Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Year of No Christmas




[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books.  His blog can be read at www.ChristopherNyerges.com. He can be contacted via his site, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

When  I was around 10, my brothers and I were particularly bad, belligerent, and misbehaving one autumn.  My mother gave us several warning and threats and a few “beatings” in her ceaseless attempt to get us to obey.  I don’t recall what was “wrong” with us that year.  It was as if we were afflicted by some unseen infection.  Or maybe it was what all teens go through when they believe they know more than their parents.  So my mother said, “Keep it up and there will be no Christmas this year.”  Of course, my mother didn’t control the calendar.  She just meant “no gifts.”  That threat did at first affect our behavior,  but then we’d go back to our nonfeasant and malfeasant ways.  There were numerous threats, as November rolled into December, but things didn’t substantially improve.

Now, I was at the age where I began to think about things, and the relative unfairness in the world, and the questioning of authority. But I also wondered why we should  receive gifts at Christmas.  By this time, I was aware that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time, and that it was primarily a religious holiday.  I just didn’t get the whole gift thing –not that I minded receiving.  But because I lacked an understanding of the whole picture, the idea of “no gifts”  didn’t seem that threatening to me.

Thinking back, our bad behaviour that year was likely the trickle-down defiance from our oldest brother.  David was never a defier, certainly not an open defier, but the defiance of Gilbert the eldest would have trickled down to Thomas, to Richard, to me.  We were not an ideal family, and I am sure I have suffered my entire life due to unnecessary defiance and the disrespect that I showed to my parents.  Did my parents deserve respect?  In retrospect, possibly, though the question would have been irrelevant then – like the pot calling the kettle black. 

We were not saints, so who were we to point out hypocrisy in our parents?  Anyway, by mid-December, the word was out: No Christmas this year.  We were schizophrenic about this.  “Oh, we don’t care,” we sassed, but inwardly I believe we each felt a deep dismay at our own inability to live up to our household’s very simple standards.  I felt particularly dismayed that I had been no better, and that I was swayed along with the tide of my older brothers’ mob mentality.  No Christmas.  “She won’t follow through on it,” Tom told us with assurance.  But inwardly, I felt my mother had  to follow through, otherwise her word would mean little to us, and she’d gain little by “being nice.”  I don’t recall what my father had to say about this, but it wasn’t much.

So, sure enough, Christmas came, and we went glumly into the living room to a fire and the usual Christmas tree, but there were no gifts.  We went to church and we talked with our schoolmates. When they talked about what they got for Christmas, we just found ways to change the subject.  We had a quiet Christmas dinner.

One of my brothers told his friends that my mother was mean, but I never did that.  I knew we deserved nothing, and I felt a certain euphoric sense of justice in her actions, and I respected her more because of it. 

Interestingly, in certain ways, I felt closer to my mother after that, was more obedient because I simply felt better doing what was expected of me, and I never complained.  Despite a seeming lack, it was actually one of the best Christmas’ ever, where I received the most fitting possible “gift” – the ability to quickly experience that my choices and actions have consequences.

The story about my mean mother gradually got out into the neighborhood, and my mother once again became the topic of conversations, mostly criticizing my mother.  I always remained silent, trying to listen to both sides. But I only heard one side—no gifts – from those who truly lost the meaning of Christmas, whose sole focus for Christmas seemed to be the acquisition of things. 

So I was “given,” slowly,  a second “gift” by my mother’s action – a unique insight into the all-too-common mundanity of most people’s very narrow thinking.  And I was allowed the rare opportunity to try and experience the meaning of Christmas without the over-focus on material things.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Searching for the Real Meaning of Christmas





[Nyerges  is the author of several books, including “Enter the  Forest,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and “Whose Child Is This” (about the meaning of the symbols of Christmas).  He can be reached at www.ChristopherNyerges.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

I was waiting in line to buy something at Target, and the friendly checker asked the man ahead of me if he was ready for Christmas.  It was a cheerful and innocent question. After all, in December in the United States, it does seem like getting ready for Christmas is the number one dominant activity, and it’s the reason that lines in all the stores are long and why you cannot easily find parking.

“No, I don’t celebrate Christmas,” the man responded, and then he went on to explain how much money he saves by not observing “all that silly stuff.” I did overhear enough to hear that he was single, and then he walked on.  I wondered if that was the real reason he didn’t observe Christmas. He could  have been a Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or any of the other dozens of religions and sects which don’t observe the Christian Christmas holidays. 

Though I have both fond and depressing memories of the Christmas season growing up, I have worked through all the mish-mash of symbols that have gotten thrown into the Christmas motif, and I regard them as generally uplifting.  I have long ago ceased my mindless Christmas card-sendng and gift-giving out of some sense of social obligation, but I still immensely enjoy special times with friends and families in what is the darkest time of the year.

Many years ago, I was asked by a local non-profit to share at a Christmas event the “real meaning” of Christmas.  Even after I agreed to do this, I wondered to myself:  How can I do that?  How can I be sure that I’ve really got it?  How will I know whether or not I’m right? 

My job was to discover what all the symbols and practices of Christmas mean, and how we might best realize and vivify those meanings during this time.  Needless to say, it was a tall task.

I found that the best way to share my research was to be honest, explaining my background, how I went about my research, and what I personally concluded. 

