Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

June 16, 2014

Shamanic Drumming

Filed under: magic — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:23 am

I find that laying back and listening to shamanic drumming affords me access to the imaginative world not unlike the freedom available through psychedelics or lucid dreaming. By taking shamanic flight, and afterward talking with a supportive partner about what I experienced, I was able to substantially reduce some post-traumatic stress-like symptoms associated with my experience of attending school.

Shamans are able to answer many kinds of questions, and to heal diseases with a strong mental or stress component.

It doesn’t take a lot of expensive materials or hours of training to embark on a shamanic trip. Of course, you are dealing with your psyche, and while that can be a garden of pleasure, things can also take a dire turn towards matters of life and death. Still, I think that most people would be better off to go ahead and risk an unguided shamanic flight, then to shuffle on as they are.

Here’s the technology: Repetitive drumming is key to perhaps 90% of the world’s shamanic practice. It bores your mind in a very specific way, which cuts out certain types of mentation and allows others to run unchecked. Shamanic Drumming.com will teach you the basics of entering shamanic trance and navigating the world it opens up… the website is not going to replace a live teacher but it will give you some clues to proceed upon. If you are inclined to explore, read about the shamanic paradigm and shamanic journeying. Invent a little ritual or imbibe some soft drugs to loosen yourself up.

Then lay back and listen to this track. Let us know what kind of experience you have!

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April 13, 2014

Silmarillion of the Midwest

I always wished that Michigan had a longer history. Our oldest town, Sault Ste. Marie, dates back to 1668, whilst towns in Europe have cathedrals from the 1300’s and ruins left by the Romans. In the countryside, Europe has standing stones that might as well date from the dawn of time. Here, we tend to tear everything down after about 30 years. The buildings we leave standing are fashionably ugly.

I was recently very satisfied to discover the Seven Fires Prophecy of the local First Nations. The prophecy is recorded on an ancient wampum belt, with various translations into English available on the ‘Net. Each Fire is a chapter in the history of the Anishinaabe peoples, such as the Ottawa and Chippewa. This is a history studded with magical events, not unlike reading Tolkien’s histories of Middle Earth or certain books of the Old Testament for that matter. It’s also a total cure for those who slip into believing the settler mythology about conquering an empty, wilderness continent.

Five or six of the Seven Fires have passed into history, but there are still a few events yet to come. Lately, with a Pan-Indian identity movement afoot in the land, the Seven Fires Prophecy is seen as applying in some ways to the entire North American continent; so, all North Americans become part of this unfolding story.

I’ve read a few versions of the Prophecy, and at each point in the story I’m going to relate whichever version I like best. That’s not quite a legitimate way to do history, so if you want a more accurate version, you’re going to have to poke around for yourself. As far as I can tell, the last keeper of the wampum belt, Grandfather William Commanda, died in 2011. If there is a new keeper s/he hasn’t made a public splash yet, so I don’t know who might be a legitimate authority on this topic. Assume that all inaccuracies are my fault:

The Anishinaabe lived on the shores of the Great Salt Ocean. A prophet came to them from their Mikmaq cousins, and told them that a light-skinned people would soon be coming to these shores. The Anishinaabe should divide: some would remain on the shores to greet the light-skinned people as brothers and sisters, and some would travel deep into the continent until the intentions of the newcomers were known. The travelling band would know they were on the right route by finding sites marked with sacred cowrie shells (which only occur naturally near salt water). They would find seven stopping places, the first and last of which would be turtle-shaped islands. The journey would be over when they found a place where food grows upon the water.

10,000 canoes were filled with Anishinaabe, from itty-bitty babies to withered elders. They headed up the St. Lawrence River and found a turtle-shaped island marked with cowrie shells, Mooniyaang, the current site of Montreal. There they split, half of the people continuing up the St. Lawrence and the other half moving up the Ottawa River. For the St. Lawrence band, the second stopping-place marked with cowrie shells was discovered near Kche Nisajewen, or Niagara Falls.

Around this time, a second prophet spoke to the people: “You will know the Second Fire because at this time the nation will be camped by a large body of water. In this time the direction of the Sacred Shell will be lost. The Midewiwin (Medicine Lodge) will diminish in strength. A boy will be born to point the way back to the traditional ways. He will show the direction to the stepping stones to the future of the Anishinaabe people.”

When the Niagara Falls region could no longer support the Anishinaabe’s growing numbers, some left in canoes once again. They discovered a third cowrie-shell-marked island in Lake St. Clair, where they established the third stopping place. From here, the sign of the cowrie shell was lost. The people struck out in different directions and divided into three bands: the Odowa (Ottawa), Keepers of Trade, camped along the North sides of Lakes Huron and Michigan and the south of Superior. The Ojibwe (Chippewa), Keepers of Medicine, camped on the North shore of Lake Superior. The Potawatomi, Keepers of the Fire, migrated to establish villages all around the southern half of Lake Michigan.

Search though they might, the Three Fires people could not find the next site marked with cowrie shells. The Midewinin declined in power and the people were stricken with all manner of ill health and disease. A Potawatomi boy dreamed of the next site, and called the Odowa and Ojibwe to meet his people East of Lake St. Clair. There they formed the Three Fires Council, an alliance of the three bands, which continues through today. From the camp on Lake St. Clair, an expedition paddled up Lake Huron, past the “stepping stone islands,” to Manitoulin Island, Lake Huron’s big island.

On Manitoulin Island, the Three Fires people met the Mississauga band. The Mississauga were Anishinaabe who had gone up the Ottawa River. They had never been lost, always maintaining cohesion with their Algonquin and Nipissing offshoots. The Medicine Lodges of these northern bands had never declined. On Manitoulin Island, the Mississauga reconnected the Three Fires peoples with their ancient medicine.

The Anishinaabe knew that the Second Fire was concluding and they were entering the time of the Third Fire, as the prophet had said: “The Anishinaabe will find the path to their chosen ground, a land in the West where they must move their families. This will be the land where food grows upon the water.”

Pushing out from Manitoulin, the fifth stop was at Senajewen, now known as Sault St. Marie. Those who remained at the fifth stop are now known as Saulteaux or Saulteurs, the people of the rapids and waterfalls. Others pushed on westward, searching for their chosen land.

