Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A terrific time of year to view the crucial constellation of Aries, the Ram

This is a terrific time of year to view Aries the Ram in the dark hours before midnight, and with the  waning moon rising at 3:25 am (and later as the days go on), the sky is currently giving us the perfect levels of darkness needed to make out the fainter stars in this crucially-important constellation.

Aries may not be a very familiar constellation, because it does not really "leap out" at the casual observer of the night sky.  Most of the stars of Aries are very faint, but it does have two bright stars, and they are very easy to find at this time of year.  In his indispensable book The Stars: A New Way to See Them, the beloved author H.A. Rey explains how:
RAM (ARIES):  This constellation is rather inconspicuous and would be less famous if it were not in the zodiac.  Its two brightest stars, in the Ram's head, can be spotted easily halfway between the Pleiades and the Great Square of Pegasus.  42.
So, to find the Ram, the two landmarks that H.A. Rey gives us are the Pleiades and the Great Square of Pegasus.  Both have been discussed previously in this blog (see discussion below), and both are very easy to find, especially this time of year, when Taurus the Bull along with the Pleiades are prominent in the eastern sky after the sun goes down in the "prime-time" viewing hours before midnight, and the Great Square of Pegasus is almost directly overhead between 10pm and midnight (and climbing pretty close to directly overhead in the hours before that).   

To find the Pleiades, you can use the brilliant constellation of Perseus (use the diagrams in previous blog posts here and here), as well as the constellation Taurus (see the diagram in the second of those two Perseus links).

To find the Great Square, see the diagrams in these two previous posts: "The Great Square of Pegasus (and more evidence for ancient contact across the oceans)" and "Aquarius."

Once you have located those two landmarks (Pleiades and Great Square), you will be able to easily locate the two brightest stars of Aries halfway between the silvery cloud of the Pleiades and the unmistakable Square of Pegasus.  Those two stars make up the head of the Ram.  

In the diagram above,  the size of the dot indicates the brightness of the star.  The two largest dots in the chart of Aries are marked with the Greek letters alpha and beta, and their names are shown as Hamal and Sheratan, respectively.

From here, you may be able to trace out the rest of the Ram, especially if you have a nice dark sky.  The constellation stretches from the triangular head down towards the Pleiades, where the Ram's little tail sticks up towards the upper foot of Perseus.  In fact, locating the upper foot of Perseus is helpful in pointing towards the lower (faint) stars which make up the hind part of the constellation Aries the Ram. You can see both of the feet of Perseus coming into the diagram above from the top-left quadrant of the chart.  The "upper" foot is to the right in that chart, and the "lower" foot is to the left.  

I am calling them "upper" and "lower" here because if you go looking for Aries in the hours before midnight, the foot on the right in this chart will be higher in the sky and the foot on the left as you look at this chart will be lower in the sky, closer to the eastern horizon.

Below is a chart without the outlines of H.A. Rey, oriented with the Ram rising up towards the zenith head-first, as he will appear in the hours before midnight.  Note that the feet of Perseus are now "upper" and "lower" (all descriptions here are northern-hemisphere-centric, with apologies to my brothers and sisters in the southern hemisphere).

(mobile users please keep scrolling down for the rest of the post)

Note that there is one more very recognizable landmark near Aries, and that is the constellation marked "Triangulum" on the charts, located above the shoulder of the Ram (or to the upper left of the shoulder, when Aries is rising through his upward arc across the eastern part of the sky).  This constellation is very easy to find and can also help you to trace out the rest of Aries, using the charts above.

In spite of the fact that Aries is not extremely easy to trace out in the night sky, doing so is very satisfying, both in its own right and because (as H.A. Rey hints in the passage cited above) Aries is actually an exceedingly important constellation.  For Aries is a member of the zodiac -- those constellations occupying the band of the ecliptic, through which the sun appears to pass as we rotate on our axis -- and not just any member of the zodiac, either.  Aries is from ancient times the acknowledged leader of the zodiac band, the first of the twelve constellations who encircle the heavens along the same burning path traced out by the sun during the day.

For this reason, Aries the Ram figures prominently in almost every sacred tradition of the ancient world.    The connections are too many to mention here -- only a few examples from Hamlet's Mill will be cited to give an idea of the importance of this leader of the zodiac.  The authors of Hamlet's Mill assert on page 318, for instance, that the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts in Greek myth, in their search for the Golden Fleece, was "undertaken in all probability to introduce the Age of Aries" (when the inexorable motion of precession brought the heliacal rising on the March equinox into the house of Aries after an age in the house of Taurus).

They also note that Heimdal of Norse myth is in some way associated with Aries, pointing out that:
Grimm rightly says that it is worthy of remark that Hallinskidi and Heimdal are quoted among the names of the ram.  Heimdal is the "watcher" of the much-trodden Bridge of the gods which finally breaks down at Ragnarok; his "head" measures the crossroads of ecliptic and equator at the vernal equinox in Aries, a constellation which is called "head" also by Cleomedes, and countelss astromedical illustrations show the Ram ruling the head (Pisces the feet).  158-159.
In this important passage, we see that the "gateway to heaven" (which Heimdal guards, Asgard in this case being a type of heaven) is associated with the head and with Aries, and (as the authors of Hamlet's Mill point out), Aries is associated with the head.  You can read more about this important subject, and see a diagram in which the zodiac constellations are paired with their associated part of the human body, in this previous post.  It is also worth noting that Heimdal is described as the "son of nine mothers," and we have just seen that the constellation of Aries rises up from a point just above the stars of the Pleiades.

For much more on the importance of the constellation Aries, the interested reader is encouraged to view the numerous enlightening videos of Santos Bonacci, who explores the subject in great detail. 

For all these reasons, it is well worth the effort to get out and view Aries in person at this time of year, if at all possible.  It is a constellation of ancient and enduring significance.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

John Anthony West on creativity, discipline, and consciousness

In his groundbreaking book, Serpent in the Sky: the High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt (1979), John Anthony West explores a host of vital topics, but one extremely important subject he discusses is the relationship between creativity, discipline, and consciousness.  

