Caturday Thoughts Postponed – As I Promised

Tree just visible in thick fogTo quote Ron Weasly, “Bloody Hell!”  ( Don’t know who Ron Weasly is? Where have you been? Harry Potter’s best friend. And if you don’t know who Harry Potter is, well, um, try Googling) Yesterday it was raining all day, cold, damp, sky all battleship grey. Stiill doing more of the same as sunset approached, so I gave up on going to the coders meetup that evening. There are two places in Virginia infamous for nasty, thick fog on the mountain and Afton Mountain is one of them. Check the link to an article about it in the Baltimore Sun if you’re a weather buff or morbidly curious. I hate crossing it at night in foul weather, in spite of the fact, or perhaps brcause of the fact the road is a major interstate. Even my friend from the thrift who has lived here all her life hates crossing the mountain.

Then this morning I woke to a dump of snow. It’s the first day of spring!! Bloody hell! Since I pull shut the drapes when it starts to get dark, to help keep the drafts and cold out, I don’t know when it changed. In gloomy weather it doesn’t seem to help that Daylight Saving time has arrived, dark comes too soon.  So no coders meeting and no going out today, at least. It has stopped snowing by daylight but still overcast. Blecch! The cats are hibernating, Cloud didn’t even wat to chae the laser dot this morning.

A good day to keep my promise to report back on the brewery. So I made some oatmeal and booted up the laptop. The place I went is called Seven Arrows Brewing. It was a very nice St Patrick’s Day. The bar is in a large open room, very basic, no trendy decor or fake pub pretentions. They had colored their lightest brew green, so I had one just for the day. It was indeed light, and I normally like a stronger flavoring, but I could easily imagine drinking it in in really hot weather when thirsty. Then I decided to try their Maelstrom Irish Red. I don’t usually like reds, but it was St. Patrick’s Day and I liked the name. I was pleasantly surprised and  I really liked it. None of the bitter aftertaste I have found in other reds.

I decided it would be a good idea to eat something, since I hadn’t had lunch or breakfast, so I ordered the fish and chips. They have a separate kitchen which is always there, unlike the other breweries around here which either have no food or rotating occasional food trucks. Fish and chips seemed appropriate food for the day, being pub type food. I have never been a fan of corned beef and cabbage and I didn’t see it on the menu anyway. It was really good, nice and crispy on the outside and moist and flaky inside like it’s supposed to be. And the crust was not the least bit bready either.

Fried plaice and chips (French fries) in an open styrofoam box

© Andrew Dunn, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The funny thing was though, it was served with potato chips. Even in chain fast food places, not the height of international culture by any means, they serve the fish sandwiches and fried fish with French fries. So either the chef or menu creator doesn’t speak English or they are culturally dyslexic. There are a lot of Hispanic people working in kitchens around here but that’s not what I mean. In England what Americans call potato chips are called crisps, which I rather like. Chips in English English are French fries in America. So these folks should either serve French fries with the fish as they do with the burgers, or call the item fish and crisps.

This was commented on by both one of the bar backs and two gentlemen sitting next to me at the bar. These gentlemen also did me a favor. I saw them asking the bartender for something and he returned with two pamplets. Since they were sociable I asked what they were. Craft brewing is booming in this area and they have gotten together to create the Shenendoah Beerwerks Trail. The pamphlet describes the brweries and has a place on the back page where you can get a stamp from each one you visit and mail it in to get a free T shirt. Since it only takes six stamps to fill it and there are many more breweries than that, I’ll fill out more than one. Then I’ll be able to get some new T shirts and toss those past their prime into the rag bag.

Bloody hell!! Just as I finished this and hit the schedule button I looked out the window where Milk had oushed the curtain aside and its snowing again. First day of spring!! Couldn’t prove it by me! More coffee required.

Piled snowbank closeup

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Aries March 20 12:15 PM

Aries ram illustration from amedieval astrology bookWhen the Zodiac is dealt with as a whole, you can see a cosmological patterm emerge in which the signs are series of twelve archetypes.  And that pattern speaks to the thinking behind astrolgy and it’s continued popularity in the face of atronomical science. In astrology, in an effort to create a “theory of everything” quite difference from that of Stephen Hawking, the signs have been given certain characteristics. There are three “types” of signs, cardinal, fixed, and mutable. The signs are also assigned to one of the four ancient elements, earth, air, fire and water and one of the seven ancient planets, which include the sun and moon.

