Helping humankind live with the earth not against it

Category: writings (Page 1 of 2)

A little Update March 2021

Hello My Wonderful Reader and Listeners,

I wanted to give you a bit of an update. I have had a bit of a good run getting podcast episodes out. But if you have followed me for a while you know this is a bit unusual. Because of COVID in 2020 my normal work travel stopped allowing me to get more content out. I have been working on a series on crystals and so far we have talked about the difference between crystals, minerals, and rocks, how to identify minerals, and how they get color. We have also talked about the ethics involved in buying crystals.

At this point I would like to focus my time on getting some resources together for crystals including researching some purchasing options. I have also done several podcast appearances which can be found under the podcast tab on my page. I have also been doing some peer review work for a few authors and I am super excited about some of the new books coming out.

The current plan is to try and get a few short posts/infographics done for the crystal ethics section since that is something I get asked a lot. I am an auditory learner so that is why I gravitated towards podcasting but I know not everyone is. I wanted to make sure the information is available for everyone.

We will be finishing out the crystals series with an episode on safety and care, and finally using crystals. For that we are going to talk about some theories and what that implies in terms of good places to source your materials in an ethical way. Then I want to talk about rocks!

I am also working to try and add more climate focused work into my social media feeds. If you have known me for a while you may know that I have trouble with this topic (and have been known to have to leave talks at conferences because I couldn’t hold back tears). But I know it is also important as an outreach person to engage in this topic.

This is a one woman shop so if anyone has experience with infographic design and would like to help out I would greatly appreciate it! Please shoot me an email borealis (dot) meditation (at) gmail (dot) com.

2021 Should be a year with a lot of change for me. No matter what I will be leaving SE Asia this year. Fingers and toes crossed it will be to New Zealand since I have already accepted a PhD position but with COVID everything has been unknown. I usually take some time when I move to get settled before starting the podcasting back up so I would like to get as much done as possible before then.

If you would like to support the hosting of the podcast I made a ko-fi you can contribute to as well.

Thank you all so much for your wonderful support over the years! This podcast has truly been my heartfelt thanks to the community for being my secret weapon helping me through my career and you mean the world to me.

Much love,

Kat

Hungry Ghost Month – 7th Lunar Month

The 7th lunar month (beginning on the New Moon) in Asia is known as “Hungry Ghost Month”. During this time it is believed that the gates of Hell are open and spirits and ghosts roam the human world for the duration of the month.

There are a number of different traditional practices during this time as well as some superstitions surrounding different actions.

(image on the left is by artist Jim Benton)

This year Hungry Ghost month runs from August 19th through September 16th. The gates are believed to be open from the 1st through 30th day of the month with offerings made on the first, second, fifteenth, and last day of the month. It is common on the first day to offer a meal usually with fruits and deserts to show respect and as an exchange for the ghosts not bringing you any trouble, along with the burning of incense, paper money, and candles. During non-COVID years there are usually lots of cultural activities like community Chinese Opera performances known as getai’ performances.

In addition to all the activities normally carried out there are a number of things to be avoided.

  • Don’t wear closes with your name
  • Don’t pat other people on the shoulder
  • Don’t whistle
  • Don’t go out at night (Children and Senior Citizens especially)

(source, source)

  • Don’t stab your chopsticks into a bowl of rice (the ghosts will think it is an offering and may try to possess the person eating the rice).
  • Don’t open your umbrella inside the house (if you used the umbrella at night shots might have taken shelter and if you open it at home the spirits will enter your home).
  • Don’t leave your front door open at night (this invites negative energy in)
  • Don’t kill rare insects in your home (moths, grasshoppers and butterflies might be your ancestors paying a visit)
  • Don’t pee on trees (it offends the spirits in the area)
  • Don’t swim at night (ghosts of drowning victims might try to pull you down)
  • Leave the front row open at cultural events (it is reserved for the spirits)
  • Don’t kick the offerings left for the ghosts
  • Don’t play games that involve summoning spirits they are more powerful during 7th month
  • If someone calls your name from behind at night don’t turn around.
  • Do not gossip about ghosts they may try to put you in your place
  • Don’t get married or move house during 7th month (the spirits might try to join in when they aren’t welcome.

What are these offerings? The main type of offering is “joss paper” which is paper money as offerings. There is a belief that in order to send gifts to ancestors they must be burned so along with paper, things like paper houses, cars, watches etc. are burned as well.

This massive amount of burning paper also results in a lowering of air quality during this time.

