather full and I’m having to shift my efforts away from the usual and expected to other things.  I may be able to make a post here and there, but don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed.  Taking on crafting commissions for the foreseeable future is right out; regrettably, I’m unable to take on crafting commissions (including designing) from anyone at least through this summer.  I’m still available for divination readings and consultation sessions, either through Skype or through Etsy, although I’m declining to perform ritual work for others like I am for crafting.

Here’s hoping it’ll be a great 2016 for all of us, both according to our plans and those of the gods who look upon us!