Monday, October 25, 2010

Fertility and Trees

Fertility Tree Pictures, Images and Photos
Where does life come from and whence does it go? Even modern science does not know the answer for sure. To our ancestors the mysteries of life and death were solely in the hands of the Gods and the gift of life and fertility was their blessing to grant or to withhold. The Earth's power of regeneration, a woman's ability to give birth and the fruitfulness in all of nature was regarded as a divine gift.
fertility Pictures, Images and Photos
Fertility is the basis of life, the foundation of the health and wealth of a community. An abundant harvest provides sustenance throughout the year, nourishing people and animals and giving them health and strength to fortify them against the physical challenges of daily life. Healthy children are the future of a society and the seeds of survival for the whole clan. The fertility of the animals was equally important, as a strong herd of cattle with healthy offspring provides not only a variety of foods and different material resources, but also stock for trade and barter.

The fertility and health of all life, whether cultivated or wild, animal, human or plant are integral and equally important to the harmonious and sustained well-being of the whole web of life. Our ancestors regarded the earth as the living body of the Earth Goddess that continuously gave birth to existence; the source of life itself. Yet, life lives on life, the cycle of existence is a continuous self-devouring and self-recreating process of transformation and regeneration. All life must die and yet, death is a sacrifice to life that ultimately ensures its continuity. Thus, to our ancestors life and death were not so much seen as opposing forces, but rather as two aspects of the same inexplicable mystery.
Fertilitree Pictures, Images and Photos

In many mythologies trees were regarded as the very embodiment of the immortal life force. Their recurrent seasonal cycle of flowering, leafing, fruiting and seeming decay during the winter months, followed by renewal and apparent rebirth each spring provided a living metaphor for the seasons of human life. As spring turns to summer and summer to autumn and autumn to winter, so does youth turn to adulthood, adulthood to old age and old age eventually to death, which in turn imparts its regenerative power to the soul so it can be reborn and return to the land of the living once more.

Many cultures still believe in a life after death, in a world populated by spirits and disembodied souls, which is often simply known as 'the Other world'. The threshold to this spirit realm is frequently depicted as a tree, usually a conifer since their evergreen cloak reveals a special affinity with the immortal life force, as only they are able to sustain their green foliage through the dark of winter. While most of nature apparently dies, these serene needle trees carry on the flame of hope for life's eventual return. Thus, it is not surprising that they should be regarded as a suitable refuge for disembodied souls awaiting a new incarnation. Their inherent life force was thought by extension to nurture and sustain the souls of the departed during their respective 'dark season' of death. For this reason graveyards are planted with evergreens and wreaths of pine are laid on graves even to this day. In some regions it was customary to plant a tree directly on a person's grave, which henceforth was thought to 'embody' the soul of the deceased. Surviving relatives could thus communicate with their departed ancestors by addressing the tree.

These ancient concepts are widespread throughout the world and are particularly deep-rooted in animistic cultures that still adhere to a form of ancestor worship. Certain trees, often those growing around a burial ground or guarding the entrance of a village, are associated with the tribal ancestor, who watches over the affairs of the living. These trees are honored and protected by the whole community, for any damage done to them would spell the demise of the whole community. At other times particular trees were thought closely related to a particular family or tribe. The modern image of the family tree is but an ancient relic echoing these traditions of the past.
mother earth Pictures, Images and Photos

Some mythologies trace the very origin of the human race to trees. Variously, stories are told of Gods who carved the first couple from different species of trees, or how the first man and woman emerged from the seeds or fruits of certain trees, or how the first humans emerged from the trunk of a tree. In Norse mythology we are told that Odin and his brothers were walking by the seashore when they came across two trees. They changed them into the first man and a woman and named the man 'Ask' and the woman 'Embla'. Each of the brothers bestowed some special gifts on them: the first gave them soul and life, the second wit and motivation and the third speech, sight and hearing.

In Europe the image of the immortal tree of life was often associated with a sacred spring, a symbolic river of life, which flowed from beneath its roots. In Britain for example, where many Christian churches were simply built on top of previously sacred sites, an ancient Yew tree is frequently found growing in the churchyard in close proximity to a sacred spring. It was thought that the holy waters would eventually return the disembodied souls to a new earthly incarnation. Hence, the belief that a woman could become pregnant simply by resting under certain trees or bathing in a sacred spring.

In Australia some tribes believe that the souls of babies dwell in trees and that women who want to conceive have to shake them out of the branches, much as one would when harvesting ripe fruit. When a baby was born it was customary to bury its umbilical chord along with the placenta beneath a young sapling, and thus the two souls were spiritually connected throughout their lives. The welfare of one was thought to affect or indicate the well-being of the other; if the tree was harmed the person likewise would suffer, if the person was harmed or killed surely the tree would soon also perish.

