Freitag, 11. November 2016

Magical sorcery steel and the forest´s art of war

 Just to give you an inkling why I love working with steel I found in the woods. Yeah, of course, you never know what you get... but this strengthens your slumbering spirit (your intuition, if you so will). And I keep finding steel, and I find steel with ever better capabilities these days.. it is as if I called the name of iron, and iron answered.
The tanto above I forged from a similar lump of steel like the one below. You can see a pattern in it. It does not show in the blade, because it seems to be stainless steel.

Yeah, you never know what you get. On one hand, you can look at it the commonly accepted way. It is steel foraging, plain and simple. Any tribal knifemaker loves this, going about and making something beautiful from crap.

But there is more to it. As many of us I started by foraging for spring steel and files, and just like many of us I dreamt of the magical sword in the stone as a kid. I made some knives from spring and file steel I found in the woods or by the highway´s bank. I collected every piece of scrap iron and steel I could find and made something of it, sometimes of dubious value, but sometimes it even exceeded my expectations.

In foraging for steel there are a lot of rational considerations involved. Where could someone dispose of steel, where would that someone do this and when, and why. You look for old dumpster sites in the woods and always have one eye open for provisions you could use, be it wood or steel or bone or antler. At first, the hunt is just to get some stuff to make something. But if you are honest, you could get to a dump and get some steel for cheapo. Then why do you go to the lengths to walk the woods on end or by the roadside or over waste areas? Why is it you look for provisions at unlikely places? You might say, it´s the hunt involved. We all are hunters and gatherers, and sometimes the heritage still shows, and often I find myself treading in stealth, all tension, as if I would stalk an animal, when I come across a forgotten farmer´s dumpster site in the woods. Why is that? The steel quite certainly will not run away... and it´s a bit short-sighted to claim it´s just "the hunt". It is "the hunt", for sure, but what is it? What is "the hunt"?

In Kalevala, iron is personified in the Ninth rune:

"Know I well the source of metals,
Know the origin of iron;
f can tell bow steel is fashioned.
Of the mothers air is oldest,
Water is the oldest brother,
And the fire is second brother,
And the youngest brother, iron;
Ukko is the first creator.
Ukko, maker of the heavens,
Cut apart the air and water,
Ere was born the metal, iron.
Ukko, maker of the heavens,
Firmly rubbed his hands together,
Firmly pressed them on his knee-cap,
Then arose three lovely maidens,
Three most beautiful of daughters;
These were mothers of the iron,
And of steel of bright-blue color.
Tremblingly they walked the heavens,
Walked the clouds with silver linings,
With their bosoms overflowing
With the milk of future iron,
Flowing on and flowing ever,
From the bright rims of the cloudlets
To the earth, the valleys filling,
To the slumber-calling waters.
"Ukko's eldest daughter sprinkled
Black milk over river channels
And the second daughter sprinkled
White milk over hills and mountains,
While the youngest daughter sprinkled
Red milk over seas and oceans.
Whero the black milk had been sprinked,
Grew the dark and ductile iron;
Where the white milk had been sprinkled.
Grew the iron, lighter-colored;
Where the red milk had been sprinkled,
Grew the red and brittle iron.
"After Time had gone a distance,
Iron hastened Fire to visit,
His beloved elder brother,
Thus to know his brother better.
Straightway Fire began his roarings,
Labored to consume his brother,
His beloved younger brother.
Straightway Iron sees his danger,
Saves himself by fleetly fleeing,
From the fiery flame's advances,
Fleeing hither, fleeing thither,
Fleeing still and taking shelter
In the swamps and in the valleys,
In the springs that loudly bubble,
By the rivers winding seaward,
On the broad backs of the marshes,
Where the swans their nests have builded,
Where the wild geese hatch their goslings.
"Thus is iron in the swamp-lands,
Stretching by the water-courses,
Hidden well for many ages,
Hidden in the birchen forests,
But he could not hide forever
From the searchings of his brother;
Here and there the fire has caught him,
Caught and brought him to his furnace,
That the spears, and swords, and axes,
Might be forged and duly hammered.
In the swamps ran blackened waters,
From the heath the bears came ambling,
And the wolves ran through the marshes.
Iron then made his appearance,
Where the feet of wolves had trodden,
Where the paws of bears had trampled.
"Then the blacksmith, Ilmarinen,
Came to earth to work the metal;
He was born upon the Coal-mount,
Skilled and nurtured in the coal-fields;
In one hand, a copper hammer,
In the other, tongs of iron;
In the night was born the blacksmith,
In the morn he built his smithy,
Sought with care a favored hillock,
Where the winds might fill his bellows;
Found a hillock in the swamp-lands,
Where the iron hid abundant;
There he built his smelting furnace,
There he laid his leathern bellows,
Hastened where the wolves had travelled,
Followed where the bears had trampled,
Found the iron's young formations,
In the wolf-tracks of the marshes,
In the foot-prints of the gray-bear.
"Then the blacksmith, Ilmarinen,
'Thus addressed the sleeping iron:
Thou most useful of the metals,
Thou art sleeping in the marshes,
Thou art hid in low conditions,
Where the wolf treads in the swamp-lands,
Where the bear sleeps in the thickets.
Hast thou thought and well considered,
What would be thy future station,
Should I place thee in the furnace,
Thus to make thee free and useful?'
"Then was Iron sorely frightened,
Much distressed and filled with horror,
When of Fire he heard the mention,
Mention of his fell destroyer.
"Then again speaks Ilmarinen,
Thus the smith addresses Iron:
'Be not frightened, useful metal,
Surely Fire will not consume thee,
Will not burn his youngest brother,
Will not harm his nearest kindred.
Come thou to my room and furnace,
Where the fire is freely burning,
Thou wilt live, and grow, and prosper,
Wilt become the swords of heroes,
Buckles for the belts of women.'
"Ere arose the star of evening,
Iron ore had left the marshes,
From the water-beds had risen,
Had been carried to the furnace,
In the fire the smith had laid it,
Laid it in his smelting furnace.
Ilmarinen starts the bellows,
Gives three motions of the handle,
And the iron flows in streamlets
From the forge of the magician,
Soon becomes like baker's leaven,
Soft as dough for bread of barley.
Then out-screamed the metal, Iron:
'Wondrous blacksmith, Ilmarinen,
Take, O take me from thy furnace,
From this fire and cruel torture.'
"Ilmarinen thus made answer:
'I will take thee from my furnace,
'Thou art but a little frightened,
Thou shalt be a mighty power,
Thou shalt slay the best of heroes,
Thou shalt wound thy dearest brother.'
"Straightway Iron made this promise,
Vowed and swore in strongest accents,
By the furnace, by the anvil,
By the tongs, and by the hammer,
These the words he vowed and uttered:
'Many trees that I shall injure,
Shall devour the hearts of mountains,
Shall not slay my nearest kindred,
Shall not kill the best of heroes,
Shall not wound my dearest brother;
Better live in civil freedom,
Happier would be my life-time,
Should I serve my fellow-beings,
Serve as tools for their convenience,
Than as implements of warfare,
Slay my friends and nearest. kindred,
Wound the children of my mother.'
"Now the master, Ilmarinen,
The renowned and skilful blacksmith,
From the fire removes the iron,
Places it upon the anvil,
Hammers well until it softens,
Hammers many fine utensils,
Hammers spears, and swords, and axes,
Hammers knives, and forks, and hatchets,
Hammers tools of all descriptions.
"Many things the blacksmith needed,
Many things he could not fashion,
Could not make the tongue of iron,
Could not hammer steel from iron,
Could not make the iron harden.
Well considered Ilmarinen,
Deeply thought and long reflected.
Then he gathered birchen ashes,
Steeped the ashes in the water,
Made a lye to harden iron,
Thus to form the steel most needful.
With his tongue he tests the mixture,
Weighs it long and well considers,
And the blacksmith speaks as follows:
'All this labor is for nothing,
Will not fashion steel from iron,
Will not make the soft ore harden.'
"Now a bee flies from the meadow,
Blue-wing coming from the flowers,
Flies about, then safely settles
Near the furnace of the smithy.
"'Thus the smith the bee addresses,
These the words of Ilmarinen:
'Little bee, thou tiny birdling,
Bring me honey on thy winglets,
On thy tongue, I pray thee, bring me
Sweetness from the fragrant meadows,
From the little cups of flowers,
From the tips of seven petals,
That we thus may aid the water
To produce the steel from iron.'
"Evil Hisi's bird, the hornet,
Heard these words of Ilmarinen,
Looking from the cottage gable,
Flying to the bark of birch-trees,
While the iron bars were heating
While the steel was being tempered;
Swiftly flew the stinging hornet,
Scattered all the Hisi horrors,
Brought the blessing of the serpent,
Brought the venom of the adder,
Brought the poison of the spider,
Brought the stings of all the insects,
Mixed them with the ore and water,
While the steel was being, tempered.
"Ilmarinen, skilful blacksmith,
First of all the iron-workers,
Thought the bee had surely brought him
Honey from the fragrant meadows,
From the little cups of flowers,
From the tips of seven petals,
And he spake the words that follow:
'Welcome, welcome, is thy coming,
Honeyed sweetness from the flowers
Thou hast brought to aid the water,
Thus to form the steel from iron!'
"Ilmarinen, ancient blacksmith,
Dipped the iron into water,
Water mixed with many poisons,
Thought it but the wild bee's honey;
Thus he formed the steel from iron.
When he plunged it into water,
Water mixed with many poisons,
When be placed it in the furnace,
Angry grew the hardened iron,
Broke the vow that he had taken,
Ate his words like dogs and devils,
Mercilessly cut his brother,
Madly raged against his kindred,
Caused the blood to flow in streamlets
From the wounds of man and hero.
This, the origin of iron,
And of steel of light blue color." (Quote from:

Now I am not saying that I will want to personify iron in that manner, but something strange remains about that ubiquitous "hunt". Something strange remains about iron and steel. Most every blacksmith worth his hammer knows this, and, most being not mythologically educated, however utter similar words along the lines.

Now in a recent post I have stated that there is a forest´s art of war, and while this was meant poetically, something strange remains about this. Most martial arts were conceived by observing the natural aggression of animals and abstracting their defensive or offensive movements into canonized movements of the art. I actually believe there is an underlying structure to everything. Developing a martial art is not made by simply inventing, but abstracting a principle from observations. Old cultures like the Japanese, the Chinese and even the Finno - Ugric, Baltic, Slavic, African and Celtic/Germanic cultures seemed to be aware of this. I postulate that the ancient Celtic culture, for instance included abstraction in most every aspect of their culture, to an extent that they were said to talk almost exclusively in riddles. Celtic coins show a dissociation of the outer figure into what I would like to call principles. Alchemy in Middle Europe was based on the extraction of principles, and both homoeopathy and even scholar medicine rely on the abstraction of principles.

Now it is almost a commonplace to talk of "flow experiences in forest environments" (e.g. Valerie E. Nichols: Quiet time, Wollongong 2008) these days. Flow as a transcendental experience bears a lot of similarity to "Wu Wei", "Eucharist" and other spiritual states of mind (quote from Wikipedia, just for the sake to illustrate that this is almost commonplace: Flow has been recognized throughout history and across cultures. The teachings of Buddhism and of Taoism speak of a state of mind known as the "action of inaction" or "doing without doing" (wu wei in Taoism) that greatly resembles the idea of flow. Also, Hindu texts on Advaita philosophy such as Ashtavakra Gita and the Yoga of Knowledge such as Bhagavad-Gita refer to a similar state.