This year of course the usual cultural festivals like traditional Chinese opera are not happening. As another sign of the times a shop in Hong Kong was seen to be selling joss paper masks to send to those in the afterlife. (source)

Photo of offerings being left posted on r/singapore by user u/loosejaws taken on the first night of 7th month. (source)
variety of offerings beyond money that are for sale. You can explore all these options here

How to pick a price?

One of the things I have always been a little uncomfortable with is the exchange of money for my work. Not that I am against the exchange of money for my work, but what to charge. I don’t want to undervalue practitioners who do it for a living, but I also don’t want to charge too much. See I have a full time job, and I am big on gifting. When I make things I like to share, and I have never been able to find the Goldilocks price range.

But I also find making small batches isn’t as easy as a medium size batch of spray, soap… etc. So how to price what I have been making recently? Some are my own recipes and some are based on recipes I found in New Orleans, and if I charge too little it devalues it, but if I charge too much that feels like taking advantage.

So I was stuck until the other day I had an idea. What if I convert the prices on the notebook from the Pharmacy Museum into modern day prices! I wonder what that would be.

My thinking is this: the formulations are in a notebook from a early half of the last century. They are written in pharmacist shorthand. Documentary evidence exists that hoodoo formulations were sold by white male pharmacists, who may or may not have worked with hoodoo practitioners. But this is the actual physical ingredients with a price so it is possible that the pharmacist was just mixing them and selling them on his own. So if you consider the price of the item to be physical object + intangible value added we can think of these prices as the physical object +/- intangible. So, this was considered a fair price at the time so let’s see how this all works out with the numbers! Math time!

The price listed range from $0.1/oz to $ 0.25/oz

Now the actual date of the artifact but the displays on the ground floor of the museum that opened in 1950 are referred to as “mid 19th century” but there is also a sign in that section that mentioned someone who was convicted for selling hoodoo wares in the 1930’s. Googling around it and looking at old pharmacist notebook pictures the sheets look on the early side and not 1930’s maybe closer to 1900. (finding the actual date range will require more research) So we have a range from 1850 – 1930 a pretty wide range, so I went wit 1910.

  • What cost $1 in 1913 (earliest year in the inflation calculator) would cost $25.90 (I like rounding so lets make it $26) in 2019 so $0.10 becomes $2.60 per oz. and $0.25 becomes $6.50 per oz
  • Everything is in metric where I am now so lets round to 30mL per oz (glass bottles are sold as 30mL or 1 ounce)
  • so the price per mL would be $0.09 per mL – $0.21 so lets be nice and change it to $0.10 /mL and $0.20/mL
  • Now we have the price in adjusted for inflation as $0.10 /mL – $0.20/mL Doesn’t that work out nice?
  • This is based on the prices being from ~1913 (but we don’t know if they are earlier or late). Also we don’t know if the original prices I found were sold with or without the “intangible value added” so 3 to 6 dollars for a 30 mL bottle of my sprays would be the range.
  • Essential oils here are on the expensive side here and mine come with the intangible value added part, so I think I am comfortable with the $6 price. But is this reasonable?
  • Lucky Mojo sells Fast Luck oil for $7.50 USD and my Lucky Mojo bottles look like they are 1/2 ounce. This sounds like around the same range as what I got other oils in New Orleans when I was there for, so for someone who uses a different cheaper base (sprays not oils) I think I am in the right range.
  • If I add on a $1.5 bottle charge then I also get $7.50 USD or ~ $10 SGD.

I hope that was an interesting discussion for you. It’s a little bit into my brain and how I use tools from my research work in science in my practice. I also think this type of research/thought experiment can help decisions like “how much should I charge for this” be based in historical precedent.

We should never devalue our work, even if money makes you uncomfortable. But we also shouldn’t take financial advantage of customers by over charging. I think that having a range like $3-6 in mind allows for a range of different price teirs from gifts (close friends and family) to a lower price (friends and lower income) and average customers, that doesn’t devalue the effort I put in. Also I think it shows that the current range of prices out there from whole sellers like Lucky Mojo who know what they are doing, and small individuals like Candle Smoke Chapel (they are awesome check them out), are actually very reasonable based on historic price data we have.

So if you are in Singapore right now you will soon be able to get my sprays for $10 in the bottle or 0.30 SGD/mL with your own bottle. I am also a big fan of making things yourself so when I have a formulation I am happy with feel free to ask.

Also remember the difference is in the “intangible value added” of each maker and how much that is worth to you should be considered when you are assessing the reasonableness of a price.

Make things! Support each other!

