Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

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.

August 6, 2013

Water Quality still Medieval

Filed under: science, Soapbox, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:57 pm

Batch after batch of mead and brown-sugar based herbal beer was coming out tasting like band-aids. I moved my fermentation to the most temperature-stable spot in the house (under my desk, right next to the thermostat), switched from dish soap to hand soap to rinsing with water and sanitizing with hydrogen peroxide only, threw out my old bottles, and scratched my head.

Then, in Michael Pollan’s newish book “Cooked,” I came across a reference to band-aid flavored beer. A local brewer told Pollan that the flavor is caused by the chemical chlorophenol, and that lowering the fermentation temperature would eliminate it. Since I had lowered the temperature to the minimum my A.C. and cold-prone body could take, I knew that that particular solution would not work in my case. However, I did learn a highly specific tag for my problem, “chlorophenol.”

I used the search term in a homebrewing forum, and found my solution right away. It turns out that yeast make some phenols for their own metabolic purposes, and if there is chlorine in their environment, the yeast will incorporate chlorine atoms into their phenols. The chlorophenol products are typical of what the chemical industry provides for Lysol disinfectant and the microbial inhibitors in medical supplies.

Many of my beer and wine recipes call for boiling up some wort, but then topping up the fermenting jug with water from the tap. This is totally inappropriate — even the top-up water needs to be boiled to drive off the chlorine.

The water out of my Detroit tap is great by municipal water standards — not too hard, not too soft, nor too polluted — but it is chlorinated and tastes and smells kind of like a swimming pool. Now that the idea of chlorine in the water is linked in my head to the ruinous batches, mouthfuls of band-aid, I really don’t like the taste of my tap water.

I need to boil the water before I imbibe it — it’s no longer potable out of the tap in my view. Now wasn’t the point of chlorinating the municipal water supply to clean it up so that you wouldn’t have to filter or boil out the nasty things water can carry? Boiling won’t even remove the fluoride, which most Americans are overexposed to, which causes the softening of tooth enamel and potentially more serious problems (41% of 12-15 year olds suffer from dental fluorosis, caused by overexposure to fluoride through toothpaste and drinking water. Fluoride is also known to soften bone, cause diabetes and other endocrine problems, and decrease IQ, although this is not proven to happen with exposures typical for Americans.)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have to treat my water with the precautions as a medieval living in a horse-manure-filled, no-sewage-treatment-plant, cholera-infested city. As for the fluoride, that requires more sophisticated interventions (maybe the filter Alex Jones hawks on his radio show. Or mounting a political campaign, tilting against the dental establishment and the industries which sell their fluoridated industrial waste to the water department.)

Okay, it’s better than people dying of dysentery, and I don’t know of a better solution than chlorination. I’m just saying, boil all of your brewing water, and don’t take too much pride from the idea that you might be living better than a peasant living in the superstitious, technologically simple Dark Ages.

April 30, 2013

Safety Poem

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , — paragardener @ 5:08 pm

Let’s make the world safe

Let’s make ourselves safe from drugs

lock up the nutmeg and cinnamon

and classify naughty books

and ban dangerous speech

and make the world safe from weapons

register every box-cutter

license every gas pump attendant

what do you really need a sledgehammer for, anyways?

and make the world safe for children

a chip in every buttock

a stent in every neck

under constant armed guard

those people can keep their music and quaint cuisine

but

we can’t afford them the luxury

of their irrational beliefs

and

let’s burn everything written before 1800

then we’ll make the world safe from bad choices

all dates set up by E-Harmony

unannounced home inspections

denim jackets and hair grease banned

make the world safe from cancer

half of all known chemicals are carcinogens

let’s push them outside the membrane

of our glassed-in freedom dome

let’s make the world safe from bad poetr

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!!!