In his examination of the incredible art of ancient Egypt, he explains that creativity and discipline are intimately connected.  We might at first think that discipline, implying rules and even restrictions, would be the antithesis of creativity, but John Anthony West explains that this is not so: it is in fact the discipline which enables the expression of the individual's creativity.  

He writes:
In Egypt, the anonymous sages were the artists, in our modern inspirational sense.  They designed the temples and the statues and the wall friezes.  The sculptors, painters and masons were but interpretive artists, this is true.  But there is no ignominy in this position.  We do not think the violin virtuoso 'repressed' because he must play Beethoven's or Bartok's notes.  Moreover, within the restriction of the imposed piece, there is ample opportunity for the exercise of creativity -- otherwise all virtuosos at a given level of professionalism would sound the same.  And if the virtuoso is a real virtuoso, then he will share in Beethoven's revelation.  90.
It was this combination of discipline and creativity that enabled the development of the individual artist, who by the long path of his particular discipline was enabled to express creativity at a very high level.  In John West's analysis, Egyptian art and architecture was "a continuous exercise in the development of individual consciousness" (90).  

This discussion of the interplay between discipline, creativity, and consciousness is extremely interesting.  It is only through years of discipline, for example, that basketball players can reach a level at which their playing can actually become an expression of individual creativity -- a level of artistry and self-expression (within the highly-defined boundaries of the sport) that can be described as the level of a virtuoso.  The same can be said of many other pathways for expressing creativity -- whether music, or painting, or sculpture, or the martial arts, or surfing, or yoga, or rock-climbing, or the craft of pottery, or of woodworking, or of glassblowing, or endless other examples which we can call to mind.

We could even venture to say that the simple act of making tea (which is -- at least in theory --  easier to prepare than coffee) can become a discipline which can eventually enable an extremely high level of artistic expression (and, of course, in some cultures it has).  

Interestingly, John Anthony West suggests that together, the interplay of discipline and creativity can lead to "the development of individual consciousness."  In an important 2008 interview on Red Ice Radio (discussed in this previous blog post, with a link to an online video containing the entire interview), John Anthony West elaborates on the importance of creativity and discipline to life.  

While the entire interview is worth listening to, the really focused discussion of "consciousness" and the role of creativity and discipline begins around the 1:15:00 mark in that video.  During that discussion, he again expresses the view that creativity -- which can be expressed in an enormous variety of disciplines, including hard work as "a carpenter, or a cooper" (1:17:22) -- is fundamental to consciousness.

In the same discussion, he expresses the view (also found on pages 90 and 91 in Serpent in the Sky) that modern civilization makes it much more difficult to pursue this path, particularly in our daily work lives.    But, in the same discussion, he notes that this should not be cause for complete despair -- it is still possible to pursue this path, although perhaps one will have to make a living doing something else at the same time.  Beginning at about 1:32:15, Mr. West explains:
It's very difficult to find that life path that will actually prove nurturing in and of itself -- but it doesn't mean that you can't do it: everyone has to make a living, so, not everybody can be a writer or a painter or an artist or a creator in that sense, especially nowadays -- but as long as the message is driven home, and there are -- as I said, there are -- my own focus is the Gurdjieff work but, that's, you know, that's a small thing -- it's not a small thing, it's a big thing, but it's not that well known -- but there are disciplines, legitimate disciplines, out there, that can be followed -- it's hard to do by yourself, you almost need a class to do it -- it's like learning the violin by yourself -- you can learn it, but you're much better off with a teacher -- you can learn it by yourself and then when you get to a certain point you have to get a teacher to teach you what you're doing wrong so that you can do it right.  So there are schools in which you can pursue that path -- but without the discipline it's just in your head -- it's a lot of New Age malarkey -- but without that there's no possibility of a civilization.  [. . .] First you have to recognize that the path is there -- then it has to become visceral and practical, and not just in your head, and that's the difficult part, unfortunately -- but without that there is no civilization nor can there be.  Simple as that.  Without the understanding that we as human beings individually and collectively have a destiny to fulfill -- nothing can happen.
Once again, we see the theme that "creativity" without any discipline at all, may not really be creativity but actually "malarkey."  But there are paths, legitimate paths, which are open to us to pursue, and which can connect us to something that, in John Anthony West's analysis, the ancient Egyptians were also pursuing -- pursuing with a single-minded purpose, in fact.

This seems to be an extremely important subject, and one upon which John Anthony West's insights are supremely valuable and worthy of careful consideration.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

California's Old Stone Face, pareidolia, and Carl Sagan's demon-haunted world

Located along the California coastline, roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, near the town of Los Osos, is a rugged boulder known as the "Old Stone Face."  As you can see from the image above, it clearly resembles a human profile, staring silently off in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, towering above the other boulders nearby.

If we ask ourselves how this boulder came to resemble so closely the profile of a human face, the first and most likely explanation is that we are simply "reading into" the natural shape of a rocky outcropping and finding a human face.  The ability to see forms in the random patterns of nature, such as in clouds, is called "pareidolia," and some have suggested that the ability to find faces among random shapes and figures is an evolutionary trait which has become "hardwired" into the human brain.  

For example, in his book the Demon-Haunted World (1997), Carl Sagan wrote:
Humans, like other primates, are a gregarious lot.  We enjoy one another's company.  We're mammals, and parental care of the young is essential for the continuance of the hereditary lines.  The parent smiles at the child, the child smiles back, and a bond is forged or strengthened.  As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains.  Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper.  These days, nearly every infant is quick to recognize a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.  
As an inadvertent side effect, the pattern-recognition machinery in our faces is so efficient in extracting a face from a clutter of other detail that we sometimes see faces where there are none. 45.
Note that Sagan here is pawning off his explanation for the origin of our "pattern-recognition machinery" as the only possible explanation -- he is declaring authoritatively that this skill is a byproduct of the need for parental attention in mammals in order to survive.  One wonders whether whales and dolphins (who are also mammals and nurse their young) evolved their own "inadvertent side effect" similar to ours, and now see the faces of their own species in random groupings of waves or drifting seaweed.  

