7 Jul 2012

Guess Who's Wand Maker of the Moon-th?

 I'm pleased and proud to have been named "Wandmaker of the Moon-th" by Field's Wand Makers Gild. Check it out here: http://wandmakersgild.wordpress.com/wand-makers/ There are several photos of various wands available in my Etsy shop and a little bit about me... it's a bit like being rich and famous, without the money (or the fame!) LOL

It's actually kind of wierd to be featured on someone else's webspace; flattering, humbling, bemusing & slightly scary all at the same time! I appreciate the keen interest shown by the curator of this site, and it's nice to know I'm not the only one who could be described as ever so slightly obsessed with wands! I make other things as well of course, although oddly, I sell fewer wands on Etsy than I did on eBay. However, wands were where I first started so many years ago, and I think they're still what I like making the most. There's something extremely satisfying in the knowledge that each one is truly unique, with it's own personality, strengths and weaknesses, and that somewhere out there is someone who will be the perfect match for it. The feeling that something I've crafted is an integral part of someone's sacred ritual is pretty incredible, and a responsibility that I take very seriously. I'm proud of each and every item that leaves my hands, but whereas a pendant will probably just be put on and forgotten about for the rest of the day, a wand is an important magical tool to be used in serious magical and religious practice, and that somehow makes it more special.

By the way, here's a picture from Field's Wand Makers Gild of me using my pedal-powered sander, built by my wonderful better half. You can see by the thickness of the dust how much use it gets!

Pedalling hard!

31 Jul 2011

Copying, when will it ever end?

I was recently killing time during an idle phase by browsing all the wonderful goodies to be found on my favourite site, when I decided on a whim to search "wand" in the Woodworking section. I could not believe how many I found, a large proportion of them from relatively new sellers. Most of them are quite elaborate, with turning and carving, crystals, leather wrapped handles and suchlike, which bear very little resemblance to the wands I make. A few are quite similar, but the sellers have obviously made an effort to follow their own creative path and made subtle differences in style, such as leaving bark on the handle or burning a design into the wood, as well as making sure their listings are easily distinguishable from mine. But there was a noticeable amount of what can only be described as direct copies of my style of working, and I counted no less than nine individual sellers offering these wands to the public. Nine folks who haven't the imagination or artistic flair to actually come up with something of their own. And one of the bastards even has the gall to title their listings "Natural Wood Wand"!  Another uses a photo background that looks just like mine. I also spotted a seller who said they included paperwork that sounded suspiciously similar to the info I send out with every item, and it crossed my mind that some of these unscrupulous sellers might even have been customers of mine. I was curious to see that the vast majority of these copycats had only registered on Etsy within the last few months and also that most of them hadn't bothered to add any information about themselves in the personal profile... which led me to think that maybe they really are just blatently copying my work and have no background or interest in paganism or Witchcraft other than as a money making opportunity. I don't like people disrespecting my religion. It's a serious spiritual path, not Harry fucking Potter. It's not a "lifestyle" to be picked up when it seems fashionable then dropped when it's no longer convenient; you can't stop being a Witch once you've made certain sacred vows, even if you don't make them in front of a corporeal audience, and one of the most basic tenets of any spiritual tradition or religion is to act with honesty and integrity... which I take to mean as including being true to your own muse and not stealing someone else's ideas. Judging from the quality of their work, most of these people don't even have any talent or expertise in any kind of woodworking, as almost all their items are shoddy, poorly finished, hugely overpriced crap, only fit for the fire... I wouldn't want my stuff to be mentioned in the same breath as any of it. Hell, I've been making this shit for over 25 years, which is probably since before most of them were even a glint in their Daddy's eyes!

I think what makes me the most pissed off is that these sellers are ripping off the genuine pagan community and I just hate to think of the disappointment buyers must feel when they open a package containing one of these efforts. I have the experience to be able to tell from a decent photo what the surface of the wood will feel like and how well made a wand is, but most people simply don't have that knowledge and buy on trust. To have that trust abused must feel extremely unpleasant, and I'm grateful I don't have that kind of deception on my conscience. Wands of this type look incredibly simple to make, and they are. But it takes practice, experience and bloody hard work to be able to make them well. I'd got more or less immune to seeing rune sets looking as if they've been hacked up with a chainsaw and never seen sandpaper, but oddly I'd never noticed the wands before. Thankfully, there is still a solid core of well established, talented and skilled individuals making pagan related items to sell on Etsy, all of whom have a huge respect for what they do and practice true pagan ethics. But these stupid kids (and from where I'm standing, anyone who looks younger than 30 can be classed as a kid!) who think they can pick up some rotten old stick off the floor when they're walking the dog, wave a bit of sandpaper at it then fondly imagine they've crafted a magical tool fit for someone else's solemn religious ritual and actually expect them to hand over their hard earned cash for it... they just disgust me.