Flow can be induced by paying constant attention with diminished self-consciousness. I experience flow when "questing" for steel in the woods. The funny thing is that I have the impression, that the deeper I get into "flow" (or whatever you want to call it), the stranger the steel gets that I find.

I found steel that hardened to roundabout 60°HRC while offering so much  ductility that you could not punch through, because the hot punch just drew out the material as with chewing gum, while you could carve the edge with a knife of 57°HRC while it chopped through brass, mild steel and deer antler without denting. I found stainless crucible steel or high speed cutting steel that showed a crucible pattern, and I found these steel chunks in most unlikely places. I found all of these while deeply engaged in a flow state of mind.

And in this state of mind it is that you can start to feel the forest´s art of war. It is absolutely terrifying, at least at first, and utterly inhumane.

"Thither were hastening grasses and trees. 42
Wayfarers perceive them, 43
Warriors are astonished 44
At a renewal of the conflicts 45
Such as Gwydion made. 46
Through charms and magic skill, 52
Assume the forms of the principal trees, 53
With you in array 54
Restrain the people 55
Inexperienced in battle. 56
When the trees were enchanted 57
There was hope for the trees, 58
That they should frustrate the intention 59
Of the surrounding fires.... 60 " (, translation by Robert Graves)"

Even the words of Taliesin do not do this phenomenon justice. The description of a rose can never live up to the subsemantic reality of itself. All art feeds on this dilemma. And it´s not about the poem, although I personally feel it can be only described properly by neurology, psychology, arts, or poetry.

This art of war does not centre around human perceptions such as fear, hate or lust. It is devoid of any feelings, not even of inhumane patience. Death and life are absolutely unimportant. Imagine a rock crushed by the root of a tree. The rock does not feel, and the tree does not crush it out of hate, fear, vanity, greed or lust. It cannot be described properly.

But the steel I keep finding comes from the same darkness, from the same violent twilight. It is fitting to make a blade from it. The moon is reflected by the sword´s blade, but so is the sun and the fire. The blade itself is not affected by it. There might be a saying that the blade itself incites to deeds of violence; but nothing is further from the truth. For the blade needs a hand that holds it in the first place. Steel does not hurt anyone by itself. It needs man as a catalytic to perform deeds of violence, it needs hammer, tongs, fire and tempering, and water.

So does the forest´s art of war. You can only find it if you live the forest and allow it to change your very nature, to "unbecome human". Only then you can understand, only when you give up your self-consciousness in favour of a very strange and different state of mind, namely deep flow or Wu Wei or Satori, Eucharist or whatever you want to call it. Giving up on being human means those words do not matter any more. To live or die means nothing, but you will experience a state of living that is utterly different to everything that you thought or premised. The art of finding the secret of steel can be taught only by one master: Steel itself. To wield the steel in this context can only be taught by the forest itself.

I want you to understand that I am trying to study this art, and in no way can I be a master. No human can. But the steel I find gets ever more complex, and my body and mind sometimes have the "feeling" they have to exercise certain movements, that are strange but effective. I want you to know that I in no way encourage you to try this at home. There are times when I fear it drives me mad.

But on the other hand, there will be a war coming unlike any other, and it will be not only a war against certain nations, but a war between the subspecies of mankind.

I will use absolutely everything I can to stay alive and free from oppression and violence. Of course I feel helpless, but I trust in traces barely intelligible, left as an imprint on creation. I trust in the spirit and the first cause of creation, name it as you like. I honour my ancestors, I honour steel and fire, and the forest, and spirit and sprite and the names of all gods on earth and in the void. Call them by your own names, name them Devas or Angels or Holy ones or what not. Names do not matter. But there is something waiting on my path. As I said countless times... call it as you like, it will never be like you call it.

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