Monday, June 11, 2012

Pagan Druid Staff in Yew

I was asked by a follower of my Woodwose Facebook account to consider doing a commission for a religious ceremonial piece; a tall staff with very specific carvings all which would have a specific meaning to the commissioner and their belief structure.

~ I said yes ~

Commissioned work is so much more demanding and stressful than selling existing pieces.

The first photo shows the finished item in its full length. It's just about 5'9" tall with a slight curve in the length. It's Yew and sourced by the gentleman who asked me to undertake the carving.

I've not carved Yew, nor ever worked it in large lengths. In my cabinet making days I have used yew veneer for marquetry work and the heart wood is a deep red colour and very beautiful. It is however I've learnt through this process a very unstable wood, prone to splitting and moving.

It's also a very symbolic wood in the pagan belief structure as the wood, sap and the foliage of the tree is highly toxic.

Most trees in the Uk have a special meaning and place in pagan beliefs and I will do a post in the future that details what I know, which is I have to say extremely limited.

As you can see from the photo above the wood split on me. I took possession of the staff and proceeded to strip the bark and prepare the wood for carving. During this time the weather was wet, damp and cool.

The staff was stored in my utility room which is unheated and cool (bloody cold most days). As a family we then went away for a weekend in Pembrokeshire when the weather suddenly and overnight became hot and dry, great for the weekend at the beach but.......

....On my return the staff had split. :(
After this there followed some consultation, wrapped around the significance of this and even discussion that a new shaft should be sought and seasoned well in order to start again.

I opted to push on with the piece and see if by inlaying into the split on the one side and then replicating a similar inlay on the other I could work with the wood and use what the wood had given me, directed me in, so to speak to make a staff that was fit for its future purpose.

I'm a believer in the fact that the wood I carve will do what it wants and my job is to work with it not fight it. Some believe that in splitting the wood is rejecting its purpose; I feel it's having a say in what it eventually becomes, and it moves the carver into an area he may not have gone to if it hadn't split. In some cases I leave the split, welcome the look of natural beauty it brings with it; in this case that wouldn't have worked.

The above photo shows the carvings as a whole. The images themselves are specific to the brief I was given and in the respect to the way they were carved, how they actualy should look a loose brief was given.

1. A crescent moon
2. A winter tree
3. A hooded woodspirit (Woodwose)

The look of each of the carvings came from me and the way the wood worked with me.

Some frown or scoff when I say the wood itself can direct how it looks! It's true, in my minds eye I'm sure I know how I want the piece to look, but at that moment the grain switches, or a shake in the grain causes the cut to stray off or go into a direction I wasn't expecting; what this does is change the look, moves me into another approach or look to compensate, to rectify; it's as though the wood itself is dictating how it is going to look.

I don't draw the face on first! sometimes I will put guidelines on to space out multiple carvings (as I did on this one) but in the main I don't draw first I just start to carve the face into the wood. (the tree I drew on as I wanted a specific sense of proportion, but again the lines were removed quite quickly , a sin in the cabinet making world).

I will detail some of the meaning of the carvings, but not too much as I feel that they are personal to the owner and it's for him and his colleagues to own the meanings too.

The picture above clearly shows the inlayed wire. Iron is significant in the belief system and while this isn't iron, it's steel and has iron as a constituent part.

The tree had to be a winter tree and this significance I will leave out of the post as I will leave out the significance of the crescent moon, that's for others and not here.

The Hermit.

"The Hermits traditional representation is of distancing oneself from the mundane trappings of life, it also represents the microcosm within the macrocosm. The hermit is the shaman, he who traverses the spiritual realms and turns from the world, into the wilderness and into void so that he may find wisdom and better understand the divine self as opposed to the egotistical self.

The hermit is a magus who studies the esoteric mysteries within life, death, nature and the heavens, this is a contrast to the Fool -tarot- who is primarily bound by the mundane realms of casual existence"

I was fascinated in the meanings behind such imagery for some people and it certainly lent a new meaning to this staf for me too.

Following the carving being completed I took a look at the face and felt I need to introduce myself to him, it was a face I didn't expect to see, one that was quite powerful in its look and feel.

I know which side of the staff split but will not reveal it to anyone. Looking at the two photos above, see if you can decide which was a natural gap in the wood and which was man made.

Unfair I know as the pictures only show a small part of the split. The split actually traveled over half the length of the staff and was about 2mm wide.

I chose to carve the moon closer to the tree to try to depict the moon and the tree as the same carving, the moon being behind the tree and above it, lending a sense of depth. The Hermit was then added below, a carving in its own right.

Below are a few more photos to examine, they show a hint of the redness of the heartwood bleeding through the sap wood to colour and highlight the face of the Hermit. It lends a mystical look to the face, you can pick it out clearly in the mouth area.

In particular the mouth shows a flash of the red of the Yew. This will darken with age and will look more stunning once it's coloured with age.

The eyes are left intentionally blank and I must admit I knew that from the beginning so to me they are spot on. I couldn't bring myself to add the pupils now, to me it would just look wrong.

The staff has only had a very thin coat of Tung oil to resist any moisture getting in. I've straightened the staff ever so slightly at the bottom.

The staff will have an Iron nail driven into the base. Carefully I hope as I'm not doing it, again a feature of the ceremony and belief that this staff will serve.

It will now go on into it's role as a Druids Staff and play its part in a wider pagan belief structure and ceremonial duties.

In reality the commission isn't for a Druid or a Druids group / member, it is however the closest description I have available to me at this time that will come across in this post. What it is, however, is for me a journey into a fascinating belief structure that if I'm honest I can relate to more than any other modern religious structure. That said I'm not even a novice in this, I'm so unconciously incompetent that I'm not qualified to try to explain it let alone profess to believe in any aspect of it.

At heart I can relate to worshiping the natural world and in particular the trees and the woodspirits that reside in them; I hope this comes out in my carvings.

As ever your comments and feedback is welcome


~ Dave ~


junkpunk said...

Wow that is so amazing! I imagine it's hard to work to a commission, instead of just seeing what comes out of the wood as you carve. It's turned out really great though, I bet they'll be so pleased with the results!

Valerianna said...

That is one powerful woodwose... I'm looking for one like him for a date!!

And, yes, your affinity for the wild nature surely comes out in your carvings.

Raggle Taggle Gypsy Girl said...

What a wonderful piece, it looks fantastic and I think the way you dealt with the split was fantastic......

Waldgeistman said...

Dave, as always great work, such care and attention to your work. Magic go's into the wood as it grows and its enhanced with your work. Lovely.

BloggerPlus App said...

Thanks guys ;)

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable.a potent symbol of ancient have created a masterpiece of power .respect. As an aside would you make others ie one for me ?

Dave Jones said...

Hi if you are looking for me to undertake commissioned work please email

Thank you for your interest in my work. Dave