Borealis Meditation

Science and Spirituality

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The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm

I was inspired to look into and share the chemistry behind the silver dime charm this week. The first flash of  inspiration was my lesson in powders (I have been taking very informal classes in hoodoo recently and love it), and the  second was a post by Candle Smoke Chapel that they had a new etsy listing of silver dime charms. So thank  you both for the inspiration! Now on to the science!

The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm 

The mercury dime, or silver dime charm, if you are not familiar with it goes like this: If you wear a silver dime around your ankle and if you walk through a powder (ex: hot foot) the dime with absorb the hit and tarnish, keeping you safe.

Image from Lucky Mojo

For the sake of example let’s look at what happens if you are wearing a silver dime and walk through hotfoot powder. Hot foot powder is made primarily of sulfur and crushed hot peppers with the option of other nasties. The key ingredient here in terms of what is going to physically happen to your silver dime is the sulfur.  The sulfur in the powder will react with the silver on the surface of the coin, causing it to “tarnish” in a RedOx reaction. I found this awesome old school video about the reaction:

For the sake of repetition here is the reaction again:

2Ag(s)+S(s) -> Ag2S(s)

Sulfur (S) basically wants two more electrons… wants them REALLY BAD, and Silver (Ag) has an extra that it isn’t too attached to. Sulfur takes one electron from two silvers making it S(2-) and each silver Ag(1+) causing them to  the  two silver and the sulfur atom are now sharing, and create a black solid Ag2S, which is the tarnish you see on silver.

Silver doesn’t need solid sulfur to tarnish. In fact Hydrogen Sulfide gas that can be found in the atmosphere can also react with silver. H2S (hydrogen sulfide gas) can be the result of the decomposition of plants and animals, or some industry of some sort. In fact just about any sulfur compound can cause tarnishing including hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard and even rubber bands. If you have ever worn silver jewelry into a hot springs you will have also seen this same reaction.

In conclusion:

The roots of this charm seem to be the fact that several popular powders that are used when throwing against someone ( crossing powder, goofer dust, and hotfoot powder) have sulfur as a main ingredient. This sulfur reacts to the silver worn at the ankle by tarnishing through the reaction 2Ag(s) + S -> Ag2S(s).

This reaction is an example of an oxidation and reduction  (RedOx) reaction. For more on this type of reaction here is another video:

More Reading on Silver Dimes (and references)

–  Conjure Blog: Mercury (Silver) Dimes

New World Witchery: Coins

– Silver to Black – and Back (abstract) J. Chem. Educ., 2000, 77 (3), p 328A DOI: 10.1021/ed077p328A Publication Date (Web): March 1, 2000

Lucky Mojo: Silver Dimes

The Gaia Update for August 7 2014

The Gaia Update is a (almost) weekly short news podcast on what the earth has been up to. It focuses on the three big natural disaster types: Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis, but also highlights other geology and earth science related news and research.

Information is from the following resources:

The USGS Eathquakes Page

The Smithsonian Weekly Volcano Activity Report

For More information on the M6.1 – 11km WNW of Wenping, China

Visit the USGS Event Summary page

For more information on the landslides mentioned

Visit AGU Landlsides Blog

For recommendations on what to have in your distaster kit 

Intro and outro music is provided by music alley, and is exerpts from polyambs by  litvinov and nomerovskiy. Thank you Blessed Steno for watching over me as I start this project!

The Gaia Update for July 30, 2014

The Gaia Update is a (almost) weekly short news podcast on what the earth has been up to. It focuses on the three big natural disaster types: Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis, but also highlights other geology and earth science related news and research.

Information is from the following resources:

The USGS Eathquakes Page:

The Smithsonian Weekly Volcano Activity Report:

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center:

Research highlighted this week:

Godefroit Pascal, Sofia M. Sinitsa, Danielle Dhouailly, Yuri L. Bolotsky, Alexander V. Sizov, Maria E. McNamara, Michael J. Benton, Paul Spagna (2014) A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales, Science 25 July 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6195 pp. 451-455 DOI: 10.1126/science.1253351 

McCrea RT, Buckley LG, Farlow JO, Lockley MG, Currie PJ, et al. (2014) A ‘Terror of Tyrannosaurs’: The First Trackways of Tyrannosaurids and Evidence of Gregariousness and Pathology in Tyrannosauridae. PLoS ONE 9(7): e103613. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103613

NOTE: This one popped up top of the news page for AGU but it turns out it is a month old. Sorry!

