Since I keep making all this occult stuff, from inscribing the blades of daggers to etching intricate patterns in lead and wood, word eventually spread across my family that I’m another craftsman in their midst (my father’s side has a lot of woodworkers, but more in the sense of carpenters and mill/shopmen). My mother has a bad hip due to loss of cartilage, and often needs help walking from place to place. Since I offered her a choice of handmade woodcrafts for Christmas in 2011, she suggested I make her a cane, especially after she saw my own extra-large Trithemius magic cane. Of course, me being me, I quickly set about to figuring out how to make this cane magical or enchanted, especially as would help my mother.
I suggested that my mom think of a pretty song’s lyrics she might want inscribed on the shaft of the cane or something, but eventually I remembered through inspiration from my Vajrayana Buddhist sister that mantras of specific buddhas and bodhisattvas would be excellent inscriptions instead (that, and my mom’s choice in music is…less than preferable). With my mom in pain and in need of more and better care, I remembered the Buddha Bhaiṣajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha. He’s one of the many Buddhas of the universe, and who helps cure the physical and spiritual illnesses of all sentient beings. Very cool dude, and resides in the eastern Buddha realm of Vaidūryanirbhāsa, or “Pure Lapis Lazuli”, reflecting the light he himself emanates. He’s described as being a deep blue in color, holding a bowl of panacea in his left hand in his lap and a plant with healing powers in his right atop his right knee. Historically, Bhaiṣajyaguru was widely venerated and worshiped primarily in parts of Pakistan and northwestern parts of India. The complete mantra, or dharani, of Bhaiṣajyaguru is below. It’s a bunch of Sanskrit terms, and a lot of Buddhist and Hindu mantras have the equivalent of barbarous words or voces magicae in their own fashions. The dharani is basically an adoration to the powers and being of Bhaiṣajyaguru, and holds special healing powers. Although the essential core of the mantra is the last line (beginning with “oṃ”), the whole thing can be considered a complete unit as well.
Namo bhagavate Bhaiṣajyaguru
Arhate samyaksambuddhāya tadyathā
Oṃ bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajye mahābhaiṣajya-samudgate svāhā
I thought it’d be fitting to inscribe the mantra on the cane in a suitable Indian-compatible script, but I had trouble picking out one (they are legion). Tibetan, the main language used to instruct Vajrayana Buddhism, is pretty, but would be difficult to inscribe, as would many other kinds of scripts. I initially wanted to use Phags-pa, which was meant for vertical writing and had the benefit of being highly angular and regular, but I couldn’t find a source to check my nascent and crappy Phags-pa skills. Not many Indian scripts were used to write vertical text, but there was one influenced by Chinese and Japanese called Siddham, which proved to be perfect for my needs; plus, there is evidence of Siddham being used in a vertical fashion as well, influenced as it was by Sino-Japanese writing. The same mantra above written in Siddham looks rather cool, in my opinion.
Now, using Buddhist ritual in my work isn’t something completely foreign to me, despite the Western ceremonial magician that I am. I use a mala once in a while and have long recognized the efficacy of using mantras to effect change in the world and consciousness, and would so join in on tantric education if I had the chance near where I live. That said, I still had to do some research on the use of this mantra and how to “store” the force of the mantra into the cane I’d be making.
The cane would be a solid wooden shaft with a rubber metal-lined foot for support and traction. I’d hand-carve a handle from a block of wood based on a Derby-style handle I had lying around. The four lines of the mantra would be engraved on the shaft in equal intervals down the sides. Two small lapis lazuli cabochons (the same color of Bhaiṣajyaguru and a stone with connections to Jupiter) would be inset on either side of the handle. The whole thing would be stained ebony, and the inscriptions would be inlaid with silver leaf. Unlike other woodwork gifts, this wouldn’t have a sigil engraved, since this cane would be explicitly a magical item to help my mother with her hip and health.