Borealis Meditation S04E03 Personal Calendars

Show Notes:

Hello Everyone! In this episode I talk about calendars, holidays, festivals and localizing you wheel of the year to where you live. This was a last minute change of topic so we can always revisit it later. I also have created a worksheet for you to use if you want to jump right in and work on customizing your wheel of the year.

Worksheet:

Listen to the episode here:

Or on itunes (trying to figure out getting it other places….)

Follow me on twitter and instagram @katborealis
Like the facebook page for updates related to the podcast

Or just drop me an email borealis (dot) meditation (at) gmail (dot) com

And I made a discord chat channel you are free to join here

Hope everyone is surviving 2018 and if I don’t get anything else out before then happy Yule and New Year! Much love!

~ Kat

Introduction: a sense of place

I am moving. Paperwork isn’t set in stone so I am trying not to jinx it, but no matter what we are headed for new scenery by the end of the year (we hope). I thought this would be a good time to distill my ideas about connecting to a place and with nature and the environment down into written form so I can do what science has trained me to do: test the ideas. So, I am going to start here with a short outline of these ideas, and then explore them with stories from previous leaps into the unknown. Then I can revisit each one with my new experiences when I get where I am going. When I connect to a new place there are three steps and three layers that need to be examined, explored, and understood.

The first layer is the human layer. This is the most obvious and where we as an individual fit in. This includes human history, culture, and our impact and expression in the environment. There are historical cultures of a place, and the modern culture. There is also the history of human habitation in the area, and the type of settlement that exists there now. Modern history, and ancient history. All this has an influence on the human expression of a place at any point in time, and I think is very important in understanding the current culture of a place.

The second layer is the flora and fauna of the area. This includes the current “invasives” as well as the native and endemic species. There is a natural history of each place, and a history of introduction of different species. The history of the changing balance of different species in an area can have a huge impact on its current state.

The third layer to be explored is the geologic and environmental layer. What is the climate type, geologic setting, and local hazards? The world isn’t frozen, everything changes and moves. This layer can pop up in unexpected ways in the other layers. The layout of streets might be influenced by an old stream channel, or area that was a swamp.

When you combine knowledge of these three layers you start to see how they all connect and feed into each other. That is when you start to really know a place. When I come to a new place I approach it with an insane amount of questions. And of course with each answered question comes 10 more. The best thing you can do to feel more connected to where you are is be curious about it, but always remember you can never know it all, there is always more to explore!

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

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.

liminal space and names

I am in love with the word liminal these days. I just adore it. Liminal spaces and places, I just love it.

lim·i·nal
/ˈlimənl/
1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

Mandorla or Vesica piscis

I like it because most of the time I feel like I exist in a liminal world, halfway between science and magic. I have one foot in each but stand not totally in any. I like thinking about liminal time as well. Like right now, the sun just set but it is not yet night. There is still light in the sky in one direction and in the other the stars will soon start to pop out. It is not day, and it is not night. This is my favorite time, dusk. I think these spaces are important. You can’t tell how dark it is unless you have light to compare it to, and liminal spaces are the perfect places to look at differences. 

I am getting to names. The reason I am combining these two topics is because of the name I used many years in my magical work. I have many names, and I tend to collect nicknames. As a practical matter I have my given name, my common nickname, the name I use for this blog and podcast, and then my magical names as well as a new Hawaiian name.

I have 2 magical names that I have used for many years. I can only tell you one. I have a name that I use between me and spirit only. No one else knows this name. It is really more a syllable and I’m not even sure I would be able to write it. I call that MY name. It is how I identify myself to spirits, and cannot be confused with anyone else. My other name is my magical name in the traditional sense. This is a name that I have used around the community before, and likely will continue to use. I know it can be confusing but since every time I have moved somewhere I get a new nickname it feels totally normal to me. My craft/magic name is Dusk. It always has been.

Dusk is my favorite time of day. You are stuck between the world of the Sun and the world of the Moon. Between a blue sky (or gray because I am from Seattle…) and inky black. It is the time of day I feel most alive. I love dusk! The light slowly drains from the sky and if you are not paying attention the night sneaks up on you. I had a Greek myth book as a kid and I was always fascinated with Nyx and Selene. I loved the images of both, one pulling night over the world like a blanket and the other riding the moon across the sky. When the clouds are just right in the evening sky it seems like I can see the edges of her cloak as Nyx covers the world in night.

Somehow I managed to write about two things at once leaving you in a liminal place between subjects. I hope you are prepared for an over use of the word liminal until I find a new favorite word!