Sagan's fable about babies who respond with "a goony grin" having better odds of survival is just that: a fable.  One might still believe in evolution but argue that the ability to recognize a face in the jungle could help save you from an ambush, and that therefore early humans who could spot a face hiding among the rocks or the leaves (even if camouflaged) would be more likely to survive and reproduce.   But no -- Sagan authoritatively declares that his smiling infant explanation is the reason for our ability to  see faces, and that is the end of the matter.  It is, of course, also possible that our amazing "pattern-recognition machinery" is something that did not come about by evolutionary pressures at all (here is a link to a series of posts on the topic of evolution and alternative possibilities).

In any case, whether you agree with Sagan's explanation above or not, one possible explanation for the Old Stone Face shown in the (un-retouched, un-altered) photograph above is that it is simply another example of our incredible ability in "extracting a face from a clutter of other detail."  This is certainly the simplest explanation, and therefore has much to commend it.  In fact, using the principle of "Occam's razor," it must be considered the reigning hypothesis unless and until enough other pieces of evidence can be found which indicate that a different explanation should be entertained.

However, just because humans do have a remarkable ability to "extract a face" from random clutter does not necessarily mean that the boulder above was not subtly altered to more closely suggest a human head.  In fact, there are several examples from around the world of stone profiles which were altered by ancient humans -- indicating that the practice of shaping stony prominences into human faces was a deliberate activity that marked many different cultures, or perhaps one culture that traveled to many different locations on our globe.

For example, in the post entitled "Aligned stones, V-shaped notches, and massive but subtle sculptures found in India, New Zealand, and Peru," we examined evidence from three widely separated places where ancient sky-watchers created stone circles with astronomical alignments, as well as sight-lines to surrounding terrain features (some of which have conspicuous V-shaped notches aligned to important solar and lunar rising and setting points), and -- in each case -- the ancient stone builders of these complexes seem to have done some additional manipulation of large stones nearby in order to create monumental sculptures, often of craggy bearded faces.

At the important site of Ollantaytambo, in modern-day Peru, for example, there is a massive stone face measuring over 300 feet in height (see below).  Its profile features frowning brows, an angular jawline, and a nose very similar in shape to the Old Stone Face on the California coastline shown above.

Due to the other obvious signs of advanced stoneworking present in the area, as well as the very obvious shape of the eye and the nose, I would venture to state that even Carl Sagan would not argue that the face at Ollantaytambo is the product of our "hardwired" human ability to "see faces where there are none."  It was certainly sculpted by ancient artisans, perhaps because the cliff already had some natural resemblance to a human face, for reasons of which today we can only speculate: possibly for fun, and possibly for much more serious purposes.

The previous post linked above also made reference to a massive craggy bearded face found in a rock cliff at Whangape, on the north end of the North Island of New Zealand (Aotearoa).  This enormous face is discussed by Martin Doutre in his excellent Ancient Celtic New Zealand website, where it can be seen in two photographs at the very bottom of this page in his "articles" section.

Of that stone face, Mr. Doutre writes:
The clearly carved face is huge, and gazes towards the general positions of the Summer Solstice and Equinox rise points of the sun.  The face itself was carved to be very deliberately fluted or channeled, causing a high degree of shadow play across the face between the time of the Summer Solstice to the Winter Solstice and throughout each day of the year.  The Winter Sun would leave very long shadows on the face and an adept reader of the interplay between light and shadow would be able to fairly accurately determine both the time of year and the time of day.  The pyramidal marker stone atop the head would have served the function as an observatory position for solar rises and sets.  Accurate fixes on the Solstices (Summer & Winter) and Equinoxes (Vernal & Autumn) would have been calculated from that position and the calendar kept accurate accordingly.

Like the face of the old bearded man of Tokatoka, Ruawai, mentioned in Waitaha oral traditions, the face at Whangape sits adjacent to a deep navigable channel to the sea. These huge carvings obviously represented Tangaroa, god of the sea and ocean migrations.  It seems reasonable to assume that mariners heading to the open sea would say prayers to Tangaroa and, upon a safe return, express their thanks.
Interestingly enough, the Old Stone Face on the California coast is also found very close to a deep harbor with a channel leading to the Pacific Ocean.  Is it at least possible that, given its apparent similarities to the faces at Whangape and Ollantaytambo, it is the product of an ancient practice of subtly altering large stone outcroppings?

It is important to note that it is very possible that people in all parts of the world altered stone outcroppings independent of one another to create sculptures.  However, there are certain strong similarities in these faces which suggests the possibility that the people who created them were in some way connected (we can entertain this possibility for the cultures that produced the faces at Ollantaytambo and Whangape, whether or not we believe the Old Stone Face in California was manipulated by humans in the past).

As mentioned in the previous blog post linked above, the practice of subtly altering stone formations to resemble profiles is found in many other parts of the world as well.   This page from the website of Subhashis Das contains outstanding photographs of some of the wealth of ancient megalithic sites still surviving today in India.  If you scroll far down through the page, you will see boulders which have been subtly altered to resemble a huge iguana and the flukes of a diving whale.  On a different page, entitled "Did India and Britain have a contact in the deep past?" Mr. Das presents numerous photographs of dolmens, holed-stones, and labyrinth-patterned carvings in both India and the British Isles which strongly suggests that they are all the products of a single ancient culture, or at least of cultures which had fairly close contact with one another.

The evidence from around the world clearly seems to suggest that there was in fact an ancient culture which left its imprint at points far removed across our entire planet, from the British Isles, to the Americas, to the South Pacific, and that this ancient culture for whatever reason enjoyed creating massive stone sculptures in such a way that their art looked almost as if it was the product of nature and not of a human artist.  Based on this evidence, the many stone faces which can be seen around the world (often near a waterway or a navigable coastline) should be carefully examined to see if there is any evidence to suggest that there are also deliberate astronomical alignments marked into the terrain nearby, or other evidence to connect them to sites such as Ollantaytambo and Whangape and some of the megalithic ruins in India.

