A Talisman of Fire

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

Another talisman has come into my life, this one through the skill and talent of Su Keates, a silversmith from New Zealand. Su listens and then brings her own vision to the creation of a piece.

This piece was going to be hard. I wanted to have an abstraction of the Hebrew letter shin, the 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter has many meanings and associations. The word shin literally means teeth or bite, but that’s not the hidden meaning I am drawn to.

Shin has three points, often said to represent

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

kindness, justice and mercy. In one kabbalistic interpretation, the three stalks represent the flash of an idea, understanding, and application of knowledge. Now that is a meaning I can spend time with.

What I love is the number of words begin with the letter shin (in Hebrew). The word for peace, shalom. The word for hear, or listen, sh’ma. The word for the day ordained as a day of rest, Shabbat. Then there is sun (shemesh) and change, and year, and rest.

Shin is a mother letter, and it represents fire. So I wanted this talisman to look like fire. The letter is heard in the first phrase of the Bible, “In the beginning.” How could I not find this letter a talisman for my work as a coach, helping people change? Or my work as a writer, helping people heal and rest from the scars of their life?

It’s new and ancient and I can already tell it has power and life.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach who helps people reinvent themselves.


Pencil as Amulet

You wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea. You reach for your notepad and a . . . fountain pen? Nope,

Avatar pencil © Quinn McDonald, 2008, watercolor pencil, ink on paper

Avatar pencil © Quinn McDonald, 2008, watercolor pencil, ink on paper

you’d have to unscrew the lid, and make sure it starts writing. Ball point? Not sure it will start without a test scribble either. Roller ball? They glob and smear. You’d reach for a pencil. Always ready to go, easy to use, erasable. If you are waking up to sketch, you can do that with a pencil, too. A finger rubbed across the surface will make a shadow or a shade, using just the tip give a crisp, clear line.

Pencils have been documented since  1565 when Conrad Gesner mentioned them in a story about the uprooting of a tree whose roots carried a black substance convenient for writing and art work. N. J. Conté, father of the Conté crayon, invented the first usable pencil in 1795 after Faber (now Faber-Castell) failed to make powdered graphite work. But 16,000 years ago, cave artists were drawing the famous horses in the Lascaux caves using charcoal and paint. Pencils last. You’d better update your floppy disks and CDs and memory sticks, or your information will vanish without a trace, but you don’t have to update a pencil. They’ve worked for at least 300 years, and they’ll work for the next 300.

Pencil as amulet, in gold and silver created by Matt Muralt

Pencil as amulet, in gold and silver created by Matt Muralt

Because I’m both an artist and a writer, the pencil identifies my work and outlines my identity. The pencil stub, still useful, is a sign that work is getting done.

Over the years, the common, humble pencil has become my totem–the figure I use as a symbol of creativity as well as a way to connect to that creativity through a greater force. A pencil is a way to connect to other writers, artist, to the common bond we have that makes us create, that gives us no choice but to make something that wasn’t there before.

I wanted to honor that totem by wearing it. Holding it wasn’t enough. I wanted to elevate it, as humans have done since they could walk upright, by wearing it as a symbol around my neck. I took

Pencil on handmade journal

Pencil on handmade journal

the idea to Matt Muralt, of Muralt Custom Jewelers in Mesa, AZ.  Showing him the drawing of the pencil (part of the pencil is my WordPress, Twitter and Facebook avatar) and asked him if he could make a pendent for me in gold. Matt’s enthusiasm for a project that hasn’t been done before is catching, and he asked if I wanted a regular pencil drilled or did I want a piece of jewelry. I wanted to elevate the pencil to amulet, so he discussed the use of three metals–silver for the ferrule that holds the pencil to the eraser, rose gold for the eraser, and yellow gold for the shaft of the pencil. The tip would be silver and oxidized to look like lead.

When Matt showed me the wax figure, he had made it the size of a real pencil. He wanted me to bite into it, to give it the chewed look of a real pencil. I considered it, but I’ve never chewed on pencils, so the amulet would remain without teeth imprints.

When I picked it up today, I was astonished. It looked like a real pencil with a slightly metallic sheen. Matt has a big creative gift that allows him to see what his customer sees but can’t draw. And there it is, my amulet pencil, reminding me of my work and the inspiration that raises an idea from humble origins to art.  (Yes, he’ll make you one, too: 480-969-4653)

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and creativity coach.


Because we belive in them, they are real to us. A talisman can make us strong, help us gain certainty, help us move ahead with plans. I have several, and I wear them when I need them. Are they magic? Well, in a certain sense they are. When I need to give up cynicism, and be ready for dreams to guide me, I always bring in Raven Woman.

Wearing a talisman helps you focus on what the talisman is about and brings those thoughts to the forefront. That helps you concentrate on what you need to accomplish, and Voila! Magic.

But I choose my magic carefully, and often have to resort having the right piece made. Some time ago, while doing research for something else (isn’t that always the way it happens?) I came across the word abracadabra. You know, the one you’ve know since childhood as a magic word.

It turns our that it is, indeed a magic word. There is one story about its use as a cure for illness, but I found another meaning, far more magical to someone who makes a living with words.

It seems that the phrase was used in the origination myth. The Semitic Aramaic phrase, avra kehadabra, means, “I will create as I speak.” In the origination myth (the Aramiac translation), it was used when Spirit divided the light from darkness. Spirit created day and night as s/he spoke it. It has a second meaning, one of trust. “I will create as a I speak” is a promise to do what is said, to carry through.

I was taken with the idea of creation and trust both being attributes of writers. I designed a talisman. A jeweler completed it for me. The word “Abracadabra” is written around the silver ring, and the gold bail has what seems to be a flame on it.

The flame represent the fire of creation, but it also resembles the letter “shin.” Shin is the first letter in one of the names of the Almighty (Shaddai), in the word Peace (Shalom) and in the word Listen (Sh’ma). All interesting in their relationship. All magic words in their own right.

It seems great as a talisman for writers, and all those who create meaning with words. The completed piece is below.

abracadabra talisman