March 18, 2013

Frontier Beer


Root Beer:

Simmer 1 oz. sassafras root bark in 2 q water for 25 min.
Remove from heat
Stir in 1¾ cup brown sugar ‘til dissolved (or more, up to about 2½ cups?)
Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 pinch cinnamon
Let cool ½ hour.
Awaken ale yeast (gently mix a packet of yeast into warm water with a little sugar for 15 min.)
Bring sassafras brew to 1 gallon volume w/ cold water
Add awakened ale yeast, mix.
Pour through small, fine sieve and funnel into plastic pop bottles
Cap tightly
Let ferment 16-48 hours, squeezing the bottles to feel the pressure.
When the bottles are almost totally firm to the hand, refrigerate or pasteurize to cut off fermentation.

(adapted from BethTN’s recipe, and Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book “Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers.”)

This is a frontier beer, distinctive of America. You can make it this way to create a soda pop, or you can ferment it fully like beer (for example, ferment for 10 days in a jug under a fermentation lock, then bottle with priming sugar.)

To remind everyone, alcoholic fermentation is what happens when yeast organisms consume the sugar in a watery mixture and convert it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. So, you can ferment for alcohol only and let all of the carbon dioxide escape (to make a non-sparkling wine), or trap some of the carbon dioxide in the bottle for fizziness (champagne or beer), or you can let the yeast just barely get started in a sealed bottle to make carbonated non-alcoholic beverages (the tiny amount of alcohol created compares to the alcohol in “non-alcoholic” juices and pops you would buy at the store, perhaps about 0.5%.) Some people simply mix carbonated water into the recipe, or you could use a whipped cream whipper to crack open a pressurized carbon dioxide cartridge and carbonate the pop mechanically.

Root beer can also include wintergreen or birch sap, sarsaparilla, molasses, spikenard, or whatever you like. (If I were to make one tweak to this recipe I would add wintergreen, perhaps 1 oz. of the fresh green.)

A beer glass full of dark amber rootbeer with a light head.

Here’s to the wilderness and the wild people!

This creative beverage is part of a tradition of herbal beers for fun or medicine, which was almost stamped out in Europe by prohibition laws, but which flourished among free American settlers. Another famous formula is ginger ale, made of ginger, water, and honey. Besides the fun of herbal pop and beer, beer is pretty useful as medicine. Medical plant essences typically dissolve better in water with at least a touch of alcohol in it, and beer keeps for a long time, so herbal beer is an elegant and low-tech drug delivery system (or “dietary supplement” delivery system if you don’t do drugs.) Some beers carried specific remedies but others supported health in a more general way: dandelion greens were brewed to reinvigorate the body in Spring, spruce branch tips were brewed to ward off scurvy in Winter, and sassafras seems to be one of those rare herbs that just makes people feel better, whether they are healthy or ill. Hops is a sedative, makes you pee and blocks male sexual response, and it is a very weird choice of medicine to be included in every standard beer.

All beer must start from sugar. Apples were an option on the frontier, having enough sugar and flavor in them to make hard cider with no additions, although that’s more of a wine than beer. Perhaps you have heard of making beer from malted barley, but that was no option on the fringe. The pioneers came from Europe’s brewing tradition, where “maltsters” developed sprouting, drying and roasting barley into an intricate art form. Americans were generally intimidated away from the specialty. Malt also requires long soaking in hot water (for an enzyme in the sprouted barley grains to finish its job of converting seed starch into fermentable sugar), a “required” step that intimidates some away from brewing.

