Jewellery is a magical thing. The art of body adornment in any form goes so far back into antiquity that its origins are lost. I don’t think that there is a time in our history where we could isolate that moment, anyway. One of the great imperatives of human existence is to find means through which to express ourselves and our innermost thoughts and feelings to others. Jewellery, clothing, makeup, piercing, tattoos and other body decoration are all means by which we communicate our belonging, our independence, our creativity, our dedication, our lineage, our desires, our emotions, our magic, our politics, our alignments, our likes, our dislikes…all of the things that make us, us.
Since this is a website dedicated to jewellery, I will continue this with my thoughts on it alone.
I think it’s easy for scholars to say that our ancient ancestors used jewellery as magical talismans and articles of protection and spirit connection. A statement like that, one which places the “magicality” (is that a word?) of jewellery squarely in the past, places the use of jewellery in our time at odds with this ancient way of thinking about adornment. That is such a shame. Go back and read the last (long) sentence of my first paragraph. If body adornment can communicate all of those things, how is jewellery not still a magical thing, and how is it not still being used in ways similar to our ancestors? It is a magical thing and we are still able to use it in similar ways to our predecessors.
Smithing has always been seen as a skill that takes the smith to the edge of town and of society. Existing in a strange place between ours and the spirit and elemental realms, the smith learns the secrets of metal: its boundaries (which are immutable) and its needs (which are sometimes surprising). The rest is instinct. And this has not changed. As someone who makes jewellery using fine metals, I can feel the living, magical qualities in them, in how I use heat and strength to help them achieve a new form. I work in co-operation with the metal and it must guide me if I am to make pieces that sing with vitality and love. I am sure I will write a post about my relationship with my materials some day. There is magic in creation.
There is also magic in usage. Adorning oneself with mass-produced pieces of jewellery does not mean it is somehow less than, that the body is less adorned, or less able to communicate the things that the wearer wants to say. It is the process of putting on the jewellery, and the desire for communication on the part of the wearer, that can give jewellery its meaning and magic. We don’t really talk about magical talismans of protection or spirit connection on a day-to-day basis, but we sometimes do talk about how wearing a piece of jewellery makes us feel. We say “I feel empowered” or “I am putting on my armour for the day” or “I feel closer to my grandmother who passed away long ago when I wear her ring”. There it is. That is where you feel the force of all of your ancestors right behind you. They understand how you feel in that moment because they felt the same way. The magic exists whether you acknowledge it or not.
Strangely for a silversmith, my other favourite materials have always been those I have gathered from wherever I am living. I have always hoped that our earliest forms of jewellery were natural objects. Aside from being beautiful, the flora and (other) fauna of this world are all around us. We miss out on something very special when we focus entirely on the commercial value of fine metal and gemstone jewellery to our detriment. I also hope that my readers are fully aware of the impacts that mining and the refinement of fine metals and stones have on the planet and its people. Perhaps that is another post to be written sooner rather than later. Life in a Late Capitalist society can more often than not be anything but magical.
So my friends, I think I will try to end each post with some fun “homework” – suggestions to get you thinking and playing with jewellery and some of the concepts that I touch on in each post.
Today’s homework is to go for a walk, keeping your eyes open for something that you could turn into a piece of jewellery. I hope this will be something as simple as a piece of willow branch that you could tie around your wrist. Or a flower that you can put behind your ear. Please don’t steal anything from a neighbour’s garden! You might also find something man-made that you could use. Eyes open, stay alert and think about what your find might say about you. Feel free to post your treasures on Instagram with the hashtag #randomactofjewelry so I can find you.
Cheers! and happy hunting, you embodied spirits, you.