The first of the the twelve Zodiac signs is Aries. as it occupies the first 30 degrees of the zodiacal circle. When the zodiac system was developed in Babylonia, some 2,500 years ago, the sign was in the same place as the projection of the constellation of Aries, and so it was given the name of that constellation. Due to the precession of equinoxes, the projection of the constellation shifted, while the sign of Aries was left behind to start at the first day of spring. It is classed as a cardinal fire sign.

Aries.svg    The Myth Behind Aries

Most people reading the horoscope never consider the origins of the constellation but it is a fascinating story that tells a lot about what has come to be atributed to the sign.  Poseidon, the god of the sea, turned a nymph into a sheep, to keep her away from her many suitors. Then in order to make her his own he turned himself into a ram. The nymph in turn gave birth to another ram, which being the offspring of a god, could fly and had a fleece of gold.  This same golden ram, called Chrysomallus, was later instrumental in saving the children of a displaced queen, Nephele,  who were about to be killed as a sacrifice.

Nephele induced the ram to fly them to safety in the the state of Colchis, an ancient region on the coast of the Black Sea. The daughter, Helle fell off into the sea. The place she fell was named for her, the Hellespont, the ancient name of the narrow passage between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara, now known as Dardanelles. The son Phrixus, arrived at his destination and promptly sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave his golden fleece to his father in law, King Aeëtes, who locked it away and assigned a dragon to keep it safe. Chrysomallos was afterwards placed amongst the stars as the constellation by the gods.

Close up image of Jason with the Folden Fleece from a vase in the LouvreThe fleece became a symbol of authority and kingship. The story of Jason and the Argonauts is of great antiquity and was current in the time of Homer (8th C. BCE) They sail out on a quest for the golden fleece by order of King  Pelias, in order to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Iolcus. Pelias in on that throne and does not want to give up his power. He tells Jason that if he returns with the fleece it will be unmistakable proof he had a right to the throne and Pelis would abdicate.

Aries.svg    Aries as Archetpe

Aries is classed as cardinal fire sign, beginning on the vernal equinox and marking the first day of spring. It is held to mirror the rising, restless energyof the season. Jason typefies the archetype of Aries, the single-mided, adventurous warrior king.  The list of such characters is long and embeds the archetype in human consciousness: QinShi Huang, unifier of China, Ghenghis Khan. Thutmose III,  Alexander the Great. It is the energy of ego, the desire for power and assertion, but also the courage to face challenges head on, like the charging ram. It can be carried to excess. But this kind of energy in humanity’s makeup  also produces great inventors, astonauts and explorers. It is the archetype of the initiator, whether of a dynasty or a corporate empire. You can see the way the template can be applied to ancient kings and modern innovators. to referback to another myth, Proteus was a shape-shifting sea god whose name gave us the adjective protean, meaning that which can take on various shapes, forms, or meanings. This flexibility and adaptibility of the archetypes is why the myths still resonate and why astrolgy still has so much allure.

You don’t have to believe in astrology to channel the adventurous energy of Aries in your favor. The sign does mark the first day of spring after all, a great time to start something new or plan that summer adventure,

 Hikerin the distance on a ridge path walking to a cloud obscured escarpment






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Start of Work – Prime

Monastery gardenBack in Cadfael’s day the monks prayed Matins during the night and said Lauds in the darkness of early dawn, then went back to bed. Initially there was no requirement for saying an office again until Terce, the third hour. In the time between Lauds and Terce the monks were to get some additional rest and then begin work or spiritual study. At a certain point Prime, or the First Hour, became one of the formal offices, said at the first hour of daylight, varying according to the season but usually around 6:00 AM.

Icon of St John Cassian in paint and gold leafSt John Cassian, noted for his role in bringing the ideas and practices of Christian monasticism to the early medieval West, gave a story for the origins of Prime. In the Middle Eastern monastic communities where he began his career, the monks returned to their cells to sleep again after Lauds. Since there was no other office again until Terce, the temptaion was there to prolong sleep until nine in the morning, instead of rising again early to apply themselves to manual work or spiritual reading. It was decided in his monastery at Bethlehem to prevent this indulgence, the monks would be called back to choir for the recital of a few psalms and then sent to work until Terce.

The basic theme of Prime is dedication of and preparation for the day’s labors and conflicts. The format changed over time and eventually Prime was eliminated by the Catholic church in the 20th century. I suppose that as the other night offices were moved forward, with Matins moving to around 2:00 AM and Lauds coming closer to 4:30 or 5:00 AM squeezing in Prime became difficult. We no longer live in an agricultural society and most definitely the pace of life is different. I think in Cadfael’s time when Lauds was the end of the night office it worked much better. I tried this out on my calendar and it either broke up the sleep periods too much or bunched everything together in the morning. Just the same, there is good reason to take a few moments at the start of the work day to get into a positive frame of mind and set an intention to do ones best. And if you hate your job, for whatever reason, set an intention to move on to another one.

