Wands update

I’m having fun with this, even as I’m learning how much I don’t know. Then again, I’ve always thought it was more fun to be a beginner because you’re not expected to know much. If you screw up, somebody will laugh and show you a better way or the proper way, if there is one. Once you’ve been taught, though, you’re responsible for knowing what to do, and that’s what I’ve always found difficult to handle. Naturally, that’s the space I’m in right now.

So, let’s talk about the thing I’m a total beginner at.

The blisters I thought were no big deal lasted a good 10 days. The skin still isn’t totally healed, but at least my thumbs don’t hurt anymore.

I opted to buy a better knife. I’d been using my husband’s secondhand Leatherman, and it’s never been sharpened since he owned it. I did a little research on whittling knives — I could have sharpened the Leatherman and kept using it, but it bothered me to make a magical tool with a borrowed knife — and I chose an Opinel No. 7 with a carbon steel blade, which I’m very happy with so far. I also bought mineral oil to keep the blade in good condition (they tend to rust and pit if they stay wet for even a few hours) and a sharpening stone, though I haven’t needed to use it yet. I also appreciated that if I’m good at sharpening the blade, I can use this inexpensive knife for decades, but if I completely screw it up, I’ve still screwed up my tool but I didn’t pay a lot of money to do it.

I watched a few videos that showed different kinds of whittling cuts. This, plus the actual hands-on whittling, reminded me that I’ve done this before — at least, I was able to take a knockoff Swiss Army knife and sharpen random sticks to a point to cook hot dogs over a campfire. I mean, I’m not doing advanced carving here.

Whittling Basics – D-I-Why Not? from www.KORDUROY.tv on Vimeo.

So, I’ve got my sticks, my knife (and mineral oil for the knife), fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface, and my linseed oil to finish it.

I started with the smallest maple sticks, thinking I’d make wands for the kids and be sure I knew what I was doing. It took me about 45 minutes to carve the bark from the first stick, cut off one splintered end and roughly round it off, and sharpen the other end to a dull point (here, it helped that I had a wand tip I wanted to imitate). The second stick took me maybe 15 minutes to do the same. Then I sanded both with 100-grit sandpaper. This took maybe another 15 minutes.

I’d say I don’t quite know how to put into words what I learned during this process, but the point of this blog is to try, so here goes: I saw the layers of the wood and learned how to take off only the dark brown parts. I learned how to make long, slow cuts, in the direction of the grain, and saw the grain appear as I carved and shaped. How to hold the blade at a small angle, like peeling potatoes with a paring knife; these were thin sticks to start with, and they ended up thinner when the bark was gone. I’d say they started as the size of my index finger and ended up the size of my pinky. I tried the different cuts that I saw on videos, especially the channel cut, which I used to shape the rounded ends. At some point in the process, it began to make sense, and I relied on my intuition to shape the final product. It wasn’t hard anymore — I mean, it was pretty simple to start with, but I can certainly make things harder and more fraught than they need to be — and I was more confident in reaching for what I needed.

The next step is 220-grit sandpaper, and if I’m happy with how smooth that is, I’ll start putting on coats of linseed oil over time.

However, I think that the bigger stick I picked up for a staff isn’t going to end up thick enough to use for that purpose, so I’ll probably cut a thick segment out of the middle to make my wand. With photos of the process, maybe.

Being Maewyn on St. Patrick’s Day

I’m not Irish and don’t particularly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day besides wearing a green shirt and making sure I get a shamrock shake from McDonald’s (hey, I’m a mom now; drinking and carousing comes at a high price), but as the owner of Maewyn dot net, I probably ought to have something to say today.

It’s about chosen names and growing up.

As is wise in this day and age, I’ve long had a Google alert that brings me any mention of the name Maewyn on the intertubes. Mostly, it had news about an Irish pub named Maewyn’s in York, Pennsylvania, which opened in 2010, closed in 2014, and is now a seafood restaurant called Rockfish Public House. These days, the alert is normally quiet but picks up again in February and March. The fact that St. Patrick was born with the name Maewyn Succat livens up many a St. Patrick’s Day history post.

I didn’t name myself after him, though. I made it up, or so I thought, by combining the name Mae with the -wyn part of names like Eowyn and Bronwyn. Voila, Maewyn. I Googled it to see who or what else might be using the name — this was 2002 or very early 2003; we did have The Google, but only just — and in my journal, I wrote that at the time, the results included an exotic cattery, a female gamer going by MaeWyn, and listings for a male UK government official named Maewyn Cumming. Most of the results were about St. Patrick’s Day.

Here’s what I wrote about it back in 2004:

Three of the better Google results: a 1996 CNN posting on St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday guide (scroll a bit, St. Patrick’s is the first listing), and a kids’ holiday-info sheet. I seem to remember also coming across the name Maewyn in St. Patrick’s Confessio, though I’m not sure if I actually found it there, or just read it looking for the name and didn’t find it.

A confessio is a medieval autobiography. The link above is the version I borrowed from the university library; I don’t remember reading anything remarkable from it. The name Maewyn really doesn’t appear in it, I can tell you, now that the whole Confessio is online and searchable.

However, there’s an added dimension to using Maewyn as my Craft name (well, technically, it’s just the name I use in online Pagan spaces): the antipathy many Pagans have toward St. Patrick because he’s credited with Christianizing Ireland.

