Six Signs the Circle

     When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
     Three from the circle, three from the track;
     Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
     Five will return, and one go alone.

     Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
     Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
     Fire in the candle ring, water from the thaw;
     Six Signs the circle, and the grail gone before.

From the time I first read it, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising was one of my favorite books. In the book, a young boy must find six signs of power in order to stop the advance of the darkness.  At the time, I tried to make my own six signs.  I whittled one out of pine, I glued some plastic jewels onto a gold colored canning jar lid, I scraped a pattern into the glass bottom of a bottle that my dad sawed off for me, and I tried to make another out of a stone ashtray from Pier One Imports. That was a long time ago, and I don't have any idea where those are any more, though I surely never threw them away. I also made a mask from feathers and antlers for my brother Steve's birthday, and included a note similar to the one Will receives in the book from his brother.
My brother David never forgot that I wanted a set of these, and for the last three years has been secretly working on making me the ones you see above (click the pictures to enlarge). These are made from the real materials (or nearly) and were crafted by hand.

Iron:  "a kind of ornament, made of black metal, a flat circle quartered by two crossed lines. It was about the size of his palm, and quite heavy; roughly forged out of iron, he guessed, with no sharp points or edges." This was cut from a cast-iron pan.  Afterwards it was seasoned in the oven, to turn it black.

Bronze: "a quartered circle identical with the one he wore on his belt, but gleaming with the dull brown-gold sheen of bronze." This was made by melting down thrift-store candlesticks in a homemade forge (blown air from a hairdryer helped the fire to burn hot enough.) The molten metal was poured into a plaster mold.

Wood: "Our wood is one which the dark does not love. Rowan, Will, that's our tree. Mountain ash... the skeleton of the wooden piece was left: a clear, smooth circle...there was no irregularity to it at all." This was carved from a piece of rowan, and oiled to make it glow.

Water: "It was wrought of iridescent glass, engraved with serpents and eels and fishes, waves and clouds and things of the sea." This one was made of molten glass poured into a sand mold.  It looks like ice from the shore of a lake.  It broke in the mail, but I fit all the pieces together and am going to glue them.

Fire:  "Gold of several different colors had been beaten together with great craftsmanship to make its crossed circle shape, and on all sides it was set with tiny gems, rubies and emeralds and sapphires and diamonds, in strange runic patterns." This sign is made of solid gold, which of course was impossible, so he cast it out of lead and covered it with gold leaf.  It is very heavy in the hand, but David pointed out that gold would be more than half again as heavy as lead. Around the side are the words in old English "LIHT MEC HEHT GEWRYCAN," which means "The Light ordered that I should be made."

Stone: "this was a natural flint, grown in the Chiltern chalk fifteen million years ago." This was carved from soapstone, which is the easiest stone to carve.

I told David that this was the best present I could think of. Here are some pictures of the making process.  Note that it's my Dad's homemade forge. I think it's a metal bucket with concrete lining the inside, and a hole to blow are in the bottom with the blowdryer.


Marcelle said…
Having lived with these over the past couple of years, it's been exciting to see the many iterations of ideas David has worked through. For example, I couldn't imagine how he would be able to cut a cast iron pan, and the Dremel took a beating to do it, but it's done. It's even more thrilling now that you have them--and that they mean so much to you, as he always knew and hoped you would.
Marcelle said…
I'm really glad that you are enjoying them so much. I have had a wonderful time making each one. I thought that I'd comment on each of the pictures that you posted from Mom.

The first picture is casting lead into a completely encased Superman mold. It came out really well. The flame that you see behind the ladle is burning wax vapor.

The next picture is casting more lead into the sign mold.

The next picture is the ladle in the furnace with the lid off. You can see very clearly that our fuel is just charcoal briquette.

This is a really fun picture. It is of burning zinc. We somehow got the zinc hot enough that it started to burn. The glow in the bottom of the ladle is the burning zinc and the white smoke above it is zinc oxide. The same stuff they use in baby cream and sun screen.

The next one is also burning zinc but you can see the rest of our set up. The lid to the furnace is off to the right side. To the left you can see the air inlet pipe attached to the vacuum that we used to blow in the air.

The last picture shows three of our four castings for this mold. The top one is zinc. This was poured from the pool of burning zinc and we didn't have enough to completely fill the mold. The one on the right is tin. It was by far my favorite to pour and look at. Even after it cooled it looked like molten metal. It was also the mold for the glass sign. The one on the bottom is the lead casting from the pictures above. The last mold was later used for bronze.
`Lex said…
I happened upon this link randomly, and just wanted to say these look awesome!
aieshah said…
I'm a hugeee fan of The Dark is Rising as well, and I was just re-reading it and wondering if anyone had opinions on how the Signs look. So I kind of chanced upon these images randomly as well, and they are AMAZING! They look absolutely fantastic, and I cannot even begin to describe how sweet it is for your brother to make them for you.