Foxgloves in bloomMost jobs these days are in no way as simple and  soothing as copying manuscripts in a scriptorium  or compounding remedies from the herb garden as an apothecary. No medieval monk ever spent hours of his day in congested traffic  to get to the field he had to plant or harvest.  But many people find their jobs rewarding, if also challenging and stressful, such as doctors, nurses and EMTs, and a few minutes of reflection before the start of work coud not possibly hurt. Most of us spend a good third of our lives on the job and going into it with a heightened consciousness might make a difference.

Even though I no longer have to commute to an office, I still take time each morning to think about the days work, especially if it involves dealing with potentially aggravating things, like government bureaucracy and a difficult person.  The more I can put myself in a positive state of mind and keep focused on the highest good rather than the distractions of modern life I can minimize the stress of those dealings.

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Caturday Thoughts – What the H*** – Let’s Go For It

Glass with large white candle surrounded by small yellow flowers on green tableclothSo I realized St Patrick’s Day was Saturday and I haven’t really celebrated for years. The housework is massively behind while I finish the thesis (it’s getting there), the blog is barely keeping up, so I decided to postpone Caturday Thoughts until later while I got caught up on housework, and the normal paperwork and shopping. I’ll be going to the rescue thrift as usual and then I am going out for a beer at one of the local breweries. Yesterday would have been my mother’s 94th birthday. It was a standing joke I always forgot her birthday until I realized it was the morning of St. Patrick’s Day.  She was of Irish descent so we agreed that it was OK because she really would have liked if her birthday was ON St. Patrick’s Day and that’s when we always celebrated it. It’s ironic now she’s gone I remember on time. I have a very limited social life with all the work going on and all the things I’m juggling, so I decided the h*** with it, I’m going to toast my mother with a beer “at the pub”. It seems like the thing to do.

Also, I got tired of trying to ignore the Kiragawa seed catalog. Planting doesn’t start here until the end of April but you can always start seeds indoors. It’s just this house is always so cold and damp. But again, I am tired of everything in my life being in suspended animation. So the h*** with it, I went ahead and ordered the seeds. I will do my best not to let the house kill them off and I only ordered  things that would do well in pots so I can move them if I have to.

So with your indulgence, a much more interesting post will appear later tomorrow with interesting cat news and  hopefully interesting human (beer and food) news too. I just have to take a day and go for it.

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The Stars in Their Courses

Night sky from ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile,

Night sky from ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile By ESO/Y. Beletsky [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve always loved the night sky. It’s a shame most people don’t know what it really looks like. Of all the kinds of pollution you hear about, light pollution is rarely mentioned. Although the main sufferers are astronomers, light pollution has more bad effects than just obscuring the heavens. I can use heavy curtain to shield my home from its intrusion but I can’t banish it from outdoors. So I confine myself to books and photos and still get much enjoyment from the what’s out there and what people create from it.

Night by Vincent van GoghGreat art has been inspred by the night sky. Great science has been the result of fascination with what is suspended there. Even before what we consider modern science had evolved the night skywas studied for clues to the nature of time, the seasons and the nature of the universe. In those early explorations myths came about to create logical cosmologies in explanation of what was observed. One piece of this system was the identification of constellations.

Painting The Meteor of 1860 by Frederick Church

Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church

The constellations we are most familiar with are those of the zodiac although the ancient Greeks had identified forty eight. The zodiac is an area of the sky that extends approximately 8° north or south of the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year. The paths of the Moon and visible planets are also within the belt of the zodiac. Zodiacal signs stay fixed relative to the solstices and equinoxes.

The origins of the zodiac date back to the Babylonian and Chaldean civilizations.  Although the zodiac remains the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system used in astronomy, the term and the names of the twelve signs are today mostly associated with astrology. In those early times astronomy and strology were one and the same. Yet there was already a divergence.

Close up of a section of the Dendara zodiac bas relief

By Vania Teofilo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Somewhere around the 5th century BCE, Babylonian astronomical texts began to describe the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets in terms of 12 equally-spaced signs, each one associated with a zodiacal constellation, each divided into 30 degrees. This normalized zodiac is fixed to the stars and totals 360 degrees. The Babylonian star catalogs then entered Greak astronomy in the 4th century BC. Greek  astrology derived in part from both Babylonian astrology and from Ptolemaic Egyptian astrology.  The Dendera zodiac, an Egyptian relief dating to ca. 50 BC and now in the Louvre, is the first known depiction of the classical zodiac of twelve signs. There are actually thirteen constellations running along the ecliptic, the one missing from the astrological zodiac is Ophiuchus. TheBabylonians recognized it but they decided to leave Ophichus out, it would spoil the neat fit of divsions making 360 degrees and it was never a formal astrological sign.

