When I first began my explorations in various types of magic (both folk, ancient, and astrological), I didn’t have a lot of extra cash for high quality materials. Because most talismanic and phylactery items are a “house” for a spirit, the idea that this house was made from subpar materials really bothered me.
As an animist I don’t think it’s respectful or kind to put a spirit in something that is bad quality, easily damaged, and/or temporary. I also wanted to be as environmentally mindful as possible!
Making paper or wax talismans and phylacteries didn’t seem to be an option in my mind–while at the same time I didn’t have the cash to invest in jewels (which are an ethical quagmire thanks to how they are mined) or metal clay (which is an environmentally friendly and cheaper way of making jewelry without a forge, but nonetheless requires a few hundred dollars of initial investment all the way up to a few thousand if you buy a kiln).
To overcome this, I dove deep into one of my nerdy passions: the history of art materials and methodologies. At the time I was studying the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, and while reading his diaries an egg of an idea was laid in my mind.
You see, when Da Vinci was alive paper was a rarity (very hard to create at the time) and graphite was not yet a viable drawing medium. So they typically used vellum (the skin of animals), gesso (a gritty glue-type substance), and something called silverpoint or metalpoint. Metalpoint is a type of drawing “pencil” that consists of a wire metal in a holder of some sort. Usually this wire metal is made from various grades of silver, gold, and/or copper.
This medium is still used today, though it is not very popular anymore. Instead of vellum, you can use 100% cotton watercolor paper (or if you really want to get fancy, buy some acid-free thin cut birch wood panels). Gesso is commercially available and you can mix in a substance called bone ash to create a fine grit surface. And you can buy 0.5 to 0.9 mm fine metal wire from your local Home Depot, Lowes, or a metalpoint supply store, and simly put it into a mechanical pencil holder.
The total for these materials is somewhere between $60 to $75, and will empower you to make hundreds of talismans and phylacteries that are low-cost, hold the magical charge for a long time, look beautiful, and are built to last.
Why would you go to all this trouble? Because I believe in honoring the spirits, deities, and non-human intelligences that I am in relationship and doing magic with. High quality and more permanent housing for a spirit in a talisman or phylactery is a very simple way to respect and care for the entities who’ve consented to work with you.
Acid-free archival artist quality cotton paper is so stable that it takes over 100 years for it to break down, and acid-free birch panels will last a similarly long time. Gesso further stabilizes the surface and creates a texture the metal can catch onto. And of course we’ve seen how long the metalpoint drawings of Da Vinci have lasted–other than tarnishing (which happens to all metals as they age), his drawings are still entirely intact.
This also draws on the principle that fine metal holds magical charges for a long and stable period of time. Christopher Warnock advises in his various classes and blog that silver and gold can be used for any type of celestial talisman. Copper is a close third.
Lastly, this method of magical item making is very low-impact and environmentally friendly. Cotton paper is a pretty renewable surface–you could also go with linen paper. There are recycled versions out there (such as Khadi paper). Metal wires are often made from recycled metals from castaway electronics. Bone ash is made from calcinated bones, which is a form of utilizing every part of an animal after it is butchered (which is far more honoring than what we do with industrial farming).
The only outlier is commercial gesso, which contains some form of acrylic polymer (plastic). You could avoid this by making old-school gesso, but that can be a bit cost heavy and labor intensive–plus is it really much better to use rabbit skin glue? Not sure. I choose where I want my impact to be based on what sits right for me and the spirits I work with, and what is reasonable for the time I have to spare.
So what will you need to get started with metalpoint talisman and phylactery crafting?
Optional but nice:
Here are the steps for preparing your paper. Anything more than 3-4 layers of gesso is unnecessary, so just stick to this:
Now your substrate (surface) is prepared and ready to be used! To use it, take your metal wire and insert into the holder of your choice (such as a mechanical pencil). Make sure it’s held very tightly, as the more stable the wire is, the easier it will be to use. To give it a point when it starts to wear down, simply sand at an angle against a nail file or a sanding block.
It is a lot like drawing with a pencil, except that you can never fully erase it (though the lines can grow faint if you softly erase to pull the metal off the surface). You can’t really “blend” as you would with graphite, but instead build up tone with layers of hatching.
This is why I recommend first sketching out what you want to create on tracing paper using an HB pencil and eraser (you can also just copy the sigils directly from Agrippa, Picatrix, Christopher Warnock’s books, etc.). Go back over the final drawing with the micron pen so it’s easy to see and it’s permanent. Then cover the back of the tracing paper with HB graphite (a graphite block is handy for this, but a pencil can do the job). Place that tracing paper with the graphite covered side down on top of your gessoed paper. Then use a harder pencil such as a 2H to go back over the pen lines and faintly transfer the image to your gessoed paper. Now you can go back over this and fully render it with your metalpoint pencil.
If you know anything about astrological magic in particular, you know that an election window can be quite small. I rarely start and then complete a metalpoint project within the tiny window of the election. So there are a couple of ways around this and different magicians will have different opinions about this. I say ask the spirits that you’re in relationship with what they prefer. Here’s my working method:
(Sorry guys, I won’t be showing you what I’ve done as it’s a part of my devotion to keep most of my workings private.)
The finish of metalpoint looks a lot like a pencil but with a high lustrous shine when you move the paper. Over time it will tarnish into something beautiful. Silver turns a golden-gray color, Gold turns quite dark, and Copper creates that famous greenish patina. This is beautiful to watch and is just a natural part of the metal aging and oxidizing. As I stated earlier, drawings made from metalpoint have lasted for hundreds of years!
The best part of working your magical craft like this, is that once you buy these initial supplies you can make several talismans. So instead of buying one decent quality stone (which was probably mined in seriously unethical ways) and a metal setting for $75+, you can create multiple talismans, phylacteries, and devotional art works with beautiful fine art materials. It lasts a long time, it’s a meditative and devotional act to the spirit you’re working with, and it holds the charge better than a plain paper or wax talisman because you’re using fine metals.