Essential Characteristics of Alchemy

The art and science of alchemy has some core tenets that are found throughout any writings on the subject. They are central to the work, whether is is physical alchemy, the kind that led to the modern science of chemistry, or psychological or spiritual alchemy.

Central to all traditions of alchemy is a belief in the essential aliveness of all things. It is not the aliveness of biology but a spiritual and metaphysical quality. All creation is animated by the world soul, the “Anima Mundi”, as it was called by the Greeks. In varying amounts, this archetypal energy is infuses all things with a kind of consciousness and implies in turn that all creation is sacred and precious.

This concept is put forth by Plato.   “…Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.”
Timeus, 29/30; 4th century B.C.

Closeup of orange butterfly on yellow blossomAnother element central to alchemy is oneness. Just as Plato ends his statement above with the phrase “which by their nature are all related.”, the connectedness of all things is taken for granted in alchemical thought. An alchemist of any tradition  would have no trouble understanding the “Butterfly Effect” of chaos theory.

Alchemists did not divide up or find separate categories for the phenomena of the universe. Alchemy aimed to transcend time and space and logic. As defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary, synchronicity is

the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (such as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causalityused especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung”

Almost everyone has experienced some kind of uncanny coincidence at least once in their life. C. G Jung investigated these kinds of coincidences at length and his writings are full of references to such events. He is in fact the originator of the word synchronicity. To an alchemist this is quite natural there is no defiance of natural law in these occurances, in fact they are an indication of the true nature of the universe.

Cocoon on bare branchEven people whose only exposure to alchemy is through popular culture like the Harry potter books know the main principle of alchemy is transformation. In most cases this is thought to be the transmutation of base metals into gold but it is much more than that. It is about moving from the base in everything through a series of refinements until the highest level of purity is reached. This idea is where most people can make a connection with alchemy. Almost everyone has something about their world, life or self they would like to improve.

In progressing an alchemist must break out of the bounds of the standard view of objective reality. He must be flexible enough to adapt himself as he progresses and his view of heaven and the universe becomes more accurate and clear and he frees himself from imperfections and limitations. The goal is to be completely in line with nature and by his work for the alchemist to aid in the facilitation of evolution,

In many ways these concepts are difficult to absorb and integrate into a mind conditioned by the world view of industrialized society. Still, they are not totally alien. The scientists searching for a Unified Field Theory, the religious person wanting to serve God, the many people working on causes to make the world a better place have all already incorporated some of these ideas into their lives. Medical pioneers are finding new mind body connections and environmentalists are discovering new ways in which natural systems are related to one another. People want to improve themselves and people experience synchronicity. Moving one step at a time, the art of alchemy is not so difficult to appreciate and learn to work with at all.

Bright white sunburst against deep blue sky

 

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Caturday Thoughts – Imbolc and Candlemas

Rows of lit candles in a standImbolc or Imbolg, is an old traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. There is evidence it has been an important date since ancient times and was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. It also corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau.

Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and was originally a festival associated with the goddess Brigid. It later became the feast day of St. Brigid. There is some debate over whether St Brigid was a real person. She has the same name, associations and feast day as the Celtic goddess Brigid and there are many similar supernatural events, legends and folk customs associated with her. It is equally likely she was a real person and this body of lore and tradition accrued because she was considered a saint.

Saint Brigid's cross

By Culnacreann (Own work) CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

At Imbolc, Brigid’s crosses were made and a straw, doll-like figure of Brigid, called a Brídeóg, would be paraded from house to house. Brigid was said to visit one’s home at Imbolc. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, while items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brigid was also invoked to protect homes and livestock. Special feasts were held and holy wells  were visited.

Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bríde,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

In Scotland Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach , the divine hag of Gaelic tradition, gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. Much easier to attribute more winter to an old hag than a chubby rodent.

Although many of its customs died out with the onset of the Industrial Age, it is still observed and in some places it has been revived as a cultural event. The newly resurrected Imbolc was brought into the modern world focusing on the old elements of a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involve hearth fires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, burning candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted. Purification was an important part of the old festival and the custom of a thorough spring cleaning may well have originated here.

