Sunday, July 14, 2013

Will you help Paul Nation to fund an expedition to Papua New Guinea?

Paul Nation, an independent researcher of the Indava Bird which has been sighted in Papua New Guinea, is planning a fifth expedition into the jungle to try and prove the existence of this bird. Its characteristics are said to resemble the Pterodactyl which has been extinct for 65 million years. Could this be a living fossil, its cousin, or another undiscovered predatory bird? Paul's life mission is to find out.

This is where you can help and be part of something you always wanted to do. Donate to Paul's fundraiser and let your money send him into the lost world of Papua New Guinea. He is offering several perks for your donation which will allow greater participation than merely writing a check.

The link to his fundraiser is Help Me Discover the Indava Bird. You will find interesting videos and pictures and much more information about reports of this mysterious creature.

Paul has videoed bioluminescence in the jungle which the natives say is this bird. He has that much tantalizing evidence, but he needs much more in order prove the existence of this creature. During the upcoming expedition, he will travel into the jungle farther than he has ever gone before.

This could be the fulfilment of a scientist's dream to find a leftover creature thought to be long extinct and especially one like a Pterodactyl.

Click the link today, and give any amount or select a donation level to receive the perk of your choice. Children will receive a certificate designating them as "Junior Explorers" for $5.00 in order to encourage them to study this creature and become interested in finding it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

What's That Floating in the Moat?

The disposal of human waste has been a messy problem throughout history. Food being the joy that it is also causes a heap of trouble after the human body transforms it from a savory, delicious commodity into stinky, bacteria-laden goo. As a result, a great deal of ingenuity has been devoted to finding ways to make the emergence of it more pleasant, as well as to its collection and disposal.

Of course, primitive peoples used nature itself, but as they came together into people groups, they began to designate certain places within their living areas for toilet purposes. The first indication of plumbing dates back to 8000 B.C. in Scotland in the form of pipes or troughs that carried water and wastes to a nearby creek. Around 4000 years later in Iraq, evidence was found that appears to be cesspits under homes. Another discovery indicated that from 3000 to 2000 B.C., peoples in the area of modern-day Pakistan began reserving separate latrine rooms in their houses. Also during that time, flush toilets started to be used on the Isle of Crete. These were overhead reservoirs filled and flushed by servants or slaves.

According to Webster's, the word "toilet" comes from the French "toilette," meaning "a cloth covering used in shaving or hairdressing." Somewhere in the course of history, the name of this dressing room item became a modest word referring to relieving oneself.

The building of special infrastructures came to a halt following the fall of Rome, but the search continued to provide some means of indoor waste collection. Inventors came up with the chamber pot, close stool, and necessary chairs, which solved the problem of having to go outdoors but created another of how the waste was to be carried away. Then the tossing of wastes out of doors or overhead windows came into practice. The courtesy of a man walking nearest the street when accompanying a lady on a sidewalk came about so that he could take the hit instead of her from any wastes being thrown out. The street was also cleaner nearest the buildings. Shouting "Gardez L'eau" ("watch out for the water") became the polite thing to do when tossing waste. This remains in British vocabulary today with "loo" being slang for the toilet. One could also legally collect damages from being hit by wastes.

During the course of history, people became accustomed to the stench, although at one point, the Thames River was so full of sewage that it became a dead river. In 1857, the stench from it was such that the English parliament could not meet. Even heavy curtains soaked in lime and hung over the windows could not keep the odor out.

During Roman times, urinal pots were placed on street corners, which periodically were emptied by fullers who used the urine for laundering and bleaching togas and tunics. Roman public toilets might seat as many as 100 people on benches with holes. Romans were not squeamish about defecating in public and sat on the public toilets with their long robes draped around them. Sponge sticks were used instead of toilet paper. These communal sticks were rinsed off in a water trough between uses. In time, the sticks evolved into the shape of a hockey stick. This practice gave rise to the saying, "getting hold of the wrong end of the stick." Read more about Roman customs at Roman Sanitation.

In 1526, the scholar Erasmus published a book on manners entitled "De Civilitate." In it, he established that it was rude to observe people as they relieved themselves, indicating how common a practice public elimination was at that time.