And no, I'm not annoyed because I think these "rivals" will adversely affect my sales. After all, I only noticed them today by accident. I went through exactly the same thing on eBay three years ago and it made no difference at all to the amount of items I sold or the amount of money I made. (Which incidentally, doesn't get frittered away on frivolities but is relied on to make up a good chunk of the mortgage and help put food on the table) I only stopped selling on eBay when the copycats started to copy and paste huge chunks directly from my listings and copy my photos and titles, and the admin team gave me no support. I like Etsy and I respect what they're trying to do, but I'm starting to think the site might be outgrowing its ethical and artistic standpoint and attracting sellers who will ultimately drag it down to eBay level. I suppose I won't know for sure until I need back up from the admin team whether or not they treat sellers more fairly on Etsy than they do on eBay. The standard of craftsmanship and quality of the goods on offer has noticeably dropped recently, and I no longer feel quite comfortable displaying my items there. I don't want to have to move on and start from scratch again, but there are other hand made marketplaces out there that are still small enough not to have this amount of poor quality rubbish creeping in. I'm going to have to give it some serious thought.

And now I've had my rant I'm going to put the whole business completely out of my mind. Having my ideas ripped off actually bothers me a lot less than you might think and I hardly ever give it a thought... but for some reason it really touched a nerve today to see such outrageous attempts to be something they're most obviously not. Copycats are never worth wasting too much energy on, and if I ignore them hard enough maybe they'll all just disappear in a puff of smoke! LOL

The Original Natural Wood Wand Shop, making and selling top quality magical tools since 1987 and online since January 2006... often imitated, never equalled... the original and still the best.

27 Feb 2011

I'm a Skydiver... update!

Well, I've completed my skydive, and I have the certificate to prove it!

This is the story of my day...
We had to make a horribly early start as the airfield is an hour and a half away from my home and I had to be there at 8 o'clock in the morning... all the more painful as we're used to working through the night so we were getting ready to leave the house at the time we're usually preparing for bed! The friendly staff greeted us on arrival and gave my better half a much needed cup of coffee, then the "jumpers" were given a briefing to tell us what to  expect and what to do. We didn't have a lot of responsibility as we were all tandem skydivers, which means we were strapped to a qualified instructor, but we had to know which bits of the harness we weren't to touch and the position to assume when exiting the aircraft and when landing. After the briefing we had to wait for the weather to smile on us, but the morning mist cleared by about 10 o'clock and the first batch of 8 first-time skydivers went up soon afterwards. The rest of us waited in the comfortable lounge area and hoped the sunshine would last. I was in the third "lift", and after seeing the ear-to-ear grins as the first two groups returned, I was thoroughly looking forward to it. Finally my name was called and I went into the neighbouring building to get kitted up in a jumpsuit (with stout reinforcing on the bum... more of that later!) helmet, gloves, goggles and the all-important harness, then we all walked over to the rather odd-looking airplane. It had large windows along both sides and a huge, perspex, roller-shutter style door, and I thought it looked a bit like an airborne minibus! During the brief flight to get up to the required altitude (15,000 feet, which is almost 3 MILES!) my tandem instructor attached my harness securely to his own and indulged in some gentle teasing about how this particular aircraft was reserved for crazy people only and how accidents usually happen to the first person to exit the plane, which of course, was me! :-) Then it was time to jump. We edged to the wide open door and I knelt on the threshold, with my arms folded out of the way across my chest, and my instructor crouching behind me. The next thing I knew I was being launched out into empty air! The adrenalin rush must have been off the charts! We did a barrel roll, so for an instant I was looking "down" towards the sky and could see the airplane disappearing then, very shortly after we were once again facing the ground, I got a tap on the shoulder to signal that it was time for me to spread my arms out and assume the classic skydiving position. The experience of falling at 120 mph towards the ground is literally indescribable, but apart from the rush and excitement it was pretty cold and very noisy! All too soon, we'd fallen 10,000 feet in around 60 seconds and it was time to pull the parachute release. The deceleration must have been severe, but due to the design of the harness it was not at all uncomfortable. Then we were supported by the parachute, drifting gently down the current of air. I had a go at steering, which took a surprising amount of strength and resulted in spectacular g-forces as we swung round below the canopy. When I'd spent a few minutes playing and admiring the view, I resigned control of the steering cords to my instructor and, despite a brisk cross-wind, he brought us exactly to the target landing space. When we got to treetop height I had to lift up my legs, hold on to the back of my knees and stick my feet out forwards, and we made a perfect and remarkably gentle landing... skidding a couple of feet across the grassy field in the sitting position, hence the reinforcing on the jumpsuits! :-) When I had regained the power of speech and use of my legs, I was released from the coupling straps that had done their job so well in keeping me attached to my instructor (and, more importantly, to the parachute!) and we waited for the rest of the group to arrive on the ground. Once we were all assembled we were given a ride back to the office, handed in our suits, helmets, gloves and goggles, and rejoined the crowds of friends and family... I was slightly shaky about the knees, but I definitely had the tell-tale grin, and a memory that will undoubtedly stay with me for life. Oddly, although the free-falling was the bit I was most looking forward to, I actually enjoyed the gentle parachute decent much more... it was like being a piece of thistledown floating on the breeze! All in all, it was a truly awesome and amazing experience, and I'm immensely grateful that I had the chance to do it.
Equally important as my adventure, is the fact that I raised £440 for a very worthy charity, so I'd like to say a huge thank you to  everyone who handed over their hard-earned cash while examining me closely for signs of mental instability!

