Mittwoch, 1. April 2015

Muttentalfest Mayhem over Bethaus... and the dragon´s breath

 Now this is a somewhat incomplete post... It´s not complete because there are a lot of pics missing. Just had way too much to do to shoot some photos. But here´s an article (in German).
 When we prepared the event the day before, all was still grand in wonderland. The weather, while not exactly great, was quite okay for smithing. Nick was there preparing his work and having some fun with his own projects, I was booked for a children´s birthday party together with Volker...
 Volker looking sceptical. He had a lot of work still to do for the preparations of the following day and was a bit stressed of course. I helped him as best as I could, but the guy ´s not one for talking, and I am fed up with doing that clairvoyant stuff;-). Anyway, after helping out, I had some time for some projects of myself, and, after putting out knives by the truckload to date;-) I decided it was time for something different.
 A hatchet that will maybe end up as a Ciupaga. But we will see...
 Nick, as I mentioned, had also some time to kill and did some projects of his own. When I noticed he was doing some mistakes I tried to notify him, but to no effect. Little details, however, make huge differences. I have learned smithing after the ergonomic technique from Oli Durm, a blacksmithing master from the Rhineland region, who had tutored me on several occasions. It all starts with the correct position at the anvil, and it makes all the difference between feeling cramped and uncomfortable or relaxed and able. Plus, the way you use your hammer is altogether different from using a hammer for nailing or smashing something, and, of course, very different to using an axe.

Learning from Oli, whose blacksmithing is far superior to mine (he´s a certified master after all), I have profited a lot and, in general, would not have made any progress at all had I not "stolen with my eyes", as my laid father used to say. It does not make me a lesser person that I have learned from better blacksmiths. I know it is hard to accept that one has still a lot to learn, but I personally tend to see it the other way round: I like the fact that I actually CAN learn a lot still.

Okay, often there is no time to practice, but is there really? Can´t I take some extra time to shave a huge amount of time off because I will work more efficiently afterwards? Many learning effects came to me in a stress situation, when someone told me I could do it better. Often there are people visiting the smithy, you know them well, know-it-all morons who of course would manage to forge 20 nails in one heat:-), and had in their time (which often is a life´s age since), because their great-grandfather knew someone who had a great- grand- uncle who lived close to a house that was just half a village away from the local smithy and even bought a morsel once from the baker whose niece had a friend who actually knew the blacksmith´s best friend in person.

But sometimes there are real blacksmiths coming for a visit giving actual input. And if that´s the case, I gladly accept their hints or even criticism, even if there´s a right ruckus going on at that moment. For I tend to learn that way, and if it´s the only way to learn, I´ll do it. Since it is no longer commonplace to learn the traditional techniques involved in our style of blacksmithing, I´ll take whatever I can, and will do whatever it takes to learn what I want to learn. Guess the point is made;-). Another master I learned a lot from used to say: "We shape the steel, but steel also shapes ourselves." This is obvious when you look at photos before and after you took up blacksmithing. Kai, for instance, was bit of a lanky lad when he first took the hammer and has developed a bit of a bodily presence;-), so to say:-), in the time he has now worked as a blacksmith.

But that´s just a tiny bit of it all. Iron is far more than a  metal (as are silver, copper, brass, tin, lead, and gold also, but, as the famed poem by Kipling says, iron is master of them all). Iron, and especially steel, are fierce and strong to work with. If you look at it like an industrial worker, it will eventually cripple your soul and wreck your body. If you are soft and reluctant, it will hurt you eventually. If you are lazy, it will treat you indifferently, and the music of steel will elude you.

But, if you listen, and if you strive, and if you are gentle, patient and strong enough, chance is, one day, maybe in the far future, you will "beat the ancestors" and thus become a master. This is a lot of the energy that propels me forward. There is so much to learn, and in learning the craft, you can be able to create a myth, not just a tool or artefact. Another one of my tutors used to say: "Working with your hands is craft. Working with your hands and heart is craftwork. Working with hands, heart and soul is art." Only by doing the latter, you will be able to agnize the music of steel that comes from spheres higher than your own. Only by listening to that music will you transform yourself onto a higher level. As a smith. As a storyteller, and as a human.