WALTER H. F.  SMITH and KAREN M. MARKS, (2014) Seafloor in the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Search Area, Eos, Vol. 95, No. 21, 27 May 2014

Intro and outro music is provided by music alley, and is exerpts from polyambs by  litvinov and nomerovskiy. Thank you Blessed Steno for watching over me as I start this project!

New Project: Weekly earth-science updates!

I just started a new project, a weekly (as much as I can) short update on what the earth is doing! I am calling them “The Gaia Update”

Why this new project?

Our planet is constantly active, constantly on the move, and as you know if you know me, it fills me with awe. I as humans we sometimes think of our environment as static, and it can’t be harder from the truth! I want to share.

I have talked about being inspired by the gifting culture I found at Burningman and I believe strongly in giving to your community, selflessly. This is what I can bring, and this is my gift. Gifts should be something you are proud of, and I feel like the shorter format gives me the time to do something I am proud of.

Please feel free to send productive criticism as I want this to be the best little gift to the community it can be!



Short reflection on liminal space

I love the phrase liminal space. One of the times I think about it a lot is when I am diving. I don’t like boat diving, partially because I get sea sick, and partially because I love the time spent swimming out from the shore. On a boat you get your gear on, jump in and down you go. You don’t hang out in that liminal space of the surface. That place you are not tied to because of your equipment.

I enjoy shore diving. I enjoy getting my gear on, wading out into the water and swimming out to the drop point. I love being in that liminal space, at the surface looking into the world I will soon be entering. I like to check my gear, tighten things down, and check again. I love looking down at the world I am going to enter, and then look up at that surface as I sink down.

I relish that moment between worlds.

Isabella and the pot of Basil

Isabella and the Pot of Basil
by William Holman Hunt
Oil on Canvas.
currently in the Laing Art Gallery,
Newcastle upon Tyne

I have been doing some reading and research on plants and herbs lately. I know a lot about the earth as a whole but I have been enjoying learning about the things that grow on the rocks I love so much. 

I found a book at my used bookstore a while ago called Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits, and Plants by Charles M. Skinner. It is an older book and my printing is from 1939. I am really enjoying the little stories and myths with different plants though. Last night I looked up basil and discovered a wonderful story (and some amazing paintings of it) that I had never heard before! 

It is the story of Isabella and the pot of Basil. There is also a Johns Keat’s poem about the story. If you had read Hyperion then you would understand why I always perk up at the mention of Keats. I think re-reading those books is in my very near future. I will do my best to summarize the story without ruining it.

 Isabella was a Maid from Messina in Sicily Italy. She lived with her brothers who were very successful business men. Lorenzo was a manager of one her brothers businesses and she and him fell in love. Her brothers pretended not to notice the interactions between the two of them for a while to avoid scandal.

After a while though they sent Lorenzo to a festival outside of the city. On the way there they killed him. They told their sister that he was away on a long trip. After a while though when he didn’t return she worked up the courage to ask where he was. Her brothers coolly replied “Why do you care where he is? Don’t ask about him again”.

Isabella was worried and spent the rest of the day in her room. She called out to her lover asking for him to return. That night when she fell asleep Lorenzo did return to her in her sleep. He appeared before her as a ghost covered in blood and told her “I can never return to you! Your brothers have killed me!” and then he told her where she could find his body.

When she woke up the dream had such an impression that she went to the location it revealed to her. There, as if in sleep she found the body of Lorenzo. She at first wanted to move it to holy ground but realizing that this would likely lead to its discovery removed the head and placed it in folded in fine linen in a large pot. She filled the pot with earth and planted basil in the pot. She took comfort from guarding the pot and tending the basil that grew in it.

She watered the plant with tears and it grew strong. Her brothers grew suspicious of her always being home with the basil pot and thought she had some mental malady and decided to help by taking away her basil plant. She cried uncontrollably for its return and her brothers still worried about her decided to see if she had anything hidden under the plant in the large pot. There they discovered the head. They buried the head again and fled to Naples. Isabella died of an broken heart still crying for her pot of basil.

I hope you enjoyed that story! I recommend reading the Keats poem as well. It really is always fun to learn new things. To finish off this post I am going to leave you with a photo of my awesome book, and of the basil we have growing happily in the garden! 

Never stop learning

I have been a slacker when it comes to the podcast and I apologize. I have been a slacker being a teacher because I have been busy being a student. I have spent years of my life putting all my energies into working and studying to understand the earth. It was a long and hard road but I loved every minute of it. I have also spent a lot of time with the spiritual side of myself. Both of these works have been very rewarding. I think I needed to be solid in both before the universe showed me the next fork in the path. I have a career, and a solid spiritual base.

