Today I have a guest post up over on Nimue Brown’s ever-inspiring blog, Druid Life — Steampunk Meditation for Self-Transformation, a blending of Victorian-era esoterica and glibly modern steampunkishness inspired in part by the ancient Three Cauldrons of Poesy. The meditation (and yes, it works) is my latest contribution to the anarchic, silly, and in no way secretive Secret Order of Steampunk Druids, which coalesced sometime back in 2012 between sips of tea and chap hop battles.
Sometimes I get sick of the flat, bright rectangles of computer screens and book pages. When that happens, I go on crafting binges. My latest was inspired by the steampunk aesthetic and my recent spiritual work with the local flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest.
This little guy was the result.
It is from the east, now, that something new approaches the Byrnecock estate. Along the thin road bordered by hedgerows that cut across the hillsides come a pair of gaslit headlamps, illuminating with their amber light the slanting rain that dashes down through a plume of rising steam. The hedgerows have been thinned by the season to a tangle of bare limbs and would cast long, haunting shadows of grasping phantasms across the dampened earth if not for the low, dense clouds that so thoroughly blot out the moon. The thin, wide wheels of the carriage spin steadily despite the rain, hardly slipping across the slick track of mud and fallen leaves. There is no sad, sodden beast trotting along mournfully before this carriage, no sound of hoofbeats muffled by the wet autumn litter. Instead, a kind of wide, flat cart and on it, a large cylinder of dark metal that sizzles slightly in the downpour. The hiss and sigh of small pistons pumping a series of nested gears on either side quite drown out the low conversation of the occupants who sit, rigid and poised, casting slim silhouettes on the fogged window panes from the dry interior of the cab.
We’re nearly a week into National Novel Writing Month, and I’m taking a break from writing The Fantastical Adventures of the Working Title to share a little bit about my process. Until a few weeks ago, when it came to fiction writing, I didn’t have one. Enter: the Steampunk Tarot.
Now my whole process takes about an hour, and I repeat it whenever my writing begins to slow down to a snail’s pace and I find myself taking twenty minutes to describe the minute details of the brocade pillows on the chaise lounge where the heroine has been reclining awkwardly waiting for her narrator to realize nobody gives a shit about brocade pillows.
Here’s how it works.
About two minutes in to exploring Steampunk as a counterculture movement, it dawned on me — this isn’t historical re-enactment. It isn’t about the past. It’s about now, and the kind of society we want to live in, and the ways in which we want the world to work. It’s playful, with room for both the burlesque and the gentile. Anyone who wants a title, can have a title. Anyone more drawn to the ‘punk’ aspect can play it that way. It turns out that there’s room for anyone who wants in, and you don’t even need a pair of goggles.
The surface of Steampunk offers a burgeoning fiction genre, an aesthetic that seems to be catching on all over the place, a music scene — sepiacore and chap hop, and no doubt more to come. There’s a growing arts and crafts movement within the community, and there are going to be inventors, I have no doubt. There probably are already. Steampunk is about innovation in every area of human endeavour, and it’s about doing good stuff, with a social conscience and a sense of humour.
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.