Alferian is an active practicing druid. Not only that but he is also a 32nd degree freemason. Perhaps, most intriguing is that he is a wand maker. As many people in today’s culture would believe, wands are something that only exist in fictional tales. However Alferian owner and master wand crafter at Bard Woodcrafts is here to tell us about what it is he does as a wandmaker and the function of wands.
JackDirt: What does it entail to be a practicing druid in today’s industrial times?
Alferian: That depends a great deal on who you are and where you live. Druids in Britain, Scotland, and Ireland, for example, have the advantage of being on the home turf, so to speak. They can go to the many stone circles, fairy mounds, or other ancient monuments in the landscape to honor the ancient divinities and their ancestors. As an American, my situation is different because my blood ancestors only go back about four generations on this land and were interlopers who destroyed the natural environment in an attempt to make European-style farms and towns. In Minnesota, where I live, the old forests were completely stripped for construction by the European settlers and the native peoples who had lived on the land here as the ancient Celts lived on the land in Britain, were removed brutally. That leaves some really big spiritual scars in the aether. Druids pay attention to nature and their ancestors. That means that American druids of European descent are very likely to have to face ancestors who did things we now consider wrong, foolish, and profoundly unethical.
So, being a practicing druid today means conducting rituals that honor the land, nature, and the whole non-human world. I can really only speak for myself, not for my druid order, because every druid must decide for himself or herself how they wish to practice and what they wish to believe. It is a completely open spirituality. There are no dogmas and no prescribed rituals or sacraments. There is only as much formality as you want. If you want to wear a white robe in honor of the ancient image of the old druids, go for it. If not, that’s cool too. The druidry happens inside you and in your relationship to nature. Essentially it is about love — love of the land, the wild, beauty, justice, stories and myths, history, truth, love of the body, the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Love of the Sea and the waters. And understanding that all of these aspects of nature are inside us, not just outside us. It’s a magical philosophy, so it embraces enchantment and wonder without apology.
Being a druid today also involves, as Philip Carr-Gomm has said, being “an anchor of Light.” We don’t look only to the past. Indeed, druids look primarily to the future that is unfolding from the present moment. And what we see just now is human world system that is collapsing under its own weight. The natural systems of the world have been exploited and polluted by our species — the very opposite of worship, which means respect. With the realization that an ecological crisis is in all probability on its way and our children will live through the collapse of the industrial system that was built in the twentieth century, druids need to serve as anchors, as sources of calm inspiration during radical and frightening change. A druid draws upon the Awen (Welsh for “inspiration”) and Nwyfre (spiritual light). Bringing more of these powers into our world for the promotion of love, mutual respect, and peace is a sobering calling in this present time as we appear to be spiraling into chaos, while our celebrities, corporate executives, and politicians party and ignore what is happening.
More and more people are catching on, though. Global warming and disastrous changes in the oceans and ecosystems of the world cannot be easily ignored any longer. I’ve been watching people ignore this crisis all my life. Some people get angry and organize protest marches. More introverted types like me, work on a magical plane to bring light to our fellow humans and protect the spiritual ecology that underlies the material one. Druidry isn’t about following the teachings of a particular prophet or teacher or god or book. It is about paying attention and actively seeking truth and wisdom. That is quite different from most religions in which the practitioners (and even the priests) mainly just believe what they are taught to believe without question and without looking beyond the sacred texts of their own faith. Druids, like Freemasons, I think tend to be attracted to many traditions and see the value in comparative religion and the study of myths. And then some of them just like to play Celtic music and drink mead. That’s okay too. There are many ways to become more inspired and inspire others.
JD: When did you begin the path of druidism?
A: About eleven or twelve years ago with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. That constitutes my formal training. The O.B.O.D has a superb self-paced home study course. However, the path started a long time ago. Since I was a boy, I’ve had a very active imagination and have been visited by non-human entities of various sorts for a long time. My interest in magic, esoteric spiritualities, and Eastern religions all led me to communicate with my spirit guides, as they are usually called. OBOD’s study courses helped develop that and taught me more about the culture of the ancient Celts.
