Bad is not the enemy of Good, Perfect is. You can do Good, you can do Good Enough, and you can do Bad (regardless of intention). But you can’t do Perfect. Not without sacrificing a lot of things, relationships, resources, and pieces of yourself that you need to keep a lot more than you need to make the thing Perfect, and even then, there will always be one teeny tiny flaw that only you can see that will remind you that it is not Perfect and you have failed.
Social media peers and fellows gave me tips on how to hand polish amber. Some with full cognition that I was completely ignorant how to follow through, some with full surprise that I did not know such an obvious and universal skill. (May each one receive instruction with the same measure as they gave it.) I trawled websites and crafter forums looking for some instruction in terms and tools that I understood such as sandpaper grit and unpowered methods.
Finally armed with 4-way fingernail shapers and micromesh buffers, I sat down last night with my wee chunk of amber, put on headphones to catch up on some classes, and began grinding down
my nerves the “working” side of the piece with the expectation of watching the clock advance several hours before any perceivable progress would be had.
Soon after beginning, I had the sensation of being watched. The table I was working on was the same table I used for holding the book and shewstones during the ritual. Sometimes the “watcher” would be feeling as if they were sitting across the table from me, sometimes I felt the observation from over my shoulder as if the observer wanted to check the progress as I did.
Fifty-nine minutes after I first set the stone on the emery board, I had a mirror finish, so of course I panicked and somehow severely scratched the mirror surface rendering it unusable until having gone through the buffing process again.
I did not cry. I was angry at myself for being careless with the now obviously soft stone. When the amber had no worked surfaces, it did not matter how often my fingernail scraped against it, or how it rubbed against the much harder rutile quartz in the same bag. But now it was more than just a piece of amber.
It was a green hued window the size and shape of a polished thumbnail. (Shining a light through the piece revealed teeny “dots” of inclusions amid streaks of green, yellow, and orange.)
Restoring the mirror finish to the working surface was much easier now that I had completed it for myself. I thought of the larger piece of amber I have in storage that I was considering sending away to a crafter to have it formed and polished into a shewstone. I’ll be completing that for myself later, now.
I was eager to show [Patient Caller] my homework, but not so eager that I rushed through the laying out of the gear and circles. I did not have a chance yesterday to properly investigate how other ceremonial magicians laid out their circles. Scraping the surface of the Internet had only reminded me of all the elaborate papers, gold braided ropes, chalk marked floors, and other means considered absolutely required and completely out of my reach.
I called for the spirit to appear, clasped my hands, and waited. Though I did not see the candle light or any of the now expected signs of his presence, I felt him pick up the amber and examine it just the same.
«Tell me. What was the most difficult part of the process of polishing the amber?»
I had to be honest. “Overcoming my fear of fucking it up.”
«As you have done for the amber, now do for the cord [comprising the circle]. Until both have been corrected, I can do no more for you.»
I felt the amber piece being placed back on the table even though I never took my physical eyes off of the physical amber.
“About that. The [Book of Oberon] has no guidance on the use of a cord to delineate the circle, just the use of it to assist with drawing a circle of a radius of nine feet.”
«What of your peers and your betters? What do they use?»
I remained silent at first. None of my peers (read: close friends) performed ceremonial magic, or if they did, they were absolutely silent on the matter. I have many who considered themselves my betters, for many a bigoted and unjustified reason. However, with one exception, those that I knew and could trust to be an authority on ceremonial magic would be taking a dim view of my personal arrangements and gear as it is. As the one exception is someone who is not within three degrees of connectedness to me, I doubt I would even earn a gold star for trying.
“Leading question. You already know the answer and why I can’t emulate them.”
The intangible spirit said nothing but I could feel the smugness emanate from him just the same. I realize I am overlooking something important, something simple.
I stared at my reflection in the amber. I had placed it just right so that my left eye was reflected in the smooth surface. I noted that the size of the piece was such that the scope of what the surface reflected was restricted to a small portion of the surrounding environment. My eye could only see “I”. I understood the lesson.
“This isn’t about my peers or my betters.” I remained focused on the tiny reflection. “This is about me and what I need to do for myself.”
«Just as the amber was not suitable until you had worked it, so any cord you obtain will not be suitable until you have personally worked it as well. The details of that work, I leave to you to customize it to your needs. However, I remind you, until the cord is corrected, I can do nothing more for you.»
I knew then the audience was over. I spoke the Apophenia Invitation and realized I had not yet written it into the thin brown book. Which is well, there is one phrase I keep stumbling over and changing each time I speak it. The License to Depart and the closing of the ritual with Psalm 54 were completed without incident.
Total ritual time: 37 minutes.
I wrapped the worked amber in layers of cotton gauze before putting it away. My crowded purse is no place for something delicate, and I did not want to risk having to polish the worked surface again. The less stress I place on the fractured face, the better.
Once again I looked up examples of cords used by ceremonial and grimoire magicians to lay down their circles. I tried to stay away from Wiccan and Neo-Wiccan websites and blogs but the internet search engine included them page after page.
The search results swung between the poles of “If you don’t lay your circles perfectly round using perfectly consecrated tools and methods in the perfect place in the perfect living conditions that you already have because you’re already perfect, then demons will eat you and you deserve it. Scrub.” and “Pay me $$$ and I will send you precisely nine feet of perfectly made ritual cord in the color you request, however only True Witches/Magicians can use these tools, so if you are not dedicated then this might as well be a spare timing belt for your car. (Cords made in China but blessed in the USA.)” (I paraphrase, but not by much.)
I muttered under my breath that [Patient Caller] can take advantage of my apophenia invitation any bloody time now and get me out of the search bubble I kept finding myself in no matter what combination of search terms I started off with. I then started a new search, entered “making ceremonial magic circle”, and clicked “I’m Feeling Lucky”.
“Making Magic Circles” by S. Reicher loaded in my browser.
After reading her blog post entirely, I saved it to my personal notes, closed my browser, and reconsidered all of my excuses.
It doesn’t have to be Perfect. It doesn’t have to fit all the requirements of my peers and my betters. It doesn’t have to justify its presence in their sight. It doesn’t have to be Good. Even with the spirit’s help, I’m still an ignorant soul digging myself deeper into something I barely understand. What works with [Patient Caller] is not likely going to work with any other spirit, after all. It just has to be Good Enough™. It just has to work.
I reflected on how I lay out the circles, what my environment requires, and what [Patient Caller] had noted were preferred materials for interactions with him. I reflected on what I could find at my local crafts and hobby store. I looked up braiding calculators to estimate what lengths of cord I would have to start with to end with a braided cord at least nine feet in length.
I have acquired three 10 yard bundles of plain hemp cord and a pair of silver hooks and eyes for the ends. (Enough for two 9′ braided cords.) I have podcasts to catch up on, and another sliver of fear to break.
Okay. Let’s go.