You now have the Six Signs! Congratulations... :)
Marcelle said…
Thanks guys for the compliments on the signs. I suggest trying to make your own. It's a lot of fun.
Unknown said…
Amazing! I was astonished and I had tears in my eyes, when I saw it... Great!
I read novel The Dark is rising (in Czech translation, I am from Czech republic and my English language is not very good, I know) just now, love it and look for other readers´ opinions on the form of the Signs. And this is so cool! And the story of their origin is so sweet... I envy you your imagination! I wish more of it in this world. Thank you for my joy from discovering it!
Anonymous said…
Wow, would you consider making more available for sale?
Contact me on:
Marcelle said…
The price of making these for sale would be prohibitive. Each sign takes several hours to make. If I charged a living wage for making them instead of spending spare time as a gift each sign would be around $100 in time alone. However if you are still interested let me know.
Alex said…
I also came across this post while looking for pics to put in my DIRising display for school. WOW! The signs are superb (They are pretty much exactly as I imagined them) and what a beautiful gift. said…
I'm painting the Sign of Wood and hoping to do all six soon, with Celtic and Neolithic British imagery. What an inspiration your Signs are!
Kayla said…
I'm 12 and my dad gave me the series. i love these books! i'm in the middle of the fourth. i've only recently met my dad so it was really sweet of him to get it for me. I was actually painting these earlier. I decided that the internet might be useful.... i was right! i was actually looking for any quartered circle and then i saw these and and i was like, WOW! i know i sound like any other kid but i'm really not. I may not have the wisdom of the old ones but i know i understand more of the world than my friends. I spend more time thinking and less spreading rumors and going to parties. The six signs are probably the most important thing i can think of right now. Do you have any idea how amazing these are? i'm sure nobody wants to read this whle thing but i can never write just one or two sentences. I am going to make it my life goal to accomplish this new task i have found. Thank you for this inspiration!
Marcelle said…
@Kayla I'm glad you enjoyed the signs I made. I think the most important part to me was making them for my brother. I worked a long time on them and the whole time I was excited to give them to my brother.
john armbruster said…
I read those books over 30 years ago as a teenager...and the idea of making the Signs captivated me then. Was just tooling around the internet, happened to search the DIR sequence, and happened to do a search to see if I could find images of the movie props, just to see what they looked like. I never thought I would stumble upon these, or this story. Amazing and touching. Well done. Very well done. The spirit of the book was not just the magic of the objects, but the bond of family. You have captured it completely.
Marcelle said…
@john armbruster Thank you, it really was a great experience.
Jill said…
Wow! I too read The Dark Is Rising books 30 years ago at age 11, and their magic has stayed with me ever since. I think every reader dreams of holding the six signs in their hand, and these signs are truly amazing. What an extraordinary and touching gift! Thank you for sharing. :)
Dinko said…
I began reading series in 1979, when my Aunt Tricia (who was a librarian) gave me the book for a X mas Present. At that time I was not much of a reader (due to my learning disability), but when I got into this book, I couldn't stop. Since then I've been an avid reader of Sci Fi/ Fantasy. I have re read the series countless times and make it a tradition of EVERY Christmas holiday to read the TDIR. It never loses its magic. Thanks for posting your picks of the signs. WAY COOL
Kyoteskywoman said…
This series of books is one of my all time favorites, and when I saw the photo, I just had to comment. They are marvelous!
It's funny, actually, since just last night and into this morning, I was thinking about them. We were looking at the Welsh language in my literacy class last night, and the night before that, we were looking at Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas in my poetry class. I was commenting to several classmates that about the Welsh pronunciation, and remembering that I had learned a lot of it from TDIR series in the Grey King! I didn't let on where I knew it from, though. I am not sure they would have understood.
Betel5025 said…
Oh man, these are superior to the ones used in the movie they made. He did a great job making them.
I'm a huge fan of the series and it makes me happy knowing somebody made the signs.
Now all I need to do is find someone who can make me a set. I don't have the talent to do something like this myself. Forges are a bit too dangerous for a coward like me XD
Unknown said…
Hello, just thought I'd comment saying I'm looking for an artist who cam make me my own set of signs like these. So yeah. If anyone has the talent and sees this post and thinks "man, I wish I could have done that for a job. Then here I am.
Actually desperately looking for someone to commission ;n;
TDiR Readathon said…
The signs are great! Just wondering if you heard of the Twitter book club going on under the hashtag #TheDarkIsReading? 1000s of readers are reading The Dark is Rising and my group, TDiR Readathon is reading the whole series for the third time in 5 years (bi-annual). Check our blog ( for our Twitter/Facebook accounts.
Cheers and Merry Christmas!

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