Monday, November 30, 2009

Light up the Night

Candles play a role in many holiday celebrations and traditions, especially at this time of the year when daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere are short. According to Greek mythology, we are indebted to Prometheus for the gift of fire, which he stole from the gods. Archeology shows that ancient people may have soaked plant stalks in animal fat to form primitive candles and torches. It’s even possible that these crude, smoky illumination devices may have caused the soot on the illustrated walls of caves in southern France as Paleolithic artists painted by candlelight.

Five thousand years ago, the Egyptians formed beeswax into candles similar to the ones we use today. Beeswax candles with reed wicks have been discovered in the tombs of Egyptian rulers, placed there, perhaps, to light their journey into the realm beyond. About the same time, the ancient Romans fashioned candere, a Latin word meaning “to shine,” from olive oil, animal fat, and beeswax to which they added a flax wick that enabled the candles to burn more effectively.
Plant oils were the material of choice for many early Asian candlemakers, especially in India where Hindu laws forbade the burning of animal products in temples. The ancient Chinese pressed oils from the seeds of the tallow tree for their candles. In the Americas, native people extracted oils from nuts and various plants including bayberries, which yielded an aromatic, flammable wax, a practice the Colonial settlers adopted.

As the whaling industry developed during the early 1700s, New England candlemakers began using the oil of the sperm whale in their products. The following century, stearin was added to candles to harden the animal fat, increase the burn time, and reduce the odor. Stearin, a combination of palm oil and stearic acid, is still used in some candles today. In 1850, the discovery of paraffin revolutionized the candle industry. Distilled from petroleum by-products, paraffin produced less smoke than animal fat and emitted no unpleasant odor. Paraffin candles were also cheaper than those made from plant substances –– even today, paraffin wax is still the most widely used material in commercial candles.

In recent years, however, environmental- and health-conscious candlemakers arereturning to the age-old tradition of forming candles from beeswax and plant oils. A scientific study done by the University of Michigan in 1999 revealed the dark side of paraffin candles –– they contain nearly a dozen documented toxins, some of them carcinogenic. To make matters worse, metallic wicks often include lead, which is released into the air when the candles burn. 
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “burning candles with lead-containing wicks may cause lead poisoning” and the American Lung Association has issued a warning that petroleum-based candles can contaminate the air in our homes. Leaded candles have been banned in Australia, and some health advocates and environmental scientists are recommending a similar action in this country.
Candles made from pure soy, palm, cottonseed, olive oil, and other plant-based materials with all-cotton wicks produce no toxic residue. Nor do they emit the smoke associated with paraffin candles, which can leave a sooty residue on walls and furnishings. These environmentally friendly candles also take advantage of plentiful, renewable, biodegradable resources.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturn Return: The Twenty-Ninth Year

Many of us approach our thirtieth birthdays with anxiety, even dread. We start looking for gray hairs and paying attention to ads for wrinkle creams. We question whether we are climbing the career ladder quickly enough. We hear the biological clock ticking loudly and worry that soon we will be too old to bear children.
Astrologers call the period between ages twenty-eight and thirty "Saturn Return."  That's because it's the first time the planet Saturn completes its cycle through your birth chart and returns to the spot it occupied when you were born. Internationally respected astrologer Rob Hand calls Saturn Return "one of the most important times in your life   . . . a time of endings and new beginnings."
For most of us, ending a phase of life that is familiar and embarking on one that is new and untried is unsettling, even painful. Few people describe Saturn Return as a pleasant period. While undergoing your Saturn Return you may find yourself turning inward and reflecting on your individual destiny. You examine your true needs and desires and the role you want to play on the world's stage. You may feel lonely and alienated from those around you, while family and friends think you are shutting them out. But this is a necessary period of consolidation, when you must retreat from the distractions of the outer world and focus on yourself at your most fundamental level. The Saturn Return is every individual's search for the Holy Grail.
Coming of Age
The first Saturn Return marks the end of youth and the beginning of the productive adult years. It is now that you truly become an adult––not at eighteen or twenty-one. You realize your need to define yourself as an individual within society and to demonstrate what you've learned. Newswoman Jane Pauley described turning thirty as having grown into womanhood. German film director Werner Herzog compared this period in his life with a maiden's loss of virginity, a line drawn across his path marking the end of his youth.
This transition into adulthood is often accompanied by a sense of urgency, a feeling that you must try to accomplish everything you've ever wanted or planned to do now. Goals start to come sharply into focus. If you have not settled into a definite career, or have been pursuing one that is inappropriate for you, you'll experience a strong push to establish yourself in a more fulfilling occupation. Sometimes this means a complete change. During his first Saturn Return, Vincent Van Gogh decided to be a painter rather than a minister. More frequently it means a new direction or specialization within your chosen field.
If you have been building steadily toward a goal that's right for you, Saturn Return can be a time of achievement and rewards. Your labors bear fruit. Runner Bill Rodgers' Saturn Return marked the first of three consecutive Boston Marathon wins. William Faulkner published his first novel at age twenty-nine.
According to California astrologer Stephen Arroyo, author of Astrology, Karma and Transformation, "The quality of the entire experience and the extent to which it is felt to be a 'difficult' time depends entirely on how one has lived during the previous twenty-nine years." If you have been pursuing an unsuitable vocation or merely fulfilling someone else's expectations, Saturn can be relentless in prodding you to make adjustments.
Revising Worn Out Patterns
Saturn strips away illusions and points out limitations, allowing you to view yourself in a harsh, often unflattering light. At the same time, it endows you with prudence, practicality, and the perseverance to work hard toward achieving your purposes. Consequently, this is a good time to rearrange your career or lay the foundation for a new one.

Saturn Return almost always requires some major adjustments in lifestyle, attitudes, and relationships. Anything you have outgrown, or have tolerated but not found satisfying, must end now or be altered to meet your emerging needs. According to Hand, "Consciously or unconsciously, you are pruning your life of everything that is not relevant to what you really are as a human being."
Often interpersonal relationships are deeply affected by Saturn Return. Gail Sheehy wrote in Passages: Predictable Crises in Adult Life that during this period "Almost everyone who is married will question that commitment." The U.S. Census Bureau lists the peak divorce years as ages twenty-eight to thirty. Some people experience more subtle or private adjustments in their patterns of relating, such as shifts in responsibilities. Many couples decide to become parents, not only altering their relationships but their financial obligations and perhaps their vocations as well.
If a relationship is sound, based on mutual respect, honesty, and sharing, it will probably survive the test of Saturn Return and become even stronger. But a relationship begun before the partners knew what they really wanted is likely to fall apart. Relationships that start during this period may have a "fated" or "karmic" quality about them.
When Enough is Enough

"Saturn. . . is never easy to deal with because his function is that of promoting growth," explains astrologer Liz Greene, author of Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil, "and it is only frustration and pain which at present are sufficient goads to get a human being moving." This frustration and pain have given Saturn a bad reputation. But the planet's often misunderstood value lies in its very ability to evoke pain. Like the pain of an illness, it warns that something is wrong. Saturn doesn't create the problems, it merely illuminates them.
Growth is often accompanied by trepidation and turmoil. As the old self is pushed aside to make room for the new, you may feel weak and vulnerable. You want to move ahead, yet are frustrated by a fear of doing so, torn between a compelling urge to throw off everything connected with your past and an equally frantic need to cling to the familiar rather than brave the great unknown.
Even if your external world seems to be in order, your internal structure may feel as though it's being assaulted with a battering ram. Nervous conditions, irritability, depression, insomnia, and feelings of insecurity are common. Most people go through some sort of identity crisis.
Although your Saturn Return may be disturbing, ultimately it reveals what you truly want and sweeps away the clutter that may have been impeding your progress. Your Saturn Return is a personal spring cleaning. No matter how difficult it seems to let go of inappropriate people and things, the first Saturn Return is the time to do it. For if lessons are not learned, the problems will come knocking again during your second Saturn Return at about age fifty-eight, when you are more set in your ways. Once the conflict is confronted, the tension usually subsides. You feel stronger and more capable of moving ahead.
Saturn Return is one of the most crucial turning points you ever experience, when you assume the greatest responsibility of all: responsibility for your own life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Five Feng Shui Tips That Can Change Your Life

Feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement, is thousands of years old, yet until recently few Americans knew about it. Its purpose is to create harmony and balance in your environment. Although feng shui (pronounced fung shway) employs numerous "cures" that may seem a bit like magic to Westerners, much of what it recommends isn't esoteric at all––it's common sense. Good feng shui is good interior design.

Feng shui practitioners believe that your home is a reflection of you. Conditions in your living space symbolize situations in your personal and/or professional life. If your home is cluttered, you may be experiencing messiness or confusion in your life. Inadequate lighting suggests lack of vitality or enthusiasm. Doors that stick represent obstacles, frustrations, or stagnation. By making changes in your home, you can improve your career, relationships, or health.
Here are some easy and inexpensive feng shui tips you can implement right now:
1. Reduce clutter. Get rid of things you aren't using and organize the rest neatly.
2. Turn on the lights. When you shine light into dark places in your home, you focus energy into the lack-luster areas of your life.
3. Fix broken windows, dripping faucets, and doors that stick so they don't hamper your well-being.
4. Position sofas and chairs so no one's back is to the room's entrance. Keep walkways unobstructed so people––and energy––can move easily through your home.
5. Keep your stove clean and in good repair. According to feng shui, the stove generates prosperity––a burner that doesn't work limits your wealth.
Although feng shui includes mystical and philosophical components as well as practical ones, you don't have to understand them to reap benefits. Feng shui may seem strange at first, but once you start using it you’ll see how sensible and effective it really is. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Aromatherapy for Colds and Flu

As colder weather rolls in, many people suffer from colds, flu, coughs, and other respiratory ailments. Aromatherapy––healing with scent––is a natural solution for the respiratory problems associated colds in the head, sinuses, nasal passages, and lungs. When essential oils are inhaled, they immediately go to work on the affected parts, offering fast, gentle, soothing relief.

Inhaling the cool, stimulating aroma of eucalyptus, spearmint, or peppermint instantly relieves stuffy nose and sinus congestion without drying out nasal passages or causing drowsiness. Frankincense, balsam, sweet marjoram, and lemon balm can ease congestion, coughing, and irritation in the head, nose, throat, and lungs. Pine, fennel, myrrh, and eucalyptus can help bronchitis and sinusitis. Cedar, bergamot, hyssop, and cypress effectively treat colic, asthma, and dry coughs. Tea tree oil soothes sore throats; it can also aid sores in the mouth and gingivitis.

Aromatherapy can even be superior to decongestants, shots, and other cold medicines in some instances. Not only is it fast acting, aromatherapy rarely causes unwanted side effects when used properly. Children and the elderly, who may be sensitive to medications, can derive wonderful healing benefits from the use of aromatic oils.

Tea tree oil, peppermint, and eucalyptus are sometimes available in inhalant sticks, but you can simply inhale the fumes of these essential oils directly from an open bottle. Tiny "pillows" or "sachets" of some aromatic herbs are available in health food stores, and can be placed on your bedside table or pillow at night to help you breathe freely while you sleep. Or, you can simply put a few drops of one of these oils on a handkerchief and inhale the healing fragrant fumes periodically, as needed. To break up congestion in the chest and head, rub aromatic salves directly on the chest.

If you prefer, put several drops in a vaporizer or humidifier to fill your room with refreshing, healing scent. Or, add essential oils to bathtub water and enjoy a soothing, healthful bath that will make you feel wonderful inside and out.

Only pure essential oils derived from plants offer true aromatherapy benefits––synthetic concoctions lack the plants’ natural vital energy. Some essential oils should not be ingested and some can be irritating to the skin if rubbed on full-strength––make sure you read the label before using any essential oil to avoid problems. 

Skye's Aromatherapy Card Deck will soon be available from Fair Winds Press.