Root beer generally starts with brown sugar, and sometimes molasses, as its yeast-feeding sugars. Brown sugar and molasses were fairly cheap commodities across much of frontier America, or a family could make their own from sorghum, a sugary cane that grows in the temperate zone. White sugar is not recommended for brewing beer, but it’s probably fine if you are just brewing pop. Birch or maple sap is acceptable — apparently, wintergreen in modern root beers is sort of a substitute for the flavor of birch sap. Birch sap was convenient to people who were “handy” and lived in the woods, but if you are purchasing ingredients in today’s marketplace, wintergreen is going to be a lot easier to come by. Honey is a good source of sugar, with its own distinctive flavor and medicinal action, too. A certain Roger Beverly described America’s home-cobbled beer scene circa 1700: “The richer sort of Americans generally brew their small beer with malt, which they have from England, though they have as good a barley of their own as any in the world, but for want of convenience of malt-houses the inhabitants take no care to sow it. The poorer sort brew their beer with molasses and bran, with Indian corn malted by drying in a stove, with persimmons dried in cakes and baked, with potatoes, with the green stalks of Indian corn cut small and bruised…”

My pop-style root beer is good, but not as sweet as commercial pop. It is frothy and sweet with candy and clove herbal flavors, but on the other hand, it’s not that sweet, lacks body, and it’s a little bit astringent. It tastes like… it tastes like… it tastes like freedom!

Once, America banned all brewing, and the result was a terrible degradation of our brewing culture. Hucksters sold inferior homebrew malt that resulted in a mud-like product, the OTC “bath salts” of beer. Underground brewers stretched their product to the thinnest and cheapest possible, counting on steady black market profits, thus creating America’s anomalously thin style of commercial beer. Many herbal beers were forgotten or survived only as pop. Due to “clerical error,” homebrewing remained illegal from the beginning of Prohibition all the way up until 1978. Since then — since people were once again allowed to develop their brewing skills independently and cheaply at home — our brewing culture has much recovered, and even Coors and Budweiser are selling richer beers these days.

Still, sassafras is illegal to sell as food or drink in its natural form. In 1960, FDA found that the sassafras oil content in root beer is carcinogenic — almost as carcinogenic as the alcohol content in any beer. Genuine root beer is a sort of gray-market thing, something you can pass around at family gatherings but never sell at the farmer’s market. Your average corporate root beer would be artificially flavored for cheapness anyways, so the regulators have no concern about the liberty lost by restricting sassafras. They can’t hear any money complaining at all.

It’s sad that the root beer at the store is sassafras-free or chemically stripped of its best molecule (safrole), but the silver lining is that this restrictive FDA policy inspires some productive explorations by those skirting the law. Reed’s, a California company, makes “Virgil’s Rootbeer” organically, approximating the flavor of sassafras root beer with a combination of many herbs including sarsaparilla and wintergreen. Another response to FDA is seen in the conscientiously patriotic American exploring herbs, pop and beer at home. One can legally homebrew beer containing wormwood, the infamous absinthe ingredient, or medical marijuana (if you are duly licensed), and fall outside of the jurisdiction of the FDA and its various superstitious anti-witchcraft regulations. You don’t even need to know how to make proper beer, if you are willing to experiment with pioneer-style sugar-and-syrup-based hooch. Hazards of crafting your own pioneer beer may include a hypomanic state characterized by euphoria, brief moments of ego inflation and a sudden undue interest in aspects of science, culture and history one had been ignoring until now…

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!

January 7, 2013

Anarchist, be kind to the new lamb.

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:31 am

After 10+ years of calling myself an anarchist, I am sure that that is what I am and what I will die being. I promise that this has relevance to all people with strong beliefs…

I believe in human freedom and self-determination, noncoercion, and voluntary association. Now, most people only come halfway to this philosophy: they figure that it sounds nice, but in fact we need forceful government (aka “the State”) to a) take money from the wealthy for the feeding of poor folks, b) keep guns away from our mentally ill halfwit neighbors, c) protect us from the Russians and Chinese, or d), e), f) or g).

When I started down the anarchy path, I still supported FDA. Sure, FDA had neglected herbal medicine, practically causing it to fade from the nation, and they approved dangerous and/or useless Big Pharma drugs and suspicious food additives… but, we need FDA to keep Big Pharma from blatantly poisoning us! Look at all the shady pills Big Pharma is pushing! (The Zoloft and Ritalin I feared back then sound nice and mellow compared to the statin drugs and atypical antipsychotics of today.)