Purification remained a theme when it was transformed into the Christian celebration of Candlemas. Formally the Feast of the Presentation, it is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian church, celebrated since the 4th century AD in Jerusalem.  It commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, after the birth of her son Jesus. Ritual purification was required by a Jewish tradition that women were considered unclean after the birth of a child. For 40 days for a boy, and 60 days for a girl, women weren’t allowed to worship in the temple. At the end of this time, women were brought to the Temple or Synagogue to be purified. After the ceremony women were allowed to take part in religious services again. This day also marks the ritual presentation of the baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Beyond the Biblical events the purification theme was carried to the dispelling of darkness by light. It became known as Candlemas as this was the day that all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed and on the night, many people place lighted candles in their windows at home. The weather prognostication continued in Christian times, too.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.

or

If Candlemas Day be mild and gay
Go saddle your horses, and buy them hay
But if Candlemas Day be stormy and black,
It carries the winter away on its back.

Traditional chants

Snowdrops blooming in the snow

And a wealth of superstitions and folk customs continued as well. For instance, if a candle drips on one side when carried in church on Candlemas, this denotes a death of a family member during the year. Or if someone brings snowdrops into the house on Candlemas day it symbolizes a parting or death. Any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th) should most definitely be taken down by Candlemas. In France and Belgium Candlemas or Chandeleur, it is also considered as the day of crêpes. Tradition attributes this custom to Pope Gelasius I, who had pancakes distributed to pilgrims arriving in Rome. It is also said the crêpes, with their round shape and golden color are a reminder of the sun and the return of light. But whatever it’s origin, it’s my kind of tradition. I love them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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History and Mystery: Brother Cadfael

Two tall bookshelves full of booksIt is no secret I consume mysteries like potato chips (or crisps if you’d rather). This found me working in and frequenting used book stores to keep the cost of the habit within reasonable limits.The habit also taught me to always look for good writers who can maintain a  long series. I also especially like stories which help me travel in space and time. One such series  I found long ago was that by by Ellis Peters featuring Brother Cadfael as the main character. They are among my favorite mysteries, the kind I can re-read again and again.  Even though by now I know who done it, the characters are like old friends and history and herbalism are two of my loves. Ellis Peters was the pseudonym of Edith Pargeter, a linguist and scholar who wrote twenty novels in the series known as the Cadfael Chronicles. Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk living at the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul, in Shrewsbury, western England, in the first half of the 12th century. The stories are very historically accurate and are set during “The Anarchy” a civil war for the throne of England between roughly 1135 and about 1145. The antagonists were King Steven, nephew of King Henry I and Maud, Henry’s daughter.  Many of the plots in the novels are built around events of this conflict.

There are many things that attract me to the series beside the excellent writing. I can’t stand a “see through” plot where the villain is spotted by page ten and that is not the case in these stories. In addition, with a degree in history I really appreciate how the history of the period forms the foundation of many of those good plots, woven in so as to make the story more authentic and interesting.

It was only many years after I found the series and had made a breakthrough in the family geneaology that I could re-read them knowing I was actually related to several of the characters who appeared in the series: both Stephen, 26th great uncle, and Maude, first cousin 27 times removed; Henry I of England 37 great uncle; Robert, Earl of Gloucester, another first cousin and his son Philip; Geoffrey de Mandeville is a distant cousin and Robert of Leicester a relative by marriage. While they are not relatives (that I can find) all the abbots mentioned in the novels were real people as well.

Cadfael, while a creation of the author, has a history which is quite believable. He had been on the crusades and lived years in the Holy Land, where he learned the art of herbal medicine. He entered the cloister in his forties and his years of living out in the world gives him a wider and more pragmatic perspective than many of the brothers who have been in the cloister since early childhood. As a result the abbots call upon him as a medical examiner, detective, doctor, and diplomat, giving us a more personal view of the period beyond the sweep of the larger political history.

wooden apothecary drawers and mtal mortar and pestleLike gold threads running through a fabric I follow the herbal lore through the stories as Cadfael treats illness and injuries of villagers, pilgrims and visiting dignitaries. I grow and use herbs myself and this is an extra treat in the stories, Many of the herbs and methods of preparation I use are no different than Cadfael’s and they still work.