Similarly, it was customary in many European countries to plant a tree for each baby that was born. In Germany and Austria an apple tree was planted for a boy and a pear tree for a girl. Native American tribes followed a similar tradition. When a baby was born a tree was dedicated to the young soul and henceforth served as its personal tree ally and natural 'altar'. In Africa and Asia special effigies were carved to serve as protectors for newborns and it was hoped that the particular properties of the tree would be transferred to the child.
The Healing Tree Pictures, Images and Photos

Similar beliefs and practices are known in many cultures across the globe. Particularly in India tree worship associated with fertility rites are common. Offerings are made to particular trees to ask their blessing and aid for conception. Different trees respectively are asked for either a boy or a girl. Sometimes different parts of the same tree are symbolically associated with either male or female fertility. Frequently certain trees are ritually 'married' to each other in order to stimulate fertility in a household. Big feasts are held for the wedding celebration and their future fruitfulness is hoped to rub off on their patrons. Even more curious is the custom of people getting married to a tree, a custom, which applies particularly to a second marriage, since the second marriage between humans is thought to be unlucky. Thus a tree stands in for the second marriage. Both men and women may take a tree in marriage before getting remarried to a person.

Some trees evidently embody the immortal life force more than others, as they are endowed with attributes that suggest a symbolic link with the life giving powers. Hazel bushes for example burst in to a lush abundance of catkins, worm like inflorescence's, that with a bit of imagination could be likened to male sexual organs. Their early flowering time too suggests a special life-giving power - not to mention their highly suggestive nuts, which, depending on the interpretation of the observer could be either likened to male or female sexual characteristics. Thus, Hazel rods often played a role in fertility rites as they were thought to transfer their life giving energies to other forms of life.

Another widespread belief suggests that trees are inhabited by guardian spirits, which control the natural forces responsible for weather conditions, that can cause the crops to flourish or to fail. Since fertilizing rain is paramount to ensuring the fruitfulness of the earth, fertility festivals centered on trees were usually held in the spring or prior to the rainy season. Even in Europe, until quite recently such festivities were quite common and can still be found today as folkloric remnants in many rural areas. The most commonly celebrated fertility festival is known as Beltain or May Day.
fantasy Pictures, Images and Photos

When the sap is rising and the buds are swelling and nature is awakening from her winter sleep, the air is humming with energy and activity. It is as though the Goddess Flora twirls and whirls through the countryside and where she dances her footprints turn to flowers, and bees, birds and butterflies buzz about her like twinkling stars. This sensual season culminates in May, when all of nature seems to be intoxicated with the spirit of love: birds and animals are mating, and bees and butterflies are getting drunk on nectarous flower juice. The exuberance and joy of life is tangibly permeating the air and even humans are touched by the juicy flow of nature's libido.
May Day Celebrations

In pre-Christian times this season was celebrated with wild parties and festivities on Beltain Eve, the 1st of May. This festival marked the wedding day of the Earth Goddess and her consort, who were represented by a young couple, the King and Queen of May. The whole community joined in the celebration, often a wild and lewd affair. In the morning a band of youngsters would take to the woods 'to fetch the May', usually a young birch tree, which was brought back into the village with much fanfare. The May tree served as the quintessential symbol of the Earth Goddess herself and her innate powers of regeneration and fertility.
May pole Pictures, Images and Photos
Back in the village the tree would be decorated with colorful threads and ribbons and fixed to the top of a pole, with long flowing ribbons in alternating colors attached beneath it. The May tree was treated as an honored guest and was erected in the most central spot of the village square. Parades and festivities ensued, as the May king and queen strode through town followed by a jeering crowd, accompanied by music, dancing, laughing and singing. Flowers and confetti were strewn all over as tokens of health, wealth and fertility.

Contemporary May Pole Dance, The highlight of the ceremony was the dance around the Maypole. Young boys and girls in succession each grabbed a ribbon from the May tree and twirled around the pole to the wild and cheerful music in an interweaving dance of life - male and female powers woven together to create the very fabric of existence in an act of symbolic co-creation.

Later the Beltain fires were lit to celebrate the return of the sun. Offerings and sacrifices were made to the earth spirits and Gods, and to the animals and plants in the hope that they would return the blessing when harvest came and meanwhile protect cattle and crops from dangerous daemons and diseases throughout the year. The drinking, dancing and feasting continued all night with raucous behavior, rude jokes and lewd innuendos - this was thought to rouse the passion of the vegetation spirit and make it more virile. Youngsters jumped over the Beltain fires to show the corn how high to grow and perhaps to be blessed by the fertilizing powers of this symbolic sun.

Green ManLater in the evening unmarried youth would take to the woods to partake in the libido energy of nature as each couple united as god and goddess to become co-creators in the dance of life and partake in nature's magnificent power. (note: The spirit of vegetation was often personified as Robin Greenwood, the Green Man, etc., nine months after Beltain, a crop of 'illegitimate' children were born, who were generally referred to as 'Robin's sons' - Robinson is still a common family name in Britain.)
may pole thing Pictures, Images and Photos
The next morning the Maytree was paraded through town. All the dancing and partying had charged it up with spiritual power and it was now used to bless all the inhabitants of the village so everybody could partake in the abundant gifts of Mother Nature. Sometimes this custom mutated into a ritual of 'quickening' to stimulate the fertility of all females, girls, animals and even (fruit)trees. Special hazel rods were cut for this purpose, which were thought to confer their power of fertility to anything they touched.