The gap between ideal daily practice and reality

Meditations on the Path of Knowledge

I think we all have an ideal daily practice that we all fall short of. For a long time I had the attitude that I had to always try for that ideal. Recently I gave up on that ideal and opted for “do-able”. Doing this has been very freeing and I no longer feel like a bad witch when I can’t do something. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and as a scientists I am trained to be complete and precise in my work, and I had to give that up in my spiritual practice (not easy!).

Ideal: My ideal is morning and evening meditation, morning and evening yoga, daily journaling and divination, and/or reading and studying. (I’m lucky to get out of bed without hitting the snooze button 4 times by the way….)

I talked with SilverShadow a while ago and he suggested starting working more with ancestors. I wrote a little bit about my Mom yesterday. She keeps what I consider our family ancestor alter. She has a table covered in photos of loved ones (from both her family and my Fathers family), and a mini dias de las muertas alter (its so freaking cute). We also have an ancestor hall (a hallway with more photos). I have a few photos but I am definitely going to need to get more for my family and I would also like to get some for my Husbands family. Even with these limited photos I started a very quick and easy (but still meaningful) daily practice.

Do-able every day: I have ancestor incense that I bought locally, and two containers I feel comfortable lighting tea lights and not having to sit and watch them. I light my candles and incense and say thank you for all the blessings in my life.

Simple, and fast. Some days I can manage more from my list but at least I can do my one simple thing. It is very freeing to find that simple act that I can do.

I would be interested to hear what you all do every day or what your ideal practice looks like!

My mother is a pantheist… I am a Jedi?

Meditations on the Path of Knowledge

I have trouble with the differences and exact definitions between pantheism and animism. My mother describers herself as a pantheist and when I was younger I looked it up to see what it was she meant.

pan·the·ism – /ˈpanTHēˌizəm/ – noun
1. a doctrine that identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God

My mother was raised Christian but, her belief is more that God is in everything, and her church was nature. This is mostly how I was raised. We went to Church maybe twice a year, and almost never the same one. I am not sure what it was my Mom was looking for in a Church but she never found it.

I do not consider myself a pantheist, maybe because I don’t require the existence or non-existence of a specific “God” or “Gods”. I have always felt that there was something, that wasn’t explained in the physical sense that was all around and incorporated in everything. Like everything that has mass has gravity, everything has this essence. It is my personal belief that we do not have the tools to explain or understand whatever this is, but it doesn’t keep us from trying. I also in my belief allow for this thing to be “found” characterized and explained. I like to use the term “spirit” or “essence”.

My husband is an atheist and the first time we had a discussion about my views he started laughing and then quoted the following scene.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2YQJsbbWNA]
So now, forever, he just tells me I believe in The Force. And you know what? I am totally ok with that. All of this is to come around to what I consider myself, and that would be an animist. 
 an·i·mism – /ˈanəˌmizəm/ – noun

1. the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
2. the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.

Now I am always very careful to define my terms, and I don’t like using ones that have a precise and physical meaning. Force is an influence on an object. F = ma right? You grab a physics text book if you want to look up how to describe a force. The same goes for Energy, energy is a basic property of an object and again I go back to physics books. You will rarely find me using these terms for anything other than their physical description (obvious exception The Force). I also don’t like the term “soul” since it has a very specific cultural meaning for us of Western European ancestry. Because I am not good at making up my own terms, I use “spirit” and “essence” but mostly “spirit”.

I don’t discount entirely the existence of one or more deities. It could just be that I have not been made totally aware of them in my work. Most of my work deals with the spirit of place. Different physical locations feel very different to me.

Back to my topic, pantheism vs animism. I am never happy with the definitions I have found, and I am not an anthropologist. This is personally how I define the two. Pantheism is the belief that everything is or is part of A God or set of Gods. Animism is the belief in a spirit that runs through everything and doesn’t require a “God” but doesn’t discount it either. I remember when I first looked up pantheism thinking that it was close to what I believed but not exactly it. My Mom believes in GOD, I don’t, and there had to be something to describe that distinction. Like I said in the beginning I always struggle with the exact definitions of these two words. Maybe that is why I find just saying “I believe in something like “The Force” to really be the quickest way to get my point across.

So does that make me a Jedi? Of course there are Force Witches, but they are dark side…. maybe I am just Force sensitive.

P.S. When I play table top Star Wars I somehow always get Dark Side points… I get too excited about everything including critical hits. Also I never understood how just killing someone doesn’t get you Dark Side points…. even if they are a Sith, you still killed someone…

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