Steampunk isn’t going away any time soon. It speaks to a deep ambivalence that many of us hold about the modern, industrialized cultures that we live in — societies in which computer technology seems each year to get more obscure and esoteric, in which skill and creativity are treated as less important than fame and wealth, in which ecological damage and environmental destruction persist despite our vast scientific knowledge about how the ecosystems of the world work and our own role in that destruction, and in which strict gender and class norms are often subtly (or not so subtly) reinforced even in the same breath as we congratulate ourselves on our diversity and tolerance. Steampunk looks back to the historical roots of modern culture in the generations before the first world war, picking at old scars and still open wounds, exploring what went wrong and what we might have done differently. It is absolutely vital that we engage in that process, even in the face of ghosts we would rather leave undisturbed.
We turn through a world of tension and pressure, movement and poise. Cycles within cycles that turn together, their teeth in rows — the still center of being, that emptiness around which every gear circles. This is the clockwork of the universe, a shining mandala of interconnection and interrelationship. The delicacy of craftsmanship expressed through the primal forces of the elements: forged metal, fire, water, steam and space. All these have their place, turn their way, in an intricate dance with one another.
The steampunk shaman knows the intricate patterns of the dancing world. Her wisdom penetrates the delicate work of friction and force, knowing exactly when to introduce the slightest pressure, and where, and how hard. No brute or bully pushing her will onto the world, she turns, she gives way, she waits in the center of stillness and open space, waits for the gears to shift into alignment. When her work is done, you might say it was all just coincidence, the wheels of fortune spinning out through inexplicable chance. This is the work of the steampunk shaman: she turns the gears of coincidence. Through creative nonaction, all action is done.
So what exactly do I believe? To answer that question, I have to go back to basics. And in going back to basics, I have to face my fear of being forever shrugged off as a newbie fluff bunny who can’t be taken seriously. It’s easy to say, “So what? What do you care if people take you seriously?” But as a member of a scattered, small community, a minority religion in a predominantly Christian culture, it can feel pretty devastating to be shrugged off or shuffled aside even by those you thought would welcome you with open arms. But that’s the risk you have to face if you want to cultivate an open and free relationship with spirit and the sacred world. The world is far stranger and wilder than the books and experts would have you believe.
A match is struck — the flare in the darkness, the smell of sulfur, the quiet roar and hiss that is the first whispered melody of the cosmic dance. Energy and matter, process and emptiness, fire and water, the dance of relationship. Each sacred rite begins this way. The match is struck. The world begins again.
I light the small white candle floating in the deep blue bowl. What was before this? Nothing and void, pure potential. The flame licks and eats the air, the waters beneath swirl and turn, the soft wax of the candle hangs suspended in between. The wax melts, shining and dripping into the waters. The wax evaporates, lifting in invisible currents into the air. The fire stretches and curls, its edges sharp against the darkness, its movements as fluid as blood or rain. The waters grow still, a hard surface like the mirror reflection of some greater night, infinite as space and full of stars. The Three Realms unfold, dynamic in their spiraling dance of self-giving and welcome. Land, Sea and Sky created and re-created again, the cosmos reborn with every prayer.