I explained how I grew up in a Catholic family, and was taught that Jesus was born on December 25, which is obviously why we celebrate his birthday on that date.  So I had to begin my presentation with the man who is at the center of Christmas, Jesus.  It turns out that all historians agree that Jesus was not  born on December 25, but rather in May or September, probably  in the year 6 B.C. by our current reckoning. Not only that, many of the modern symbols and practices of Christmas-time actually pre-dated Jesus, and were celebrations of the Winter Solstice by the people that Christians called “pagans.”

So then I  had to stop and define “pagans.”  Originally people outside of the strong influence of Roman power were called the pagani, country folk, a term that had no religious overtones in the beginning. Eventually it became a term of derision, meaning non-Christian, for the people who practiced the old religion of Mithraism. 

In the time of Jesus, there were many religions and gods and Gods, and they didn’t all get along. Jesus, as everyone knows, was a practicing Jew, and observed the Jewish  holy days. After the crucifixion, his followers carried on the message of Jesus the Christ, and they still mostly-observed the Jewish traditions, hence, Judaeo-Christianity. 

None of this is new, of course, and these details can be found in any encyclopedia, including such tomes as  The Golden Bough, and Manly Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages. 

So why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25, when we know that the early Judaeo-Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday at all?

Most ancient religion is astronomy-based, and draws great symbolism from the cycle of the earth around the sun.  The winter solstice is the day of the least light, from which the days have increasingly more light. The birth of the sun has long been anthrpomorphized into the birth of the sun.  Jesus wasn’t the first to be commemorated with the winter solstice.  Mithra, born of a virgin mother in a cave, was said to be born on December 25.   Nimrod from Babylon was also said to be born on December 25, as was Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, and others.

The new religion of Christianity was still struggling in the 4th century, and its adherents were still being persecuted for their  faith when Constantine became the emperor.  Constantine also converted to Christianity.  In his attempt to unite his kingdom, he made Christianity the official religion, and he Christianized all the so-called pagan commemorations.  As a result, the birth of the Sun that was already commemorated by the Mithra-"pagans" was now going to commemorate the birth of the Son, Jesus.

Some of the symbols that have been adopted into the Christmas season are universal symbols of eternity, life, and light, symbols such as  wreaths, evergreens, the tree, lights and candles, the giving of gifts, the virgin birth, and birth in a stable.

Santa Claus was based on a very real Catholic bishop named Nikolas of Myra (modern day Turkey) who gave gifts during the winter and the newly-established Christmas season.  He was born in March 15, 270, and actually participated in the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the famous council where early church doctrine was argued and decided.  He died on December 6th, 343.   This generous bishop was remembered for the gifts he gave, and his image was severely watered-down over the years by Coca-Cola and others who used him in their advertising.

It’s correct that many people have been turned off when they learn of this hidden history of Christmas -- and I've just touched the tip of the iceberg here.  Some even find all this depressing.  But I am not like the man in line ahead of me at Target.  I’ll still observe the Christmas season, and I enjoy the lessons that are buried within all these symbols. 

Can I say that today I know the “real meaning” of Christmas?  I have come closer to experiencing the universal “magic” of Christmas in my personal life, year by year, and I feel that this is an on-going process, where there are always more nuances to be learned.  I never get tired, for example, of watching Capra’s wonderful Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and watching Jimmy Stewart confront the meaning and purpose of his own life, and the value of true friendship.  Though he had nothing to give others that fateful year, it turned out  his greatest gift was the service he’d done for so many in the town. 

And for this reason, I have long felt that “It’s a Wonderful Life” expresses “the real meaning” of Christmas: slow down, breathe, recognize the higher power, and acknowledge your friends and family who are the real gifts in your life.

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In Search of Santa Claus



[Nyerges is an author / lecturer / educator who has written such books as “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and other books.  Information about his books and classes is available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]

A few years ago, I recall a Christian woman complaining about the fact that “Santa Claus” has gained a more prominent role during the Christmas season than the Jesus child.   She argued that this was a sign that “we” have allowed secularism – and maybe even paganism – to creep into the Christmas tradition.  I didn’t jump into the conversation because it would have been a very long conversation.  I would have started with the fact that many of today’s Christmas commemorations predate Christianity.  And I would have addressed her notion that “Santa Claus” is from the so-called “pagan” tradition.  Really?
 So then, who is Santa Claus?  Is he just a fictitious jolly man to make us feel happy during the dark of December?  No, not really.  There was an actual historical figure upon which “Santa Claus” is based.
Nikolas of Myra was a  4th century Bishop in the Catholic church of Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey).  He was born on March 15, 270, in Pataya, Lycia, in Asia Minor, what is now modern Turkey. At that time, however, the area was culturally Greek, and was politically a part of the Roman  diocese of Asia.  Nikolas was the only child of wealthy Greek parents, who both died in an epidemic when Nikolas was young.  As a result, Nikolas inherited much from his parents, and was then raised by his uncle (also named Nikolas), who was a Bishop of  Patara, and who trained the young Nikolas into priesthood.

Nikolas was said to be religious from a very early age, and he always chose to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.    
Because of his outspoken beliefs, he was persecuted by the Romans and was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian.  Remember, the new religion of Judeo-Christianity did not find favor in the hierarchy of the Roman empire.

In case you never heard of the “persecution of Diocletian” – also known as “the Great Persecution” -- it was the Roman Empire’s most severe of the persecutions against Christians, simply because they were Christians. In 303, four emperors issued a series of dictatorial laws which essentially did away with any legal rights of Christians.  The edicts demanded that the Christians comply with traditional Roman “religious” practices, meaning, giving sacrifices to the various Roman gods.  The implementation of these edits was weakest in the British colonies where the Empire had the least sway, and the most severe in the Eastern provinces, where Nikolas lived. 