Now I am learning a Craft with a capital C. I am using this learning period to help friends and loved ones and the feeling is just bringing me almost to tears. It feels so good to take all this training and feel like I am doing something totally different and concrete in a new way. It is new and exciting and I am enjoying exploring my reaction to it as well as the results. 

The only constant is change. Change is scary, but sometimes it is a very good thing. 

Science and Magic: more reflections on complex ideas

I was inspired to continue writing about science and non-science things by the amazing response I got to my science and religion post. I figured a good companion would be to talk about science and magic. However, as I have pointed out before the words “magic” and “deity” have a lot of cultural meanings and to make it super clear what I am talking about I am going to use a different word. I am going to talk about the known “science” and the unknown “sparkle”. I am using sparkle because in this context it doesn’t make sense with its normal cultural definitions, therefore it stands out. I am going to use sparkle to talk about magic, spirit, energy, and deity. Sparkle is the essence of the unknown. Now that we have our variables defined (like a good scientist) I am also going to use two examples to illustrate my points, the favorite whipping boy the placebo effect, and dreams.
I don’t like be super serious all the time so here is some My Little Pony fan art. This is called Sparkle by Richard W. 
 To me the word is a place we seek to understand. Humans developed a rigorous system to systematically try to understand the world and we call it “science”. Alchemy was once considered a “science” and was treated with the same rigorous testing. Over the years science has branched as human knowledge has grown. When we first evolved there was a vast amount of knowledge that we now take for granted that was a huge unknown mystery. If you think about it, a sunrise is a beautiful amazing thing, and to know why the sun rises you need to know something about astronomy. Where the sunrise used to fall into the category of “sparkle” miraculous things we didn’t understand, we have now slid it into “science” because we know whats going on. But does that make it any less amazing?
Let us now talk about medicine. One of the most amazing discoveries in my mind is the placebo effect. We now know that if you give someone a sugar pill they can actually feel better. We know that this happens, and we now test things against the placebo effect. New medicines must have a higher success rate than the placebo effect. Personally the placebo effect is the perfect example of science and sparkle. We know that the placebo effect works, and we know what it is. It is a defined entity so it lives in science. However, that now tells us something about us that I think is vitally important to those of us who also practice traditional healing. The brain can be the source of a malady. That is what it tells me. If you can trick the brain into making you feel better than sometimes it can be reasoned it is the brain that is making you feel bad in the first place.
There is an excellent example of this thinking in my Hawaiian Medicine book. As with most Hawaiian teachings there is a story that opens the book. The book is Kahuna La’au Lapa’au: The Practice of Hawaiian Herbal Medicine by June Gutmanis. I am not anywhere near finishing this book, I usually pick it up every once in a while and flip through it. I got it along with a bunch of plant ID and animal ID books when I moved here to help me learn my new environment. The prologue starts
“The year was about 1900, Auntie was telling her troubles to her haole friend and physician, Dr. George Herbert in his office on Alakea St. It was pleasant to call on Dr. Herbert. He spoke some Hawaiian and he understood the pilikias of Hawaiians as well as haoles. Auntie talked on and on. Her great breast heaved with emotion as she described the sick in her head and throat which did not cure with the medicines he had given her. Finally Dr. Herbert said, “Auntie, I don’t think I can cure you. You get Kanaka sick. We are old friends, I understand. Better for you to try Kanaka cure.”
Historical Photograph (source) circa 1932
This is exactly what I think ties traditional healing, the brain and western medicine together. When you are physically ill, physical cures are what you need. When you are emotionally ill, physical cures will not work because the problem is not physical. In that case, traditional healing goes after the actual problem. Sometimes a sparkle problem can only be fixed with a sparkle solution.
Knowing this doesn’t make traditional medicine and healing any less amazing, it just means we understand its place in the array of options for healing. Western Medicine is great at physical problems that can be studied and quantified, but the problems that arise from the more abstract source of our mind and emotions, they are horrible at fixing. It all comes down to the source of the problem.
To summarize the rest of the talk story: Aunties illness in the book was due to an argument that she had with her son, he had left home on a ship shortly after. The anguish about this situation had caused her pains and the gods were asked for help. Auntie was cured.
I hope that made sense, because I am going to move further into the mind and talk about dreams. I want to start with a story. Last week I had a dream. In this dream I went up to my chicken coop and instead of the single egg that is brown that I usually get from my laying hen, there were two eggs, one brown and one white. In the dream the second one was from one of my new hens, and I was ecstatic and then the dream went abstract. When I woke up I remembered the two eggs and the colors. Two days later when I came home from work my husband told me “We got two eggs today!” and sure enough one was brown and one was white.
Good girls! Look at those pretty eggs!
There are two ways I can explain what happened. The first is with sparkle. I could see the future and predict that the she was going to soon lay an egg and what color it would be. The other way to explain it is, the person I bought the hen from probable told me she would lay white eggs and I just forgot. I might have also subconsciously picked up on some subtle cues in her behavior. This information was processed by my amazing behind the scenes computer, and the solution was fed to my conscious via a dream. To me that is even more amazing than “I saw the future”. I think this example perfectly illustrates how just because you are starting to understand how something works, doesn’t make it any less amazing. How cool is it that my brain was able to process all this information in the background and then feed me a cute dream to tell me the results!?