Today I hold Big Pharma and FDA in equal contempt: they are one and the same. Big Pharma is Big Pharma because FDA leases them a concession to fulfill that role. The mist has fallen from my eyes, and I have more consistent anarchist views.

In conversation with anarchists online, someone might raise the point, for instance, that taxation is equivalent to theft. A less faithful anarchist replies, “but taxes support food stamps and winter heating programs. Do you want to freeze and starve people?” Now, ideally, according to our group beliefs, we would look for ways to muster the power to feed and warm everybody through voluntary means. We could have all kinds of conversations about how to accomplish that.

Instead, the anarchist masses turn on the pro-tax anarchist with the charge: “You aren’t a real anarchist! You don’t know anything about anarchy!” They are trying to turn away the young me, to make sure he develops into a Democrat or something equally drab. Because, if you still believe in taxes or FDA, you can’t be an anarchist. According to other people, if you aren’t a vegan, or if you wear suits, you can’t be an anarchist. Coming from a group of people known for questioning the rules, such behavior is particularly lame.

I imagine that this is a universal group behavior: “She can’t be a Christian, she smokes meth / has premarital sex / does something fun” or “He’s not a real patriot, he only owns one gun” or “She’s no Marxist, look at the size of her house.”

Well, guess what. If you know some people who are even close to being on the same page as you, you are pretty lucky. Appreciate them. Welcome them in. Speak to them as if you think they know what they are talking about.

If your ways are just and right and worthy of spreading like Good News over the face of the Earth… you are going to have to bring people into the fold from where they really are, right now. Calling someone a hypocrite for only coming halfway over is the best way to exclude people from a shrinking circle.

If it’s not a matter of life and death, you’re better off sharing beers with someone than driving them from the temple. Relax, tilt your glass again…

December 21, 2012

Sharing Music

“How come everybody wanna keep it like a Kaiser?
Give it away, give it away, give it away now!”
~-Red Hot Chili Peppers

Music is meant to be shared, passed around and tweaked like messages in a game of “Telephone.” That’s how it grows. I believe that there is just one song, and people began playing it in different ways depending on whether they were happy or sad, what instruments were at hand and who their teacher was. Nowadays variations and fragments of the vast and ancient Song are shuffled together through the arts of songwriting and mixology. There is quite a rich and global heritage of music available to even the humblest of Western consumers, largely as canned recordings.

I’ve got no complaints about the branch library, airwaves and Internet being stocked with free un-live music; it is a huge benefit to me. Still, I want to keep the more organic means of growing the Song well and vital.

One of those means is the distribution of sheet music. The oldest surviving written music is from about 1400 BCE, a hymn left behind by the Hurrian people in what is now Syria. The notation on the clay tablet resembles modern guitar tablature, but for lyre. Here is Michael Levy’s rendition (with lots of background information and links buried in the Youtube notes):

Of course, no one knows exactly what “Hurrian Hymn No. 6” originally sounded like. It’s an interesting fact, that no one even knows at what speed “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” was first performed, or what pitch it used for middle C. Every orchestra plays it a little differently. Music distributed in written form is inevitably subject to performers’ interpretation, whereas a “cover band” of the current era may opt for rigid fidelity to recorded material. Reproducing an exact guitar tone through a board of pedals and a stack of speakers is a project in an of itself, although it is all worth it when one gets to experience a good-as-real Pink Floyd show (now available in Australian and British flavors).

Beck Hansen was disappointed when he read a songbook based on one of his albums, and found it to contain a lot of vague directions for teasing weird sounds from recording equipment and synthesizers… so, Beck decided to write an album strictly for release in written form, for all the bands, musicians and combos in the world to take a stab at. “Song Reader,” released earlier this month, is a book of twenty songs, scored in various formats for various band setups. Like popular music from before the era of recording, the music must be reasonably easy to play, for once you have bought the music, you must go on to find people who can play it!

