Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shellac for Tools and Icons

One of things that you learn about when renovating Victorian houses is technology that was the rage a hundred years ago but which has been replaced by more modern innovations. Before the rise of petrochemicals there was no polyurethane that could be used to treat hardwood floors. The Victorians made due with varnish and a substance with a lot of potential for magical work, shellac.

A lot of people don't know that shellac is a natural substance. It is resin secreted by insects, and it shares many properties with industrial plastics. However, synthetic plastics differ in one key way from natural occurring materials, even those with similar chemical structures - in my experience, plastic will not hold a magical charge. There is no obvious reason why this should be true, since plastics are hydrocarbons just like the molecules that make up natural materials, but I have never been able to enchant a piece of plastic and neither has anyone else I've worked with. It may be that the molecules were never alive in their current configuration, or that their link to the animals and plants that died and became oil is millions of years old. In either case, the chemical formula alone does not seem to be the only relevant factor.

That this is the case is really pretty annoying. A number of very nice statues of different deities can be found online, for example, but many of the prettiest are made from some sort of plastic resin. Such icons make fine focal points for meditation on the deity, but even with a lot of work they will not accumulate significant magical energy. Also, with plastics it is possible to make really nice-looking magical tools, but good luck making an empowerment "stick" to them.

Shellac is a possible solution. It will coat just about anything, including plastic, and can be bought in a clear formula that will not change the color of whatever it coats. Even if a tool or icon is made from a non-magical material it will hold a charge if the surface is covered with a material that will. Incidentally, some kinds of acrylic paint use tints that contain significant amounts of metal, and these can work in much the same way. Especially with highly magical metals such as gold and silver you don't need very much to produce the desired effect.

Shellac has one more interesting property, and that is that it dissolves in alcohol. That means, for example, that you would not want to dip a shellac-coated statue into a goblet filled with Everclear, though I can't imagine any reason why anyone would want to do that. It also means that fluid condensers can be mixed into the shellac to increase its magical effectiveness for holding certain kinds of energies. Here is a simple overview of making herbal fluid condensers for the elements. The basic methodology is similar for producing planetary and zodiacal condensers.

At one point our magical working group did a series of operations in which we made planetary fluid condensers. A fluid condenser is essentially a preparation of specific herbs that correspond to the planet dissolved in some sort of solution, usually alcohol, and empowered by certain magical rites. The herbs themselves are empowered and then they are placed into an alcohol solution along with a small amount of gold and heated for a specific period of time. The site above does not mention the use of gold, but this is a step that has been highly recommended by others in the Western magical tradition. The result is an alcohol-based solution that contains the essence of the element, planet, or zodiac sign to which the herbs correspond.

Since the fluid condenser is alcohol-based, it can be mixed right into the shellac. Since most tools and deity icons are associated with a specific element, planet, or sign, this makes for a nice touch - coating the object in question with materials that are in specific harmony with the desired magical effect or affinity.

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