These are just a few examples to illustrate the point that at one time all of mankind felt a very close link indeed with the natural environment and with trees and plants in particular. But over time our sense of spirituality has become more and more distanced from nature and divorced from the source of life that sustains us. Neither forests nor individual trees nor herbs or grains are perceived to convey a link to the spiritual realm anymore. Our Gods, as far as we still believe in them are remote and impersonal, inhabiting realms far beyond the sky. Our earthly affairs are reduced to mere mechanical operations designed to exploit natural resources for maximum profit. Not gratitude but dominance characterizes our attitude to nature while reverence and respect for life is diminishing - along with the integrity of the web of life that supports us, and the socio-spiritual web of our communities that once provided a holistic perspective on all of life.

When the mysteries of life are reduced to chemical formulae and the natural world including our own bodies are rationalized and explained as mere chance assortments of matter following mechanical laws that can be manipulated at will, we are loosing touch with the very spiritual essence that gives meaning to existence. We may think ourselves Gods, but it seems that our species is possessed by demons intent on disintegrating the innate connectedness of all life and on poisoning the very source from whence all life springs and to which it must eventually return.

But where can we go from here? How can we heal the dichotomy between matter and spirit and restore that sense of connectedness in this world that is becoming increasingly defragmented? We cannot go back in time and simply do as our ancestors did. Rather, it is a matter of fostering personal relationships with nature and the life-giving powers that sustain us all. It is a personal quest rather than a matter of dogma, of developing an attitude of gratitude and caring towards all life, not as theoretical constructs, but in terms of practical action.
goddess Pictures, Images and Photos

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Late Fall and Winter Foraging

As the winter storms are beginning to blow in the foragers year is definitely coming to a close, unless you are a hunter of course, but that is another path altogether... The plant energy has turned inwards now, withdrawn into the roots. Here it will slumber until reawakened in the spring when the first birds begin to sing the wake up call and the sun begins to thaw the frozen earth.
foraging for mushrooms Pictures, Images and Photos
Those who live in a cold climate might be snowed under already, while those blessed with milder weather might enjoy the last warm days and still find nuts and mushrooms to add to a hearty autumn feast. Sitting around an open fire with one's friends and roasting sweet chestnuts (make sure the bottoms are slit or else they will explode on you) and sharing some home made elderberry wine with stories and laughter is a wonderful winter pastime. Walnuts are also still good for picking - lest the squirrels beat you to them. If you don't mind a more 'unusual' flavour, acorns might be worth a try, though they definitely need 'watering' in order to leech out the bitterness. Boil them with several changes of water and then roast them in the oven. Grind them to the consistency you like and try adding them to bread or cake mixes. They impart a very nutty flavour and a tasty little crunch.

In the milder regions mushrooms might still be popping up in the fields and woods until they are killed by the frost. Though before attempting to add wild mushroom species to your foraged dishes make absolutely certain that you have picked only the ones that are good to eat. Ask an expert. In some countries you can go to the pharmacy and ask for help with identification. Or try the local botanical gardens, agricultural extension service or botany department of your university. Join a mushroom foray to get expert instruction on identification and most importantly, how to recognize the poisonous species.

One mushroom that is easily identified even by the novice, is the common inkcap. Use the tall ones as a guide to the colony - while the older ones are not good to eat once their lamella turn pink, the babies are usually never far. Because of the high water content mushrooms often don't cook very well; instead, they simply melt away. However, a great way to prepare them is as fritters. Roll the mushrooms in flour, dip them in beaten egg, then roll them in bread crumbs and drop them into a hot frying pan with sizzling vegetable oil. This way their consistency remains largely intact and the crust adds a nice crunchiness to the experience.
Rose Hips (Rosa) Pictures, Images and Photos
Also, now after the first frost has bitten it is a good time to pick rosehips, sloes, hawthorn berries and certain sorbus species. These fruits need to be bitten by the frost before they become really palatable. The rosehip fruits are soft now and can thus be processed much easier than in their early autumn rock-hard condition. Rosehips are very rich in vitamin C and are a great preventive remedy for winter ails. Process them quickly though, as they contain an enzyme, which will destroy the vitamin C as soon as the cut surfaces are exposed to the air.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cedar Of Lebanon

Cedar of Lebanon Pictures, Images and Photos
Myths of the Cedar of Lebanon

"If in the end I should conquer, glorious will be the victory; but I shall owe it to the Queen of Angels, under whose protection I place myself. She is my refuge & my defense; the tower of the house of David, on whose walls hang innumerable shields & the armor of many valiant champions; the cedar of Lebanon, which puts the serpent to flight."

-Juan Valera

Long before the Cedar of Lebanon was introduced to European gardens (in the late 1700s) it was already legendary & proverbial. It is the most impressive tree mentioned in the Bible, veritably personified as a monarch [2 Ki 14:9], akin to giant people [Amos 2:9], to whom even God sings praises of honor [Ezek 27:5]. But when the Cedars of Lebanon (& the Oaks of Bashan) become haughty & begin to regard themseves as true divinities, Yahweh rises against them [Isa 2:13; 37:24; etc].

Yahweh turns against the cedars? Now there's a mystery for starters.

Well might the Cedar regard itself as a divinity, & Yahweh regard the Cedar one of those Other Gods of which He confesses jealousy in the Decalog. The usual Hebrew word for cedar, erez, is of mysterious origin, derived most likely from some Arabic dialect. It probably means "Mighty," & used with this meaning at Ezek 27:24. It is thus a synonym for El, "Strength," the husband of the Goddess Asherah & head of an extensive Semitic pantheon. El's name was coopted as a name of Yahweh. Every member of Israel was destined to share the traits of happiness & mightiness of the Cedars of Lebanon [Nm 24:6]. It is nearly homonymous with Eretz, normatively "Earth", but a feminine word hence literally "Earthmother" which sense is often preserved in Torah, personifying the Earth as a motherly figure alternatingly by the names Eretz, & Adamah (Red Earthmother) who gave birth to Adam.