By now astronomy and astrology have finalized their divorce. If you want to wind up an astronomer talks about astrology. Yet millions of people all over the world base serious life and business decisions on predictive astrology and in fact it once dictated the schedule and activities of the President of the United States. I find this just as fascinating as the science side of astronomy but for much different reasons, cultural ones. The psychology and mythology involved  say as much about people as telescopic observations say about the universe.

6th century mosaic floor showing the zodiac signs

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Alchemy – Prima Materia

Alchemical emblem for prima materia showing detailed landscape and floating cubesPrima materia, first matter, the raw material of nature and people as well, is where the work of alchemy begins. In alchemy prima materia or first matter is the ubiquitous starting material required for the magnum opus  and the creation of the philosopher’s stone. It is the primitive formless base of all matter, the primordial chaos before anything is created. Alchemical writers used similes both to describe the universal nature of the prima materia and to conceal it’s  “true name” according to occultist Arthur Edward Waite. Since the prima materia has all the qualities and properties of elementary things, the names of all kinds of things were assigned to it.  Martin Ruland the Younger lists more than fifty synonyms for the prima materia in his 1612 alchemical dictionary. His text includes justifications for the names and comparisons. Waite lists an additional eighty four names. The names for prima materia reflect the same ambiguity as the alchemical process partly because alchemists held personal definitions of prima materia, many definitions even contradicted one another. They range from lead, iron, gold, quicksilver, salt, sulphur, vinegar, water, fire, earth, water of life, blood, poison, spirit, clouds, sky, dew, shadow, sea, mother, moon, dragon, Venus, microcosm, and so on.

Besides these definitions, which are partly chemical and mythological, there are the philosophical ones which have deeper meanings. For instance, in the treatise of Komarios one finds the definition of “Hades.” Dorn, student of Paracelsus, said prima materia was “Adamica,” which coincides with Paracelsus’ “limbus microcosmicus”. Limbus is a strip or border, and microcosm refers to man. This points to a belief in some sort of edge or barrier around the human self and possibly the idea that  this naming of the prima materia indicates a further territory to be expanded into. This finds a parallel in psychologist William James’ “fringe of consciousness”.

Alchemists assumed man could complete the work of the prima materia because he possessed a soul. Since the soul came from God, therefore, man was capable of doing God’s work. The alchemical process of moving from the prima materia was to emulate God’s own work of creation, restoring that which man had spoiled.  Since the prima materia is also suposed to be the philosopher’s stone, this also demonstrated the stone is without beginning or end. This carries over to the alchemical psychology of C. J. Jung and others of like mind.

In Jungian psychology, aslo known as analytical psychology, individuation is the developmental process of the undifferentiated unconscious, in which innate elements of personality, the components of the immature mind, and a person’s life experiences become, if the process is successful, integrated over time into a well-functioning whole. The key point is, this process happens whether the person s aware of it or not. The more self-awareness we have the more likely will be the success of the process.  This is very difficult for children, at the mercy of the adults around them. A person who has heard from a very young age their judgement is faulty and their choices all wrong can wind up subconciously making decisions that fulfill this description of who they have been led to believe they are, as happened to a good friend of mine. 

In personal alchemy, when looking for our prima materia all we need to do is look for the messy places in our life. Always late, disorganized, or accident prone? These are signals from the unconscious of inner chaos, signs we have aspects of the process that have not succeeded in smoothly integrating. The prima materia is within us, lead waiting to be turned into gold. Each of us will have a different name for it, as the ancient alchemists did, beause each of us has different personality elements, different memories and life experiences. Nonetheless, if we follow the example of those same alchemists and truly dedicate ourselves to the Great Work we can rectify these chaotic feelings and experiences into a balanced and satisfying life.

Black and white alchemical emblem of Rebis


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Caturday Thoughts – Missing a Garden

Closeup of catnip plantsA sure sign of spring is not bird actiity or things starting to green up. The erratic weather we’ve been having can foool even birds and trees. No, it’s something much more automatic and unconnected to Mother Nature, the start of Daylight Saving Time. But this year I am wondering what I should do. I miss having a garden. Last year I didn’t bother. There was so much work to do to make the neglected yard into a proper garden. I had only hand tools and no where to store things like a tiller. My push lawn mower has been sitting in the bed of the truck all winter. Since I have a cap on the truck it was the best solution to protecting it from the weather. Living in limbo, while trying to figure out if we will move and where my storage unit is packed full, and there was no more room.