The lapis lazuli cabochons, two little domed stones, were obtained for cheap from Amazon; the cane foot was gotten from a drugstore; and everything else was obtained at a Michaels. First, the cane was woodburned with the mantra, which was simple enough work; the curvy and flowing strokes of Siddham are surprisingly easy to do on a curved surface. The carving of the handle, however, took forever; I have no tools more complex than a Swiss pocketknife and a saw, so after getting a large block of wood down to a proper size to carve, I eventually got it to a proper shape for a human hand. I used the chimney of a woodburner to burn a deep hole into the handle to act as a chamber for the cane shaft to fit into. Carving and fitting the cane handle took the larger part of a day, and there was a pile of woodshavings in my room six inches high towards the end. Two small ovals were inscribed into the handle using a dremel for the lapis lazuli cabochons to fit into. The shaft and handle were stained, inlaid, and coated with finish. The handle and rubber foot were glued onto the shaft and left to dry.
The lapis lazuli cabochons, on the other hand, did a little bit of extra preparation. I conjured Tzadqiel, the angel of Jupiter on a Thursday during an hour of Jupiter and, after chatting with him and basking in the powers and forces of Jupiter, showed him the two lapis lazuli cabochons. I explained their purpose to Tzadqiel and asked him and the Intelligence and Spirit of Jupiter to consecrate, empower, and quicken them with the forces of Jupiter, that they might lend the grace, nobility, and blessing of Jupiter into the cane and its bearer. He seemed pleased with what I was doing for my mother and that the stones were charged appropriately for the task. That done, I glued on the stones into the handle and let it set.
At this point, the construction of the cane was complete. It looked pretty awesome but, beyond the stones, still wasn’t consecrated properly yet. This is where that Buddhist ritual comes in. I lit seven deep blue candles in honor of Bhaiṣajyaguru (seven is apparently the number sacred to Bhaiṣajyaguru) in front of an image I printed out and set up of him; I first did homage to him, asking for his grace and blessing in my undertaking and performed one mala (a rosary of 108 beads) of the Bhaiṣajyaguru dharani dedicated to all sentient beings in all places . This done, I chanted another seven malas of the Bhaiṣajyaguru dharani for the cane itself, then I intoned the seed syllable of Bhaiṣajyaguru (bhai) 52 times (one for each syllable of the dharani). A friend versed in Tantric and Vajrayana ritual informed me of the method used to “store” mantras in an object, so I did the same to the cane. I then did homage and gave thanks to Bhaiṣajyaguru and asked that any and all merit accrued by this act might be dedicated to my mother instead, the recipient of the cane and its power.
All in all, the cane took about three days to make and another one or two to consecrate. I’m pretty pleased with the final result, and hopefully my mother can receive the benefits appropriately and that her condition will get better. I’ve learned quite a few things from this project:
- Never carve a handle like that again by hand. Blisters and cuts galore resulted from it across both my hands, it was messy, and it took forever. That, or I need actual tools to shape and smooth out the handle, since it turned out less perfect than I cared for it to. I claim it gives it that old-timey handmade charm, but whatever.
- Although wooden handles are nice and all, I need to either use a different material (plastic, metal, stone, etc.) or a different kind of wood, because I’m not so sure the basswood used for the handle is sturdy enough to support a person. My mom’s light enough to not have me worry as much, but I still worry. Also, part of the chamber in the handle for the shaft actually broke at one point, like the rim of a styrofoam cup, and I had to redo the woodburning of the chamber so it’d fit the cane again. Also, use a wide drillbit to make a hole instead of trying to burn one, especially when the hole is like an inch wide.
- Combining magical traditions, done respectfully and in different ways, can definitely amp up a tool’s power, especially when used as a general tool or talisman that doesn’t need to fit into any one tradition. Like, you know, an everyday walking stick.
- So much chanting. It’s nothing compared to what people who take vows for this kind of stuff do, but still, even seven malas and then some of anything will take a while (three hours and change in my case, with a few short breaks to keep hydrated between malas). I wanted to do seven malas in homage of the Medicine Buddha alone first, then another 52 (one for each syllable of the dharani), but quickly realized that would be too much for my current level of chanting and stamina and that I wouldn’t have enough time before I left for the holidays.