Another contributing stream of interest for me was my love of the Romantic poets. Wordsworth was pretty druidic in his younger days, and William Blake is said to have even called himself a druid on at least one occasion. He certainly revered the ancient bards. In graduate school I spend a good deal of time studying Blake and W.B. Yeats who had both the magical and the Celtic connections. In exploring these poets and the Arthurian Romances I was laying years of groundwork for my druidic studies.
I have long been interested in polytheism. Even raised as a Lutheran, I was always drawn to angels and, after about the age of eighteen, to the Hindu, Norse, and Greek deities. It was not until much later that I discovered that my Belgian ancestors are descendants of the Belgae, a tribe of Gauls that fought against the conquest of Julius Caesar. That’s about the closest claim I can make to wearing the kilt. But the old druids fascinate me and Celtic culture does seem to have something wonderfully poetic in it. It’s like a lost culture in some ways too because so much of the Celtic world was absorbed into the Roman empire and then subsequently forcibly converted to Catholicism.
JD: What was the first wand you made and what was its purpose?
A: The first wand I made was my own linden wand. I was studying in the Ovate grade of OBOD at the time and that involves studying tree lore. It was simply a calling. The branch presented itself to me on the sidewalk. I was probably walking the dog and pushing my daughter in her stroller. Fallen branches started calling out to me and I started to pick them up. But the linden wand I use for enchanting all the other wands I make. I created it as a conduit for my own current of magic. It started me on the study of the craft of wandmaking and the uses of wands.
I have several wands made from other woods but my linden wand remains very special to me, not least because it came from one of the oldest linden trees in Linden Hills, which is the name of my neighborhood. The tree was subsequently cut down by developers who bought the old house it stood guard over and put up two new houses in its place. Needless to say I still feel a pang and grief over that. So many of our big trees have been cut down in the past ten years. So, we have to content ourselves with watching the little ones grow. Linden is a wood that is particularly strong at binding and making connections, it is sacred to the goddess of love and to the Queen of the Stars, whom I associate with the Welsh goddess Arianrhod. It is to her that I have long been dedicated. You will find her in Tolkien’s /Lord of the Rings/ as Varda or Elbereth, the Star-Kindler. Her name in Welsh means the White Wheel.
JD: Can you explain a little bit about the purpose and function of a wand?
A: A magic wand is the tool of a magus, witch, or wizard — I prefer the last term as the generic word for someone who is wise in the ways of enchantment. It is a pointer essentially, its power deriving from the user and the role he or she assumes as a wizard. You can think of this in many ways, not of which are precisely correct because the English language lacks words to precisely describe magic. A wand may be said to conduct prana or Qi or life energy to transform the world. It may be said to project the user’s intentions or will. The goal, in any case, is transformation. First self-transformation and then engaging the world magically as one sees fit.
JD: How do you cope with those that would insult or disgrace your art of wand making?
A: Thankfully, I’ve never run across that problem. People are usually either enthusiastic and respectful or completely bewildered. Wand making is not an art that is on most people’s radar.
JD: Can you explain the process that goes in to creating a typical wand? What tools do you like to use?
A: I’m writing a book to try to answer this question. The tools are those of any wood carver. Generally small gouges, v-tools, and rasps, sandpaper, and oil finishes. The process starts with the branch and in my case usually a customer looking for a wand of a particular wood. I normally can choose a branch from my stock and this is a subjective, intuitive process. I’m looking for a certain length and weight and straightness and then the sticks in my stockpiles say “Oh! pick me! pick me!”
I almost always remove the bark from my wands. That is partly an aesthetic choice but partly also simply necessary if one is going to taper a wand and make sure that the wood is sound. The bark and the soft sapwood immediately underneath the bark are not so strong as the heart wood. Most of my wands are carved and shaped by hand. Some wandmakers like to use a lathe, some like to avoid steel blades, so it varies a good deal. Of course, some wand makers work in pewter or stone rather than wood.