Because of the evidence from other parts of the world, these stone faces should not be immediately dismissed as products of "pareidolia," or Carl Sagan's "hardwired pattern-recognition machinery."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fresh kale and Thomas Jefferson

One of the best things about growing your own vegetable garden is being able to make a green smoothie using leaves which you harvested only a few minutes before.

I like to walk out in the early morning and cut a few leaves from one of the kale plants, a few leaves of Swiss chard, and throw them right into the blender after a quick rinse-off.

Above is one of our garden's kale plants which, like the mythical hydra, seems to grow two more leaves whenever one of them is cut off.  You may be able to notice from the photo that I like the "square foot gardening" method of Mel Bartholomew.

It is a matter of only a few seconds to throw the fresh leaves of kale and chard into the blender along with a banana, some coconut milk, and some pineapple and blueberries, and mix up a delicious smoothie.  

Here's what it looks like before the pineapple and blueberries go in.  You can see the big leaf of chard behind the kale leaf, both of which were picked just a few minutes before and never had to sit around in a refrigerator.

Thomas Jefferson, who knew a thing or two about this subject of freedom, liberty, and revolutionary acts, seems to agree.  In his landmark Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now" (266).  

Kale and Swiss chard are excellent fall and winter crops for your garden (for readers in the northern hemisphere, that means now!).  

In fact, we are now approaching a full moon (in less than 24 hours).  According to those who know about such things, the time to plant vegetables which produce their harvest above the ground is during the waxing moon (so you've got less than twenty-four hours if you need to plant something in that category for this cycle!), and the time to plant vegetables and tubers which produce their harvest below the ground is during the waning moon.  

Here is a previous blog post which gives a quotation from R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz on that subject, and here is a link to a video with Santos Bonacci in which he briefly discusses the same subject beginning at the 28:00 minute mark.  

You too can rush your own leaves of kale, chard, and whatever else right from the garden to your table, with only a few seconds in between.  All you need is a place to garden -- which can be in the most unlikely of places, as "guerrilla gardening" guru Richard Reynolds has repeatedly demonstrated.  Notably, Richard seems to do much of his gardening at night (perhaps he has also read his Schwaller de Lubicz -- who knows?)  

You may even decide to read aloud from Jefferson as you do so.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Another dazzling display in the pre-dawn sky: Mars passing Regulus in Leo


Star-watchers who have been rising early to enjoy the spectacle of Jupiter in Gemini high in the sky during the hours before dawn (described in this previous blog post) have no doubt already been watching another planetary show not far away, where the Red Planet Mars has been moving into the constellation Leo the Lion and which is now passing very close to Leo's brightest star Regulus (alpha Leonis).

The Sky & Telescope feature entitled "This week's sky at a glance" tells readers: 
Before dawn Tuesday morning, look for orange-yellow Mars just 1degree from blue-white Regulus in the eastern sky.  They're far lower left of bright, high Jupiter.
In the procession of zodiac constellations, faint Cancer the Crab follows immediately behind the Twins of Gemini in the night sky (meaning Cancer is to the east -- closer to the eastern horizon -- from Gemini), and Leo follows immediately after Cancer.  You can see a diagram which shows the relative positions of Gemini, Cancer and Leo in an earlier blog post from 2011, entitled "The Gate of Cancer."

Leo will be very easy to spot, rising from the east towards the Twins in the early morning pre-dawn sky.  The Twins, above Orion, will be closing in on their zenith in the hours before sunrise (Orion's upraised shoulder, marked by reddish Betelgeuse, reaches zenith or transit point at about 5:26 am today, reaching that point about four minutes earlier each day -- Betelgeuse is ahead of most of the stars of the Twins, but not by very much).

Further to the West, the stars of Leo are still on their ascending arc during the hours before dawn. Regulus rises at about 3:00 am today, and doesn't reach its transit point until about 9:38 am, well after the sun's rise will have drowned all the stars from view.  Just like Betelgeuse, Regulus is rising four minutes earlier each night (a phenomenon which is caused by the progress that earth makes in its orbit around the sun).

Mars is also rising around 3:00 am today, but it is only rising a minute earlier each morning, which is why Leo is progressing "faster" and basically overtaking Mars.  The stars of Leo will continue "passing" Mars until Leo eventually leaves Mars behind and Mars enters Virgo, which is the zodiac constellation which follows the Lion.

Mars has been proceeding closer and closer to Regulus each morning, creating a beautiful sight as the Red Planet approaches and enters the lower part of the arc of the gleaming sickle of stars at the front of the Lion.  The diagram above shows the full outline of Leo, as diagrammed by the outstanding method proposed by H.A. Rey.  The path of Mars is marked by a black arrow, and the current location of the Red Planet is indicated by a red disc with a thick black outline, passing very close to Regulus this morning.

For a more detailed diagram of the track of Mars through the zodiac constellations, including its upcoming retrograde motion beginning at the end of February 2014, see this outstanding star chart from Naked Eye Planets, by Martin J. Powell.

Below is a fascinating discussion from Tony Flanders of Sky & Telescope of the close conjunction of Mars and Regulus, as well as the close conjunction of Venus and Antares taking place this week each evening shortly after sunset.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Surfing and Herman Melville's Moby Dick

In surfing, as in almost every other human endeavor, situations often arise in which there are a limited number of resources (in this case, ridable waves) which are seen as desirable by a large number of people (in this case, surfers who wish to ride those waves).

Even though there are no official government policemen sitting in the lineup to keep "law and order," surfers do not erupt into violence every time they are faced with crowded conditions, fighting over every wave that arrives.  Instead, a simple and effective informal "code" arose among surfers many decades ago, which enables surfers to peaceably cooperate so that everyone has an opportunity to catch waves.  

The etiquette basically dictates that when two or more surfers want to catch the same wave, it belongs to the surfer who takes off on the wave first and "deepest" -- that is to say, closest to the point at which the wave begins to break (the "curl" of the wave, where the blue or green water breaks and turns white and foamy).