Cedar mythology was ancient long before the Bible was written. In it's full range Cedrus has four primary species, & was associated with a Goddess in each species' native location, either as consort of the Goddess, or personified as itself female, or as a uniting (perhaps phallic) connector between the Earthmother & God. In Anatolia (Turkey) the Cedar of Lebanon was associated with a particularly violent form of Artemis. In the Himalayas the Deodor Cedar was associated with the equally violent Kali Durga, called the Root of the Tree of the Universe of Wisdom. And the Cyprus Cedar, from the island of Cyprus, was identified with Aphrodite Urania who killed or castrated her lovers & was much more like the violent Artemis & Kali than the Goddess of Love we today associate with the name Aphrodite.

The Cedar of Lebanon also figures in an early episode of the oldest of religious tales, The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh encountered a horrifying monster amidst the cedars. He was protected from this beast by the Sun-god Shamash (for whom the biblical Samson is named) & by his mother's amulet (as Samson's power resulted mainly from his mother's instruction). When Gilgamesh destroyed the monster he believed himself ready to become the husband of the Great Mother, Ishtar Inanna, though Ishtar didn't quite agree with that; & he meets thereafter a Wine-goddess. Parallels to Samson & Delilah are imbedded in this, if Delilah is regarded as a reflex of Inanna or of the Wine-giving goddess Gilgamesh encounters.

Psalm 29 was originally a hymn to Baal Hadad. Descriptions of Yahweh as master of the sea, his appearance on a mountain in the midst of storm, & his temple made of Cedar are repeated from Ugaritic descriptions of Baal. In the Poem of Baal, which actually stars his sister Anath, the Artemis-like Huntress Goddess built Her brother a temple out of cedar because the other gods made fun of Baal for being the only god who had no house. This may allude to his worship having formerly been exclusively out of doors in the sacred oak groves of his mother Asherah Who Trods the Sea. Asherah poles which were set up in the oak groves were made of cedar, as the sacred oaks themselves could not be cut down, & cedar poles were resistant to rot. Yahweh, like Baal, was first worshipped in the open air in Asherah's groves. Abraham planted such a grove, possibly a tamarisk grove rather than oaks, but in midrash, & among many biblical scholars, the trees Abraham planted are called the Cedars of Beersheba [Gn 21:33] & he must have brought the seeds with him when he left Uruk in Mesopotamia. In that city the Cedar was a Mother Goddess who gave birth to the fertility god Ningishzida, a reflex of Dumuzi.

Because Yahweh displaced Asherah's favorite son Baal Hadad, it was natural to suppose Yahweh's eventual Temple was, like Baal's, made of cedar [1 Chron 14:1; 22:4; etc]. David said to Nathan the prophet that it was unjust that he, David, should live in a house of cedar, while the Ark of the Covenant was covered only by a tent [17:1, 6]. This is David's sense that it was presumptuous that the sacred tree covered his head but not God's. This echoes the Poem of Baal when Baal Hadad is lamented as the only god who has no house. When Torah speaks of "Hiram's mother" involved in bringing the components of the Jerusalem Temple out of Tyre, the faint echo of feminine importance lingers from the earlier myth when the Goddess Anath herself built God's house, & when the richest of Asherah's cult centers was in Tyre.

The name of Lebanon is the same as the semitic Moon-goddess Lebanah, "She That Is White." It is no coincidence that the word for Cedar, Erez, is nearly homonymous with Hebrew words meaning heat, or sun, so that we also find the Cedar associated with Sun-gods & weather-gods throughout the biblical world. In ancient Egypt the ceremonial barge of the god Amon-Re was made of cedars, & an ancient record states specifically that the cedar wood came from Lebanon. The idea of a Moon-goddess connected with a Sun-god via the highest cedar is not merely suggestive of Artemis & Apollo, Anath & Baal, Delilah & Samson, David & Bathsheba, but is still of signal importance in medieval & modern Kabbalah. The sephirotic emanation of god known as Tiphereth (Beauty) dwells at the center of the Sephiroth Tree & is the sephirah most closely identified with Yahweh. Tiphereth is united weekly on the Sabbath with the lowermost or most earthly sephirah, Malkhuth the Lower Shekhinah or female emanation of God. Tiphereth & Malkhuth are united weekly in cunubial bliss [Zohar II:2b, 3a, 51b] which is why the Sabbath is the day kabbalists regard most erotic & fertile. Malkhuth means "Kingdom" & represents Israel as the Bride of God; the word is a very close pun for "Queen," Malka, & the Queen of Heaven whom the women of Israel spoke of to Jeremiah is by later kabbalists considered to be one & the same with the Divine Shekhinah (though of course in Jeremiah's day it meant Anath, who was Yahweh's bride at Bethel, & remained so among the Jews of Elephantine well into the Christian era).

According to the kabbalistic understanding, it was Tiphereth who called out from Mount Sinai to the Shekhinah, "Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon" [Song 4:8], while in the same erotic Song, Solomon identifies Lebanah (the Moon) as the ideal of feminine beauty [6:10].

Isaiah uses the name Lebanah when personifying the Moon as confounded by God [Isa 2:23], & again in the allegory of a heavenly future where Lebanah will be made to be as bright as the Sun, & the Sun made seven times as bright. A nearly feminist Jewish myth, founded upon Isaiah 30:26, recounts how Queen Lebanah, made on the fourth day of creation (one day after the Cedars were brought forth), was originally the equal of King Sun (Shemesh). But she sought to rule the sky, & to rule the Sun, thus God punished her, making the Sun master. Such Goddess usurpation myths occurred wherever goddess culture was supplanted by a preference for Her consort. The nostalgic myth further asserts that Israel's Golden Age, under Solomon, was the only time when the Sun & Moon regained their former equal brightness, when the Father & the Mother were in perfect accord receiving equal honors. In Kabbalah, the clearly non-monotheistic biblical verses that incite such myths are explained by making the Many Emanations of God our limited way of comprehending aspects of a One too vast for humanity to perceive in the entirety; & that is also why God has so many names that are plural, as is the case with Elohim ("gods") & Adonai ("Adonises"), or which are feminine plurals, as with Sabaoth or otherwise feminine like the preferred Aramaic name Shekhinah, God being thus simultaneously Earthmother. In ancient times it probably was just understood as a pantheon, period, though the notion of the process of emanation is very old in Sanskrit literature & not necessarily unknown to very ancient Semitic peoples.

A Cedar-goddess is alluded to in the Song of Songs. Of Her it is said, "If she is a Gate, we will enclose her with boards of cedar" [Song 8:9], from whence the midrash that presumes Paradise is enclosed in cedar. The cedar doors of a gate symbolized the vagina or entryway to the Earthmother's womb, & by extension any woman's womb, hence the phrases "the Gate of my mother's womb" [Job 2:10]; the Gate that seals the womb of the Sea [38:8]; or even the Gate of heaven [Psalm 78:23] — this last elaborating a very archaic belief that death is not permanent, because the spirits of the dead do not fully expire, they re-enter the womb of the Divine Mother, returning to the Source.

And it appears this gate was commonly associated with cedars. The word for "Gate" may be the same as the root-word in the name of Delilah. Delilah meant something akin to "She Is Written Things," relating to a later Greek word deltos, "writing tablet." It is no concidence that Dumuzi's sister Geshtinanna was scribe to the Hecate-like goddess Ereskigal; no more than it is coincidental that Geshtinanna was guardian of the gate of paradise called "the land of cedars" in the distant East, where the Sun dwelt at night. This eastern Land of Cedars has been identified with historical Elam, & as the original Garden of Eden, but it may also have been a place of the Underworld, where cedars of paradise are also said to grow in Jewish midrash.

A similar word found its way into Hebrew usage relating to sacred writings, as the tablet on which Baruch took Jeremiah's dictation was called delet [Jr 36:23], evidently a tablet that could be closed with two wooden flaps, as the usual meaning of delet is in fact "gate," through which the phallic writing utensil penetrates. Hence a name like Delilah was apropos of a kedeshah or Sacred Harlot; & the River of Kedesha ran through the largest & most famous of Cedar forests in ancient Lebanon. Delilah & the doomed Samson do resemble Anath & the doomed Baal, who was slain by the Death-god Mot & taken away to the land of death until Anath resurrected him. That Samson bears the name of a Sun-god is frequently noted. The episode in which Samson runs off with the bronze Gate of Geza symbolizes his conquest of the Sacred Harlot, though Samson's metal gate is called shaar, & Shahar was the Canaanite God of the Rising Sun, with rays of bronze, the same as Samson's magic hair. The cedar flaps of the writing tablet turned on a bronze pin, as the Gaza gates turned on bronze pillars, & the Cedar Gate is Delilah or Anath, & the Bronze Pillar is Samson or Gilgamesh or Baal. Or, among kabbalists, the active Divine Shekhinah & the restful Tiphereth.

Zephaniah alludes to this type of mythology of the cedar gate as vagina of the Great Mother when referring to the city of Ninevah in the hypostatic form of a great female. The name Ninevah is merely a rendering out of the Hebrew for Ninuah, Great Goddess of Assyria; the capitol city bore Her name exactly. When speaking of all the cruel acts God will impose on Her, including the laying bare of her cedars, the full context clearly indicates that God sexually rapes His enemy & leaves Her bereft & reviled by all who pass by & see Her in the extremes of Her disaster [Zeph 2:14-15]. And from Her unruly sex life, She that dwelleth in Lebanon is shamed, hiding among cedars screaming as She gives birth to illicit children [Jr 22:23]. For Yahweh, the breaking of cedars is the defeat of rivals of all sorts — nations, or rival divinities. Zechariah similarly personifies Lebanon as a wailing-woman (a role signal to the Goddess Anath who wailed over the death of Baal) whose cedar is devoured in fire — the other wailing-women included personified cypress trees that wailed for the destruction of this hypostatic goddess-like Lebanon cedar [Zech 11:2-3]. That Zechariah assumes this ruin of Lebanon is done through fire is a typical Yahwist cursing method of reversing the sacred things of rival deities to become their destruction; the Cedar-mother's brother-consort being a Fire-god, Storm-god, or the Sun, she must be destroyed by the very power She thought could protect her.

Other biblical lore asserts that Joshua annointed a book of prophesies with cedar oil; the throne of Nimrod was carved of a great cedar, later becoming the throne of Solomon; a cedar grew from Jacob's grave; & Noah's Ark was made of cedar. Jehoiachin believed that to "nest among cedars" would protect him against harsh judgement, perhaps again relating the Cedar to the Babylonian Sun-god Shamash who decided the punishment of the dead, & his bride Ah who spoke in defense of the soul. Psalm 92:12 says that because the Cedars of Lebanon were the most upright of trees, they symbolize all of Israel as the most upright of nations. This is why Ezekiel 17:22-23 speaks of God moving the Israelites into the promised land as though He had plucked cedars from the mountains to transplant them elsewhere.

Expanding on Psalm 104:16 which notes that God personally planted the first Cedars of Lebanon, & the "Cedar Gate" mythology cited above, midrash asserts God brought forth the Cedars on the third day of Creation. Those first cedars still stand, forming a living barrier between our world & that of Paradise; or, the walls of Paradise are made of glass & shingled with cedar planks; or the cedars God made on the third day were in a troubled time transplanted in Paradise, where they grew to such extravagant height their former enormity was by comparison the size of the legs of locusts. Philo of Alexandria said the Earth had long been pregnant with these cedars, & God caused them to be brought forth in their full glory, as from a mother in labor. This is reminiscent of Gaea bringing forth giants in their full maturity.

There are more myths still. Behemoth is a mighty land-animal grazing upon cedars, as cattle graze on grass, daily rendering bald another mountain in Lebanon. The Messiah dwells in Paradise upon a pallanquin made of cedar, lounging upon a purple seat (the cloth of which was woven by Eve) large enough for two, & Elijah sits with him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yellow Birch

birch tree Pictures, Images and Photos
Food: Broken twigs of the Yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis) and Black or Sweet birch (B. Nigra) have a wintergreen fragrance. A sap can be collected and boiled down from Yellow birch. From Black birch harvest the twigs, red inner bark and larger roots. The inner bark can be boiled or ground into a flour. Twigs and inner bark can be steeped into a tea. Wintergreen flavor is stronger in Black birch.

Medicine: Chippewa made a medicine from Black and White birch (B. papyrifera) for stomach pain.
birch leaf Pictures, Images and Photos

Technology: New England tribes used the bark of White or Paper Birch for many purposes. Large bark sheets were stripped from the tree in late spring to use as house coverings or to build canoes. Smaller pieces of bark were cut into patterns and used to make dishes and utensils, including seamless maple sap collecting dishes and maple sugar storage containers (makaks). The bark was also cut and folded to make baskets, fans and even tinder to fish by torchlight from canoes. Folding and biting single thin layers of the paper produced dental pictographs, or birch bark transparencies, that could be used for beadwork designs and patterns for other decorations.

Note: Indian legend surround the distinctive markings of the birch tree. The bark of this tree was never taken without acknowledgement its importance to Native Americans and without offering and thanks to the spirits that provide it. Read the Ojibwe story of Winnebojo & the Birch Tree. For additional information browse NativeTech's Uses of Birchbark.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Edible Wild Plants in Wisconsin

Wisconsin holds a vast variety of edible wild plants. From the uplands to the bottom lands and surrounding lake areas, edible plants thrive. Everything from berries, tubers, roots, nuts and greens flourish in Wisconsin. Before eating any type of wild plant, you will want to make sure it is edible. There are a bunch of plants that look just like their edible cousins but can make you ill if not kill you. Always carry a field guide of wild edibles when venturing into the wilds of Wisconsin.
Wild Currants Pictures, Images and Photos

There is a wealth of various berries growing in Wisconsin that you can eat. Gooseberry is a bush that grows 2- to 4-feet tall and has prickly branches with short clusters of flowers and fruits. They are found in the bottom lands, slopes and openings in the forest. The fruits can either be eaten raw or cooked. Currants grow on a bush that is 2- to 4-feet tall and is somewhat similar to the gooseberry bush but it lacks prickles. The fruits and flowers grow in elongated clusters and can be eaten raw or cooked. Elderberry is a bush that can grow to a height of 10 feet. The plant has broad clusters of flowers that are white and the fruits are purple to black in colorization. These plants can be found growing on the edges of swamps and along roadsides. The fruits can be eaten raw or cooked. The American cranberry grows on a bush that is just 8 to 12 inches in height. It has wiry, trailing stems that hold pink flowers and red berries. Blooming between June and October, it can be found in moist meadows and bogs. The berries can be eaten raw or cooked.
Green and Potherbs

wild lettuce Pictures, Images and Photos
Wild Lettuce grows anywhere from one to 10 feet in height with lance like leaves and yellow flowers. It blooms between July and September and can be found in open woods and meadows. The tender young leaves can be used just like lettuce. Dandelions can reach a height of 20 inches and have fluffy leaves and yellow flowers. This plant can be found almost anywhere within the state and blooms all year long. The flowers and leaves are edible raw or cooked. Spring Beauties grow to 10 inches tall. The plant has slightly succulent leaves and pink to white flowers on it. It can be found in meadows and woodlands. The corms resemble sweet potatoes and when boiled are said to taste like chestnuts. Curly Dock is a plant that can reach a height of 5 feet and has curled green and red flowers on it. It blooms from May through September and be found in fields and along roadsides. The leaves can be boiled like greens and the seeds can be ground and used like flour.
hazel tree Pictures, Images and Photos
The Hazel tree is prized for its sweet nuts. The tree can grow to 9 feet tall and has sharply toothed leaves and hairless fruits that are encased in tubular husks. The trees can be found in old fields and woodland clearings. Black Cherry trees can reach a height of 60 feet and are found on the edges of streams and fields. The flowers are malodorous and the fruits are bright red when ripe. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The American Plum tree can reach a height of 30 feet with leaves that are coarsely toothed. The fruits are dark red to purple in color and can be eaten raw or cooked. These trees can be found along the edges of streams or in fields.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Natural Beauty

Natural Beauty Pictures, Images and Photos
Exactly when, where and our human obsession with 'beauty' started is hard to say. Fact is, it has been around for a very, very long time. Remains of ancient perfumes, potions and make up have been found in Egyptian tombs and uses of beauty products in classical Greek and Roman times are well documented. But even 'tribal societies' have a well established tradition of skin care and cosmetic uses, though they may be less apparent, when viewed from our modern perspective.

In modern society the aim and purpose of using such products seem primarily to consist of making our appearance more attractive to the opposite sex. In ancient times however, people sought to make themselves more appealing to beneficial Gods and spirits, or attempted to ward off nasty demons.

Beauty is an ephemeral quality and since its inception it has always been a moot point. Culture and fashion greatly influence what we perceive as beautiful. In ancient Greece for example an un-oiled body was thought to be offensive to Gods and humans alike and olive oil was extensively used to make the body smooth and shiny. In other societies animal grease, such as bear fat was used to achieve a similar effect, but on a spiritual level, it was also thought to transfer some of the animal's perceived powers.

perfume testing (22K)All over the world good smells were believed to attract the benevolence of helpful deities, while bad smells were always associated with the Gods of the underworld, harmful demons, or later, the devil. Thus, people soon adopted the many wonderful fragrances of herbs and flowers to serve their own purposes. Flower garlands, head wreaths and armbands were not only meant to look pretty but also send fragrant messages to the spirit world. Likewise, 'make up' and body paint was not only used to enhance physical beauty, but also to protect against the much feared evil eye and other harmful influences. The same thinking motivates indigenous tribal people, who use face and body paints to ward of natural and supernatural enemies. Originally, such paints often really had protective qualities as they were made from herbs, roots and clays with anti-bacterial or anti-fungal properties, but even in ancient times minerals were discovered and utilized for cosmetic purposes which actually caused more harm than good for those who wore them.

perfumebottles (16K)Today cosmetics, perfumes and skin care products constitute multimillion dollar industries, presenting a staggering array of choices to confuse the customer. Whether you are looking for shampoo, lotion, make up or perfume, the variety is overwhelming. Much of it is full of synthetic chemicals, mineral oils, preservatives, artificial fragrances and other junk food for the skin. Latest arrival on the high-end of this dazzling range of products are the 'natural skin care products', although on closer inspection one will actually find relatively few ingredients that resemble anything that you or I would deem natural. This is due to the fact that mass produced cosmetics need to be relatively sterile in order to extend their otherwise short-lived shelf-life - which can only be achieved by using certain preservatives or mineral oils.

The best natural cosmetics are home-made, using high quality vegetable oils and butters, such as coconut, avocado or almond oil, in combination with organic flower waters (hydrosols) and essential oils. They should always be produced in small batches to ensure freshness and purity. Making home-made cosmetics, tailored exactly to your own needs is fun and not all that difficult.

In the case of lotions and crèmes, the idea is to combine a proportion of oil with a proportion of liquid, with the help of an emulsifying agent. In the old days this emulsifying wax was derived from whales, but nowadays animals no longer have to suffer for our vanity. Jojoba oil has excellent emulsifying properties and other plant based emulsifiers can be produced in the laboratory.

egyptian (51K)Just which oils, waxes and other ingredients are chosen to create a specific crème or lotion, will determine its nutritional properties for the skin (see previous article on oils). Some oils are 'drying' while others are moisturizing. Combining these with humectants such as vegetable glycerine or aloe Vera gel produces varying consistencies and benefits for the skin. The trick, when blending crèmes is to have all ingredients at a similar temperature so as to avoid curdling, and to combine them slowly. If you have ever made mayonnaise from scratch you know what it takes to make lotion or crème. Apart from the emulsifying wax, which blends the watery and oily components together, you will also need a stabilizer, such as stearic acid, which is added in very small quantities, to give you product a stable consistency. However, use it sparingly or else your crème will become chalky instead of smooth.

For those who don't want to mess with oils and waxes there are now ready made base crèmes on the market. These generic crème bases can be enhanced by adding special ingredients such as essential oils, infused oils or Aloe Vera gel. However, they can only absorb a limited amount of additional ingredients before they become unstable, so experiment carefully. The quality of such crème bases varies widely and most contain preservatives or alcohol, which increases their shelf-life and makes them less vulnerable to turning into a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. However, these chemicals are not all that great for the skin, so read the ingredients label carefully, and do your research. Making your own is definitely the best way to ensure highest quality. Producing only small batches means that you don't have to worry as much about shelf-life or bacteria, since your crème will probably be used up before it has had a chance to go rancid or mouldy.