All the carving and setting of stones and crystals is not the end, however. The wand isn’t a wand until it has been enchanted. I do not know if other wand makers enchant their wands. I know some give them some sort of blessing or ritual, but most of the commercial wand makers make no mention of this part of the process. For me, it is in some ways the most important part. Carving a wand engages my spirit with the spirit of the wood over an extended period of time. It is not a simply material craft but involves applying the tool of one’s inner light as well as the blade and the hand. It is an act of love. The result is that when you’ve done, the wand is very closely bonded to the maker. To pass the wand on to another user it needs to be ceremonially disconnected from the maker and awakened to its own spiritual existence. The dryad spirit of the tree is at the heart of the wand, but if stones and crystals and a magical core are added, then they also shape the wand’s spiritual makeup, its soul, if you will. The result is that it needs to be woken up and told what to do.
I suppose you might liken it to waking up a patient after extensive surgery or re-booting your computer, or bathing a baby after birth. In the rite of enchantment I breathe life into the wand, consecrate it with the four elements and with specially enchanted oil and water. Then I ask it for its secret name which it tells me and I record. I pass on this name to the client who receives the wand. The birth metaphor is good in another sense too because the rite of enchantment marks the birth moment for the wand and I also record the specifics, astrologically, of its makeup. Part of my process is to enchant wands when the element of fire is prominent in the stars and planets, especially when the moon is in a fire sign and waxing.
It is quite a long involved process. Sometimes I get the impression that people who visit my web shop imagine that they are ordering a commodity just like any other — that I have them stocked away on the shelves of my store ready to ship out. I do have a few wands that I have made and keep in stock, waiting to find their owners, but for the most part I do custom work on a part-time basis, so it takes quite awhile.
JD: How do you know what woods to use or what gemstones and runes to utilize?
A: Usually the client tells me what they want. It is a very intuitive and subjective process. One has to consider one’s own personality and what the wand is to be used for. Some wizards like to have wands dedicated to particular sorts of magic, such as healing, finding, protection, and so on. I have made a study of the woods, compiled many folk lore associations and considered them in the light of elvish lore, which I cannot really go into in detail. Suffice to say the elves have taught me a good deal about trees and stones and their magical strengths. Some experts describe these strengths as certain vibrations inherent in the particular tree or stone, vibrations that produce certain kinds of effects on the aethereal structure of the cosmos. It sounds literal, like a branch of physics, but one has to remember that this sort of language is symbolic. That does not mean it isn’t real. For the wizard, symbols are real. More real than solid objects and more enduring.
JD: Has your activity and time with the Freemasons influenced your druidic beliefs or the wands that you create?
A: I would not say “influenced” so much as complemented. Masonry is a symbolic craft and it has influenced most magical schools of the past thee hundred years. However, druidry is a departure from Freemasonry. Instead of taking up the symbols of the builder and architect to represent spiritual and moral concepts and relationships, druidry takes up the symbolic world of nature itself. It is surprising, though, how some of the old masonic writers, such as Albert Pike, held a very deep understanding of nature as the ultimate symbolic system and the book of nature as the secret to knowing the Divine. Pike says in his book /Morals and Dogma of the Free and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry/ that the druid’s of old were followers of the cult of Dionysus. Not literally, but by analogy. The Hellenic cult of Dionysus found God in Nature and so did the druids. And we still do. Freemasonry is a modern mystery school, one that is founded on the idea of freedom of religion, so you can’t call it a religion as such. That is something it shares with modern druidry. They are sort of cousins or brothers, I should say.
The main connection between druids and masons is not in wands but in another of the magical hallows, the Holy Grail. Many Freemasons are interested in the Grail legends because of the connection that was made between masonry and the Knights Templar. But the Grail derives from medieval Welsh legends that are probably very old. In them there are at least three magic cauldrons. One is a cauldron of plenty, another a cauldron of regeneration, and the third a cauldron of inspiration. All of these motifs merged in the Arthurian legends as the Holy Grail. And then, as every reader of the DaVinci Code now knows, there is a whole lot of speculation about the Sangreal being truly the Sang Real, or Royal Blood of Jewish kings. That is another tie to Masonry because it is so founded on the legend of Solomon’s Temple. King Solomon, like King Arthur, is a culture-hero, an archetypal king and wizard. There are a lot of fascinating connections I have yet to explore.