One inescapable impact on the stories is Cadfael’s status as a Benedictine monk. His day is founded on the principles of the Rule of St Benedict that the day should have an equal share of physical work and exercise, mental stimulation and prayer and introspection. Since monastics were supposed to limit their contact with the secular world and focus on prayer and contemplation, the rule decreed the inmates should provide for themselves the necessities of life. This is why Cadfael has his herbarium and gardens within the walls and nurses the sick and wounded himself. Work in fields and orchards and tending livestock were also part of this, as performing manual labor was part of the rule.

The long and busy days were punctuated by sessions of communal prayer, to which Cadfael often arrived late, unlike the real life monks. The day is  sectioned by the hours of prayer, known as the offices. While Cadfael certainly has plenty of adventure and excitement in his life, his normal daily routine revolves around gardening, medicine making, contemplation and prayer. It seems to me a rather soothing and balanced sort of life. I think it beats many of the frantic schedules modern people have. Although in many ways it was very Spartan, Cadfael didn’t treat many stress illnesses. All daily tasks, work, study, and meals needed to be fitted in around the designated prayer times. After all, the monks were supposed to be devoted to God, although both these stories and histories have shown them to be subject to ungodly thoughts and behavior on occasion.

The first call to prayer came with the first minute of the day.  The night office or Matins in most monasteries began at midnight, although in some places the time varied according to the seasons of the year, from that hour till half-past two or three o’clock. Then came Lauds. In earlier  days Lauds was called Matutinae Laudes, “the morning praises”, because they were supposed to be celebrated at dawn of day, but the names and times of the so called night offices changes over time.  There was a short interval between Matins and Lauds, so it began somewhere about one o’clock in the morning. It would have been some time about half-past one or two in the morning before the monks found themselves once more in bed for their second sleep period.

At around six or seven o’clock, depending on the time of year, they returned to the church for Prime, a shorter office, to start the day. At the end of the work day, usually just before sunset the bell rang for Vespers. At seven o’clock in the winter, and eight in the summer, the tolling of the bell called the community to Compline. Before haft-past seven, then in winter, and an hour later than this is summer, all would have been in bed. The day was divided into twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night and there were extra offices marking some of these daytime hours. The “little hours ” were Terce at nine in the morning, Sext at noon and Nones at three in the afternoon.

With all these breaks for prayer, it would seem quite amazing everything that was required to run a substantial community in an age without mechanization ever got done. All the food raised and harvested and processed, running an infirmary and a medicinal garden and copying of books were done by the monks. I find it a reminder that there are too many distractions in modern life that divert our focus from what really matters. But I’m also glad that the fictional Brother Cadfael managed to get involved in so many un-monk-like distractions for my reading enjoyment. And, no, reading is not a distraction, it is food for the soul and very necessary.

Interior of white stone church was and dark wooden pews

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Caturday Thoughts – How Far Did We Get?

Closeup of laptop keysThe month is almost over. My birthday is tomorrow. I put up a website up for Kimchee and Catnip last year and trued to use it for something else beside a blog but it went nowhere. So I removed that content. Just when I was ready to work with it again it did something weird, it would not update. Somehow dozens of file permissions were changed but I didn’t do it. I spent days of manually changing file permissions and it still wouldn’t upgrade. I gave up and focused on the blog for October and December. I tried again this month and it still came up with the same error even though all the permissions were correct. I am going to have to delete all the WordPress files and start again from scratch.

I struggled to work on and finish my thesis and school course work lasy year. It seemed like the whole year I was moving through concrete, time passed but little was accomplished, I wanted this year to be different So now I ask after a month gone by has the change begun. How far did we get? All that remained for the Masters was one practicum that I finished last week and finalizing my thesis. This will take a few more weeks unless I work on it full time, which if I am honest with myself I can’t.