And would I do it again?

Hell, yes!

10 Feb 2011

Etsy Nastiness...

I was invited to join the Metaphysical Team a week or so ago and wrote back to politely decline. A few days later I was invited to join a group of sellers based in the South West of England, and as I'm proud of where I come from I thought I'd give it a go. Then I thought I might as well join the Metaphysical Team as well, as a few of them have been customers of mine and they seemed a reasonably sensible bunch, so I went through the process of applying through Etsy and was assured I'd be welcomed into their flock at the earliest possible opportunity. I was then informed that they don't really use the Etsy team forum to communicate, but have groups on Yahoo amongst others... for gossip presumeably, or state secrets, but apparently they say things to each other that can't be made public... So I tried to sign up to Yahoo groups and got a glitch that kept sending me round in circles ending up back at the sign in page. At that point I gave up, thinking to myself that it was more trouble than it was worth to join up with several social networking sites just to be able to waste time talking to a group I didn't really want to be a part of anyway. I told the team captain Ande (aka lefthandedgoth) about the sign-in problem, and as I thought they deserved an explanation, I described more fully my reasons for deciding not to go ahead with the application in my usual rambling style. However, instead of sympathising with the hassle I'd had with Yahoo and offering help and support (which he/she/it/they had already said was the aim and purpose of the group) they just sent back a message telling me what a nasty piece of work I must be (their words), how sorry they were for whatever had happened in my life to make me this way and how lucky they were that they hadn't "let me loose on the rest of the group". Then, I admit, I got ever so slightly pissed off and put Group Captain Ande firmly back in their box, basically telling them to save their sympathy & psychobabble for someone who gives a shit ... and probably losing for ever the chance to be a member of their little club that they had asked me to join! :-) The funniest thing was that while all this was going on between us, the other group leader was sending me a nice little welcome message and I was actually officially a member for about 2 hours! LOL Although, when I told this to Ande they must have immediately asserted their influence with the other group leader, because shortly afterwards I got a rather stiff message telling me that my removal from the group had been requested, not at all like the previous friendly one.