Blacksmithing made our world, and in my book, I have a big responsibility. Hands are reaching one to the other through the ages, through the age we call the iron age and in which we live since 2900 years now. Given you will "meet" all those ancestral blacksmiths after death, it would be a right pain had I not tried hard enough to be a good conversational partner:-). Eternity can be a long time, you see?*ggg*. That´s my way, of course, and not for everyone. As Helena Blavatsky put it, many are called, few are chosen:-), meaning, few will see it along this line of thought, for it makes for a hard life.

To be precise, what we do is not just industrial blacksmithing, or just the craft in a prosaic sense of the word. It is transcending this. This makes it a hobby, if not a passion. It makes it art, if not a philosophy, and the dedication it requires is almost religious.

To feed the fire in others, and especially in the kids, you have to burn. It´s that simple. You have to kindle your own flame so that it matches the sparkle in the eyes of children. Like a kid, you have to discover it all anew, with and for the children, but also for yourself. You have to strive and fight to keep that fire burning, and only then you will one day feel the dragon´s breath. You have to smell the taste of iron that tastes so much stronger than your own red blood, but is made of the same stuff. You have to listen to the song of the lightning and the inspiration in the wind. You have to feel the hurt and pain as well as the overwhelming joy and passion of this life, and with the breath of your inspiration have to heat the forge that is your heart, like to a bellows. And the fire in your heart will fill your spine, and your dragons will awake and guard your inner sword-that is your soul. And you will fly. The kids did. They would not rant on endlessly about it. It is not necessary to them, and they would not, could not, should not do so. They lack this indifference we adults often develop. It makes us jabber on endlessly, build intellectual concepts about God and Gods and antagonists and fight each other over a name, all this just to gain safety in our ignorance of reality, in our confidence all could be explained, and we should be good citizens of a rationalistic, materialistic society. The truth is wilder, more uncivilized than we dare think. It is a picture, a symbol, of course, when I call iron a dragon. But it´s not just me doing so... the dragonslayer in many cultures, from Germanic to Vedic to Kurdish myth also had at least a strong affinity to blacksmithing or the smith. It is the blacksmith nailing home the iron pole that fixes the chaos snake, and with tool and weapon he offered the means to cope with a hostile environment. But nowadays there often is no hostile environment, but it is to be feared that there will be no environment whatsoever, and soon.
 So what good is it to forge with the kids, forge those age-old tools with them that were the means to prepare the food, to reap the harvest, to carve the implements of everyday homesteading needs?
I personally think the blacksmith stands for a yearning of modern people. A village, peasants, farming, simple needs and simple solutions to a simple life with simple answers. Hobbits and cheap religious answers are all the rage these days, with the hobbits being the better alternative, if you ask me. At least they will not blast up hundreds of people, but instead cook good food, listen to homemade music and drink home-brewed ale and lead a healthier lifestyle.

At the smithy, we often forge things from absolute crap. It is almost terrifying, however, how many children who come visiting lack the imagination to even think of being creative. It´s not that they do not know  what they want to forge, but that they prefer the cheapo answers of the virtual world to real - life experiences. They, for instance have no individual imagination or visualisation of a "king" as an archetype, but pictures from movies far exceeding their age permittance or computer games.

Many of them cannot visualize a snail or a snake from the abstract form we produce. And they certainly cannot imagine that the utterly rusted and pitted crap we use as raw material will transform into something beautiful. In that, we tell a story in an almost "filidh" tradition. We fulfil a social task. Society, however, is often having a different opinion. It is not socially acceptable to make new things from crap. There´s a word for someone who collects other people´s trash. Many adults are surprised what you can make from trash-but you are not permitted to think sustainable by even repairing the stuff you bought- by planned obsolescence. And it is certainly NOT accepted to collect other people´s trash at all. But we all know that.

The culprit is, as a blacksmith, we have more than just a function as a craftsman making things for sale CHEAP! AND! NOW! We make things that last a lifetime. And, from the first caveman knapping a spearpoint or carving a vessel, to modern swordsmiths, we are warriors of mankind, in that we ward off chaos from the circle of the world of man. But chaos is within, and chaos is in all of us. The deceiver is within our culture, so to say, not just western civilization, but human culture in general. Chaos was the very motor of our so-called well-organized society. Greed, hate, lust, disease were the ones making our world, not the other way round.

But iron is another matter. Fire, Earth, Wind and Water and Inspiration are superior to this. This is our challenge and our mission as this special kind of black- and wordsmiths that we are; to introduce the fire that burns in all things natural and that is, while not necessarily "good" in contrast to "evil", well, just this: natural. It´s not just about iron and fire and all that dragon talk. It´s about being.