The day after New Year Simba crashed and that became my main focus. Kidney failure is the number one cause of death in senior cats. There is not much that can be done except hospice and palliative care. That was what I did until the morning she could no longer climb up and down onto the futon. She was loosing the fight, so I took her to the vet and Dr. Dan helped her gently to sleep so she would not have a painful seizure or heart attack. I realized afterward as I woke up very late for almost a week and a half I had never really slept properly, always alert on some level to her laying next to me and concerned for her comfort.

So I have a lot to do. I also realize looking back that I did accomplish a lot. I just demand so much from myself I am never satisfied. I still think I should have done more, but the way to fix that is not to beat myself up for 2017, but to make 2018 the best years ever. In making this decision I realized some changes needed to be made. Some are small. Some are much bigger and involve hard choices.

Birthdays remind you you are getting older. For years, in some cases decades, I have seen  people I’ve known falling apart physically. One friend had a massive stroke, more than one developed multiple degenerative diseases. I myself developed a mysterious auto-immune syndrome and severe osteoarthritis. I had no desire to continue on for years in misery. I used everything I ever learned and then learned more, to reverse the process. I had found the book above years ago and found it inspiring. The title is absolutely true. So the first step in making this the best year ever is to get back in the kind of shape that enabled me to ski race in Vermont and rock climb in Yosemite.

If you are low in energy you won’t get anywhere with anything, especially a program of getting in shape, so I am starting with food. Food is where I found the solution to my health problems in the first place. So far this month I have worked my way through the Christmas leftovers, ruthlessly cleared the refrigerator, and started looking at what’s missing from my diet. I am also planning a detox regime. Many people will tell you these are not necessary. I dispute this. I have seen the positive results.

So how far did we get this month? We loved and let go, our sweet Simba. We forgave our self for not meeting our goals and we resolved to make up for that this year. Then we forged a plan to make sure we would keep that promise. And now I’ve put it out for all the world to see so I can’t slack off.

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La Ba Festival Jan 24th

Dispaly of La Ba congee ingredients in white bowls

By 黛 欧 [CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I love the La Ba festival because I love making the La Ba congee (腊八粥 là bā zhōu), or porridge. It has a very long history, like many things in China. In the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), people did not consume La Ba congee as it was used for worshipping the gods. In the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (386–589 CE), the date of the La Ba Festival was fixed on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. Much later by the time of the Song Dynasty (960–1279), La Ba congee was consumed by both commoners and government officials and aristocrats

In the modern era of the Qing Dynasty (1636–1912), the La Ba Festival was sometimes celebrated as the Spring Festival, and La Ba congee became even more popular. In the imperial court, the emperor and nobles distributed  La Ba congee to  officials, servants, and others. On the first day of spring the government would hold a ceremony called “Beating the Spring Ox” with the purpose of encouraging farming. Officials would use a colorful club to beat an earthen ox after worshiping the God of Grain. After the ritual, people would compete in grabbing the scattered pieces of the earthen ox, which would dispel pests or ants, and bring them good harvest in farming and abundant production of silk and livestock.

It is said the most “authentic” porridge is made in Northern China, but almost every region in China has its own local recipe for La Ba porridge. Eating hot porridge is warming in cold winter, and the grain and nuts are considered healthy winter fare. The main ingredients are rice and sticky rice but there are many things added to make it special. It can also include sugar, red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, longans, hazelnuts, raisins, red beans, peanuts, water caltrops, roseleaf and other special ingredients. These culinary “treasures” gave it an alternative name of eight treasure congee.

The other food feature of the La ba festival is made at this time but not eaten until the New Year celebration. La Ba garlic (腊八蒜 là bā suàn) is an old and popular custom in Beijing. Purple-peel garlic is marinaded with vinegar and a little sugar until the Lunar New Year’s Eve. When the whole family gets together for the dumpling feast, they take out the La Ba garlic which will be crisp, with a vinegary flavor and a green color. Vinegar with the aroma of garlic is the best seasoning for dumplings. This is considered very lucky, as the characters for garlic and calculate are pronounced the same, implying you will calculate wealth.