“Song Reader” is an invitation to learn, play and share. “I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting,” says Beck. “I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves.” No one can claim to have laid down the definitive recording of any of these songs, but many musicians and acts have submitted their performances to Songreader.net, the Internet home of the project.

People used to pass around songs with no music at all: just plain lyrics were printed on pamphlets called broadsides, or even bundled up into songbooks. This is one of my favorite ways to learn/write a song: give me some solidly rhythmic words, and a melody and chords will fall right into place around them. I once wrote guitar music to go with J.R.R. Tolkein’s songs included in “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” novels, and of course that has been done for the movies, too. Lately I am perusing a 1921 book, “Songs of the Cowboys” by N. Howard “Jack” Thorp. Full of lonesome and violent cowpuncher tales, the book is included in a collection of public domain songbooks at EZfolk.com.

Passing songs around in incomplete form helps to keep music growing, because it demands creative participation. In my family, the main musical event of the year is singing Christmas carols. Singing together reminds me of my grandma Stade and pretty well gets me blissed out. However, many of us are not Christian and ostensibly should not celebrate Christmas. Actually, Christians did not invent Christmas — they adapted it from Pagan celebrations such as Saturnalia and Yule. So, today, Pagans are taking back Christmas by Paganizing Christmas carols! The results range from beautiful to humorous to kind of obscene. Cern has posted some re-Paganized carols in an online songbook, in the format of lyrics with chords (how the chords are played is up to the imagination of the musicians.)

      C
 Later on, by the fire,
 G
 Cone of Power, gettin' higher
        G7       Dm          G7        F
 It's a Magickal Night we're having tonight,
 D7           G7            C
 Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland

It bears mentioning here that estraven/innana has been sharing links to Christmas music over on “View from the Loft,” for your listening pleasure. She knows some weird old tunes, so you will probably find something new there.

Music is meant to be shared so that it can grow. 70+ year copyrights are clearly supporting publishing-company profits over creative growth (ie, the advancement of human culture.) IMHO, by the time you are very old, you should have full rights to the songs of your childhood. The U.S. Constitution allows for copyrights of limited term, but Congress has the ability and willingness to extend copyright every time the Disney company stands to lose control over Mickey Mouse. That seems to constitute an unlimited copyright, something unconstitutional and therefor illegal. The copyright law is as invalid as it is unjust, and it should be regarded as nothing more than a cruel, small-minded and criminal threat aimed at capturing the world’s Song and other branches of human culture for private profiteers.

This post points to works that were meant to be shared, or are actually so old as to be public domain, or can be passed off as First Amendment-protected parody. You can always play cover tunes in your own living room, too. So, there is a good deal of free space to play in around the edges of copyright protection. The attempt to dominate the growth of the Song for the sake of private profit is as laughable as it is full of hubris.

Anyone can help feed the Song, by supporting musicians as well as exchanging instruments, music and ideas. Being in the music is the fullest human experience — engaging more of your brain than writing about philosophy or having sex. There’s no need to feel cowed by a phony ideal of originality or the standards of professional musicianship — music is for all people, and music is to be shared.

December 12, 2012

Letter to the Lakotah

The Lakotah people live on the Great Plains of America, their rightful lands including much of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. They used to all live in teepees and hunt bison from horseback… The Republic of Lakotah is a new sovereign nation rejecting bogus treaties, and experimenting with a return to the matrilineal and anarchical ways of traditional Lakotah…

I just sent the group a few bucks for humanitarian aid. I have been broke most of my life and only just now feel like I have something material to give instead of taking.

The Republic inspires me to struggle for freedom, and feel like thriving instead of cowering and shuffling. I feel like freedom for whites and all the others in America depends in some way on Indians getting a fair deal.

Please keep up your work as sovereigns from the settler government, the world needs you!

Peace, love & happiness,

~Ethan

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