In the image below, for example, two surfers have caught the same wave.  Surfer A, to the right as we look at the picture from our perspective, has caught the wave slightly before another surfer, Surfer B, seen to our left as we look at the picture.  Surfer A has caught the wave first, but even more importantly, he is closer to the curl of the wave, which can be seen fanning out to the right (as we look at the image -- the curl is really to the left of Surfer A as he rides the wave, because the wave is "a right" from his perspective: he is riding to his right, and Surfer B is to his right down the line of the unbroken wave).

In this case, the wave rightfully belongs to Surfer A and Surfer B is "dropping in" on Surfer A by taking off along the line that Surfer A wishes to follow, a line which proceeds down the still-unbroken  (green) barrel of the wave, away from the breaking curl of the wave.

This code is so well-known and so widely-used that it has been written about many times.  It is explained quite clearly on the world-renowned Surfline website, in a web page entitled "Don't drop in on or snake your fellow surfer." However, it is important to note that this widely-followed piece of surfing etiquette did not arise because it was first written down as a rule or passed as a "law" somewhere: it arose naturally among surfers as an effective way to govern the allocation of relatively scarce resources (waves) among relatively crowded conditions (in the image above, you can see that there are quite a few surfers at this particular break -- you can see several in the water to the left of the letter "B" as you look at the picture).

In fact, the situation in the image above had a happy ending: Surfer B realized he was about to drop-in on Surfer A, and he rapidly turned back over the wave to get out of Surfer A's way.  You can see this taking place in the images below.  In image 1, on the left, Surfer B is dropping in, and then in image 2, a split-second later, Surfer B turns and disappears back over the lip, leaving the wave to Surfer A:

This example of a natural code of etiquette arising among individuals who operate in an environment where there are no actual policemen or lawyers or other representatives of government, and yet who are able to peaceably allocate scarce resources amongst themselves, brings to mind the chapter in Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851) entitled "Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish."  There, Melville writes:
Perhaps the only formal whaling code authorized by legislative enactment, was that of Holland.  It was decreed by the States-General in A.D. 1695.  But though no other nation has ever had any written whaling law, yet the American fishermen have been their own legislators and lawyers in this matter.  They have provided a system which for terse comprehensiveness surpasses Justinian's Pandects and the Bylaws of the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling with other People's Business.  Yes; these laws might be engraven on a Queen Anne's farthing, or the barb of a harpoon, and worn round the neck, so small are they.
I.  A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it.
II.  A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.
In fact, it is remarkable that the code here articulated by Melville is precisely the same code which arose among surfers, it requiring only the substitution of the word "wave" for "fish" to admirably summarize the code of wave-catching etiquette just described.

Many philosophers have advocated the need for a political state -- often defined as an entity which maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force -- by arguing that in the absence of a state, mankind would fall into a state of complete violent chaos.  This view was most famously and influentially argued by Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan, published in 1651.  There, Hobbes argued that in the state of nature life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."  The last three words of this phrase have become almost universally known and cited.

However, the examples of the surfer's code and the whale fishery tend to refute this view of mankind's inherent brutishness.  Both activities (surfing and whaling) are conducted outside the reach of normal laws and legislators, and in both cases the participants "have been their own legislators and lawyers."

Proponents of voluntaryism and some forms of libertarianism (among others) argue that the institution of states actually leads to greater levels of violence and more "brutishness" than would occur in their absence.  While they don't generally cite either surfing or Moby Dick as evidence in favor of their arguments, it seems possible that they could.

The use of an example from the immortal Moby Dick is not meant to imply that the author of this blog in any way condones the killing of whales.  To the contrary, several previous posts have discussed arguments against the regular slaughter of animals for food or any other purpose -- see for instance:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Birthday of Master Yip Man (October 10)

October 10 is the birthday of Master Yip Man (1893 - 1972).  His mastery of Wing Chun Kung Fu is unquestionable.  

This passage from Wing Chun Warrior by Ken Ing describes some of the details of Yip Man's life:
Yip Man was born in Foshan in 1893, during the reign of Emperor Guang Xu (1875  - 1908).  His family was well off, and he was raised and educated in the traditional manner.
By the time he was 13, he was accepted as the last disciple of Chen Hua-shun [Guangdongwa: Chan Wah Soon], who was the most outstanding disciple of Liang Zan [Guangdongwa: Leung Jan].  His Sifu was in his seventies when he was accepted, and it was Wu Zhong-su, his second elder Kung Fu brother, who undertook the responsibility of teaching him.
In 1908, when he was 15, Yip Man became a boarder at St. Stephen's College in Stanley in Hong Kong.  It was his good fortune that, while in Hong Kong, he met Liang Bi [Guangdongwa: Leung Bik], the son of Liang Zan [Leung Jan].  By the time he returned to Foshan, he had plumbed the depths of Liang Bi's knowledge of Wing Chun. The superiority of Yip Man's Wing Chun led to speculation that secret Kung Fu knowledge had been passed from Liang Zan to Liang Bi to him.
Yip Man witnessed the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the birth of the Republic of China under the presidency of Sun Yat-sen, and the Kuomintang regime under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.  He survived the Second World War and the occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army betwee 1937 and 1945.
After Japan was defeated in 1945, Yip Man served as a police chief in Foshan, from which vantage point he witnessed the failure of the Kuomintang regime and its retreat to Taiwan.  Before the birth of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949, he escaped to Hong Kong without his family to avoid an expected purge by the victorious Communists led by Mao Zedong.
To earn his livelihood in Hong Kong, Yip Man began teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu.  Considering the state of Hong Kong's economy at the time and the huge number of refugees flooding across the border, establishing a school was a formidable undertaking.  However, as a result of Yip Man's efforts, Wing Chun rapidly became recognized in Hong Kong Kung Fu circles as a legitimate system of martial arts.
At different times and at different places throughout his career, Yip Man had accepted students.  However, it was the students he taught in the 1950s in Hong Kong who built the reputation of Wing Chun.  Collectively they were known simply as the Wing Chun fighters.  103-104.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Sifu Yip Man's teaching changed the world.  Through his students, and in particular through the exceptional career of his student Bruce Lee (pictured above with his Sifu, Yip Man, during the 1950s in Hong Kong), the West came to know about kung fu in a completely different way than ever before.

