The Conjure Woman

The Conjure Woman
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Proverbs from The Isle of Man


 The pot shouldn't call the kettle black.

Don't go to goats for wool.

Don't tell me who I was but who I am.

Hills can be green ahead of you but baren when you reach them.

To you as you deserve.

He who is not kind to his horse will carry the saddle on his own back.

It's not the man who has little who is poor but the man who wants more.

Empty vessels make the most noise.

Do not judge until you've listened with each ear.

There's much difference between saying and doing.

It's best to quit while you're ahead.

Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.

Wisdom is folly unless a wise man keeps it.

A liar will not be believed though he speaks the truth.

He who lies down with dogs will get up with fleas.

He who hatches tales will be caught by tales.

A wise man makes a friend of an enemy.

A stitch in time saves nine.

A bad reaper never got a good sickle.

Blood is thicker than water.

There is no man so deaf as he who will not hear.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Few Curious Native American Masks

Yupik Shaman
Inuit
Kwekwe

Tinigit Talking Man

Tsonokwa

Lamar Weeping Eye Mask
Ohio
Navajo

Navajo



Native American Proverbs

Native American Museum, Washington, D.C.
"All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With our eyes we see two things, things that are fair and things that are ugly.... We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way, the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two."  - Eagle Chief (Letakos-Lesa) Pawnee

Day and night cannot dwell together. - Duwamish

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. - Blackfoot

A pearl is worthless as long as it is in its shell.

All dreams spin out from the same web. - Hopi

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave. - Dakota

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. - Cherokee

The coward shoots with shut eyes. - Oklahoma

As you go the way of life you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.

It is easy to be brave from a distance. - Omaha

Those who have one foot in the canoe, and one foot in the boat, are going to fall into the river. - Tuscarora

It is not enough for a man to know how to ride, he must also know how to fall.

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. - Apache

Each person is his own judge. - Pima

Don't let yesterday use up too much of today. - Cherokee

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yoruself. - Minquass

They are not dead who live in the hearts they leave behind. - Tuscarora

A man must make his own arrows. - Winnebago

Listen or your tongue will keep you deaf. - Cherokee
The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.

You can't wake a person who is pretending to be asleep. - Navajo


Thursday, November 4, 2010

How to Make Hex Signs


The origin of  the word 'Hex', to describe these often brightly painted signs is of disputed origin. Some claim it's root is the German "Hexe"/Dutch "Heks", which means witch. Some claim that it derived instead from the word "sechs", which means six. They are believed to have originated in the practice of painting runes on buildings in Europe. Hex signs also believed to be derived in part from Frakturs, documents used to keep track of family histories that were decorated with many symbols found in the signs today, like tulips and birds.

Hex signs adorned not only barns but birth certificates, gravestones, furniture, pottery and textiles.  Each design a sort of painted prayer, with the intent of bringing the ideas expressed in them from the spiritual into the physical realm. In general, they were thought to keep away bad spirits and brought good luck, particularly for crops and livestock. It was common practice to say a blessing over the Hex sign after it was painted.

Distelfinks


Some Common Hex Designs:
 
Rosette: to keep away bad luck and evil.

Eight Pointed Star: goodwill.

Double Eagle: strength and courage.

Daddy Hex: double luck - an outer Rosette with 12 petals, smaller for added luck at difficult times.

Triple Star: good luck and happiness.

Tree of Life: love, happiness, God's abundance.
 

Daddy Hex

Some Symbols and Meanings in Hex Signs: 


Birds of Paradise - the deep beauty and profound wonder of life.


Circle - eternity.
 
Crescent Moon- the seasons.

Distelfink - luck, joy; 2 crossing one another, friendship; 2 double luck.

Doves - friendship, peace, joy

Eagle - strength, bravery, clarity 

Heart - love from God, the source of all love; lace around the heart represents marital love

Horse Head - (in a star) protection from lightening, protection of livestock

Maple Leaf - contentment

Oak Leaf - endurance

Pineapple - welcome

Raindrops - abundance, fertility

Scallops - ocean waves, smooth sailing 

Stars -in general good luck, hope, love, peace, energy, 4 points - bright days, 5 points - protection against fire and lightning, protection for animals, 8 points - (most often blue) good omens, light, protection.

Sun Wheel - fertility

Tulips- 3 represent the Trinity and faith, hope, charity; trust in both yourself and your fellow man

Wheat - abundance

Triple Star


Colors and Meanings

Black - protection, binding symbols together

Blue - protection, peace, spiritual strength

Brown - earth, friendship, strength; a brown ring, as above, represents the cycle of life

Green - success, ideas 

Orange - abundance in things that have been lacking

Red - passion, creativity

Violet - indicates things that are held sacred

White - purity, the moon

Yellow - health, connection to God

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vodun, Root of Voodoo an Introduction

Ancestor Spirit Sculpture, Dominican Republic
Voodoo, a religion found in some parts of the American South as well as other parts of the world, has it's origins in the West African religion, Vodun. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, living religions in the world, (6,000 years). Many negative myths swirl around Voodoo but these are largely the product of racist stereotypes and/or fear of the mysterious power that does, indeed seem to permeate the practice.