Here’s my younger, more enthusiastic self in a 2004 post:

We’ll start with the usual anti-Christian sentiment among Pagans, that St. Patrick is widely celebrated as a Christian hero but there’s also the story that St. Patrick drove the snakes (symbolically, Druids) out of Ireland, St. Patrick was antagonistic toward the Druids, etc. So for those of you who don’t want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, call it St. Maewyn’s and you’ll be fine. Personally, I haven’t found anything substantiating the “snakes = Druids” story, and there are no snakes in Ireland because Ireland is an island, so it would be difficult for non-aquatic snakes to get there in the first place. That, and I think Pagans spend entirely too much time angsting over and persecuting Christians anyway…

So there ya go…Happy St. Maewyn’s Day!

I posted “Happy St. Maewyn’s Day” every year for a few years. From what I wrote in 2003 (one’s own journals hold a wealth of embarrassment), the CNN article linked above had the offhand comment “Good thing he changed his name. St. Maewyn’s Day doesn’t have the same ring,” and — feeling that I’d invented the name before I’d ever heard this history, therefore it was mine — I decided to take March 17 for myself. I read the Confessio because I didn’t want to “make a fool of myself (unintentionally, that is) when I start declaring March 17 St. Maewyn’s Day and my own personal worldwide holiday.”

Well. I hereby forgive my younger self for trying to make St. Maewyn’s Day a thing. I am grateful that it didn’t catch on with anyone, that my friends graciously let it roll on by, and that I eventually stopped saying anything about it in public.

What has caught on in some Pagan circles is calling today “All Snakes Day,” proclaiming “Bring back the snakes!” and wearing black, as if St. Patrick slaughtered Pagans by the thousands. Ian Corrigan, a past Archdruid of ADF, wrote about this “St. Patrick’s Fakelore” on his personal blog in 2015:

Let’s be very clear – St Patrick was no friend of Pagans. However he is in no sense responsible for a genocide of Celts, Pagans or Druids in Ireland. Since the bad folklore that circulates on the internet has trouble distinguishing between those three terms, let’s start there.

Corrigan goes on to mention, also, that the snake legend was borrowed from legends of other famous saints and that snakes were not a metaphor for Pagans in it. He links to Morgan Daimler, who traces the possible origin of the connection. (Also, National Geographic suggests that the most recent ice age kept Ireland too cold for reptiles, that the surrounding seas kept them out afterward, and that there’s no fossil record of snakes ever having been in Ireland in the first place.)

All that said, I’ve now gone by Maewyn for about 13 years — I had begun to use it before I started my journal in April 2003, but an entry on July 15, 2004, marked the “official” change — and it’s as much my name as the one I was born with or the one I married into. I give very few flying figs about St. Patrick or snakes in Ireland, but I took a name that was once his, so I have this awkward connection to March 17. And it is, in its own way, a story about where I come from and who I was, how I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same.

If you came to this blog to find information about St. Patrick, I hope the links in this post will be useful to you, because they’re all I can provide. If you’re here for musings, natterings, and the odd bit of navel-gazing, drop your email address in the Subscribe box below, and welcome!

Sticks and wands and making

Today I’m discovering just how often I use the pad of my right thumb. It’s got a blister I acquired yesterday in a few minutes of slicing the bark from a branch that’s going to become a broomstick. (I’m not done yet. I sat down with it once in January and took off bark from about five inches on one end, and my left thumb got a blister that took more than a week to heal. This time, I got about halfway done, and my left thumb doesn’t have much of a blister — it’s mostly healed already — and my right thumb has an impressive one.) I also collected some maple sticks blown down in recent wind storms that will hopefully become a staff and at least one wand, but they need a few weeks to dry out first.

I’m not a woodworker, so this project is also an exercise in discovering what else I don’t know. Are my fingers unused to handling a knife, or is my knife dull? Am I using woods that are harder than others? How do I sharpen my knife? Where in my small town do I get small quantities of boiled linseed oil? At what point do I need to stop researching the best way to do something and just give it a try?

That’s a metaphor for my practice of witchcraft, I think. I spent years reading books and discussions about tools and how to create them; I read people saying that a wand is not much more than a stick of wood and people debating what types of crystals and wire are best to wrap around a wand and how. I read arguments for the wand being a tool of Fire and for the wand being a tool of Air.

Yet I don’t even think I owned a wand for the first five or six years I was a Pagan. My oldest one, passed to me from a friend who was getting rid of her things, is all crystals and wire wrapped around a glass rod, no wood in it at all. (It doesn’t resonate with me and I’ve never used it, but I’m happy to keep it. Maybe one of my wee witchlings will like it when they’re older.) The one I use now, I bought a little more than a decade ago from a wandcrafter in the UK; it’s hazel, which isn’t native to North America, so I rather had to buy it.

Thus it’s taken me this long to simply choose a stick from my backyard and begin making it into a wand.

Not just any stick, to be fair. I have an affinity for maple trees in general and this maple tree in particular, and the branch called out to me for days before I went out and picked it up. But still… a stick. My backyard. That simple.

My staff, on the other hand, dates from the earliest days of my being Pagan and was indeed a large stick I got in the woods behind where I lived at the time. I’ve slowly chipped the bark from it and kept the surface natural, and thus it remains.

It’s all a spiral. You come around back to the place you were before, but you’re changed and it’s different, yet somehow the same.

Housekeeping note

As part of my site update, I deleted the old WordPress installation and started fresh. This somehow sends a flashing FRESH MEAT sign to spammers, who come and register as users in order to… I still don’t know, frankly, but they’ve been doing it for years. I guess it somehow results in profit. ???

Anyway, if you registered here on Maewyn dot net sometime in 2017 and you are a human, feel free to re-register, and use the Contact form to reach me if you’re having problems. Security tools sometimes work too well and keep out people as well as robots.