I was busy with lots of projects and just let the garden idea go. The catnip plants I put in when I first moved here died as did the roses after a couple of seasons. The brain-dead twenty somethings the landlord sent to work on the yard weedwacked my pots and broke them, too bloody lazy to let me know they’d arrived so I could move them, much less move them themselves. They cut down the lilies and several herb plants too. In America it seems all you can find are chemical tossing “lawn services” and mowers. A wealthy friend with a beautiful large garden despaired of finding proper garden help. When she said ” I want to find an English gardener.” I had to laugh. My experience with gardening in the UK is that they are much keener on gardens than Americans, who are addicted to lawns, although there are many, many exceptions. I told her she’d have to arrange for a work visa and import one.

I’d really like to start again. The seed catalog from Kitagawa came. I am waffling about ordering seeds. I may go ahead.Last year lots of crops didn’t do well, the vendors at the farmer’s market all complained as did my friend’s husband who is a keen gardener. Recently Don said he was going to try someof the same vegetables again this year that faied last year. If wewind up moving I could always donate my starter plants to Don. His wfe loves salads so she would like the greens I want to grow, even if they are exotic to Americans.

Red-tinted Perilla plants growing in shade

By Bill and Mavis T [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

A couple of years back the Korean grocery sold plants of Korean perilla or deulkkae; the leaves are called kkaennip and are used in many recipes. Korea and Virginia have similar summers and the little plants grew beautifully. I made kimchee and pickles with with the leaves and steamed them as a side dish and put themin Korean pancakes. It was all delicious, they have a distict flavor, a combination of mint, basil and anise. I have not seen the plants since but I can get seeds rom Kitagawa. There is a variety called crispa which is known by it’s Japanese name of shiso.  It would be interesting to grow both and use the shiso for Japanese dishes like hiyayakko (cold tofu) and cold noodles.  In Vietnam it’s know as tía tô and also put in cold noodle dishes. In both countries they know how to fix food for for hot muggy weather.

Close up of white blossom and leavs of garlic chives

By KENPEI (KENPEI’s photo) CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Something else I’d love to try growing are Chinese chives, also known as garlic chives. I love Chinese style chive pancakes but I also put them in Korea style pancakes too. In the west the species Allium tuberosa is often used as an ornamental plant. Allium a the plant genus that includes hundreds of species, including the onions, garlic, scalion, shallot, leek and chives. Most of them do have attractive flowers and nice greenery but eating them is as enjoyable as looking at them, probably more so. I don’t see any reason why both edible and ornamental plants can’t grace a garden. For those who may not like onions, garlic and their relatives in their diet or think stinky veggies would make horrible addition to a garden I include a view of ornamental Alliums from a British flower show.

Purple and white Alliums in bloom at flower show

By Andy Mabbett (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons

These are quite showy but only food for bees, which is quite a good thing also. There is another plant which I want to add that is also food in Korea but an ornamental in the West. Known as doraji (도라지) in Korean, the roots are cooked and served as a vegetable. The dried ones I can get in the grocery are just not as good as the fresh ones my housekeeper and I use to forage for in the hills behind the village. Setting aside the probability that fond memory has enhanced they flavor of past servings, fresh is nearly always better tasting than preserved. It’s alot of work to fix, usually at least a couple of soakings and several scrubbing with coarse sea salt and rinsings. Otherwise it is bitter. In spite of that, the root is also used to make a dessert, jeonggwa. Jeonggwa (정과正果) is a crispy, chewy sort of candy with vivid colors and a translucent look, made by boiling the root in honey, rice syrup or sugar water, then drying the slices, and  shaping them into flowers or other decorative forms.

Close up of blue bellflower blossom

By M Shades [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Balloon flowers, as they are known in the west, are beautiful as well as delicious and fun to watch asthe blossoms bud, grow into little balloon shapes and break open to full flower. They hold aspecial place in Korean culture beyond their use as a vegetable. Doraji taryeong is one of the most popular folk songs in both Koreas, north and south. It is also a well known song in Japan, by the name Toraji (ラジ). The Korean market had some plants some years back and I didn’t dig them up and eat them the first year, happily so as they never got them in again. They are perrenial if not dug up for food. But I now have other places to get them from so I would like to add more. Let’s hope at some point I’ll be able to do this and really have a real garden again, with flowers, herbs and vegetables to gratify all the senses and enjoy.

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