La Ba Garlic Recipe

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                   3 garlic, pink color peel                                                                                                                          1 cup rice vinegar (brown or white )                                                                                                    1 tablespoon sugar

Preparation:                                                                                                                                 1. Buy garlic, better is pink peel.                                                                                                          2. Peel, clean garlic cloves.                                                                                                                   3. Add in a closed bottle. Add sugar.                                                                                                4. Fill in vinegar. Cover.                                                                                                                        5. Put in a cold dark place to age.                                                                                                          One or two weeks later when the garlic becomes bright green it will be ready to serve. And don’t toss the vinegar! This flavored vinegar is the best for serving with dumplings.

 

 

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Historical Traditions of Alchemy

For hundreds of years alchemists toiled in their laboratories to produce a mythical substance known as the philosopher’s stone. The supposedly dense, waxy, red material was said to enable the process that has become synonymous with alchemy—chrysopoeia, the metamorphosis, or transmutation, of base metals such as lead into gold. We now know that their efforts at the physical level were in vain but on the spiritual, philosophical and psychological levels, hey have left a rich legacy for us to explore.

The start of western alchemy is generally be traced to Hellenistic Egypt, where the city of Alexandria was a center of knowledge through most of the Greek and Roman periods. Here, elements of technology, religion, mythology, and Hellenistic philosophy, each with their own much longer histories, combined to form the earliest traditions. Zosimos of Panopolis was an Egyptian alchemist and Gnostic mystic who lived around the the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century AD.  He wrote the oldest known books on alchemy, which he called “Cheirokmeta,” using the Greek word for “things made by hand.” Pieces of this work survive in the original Greek and Syriac and Arabic translations.

In India the ancient Hindu scriptures the Vedas describe a connection between eternal life and gold. The use of the element mercury for alchemy is first documented in the 3rd– or 4th–century Arthashastra an encyclopedic volume on political economy, social issues and other subjects. Buddhist texts from the 2nd to 5th centuries mention the transmutation of base metals to gold. The 11th-century Persian chemist and physician Abū Rayḥān Al-Bīrūnī, visited the province  of Gujarat and wrote ‘They have a science similar to alchemy which is quite peculiar to them, which in Sanskrit is called Rasayāna and in Persian Rasavātam. It means the art of obtaining/manipulating Rasa: nectar, mercury, and juice. This art was restricted to certain operations, metals, drugs, compounds, and medicines, many of which have mercury as their core element. Its principles restored the health of those who were ill beyond hope and gave back youth to fading old age.” The goals of alchemy in India included the creation of a divine body (Sanskrit divya-deham) and immortality while still embodied (Sanskrit jīvan-mukti).

Muslim world

15th century Portrait of Geber, Muslim alchemy was derived from the Greek. The frequency with which Greek authors are quoted, the numerous theories that are common to both Greek and Arabic alchemy, and the large number of Arab technical terms clearly taken over from Hellenic treatises  prove beyond doubt the affiliation of Muslim and Greek alchemy. The transmission was made partly through direct contact in Egypt, partly through the medium of Syrian Christian translators, and partly by way of Persia. There are unmistakable traces of Persian influence, manifested distinctly by linguistic affinities in technical names and usage and in names of minerals. These traces are sufficiently well marked to render it probable that Persia was, indeed, one of the main channels through which alchemy came to Islam; and it is not without interest to note that many of the principal Muslim alchemists were Persians.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the focus of alchemical development moved to the Islamic World. Much more is known about Islamic alchemy because it was better documented: indeed, most of the earlier writings that have come down through the years were preserved as Arabic translations.[34] The word alchemy itself was derived from the Arabic word al-kīmiyā’ (الكيمياء). The early Islamic world was a melting pot for alchemy. Platonic and Aristotelian thought, which had already been somewhat appropriated into hermetical science, continued to be assimilated during the late 7th and early 8th centuries through Syriac translations and scholarship.

East Asia

Both the Eastern practice of alchemy and the later Western practice are remarkably similar in their methods and ultimate purpose. Practitioners of both traditions pursued the elixir of immortality  as well as the secret of transmuting one element into another. Turning base metals into gold or silver, was equally explored by both schools for obvious reasons.