I didn't deserve to be treated like that, especially by any kind of spokesperson for a group who should be aware of their responsibilities to the others. Forthright in my opinions I may be, and I'm perfectly aware that I can sound abrasive and arrogant, which is why I try to tone down my messages, especially to foreigners, and always add lots of smilies, etc, so people know I'm only half serious. But I don't expect a frank discussion to be turned into a personal attack or a slanging match. I'm trying hard to put it down to a translation problem (Americans quite often don't understand dry English humour and anyone with a name like Ande quite possibly doesn't have English as their first language, although they should be able to speak it pretty well as they live in Oklahoma) but really I think it's the old problem of groups becoming personality cults full of adoring groupies sitting about telling each other how wonderful they are instead of doing anything useful, like making and selling their craft. I would imagine that almost anyone who starts a group then retains the right to accept or reject membership is on some kind of ego trip, and as I obviously didn't hold the belief that lefthandedgoth was the be-all and end-all of esoteric knowledge and kow-tow to him/her/it/them with the respect they obviously imagine they deserve, I was put down as "incompatible" with the rest of the group! Which is (thankfully) probably true. :-) I think I had a lucky escape. I'm half expecting them to put the boot in if they get the chance, and I expect there's been a biased view of the proceedings spread round the group on their secret Yahoo page, but I can't say I'm particularly worried or upset about it. Actually, it makes me snigger every time I think about it...

I have to say it's my first experience of nastiness on Etsy and I wasn't expecting it so it came as somewhat of a surprise. I'm trying not to think badly of the humble group members (who were denied any say in my membership one way or the other and probably didn't even know what was going on) but anyone who's willing to let a person like Ande take the lead must be lacking in something as far as I can tell. It's a shame, as the members of the Metaphysical Team that I had already met online seemed to be nice enough. But people are people the world over, and after dealing with so many online over the last 8 years I suppose I had to find someone like lefthandedgoth sooner or later. Generally speaking though, I've found Americans to be more polite than English people, more tolerant, slower to take offence and more cautious in case they upset anyone... but I suppose Ande must be the exception that proves the rule. I should have listened to the warning bells that went off when they informed me they'd copied some of the info in my list of magical properties, to make up a page for a Book of Shadows they sold to some unsuspecting person, instead of asking my permission to use it first...

Oh, and if anyone's interested, you're more than welcome to view the entire transcripts of the conversations that passed between us. I would have posted it all here, but it would have taken up too much room.

7 Nov 2010

I'm a Skydiver!

As further proof of my total awesomeness, should it be needed, I've decided to do a sponsored skydive. This somewhat rash move is to raise money for a charity called Children Today, who provide equipment for disabled children and young people. So I need YOUR help to raise as much money as possible for such a very worthy cause. To find out more about my skydiving adventure, or to make an online donation via PayPal or credit/debit card, just click on this button: 

Sorry, the button has been removed as sponsorship is now closed.
UPDATE: Well, I did the 130 mile, 3 hour round trip to Dunkeswell Airfield on Saturday, only to have the jump cancelled because of poor weather. It will be rescheduled for sometime fairly soon, and I'll let you know as soon as I have the details.

7 Feb 2010

I'm on Regretsy!

Well, here at Stoat Towers I've been doing a little stoat dance of celebration every so often this afternoon because (... drum roll please... ) one of my items has appeared on Regretsy! Wow! I was just winding down after two nights of working till 05:00 when I decided to check out Regretsy for a snide snigger... only to find one of MY wands at the very top of the page... I was gobsmacked! And not only was a wand a featured item, but there were "honourable mentions" and links in the comments to a pendant, the bundles of sacred woods and the cat's whiskers! I'm tickled pink, over the moon, chuffed as punch and all those other quaint English expressions that no one else understands! :-)

For those of you who are not familiar with www.regretsy.com it's a kind of anti-Etsy. Just as Etsy is a brilliant site dedicated to all that's best in art and hand made craft with the emphasis on high quality, affordable pieces to grace your home, then Regretsy is a truly fabulous site for indulging your sarcastic, mean, say-what-everyone-else-is-thinking side by highlighting Etsy items that are shoddy, badly made, over priced, or just totally unintelligable in the build-a-heap-of-old-cardboard-boxes-and-call-it-art kind of way. As far as I can gather, the wand in question falls (mostly) into the last category because... wait for it, this is a profound statement... it's a stick! It also has an unusually long (even for me) and pretty pompous description that mentions magic, unicorns and Faeries, which seems to have hit a nerve in some Regretsians for reasons I don't understand. The only thing that slightly disappointed me was that the entire piece was built around "C'mon, it's a stick!" and I would have expected Regretsy to have come up with something original. I've been selling wands online for over four years and I generally get a message or email every two or three months saying "It's a stick" from someone who doesn't understand the concepts of my religion so I'm fairly used to it. In fact, as I've been a Witch for over 25 years now and never hidden my beliefs, I'm probably fairly used to most of the standard reactions I get from the uneducated bigots who haven't got a clue about any faith but the one they were born into. Ooops, I'm rambling off the subject again... that last remark was NOT directed at any of the Regretsians who left comments, as they were kinder than I would have expected. Actually, most of them seemed bemused rather than hostile, which seems fair enough. Some of them even seemed to know a little about the Craft, which I found encouraging. The thing that struck me as most odd after reading all the comments, was how many of the folks moved to have their say referred to me as "he".