JD: What was your favorite wand and why?
A: I would make trouble if I picked favorites. Wands are like children or cats. Even if you asked a painter what was his favorite painting, that would be hard. The artist is often too closely engaged to get beyond the unsatisfactory bits. There have been some wands I’ve made that I thought were not too exciting and others with which I was more satisfied, artistically speaking. But as I say, I detach myself from the ones that go to other users. And the ones I use myself are all unique personalities and artworks.
JD: How does one use a wand?
A: Mostly by pointing it, but also by tapping things with it or simply holding it. For some spell-casting, I gesture with the wand in an upward spiral. In some ritual uses, I draw sigils or geometric shapes with it. So, you could say it is used a bit like a projector, and sometimes like a drawing tool — all in the astral or aethereal dimensions of the cosmos. Perhaps surprisingly, J.K. Rowling’s character, Professor Flitwick offers perfectly good advice when she has him tell his students to “swish and flick.” The idea is to gather up one’s intentions and then aim them at an object. The tricky thing is that in a lot of magical actions, circumstances are the object and you cannot exactly point at circumstances. You have to point at something which represents the circumstances.
JD: What other myths can you help to dispel about wands?
A: The main myths that have arisen about wands (“myths” in the sense of misleading stories mistaken for literal truths by the uninformed), are mostly from the recent Harry Potter books and films. There is some good wand lore in those books, but most of it is the usual juvenile fantasy fare. Magic is depicted as doing tricks that do an end-run around the normal laws of causation. So the wand becomes more like a weapon than a tool. J.K. Rowling hints at the real serious study of magic and how difficult it is, how painstaking, but she is writing adventure stories and in that genre you don’t have time to explain or represent real magic. It is not exciting in the “action adventure” meaning of excitement. Real magic is all profound inner work and extremely humbling. The more you do magic the less likely you are to do it for selfish reasons, unless you are very reckless. Recklessness, arrogance and disciplined study are a rare combination, thankfully. But those are the sorts of people that are interesting in stories in general.
The biggest misconception that I find myself correcting is the idea that magic wands throw off sparks. This is the idea promulgated by many films because you need something visual to cue the audience that something has happened. It is a story-telling convention to reduce aetheric energies or astral energies to electromagnetic energy. It’s a necessary metaphor, just like saying druids are anchors of light. The worship of Light is not simply literal, it is symbolic of phenomena for which we have no words in our mundane dictionaries.
The other misunderstanding is that the magical core materials in wands are physical. They are metaphysical, which means they exist as bridges to the astral realities where unicorns, griffins, phoenixes and dragons flourish. A lot of current fantasy books have promoted the idea that mythical beings exist physically in the same way we do, but are simply elusive and hidden. Well, that is the idea promulgated by most folklore. But what isn’t generally understood is that these beings exist in parallel realities to our own. We can thank the physicists for that image, the “parallel universe.” Mathematicians mean one thing by that, but wizards can thankfully borrow that image to describe the Otherworlds which interpenetrate the world we know of in ordinary reality (the consensus cosmology).
JD: Is there anything else you would like to say, any wands you think should be explained in full?
A: Well, let me just say thanks for the interview. It is always interesting and fun to answer questions like this. I’m happy to oblige and hope your readers will enjoy the topic. Let me also say that there are quite a few excellent wand makers out there and on my web site you will find a page devoted to links called the Fellowship of Wandmakers. Someday maybe we’ll have a guild, but in the meantime, I’ve made an effort to collect web links for those wand makers with web sites. It probably is not comprehensive, but have a look because there are some great artists out there and each one is different.
Blessings of the Trees!
* Bard woodcrafts