One group paddled along the southern shore of Lake Superior, another along the northern shore, and they soon met up at Spirit Island near the western tip of the lake (the sixth stop). Here they finally found the food that grows on the water, wild rice. When a group stopped on Madeline Island and planted tobacco near the shores, cowrie shells washed up onto the beach, announcing that the seventh stopping place had been found and the journey was over. The Anishinaabe now ranged from the East Coast to the timber line dividing Minnesota.

At the opening of the Fourth Fire, the people were visited by a pair of prophets. The first prophet said:

You will know the future of our people by the face the light skinned race wears. If they come wearing the face of brotherhood then there will come a time of wonderful change for generations to come. They will bring new knowledge and articles that can be joined with the knowledge of this country. In this way, two nations will join to make a mighty nation. This new nation will be joined by two more so that four will make for the mightiest nation of all. You will know the face of the brotherhood if the light skinned race comes carrying no weapons, if they come bearing only their knowledge and a hand shake.”

The second prophet said:

Beware if the light skinned race comes wearing the face of death. You must be careful because the face of brotherhood and the face of death look very much alike. If they come carrying a weapon … beware. If they come in suffering … They could fool you. Their hearts may be filled with greed for the riches of this land. If they are indeed your brothers, let them prove it. Do not accept them in total trust. You shall know that the face they wear is one of death if the rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat. You shall know them by these many things.”

The French arrived with a face of brotherhood, trading useful articles like steel hatchets and iron pots for the animal furs the Anishinaabe collected in abundance. Before the French and Indians could forge a mighty new nation, unfortunately, the British and their American offshoot arrived with the face of death. Through a series of conquests and rip-off treaties, the Anishinaabe were confined to tiny reservations, assimilated into American culture, or shipped off to Indian Country in Kansas and Oklahoma.

The prophet of the Fifth Fire said:

In the time of the Fifth Fire there will come a time of great struggle that will grip the lives of all native people. At the warning of this Fire there will come among the people one who holds a promise of great joy and salvation. If the people accept this promise of a new way and abandon the old teachings, then the struggle of the Fifth Fire will be with the people for many generations. The promise that comes will prove to be a false promise. All those who accept this promise will cause the near destruction of the people.”

Many hold the false promise of the Fifth Fire to be Christianity, which basically failed to deliver the native peoples from miserable conditions. Others think that it was capitalism, or Federal recognition of the tribes. The many false promises extended to the native peoples render this prophecy obscure, but surely many of the native peoples of the continent were nearly destroyed. Languages and traditions went extinct.

In the time of the Sixth Fire it will be evident that the promise of the Fifth Fire came in a false way. Those deceived by this promise will take their children away from the teachings of the Elders. Grandsons and granddaughters will turn against the Elders. In this way the Elders will lose their reason for living … they will lose their purpose in life. At this time a new sickness will come among the people. The balance of many people will be disturbed. The cup of life will almost become the cup of grief.”

Compulsory schooling in the ways of the pale-skinned people, even including boarding schools that literally separated children from their elders, combined with new sicknesses of alcoholism and mental illness to destroy the balance of many peoples and turn the cup of life (almost) into a cup of grief.

This story is starting to suck. I don’t know that I want to write any further…

During the Sixth Fire, a group of visionaries called together all of the Medicine Lodges of the Anishinaabe. They gathered all of the sacred bundles and birch bark scrolls and placed them in a hollow ironwood log. They tied ropes around the log and lowered it down a cliff, burying it in the side of the cliff. The log is still waiting in the cliff. During a time when Indians can practice their religions without fear, a boy will dream of the location of the log to restore the old knowledge.

Not too long ago, the final prophet visited the people. This prophet was a very young man with a strange light in his eyes. He said: In the time of the Seventh Fire New People will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the Elders who they will ask to guide them on their journey. But many of the Elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the Elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the Elders. The task of the New People will not be easy.

If the New People will remain strong in their quest the Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinaabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit.

The New People of this time are certainly the people of the First Nations rebuilding their cultures. With a great interest in traditional ways arising, with a new Pan-Indian consciousness building, with certain new protections such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in place, the time may not be too far off when a boy dreams of an ironwood log embedded in a cliffside.

The last prophet spoke a few more words: “In this time the light-skinned people will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and final Fire, an eternal fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood. If the light skinned race makes the wrong choice of the roads, then the destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will come back at them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth’s people.”

The path of materialism, of economic growth, is obviously bringing suffering and death. My people launch wars across the globe to seize oil and opium fields, we disrupt the climate, reduce far-away peoples to peonage on plantations and in sweatshops, and we even tip the hormonal balance of the environment with BPA and other estrogens and anti-androgens, all in the name of increasing the standard of living.

The other path is called the path of spiritualism. This needn’t involve supernatural beliefs. Learning to be sane and build sane communities should be sufficient. The Anishinaabe used to practice going hungry for days at a time in the winter and early spring, adjusting themselves to their environment. In the settler culture, the response to a stress is almost always external: if we risk facing hunger, we need a giant well-stocked freezer. If we’re depressed, we need pills. If we’re bored, we need more television channels.

The material path is like trying to cover the whole world in leather. The spiritual path is like strapping on shoes.

Hopefully we turn from the destructive path, light the Eighth Fire and join into the union of four nations mentioned in the Fourth Fire prophecy (many believe that Africans and Asians will join Native American and Europeans in forming a new syncretic culture symbolized by the medicine wheel’s four colors of black, yellow, red and white.) The new nation will be guided by respect for all people and living things.

I really doubt that the settler culture can turn aside from its headlong rush into ruin. Still, each of us can decide which path we’re going to heed for ourselves. Whichever way things go, this story is not over just yet.

April 14, 2013

On the belief in spirits in disease

Filed under: magic, science — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:18 pm

Recently, I have read much of an ignorant superstition regarding disease: this, the concept of diseases being caused by malevolent spirits. These spirits are invisible creatures, which live in the air and seek to wreak mayhem on any human animal they come into contact with. They will attach themselves to a person, and even spread from person to person, or linger in the victim’s home. It is believed by the ignorant, that the home of the afflicted may be “cleansed” with herbs and smoke such as sage and wormwood, to drive the spirits out; for, these dark-minded individuals believe that the spirits of plants may be called upon to battle the evil spirits of disease. (Thus, the fools deny themselves the true and helpful medicines known to our doctors of today, such as preparations of arsenic and mercury.)

