Imperial Arts (imperialarts) wrote,
Imperial Arts

The Needle of Art

The Covid pandemic has afforded several opportunities for the world to reconsider some basic elements of civilization, from employment issues to production and logistics related to food and medical supplies. At the beginning of this, I began to look around at these things and wonder which of them might not be coming back at the end of the lockdown.

Historically, plagues have led to substantial demographic and political changes. The Plague of Justinian was instrumental in the decline of the Roman Empire, and it is arguable that Yellow Fever rather than politics led the city of Memphis to being ranked as the best place for African-American business. Employment and industry changes tend to be regarded as advances over time, but certain industries have come to a point where the human element is taken for granted.

I have a small garden that supplies most of my vegetable produce. If the entire food supply were to disappear overnight, though the streets would be full of mayhem, food is one thing any reasonably well-adapted person can produce without much industrial aid. In the case of a total and long-term collapse, even building materials can be sourced from nature and the world's people are perfectly able to live in log homes if needed. But one thing that will not soon come back is clothing. Starting with empty hands and no physical resources, making so much as a shirt from cloth would be nearly impossible for 99% of those for whom even the most arduous survival skills are simple. Despite this, cloth and clothing are some of the oldest human artifices.

If we as humans have become distant from our natural place upon the Earth, we have also become distant to our own long-practiced skills. I have seen people of the Congo navigate a tablet computer with ease on the first try, and yet even basic weaving requires specialized training. The oldest needles known to exist were discovered among the remains of "cave men" living some sixty thousand years ago, nearly forty thousand years before the oldest known pottery fragments. It should not be a surprise then to see that the Bible represents sewn clothing as an invention of Adam & Eve, a product inherited by mankind from the antediluvian race.

That simple invention, not some golden Ark of Knowledge and a Rod of Power, but a tiny piercing device with an eyelet has made such a dramatic difference in the lives of all people since those days. The Key of Solomon conjures the needle by the powers of "stones, herbs, and animals" and further by "hail, snow, and wind," which is to name the means and the motivations of clothing production. The Needle of Art is conjured by the seven penitential psalms and also by ten angelic names (the number of generations between Adam and Noah), as this simple item is both a dire necessity and the source of as much trouble as clothing can cause.

That there is such a thing as a magic needle is not so much about having every little thing consecrated and enchanted to be a magic this-or-that. It is a testimony of the responsibility of the magician to be a transmitter of culture in its most basic form, tat of survival against the cold by whatever means available, and to recognize where the important things are hiding in plain sight. Woe to the world, if we should lose the art of the needle, and so the majority of the rites in the Key of Solomon depend upon things that begin with the Needle of Art.

Producing a needle requires some specific properties of the material used for it. It must be hard, slim, and reasonably sharp at the tip. The hardness demands something more than wood can usually provide, and working bones into such a shape takes a considerable effort. Certain plants and reeds have been used, but outside of what might be called Stone Age tools, the needle as it is known in the modern world is a byproduct of knowing how to make wire.

Pulling wire from metal requires taking advantage of the hidden ductile property of certain metals. Steel wire is the most common and the best-suited for most sewing tasks, but there is no reason a person could not employ some other strong metal, with gold and silver being obvious choices, although platinum was once fashionable for needle stock. The softened metal is passed through a tapering hole in a tungsten carbide sheet, and the result is bright round wire, which can also be quite dense and therefore excellent for use as a needle. Some care must be taken to avoid making the metal too brittle, and the art of wire drawing is something machines perform in most modern shops.

A needle requires drilling, piercing, and precision. It is impossible to get it just right by accident, every aspect of it is a miracle of ingenuity and its use requires some dexterity and patience. Those who are looking for the side of "western" magic that appears to be more like a system of meditations instead discover these activity sets that demand some specialized skills. It is foolhardy to attempt to produce magical relics on the first or third or tenth attempt at an entirely new skill, and the amount of self-training required is as much a part of the magic as whatever might be produced.

The remainder of the Key contains invitations to become involved with various skill sets related to magic, whether metal craft, calligraphy, and other Renaissance Faire skills, or more complicated concerns like task delegation and the arrangement of multi-faceted projects. I would suggest that the power behind the mysteries of western magic has much more to do with the network of physical, mental, and psychic activity that develops along with the work than it owes to initiations or attunements and astral journeys. You can meditate and initiate all day for many years and wonder if it is getting anywhere, but two weeks of tinkering with a sewing kit and some fabric and you will have an entirely new skill and maybe some new underwear that you can show the whole world if it pleases you.

There is a persistent line of thinking that magical power or energy is to be raised as if it were "chi" or some other indwelling - flowing power that one must somehow learn to cultivate in order to practice authentic magic. The Key of Solomon and its rites depend on slightly different qualities, encouraging the magician to be like a prince of the people, familiar with the customs and trades as well as higher realms of thought. If a person wishes to grow in power as a magician but does not feel that developing mind powers and astral senses is going well, the sidebar subjects attached to the rites - everything from bats to trumpets - are all gold mines of inspiration from which the real kind of empowerment can begin to take root.
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