Here is a basic recipe for a nice, light textured crème that is easy to make:
Base Crème

* 60 ml Rose Flower Water (hydrosol)
* 10 ml Apricot Oil
* 8 ml Jojoba Oil
* 8 ml Evening Primrose Oil
* 10g Shea Butter
* 8g Emulsifying Wax
* 2g Stearic Acid

Melt the Shea butter and oils at a low temperature in a double boiler. Pour into a bowl. Using a stick blender (alsoknown as 'magic wands') set at the highest speed, slowly add in the rosewater as you stir. The mixture will turn white and gooey. Add the emulsifying wax and stearic acid and keep beating until all is smooth and creamy. Finally, add essential oils of your choice (1-3% of total volume - but be sure to follow essential oil safety guidelines).

Often the emulsifying wax and stearic acid are of a consistency that requires you to return the mixture to the doubleboiler in order to melt them so they blend in. If you have to do this, do it before you add any essential oils. It is best to add the essential oils right at the end, when the crème base has cooled down to body temperatures, in order to avoid them 'flying off' with the heat - they are rather volatile, after all.

Which oils you'll want to use depends on your specific skin type. Some oils, particularly those that are high in unsaturated fatty acids (e.g. Evening Primrose, Hemp, Borage Seed oil) are usually only used in small quantities (10% of total amount), as nutritive additions, rather than as the main ingredient for your crème base. For a crème base stable oils, such as coconut, olive, almond or apricot oil are good. Some oils have a richer, thicker consistency than others. Experiment with different blends to find a combination that suits your skin type. You can also use infused oils, such as calendula infused oil, or St. John's Wort oil to add extra healing qualities. For the liquid portion plain distilled water will do, but hydrosols are nicer. Rosewater is slightly astringent, while Elderflower water is emollient and soothing and Orangewater is refreshing. Instead of shea butter you can also use cocoa butter for example. You can also add floral waxes, which are a by-product of essential oil production. However, they may contain traces of solvents.
Bath Salts

The cheapest and easiest method to create a home-made bath preparation is to use coarse salts, such as Epsom or Sea Salt. Crush to a grainy size (dissolves easier) and add a few drops of a gentle essential oil, such as rose, lavender or jasmine. Stir and blend well, fill in a jar and allow to macerate for a few days before use. Some people like to add food colouring to make it look more like the stuff you can buy at the store, but this is purely for looks. If you don't mind 'bits' floating in your bathtub you can add a handful of fresh fragrant rose petals or lavender flowers to the salt blend. The salt will dehydrate them and absorb their scent.
Bath Oil

Soaking in water for any length of times dehydrates the skin. Normally, the skin's natural oil secretions keep it from drying out, but frequent bathing and showering washes our natural protective layer off. You can replenish the lost oils by applying skin oils or lotions after each bath or shower, or you can use bathoils. Almond or coconut oil are good choices. Add some drops of essential oil for a beautiful scent and also add a little Turkey Red oil, which facilitates dispersion of the oil in your bath water.

If you don't like bath oils because they feel too greasy, but still want to add essential oils for the smell or for a specific therapeutic effect, you could try using plain milk (some people prefer goats milk), or cream as a dispersing carrier agent for your essential oils. A tiny blob of honey mixed in is also very nice and softening for the skin.
Hair Care

Making shampoo from scratch may be a bit ambitious, but there are certainly hair care products that can be made easily. These would better fit into the category of 'conditioner' though. A quick and easy conditioning can be made with Rosemary (dark hair) or Chamomile (blond hair). Just make an herbal infusion as if you were making a strong tea, steep until cooled off, strain and use as a rinse.

To nourish brittle and stressed hair, an oil pack is good, but be warned - this is a greasy affair. Jojoba oil or coconut oil is excellent for this treatment. Take a little oil and massage well into the hair. Cover with a plastic bag and leave in place for a while to allow the oils to really penetrate the hair. Wash out and rinse as usual. Don't overdo it with the oils though as it can be quite tricky to get all the oil out. Aloe Vera gel also makes a good conditioner. It can be diluted with a hydrosol or used neat. It has the added benefit of aiding skin conditions such as dandruff.

These are just a few suggestions. The scope for making your own natural skin and hair care products is only limited by your imagination. From simple to elaborate, anything is possible and you can be sure that whatever you make at home is much better for your skin than whatever you could buy at a store - and compared price-wise, high quality home made cosmetics, although requiring a certain minimum investment for equipment and materials, still work out much less expensive than top of the line commercially available natural cosmetics. And better still - if you make a little extra you'll always have beautiful gifts to share with your friends.

Note: Be aware that some essential oils can be highly irritating or cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Always investigate essential oils thoroughly before using them on your skin and only use them in dilution. It is best to test a dilution on a small area of the inner arm first, before applying them more generally. Furthermore, some essential oils (e.g. oils of the Citrus family) can increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun's rays, making it prone to burn more easily. Thus they should not be used on exposed skin during the summer months. Also, be especially cautious with essential oils during pregnancy.