I am going to leave you with a quote from the amazing Author C Clake  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Which has been popularly misquoted (I think anyways)  as “Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.” 

My thoughts on the Us Vs Them problem with Science and Religion

Today I am writing as a scientist. I wanted to comment on the Bill Nye Vs Ken Ham debate that I did not watch. I don’t want to comment on the debate itself but the mentality that this debate comes from. First of all I want to say that I blame both sides for the following problem.

There is a very pervasive “Us vs. Them” mentality when it comes to science and religion (and, for that case, science vs art). This is the mentality everyone is divided into two categories the “us” and the “them” and there is no room for anything else. It is a very black and white mentality. When we look at how this relates to science and religion we see this manifested in the division between “science people” and “religious people”. These two categories have also grown to encompass more stereotypes as well.  If you are a “science” person then you are a liberal atheist and likely live in an urban area. If you are a “religion” person you are a conservative and Christian and live in a rural area.  I think this mindset is very damaging and dangerous to our society. It breeds a reactionary mindset and makes every debate personal and full of emotions. It creates boxes that we put people in, and they are not allowed to be anything but the box we put them in. I am a scientist and therefore if you are not, and you are religious, you are a “them”, and the “thems” don’t like us. Just like “Christians” have become a group “scientists” have too. We are not taken as individuals and certainly are now allowed to disagree with each other. If we do then it reflects badly on all of us, and we all have no idea what we are talking about and can’t be trusted on any matter. In the science community religion is a dirty word as well and is very looked down upon.

Using this Us vs Them mindset means that we have made an artificial black and white world out of a gray one. First of all, you can be a Christian and not believe in creation, just like you can be a scientist and not be an atheist. In fact, I know Christian-scientists and I even know a geologist who IS a creationist. It is not all black and white. I think it also helps to point out, that the Catholic Church accepts evolution, so you can’t even group all Christians together.

The problem I have with the “us vs them” mentality is that both parties start off defensive. That is no way to have a conversation. My personal view is that religion does have a place in a rounded education, but only because it has had such a huge impact on human history and art and other intellectual pursuits. Also a fun exercise is the history of thought on the age of the earth and the different ways it has been calculated. How did the Romans decide what year Jesus died in, and were they right? How was the age of the earth calculated from the bible? How else has it been calculated in the past? What method do we use today, and what are the errors associated with that calculation? That discussion is valuable in a science classroom. It’s like doing a proof and showing all the steps in math, and even talking about the different ways it was tried in the past. I have always loved talking about the changes in scientific thought through the ages.  I think it is fascinating and valuable to understand how we know what we know today. It also reminds us that just because we think we know something, does not mean we won’t later learn something else is true. Plate tectonics itself is a relatively new scientific idea. Also, let us not forget that many of the founders of modern science (if not all) were religious.

So now let us return to the debate and why I can’t watch things like that. I have personally been attacked before simply for saying “I’m a geologist” when someone asked what I am studying. I was polite about it, but since the other party didn’t listen to me it felt like talking to a wall. There was no back and forth (which I would have enjoyed). This mentality backs people into their respective corners. I am not an atheist and that is something I tend to not discuss with my friends and colleagues because of the us vs. them. I’m too close to the situation and it makes me too upset. So I didn’t watch the debate because I don’t think there should need to be a debate.

January Contest Winner!

We only had one entry for January so Joan N is the winner! I loved her question and totally plan on talking about it!

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