In fact, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that those who came to study Chinese kung fu outside of China since the 1960s and 1970s owe a debt of gratitude to the teaching of Master Yip Man.  His decision to teach kung fu in Hong Kong beginning in the 1950s led directly to the incredible explosion of popularity of the martial arts around the world beginning in the 1960s.

It is also no exaggeration to say that, through the study of the martial arts, many people of other cultures and backgrounds have been introduced to the profound culture of China and its neighboring cultures and countries, and their lives have been made richer by this contact.

You can learn more about the life and teaching of Sifu Yip Man at the website of the Yip Man Museum in Foshan.  The website contains a virtual tour feature in which you can click on almost all of the photographs and artifacts at the museum itself, and see them on your computer screen.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Jupiter in Gemini

The stars in the morning sky before dawn are always a special treat, well worth the effort of rising early to see them while the sky is still black or beginning to lighten into deep blue in the east, without drowning out the constellations.

Right now, the constellations before dawn feature some of the most glorious constellations in our sky, well worth getting out to see them if at all possible.  

Orion is high in the sky before dawn, in fact reaching his highest altitude on his arc-shaped journey across the southern heavens (for viewers in the northern hemisphere) at about 5:45 am.  Orion is the constellation with the greatest percentage of bright stars out of all the constellations, and he is also extremely important in ancient legend and sacred tradition (see previous discussions on this topic including "The importance of Orion," "Orion and the Winter Circle of mythologically important stars,"    "Leo, the Lion King, Hamlet and Osiris," and "Capella, precession, and the end of the Golden Age," among many others).

Even more spectacular, however, may be the sight of the brilliant constellation of Gemini (the Twins), with the enormous planet Jupiter passing through.  The Twins are located close to Orion, and are therefore you don't have to decide who is the most spectacular -- the entire panoply is spread out in breathtaking glory in the hours before sunrise begins to color the east with red.  Orion, along with his consort Sirius, and the Twins with Jupiter are all near their highest point in the heavens beginning around five o'clock in the morning, and the effect is truly magnificent.  

If you are somewhat unfamiliar with the precise location of Gemini, some of the links above contain diagrams that can be helpful, as does this previous post ("Gemini, Canis Minor, and the Hairy Twin") which contains a good image showing the location of the Twins with respect to Orion.  It only shows the head and shoulders of Orion -- his famous belt would be located lower and below the margin of the bottom of the image -- but you should be able to locate both Orion and the Twins using that image along with some of the others of Orion contained in the links above.

Jupiter is currently passing through Gemini and is actually located at delta Geminorum right now, the star known as Wasat.  The name "Wasat" comes from an Arabic word meaning "the middle," and Wasat is right at the middle of the lower of the two twins, as you can see from the diagram above, where Wasat is marked with the numerals "55."  Wasat is marked with the lower-case Greek letter delta in this diagram.  This discussion of Wasat on Wikipedia reveals that the star is actually part of a triple-star system.

The constellation of the Twins is extremely important in ancient legend and sacred tradition as well.  This web page contains a collection of excerpts from ancient sources which mention the legend of the Twins, known as Castor and Polydeuces or Castor and Pollux in ancient Greek and Roman mythology.  Pollux is the name of the brightest star in the constellation, the head of the lower of the two figures in the diagram above (marked with the numerals "78").  Note that the line of the ecliptic passes primarily through the figure of Pollux, who of the two Twins in legend was the immortal of the pair and the son of Zeus.  

As discussed in numerous previous posts, such as this one and this one, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the ancient myths and sacred traditions describe the motions of the stars and heavenly bodies, rather than the conventional view that the myths came first and the ancients later named the constellations and planets after their mythical gods and heroes.  Thus, from the above discussion we can see why the myth of the Twins describes Pollux as the immortal and the son of Zeus: his star is brighter, and the ecliptic path -- and hence the gods -- pass through his figure and not much through Castor (just barely going through the stars of Castor, which may be why he is granted only a very partial sort of immortality in the legend).  

Zeus, of course, is the same god as Jupiter (the Latin name of whom may well mean "Zeus Pater," according to some analysts).  Thus, the passage of the planet Jupiter through Gemini that we are witnessing now may well be encoded in the myth of the Twins by the fact that -- of the two -- only Pollux is the son of Zeus.

Due to the complex motions of the planets as they whirl through the solar system in conjunction with the motion of the earth and our speeding sun, the path of the planets along the general line of the ecliptic is not exactly the same from year to year, although their path stays in the general vicinity of the light-blue line representing the ecliptic which is seen in the diagram above.  For a truly outstanding diagram of the path of Jupiter as it moves through the constellation Gemini this month and in following months, check out this chart from Naked Eye Planets.  The full website of Naked Eye Planets, by Martin J. Powell, is located here.

Finally, no mention of the ancient sacred traditions of the Twins would be complete without a reminder that a pair known as the Hero Twins also played a central role in the sacred traditions of the great civilizations of the Americas.  In this previous post, I examine the iconography of the Maya steles at Izapa (a site which also has abundant evidence of ancient Olmec activity) and argue that the depictions of the Hero Twins along with certain fantastical birds are most likely meant to convey celestial connections.  In fact, the imagery has very strong similarities to specific iconography used in ancient Egypt and ancient Babylon, imagery so specific that it is difficult to argue that they arose coincidentally without any sort of ancient contact.  

For this reason, the Twins may be an important clue supporting "diffusionist" paradigm over the conventional "isolationist" history that is taught in school.

You may find it enjoyable to consider all these connections as you gaze out into the heavens in the predawn sky to see the passage of Jupiter through Gemini.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October 6 is the birth-date of Thor Heyerdahl

October 6 is the birthdate of Thor Heyerdahl (1914 - 2002).  His insights, analysis and expeditions provided some of the most important evidence for what is often called the "diffusionist" theory versus the "isolationist" theory.  

The diffusionist theory argues that ancient peoples had the capability of deliberately and repeatedly crossing the oceans, including the Atlantic and the Pacific, and that they did so as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians.  It thus stands agains the isolationist theories taught by most conventional academicians today, which categorically rejects any suggestion of the possibility of cultural contact between peoples from different continents in ancient times, despite abundant evidence around the world that seems to suggest such ancient contact.  