And people sense that, when they come visiting, that we are different, wilder and more authentic than many others in our tiny part of the world. Of course, the Bethaus sells services.  But I think it sells with pride, something pitifully alack in our society, for there´s a difference between pride and hysteria or egomania. This, in turn is a small responsibility compared to the whole entity of being a blacksmith. We have to cleanse our imagination in order to agnize even what we work with every day, to agnize the smallest of our technical challenges.

On Sunday, it rained hard. The storm raged, but still the customers came in a steady trickle. The forge was always busy, and while it was not exactly a stress day, Willy and myself had enough to do to keep it interesting enough. We forged with a lot of kids, and many of them were not there for the first time. There were many, many different projects to be made. I remember one little girl wanting to forge a butterfly. Willy looked at me with a huge grin that was as wide as if chopped into his face... and I grinned back, and we made a challenge out of it. I freely admit I messed up. I did not mess up because the stars were in the wrong constellation or because I had a bad childhood or because my morning shit was going down in the wrong rotation. But because I made a mistake in planning the technical routine. Willy got it wired, then. And the little girl went away with a sparkle in her eyes. The parents were fond of our playful stance towards the challenge and maybe went home thinking about being a bit more playful. This is what counts, and I learned something new... perfect.

We talked a lot, too. Stefan and his kids also came across, and it was a right pleasure. Now Stefan is one of the nicest persons I know, an avid knife enthusiast with an ambition to forge himself. He also is one of the best Dads I know, and his boys are telling the story, by being highly intelligent and creative little persons while being actual children, not some overcivilized mutants like the ones we get to see far too often. We chatted most of the day, for they always were to be found in the nearest vicinity of the smithy, and all three of them seem to have the bug bad;-).

Then, all of a sudden, the day was over. I made two fast knives from spring steel, the iron age one and the semi-integral you already know from a recent post, and, in the last light of the day, quenched and ground them, and completed the carving on the Rus replica ´s handle.

Then I was preparing for my way home. And in the distance there were the first flashes of violet, violent lightning light, still somewhat far away, but nearing soon with roaring, searing speed. I had no choice but to quit fast, and said my goodbyes, and, with panic striking my very heart, hammered my pedals like I seldom did before. Having forged the whole day through, this was not quite that good an idea; and all too soon I was feeling quite exhausted. Riding along the river, on a storm-ravaged bike lane with a rucksack of steel was presumeably the silliest thing I did in my entire life, and that means a thing. It also was the most dangerous thing I ever did, and I knew that.

All the while the storm, which I thought I had already left behind by my frantic hammering, crept nearer like a roaring dragon on wings of fury. When I looked back I could see the flashes in the not-so-far distance, and the growl of thunder shuddering through the very ground up to the sky in ever closer distance to the flashes. It seemed that everything was vibrating, and it was then that I heard the steel in my rucksack sing, a violent, silent growl and a glass-like reverberation joining in a primal choir, beautiful, but making my hair stand on end, and I knew I was in big trouble.

I cried up to the sky and prayed for an answer; what the message would be in this situation. I did not exactly fear death itself or the pain, but dying with so many things left undone, things that I left and people that would be hurt by my death. I asked for a reason to die- or a reason to live.

Lightning struck behind me, I do not know how far or how near it was, but th eground shook and the flash blinded me for five minutes. When I could see again, the St. Elmo´s fire danced through my spine and lighted up the lane for some 500 m ahead of me with violet flickerlight, filling my body with a strange vibration, and shivering heat and cold. It felt as if I breathed the fire, and the tempest took me from behind with a giant fist, pushing me ahead with terrifying speed, so violently that I had to strive to keep my balance, so fast that it propelled me forward with some 35 km/h without pedalling. It was raining and hailing hard, I was soaked through but did not feel it. All I felt was the ringing in my ears and the fire in my spine and that unearthly, eerie song of iron in my pack still screaming wildly.

Might be my account is not objective, but as I arrived home with this narrow escape, I opened a bottle of black beer and toasted to the living and the dead and thought one thing:

I will always treasure this gift of the dragon´s breath in my heart of hearts. It is one of the gifts one gets once in a lifetime, and that will last longer than a lifetime. It is not relevant if I am grateful for it or not, but no one will ever take this from me now. It is a strength that transcends my humanity. It is insanity to look into it, but I understand it.

There is no way to avoid the dragon.

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