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.