Thor Heyerdahl entered into this momentous question by several happy circumstances beginning in his early life, which -- when brought into contact with his boundless curiosity and irrepressible optimism and adventurous spirit -- led to several famous adventures and discoveries of tremendous significance.  

This webpage from the Kon-Tiki museum explains that as a young student at the University of Oslo, Thor Heyerdahl met Bjarne Kroepelien, who had traveled to the South Pacific, a part of the world that had fascinated Heyerdahl since childhood.  Kroepelien assisted the young Thor Heyerdahl when Thor and his new bride Liv decided to try to live on an undeveloped island (Fatu Hiva) in the Marquesas to study the local flora and try to determine the route that had brought the various species to the island.  

It was Kroepelien's letter to the Tahitian Chief Teriieroo which enabled Thor and Liv to spend a month with Teriieroo on Tahiti, for practical training in the traditional methods of living off the land.  They stayed a year but insect-borne disease forced them to seek medical attention on neighboring Hiva Oa.  There, another Norwegian who had permanently settled there on a coconut plantation showed Heyerdahl some stone statues in the jungle, which -- along with his friend's suggestion that similar statues could be seen in Colombia, in South America -- fired Thor Heyerdahl's imagination and started him on the pursuit of theories that went against the settled opinion of the historians and anthropologists of his day, and launched him on the many adventures and investigations that would become his life's work.

Heyerdahl became convinced that the islands of the Pacific had been peopled originally by people from South America, perhaps a people who were the predecessors of the Inca, who had traveled eastward on balsa rafts, and who were later joined by another wave of people from the northwest tribes of North America, who had traveled southeast on double-hulled canoes.  These two peoples later mixed (sometimes peacefully and sometimes violently) on the various islands of the wide Pacific, leaving a distinctive Polynesian culture that stretched all the way from Easter Island (Rapa Nui) to New Zealand (Aotearoa).  

Meeting solid opposition from those who said this theory was impossible, Heyerdahl in 1947 undertook his most famous adventure, the Kon-Tiki expedition, to prove that long-distance travel over the open ocean in balsa rafts was not only possible, but extremely practical.  In his best-selling account of that expedition (still thrilling reading today), he explains the origin of the expedition's now-famous name:
Virakocha is an Inca (Ketchua) name and consequently of fairly recent date.  The original name of the sun-god Virakocha, which seems to have been more used in Peru in old times, was Kon-Tiki or Illa-Tiki, which means Sun-Tiki or Fire-Tiki.  Kon-Tiki was high priest and sun-king of the Incas' legendary 'white men' who had left the enormous ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  The legend runs that the mysterious white men with beards were attacked by a chief named Cari who came from the Coquimbo Valley.  In a battle on an island in Lake Titicaca the fair race was massacred, but Kon-Tiki himself and his closest companions escaped and later came down to the Pacific coast, whence they finally disappeared oversea to the westward. . .  18-19.  
Heyerdahl explains that the existence of strong traditions as far away as the Marquesas of a founding anscestor named Tiki, who had come to the islands "from a mountainous land in the east which was scorched by the sun" (18).  Hence, his voyage and the vessel he and his companions used in order to prove such a direction of travel was possible, even over the vast distances and mighty ocean swells of the broad Pacific, was dubbed the Kon-Tiki.

Later in his life, Heyerdahl undertook similar voyages across the world's largest oceans in ships built of traditional materials and design, including the Ra voyage across the Atlantic and the Tigris voyage across the Indian Ocean.

For previous posts referring to some of Thor Heyerdahl's arguments against the isolationist theories, see also:
For a partial list of some of the overwhelming pile of evidence which supports the "diffusionist" theories and casts serious doubt on the "isolationist" theories, see the links in this previous post entitled "The Calixtlahuaca head."

Also, while October 6 is an important date because of the birthday of Thor Heyerdahl, October 5 (still the date here in California as this is published) is even more important, as it is the birthday of my father -- Happy Birthday!  He taught me to make Norwegian crepes, which I had for breakfast this morning.  He also introduced me to the love of looking at the stars, beginning with the wonderful book Find the Constellations, by H.A. Rey -- and plenty of trips outside together to look up at the night sky and try to find the constellations ourselves.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Human internal organs connected to solar system planets?

In the system of Chinese medicine, which has ancient origins stretching back thousands of years, each of the internal organs of the human body has connections to either yin or yang, to specific periods during the daily rotation of the earth, to the energy typical of one of the five elements (discussed below), to different emotional states, and -- interestingly enough -- to one of the different planets of our solar system.

This website, for example, lists the organ correspondences of each of the five visible planets, proceeding through each of the five traditional Taoist elements, or "Five Elemental Energies":

Planet: Jupiter
Element: Wood
Yin Organ: Liver
Yang Organ: Gall Bladder

Planet: Mars
Element: Fire
Yin Organ: Heart
Yang Organ: Small Intestine

There is actually a second set of organs also associated with Fire and Mars -- the pericardium (the sac around the heart -- a yin organ), and the "triple burner," which is not a physical organ but an energetic system associated with three channels in the thoracic and pelvic cavities, along which energy flows as water flows in an old water-wheel that turns a millstone (the triple burner is a yang organ).