Since Nikolas refused to worship the Roman gods, he was imprisoned, and suffered hardship, hunger, and cold for about 5 years.  Then Constantine came into power, who nominally became a Christian, and ended the persecutions in 313, and Nikolas was released. Constantine is known for “Christianizing” the Roman Empire, and co-opted and re-named all the Mythraic (“pagan”) holidays so they could all now be regarded as Christian holidays.

Shortly after his return to his homeland in 317 A.D., Nikolas became the Bishop of Myra. 

He was later invited to attend the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the famous council where much of the modern dogma of the Catholic church was determined.    Nikolas of Myra was one of many bishops to participate in the Council at Constantine’s request. He is listed as the 151st attendee at the Council.

At the Council, Nikolas was a staunch anti-Arian.  Arius of Alexandria held the position that the “Son of  God” did not always exist, but was created by the Father.  Nikolas disagreed with Arius, and defended the developing orthodox Christian viewpoint.  According to stories told, Nikolas got so angry at Arius that he punched him in the face!  Really?  Proto-Santa Claus punches a fellow man of the cloth?   That’s what the historians tell us happened!

Back in his homeland, Nikolas developed the reputation of being a generous bishop.   He inherited wealth from his parents, and he would sometimes give gold and other valuables to those who he learned were in need.  In one case, it is said that Nikolas tossed a bag of gold coins into a needy family’s yard, anonymously.   Those who wrote about Nikolas said that he was a humble man, and didn’t want to be seen giving money to people, so he did it secretly.  He was well-known for wanting to give such gifts in private when he traveled the countryside,  and so children were told to go to sleep quickly or  Nikolas would not come with gifts.  This, apparently, is the origin of telling children to go to sleep or that Santa will not come.

In one story, he apparently snuck into the home of a family where the three daughters of a poor man were about  to get married. Nikolas put some gold into the stockings which the girls left by the fire to dry.  This, apparently, is the origin of hanging up stockings on Christmas eve.  Nikolas was also well known for the gifts that he gave to newly married couples during the already established Christmas season.

And so it goes.  Nikolas was a complex man, part of the new Catholic tradition which now celebrated the birth of Jesus on the already-observed winter solstice. (Early Judeo-Christians did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, a date that has been lost to history.  Some historians argue that the birth of Jesus occurred in either May or September, but everyone agrees it was not December 25.)

He died on December 6, 343,which is to this day known as “Saint Nicholas Day.”  Upon his death, he was buried in the cathedral of Myra.  He is revered as a saint in most sects of Christianity and is especially honored in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

By the  year 450, churches in  Greece and Asia Minor were being named in honor of Nicholas. (His name is normally spelled “Nicholas” in most modern English renderings of his name.)  He was officially honored  as a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church in 800.  December 6 began to be celebrated as Bishop Nicholas Day in France  by the 1200s. 

As time went on, when ever someone received a mysterious gift, it would often be attributed to Saint Nicholas, which helped to grow his mythology.

The Dutch called Saint Nicholas “Sinterklass,” which is the most likely manner in which the name Saint Nicholas gradually evolved into “Santa Claus.”  Along the way, Saint Nicholas was given some of the attributes of Odin, the Norse God, who could travel through the sky and who had a secret home somewhere around the north pole.  Come to think of it, even the Superman story borrowed from Odin.  Remember how Superman sometimes goes to a secret cavern in the Northern coldlands and converses with his ancestors via ice crystals? 

The image continued to morph over the years, with the Coco Cola company giving the world a somewhat sanitized and plumper  Saint Nicholas / Santa Claus with their early 20th century ads. There we began to see the fatter bearded man in the red suit. 

Today, the man you see in the mall is the modern condensation of fact and myth, embodying the generosity of one Catholic Bishop, the good will of all who gave gifts in his stead, and bits of the mythology of Odin.   And I was really feeling good about that, thinking that the mall is at least one last place where you can go and take your picture with Santa for free – except, in most malls these days, you can’t!  Yes children, even Santa has to make a living.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Chapter from "The Los Angeles Book of the Dead."



 
DOLORES 63rd MEMORIAL BIRTHDAY

A chapter from "Til Death Do Us Part?: How Death Taught Us Some of Life's Most Important Lesson," by Nyerges, available on Kindle, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, for less than you usually give a tip at a local restaurant.   


I planned a gathering to commemorate what would have been Dolores’ 63 birthday.  It was for Saturday October 3, 2009, the day after her birthday.  The full moon was Saturday night – it was the “harvest moon.”  It may have seemed like a casual event, but a lot of planning and preparation went into our small gathering.
            Michael and I cleaned up the area around the two trees where we buried Dolores’ ashes earlier in the year, and we made sure that the many steps leading down into the Island orchard were safe and not slippery.  We set down strips of carpeting on the terraces so that guests would have a place to sit.  Plus, I’d noticed that a raccoon had been coming and digging around Dolores’ two Meyer lemon trees, so the layer of special rocks and quartz and handstones that I’d carefully placed under the trees was now tumbled and jumbled.  So I re-aligned these specially-placed stones as best I could.
            This is Dolores’ gravesite, I kept realizing.  This is where I go to commune with Dolores.  Though I often feel Dolores with me while walking, driving, or typing at home, the grave site is still that one unique spot where her final physical remains are buried, where “she” could overlook the burial site of our three beloved dogs, Ramah, Lulu, Cassius Clay.
            Our mentor Revve Weisz was also preparing a reading from Thinking and Destiny about the process that one goes through in the afterdeath states.  His editing of this passage took considerable work in the editing and retyping until we had a final draft.
            Finally, I did much research into corn and the mythology of corn in Native American traditions.  This was my way of continuing Dolores’ work, since Corn (and several related topics, like Bread, and Grass) was one of her ongoing research topics.  I began by finding all that I could on corn in her notes, and then following up with some of our books.
            On the Thursday before, I met with RW after I had spent the day at the farmers market in Glendale.  He told me that a major Occult Correspondence with the Dolores birthday commemoration and the tie-in to corn was that this year there would be a spectacular rising of the Harvest Moon shortly after the sunset.  The Harvest Moon was the full moon that occurred during that time of each year, which enabled farmers and Native Americans to harvest their corn (and wheat and other crops) nearly all night long because that moonlight was so bright.  Plus, after what was often a day of wiltingly-hot heat, it would be comfortable to spend the night outside. 

            I invited 50 friends to join us for the October 3 event, and by Friday – Dolores’ actual birthday – I felt pretty prepared for the gathering. 
The weather on Friday was remarkably cooler than it had been, with a cloud cover and light wind that made the day not only pleasant but mysterious.  I was working on the roof  that day with Robert Johnson, and we both commented on the remarkable weather.  Later, while speaking briefly with Revve Weisz, he told me that, yes, the “cloudy coolth” [his words] did in fact have something to do with The Lady Dolores.  I was overwhelmed to hear this, and found it difficult to hold back tears.  I very much felt the presence of Dolores, as if she was curiously observing the goings-on in her honor. 
Revve Weisz further told me that the unusual, remarkable weather was an honoration of the unique  kind of Real Love that “best friend Christopher” exhibited towards Dolores’ memory.  He further explained who or what that honoration was from, and though that is a topic unto itself, it had to do with the higher Spiritual Powers or Entities who “watch over” this earth.  Revve Weisz added that that LOVEPOWER which was exhibited and felt – he emphasized the word “felt” – by my “higher Self” had been broadcast worldwide since I’d arrived that day.  I felt overwhelmed, and felt good that I had been able to rise to this occasion.  But mostly, I still felt so much regret and sadness for all my past failures with Dolores, and all the things I should have done better.  So while I felt uplifted, I inwardly just went on with my needed preparation, knowing how much more I needed to do to get back to zero, in my own mind.
           
           Around 5 p.m., I got to the site of the commemoration and  was greeted by both Racina and Nicole, who’d arrived before me.  Nicole practiced her violin while I set out pictures and burned white sage.  Prudence arrived. Francisco Loaiza arrived.  Francisco never met Dolores but seemed to know her through her writings, and through me.  Helena arrived.  It made me happy to see Helena, since she, Dolores, and I were partners 15 years earlier producing maybe a half-million pencils for gift shops.  We had a good several-year run of the business and became close friends.
            We began with a toast.  We filled our cups, and as we touched them, I read the Shining Bear work called “Herbs and Meat,” which Dolores orated at the closing ceremony of the 1989 commemoration of the Trail of Tears in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  I pointed to a photo that I set up by Dolores’ tree.  It was Dolores reading “Herbs and Meat” in the Cherokee amphitheatre in Tahlequah.
            The sun was low and it was cool, and I felt an aliveness of the spirit of Dolores as we touched our cups in that act of communion.
            I then began the prepared Thinking and Destiny reading, which described each afterlife stage, and compared each lifetime to a day in our life, and compared the death stage to the sleep and dream stage each night.   After looking at some photos of Dolores, I told everyone how I intended to continue some of Dolores’ life’s work, such as the corn research I’d be sharing that day.
            We all then added some more quartz stones to Dolores’s grave site, and then we planted a little corn patch.  For this planting, Francisco Loaiza gifted an ear of blue corn that his father had raised for several generations.  I had soaked the corn in water for some time, and then we each made little holes in the patch with sticks and planted our corn.
            Prudence asked me if Dolores had ever worn long robes and beads.  In response, I read a paper Dolores had written about how she made and sold clothes when she lived in Hawaii. Prudence said that she “saw” The Lady Dolores there with us, adorned in what appeared to be blue and maybe tan long garments and beads – like braided with her hair and falling on either side of her face. It was as if the beads were part of her hair. It looked just right.
That made me happy that someone else “felt” and “saw” Dolores presence.  I couldn’t remember Dolores dressing like that though, except maybe when she did a SerpentDove reading on the Island and dressed the part like an older Native American woman.
            Everyone was quiet as Nicole played beautiful sounds on her violin.
           
            As it was getting dark, we all gathered up the hill around Dolores’ redwood table by lamps, and shared her favorite brand of pie, by Fabes, which had no processed sugar. It was a pumpkin pie, along with coffee-elixir, water, and fruit juice. 
            I shared some of the details about corn, and how the Hopi and others believed that humans were created way back in time from corn kernels.  Plus botanists do not know the exact origins of corn, adding to its mystery.
            Despina showed up and we read more from Thinking and Destiny.
At the same time, Racina and Nicole glanced at each other. Nicole looked at Racina and said, “You know Dolores is present right now?” Racina nodded knowingly. A very loving and sweet Dolores proceeded to give Nicole a beautiful “soul hug” and whispered very kind thoughts about her and Christopher right into her ear. Racina then looked at Nicole and said, “Oh my gosh! Dolores is here and she is making me smile!! I just can’t stop smiling….”  The next moment Dolores’ spirit lovingly moved around the table…a light and loving presence was shared by many of the guests.
And towards the end, even Mel showed up and joined in our conversation.  I also read some corn-related selections from the book by Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller, entitled The Winds Erase Your Footprints, a true story of Shiyo’s friend, a white woman, who married a Navajo man and moved to the Navajo reservation during the 1930s.  The section I read pertained to the ma-itso, or wolf clan, which used corn pollen to “cast spells” in what was referred to as “Navajo witchcraft.” 
Here is what I read, from Chapter 7, The Sing:

   And then Shimah was telling him about the yellow pollen. Juanita could almost follow the story by her mother-in-law's excited gestures. Shimah's face was strong and tense, no room for gentleness, and her voice carried a new undertone--like fear. Only her hands seemed natural, although excited, as she gestured. Strange that Shimah should tell about the yellow pollen, rather than ask the rider about himself, about news which he was surely carrying. Of what interest could the yellow pollen be to him?
   But he was interested. He leaned forward as though better to hear her words; his eyes narrowed and his face looked very grave. He asked many questions. Shimah answered and sometimes Yee-ke-nes-bah. Through their conversation one word seemed to repeat itself until it began to echo and re-echo in Juanita's mind: ma-itso . . . ma-itso.
   ...And then Lorencito began to talk seriously to Luciano; Juanita heard the work ma-itso repeated again and again. Shimah sat nodding her head as her oldest son talked, occasionally adding a word to what he was saying. Luciano turned to Juanita; his face was marked with gravity as was his older brother's. "Lorencito says that it is not safe to keep this from you any longer; I should tell you now."
    Juanita waited. Her mouth and throat felt suddenly dry. She could not have spoken. Her thoughts raced: this is in some way connected, ma-itso and yellow pollen. Perhaps it's all connected, all of the puzzling and unexplained things that have happened. And somehow, the looks on their faces, Shimah's and Lu's, Yee-ke-nes-bah's and Lorencito's, are a little bit frightening.
    "Before we came here," her husband began, "when I tried to tell you about everything which might seem strange to you, I didn't tell you about ma-itso--the wolf clan. One reason, it no longer seemed as believable to me as it once had; perhaps all the years in school did that; anyhow, in Hollywood I seldom thought of it. When we came here, my mother told me the wolf clan was still strong in CaƱoncito. I didn't tell you then because I could see no reason why they would try to harm us. But to be sure you were safe, my mother and sisters watched you every minute.
    "There were times when I almost told you, those times when you were upset about things you didn't understand. And yet I hated to frighten you needlessly. Already there was so much for you to worry about. It seemed better to wait until I had a job, until we were living in town and then tell you. "But now two things have happened which make me sure the ma-itso is for some reason after us. I found yellow pollen in an X mark on my hat brim, and today my mother found pollen on our clothes. That is their warning. Lorencito thinks you will be safer if you know about this evil thing."    A hundred questions sprang to Juanita's lips, but her husband went on talking, interrupted now and then by Lorencito or his mother.
    "The wolf clan is as old as the Navajo tribe. From the beginning some men turned certain powers, which should have been used for good, toward evil things. Corn pollen, used for blessing, is used by the ma-itso as a warning to a person marked for death. And death does not come in a usual manner; it comes in a round-about way which cannot be easily traced. The victim sickens suddenly; sometimes his mind leaves him. No Medicine Man can cure him. Sometimes the victim meets with a mysterious and fatal accident.       

It was dark outside as I was reading this, all of us seated around Dolores redwood table, with a single electric light for illumination.  Everyone listened intently to the story. 
            Prudence said that while I was reading this, she could “see” Dolores shielding her face with her arm, as if protecting herself from this dangerous information.  I shared it to point out that all things have a “positive” and a “negative,” and the passage from The Winds Erase Your Footprints described how corn pollen was used for evil purposes.
            It was a wonderful gathering to commemorate the special being of Dolores, and to recognize how she affected each of us.
            When Prudence, and I, and Revve Weisz further discussed the event the following day, we recognized the positive influence that Dolores was now playing in our lives.

            RW pointed out something that both stunned me and made me feel uplifted.  He said that there was something I should HOLD in my forethought.  It was my (The Christopher’s) miraculously Loving interaction with Dolores (The Lady Dolores, as he referred to her Doer, her Divinity) that totally altered The Lady Dolores’ Doer.

We discussed that for a bit.  It was obvious that my interaction with Dolores during her last days changed me, but I had not considered how I had changed her.  Prudence and I both witnessed an incredible new being arise within Dolores in those last weeks. 
RW added that this radical alteration of The Lady Dolores’ Doer will never be known by anyone else, because I (The Christopher) did it all alone, at a huge personal sacrifice, only to benefit The Lady Dolores and not at all “for show” to anyone else.  I cried as I re-lived and re-membered those days.

It was late Sunday, and we were ready to depart.  RW then shared what was a final “farewell” message from The Lady Dolores, something that Dolores conveyed psychically to him. It was her URGING for how all of us should begin interacting with each other.  But it was also such  a universal message that is needed by all people, that I share it here:

FARE WELL SONG TOO-SELDOM SUNG


This could be the last time that I see you;
either you or I could die before we meet again;
so please know that I deep-admire your admirable traits
and laud your ceaseless efforts to perfect your soul
and elevate your character (and that of everyone you interact with).
I hope we interact again (in this life or the next);
but if we don’t
I want that you should know
my heart has been enriched by having had you in my life
and hereby do I wish you Godspeed
in your up-and-onward sojourn through Eternity.
           

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Weinstein Saga



THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN SAGA

[Nyerges is a teacher, and author of such books at “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Til Death Do Us Part?”, “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” and others. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

The Harvey Weinstein saga was the opening salvo in what can be described as the latest Pandora’s Box to be opened for public viewing.  Why now? Who knows? The timing was right, apparently, and the pendulum has swung – in a good direction.

I’ve had many discussions in the past month as revelation after revelation has come forth, almost at a dizzying speed. The nature of this particular Pandora’s Box is unique, and it has ignited deep-felt discussions by both men and women.  I’ve had discussions with just men, just women, and with mixed groups.  I’d like to share some of my observations.

First, by whatever divine timing occurs to allow such nasties to be revealed, it is clear that women have had enough!  Women everywhere know how they have been treated for so long, almost automatically, and they want it to end. After all, let’s face it -- the world is largely run by men, and many of them haven’t gotten used to the idea of a woman in the work place which is his equal, and should be respected as such.  Or, the men who have been running things for so long have come to expect – even demand – certain perks from the women who are part of their solar system. 

Once, many years ago while having lunch with my mentor at the time, he noted that I glanced over at a very attractive woman in the next booth over. My mentor said nothing at first. Then, in a short while, he said, “Most men have no clue how hard it is to be a beautiful and attractive woman.”  He did not specify the woman that I  had glanced at, but let’s just say that she had all the assets that a man seems to not be able to not stare at.   “Imagine if you  were such a woman,” he continued.  “All day long, men would whistle at you, yell at you, taunt you, and they would interpret your every move as a flirt or an invitation to them.”   Honestly, I’d never quite thought about it that way before. I’d figured, as a male, that it would be quite awesome to be the most attractive woman in the room where every guy wanted to… well, you know.

My mentor continued.  “The curse of being highly attractive is that it is nearly impossible for most men to see beyond your body, and get to know the person inside.” I had to admit that was true. Sad, but true. 

In our recent Weinstein-related discussions, most of the women were a bit surprised when I declared that nearly all men are natural predators, and that they have to work hard to overcome their animal nature. Women are not that way, and so they are too often surprised when a man’s animal nature strikes.  That’s no excuse for the man, of course – it’s just a fact.

I found it interesting that not a single man challenged my assertion that nearly all men are predators.  Why? Because they are men!  They know what it is like to be inside a man’s body. 

I was asked if I thought any of these women were lying with their sexual allegations.  I said no, I didn’t think so.  I mean, maybe there are one or two exaggerations, but I didn’t see any reason for deceit in this matter.  One man asked me, “Well, don’t you think it’s odd that some of them waited 30 years to speak up?”  No, I didn’t find that unusual at all. After all, if you lived in an environment where you had to prove something happened, you would end up in the so-called he-said-she-said situation, where it could not be decided by a court who was lying or telling the truth. So why would any woman under such difficult situations bother to again put herself through the wringer of the courts?  I believe most of the women.  The timing was right and they are speaking up, saying, I didn’t like what you did to me. I did not consent. What you did was wrong.

And men should really sit up and listen.  A woman does not like a man to push himself on her. A woman who rejects a man (for whatever reason) is not playing “hard to get.”  Guys, get over it. If the woman does not care for you, keep  your hands to yourself and move along smartly. The world is a very big place.  Remember, it is always the woman who chooses in a relationship.  Get that into your head.

The Weinstein saga has brought up a lot of touchy issues, some of which will probably not be resolved any time soon.  For example, there are some who want to revisit some of Bill Clinton’s sexual allegations. But, they aren’t interested in Bill's extramarital affairs – something that occurred between two consenting adults and therefore only their own business – but only in cases where Clinton forced himself on a woman, and used his power to influence her to do something she did not want to do.

As since the beginning of time, men like women, women like men, and we all need each other, as friends, partners, and associates.  Learn to give the respect that you want and expect others to give of you.

These are some of the things that my friends and I discussed.  I think it’s good that the cat came out of the bag, and I hope that we might see positive changes in the male-female relationships of our society as a result.

On Relationships...



ON THE NATURE OF RELATIONSHIPS
Your “friends” should never tell you who you can associate with



Human relationships are forever fascinating.  I’ve long been interested in the interplay between two partners, and what can be called the “chemistry” between them.  What, for example, really brings two people together?  Is it common interests, or different interests?  What makes the relationship tick, and what tears it apart? 

I have concluded that each human relationship is very much like a chemistry experiment, whereby different chemical-soup mixtures combine or don’t combine with any of the other chemical-soup mixtures that we call the dynamic human.  One day I hope to publish a book on relationships and perhaps I’ll be bold enough to make some meaningful comments and suggestions.

For today, I want to explore one issue that I have experienced all my life in various relationships, though it tends to pop up the most in business relationships.

Someone will say, “If you do business with that person, you cannot do business with me!”  I have had it said to me, and my knee jerk reaction is nearly always, “OK, then I will not do business with you. I do business with whom I choose, and if you have a problem with X, that is your problem alone.” 

I can recall as a child in grammar school when one of the popular boys told me the same thing.  “You cannot be my friend if you are going to pal around with so-and-so.”  Really? I was usually too frightened as a child to openly challenge such a statement, and I would maintain my friendship with the outcast anyway.  I  learned – in time - that the bossy boy was very insecure and he wasn’t really my friend anyway, not in the ways that mattered. 

And as I continued to “pal around” with the new kid in school, who I was told to not associate with, I found someone who was different, unique, and who became a lifelong friend.  It is perhaps because I often felt like an outcast myself growing up that I have found myself attracted to the so-called oddballs and misfits of the world, most of whom are far more fascinating and interesting than the so-called normal people.

More recently, where I conduct a regular outdoor public event, some of the local residents would hang out at my booth where I conducted the administrative aspects of the event. My assistant told me privately that I should not allow one particular person to stay around my booth.  The young man in question lived locally, and was known to be affiliated with a notorious L.A. gang.  Some people felt intimidated by this man’s presence. 

However, it has never been my policy to expel or repel anyone based on such things; as long as his behaviour in my presence was appropriate, I had no reason to repel him. I gradually got to know this man.  He needed income, and so little by little I put him to work doing various small tasks at the weekly outdoor event, much to the dismay of my assistant.  Plus, this was a public space, not private property, so I did my best to make this a good situation for everyone.  Through my comments and suggestions, this young man gradually was able to refine his communication skills when talking with my customers, and even began to dress a little better when he came to our market.  From my perspective, I may have been one of the few people who interacted with him in a positive way, even encouraging him to get more work, and where to find it. I never looked down my nose at him, so to speak.

To my surprise, there were a few times when other individuals harshly criticized me or our market, and this young man strongly  and eloquently defended me.  I was shocked because I didn’t expect it, and it was not necessary, and yet, nothing more needed to be said or done.  I chose to view it as “what goes around, comes around,” as this young man felt so much a part of our market that he would stand up to defend us.

This is just one small example where something positive flowed from a situation that others viewed as negative.

Yes, like everyone, I like to surround myself with good friends. And yet, I have never forgotten the insightful words of Moshe Dayan, who said “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”


Friday, November 24, 2017

More on Thanksgiving



MORE ON THANKSGIVING (but no more until next year, I promise!)


[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Enter the Forest” and other books.  He leads courses in the native uses of plants.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance..com]

I met a man who began to discuss with me my Thanksgiving column, about the historical origins of Thanksgiving, and what happened, and what didn’t happen.

“I was a little puzzled after I read it,” Burt told me.  “I wanted to know more.  I understand that the first historical Thanksgiving may have not happened the way we are told as children,” he told me, “but how did we get to where we are today?  What I understood from your column was that there are historical roots, and that we today remember those roots and try to be very thankful, but the connection was unclear.”  Burt and I then had a very long conversation.

A newspaper column is typically not long enough to provide the “big picture” of  the entire foundation of such a commemoration, as well as all the twists and turns that have occurred along the way. But here is the condensed version of what I told my new friend Burt.

First, try reading any of the many books that are available that describe the first so-called “first Thanksgiving” at the Plymouth colony that at least attempts to also show the Indigenous perspective.  You will quickly see that this was not simply the European pilgrims and the native people sitting down to a great meal and giving thanks to their respective Gods, though that probably did occur.  In fact, the indigenous peoples and the newcomers had thanksgiving days on a pretty regular basis.

As you take the time to explore the motives of the many key players of our so-called “first Thanksgiving,” in the context of that time, you will see that though the Europeans were now increasingly flowing into the eastern seaboard, their long-term presence had not been allowed – until this point. Massasoit was the political-military leader of the Wampanoag confederation, which was the stronger native group in the area.  However, after disease had wiped out many of the native people, Massasoit was worried about the neighboring long-time enemies – the Narragansett -- to the west. The gathering of the European leaders of the Plimouth Colony and Massasoit and entourage had been more-or-less brokered by Tisquantum (aka Squanto) who spoke English. 

Yes, there had been much interaction between the new colonists and native people for some time, and this gathering of 3 days in 1621 was intended to seal the deal between the colonists aligning with Massasoit.  The exact date is unknown, but it was sometime between September 21 and November 9.

Yes, historians say that a grand meal followed, including mostly meat.  The colony remained and there was relative peace for the next 10 to 50 years, depending on which historians were correct in their reading of the meager notes.  The historical record indicates that the new colonists learned how to hunt, forage, practice medicince, make canoes and moccasins, and much more, from the indigenous people. Even Tisquantum taught the colonists how to farm using fish scraps, ironically, a bit of farming detail he picked up during his few years in Europe.

Politicians and religious leaders continued to practice the giving of thanks, in their churches and in their communities, and that is a good thing. They would hearken back to what gradually became known as the “first Thanksgiving” in order to give thanks for all the bounty they found and created in this new world, always giving thanks to God!  But clearly, the indigenous people would have a very different view of the consequences of this 1621 pact, which gradually and inevitably meant the loss of their lands and further decimation of their peoples from disease.  Of course, there was not yet a “United States of America,” and it was with a bit of nostalgia and selective memory that we refer to this semi-obscure gathering of two peoples as some sort of foundational event in the development of the United States. And it is understandable from the perspective of a national mythology that the native people were forgotten and the “gifts from God” remembered. 

My new friend Burt was nodding his head, beginning to see that there was much under the surface of this holiday. I recommended that he read such books as “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Mann,  “Native American History: Idiot’s Guide” by Fleming, and others.

As I still believe, giving thanks is a good thing – good for the soul and good for the society.  Just be sure to always give thanks where it is due!

Eventually, in the centuries that followed, Thanksgiving was celebrated on various days in various places.  George Washington declared it an official Thanksgiving in 1789.  However, the day did not become standardized as the final Thursday each November until 1863 with a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.

The gross commercialization of Thanksgiving is a somewhat recent manifestation of the way in which we have tried to extract money from just about anything.  One way to break that cycle is to just choose to do something different.

When I used to visit my parents’ home for annual Thanksgiving gatherings, I disliked the loud arguing and banter, the loud TV in the background, and the way everyone (including me) ate so much that we had stomach aches!  I felt that Thanksgiving should be about something more than all that.  I changed that by simply no longer attending, and then visiting my parents the following day with a quiet meal.  It took my parents a few years to get used to my changes, but eventually they did.

This year, before the actual Thanksgiving day, I enjoyed a home-made meal with neighbors and friends. Before we sat down to eat, everyone stated the things they are thankful-for before the meal. Nearly everyone cited “friends and family,” among other things.  It was quiet, intimate, and the way that I have long felt this day should be observed.  Yes, like most holidays we have a whole host of diverse symbols, and Thanksgiving is no different.  And like most modern holidays, their real meanings are now nearly-hopelessly  obscured by the massive commercialism.  Nevertheless, despite the tide that is against us, we can always choose to do something different.   

Holidays are our holy days where we ought to take the time to reflect upon the deeper meanings.  By so doing, we are not necessarily “saving” the holiday, but we are saving ourselves.  As we work to discover the original history and meanings of each holiday, we wake up our minds and discover a neglected world hidden in plain sight.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thankgiving Day Commentary



THANKSGIVING DAY:  It’s Roots, and other Commentary

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Enter the Forest” and other books.  He leads courses in the native uses of plants.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance..com]


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year.  Even moreso than Christmas.  It is our uniquely American holiday where the family gathers, where we remember our roots, we share a meal, and we hopefully “give thanks.” 

But look how quickly such simple and profound holidays get perverted. Today, we hardly know what “giving thanks” even means, and so the act of giving thanks is lost on most of us.  Newscasters talk about “turkey day,” as if all there was to the day was eating turkey.  Interestingly, most folks would not know whether or not they were eating turkey, or eating crow, and most of the time we’re doing the latter, figuratively speaking.  Then, when we have barely taken the time to consider the notion of “giving thanks,” we get up early on the following “black Friday” to rush around with the mobs “looking for a good deal”  to help us celebrate the consumer-driven commercial craze into which we’ve morphed “Christmas.”

Wow! How did we get here?  What can we do about it?  Let’s take a moment to look at the roots of Thanksgiving.

In the history of North America, we are told that the first historic Thanksgiving Day was in October of 1621.  After a successful harvest that year at the Plymouth colony, there was about a week or so of celebrations.  The local Indians and the colonists joined together, with the Indians generally showing the colonists (mostly city folks) how to hunt for the meal which consisted of fowl, deer, duck, goose, and fish.  Corn bread, wild greens, plums, leeks, and many other vegetables (wild and domestic) were shared in this celebration.  Interestingly, there is no recorded evidence that wild turkey or wild cranberries  were part of the menu. And we tell and re-tell this particular American story as if it is all about food!

In fact, some (but not all) historians question whether or not there were any religious overtones at all on this “first Thanksgiving,” citing such evidence as the archery and firearms games, and the running and jumping competitions, which they say would never be done at religious ceremonies by the Puritans. The “competition” was more likely the men on each side doing their shows of bravado with weapons and physical feats  before sitting down to eat.

What then is it, if anything, that sets the American (and the Canadian) Thanksgiving celebration apart from any of the other myriad of Harvest Festivals?

Not widely known is that this “first thanksgiving” feast had mostly political overtones, which seem to have largely backfired.  Tisquantum (“Squanto”) was the interpreter for Massasoit, who was the political-military leader of the local Wampanoag tribe.  Massasoit was worried that his weakened tribe would be taken-advantage of by the stronger Narragansett, because his own group had been so reduced from disease.  Massasoit would permit the European newcomers to stay as long as they liked, as long as they aligned with Massasoit against the Narraganset. (Read all about it in your history books). Tisquantum spoke English because he’d been to England and back, and had his own plan to re-establish his home-town village near what became the Plimouth colony. 

Though Tisquantum successfully helped Massasoit broker a pact with the newcomers from across the ocean, Tisquantum died about a year later.  The truce that Massasoit hoped to cement lasted perhaps another 50 years until there were too many Europeans flooding into Massachusetts and all of what was to become the eastern United States. 

Despite the varied history of this day, Americans have chosen to see this as day set aside so that we do not lose sight of our spiritual blessings.

But we should  not confuse “giving thanks” with “eating a lot of really good food.”   “Giving Thanks” is an enlightened attitude which accompanies specific actions.  Perhaps sharing our bounty with the needy would be a better Thanksgiving activity than eating large volumes of food.  More to the point, perhaps we should use Thanksgiving to give thanks where it is due -- to the indigenous peoples who have become the “forgotten minorities.”  Rather than “eat a lot,” perhaps we could send blankets, food, or money to any of the American Indian families or nations who today live in Third World conditions.

To me, the essence of Thanksgiving was the coming together of two cultures, trying to work together under trying circumstances.  Yes, they shared a meal.  Food sustains us.  But it was not about food, per se.  They practiced with their bows and guns, a sign of mutual preparedness. And in their own ways, they “prayed to God,” in the ways that were appropriate to each culture. 
 
But we really should not forget our national roots.  Don’t just give lip-service thanks to the Native Americans whose land was taken.  Rather, find those organizations that are actually providing real assistance to Native Americans in poverty, such as many of those living in the third world conditions so prevalent on today’s reservations.  (IF you have trouble locating such organizations, contact me and I will make some suggestions).