I have often been tempted to simply write a description that says "It's a stick, buy it you bastards" but I don't think Etsy would allow it. Besides, there are times when the bullshit flows wonderfully, so I always feel it's best to go along with it. True, my better half sometimes amuses himself by calculating how much per gramme I can sell our kindling for, but I console myself by thinking that he obviously doesn't get it either.

I take my crafting and my religion very seriously, but that doesn't mean I can't laugh at myself or my life and appreciate how bizarre it all seems from the outside.

Oh, and the reason I spell it "faery" not "fairy" is quite straightforward. To me, "fairies" are those sickly sweet and horribly cute, skinny teenage girls or chubby babies with insect wings popularised by C. M. Barker. "Faeries" on the other hand, are the nature spirits who live in, look after and are part of everything in the natural world. It's simply the Gaelic spelling of the same word... I also write "gaol" instead of "jail". Neither is incorrect, just uncommon.

So am I hurt, offended, annoyed or even ever-so-slightly miffed at gaining notoriety on one of my favourite websites? Hell no!
I've always half expected something magical to appear there, but didn't dare hope it would be something of mine! I'm flattered and slightly amused that one of my items has been capable of causing quite such a stir. Regretsy rocks and I remain a loyal fan!

3 Feb 2010

To celebrate Imbolc, here's a photo I took at sunrise on the 31st of January this year, from the bottom of my garden. The days may well be getting noticeably longer, but that night the ground was white with frost and it was f-f-freezing!

OK, I really need to get this off my chest as it's been bugging me for a while now... WHY do so many buyers fail to leave feedback for the items they buy online?
Maybe they don't realise feedback is the only way for an online seller to gain a public reputation about the quality of their work and/or customer service, so they don't believe it's important. Maybe they're uneasy about condensing their buying experience into a single sentence (although on Etsy the length of each feedback comment is unlimited, so you can write pages and pages if you like or just check the positive box and not bother writing anything at all!) Or maybe they're just too idle to bother with it. Whatever the reason I find it really annoying, especially as often finding feedback left for an item is the only way I have of knowing it's arrived safely. I don't approve of sellers "blackmailing" their customers into leaving feedback by stating that they won't leave it until it's been left for them... it feels unfair NOT to give someone (good) feedback for choosing your item and paying promptly as soon as possible after the transaction. I also find it slightly worrying that the people who don't leave feedback after buying from me have as their reason the fact that maybe they can't actually think of anything NICE to say so prefer to say nothing! I tell myself that's not the case, but still I'm not quite convinced. If a buyer has a problem with something they've bought I'd much rather they told me about it (although maybe NOT in public feedback, but privately so I can do something to fix it!) In common with all the online sellers I know, I value each and every positive feedback I get... reading people's comments about the things I've made and they've bought not only makes me feel good about myself and my craft, but also leaves a lasting testament to prospective buyers about the quality of my work... and in a virtual market place where folks can't actually handle the goods this is an extremely important tool for people to get the feel of what they might be thinking of buying. Up until today, on Etsy I've been fortunate enough to have had 364 sales, but only 289 feedback comments. That 70-odd people who haven't bothered to leave feedback is a large proportion of my customers and I'd dearly love to know their reasons. I'm fully aware that there are some folks who prefer not to acknowledge their purchase of magical tools, but I've only ever had ONE customer request me not to leave feedback for them for privacy reasons, so I don't believe that's what's behind most of the "feedback neglect". Oddly, a lot of people take the time to write me a little thank-you note which of course has to remain private, saying how pleased they are with their item, but STILL don't leave public feedback!

So please, all you buyers out there, leave feedback for the items you buy. Be honest about the item in question and the entire buying experience, as your words will help to guide many others into deciding whether or not to purchase from that particular seller. But try to be kind as well and if you have a problem tell the seller FIRST and give them a chance to try and sort it out... if they don't do everything in their power to fix anything that may be their fault then they deserve all the negative feedback they get, but don't condemn them without letting them try to make amends.