This belief in invisible agents of disease is known to be false by all Men of science, who know disease to be caused by an imbalance of the four humours (phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood.) Thus, the barefoot primitive and the superstitious peasant will rely on the magical qualities of the witch-doctor’s plants, such as ephedra or belladonna, to treat asthma, to their great detriment, instead of looking to a medicine with the empirically-validated phlegm-drying virtues of “warmth” and “dryness,” such as Indian tobacco.

As one cannot argue with the willfully ignorant, I can only pray that our Legislators take decisive action for the licensing of doctors and pharmacists, and to punish swiftly and surely the selling of false and deleterious medicines.

[Disease really is spread by invisible organisms. Sage and wormwood are antiseptic. Arsenic and mercury were really put into medicines. Ephedra dilates bronchioles and belladonna reduces inflammations and spasms. And, tobacco was used to treat asthma under the Four Humours system of medicine, with rather limited success.]

April 9, 2013

Animist on Atheism

Animism is the belief that the world is full of spirits. Atheism is the rejection of belief in gods. These beliefs are not opposed according to their bare definitions, but I know of no atheists who really get excited about the spirit world.

Atheism in the West is heavily shaped by Christianity, or more precisely, by rejecting Christianity. An ultra-brief history of Christian thought could begin with the Gnostics, part of the cultish religious soup in and around the ancient Holy Land, who saw their world as a miserable material prison to be escaped through ecstatic travels. The medieval Church kept the idea of this world as a material prison, but dropped the possibility of escaping through ecstasy. It urged followers to believe in a spirit world that could not be seen, except by the dead and resurrected or a few chosen prophets. People had to listen to their priest and trust in received wisdom, or actually risk being tortured and burned as a heretic. Early moves towards skepticism included demanding to be allowed to read the Bible for oneself, cutting out a major priestly privilege!

Atheists (and Deists, their close intellectual cousins) said: “Enough of this crap! We won’t believe in the Invisible Man in the Sky who watches us all the time anymore! It’s very manipulative and we call ‘shenanigans’ upon thee!” So, freethinkers shifted their attention to the world of things they could find out for themselves — reason, history, and especially science. Any hint of the spirit world was regarded as the same sort of superstition as Churchly lies. The spiritual practices of “savages” were beneath contempt, of more interest to edgy bohemians than serious scientists or philosophers, and were not seriously looked at in the West for a few hundred more years.

So, in animism, the spirit world is present right here in nature. In mainstream Christianity, the spirit world has been ripped away from the present world and hidden behind a veil, as for the priests to communicate to the helpless peasants. And in atheism, the spirit world has been denied existence entirely.

The atheist denial of natural spirits is based on an error, the belief that the spirit world is basically a lie communicated to the people by priests. For most people over most of human time, the spirit world was much more directly accessible.

On an everyday level, people were trained to rely on their instinct or “see with the heart.” Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, describes it thus: “I spent much of my childhood in a third-world, rural environment where we had to be in tune with Mother Nature for our very survival… To be instinctual means to be clearheaded, open, and aware of the signals we are getting from other people, animals, and our environment all the time. It means understanding our natural selves and the natural world, and acknowledging our interdependence with that world.” (from “Be the Pack Leader.”)

To a little child, the world is a colorful place imbued with meaning. This tree is sinister, that one is welcoming, still another is powerful and proud. I believe that these impressions are devalued by the education process, until the student a) comes to see trees as collections of cells and organs described by a Latin binomial, of interest as a sort of ongoing biochemical reaction or b) loses interest and stays inside watching football. The animist myths of trees as plant teachers and homes for forest spirits express the more important truths. Ignoring the truth about trees causes us to build ugly places — perhaps best embodied by Tolkein’s Mordor. (By the way — plenty of atheists appreciate and protect the trees, and plenty of ugly-minded deforesters call themselves Christian.) I happen to believe that the most powerful human-tree bond is on a level we truly experience as magical — an exchange of ill-defined “energy.” On what evidence should anyone reject that magical level of bonding? To what end?

 

A giant tree surrounded by fences.

Really ancient trees still inspire reverence from people of all beliefs. Mary and Angus Hogg [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A stubbly, muddy field stretches everywhere in sight.

Do the opencast miners need a more advanced science to explain to them where they went wrong? by Texas Radio and The Big Beat [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Opening up our senses to the magical seems like a wise move, if Sauron is not to win.

Since the middle of last century, the West has exploded with information about ecstatic technologies that permit direct experience of the spiritual world, often in full Technicolor. Albert Hoffman discovered LSD-25 in 1938, and it was soon being used in psychiatry to accelerate insight, healing and development in therapeutic clients. This very nearly coincided with Richard Shultes’ first trips to Mexico to identify the shamans’ magical plants and fungi (psilocybe mushrooms, morning glories and solanaceous trumpet flowers.) Shultes sent Hofmann morning glory samples for analysis, and Hofmann discovered LSD analogs in the seeds. They realized that indigenous shamanism had a lot in common with the cutting edge of psychiatric practice. Psychedelic drugs are not for everyone, and they are the subject of a mostly secular but authoritarian backlash, but they are not the only technology of ecstasy. Mind science imported from Buddhist and yogic traditions was popularized throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Music took on longer forms to allow the listeners to “get into it,” and incorporated trippy light shows. You don’t have to listen to your priest interpret Ezekiel’s vision of a wheel for you any longer: people can experience the other world for themselves, the paths are known.

In rejecting a phony or insanely corrupted spiritual tradition, many freethinkers found themselves cast to philosophies like materialism and positivism. Many Christians box up their religion except for Sundays and live in the same soulectomied world. These philosophies are insufficient — they do not feed the instinctual side of human nature. We find ourselves a bunch of neurotics living in ugly places. But there was never any reason to stop developing knowledge of the magical worlds of our childhood. Use your reasoning capacity, but remember where we all started from.

 

March 23, 2013

Regulate Breathing

My life’s ambition, my abstract love and enthusiasm for life, is to study psychoactive substances, or mind-altering drugs as you might call them. This is a bit frustrating, like being a born musician in Taliban country.