But because the Chinese approach came from a  basis  in the doctrine of Yin and Yang, Five Phases theory and the I Ching, Chinese alchemy was often more concerned with more philosophical concerns.  It also meant Chinese alchemy was more consistent in its practice from the beginning, and there was relatively little controversy among its practitioners. In Europe there were conflicts between alchemists who favored gold-making and those who thought medicine the proper goal, but Chinese alchemy was more focused on the medical aspect.

You can see from these examples the common threads that connect the practice of alchemy throughout the world. And from it’s roots in medicine and philosophy, we can derive a practice adapted for our current needs and beliefs. What remains of alchemy after the gold making efforts have died is rich traditions can still be mined to help personal transformation.

 

 

 

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Caturday Thoughts – Major Cold dà hán 大寒Jan 20

Deep snow in mountain ravineMajor cold or dàhán in Chinese, daikan in Japanese, 대한 (daehan) in Korean and đại hàn in Vietnamese is the 24th solar term. During Major Cold as the cold currents from the north move southward, the weather becomes continuously cold. Although modern meteorological observation shows that the weather during Major Cold is not colder than Minor Cold in all parts of China, the lowest temperatures of the year still occur in the Major Cold period in some coastal areas. In working with the solar terms and trying to learn more about the pentads, I’ve found only basic information in English. Gradually I have more sources in Chinese but sometimes this leads me to more wondering. The name sayings for the pentads for Major Cold seem to have several versions in Chinese, using different characters. For the first pentad some say hen pheasants are brooding and others it is chickens and some say hatching which is not the same as brooding. Versions of the second pentad refer to the activities of birds of prey; sometimes vultures, sometime eagles and sometimes hawks. And the third pentad is usually some version of streams are all frozen or ice is thickest.

Regardless of whether it’s the coldest, or merely very cold, during Major Cold, people in Beijing have a custom of eating “dispelling cold cake”, a kind of rice cake. This kind of “dispelling cold cake” contains sticky rice as it’s main ingredient and walnut, longan and red dates, all warming in winter. The homophonic words in Chinese for “dispelling cold cake” and “higher year by year” symbolic of good luck and continual promotion.

In Anqing of Anhui province, people traditionally eat fried spring rolls during Major Cold. The stuffing inside the spring roll contains meat or vegetables and the flavor can be salty or sweet. In Nanjing of Jiangsu province citizens enjoy stewed soup during Major Cold, which certainly is a warming food. They always stew an aged hen in the soup with ginseng, matrimony vine and black fungus.

Major Cold always coincides with the end of the year in lunar calendar. In some areas of China, people always fall over each other in eagerness to buy sesame straw during this period because of the old saying, “Rise joint by joint like sesame flowers on the stem.” This saying is used to describe either ever-rising living standards or making steady progress in thought, studies or skills.

An important day during Major Cold is the La Ba Festival, when people usually eat La Ba porridge, a porridge with eight kinds of mixed grains and corn. The festival is celebrated on the eighth (ba 八) day of the 12th month (la yue 腊月) and is one of the most important traditional festivals in Chinese culture. It is also a prelude to the Chinese Lunar New Year. This year the La Ba Festival falls on Jan 27. The festival was originally a day of thanks for a good harvest and sacrifice to ancestors. It also marks the day on which Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, reached enlightenment and became immortal.

Depp snowdrifts in front of pne treesThere is a saying that goes, “Dripping water freezes during Minor and Major Cold.” In various regions of China, Major Cold is the perfect time for winter sports such as skiing, ice skating and sledding. This is certainly not confined to China, it’s the perfect time for winter sports in many part of the world. And it is a good idea to dress well and get out in the fresh air periodically, since winter is often spent indoors in hot stuffy rooms which are not very healthy and in close contact with many people who also may or may not be healthy. After all, winter is “cold season” in a way not connected to the temperature outside. A little time in winter sports in the fresh air will also raise your appetite for some of those delicious warming winter foods and help keep you healthy fr the New Year.

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