At the center of Vodun are spirits and elemental forces which are believed to rule the earth. It is, however, a monotheistic religion. The creator God, Mawu or Nana Buluku is dualistic, with a male aspect, Mawu, (the Moon), and female aspect, Lisa, (the Sun). These are often depicted as the primary diety's twin children.

There are also Vodun, deities who rule the forces of nature, society and who are the forces behind nature, (streams, trees, rocks). The creator God is not viewed as a being who involves itself with human beings. The Vodun, however, are extremely involved with us. This is somewhat similar to the role played by Saints and Angels in Catholicism.

Vodun has a large pantheon, encompasing a number of traditions. In one of these, primary deities are the seven children of Mawu, who are associated with several tribes, occurrences in nature and historical and mythical people. There are also Vodun associated with different tribes, clans and countries.

In Vodun, everything in the natural world is believed to be part of God. It is a pantheistic religion, believing that all things in nature therefore contain divine power. Mundane objects, as well as powerful plants and herbs, are therefore often considered to be of great significance and play a large part in religious ritual.

The main emphasis of Vodun is on ancestors. Spirits are grouped into families, each with their own priestesshood. The role of priestess is often a hereditary one. Both priestesses/priests and practitioners are believed to become possessed by the spirits routinely during ceremonies. Dancing, drumming and animal sacrifice are central practices.

Essentially, the idea is that the spirits/ancestors/elemental forces are constantly with us, not distant and apart as many religions view their pantheons. They can join us in conversation, dancing, even eating, drinking and smoking and, in Vodun and it's various off-shoots often do. It is important, however, not to anger them. So sacrifices and offerings are made to them and their advice or direction is considered best heeded.

It is believed that the will of the spirits can be seen in everyday occurrences and events. When good things happen, it can be assumed that their will is being followed and/or what they have been asked for has been given and they have been appropriately thanked. When bad things happen, the opposite can be inferred.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Folk Remedies

Hex Sign, 'Rain That Refreshes'

HEADACHE

1. Wear rattlesnake rattles in the band of your hat.
2. If you walk in the rain in the dog days of Summer, you're sure to get headaches! The way to cure this specific type is to wrap a halter or rope someone was hung with around your head. One used in a suicide has the most power.
 3. Repeatedly dip your hand in cold water, rub it all around your head, shaking the water off your hand each time you put it back in. Never let the water stay on your hand after its' gone over your head or the headache will remain, the object is to put it back into the water. 
4. Wet your finger and run it across the threshold of your house in the form of a cross then put the dust in small dots on your temples.
5. Put a lock of your hair under a stone and be sure not to mention either for one week.
6. Wear a match in your hair.
7. Sleep with your head towards the East.
8. It was believed by some that headaches were caused when birds made nests with the person's hair, burning hair after it's cut was believed to be the way to cure this. 
9. Kill a snake and wrap it around your head.
10. To cure a headache that's a byproduct of the evil eye, put a needle in the hem of your clothes. 
11. Take a live frog and tie it to your head, keeping it there till it dies.

STOMACHACHE
 1. Put a hawk skin on your stomach.
2. Hang a pair of your pants upside down.
3. Crawl around the legs of a ten legged table three times.
4. Drink water 3 flies have been boiled in.
5. Wear a cotton bag around your big toe, then burn it.
6. Burn out an owl’s nest on a mountain, then eat fruit out of it, the smoke from the burning owls will enter the fruit and cure the stomachache.
7. Fumigate your house with sulpher.
8. Rub an old bone on a stone.
9. Apply the contents of wolf’s stomach or the flesh, bones and hide of a goat to your stomach; or, drink the blood of a freshly killed goat.
10. Put a frog on your stomach.
11. Roll over a barrel until you feel better.
12. Eat dried bear stomach.
13. Think of the one you love best, your stomachache go away and she will ache for you.
14. Dig a hole in the ground. If you can spit in it from 3 feet away your stomach won't hurt anymore.

EARACHE

1. Spit under a rock, put the rock back and stand there for a few seconds, as still as you can.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Beautiful Navajo Healing Prayer I Came Across - Night Chant


Images From Navajo Sand Paintings/Healing Ritual
This is part of the Navajo Night Chant Ceremony, to restore those who have broken the rules of their ancestors to the correct ancestral path, among other things. More about the ceremony coming soon. For detailed info about the Navajo Night Chant the best link I've found is here.
















From a Navajo Chief's Blanket

Tségihi,

House made of dawn.
House made of evening light.
House made of the dark cloud.
House made of male rain.
House made of dark mist.
House made of female rain.
House made of pollen.
House made of grasshoppers.

Dark cloud is at the door.
The trail out of it is dark cloud.
The zigzag lightning stands high upon it.

Male deity!
Your offering I make.

I have prepared a smoke for you.

Restore my feet for me.
Restore my legs for me.
Restore my body for me.
Restore my mind for me.

This very day take out your spell for me.
Your spell remove for me.
You have taken it away for me.
Far off it has gone.

Happily I recover.
Happily my interior becomes cool.
Happily I go forth.

Navajo Blanket With Storm Symbols

My interior feeling cool, may I walk.
No longer sore, may I walk.
Impervious to pain, may I walk.
With lively feeling may I walk.
As it used to be long ago, may I walk.

Happily may I walk.
Happily, with abundant dark clouds, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant showers, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant plants, may I walk.
Happily, on a trail of pollen, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.

Being as it used to be long ago, may I walk.




May it be beautiful before me
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.

With it be beautiful all around me.

In beauty it is finished

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Mythos of Santeria, an Interview With Ochani Lele


The recording of oral tradition is something that has always fascenated me, both as a Religious Studies student and folklorist. In Richmond, Virginia native Ochani Lele's new book, Teachings of the Santeria Gods some of the mythos of Santeria are put into writing for the first time. This important and doubtless daunting task has been admirably undertaken and beautifully translated for us by the author. Learn more about him and his other books at his Amazon Page.


Q: First, Ócháni, I would like to thank you for taking time to talk to both myself and my readers. You’ve just released a book titled Teachings of the Santería Gods through your publisher Destiny Books. It focuses on the sacred stories of the religion Santería. Before we talk about that book, I’m hoping you can educate us about that religion.

A: Santería is a misnomer that has stuck over the past century or so. We know ourselves as Lucumí. It is a religion that comes from the Yoruba territories of Nigeria, specifically ancient Oyó and its surrounding tributaries. Slavery decimated that region in the 1800s, and the bulk of Oyó natives came to either Cuba or Brazil in chains.

They brought with them the worship of their Orishas, or demi-gods for lack of an adequate English word, to the New World. Through Cuban Cabildo Societies the worship of the Orishas was saved in Cuba, although it was hidden behind the worship of the Catholic Saints. It is this Catholic facade that led to Yoruba Orisha worship being called “Santeria;” the slave owners thought their slaves were worshipping the saints, when in fact they were just using those icons as masks for their own gods.

Q: So many people have a scary perception of Santería and what Santeros do. How different is the religion from the perception people have?

A: The uneducated perceptions and the reality of the religion are as different as night and day. For some reason people portray us as “chicken killers.” Of course they say this after gorging themselves on more meat in one sitting than any one person needs to eat in a week! But forget the hypocrisy of the “chicken killer” statement by people who use modern medicine, eat meat-laden diets, and carry leather handbags while wearing leather shoes!

The truth is that sacrifice is only a very small part of the faith, but it’s one that feeds fear so it’s given too much emphasis. The reality of the religion is that it’s quite beautiful. I like to compare things unknown to things known, so think of the Hindu faith but with Afro-Cuban flavor – take away the curry and add sofrito with plenty of sazón!

We are a religion with a very intricate pantheon that many refer to as diffused monotheism: We believe in one God, Olódumare, with many smaller extensions, known as the Orishas. Our shrines for each Orisha are so elaborate that it is not unusual for a priest to have one or more rooms dedicated to their Orishas; and even then, they still spill over into the rest of the home.

We also have an extensive catalogue of songs and prayers used to worship each Orisha, and a sacred drum known as the Batá. Did you know that the African batá rhythms influence almost every genre of music in Latin American culture? I bet you didn’t!

More importantly, we have two intricate holy books, oral though they may be, known as the Diloggún and Ifá. My work as a writer focuses on the Diloggún. Sometimes the two overlap, but more often than not they diverge. While the Diloggún can be used as a system of divination, it is also a system that catalogues thousands upon thousands of Patakís, sacred stories that tell us of creation, the Orishas, the Odu, and men and women who lived and died by their worship.

Q: And your current book, Teachings of the Santería Gods, focuses on them – the Patakís, or sacred stories of the Diloggún?

A: Yes, it does.

Q: What inspired you to write it and how did you chose the stories?

A: It was a difficult process. When I planned my work initially, I envisioned a set of 16 books, each dedicated to one family of Odu. I wanted to write a book of Patakís for the parent and composite Odu of Okana, one for the parent and composites of Eji Oko, one for the parent and composites of Ogundá, and so forth. Each volume would have been the size of my previous work, The Diloggún, which was roughly 400,000 words, (give or take a few thousand). Even in a work of that size, I would have to be selective. The number of Patakís found in each Odu is legion.

Unfortunately, I presented my proposal and sample manuscript after the recession hit. Publishing models were changing and works the size of The Diloggún no longer fit in with those models. The publisher really wanted the books, but asked me to start by writing a single book. That single book had an allotment of roughly 65,000 words. I was devastated.

When the contract arrived the devastation didn’t last long. As I rewrote within the publisher’s contracted length, I discovered that there was both wisdom and beauty in brevity. I reread both works dealing with diloggún as a system of divination, The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination and The Diloggún. In the pages of both books patakís were mentioned but not detailed, and those were the first ones I included in Teachings of the Santería Gods.

After transcribing those, I went back through my collection of notes and picked the ones best illustrative of themes I wrote about in my previous two books. Following that logic made inclusion of appropriate patakís simple, and when I was done I was proud of the collection. Not only do I feel that they are best illustrative of the parent odu, but also I feel it is some of my best work. Even better – most of the stories are not well known, so the book will be a process of discovery and learning for readers.

Q: How do the parables relate to life today?

A: At their core the stories speak of ethics, ethical behavior, and morals. They speak of a nation’s search for God and the divine; and they represent a culture’s yearning to make sense of the world around them. They are also entertaining, dramas reflecting conflicts we still face in the modern world. I don’t think any of these stories, while ancient, can be referred to as out of touch with the modern world. Truly there is nothing new under the sun—everything is recycled as each generation evolves.

Divination in Santeria, An Interview with Ochani Lele Part 2


Q: How do the stories in your new book, Teachings of the Santeria Gods elate to divination?

A: These stories and their accompanying proverbs are the bulk of what the odu of the diloggún are. They relate to divination because it is by the diviner’s interpretation of them, and the character or characters that might represent the client in the stories, that he interprets that Odu that has fallen. One can memorize tons of “meanings” for each sign, but without the knowledge of the Patakís from which those meanings are derived, they become something stagnant and sterile. Knowledge of Patakís increases the diviner’s understanding of the sacred energies invoked in a divination session.

Q: How does divination in Santeria differ from say, Tarot, Runes or I Ching?

A: The Diloggún, Tarot, and I Ching share one thing in common: they are systems of divination whose goal is to shed light on the uncertain – that uncertainty being the future. The Diloggún and I Ching share another similarity – they are a part of a region’s native spirituality. All similarities, however, end there. The Diloggún not only tells us the future, it also tells us how to change the future that is coming if it is something dark and dangerous.

It does this by identifying the Orishas with whom we resonate, and the Orishas to whom we must make Ebó to succeed in life. The Diloggún gives us proverbs upon which to meditate and stories through which we unravel our place in the universe. And while work with Tarot and I Ching can be performed outside of a religious system, the Diloggún is the oracle of the Orishas. It is impossible to separate it from the spirituality that nourished it. This, I think, is the greatest difference between these three systems.

Q: What role does divination play in Santeria?

A: Divination is one half of the religion, the second half being worship; and both are inseperable. Worship of the Orishas takes many forms. There is the worship given daily in the home by the Priest and Aborisha alike, the pouring of water and giving of prayers recited to Olódumare, Elegguá, Egun, (the dead) and one’s guardian orisha. Done to cool the divinities, they, in turn, cool the worshiper so that the day is blessed.

There is the weekly worship of Elegguá, fate, destiny, the opener of all roads; on Mondays, he is propitiated and plied with offerings of wine, rum, and cigars. There is the weekly worship of one’s patron when he or she is refreshed with special oils, prayers, and libations. Orisha Priests and Priestesses will present a wide array of meats, drinks, and thanksgiving offerings throughout the year on behalf of other aleyos and initiates.

Votive offerings are made infrequently, as are propitiatory sacrifices. Finally, there is the yearly or anniversary offering of the Ilé when initiates and godchildren come together to drum, dance, chant, and sing on the holy day of any one Spirit. Worship easily becomes a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly affair for the faith’s adherents.

The second aspect of Santería, divination, is grossly misunderstood, sometimes even by those who adhere to its practices. People in all ages and cultures have sought shades of the future, desiring knowledge of what is to come. Indigenous pagan practices have always incorporated the art of divination in their religions; from the Greek oracle at Delphi to the Ogham of the Celts, its arts were a part of, and not separated from, religion.

In today’s New Age movement, however, divination is often an act performed outside one’s spiritual faith. No longer are gods, goddesses, or spirits consulted. Some patronize fortune-tellers and psychics, hoping to glean the inner intentions of a lost, forlorn lover, while others seek a quick peek at career and prosperity goals.

There are those who use “spirit guides” in their consultations. Although this is closer to those African spiritual systems that survived in the Mother Continent, many still credit the entire act of divining to the auspices of the higher, inner self; and this is anathema to African beliefs.
Simply, at its core divination tells us how to best worship the orishas, and that worship then fulfills the divination done. It is an active, never ending process for those in the faith.

"When my head is on my shoulders, my feet in salty water, and my thoughts extend beyond the horizon, there is no doubt in my mind that I stand facing the ocean." From the Odu Unle Meji.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Zen Quotes by Sun Sign

Zodiac Mosaic of Beth Alpha synagogue


Aries


"Move and the way will open." - Zen Proverb

"And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot

"Nothing is more real than nothing." Samuel Beckett

"And if there is not any such thing as a long time, nor the rest of your lives, nor from now on, but there is only now, why then now is the thing to praise and I am very happy with it." Ernest Hemingway

Taurus

"Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine" - Shunryu Suzuk

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." - Shakespeare

"In singing and dancing is the voice of the law." Hakuin

"The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing." John Muir

Gemini

"If you are in the future, then ego seems to be very substantial. If you are in the present the ego is a mirage, it starts disappearing." - Osho

"The two exist because of the One, But hold not even to this One.." Hsin-hsin ming

"The reverse side also has a reverse side" - Japanese Proverb

"In the sun
the butterfly wings
like a church window." Jack Kerouac

Cancer

"When there is no place that you have decided to call your own, then no matter where you go, you are always heading home." - Muso Soseki

"All the fish needs is to get lost in water. All man needs is to get lost in Tao." Chuang-Tzu

"Things are always changing, so nothing can be yours." Shunryu Suzuki

"The knowledge beyond the knowledge is my knowledge." Kabir

Leo

"Be careful how you interpret the world: it is like that." Erich Heller

"We feel and know that we are eternal." Edmund Spenser

"A gloss on Descartes: Sometimes I think: and sometimes I am." Paul Valery

Zen Quotes by Sun Sign

Full Zodiac Mosaic from Beth Alpha Synagogue

Virgo

"Teach us delight in simple things, and mirth that has no bitter springs." Rudyard Kipling

"They arise spontaneously, the principles of all things. Water need not think to offer itself as a home for clear moonlight." Sogi

"Every situation, every moment is of infinite worth for it is representative of a whole eternity." John Wolfgang von Goethe

Libra

"The Truth is perfect like the vastness of space, With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous." Hsin-hsin ming

"Today is absolutely today. Today is not yesterday. Today is not tomorrow." - Ogui

"Do not conquer the world with force, force only causes resistance. Years of misery follow a great victory." Lao Tze

"When we return to the root, we gain the meaning. When we pursue the external objects, we lose the purpose. The moment we are enlightened within, We go beyond the voidness of a world confronting us." Hsin-hsin ming

Scorpio

"Those who know don't tell and those who tell don't know." - Zen Proverb

"When you seek it, you cannot find it." - Zen Proverb

"Who is it that hears this?" Bassui's "Essential Zen"

"It is the stars not known to science that I would know, the stars which the lonely traveler knows." Henry David Thoreau

Sagittarius

"Seize from every moment its unique novelty and do not prepare your joys." - Andre Gide

"The infinite is the infinite of every instant." - Zen Proverb

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure." - Helen Keller

"Not to be bound by rules, but to be creating one's own rules--this is the kind of life which Zen is trying to have us live." - D. T. Suzuki

Capricorn

"Do not entertain hopes for realization, but practice all your life." - Milarepa

"There is nothing left to you at this moment but to have a good laugh." - Zen Master

"The believer is happy. The doubter is wise." Greek Proverb

"Bellygoat boom
At ache of
Day bang." Jack Kerouac

Aquarius

"Life, according to Zen, ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air, or as a fish swims in the water." - D. T. Suzuki

"First thought, best thought." Zen saying

"Read not the times, read the eternities." Henry David Thoreau

"Wherever you are is the entry point." Kabir

Pisces

"Who is awake and who is asleep? Lalla

"This sounds an extraordinary statement to make, but in fact all truth is very ordinary. It is peoples' fantasies of what is true that is so extraordinary." - Brian Perkins

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller

"If you understand, things are just as they are... If you do not understand, things are just as they are." - Zen Saying

"Often I am still listening when the song is over." - Marquis de Saint-Lambert

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Eight Immortals in Chinese Myth


Originally published at BellaOnline Mythology

The Eight Immortals are a group of legendary men who transcended earthly life and gained other-worldly powers, including immortality. They have both life giving and destroying force that Taoists believe can be channelled by devotees. They play an important role in both Taoism and in secular Chinese Culture and function in ways similar to Catholic Saints.

CAO-GUOJIU This patron of actors and performance was the brother of a Song Dynasty Empress. Disgusted with rampant corruption in court, he left for the mountains and became a hermit. There he met Lu-Dongbin, who taught him Taoism and made him one of the immortals.
HAN-XIANGZI This philospher and patron of the middle class is said to have fallen upwards out of the sacred peach tree of immortality, aquiring the gift as he grabbed a branch. 
HE-XIANGU This patron of virgins, cooking and housekeeping found a piece of the tree of immortality and mixed it into a powder, then drank it. She soon discovered she could fly and ultimately joined other immortals. 
LAN-CAIHE Patron of the poor, this effeminate, often drunk beggar and herb seller was rewarded with immortality after nursing a crippled beggar back to health.

LI-TIEGUAI This patron of the sick, known as "Li with the Iron Crutch", learned the secrets of immortality when his spirit floated from his body to visit Lao-Zi. Discovering upon return that he'd been cremated, he replaced his body with a dead lame beggar he found in a ditch.

LU-DONGBIN From a royal family, this patron of scholars was given a magic sword by a dragon. After dreaming that he would be killed by bandits, he adopted Taoism to escape the fate. Ultimately he became friends with ZHONG-LIQUAN and became immortal himself.

ZHANG-GUOLAO Associated with oragami because he rides a magic donkey he can fold up like a piece of paper,  Zhang-Guola, patron of the elderly, became immortal when he refused to die.
ZHONG-LIQUAN Patron of military operations, this hermetic alchemist became immortal when an explosion during one of his experiments revealed the Elixer of Life.

How to Meditate, An Interview With Stephanie Clement


Originally published at BellaOnline Mythology

Stephanie Clement is an Astrologer and author of many books, including Meditation for Beginners

Q: You've written a wonderful book, "Meditation for Beginners" that makes Meditation, something
often difficult for Westerners to understand and apply, very accessable. I'm curious about how you reached such an understanding. How, for example, did you learn to meditate?
A: I don't know when I first learned to meditate. I recall times in church during silent prayer and vigils that seemed like meditation, but were certainly not called meditation.

 My son and I took Aikido lessons together for years, and our teacher taught us Ki meditation. I also had formal instruction in meditation when I worked at The Naropa Institute, (now Naropa University), in Boulder. These three methods are quite different from each other.

Q: Why do you feel meditation is important? What are the benefits? What's the point?

A: For me personally, meditation calms my mind. Like everyone, my mind is continually working, and sometimes that work is counter-productive. Meditation helps me to clear my mind so that I can be more productive.

There are also physical benefits, such as improved breathing technique, better lung capacity, slowing the heart rate, controlling blood pressure, to name a few. If I didn't get any other benefit, clearing the mind would be a plenty good reason to meditate.

Q: Is meditation a practical, everyday thing that people can do? Does one always have to be sitting, breathing or chanting a certain way?
A: Meditation can be done just about anywhere. Of course, I don't recommend it while driving, using sharp implements, or in other situations that could be dangerous.

You don't have to sit a certain way, (I have never been able to sit in full lotus position), but you will want to be consistent in whatever method you choose. My consistent factor is paying attention to my breath.

My teachers said to follow the outward breath, and allow the inward breath the happen naturally. In Ki meditation, we learned to slow the breathing cycle, and to breathe very deeply. This technique is useful for any task that requires steadiness because steady breathing creates steadiness elsewhere in the body.

When I do walking meditation, I tend to breathe in for a certain number of steps, and then breathe out for a certain number. But don't let the counting become the focus!

Q: If we do this, how long will it take before we begin seeing and/or experiencing results from meditation? What will these be?

A: Many people experience the general calming effect almost immediately. In addition, with practice the calming occurs within just a few minutes. Most people can sense, if not actually track, the slowing if the pulse and the relaxation associated with slightly lower blood pressure.

This could take a bit more time to occur, but within a week of short daily meditations, you will begin to feel the general relaxation. If your meditation involves walking, yoga, or other movement, you will also feel a sense of greater confidence in the movement as you practice, and you will also develop greater strength.

This level of change depends on how long you meditate each day, and how strenuous the yoga practice is. When I was learning kundalini yoga, it took several months to get strong enough to complete many of the asanas, and some I never mastered to any degree. I did get stronger, though, and my endurance improved.

Q: What can we expect to experience when we meditate?

A: This depends on what style of meditation you choose. In sitting meditation, you may experience both a relaxation of mind and body, and from time to time, the stiffness that results from sitting still. Sometimes a foot or leg will go to sleep, so it is always a good idea to get up slowly and test your balance.

You may experience the repetitive quality of your thoughts. When this happens, you can simply return to the meditation, following the breath or focusing on the yoga, or whatever is appropriate.

Eventually you will experience gaps, during which you seem to have no thoughts. This can be startling at first, but it is a natural outcome of meditation. If there is a gap, there is room for a new insight.

Q: What are 'altered states of consciousness'? Does that mean we see things when we meditate? Will we always walk around in an 'altered state' once we reach one?
A: My hypnotherapy teacher said that we are all in an altered state of consciousness moment to moment. Each time I respond to a new question in this interview, my state of consciousness changes.

Some people do "see" things differently, or hear things. Sometimes it seems like normal sounds recede from awareness. In meditation, sensations arise and shift.

Occasionally people see what I call waking visions. These often have a dream-like quality, but seem quite solid and real. When intuition is active, you may have sudden insights or answers to questions that you have been unable to resolve.

Q: Most of us feel we already don't have enough time to do everything we need to do, how can we find time to meditate? Doesn't it take a long time? Do we have to do it every day?


A: Yes, meditation is best done every day. You can start with as little as five minutes. We can all find five minutes a day to just sit, or just follow our breathing while in the shower, or focus while we are walking.

The five minutes may eventually expand, or it may not. It doesn't matter. Some days I spend more time, and others less. The focus and attention are more significant than the amount of time spent.

Q: How can meditation be used for self-discovery? Can it also be a self-help tool?

A: Meditation is a good self-help tool. First, it inspires a certain degree of self discipline, you do it every day. It also means that for a few minutes each day, you are doing something by yourself, for yourself. Even if you do meditation with a group, it is essentially a solitary activity, and it is for yourself.

The self-help or exploration occurs naturally. You become oh, so familiar with your discursive thoughts! You begin to see how yur mind really works when you are not paying attention, and you may find that your general habits change somewhat as a result.

I found that meditation was a good way to pay attention to my intuition. by paying attention, you honor that capacity in yourself, and you find that intuition then comes more easily. The same is true of any skill -- if you pay attention, you develop greater skill, and mediation helps.
Q: Can meditation really 'enlighten' me in the Nirvana sense? Is that something a beginner should even try to think about?

A: Hmmm ... Enlightenment is both elusive and subjective. One day I feel somewhat enlightened and self-realized. Another day I feel so ordinary!

The Buddha himself meditated until he realized the true nature of existence. While he was an extraordinary person, he was human. We all can come closer to self-realization if we are seeking to do so, and meditation is a component of my path, certainly.

Some teachers say that it only takes a moment to become enlightened. My sense is that there is a catch, you have to be aware when that moment comes. Hence the practice of meditation to help you develop awareness and clarity of mind.

Q: There are several kinds of meditation, how do we know which is right for us individually? They all seem so different.

A: I recommend trying different styles of meditation to see what feels right for you. If you are limber as a noodle, then yoga will be fun. If not, you can try something that provides structure without also causing too much pain.

If you can't walk, then sit. If you can't sit easily, then walk. Even reclining or lying flat works, although I find that I go to sleep if I lie down.

Q: Is meditation like dreaming?

I don't find meditation to be like dreaming. I do occasionally see images that resemble dream images in the fact that they are not material. Meditation is a conscious, waking activity, and dreams occur during sleep, which is defined as a less conscious state.

The kind of intuitive insight that I sometimes experience is also not like a dream, although I sometimes wake up with a similar Aha! experience. This suggests that intuition does arise through dreams.

Q: Can meditation improve our health? If so, how?

A: Meditation can improve your health. You will notice that your breath deepens and lung capacity may increase, or at least you experience fuller lung capacity. Many of us use only the top portion of our lungs, and meditation on the breath helps to expand the use to the lower lungs. I imagine breathing all the way into my belly, particularly in specific yoga asanas.

The capacity to relax become a natural outcome of meditation. Then in extremely tense situation, you can do what you do when meditating and cause relaxation to occur. You have trained yourself to relax, your body remembers, and cam relax more or less on demand. I have heard and said, "Take a deep breath," so many times that now it automatically results in a relaxation of the diaphragm, and a more general relaxation as well.

I have already mentioned slowing the pulse, lowering blood pressure, and hinted at the relaxation of tense muscles. Meditation allows a few minutes each day for the body to do what it is supposed to do naturally, instead of what we push it to do. That is healthy.

Q: Tell us, more specifically, how your book, "Meditation for Beginners" can serve as a practical guide for all of this.

A: "Meditation for Beginners" was written for people who have never tried any systematic meditation, or who don't know what will work for them. There are numerous exercises throughout the book to help the reader try out different techniques, and to get a glimpse of what meditation can be like.

Many people can't go to a meditation center for lessons, and this book provides suggestions that are safe, relatively easy, and require almost no equipment except comfortable clothing. My granddaughter showed us, when she was only five, that her body knows exactly how to sit properly and meditate. My grandmother, when she was quite elderly, spent time very day (in quiet thought, she would have said).

We can all do this, and if fact we all do meditate. We just don't call the activity meditation. Orderly daily meditation is a valuable practice that makes life, for me, more peaceful.

Orpheus Descending


Originally published at BellaOnline Mythology.

This is the story of the tragic fate of Orpheus and Euridice.

Once upon a time in Greece, there were 9 Muses. They were all extremely beautiful, the daughters of Zeus and his mistress Mnemosyne. Each was patron to an art. One of these was Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. It was she who inspired Homer to write the Iliad and Odyssey. She was also the mother of Orpheus, a boy who sang the most beautiful ever heard.

Though human, he lived with the Muses until he was a boy. He then came to Thrace, where hsi father had been a king. A raging battle was being waged. When Orpheus sang, the warriors couldn't help but stop fighting to listen to it. It was said that no one could be angry when he sang, his voice was so enchanting.

He fell in love with and married Euridice, a girl from a noble family. It is said that he sang so beautifully on their wedding day that Mother Nature herself stood still to hear it.

All too soon, tragedy befell them. As Euradice danced to his tunes, she stepped on a venemous snake and died on the spot. Hermes took her to Hades, the land of the dead.

He was so sad that Orpheus couldn't sing any more. This made every person on earth sad, because his music was so beautiful. But he loved Euridice too much to even care if all the world had a broken heart. He wandered the earth crying until he found the gate that led down the dark and dubious path to the land of the dead. No one, no mortal anyway, had ever dared walked the path to the land of the dead, but Orpheus did because he loved Euridice so much.

When Cerberus, the vicious three-headed dog of war roared loudly at him, gnashing his fangs to scare him away, he charmed him with his harp. Orpheus walked on to the underworld. When he got there, the dead forgot to weep. Even the wicked were no longer punished so long as he sang and played.

He even sang for Hades and Persephone, the God of the Underworld and his bride. Even his heart was broken by the sad song of Orpheus. He agreed to let Eruidice come back to life. But on one condition, that Orpheus didn't look at her until he saw sunlight. If he looked back, she stayed with the dead forever.

Orpheus was overjoyed and danced singing down the path out of the Underworld. As he began to step out into the light, he paniced because he no longer heard Euridice behind him. Doubt, fear and anger began to cloud his mind.

He was almost in the sunlight but he couldn't control himself, he looked back. He saw Euridice, even saw her smile, and then she disappeared forever. He again wandered the earth, crying and singing dirges. The animals cried with him but he was ostracized from his community because they couldn't stand how sad he was.

At the end of it all, it sounds like a group of women like the Bacchae or the keepers of the Elusian Mysteries found him. First inviting him to join them in debauchary in the forest, they then tore him to pieces. They tossed his body into a river. He drifted to the see and the Muses buried him on the island of Lesbos. So, he joined his Euridice.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to Cook Like They Did in Ancient Mesopotamia


Originally Published at BellaOnline Mythology

From ancient cuneiform tables that are currently at Yale University.

I call these Yum!
1 cup raisins
1 cup dates

Combine butter and honey and mix with the fruit and a little flour into balls. Fry lightly.

Tasty Cakes

3 c  flour
1/4 c clarified butter
1 c dates
1/3 c feta cheese
1/3 c rasins

Bake [The recipe didn't say how hot or for how long. You might try 350 degrees for about 20-30 min].
Assyrian Beef 

Chop 1 c each onions, shallots, garlic, chives, leeks, scallions. Fry in oil until soft.

Add and brown all sides of an eye round pot roast in mixture, add salt to taste.

Turn down heat, and simmer until done in a small amount of water to which a quarter to a half bottle of Honey Brown beer has been added, turning once or twice during cooking.

Remove meat. Boil down onion-beer mixtures until reduced to a thick vegetable-rich gravy.

Carve and serve. .

Enhedduanna the first known writer in the world


Originally Published at BellaOnline Mythology

Enheduanna was a High Priestess in Ur around 2300 BCE. She held this position for about 40 years. As far as we know, she was the first 'writer' in the modern sense of the word; reflecting her personal ideas, feelings and experiences in her poems/prayers to the Goddess Inanna through metaphor and action. She was the daughter of Sargon, the first ruler in the ancient world to create/control an empire.

The position of High Priestess of Nanna, (the Moon God of Ur), was an extremely important one, as he was the primary God of the Sumerian pantheon at that time. Placed in this role by her father, probably as part of his political agenda, Enheduanna soon declared not the God Nanna but the Goddess, Inanna, to be the supreme being. So, as her father revolutionized the political world of the time, she revolutionized the spiritual one.

In Enheduanna's lifetime, the role of Inanna was perhaps particularly important in part because of her ancient role as Warrior Goddess. She had long been invoked for victory in battle. Mesopotamia at the time was comprised of various city-states that existed together in relative peace. Before Sargon, some rulers had conquered neighboring areas and brought them under their jurisdiction, but no one had attempted to do much more.



Sargon established, through war, a unified government among the city-states, the first empire. To maintain this, constant military action was required. War, rather than battle, became the norm. As it's role grew, it is logical that the role of the Warrior Goddess did too.

Inanna is a complex Goddess, perhaps the most complex we know. Everything in the natural world converges in her and she is full, therefore, of paradoxes, opposites; something like the concept of Tao but in physical form. She is the manifestation of the divine in the material world, embodying all it's beauty and ugliness. She is the only diety in the Sumerian pantheon who embodies this concept, though it is a central and extremely ancient one.

She, and this concept in general, seems to have emerged from ancient, neolithic traditions. Three millennia before the Samarrans, and after them the Ubiad culture, reflect a concept of reality as paradox. Ritual details from the earliest periods of Mesopotamian history match aspects of Inanna, perhaps evidence of the continuiation of a cult throughout millenia up to and beyond Enheduanna's time. She in fact says of Inanna in one of her poems, "You wear the robes of the old, old Gods".

The earliest tablets relating to Inanna found at Uruk describe her as having four manifestations, morning and evening star/Venus, (morning Inanna and evening Inanna), princely Inanna, (androgeny was a principal theme in Summerian mythology and ritual), and Inanna of the Steppe, (perhaps hinting at partial origins from a people who migrated to Uruk from across mountains).

In the Sumerian pantheon, she was the daughter of the Moon couple Nanna & Ningal, Grand-daughter of Enlil and Lil, and Great-granddaughter of the first divine couple, An and Ki. Through Enheduanna, she became more important than any of these, the supreme diety before whom, "all other Gods bend and quivver", Queen of the universe. She does this by marrying and/or taking the powers of all of the other Gods and Goddesses. Sometimes this involves trickery, sometimes trial, but she always comes out on top.

In her we can, as Enheduanna did, see ourselves, our world, all of humanity. She reflects the best and worst of our experience at it's most extreme, unbridled, passionate love, cruel bloody destruction, divine illumination and deathly darkness. She is full of contradictions, as we are, as nature itself is. At her core is chaos, (with it's only opposite chaos). Through her physical manifestation, the chaos is brought to order. She reminds us, however, that this order is an illusion, something created by people. As society and it's rules are.