Planet: Saturn
Element: Earth
Yin Organ: Spleen
Yang Organ: Stomach

Planet: Venus
Element: Metal
Yin Organ: Lungs
Yang Organ: Large Intestine

Planet: Mercury
Element: Water
Yin Organ: Kidneys
Yang Organ: Bladder

In his book, A Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs, Daniel Reid provides some excellent introductory discussions of the concepts of yin and yang, the Five Elemental Energies, and the Traditional Chinese Medicine understanding of the organs.  He writes:
The Great Principle of Yin and Yang is the first and foremost law of the manifest universe.  It delineates and defines the opposite yet complementary poles that lie at the heart of all dynamic forces, initiate all growth and transformation, and maintain the balance and harmony of the vital energies on which human health and longevity depend.  Yin and yang are not different types of energy but, rather, complementary poles of the same basic energies of the universe, such as the hot and cold of heat energy, the bright and dark of light energy, and the positive and negative of electromagnetic energy.  The vital organ-energies of the human body also function as complementary couples of yin and yang: the yin heart is functionally linked with the yang small intestine; yin liver is paired with yang gallbladder; yin kidneys are coupled with yang bladder; and so forth. 13-14.
Of the Five Elemental Energies, he says, beginning with a quotation from the ancient text whose principles still infuse much of Chinese medicine:
"The Five Elemental Energies of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water encompass all the myriad phenomena of nature.  It is a paradigm that applies equally to humans," states The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine.  As functional manifestations of yin and yang, the Five Elemental Energies are the fundamental forces of nature whose constant transformations and interactions "make the world go 'round."  As another ancient Chinese text puts it, "The Five Elemental Energies combine and recombine in innumerable ways to produce manifest existence.  All things contain all Five Elemental Energies in various proportions."

The Five Elemental Energies transform, manifest, and maintain their own natural equilibrium through an automatic system of checks and balances based on the creative and control cycles, or mother-son and victor vanquished relationships. [. . .]
The creative cycle [see black arrows in the diagram below] is one of generation and stimulation: Wood generates Fire; Fire generates Earth; Earth generates Metal; Metal generates Water; Water generates Wood.  The control cycle [see white arrows in the diagram below] dominates and sedates: Metal sedates Wood; Wood sedates Earth; Earth sedates Water; Water sedates Fire; Fire sedates Metal. 14-15.
The diagram below is similar to one shown in Daniel Reid's book, and illustrates the creative cycle and the control cycle:

Much more could be written about these elemental correspondences, and the fact that the organs which power our bodies and sustain life in each one of us have characteristics which correspond to these Five Elemental Energies, but it seems that one of the most intriguing and significant aspects of this ancient wisdom is the connection of our vital organs with a corresponding planet in the celestial realm as well.  

How can it be that the organs in our body have connections to the mighty orbs which whirl silently through space, the closest of which (Venus) is around 25 million miles away and the furthest of which (Saturn) averages around 890 million miles away, and sometimes reaches distances of over a billion miles from us?!

The materialist philosophy currently in vogue admits of no possible connection between the aspects of the planets and the functioning of the vital organs inside the bodies of the billions of people on our planet, and dismisses much of the teachings of Chinese medicine as well.  However, such wisdom does not survive for thousands of years, in constant practical application among the people, without some level of validity.  

Further, there is evidence that the ancients around the world, including in "the West," once acknowledged the connection between the celestial heavenly objects and the vital organs of the human body.  For example, this previous post touches on the fact that the ancients believed that each of the zodiacal signs was most closely associated with different parts of the human body.  It was taught that Libra, for instance, rules the kidneys, and Gemini the lungs. 

This concept is clearly related to the teaching of the microcosm / macrocosm (discussed in that previous blog post just referenced, as well as this one and this one) which is the teaching that each individual is a reflection of the cosmos, that each person is in fact a microcosm, simultaneously containing an entire cosmos within the individual, while at the same time reflecting and responding to the motions of the macrocosm: the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the planets, and the wide universe.

This concept has been largely forgotten in "the West," but it has survived in other parts of the world.  The understanding of the connections between the planets and our vital organs is one manifestation of that ancient wisdom.

For other discussions which mention the very worthwhile works of Daniel P. Reid, see also:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

John Michell on dragon current or lung-mei

In New View Over Atlantis (1969), John Michell points out that a knowledge of what Alfred Watkins called "ley lines" in England survived in China right up to the modern day.

He writes:
Stories of the magic location of sacred sites are not confined to Britain, but refer to a geomantic tradition once universally known.  All over the world the centres of spiritual power were discovered by means of a system which combined science, astrology and intuition.  Above all, in China, not only was every sacred building magically sited, but the Chinese geomantic principles are known; for the practice of divining the sites of houses and tombs was carried on well into this century.  59
He goes on to explain:
A hundred years ago the practice of Chinese geomancy first became generally known in the West through the complaints of European business men, who found inexplicable resistance to their rational plans for exploiting the country.  Continually they were informed that their railways and factories could not take certain routes or occupy certain positions.  The reasons given were impossible to understand, for they had no relevance, economic, social or political to the problem of laying out an industrial network.  The Europeans were told that a certain range of hills was a terrestrial dragon and that no cutting could be made through its tail.  59.
Interestingly enough, these lines of "dragon current" were believed to be generated not only by the geological formations and alignments of energy in our own planet Earth, but also by the influences of the Sun and the Moon as well as the five planets.  John Michell explains further:
In China until recently, as long ago in Britain, every building, every stone and wood was placed in the landscape in accordance with a magic system by which the laws of mathematics and music were expressed in the geometry of the earth's surface.  The striking beauty and harmony of every part of China, which all travellers have remarked, was not produced by chance.  Every feature was contrived.  The main paths of planetary influence, determined by thousands of years of astronomy, were discovered in the landscape, the smaller lines that ran between them reproduced in the crags and fissures of the earth.  These were the lines of dragon current or lung-mei.  The various parts of the earth each fell under a particular planetary influence passed down through the lines which ran above them.  Besides their lunar or solar, yin or yang, characteristics, certain lines were related to one of the five planets, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury or Saturn.  These planets correspond to the five materials, wood, fire, metal, water and earth.  Their colours are yellow, red, blue, white and black.  Other correspondences link the planets with the materials of the body, with the internal organs, and with the fortunes of men.  Even the shape of hills should conform to their astrological position.  Steep mountains with sharp sides and peak pertain to Mars; those with top broken off to Jupiter.  Hills under Saturn have a flat summit, those under Mercury are low and dome shaped, and hills of Venus are dramatically high and rounded.  62-63.
The entire discussion, as well as John Michell's insightful elaboration on the topic and startling conclusions, is well worth reading in its entirety.

For previous posts which touch on the subject of earth energy lines and the influence of the planets upon our lives, see also: