Friday, January 22, 2016
LATEST BOOK BY CHRISTOPHER NYERGES
ANCIENT WRITINGS ON ROCK
Providing evidence for pre-Columbian European visitors to California
On Halloween Day, 2001, naturalist Christopher Nyerges was leading an excursion in the Angeles National Forest when he accidentally discovered an engraved rock. He recognized the markings on the rock as a form of rock writing – ogam – that had died out in Europe by the 5th century. Intrigued by the possibility that the engraving was an authentic piece of evidence that travelers from afar had been to Southern California hundreds of years ago, Nyerges researched the rock for the next several years, soliciting the assistance of geologists, archaeologists, linguists, epigraphers, various academics, and local Indians.
By 2008, another rock inscribed with what appeared to be ogam was discovered at the same site, as well as numerous other rock features that are stereotypical of western European’s many ancient ceremonial sites, things such as dolmens, “sacrificial” rocks, standing stones, and more.
Nyerges shares his painstaking research, step by step, with the reader, including those who support the site as evidence of the presence of ancient Europeans, as well as the commentary of those who believe Nyerges had a vivid imagination. It is left for the reader to decide.
The first large inscribed boulder was tentatively transliterated by Nyerges to read “Bel, Memory, Young Hero, son of, mother, buried, stone,” which would be translated as “To Bel (the god of that era), in the memory of the young hero, son of the mother, laid to rest with this stone.” If Nyerges’ interpretation is correct, it suggests that a prominent figure died in the Angeles National Forest, and surviving members of the party inscribed the stone. The second inscribed stone is more straight-forward, reading B-EA-N-EA in ogam, which readily translates as “Byanu,” one of the chief goddesses of the European pre-Christian religion of 2000+ years ago.
To his credit, Nyerges presents both sides of the issue in his fully-illustrated book.
The book, “Ancient Writings on Rock,” is available from Kindle, or as a pdf download at the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
Nyerges is available for interview, and copies of the book may be requested by scholars in related fields.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Doing the Birthday run, 2016
Since 1977, I have done something called a Birthday Run, taught to me by my mentor as a better and more uplifting way to commemorate one’s birthday. Originally, I would go to a local track and run one lap per year as I recalled the highlights of that year. Some years I have run alone, and some years I have run with friends who chose to come and support the run. I have run in the dark, in the rain, in the fog, and on sunny days. One or two years I did not run at all because I was sick, and it wasn’t the same when I ran a week later. And over the years, my “laps” have grown shorter, otherwise I would be running those slow laps for several hours and would have trouble walking for days after.
This year I ran alone – other than an occasional hawk and one coyote -- and I found my lap in the bottomlands of the Arroyo Seco. It was quiet and eerily peaceful as I continued the cycles through my life, replaying the mental movie of each year after each year, going to school, moving around, and my interactions with various people.
My mind began to look at the financial side of my life, and perhaps, more specifically, the non-financial side to my life. Perhaps this was because of the current PowerBall game where so many were talking about nothing else but what they’d do if they suddenly had all that money. I realized that I too could do so much more, so much more quickly, if I had a few spare million in the bank, maybe.
As I ran through my years, I realized that I operated mostly in financial ignorance, and in a financial fairy-land. Yes, money was always an element, and yes, money was often the limiting factor in so many endeavors. Money was like oxygen – you just had to have it. But I think, like most people, my school and family discussions were wholly insufficient as any sort of real financial training for dealing with the real world. I moved from activity to activity based on my areas of interest, and when money was needed, I got it – somehow – or I curtailed the activity.
But because of my financial ignorance, I found other ways to pursue my goals, ways that seemed more difficult at the time, but which were actually more wholistic ways to pursue my life’s interests. Without a car, I often bicycled, and formed friendships so that several of us could travel together. If I wanted to attend workshops or field trips, I learned that I could convince my friends that they’d want to attend also, and invariably, someone had a car.
And I discovered and lived my life utilizing so many of the low-cost and free benefits of our modern society: buses, public libraries, public recreation centers, free hiking in the local mountains, free lectures, clubs and organizations where people just got together and did things. Eventually, somewhat fortuitously and almost by accident, I was a squatter for a year and a half on an acre property on the edge of Los Angeles. It was quite an adventure. I learned how to live well cheaply, and I learned how to solicit individual investors in my book and other projects.
I am sure I would have done a lot of this very differently had I been born into wealth, but as I looked back, I realized that I learned some very important lessons by simply finding solutions to life’s problems without being able to just “throw money at it.”
That was one theme that went through my mind this year. Another was relationships.
By my age, one has had many relationships, and many types of relationships. In my mind, a mental movie played of the various people in my life and how I treated them: mother, father, friends, teachers, girl friends, wives, business associates. When I do this annual run, I am looking for what I did right, but mostly what I did wrong so that I can do it better next time around. I felt great pain at the many things I did wrong as an arrogant child talking back to my parents and not obeying. It doesn’t matter that others were worse – I was evaluating myself only. And no, my parents were not perfect either. But I felt great joy that I was able to take precious time in my mother’s, and my father’s, final days and become their friend and speak to them as equals. It was very challenging, but very fulfilling.
I also spent a lot of time reviewing my 22 married years with Dolores – the trips, our animals, our self-sufficient home, our accomplishments, our fights, our disagreements, our agreements. We had our ups and downs, and though I was not perfect, I realized I could not have been perfect. I was living life, trying to make ends meet, and trying to be a good husband with all the challenges of life that conspire against us. In the end, when Dolores was dying, I was able to experience a rare time of caring for her when she could do so little. We became inseparable, and best friends, and it was as if all our conflicts dissolved. And then she died and I felt plunged into darkness. And then there were other challenges, and tasks, and relationships.
I thought about a few very special people who I never see anymore, and still felt so blessed that we had the time together that we did, and I wished each one the greatest happiness.
Remember, I tried to recall what was going on in my life, year by year as I ran a large lap in the sand in the dimming light of the late afternoon. I am sure I mixed up some years, but in the end, it is the learning that matters.
My two lessons were that while money is important, and you must earn it, it is a good goal to pursue whatever one feels compelled to pursue in life without focusing upon money. Yes, it seems unrealistic, but it actually can change the quality and character of what we do.
And secondly, I realized that relationships are the most important aspect of life, and you have a good life when you maintain good relationships, however you do that. This does not mean you are always laughing and happy. It means that you deal with others honestly and with the integrity that the close ones in your life deserve.
I know I have not been perfect, and I feel blessed to have been guided to begin this birthday tradition nearly 40 years ago. In just a few hours, I review my life and tried to figure out if what I have done was worth doing. By honestly assessing my self in that way, it helps me to determine what is worth doing – and not doing – this year, and into the future.
Monday, January 11, 2016
Knowledge of Botanical Families enhances your learning process
[PHOTOS: from top, Sow thistle, Dandelion, Chicory]
[Nyerges is the author of “Foraging Edible Wild Plants of North America,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He has been leading outdoor classes since 1974. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
During the field trips that I’ve conducted for the past 35 years, I show participants how to identify common edible plants, and we make a simple meal on nearly every field trip. Some of these most common wild edibles can be initially learned after a few hours – or days -- of focussed study, and practice. Once you take the time to learn the key features of these plants, and after you’ve watched them throughout a growing season, you’ll know them whenever and wherever you see them. One by one by one is how I’ve learned about wild edibles. And though there is no shortcut to this learning, you can accelerate your comprehension and mastery of ethnobotany if you also learn about plant families.
Some examples of common plant families include the rose family, sunflower family, goosefoot family, mustard family, mint family, and so on. Botanists group plants together by their similar floral, fruit, and leaf characteristics, with the floral characteristics being the most important. You’ll note that many of the traits of plants (poisons, alkaloids, medicines, foods, etc.) often run in families. There are obviously many exception s to this, but plants that are related by floral characteristics often share other traits as well.
For example, one of the largest plant families is the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae). This is a huge botanical family, consisting of about 21,000 species of plants, divided into approximately 1,300 genera. It’s such a large group that botanists have sub-divided it into groups or tribes. Depending on whether the particular botanist is a “splitter” or a “grouper,” you’ll find from 11 to 13 groups in the Sunflower Family.
Today, let’s focus on just one of those groups or tribes within the Sunflower Family. Here in California, I use The Jepson Manual of the Higher Plants of California, published in 1993. [There is some such reference used by botanists for every part of the U.S. and much of the world. It would enhance your learning to obtain the official book of flora for wherever you live.]
When I was in high school and studying from the 1925 version of Jepson’s manual, the Sunflower Family was divided into groups called tribes. One of these tribes used to be called the Chicory Tribe, though in the latest edition it is simply referred to as “Group 7.” According to Dr. Leonid Enari, the former chief botanist with the L.A. County Arboretum, the Chicory Tribe of the Sunflower Family consists of no toxic plants, and all that are palatable can be eaten.
THE CHICORY TRIBE
If you already know how to recognize a dandelion, or a chicory plant, you’re familiar with the Chicory Tribe.
As I reviewed the genera of the Chicory Tribe, many consisted of only one species of a plant not commonly known. Where I live, there are as many natives as there are exotics.
Perhaps the best general statement that can be made about the Chicory Tribe is that none are known to be poisonous. I have eaten many of them, raw and cooked, including the ragweeds (Agoseris sp.), whose pollen is often responsible for allergies. Tasting a bit like medicine, it is nevertheless palatable.
I have also eaten the malacothrix greens on numerous occasions. These western natives are called prickly lettuce and desert dandelion, among other names, suggesting they have been eaten. As they mature they are incredibly bitter, and therefore I only regard the very young growth as palatable.
Another member of this Tribe, Picris, has only one species, an introduced plant known as bristly ox-tongue. The leaf actually looks like a big tongue, covered with soft spines. Though edible, it is not palatable when raw, and even cooking does not entirely reduce the stickers. I would only use it for food if I had nothing else available.
Fortunately, most parts of North America have many of the common members of the Chicory Tribe, such as chicory, wild lettuce (Lactuca), sow thistle, dandelion, and salsify, all exotics.
If you’re already familiar with a dandelion, then you’re well on your way to learning to recognize this entire Tribe. Note that the flowers of these are composite, that is, each flower is composed of a tight group of individual flowers. What appears to be a single dandelion flower is in reality up to several hundred flowers clustered together.
RECOGNIZING THE CHICORY TRIBE
Here are some of the key characteristics which help you recognize the Chicory Tribe:
First, there is the composite “dandelion-like” flower. It doesn’t have to be yellow, as it may appear white, orange, blue, etc.
Also, the tip of each “petal” is 5-lobed. You might have to look with a magnifying glass to see this.
In addition, there is generally a milky sap when you break the leaf or stem.
I recommend that you begin by studying the dandelion, and then attempt to identify other members of this tribe by these guidelines. However, don’t eat any of these until you have positively ascertained that it’s actually in the Chicory Tribe. Even then, many of the members of this Tribe are very bitter, and some are fibrous. Even though none are toxic, that doesn’t mean that all are readily palatable.
In other words, don’t eat anything until you’re positive, and even then go slowly!
The leaves of dandelion are incredibly nutritious, but also bitter. Cooking can reduce the bitterness. Young sow thistle, lettuce, and chicory leaves can all be used raw; as they mature and get bitter, they are best cooked like spinach, or added to soups, stews, and other cooked dishes.
The dandelion, sow thistle, chicory, and salsify all have edible roots. All should be cooked to tenderize. Sow thistle roots tend to be the smallest, but the size of all of these will depend on the richness of the soil they’re growing in.
These roots – primarily chicory and dandelion -- also have a long history of being dried, roasted, ground, and used as a caffein-free coffee substitute.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
[Nyerges is the author of several books and blogs. He can be reached at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
Christmas was always a special time, though in my very earliest memories, there were no religious overtones. I was taken to church every Sunday, of course, but the Christmas decorations and gatherings were all something that happened at home, not at church. When I was too young to speak, I realized that Christmas was the season that happened during the coldest time of the year, and it meant that we’d have a fire going in the fireplace, people would be coming over, and there’d be lots of gifts and food. The food was cookies, tangerines, and walnuts.
One of my earliest Christmas memories was when I was told that Santa Claus would come to our home and bring gifts, and that he had some way to figure out where I lived. I didn’t know exactly why, but there was a great mystery about this fat, bearded, red-suited Santa man. People spoke about him in hushed tones, and would even sometimes stop talking about him when I came near.
My brother Tom told me that Santa Claus would come down the chimney – something I found hard to believe considering how fat he appeared in the pictures. We both peered up into our fireplace one day and wondered how Santa could get through the narrow passageway. We didn’t even think that we would be able to crawl through there.
“Plus, doesn’t dad have a screen over the top of the chimney to keep the pigeons out?” Tom asked. I didn’t know. “I hope he remembers to remove it for Santa.”
On Christmas Eve, our dad showed us a plate of cookies and a pot of coffee that had been set out for Santa.
We barely slept, and I tried to not sleep so I could be the first to rush out and catch a glimpse of this Santa. But I fell asleep, and Tom woke me and Rick. We jumped out of bed, and ran down the hall. We weren’t particularly interested in gifts, but we wanted to catch Santa. We were too late, but the three of us carefully examined the remaining evidence. There were no cookies left on the plate – only crumbs – and there was only a small amount of coffee left in the cup. Tom held the cup and carefully peered into it, and then Rick and I stared into the cup, the proof that Santa had come and departed.
“See?” said Tom. We all continued to stare into the cup a while longer, as if it might reveal some secrets to us.
In a few more years, I noticed that people didn’t fully hide their comments from me when speaking about Santa Claus.
“He believes in Santa Claus?” was met with muffled response. What an odd question, I thought. Why shouldn’t I believe in Santa Claus?
When I actually learned about this mythical aspect of Christmas, I did go through a period of confusion and even anger at the world of make-believe perpetrated entirely by adults and foisted upon me. I suppose I felt bad because I really wanted to believe in Santa Claus, and I felt that he was a positive figure. And I had been told to “be good” for Santa Claus, and that Santa Claus knew everything I was doing. I was very puzzled by all this, but I got over it.
In fact, I felt very uplifted when I learned that there was an actual historical person upon which Santa Claus was based: a Catholic bishop in Asia Minor (Turkey) of the 3rd century named Nikolaos of Myra gave gifts to poor newlyweds around Christmas time. A century or so later, sainthood was bestowed upon him, and he was known as Saint Nicholas. In honor of this very real person, people began to give gifts to others, especially others in need, during the Christmas season and say it was “from Saint Nicholas.” What a wonderful story! What would have been wrong with telling me that historical story rather than the garbled mythology?
Friday, December 18, 2015
[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 Christmas rolls around each year, numerous memories flood in – some good, some not good, some different. I suspect this is the way with everyone. Over the years, a lot has happened during this December time. Here’s one memory from my early years.
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 with our behaviour.
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 big 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, of course they did, 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 her. 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, most of which is forgotten by January anyway.
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.
Monday, December 14, 2015
My earliest memory of Christmas is a jumble of activities and feelings, focused around receiving gifts and going to church. Mostly, it was the season, not the day, per se, that I remember. There was an aromatic, lit-up, star-topped tree, stockings thumbtacked to the fireplace mantel, lots of nuts and fruits in the home, and many parties and gatherings. It was a warm time.
Sometime later, I learned that the primary Christian purpose for celebrating Christmas was to commemorate the birth of Jesus, born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. But then, who was Santa Claus, I asked myself? Why the fat man in a funny red suit with a gunny sack of gifts, riding around the world in an aero-sleigh, whizzing up and down chimneys, ingesting hundreds of tons of cookies and cocoa?
In my early teens, I didn't question the holiday season very much. But I did feel anxiety, and I didn't know exactly why. Everyone seemed "driven" to buy lots of things for lots of people, and I would often join the last minute rush to throw some gifts together with whatever money I had. Usually, this frenetic activity resulted in my feeling let-down and depressed after it was all done. But why depression? Why such social pressure to "buya-gift"? To wrap "just-so" only to see the wrappings torn-off into a mountain of "trash"? To eat (and drink) so much that you were in actual pain (often accompanied by indigestion)?
Strange, it seemed, that some of my gloomiest days were before and after Christmas. "Before" because I was full of anxiety to feel and experience that spiritual something behind Christmas (that joy, that unity), conflicted with the materialistic drive to get some money and go buy; "After" because all too often I felt as if I missed whatever it was that Christmas was supposed to be when the day was coming to an end.
In my mid-teens, I became intently interested in the deeper meaning and significance of this season. Most of my studies were from encyclopedias, and from Ambassador College and Jehovah's Witnesses pamphlets on the subject. I must admit that those particular studies -- with their particular slant (especially the Ambassador College literature) -- left me feeling at that time that Christmas began as an "un-Christian" holiday of pagan origins, which made it VERY peculiar -- perhaps even hypocritical -- for Christians to be so deeply-immersed in it.
I will share some of the skeletal details of what I discovered about Christmas that led to this attitude of "Why bother celebrating Christmas at all?"
Some pre-1000 B.C. historical records indicate that Nimrod, a great warrior who lived in ancient Babylon two centuries after The Great Flood, married his mother, Semiramis. When Nimrod died, Semiramis claimed that Nimrod was resurrected out of a tree stump in the form of an evergreen tree. She stated that Nimrod would visit his tree every year on his birthday -- which was December 25 -- and leave gifts upon the tree. This ancient celebration was complete with mistletoe, holly wreaths, and yule logs!
The Nimrod celebration, in those pre-1000 B.C. days, was closely associated with the fluctuations of the solar year. The midwinter fires of ancient Europe were to celebrate the increased length of each day, which eventually became the "Festival of Lights" as celebrated in Europe. Also, inexplicably, December 25 was erroneously designated as the winter solstice.
During the time of the Roman Empire, the people believed in and worshipped Mithra, born on December 25 by Astarte, his virgin mother. Mithra, who was called "The Unconquered Sun," was regularly identified by the worshippers of the sun, since his nativity fell on the same day as the sun festivals.
Further research revealed to me that numerous advanced and "primitive" cultures had similar religious beliefs, from the Egyptians to the Mayans, and many other cultures. Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, and others, all follow similar patterns with a resurrected savior whose birthday was the winter solstice (or a few days before or after the solstice).
Keep in mind that all those celebrations of the solstice had been going on for at least 2000 years prior to the historical birth of Jesus.
Some historical records indicate that Jesus's birth was sometime in September of the year 4 or 6 B.C. No one knows for certain. Three royal astrologers came to the child and presented gifts, the custom of the day when meeting someone of prominence.
However, Christians of the first few centuries A.D. did not celebrate the birthday of Jesus -- there is some Biblical reference that suggests the Jews of the first century and the followers of Jesus believed that it was improper to celebrate birthdays, though that is speculative. Although the currently adopted versions of the Bible provide no means of precisely determining the birthdate of Jesus, historians know with certainty that it was not on the winter solstice. [They know this because the Scriptures record a census being taken -- not a winter event -- and animals in the fields, also not a winter activity. And astronomers who've dated various astronomical events that might have been the "star of Bethlehem" -- such as a comet or a triple conjunction of planets -- report that none of the dates coincide with any winter solstice.]
When the Christian emperor Constantine I came to power in the 4th Century, he began pressuring the largely non-Christian Romans to adopt the newly-"popular" religion of Christianity. But those Romans were reluctant to part with the merriment and festivals that surrounded their "Old Religion." To accommodate their reluctance, Constantine established December 25 as the day to celebrate the coming of the "Son of God" instead of the "sun." Many Old Religion customs were carried over from the "birthday-of-the-sun" celebrations, and blended into the "Son-of-God" (that is, Christmas) celebration. In reality, then, a few names were slightly changed, but the event largely remained the same.
When I first learned of this "other history" of Christmas, I recall thinking: This has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Why should I be a hypocrite and follow this holiday custom? Back then in my mid-teens, I concluded that Christmas was an invalid holiday, a pagan holiday masquerading as Christian. Still, there was a "magic" to the Christmas season that I could not explain.
In the 5th Century, an addition was made to the Christmas celebration. Nikolaos of Myra was an historical 4th century Bishop in the Catholic church of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He became known as Saint Nicholas, and was well known for the gifts that he gave to newly married couples during the already established Christmas season. Soon, whenever someone received a mysterious gift, it was attributed to Saint Nicholas. St. Nicholas' name -- by the usual changes that occur in all spoken languages -- eventually degenerated into "Santa Claus."
And so today, we have a yearly custom that is an admixture of ancient pagan symbols: the tree, the wreaths, the lights, giving gifts, a birth of a savior, evergreen boughs, and eternal fires. And even Hanukkah has now become commonly recognized as being part of the "Christmas season," with its symbol of light, the menorah.
And so, what does all this really mean?
[To read about how I had a transformational way of looking at, and observing Christmas, check out my Christmas booklet, which you can get from the Store at www.ChristopherNyerges.com]