The Lords of the US gather in Bohemian Grove every year, surrounded by acres of empty forest, to privately party and drink and get down with Sasha Shulgin, inventor of most every designer psychedelic or party drug ever. Then they fly back to Washington, D.C. to publicly give speeches about the evils of drugs and vote for increased penalties and ban new substances (usually Shulgin’s inventions after about an eight-year lag time.) To coordinate the message that “drugs are bad, m’kay,” the Office of National Drug Control Policy writes pieces of television scripts and pays the networks to include them in their programming. Most people accept the message: to be “into drugs” isn’t an innocent thing like being “into music” or “into cars,” it’s tantamount to being a thieving junkie.

Sometimes I hear people say, “oh, drugs are an inferior way of exploring altered states. You can get to the same places with breathing exercises and meditation, whilst maintaining the virgin purity of your blood.” Okay, that’s not exactly what they say, but you get the idea…

I used to mentally respond to them, “yeah, right. I’m sure that is almost true if you withdraw from the world and spend years training in a Himalayan monastery, but in the real world meditation only gets me a few minutes of relaxation. And even if meditation brought me to the Ultimate Enlightenment, I kind of liked seeing the pretty colors, too, and I’m sure that that was a specific effect of the drugs.”

Now, new information has come to light, and I do believe that I may have been missing something about the breathing. A certain Pau reported a pretty heavy trip from doing breathing exercises right before bed:

Some years ago , just a few weeks after I learned about mediation and pranayama breathing exercises, I was practicing pranayama for a few minutes before I went to bed. At the same time I was attempting to quiet my mind (which I believe is easier to do while doing pranayama).

I broke through, with infinite power…I lost all sense of body, and my consciousness expanded in a fraction of a second to fill and become the entire universe … I “felt” there was nothing I could not know or see about the past present and future of everything. There had not been any psychedelics in my system for a year. Yeah, the speck of “I” that was rapidly disappearing during this event got freaked out and decided with great effort to switch the experience off before the “I” was gone for good. But the same thing happened the following night. (both times, before the blastoff, there was a period of maybe half a minute where everything around me, including empty space, seemed like it was made of sparkling blue dots).

This, in the context of a thread about boosting endogenous DMT, the powerful and illegal psychedelic that is a natural component of your body, everyone else, hundreds of plant species, and most higher animals. Is this a case of manufacturing illicit drugs? Pranayama seems to be a widespread practice with many variations, go ahead and look it up and you will find dozens of teachers providing you the training online. It seems foremost like an exercise to make breathing more conscious, although it goes beyond the simple Zen-derived techniques I’ve studied in the past.

Another way to breathe your way into an altered state is to suck a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen. During the 1960’s, when scientists could work with psychedelics and not be charged with witchcraft, there was a great interest in psychedelics as part of psychotherapy. There was some risk of giving a dose of LSD to a client and then watching helplessly as they experienced an eight-hour trainwreck of anxiety and confusion, so there was a desire to find a way of inducing a briefer altered state to test the waters. Such a way already existed, and it was called carbogen: typically, a mixture of 70% oxygen and 30% carbon dioxide.

People who were administered carbogen in a clinical setting, as a trial of their ability to weather altered states, typically freaked out. But not always:

“After the second breath came an onrush of color, first a predominant sheet of beautiful rosy-red, following which came successive sheets of brilliant color and design, some geometric, some fanciful and graceful …. Then the colors separated; my soul drawing apart from the physical being, was drawn upward seemingly to leave the earth and to go upward where it reached a greater Spirit with Whom there was a communion, producing a remarkable, new relaxation and deep security.”

Wow! Pretty colors and all!

Society’s controllers have been obsessed with preventing the common folk from having religious experiences since the Christian church merged with the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago (a few visionaries were sainted, more were burned at the stake). So, the fact that one can manipulate one’s own lungs and atmospheric gasses to induce such experiences presents a challenge to authority.

Perhaps the situation can be brought back under control. Progressive Insurance offers drivers a device called “Snapshot,” which monitors basics like acceleration and stopping time, and gives drivers a discount for safe practices. All Americans who have two pennies to rub together will soon be looking for discounts for their newly mandatory “Affordable Care” very soon. Why not strap a Snapshot consisting of a pedometer and a polygraph to every American, and offer them discounts for “safe biometrics?”

One strap around the abdomen, and one around the chest, and any hanky-pranayama that might occur will signal your insurance company to jack up your premiums. If you aren’t abusing your ability to breathe, you have no reason to object to such a proposition.

Breathing should be subject to reasonable regulation, just like food, water and medicine. Breathing is too important a matter to leave to individuals with their pesky notion of “rights” and their ignorance. After all, people like you and me were never properly trained or licensed to breathe. Breathing disorders are a leading cause of death.

Not funny? Sorry, but…

I’m suffocating over here!!!

February 16, 2013

Plants Talk, but Who Listens?

Plants and fungi communicate with animals, and each other, through chemical signals. An apple skin fills with pigment to announce its ripeness to animals that might eat it and excrete the seeds far from the tree. A flower’s smell carries on the breeze and attracts just the right butterfly to spread its pollen around.

The worldwide web of chemical chatter helps to keep habitats vibrant. For example, if a tree limb is invaded by insects, it will not only pump pesticides through the vasculature of that limb, but also emit a signal chemical to alert other nearby limbs and trees of the threat. If the forest is on the brink of killing off an insect species, it may select a tree to cease pumping pesticides and serve as an insect sanctuary — thus maintaining a balance between trees and their pests, and preventing both killer infestations and the evolution of pesticide-resistant “superbugs.”

Humans are animals. We are affected by plant talk — it’s how we decide what kinds of fruit, vegetables and grains we like. Yet, we are not lately respecting what plants have to say. We tend to think of food plants and medical herbs as something to buy preprocessed at the store, with no roots in the Earth. In consequence, we don’t know how to act on this planet. As a species, we’ve become like someone who is way too drunk for this early stage in the party, talking too loud, not listening, and obliviously stepping on everyone else’s toes.

A variety of tropical plants speak through caffeine, a chemical deadly to insects, desired by humans, goats, and certain other animals. It is entirely appropriate for sub/tropical peoples such as Arabs and Han Chinese to live symbiotically with coffee, tea, or cocoa trees. Yemen is a land of dry, rocky mountains, but some valleys are terraced and planted with lush coffee forests. Yemenis use coffee “cherries” as well as beans, since they live close enough to the tree to utilize the fresh fruit. Yemeni men stop to gather and drink coffee between morning prayers and the start of work, and men and women drink it throughout the day. Coffee inspires prayer and poetry.

Qat farming in Yemen

Actually, these farmers are raising Qat, Yemen’s other stimulant with its own traditions and rituals. A number of old Yemeni poems concern the debate between coffee and qat.

“Oh Coffee, you dispel the worries of the Great, you point the way to those who have wandered from the path of knowledge. Coffee is the drink of the friends of God, and of his servants who seek wisdom.

No one can understand the truth until he drinks of its frothy goodness. Those who condemn coffee as causing man harm are fools in the eyes of God.

Coffee is the common man’s gold, and like gold it brings to every man the feeling of luxury and nobility….Take time in your preparations of coffee and God will be with you and bless you and your table. Where coffee is served there is grace and splendor and friendship and happiness.

All cares vanish as the coffee cup is raised to the lips. Coffee flows through your body as freely as your life’s blood, refreshing all that it touches: look you at the youth and vigor of those who drink it.

Whoever tastes coffee will forever forswear the liquor of the grape. Oh drink of God’s glory, your purity brings to man only well-being and nobility“

–Sheik Ansari Djezeri Hanball Abd-al-Kadir, 1587, translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

There are no significant caffeine plants that grow in the temperate latitudes. Yet, we have a large proportion of caffeine-dependent people (myself included). In order to pull caffeine from its natural place in the order of things, Western powers imposed insane colonial policies on the tropical nations, forcing people out of villages and small farms and onto plantations that raised coffee, cocoa, tea, or sugarcane — the last, largely so that even the humblest of Westerners can add sugar to their coffee or tea or afford the occasional cheap chocolate bar. People in the global South are held in poverty and oppression for our cheap perks. Although we typically use caffeine in a fairly healthful way, caffeine expresses a negative social consequence of making long, dull work days more tolerable and tolerated. I rather suspect that things on Earth would run a little more harmoniously if caffeinated plants were known in the temperate zone as exotic novelties, instead of almost a human right like water and food.

Sugar, the sister of caffeine, sets an example of a substance casually ripped from its physical and chemical plant matrix, a different sort of distortion in the ecological chatter. Sugarcane is native to Southeast Asia, where it was grown to be chewed or juiced from about six thousand years ago. By a few centuries after the time of Christ, Indians were crystallizing sugar from the juice. Greeks were using expensive imported sugar in medicine. By the Middle Ages, humans had plainly lost perspective over sugar, with Arabs irrigating the desert to grow the water-loving cane. People all over ate it until our teeth rotted out and we died of diabetic complications.

Wisely applied, we can use a little chemistry to extract the good stuff from plants and make better medicines or flavorings. Yet, our tendency is to go all-out in purifying something all the way down to a white powder or a volatile liquid, regardless of the results. We believe in the myth of the “active constituent” that supposes only the most predominant, loudest-speaking chemicals in a plant are of any interest. Our economic mindset is scarcity, so we always try to get the most “bang for the buck.” Dosages and nutritional values are distorted, and secondary chemicals that enhance a plant’s flavor or effects are purified away. White flour is little more than starch, cocaine is hundreds of times more problematic than coca tea, clarified beer and wine (fungal products) lack protein and B-vitamins, and so on and so forth.

“Yellow butterflies,
Over the blossoming virgin corn,
With pollen-painted faces
Chase one another in brilliant throng.

Blue butterflies,
Over the blossoming virgin beans,
With pollen-painted faces
Chase one another in brilliant streams.

Over the blossoming corn,
Over the virgin corn,
Wild bees hum;
Over the blossoming beans,
Over the virgin beans,
Wild bees hum.

–Hopi planting song

“High fructose corn syrup is nearly identical in composition to table sugar.” — Corn Refiners Association

The processed food around us has been designed to taste good, store forever, and come cheap. In order to fulfill all three requirements, food technologists have essentially been forced to engineer deceptive food. This food compensates for the lack of fresh, quality ingredients with chemical artifice. A few kinds of fats, salt, sugar (often chemically bastardized) and sometimes MSG provide flavor in place of the cornucopia of interesting herbs and vegetables that would make for healthy food, but require care and freshness. Plants mainly tell the truth, and food technologists mainly lie.

We have two human systems at work here that are incompatible with the web of life. Our system of science places a premium on isolating variables, on taking things out of life and into the laboratory to see how the smallest parts work in isolated conditions. We need to orient ourselves more to field observation to learn how things actually work in nature — biologists of many sorts need to be listening to plants, not bombarding their genes with crude inserts.

The second problem, and I would guess the much larger one, is our model of industry. To a subsistence farm family among the Amish or ancient Celts, pigs have a certain role on the farm: eating scraps to produce meat and fertile feces. To industrial people, a pig is a component in a production process, consuming costly inputs to produce a return on investment. It makes sense to farm pigs in tiny cages in warehouses, feed them a diet that causes them to bloat up, and dump their waste anywhere you can get away with, because only money is real. This degrades the environs around pig farms and brings us flavor-and-nutritionally depleted pork, but again, only money is real. A similar ethic affected industry under Communism, wherein Moscow would decree certain production goals, and Soviet managers would aim to meet those goals regardless of who or what they destroyed in the process. But, farmers who live among their plants, who are not economically forced into planting-by-numbers, are sensitive to the needs of the environment around them and degrade it very slowly, if at all.

Field edge boundary hedge - geograph.org.uk - 1001684

Half-wild hedges between fields represent a fine compromise between ecological needs and immediate human needs. The hedges can be a source of wild food, medicine, and pollinators, not to mention protecting soil from erosion and preserving species from extinction. English hedges are full of the plants you will find in old English songs and literature: holly and ivy, wild roses, oaks…  photo by Dr. Duncan Pepper

What would our culture look like if it listened to plants? I could imagine a permacultural utopia and present it here, but that would be relatively boring. The real point is to learn about that from the plants themselves, anyway.

One change we might make is to drop the use of coffee from the Eastern US to take up sassafras instead. Sassafras is a tree used as medicine in both native and settler traditions. It is the root used in genuine root beer, or it may be consumed as a tea. Sassafras was emblematic of the American colonies, being widely seen as one of the great delights discovered in the New World. It was used to feel warm in the winter, get vitamin C, resist colds and flu, and to reinvigorate oneself in the spring. It is thought to be a subtle stimulant or mood lifter and to help maintain a general state of well-being, as well as offering cures for a number of more specific ailments. Sassafras sounds like just the thing to lift the cultural malaise resulting from the coffee-structured work day, making us healthier in the winter and more cheerful, instead of aggravating anxieties. We could be supporting polycultural farmers here at home instead of practically enslaving workers on plantations abroad.

Sassafras seedling.

Naturally, the FDA bans the use of sassafras in regulated food and drink. In a laboratory setting, sassafras oil was administered to rats (biologically similar to beavers, a natural enemy of sassafras trees) at such high doses that the rats experienced chronic kidney irritation, and subsequently developed kidney cancer, which is somehow interpreted as demonstrating that the substance is a dangerous carcinogen in humans at any dose. The DEA even takes note whenever the essential oil is purified from the plant, because of the oil’s chemical similarity to MDMA (ecstasy). These organizations are dedicated not to the logic of nature, but to the logic of reductive laboratory science and profiteering industry. Consider the US government’s alphabet soup of agencies and their strange relationships with tobacco, as well.

One could still plant a sassafras tree in the backyard and harvest from it quietly. You would get to know that tree, its growth habit, even moods that affect its oil production. More than merely exploiting a means of production, you would be bound to the tree as an ally, giving it space and water in exchange for its beneficent presence.

Even the weeds in your lawn have something to say for themselves, if you will but listen.

SASSAFRAS
Fringing cypress forests dim
Where the owl makes weird abode,
Bending down with spicy limb
O’er the old plantation road,
Through the swamp and up the hill,
Where the dappled byways run,
Round the gin-house, by the mill,
Floats its incense to the sun.

Swift to catch the voice of spring,
Soon its tasselled blooms appear;
Modest is their blossoming,
Breathing balm and waving cheer;
Rare the greeting that they send
To the fragrant wildwood blooms,
Bidding every blossom blend
In a chorus of perfumes.

On it leans the blackberry vine,
With white sprays caressingly;
Round its knees the wild peas twine,
Beckoning to the yellow bee;
Through its boughs the red-bird flits
Like a living flake of fire,
And with love-enlightened wits
Weaves his nest and tunes his lyre.

Oh, where skies are summer-kissed,
And the drowsy days are long,
’Neath the sassafras to list
To the field-hand’s mellow song!
Or, more sweet than chimes that hang
In some old cathedral dome,
Catch the distant klingle-klang
Of the cow-bells tinkling home!

–Samuel Minturn Peck

January 17, 2013

On the Gruit Path

Filed under: gardening, magic, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:31 pm

The topic of gruit ale generated more than theoretical interest, so I’ve decided to collate & post some info to empower people to make or find this stuff. The first part of this post is for people making their own; it concerns getting seeds or transplants, growing the herbs, buying the herbs and where to add the herbs in the brewing process. The second part concerns tracking down gruit ale for sale.

Plants and Growing Info:

The best place to buy dried beer herbs appears to be Wild Weeds. You will find the “Holy Trinity” of beer herbs there under the names Sweet Gale, Yarrow, and Labrador Tea.

Myrica gale (sweet gale, bog myrtle) — This is a 2-4′ high shrub that grows along the waterside. It has been a brewing spice in Europe for over 2,000 years. Also native to North America, the Potawatomi Indians used the plant as a smudge to banish evil spirits (a suggestion of antiseptic action). Flavorwise, sweet gale is said to have a spicy aroma and a bitter taste, but also to impart a vanilla-like richness. For the head, sweet gale is narcotic or stupefying, yet it is said to improve the lucidity of dreaming.

Gagelstrauch (1)

Myrica-gale-1

North American sweet gale can be purchased for transplant through Fourth Corner Nurseries, a business dedicated to propagating native plants, or New England Wetland Plants.

Sweet gale prefers boggy to wet soil, something you might achieve almost anywhere by applying water almost continuously. However, it also appreciates acidic conditions (pH 4 to 6.5) — presumably the boggy places where it grows naturally are loaded with humic and fulvic acids from the slow decomposition of plants. Any level of sunlight is fine, but some shade will help protect this plant of the North from the summer heat.

Bog myrtle’s chemistry is best expressed with a combination of hot-water extraction and alcohol extraction; therefore half of it should be boiled with the wort, and half thrown in the fermenter (in a permeable bag.) On the other hand, plenty of people just toss it in the boiling wort and strain it out. All of the aerial parts of the plant are used, however, the best time is when “nut cones” are on the stem. Use 1.5 g of herb per gallon of brew. Or, use 1 oz. per gallon, to make sweet gale ale (with no other spices.)

Achillea millefolium (yarrow) — This plant vaguely resembles Queen Anne’s Lace. The leaves have zillions of feathery leaflets. This one has been with Eurasians since Neanderthal times, a very old friend indeed. Yarrow is used to dramatic effect in the binding of wounds, as well as manifold subtler uses (antiseptic, blood-flow promoter, …?). Tossing yarrow stalks is the oldest way to cast the I Ching, and yarrow heals battle wounds in the Iliad, so yarrow was known far and wide for its potent magic. Mentally, yarrow provides enhanced clarity and quells anxiety — except if taken with ale, when it precipitates instant drunkenness.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (2863774620)

Yarrow seedlings can be purchased from Fourth Corner, or seeds from Alchemy Works.

Like many herbs, yarrow prefers mediocre soil with good drainage. For seeds, barely press into moist soil; seeds need light to germinate in 5-10 days at 62-75F/18-25C.

In beer, yarrow is bitter and preservative. Leaves should be boiled in the wort, but delicate aromatics can be taken from the flower heads if they are placed into the cooling wort right after the boil. Use at 1.5 g per gallon in gruit, or 1 oz. per gallon in a single-herb brew, or half that mass of recently dried yarrow.

Rhododendron tomentosum (wild or marsh rosemary) — This low shrub has leaves smooth on top, fuzzy beneath. A second species, Rhododendron groenlandicum, is also acceptable, and this is one of those annoying cases where the scientific name seems to add little clarity to the discussion (you may also read about these plants as Ledum glandulosum, Ledum latifolium, Ledum palustre, or as multiple types of Labrador Tea.) Don’t confuse these with Limonium, a completely different genus known as marsh rosemary, but also as sea lavender or statice: Limoniums are not what you want. In herbalism, Labrador Tea seems to be popular for treating a laundry list of conditions. It is much more widely available than true wild rosemary. Either plant contributes to some sort of narcotic delirium, with higher doses leading to headaches and cramps.

Labrador tea Ledum glandulosum close

Labrador Tea seeds are available at From the Forest.

Wild rosemary likes the same sort of acidic, boggy soil as Bog myrtle (Myrica gale.) However, it is somewhat less tolerant of shade. Seeds are broadcast onto moist soil in Spring when its temperature is 55-65F/13-18C, or in Fall.

Wild rosemary has a fresh, spicy aroma and bitter taste. The brewer should take caution when utilizing any unfamiliar source of wild rosemary, as not all of the plants in this group are of equal potency. As with bog myrtle, half of it should be boiled with the wort, and half thrown in the fermenter (in a permeable bag, weighted with a clean or sterile stone.) Use fresh flowering tops in gruit at 1.5 g per gallon, or 4/5 oz. per gallon in a single-herb brew.

Other plants: Gruit was used over a big piece of Europe for seven centuries or so… the recipe varied quite a bit. Sometimes the mix included juniper berries, ginger, caraway seeds, aniseed, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some sources go on to name mugwort, wormwood, heather, and licorice. Or lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, and sweet fern. These lists are by no means exhaustive, however, some people seem to use “gruit” to refer to any mix of beer herbs excluding hops, regardless of how authentically medieval it may or may not be. Literally speaking, “gruit” is Old German for “herb” (and you pronounce it along the lines of “fruit.”)

Finding Gruit Ale:

There seem to be no gruit ales distributed on anything like a national basis (in the United States, at any rate). To buy gruit ale, you need to find a local brewery that has achieved competency in the style.

I searched the ‘net for “Michigan gruit -fruit.” This technique seems to work fine for other states, although I don’t know if you’ll find a gruit brewery far from the chilly, boggy places where marsh rosemary and bog myrtle grow.

In Michigan, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. of Warren carries an occasional heather ale. Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company carries “Sacred Gruit Ale” as a regular beer, with the authentic triumvirate of major herbs. Mt. Pleasant brews are carried by a number of distributors across the state. You can look at this map and call your local distributor to find out which stores have Sacred Gruit. Mt. Pleasant brews are also served up at Mountain Town Station brewpub in Mt. Pleasant.

Still curious? Take a look at Gruit Ale.com… I especially like their pilgrimage to the 50th parallel to harvest wild bog plants!

January 13, 2013

They put mind-control drugs in the drinking water.

Filed under: magic, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:55 pm

Imagine that your government mandated your drinking water supply be laced with a pharmaceutical agent — a drug that causes sedation, depression in a certain proportion of patients, loss of sex drive and sometimes male impotence. This would seem to be a vile New World Order scheme for cowing a sheep-like populace, preventing revolts and dwindling the population.

Indeed, the drinking water was drugged to control behavior among the masses. I’m not talking about the fluoride in your city water, though — I’m talking about hops in the beer, and the scene is Europe in the late Middle Ages / early Renaissance.

Medieval Europeans didn’t know how to sanitize water to make it safe, but they did know that beer was safe. They drank it all day long (although some of the beers were too weak to go to market today.) In the Dark Ages, there were many beer recipes in circulation… some called for malt and water only, but that was not most people’s favorite beer. Plain beer has no bitter element to balance the sweetness, and doesn’t keep as long as beer infused with bitter herbs. Other beers were brewed with juniper or wormwood, or with specific herbs to treat specific maladies.

The most popular beer was the one backed up by Church authority. In many places, the local monks held a monopoly on making gruit, a brain-bending combination of herbs such as marsh rosemary, yarrow, and sweet gale (Myrica gale.) The village people would pony up cash for the secret-formula gruit, and proceed to brew their own beer with it. Gruit beer is said to be stimulating and highly inebriating. To Protestants, the gruit system was a big problem, because 1) it supported the authority of the Church and 2) it was too much fun, too indulgent, and had to be sinful.

Their solution appeared in the form of hops. Very late in the Middle Ages, brewers were experimenting with hops as an alternative to gruit. Its main advantage was that it could be grown in one’s own beer garden, avoiding the priestly layer of secrecy and control. Hops is bitter and preservative, and it can be bred into varieties producing a decent range of different aromas. The downside of hops is that it causes sleepiness, weakens the male libido (through estrogen-like chemistry), and is contraindicated for depressives. It’s not an evil plant; the other side of the coin is that it’s good for menopausal symptoms and for people who suffer anxiety without depression.

Apparently, the side effects of hops were of no concern to the Protestants. I don’t think that they consciously set out to sedate people — it’s just that sedating people didn’t rate as a disadvantage. Hops was considered an anti-drug, the tame alternative to everything from heather to henbane. Hops was mandated into Bavarian beer in 1516, with the Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law — the only ingredients allowed in beer henceforth would be barley, water and hops. The Purity Law would spread to many European nations and locales. To the modern Westerner, the Purity Law is an assurance that there is no cheapass rice or maize in the brew. To someone living almost 500 years ago, it meant something different… it meant that to drink something that was safe and dysentery-free, you had to dull yourself down with hops: that is a mass drugging of the population through the drinking water supply, no doubt.

This could be a sad tale of the subjugation of my ancestors. However, this story points to a wide-open new frontier in brewing… everything from pine branches to saffron has been used in beer. Yet we today rely almost exclusively on hops, even reflexively hopping beers with other spices added. There is no need to do so, especially with bitter herbs!

A homebrewer can easily buy some unhopped malt extract and brew it with the addition of any plant product they choose. The starting place for reclaiming our centuries-dormant brewing traditions has got to be “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I will double-check his information for assurance of safety, as I am just too self-conscious to converse with plants as Buhner does, and therefore I need empirical data regarding safe dosage! This also raises the question of what I can brew into a beer, and just hand it to someone as a beer, as against when a beer becomes a “drug.” I suppose I shall have to embark upon a serious, long-term effort to bioassay these strange brews, using the researcher as test subject.

Meanwhile, the struggle between “puritans” and the free-minded goes on. The high priests of public health are considering what level of lithium to put in city water in order to reduce violent behavior. Wild people of the world, take some joy in the fight! It won’t end in our lifetime!

August 24, 2012

Carryin’ On the Cosmic Struggle

The universe doesn’t suck, people don’t suck. People who want to control the universe, suck.

In this video, pompously entitled “Humanity’s Greatest Secret,” Alex Jones preaches on ultimate meanings with way more insight than I’d have credited him with. His mythology speaks to my recent interest in balancing wonder and curiosity with the need to keep an eye on the dangerous and disgusting. For Alex Jones, the evilness is totally embodied in the globalists and their various plans for New World Orders. If that’s not your worldview, relax, it can’t be that hard to imagine it for twenty minutes. You already know of about a million instances where power corrupted…

“Humanity’s Greatest Secret” puts the struggle for the control or freedom of humanity onto a grand and magnificent scale, as in the Wrinkle in Time or His Dark Materials series-es. Don’t let the Spectres or Echthroi take you, friends…

“I’m merely an ant in a great colony,” cried the human being. But you are special: you are the universe having a lucid dream, pretty much. It took a lot of “Creation” to get to this point. You therefor deserve some respect (NOT to be treated as an unwitting experimental subject, a member of an unwanted caste, a draftee in a war of aggression, or any of that other bullshit the great Masters of the Universe do to us. Nor to take shit from anyone else.)

Next post, I swear I will just make pickles or something. Things are literally taking their time to ferment or ripen around here, so I will report back when I’ve learned something sufficiently interesting!

March 17, 2012

Sky Worship Part Two: Terrible Sacrifice

Filed under: magic, science, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:51 pm

Sometimes I hear Christians, such as Alex Jones, criticizing Paganism because of its tradition of worshiping nature, even to the extreme of sacrificing humans. As if the history of Christianity  is anything to be unthinkingly proud of… Inquisitions, Crusades, blah, blah blah. We don’t sacrifice people anymore, and anyone who does so is way outside of neopagan norms!

Many people who believe in an ancient, magical worldview believe that you can harness the life force of a sacrificial victim to politely bribe a god. For instance, Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth had to sacrifice himself, like a lamb, to save people from sin and Hellfire. Caribbean Santeria practitioners sacrifice chickens and so on in prayer, reflecting the traditions of their Pagan African ancestors (although they are Christians). The animals’ death-blood is received by a heavenly saint who, hopefully, grants favors.

I don’t believe that sacrificing some random chicken’s life gets you any favor with the gods (or saints). I think that most of you readers are with me on this — if not, I can respect our interesting differences. A chicken has its own feeble consciousness, and how can you really possess or own that to sacrifice it? When members of Yakuza (aka “The Japanese Mafia”) really offend their boss, they atone by performing Yubitsume, chopping off the last segment of their little finger at the knuckle. Now that’s  a sacrifice.

Well, if I need all my digits, and I can’t bleed out a chicken for Gaia or cast a virgin into the volcano, how am I then to worship nature? I do  believe that it’s a spiritual discipline to respect nature, learn to go with it, and avoid trampling on it for shallow or short-term purposes. I think that this attitude is also in line with rational activity and Christian belief.

Christians believe that God gave the Earth to people to “steward,” which means “take care of.” Even if God gave us the Earth as a gift for our own use, He would be pretty pissed off to see how we’ve been abusing that gift. Imagine, for instance, the God had given you a book. Would you tear pages out for kindling and toilet paper, or would you treat it carefully? Oh? How then is it okay to blow great big motherfracking holes in the crust of God’s Earth, mow forests down, or fail to recycle your batteries? (aside: when Rick Santorum says that we are to “wisely husband the Earth’s resources,” it makes me imagine the Earth as a battered wife.)

What I’m saying is that the natural world is sacred, as goddess incarnate, or God’s creation, or more simply as something full of wonders that supports our lives. And, the only sacrifice that does the world any good is to be more aware of the things around you and to try to take care of them better.

And so at last I come to my point: Shining lights into the sky and blotting out the stars is really, really blasphemous. Anyone who believes that God, um, separated the sky from the Earth with a “firmament,” or that there are celestial gods up there, or that human beings have the birthright to look upwards with wonder, has got to be with me on this one. Remember the scene in Roots, when Kunte Kinte’s dad hoists the baby up to face the starry sky, and says “Behold! The only thing greater than yourself!”? That scene would be pretty lame in most parts of the world today. “Behold! Those two fuzzy lights peeping out from behind the pollution are the only things greater than yourself, I guess.”

So here is the sacrifice demanded by God, Astarte Queen of Heaven, and human decency alike: don’t shine your lights into the night sky! Myself, I have an obnoxious 200- or 400-watt yard light, which my mate feels keeps the dogs safe when they are playing in the yard at night (this since the street light on the corner burned out). The temporary solution: I make sure to turn it off before bed. When the blinky sucker soon burns out, I’m going up a ladder to tear out the Metal Halide bulb’s ballast, put in a giant “compact” fluorescent bulb (energy savings) and stick a reflector or hood on it so that no light is directed upwards or straight out at the neighbors. This assuming I continue to lose the argument over the value of lighting up the back yard in the first place.

Basically, there is no sacrifice in cleaning up our “light pollution.” If you eliminate unneeded lights, wire lights to motion detectors, or direct light downwards, you are saving energy, thus money. You just have to summon up the human energy to do it.

For more information, you can check out the Dark Sky Society (free membership!) and International Dark-Sky Association. Organizations like this really help when things have to go beyond individual action, for instance, to help campaign for a city government to respect anti-light pollution principles with their street lights and municipal buildings. Recently, the Headlands, on Lake Michigan near the Straights of Mackinaw, was declared a Dark Sky Park, and more and more localities are adopting dark-sky legislation. More laws? Well, we don’t have any special right to blot out each others’ sky, do we? In any case, the Dark Sky people can provide you with the practical information about reducing your own light pollution.

All right, I’m done preaching and telling everybody how to live their lives. For today. Imagine, though, if the sky over your suburban home looked like this!

Image of the night sky above Paranal on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the Galaxy we belong to. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO's VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred. This image is from Wikimedia Commons, for "share and share alike" use.

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