The castle moat was another means of disposing wastes, and this might even have contributed to securing the castle. The sloping sides of the moat combined with an accumulation of waste might not have afforded much of a foothold for an enemy. According to David Macaulay in his book, "Castle," castle toilets were called garderobes. Garderobes on the outside wall were suspended over the moat on corbels. The seat was a stone slab with a round hole cut into it and allowed wastes to go directly into the moat. Garderobes within the castle were built over vertical shafts leading to cesspits which had to be cleaned out periodically. The ebb and flow of rivers were the only flushing mechanism for moats, the lack of which would cause their waters to become a thick, soup-like consistency. A brave soldier indeed was he who had the courage to swim a moat and traverse the wall by climbing up the shaft of a garderobe!

The garderobe began as a toilet room but became the forerunner of the wardrobe, a storage place for clothing. People began to hang their clothes in the garderobe as a means of pest control. They used the garderobe's noxious fumes much like we do moth balls.

The perfection of our modern-day toilet began in 1596 when Sir John Harrington of England invented what he called a "water closet" for Queen Elizabeth I. He only made one, however, and it took 200 years for Alexander Cummings, a London watchmaker, to come along and create the "S" trap for the water closet. This trap holds a bit of water in it and prevents odors from coming back into the house. Joseph Bramah and Thomas Twyford go down in the Toilet Hall of Fame for patenting elements for the flushing system and inventing the first one-piece toilet, respectively. Thomas Crapper, a plumber in England, gave us a more efficient system to flush toilets. Up until that time, water would continuously flow through a toilet, depleting the water supply. His invention allowed for water to go through only when the toilet was flushed, It is not clear how his name became slang words for the toilet as in "crapper" or "crap." One theory is that soldiers during World War I saw his name on toilet tanks and started calling them "crappers." For an excellent article about the contribution of Thomas Crapper, visit Flushed With Success.

In the mid-1800's, Parisian ladies and gentlemen took Sunday afternoon cruises in boats through their sewer pipes. The boats helped to scrape the sides of the pipes clean. These tours continued for 100 years until 1970. You can still visit the Paris Sewer Museum, however. The entrance is near the Eiffel Tower. You can find information about this tour as well as tours of other European Sewers at European Sewer Safari.

One familiar icon of Americana is the old-fashioned outhouse. Many are familiar with its spider webs, reeking atmosphere and old Sears Robuck catalog serving as toilet paper. Do you know why an outhouse is almost always depicted with a half moon on the door? An excellent explanation can be found at The Straight Dope. The contents of old outhouses can also be a historian's dream. Read about that at Musings of a Privy Digger.

We have come a long way in the development of convenient, sanitary toilets, collection pipelines, and wastewater treatment plants. Space age technology has entered the world of waste control on the Space Shuttle and Space Station. Indeed, kings and queens would envy us.

Some historical facts for this article were obtained from "Evidence of Indoor Plumbing Dates as Far Back as 8000 B.C." by Joyce Everhart Jungelaus which appeared in the November, 1998, issue of the APWA Reporter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Could YOU Become a Slave?

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2004 as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and Its Abolition. The purpose of the commemoration was to emphasize the consequences of slavery, to recognize the struggle for liberation from slavery, and to prevent new forms of slavery around the world. I presented this article back then in honor of those people, past and present, who have been caught in the misery and hopelessness of slavery. Alas, not much has happened since 2004 in the way of stopping all forms of slavery in the world, except public awareness is increasing. I am reposting this article as my small contribution to the cause.

Therefore, I ask you, could YOU become a slave?

Slavery developed as one of human nature's ultimate acts of control. In turn, it has been known as "the scourge of mankind," and "man's greatest inhumanity to man."

At its core, human nature appears strange. It instinctively interprets power as the ability to control and manipulate. This seed manifests itself even in the cradle when a child wraps a parent around its little finger. When a child remains untrained and undisciplined, this seed grows into an adult's selfish quest. Slavery--as an unbridled quest for power--turned some men into the infamous despots of history. Slave labor was the oil that greased many a king's empire.

Slavery existed even in prehistoric times, appearing on every continent. During the many millennia since, slavery's rises and falls if plotted on a graph would demonstrate its ebb and flow. One peak, in ancient times, would parallel slavery's rampant rise in concert with the growing Grecian States and Roman Empire. Another peak would show slavery's comparative pattern in the United States from 1619 through 1865. Would it astound you to know another peak is developing, right now, in the world today?

In this modern world, most of us find it hard to imagine being owned by another human being. Yet slavery still exists and remains a potential threat. Think about it: No rights. No freedom of decision. No freedom of movement. And worse.

Though the armies of the civilized world no longer include the taking of slaves in their strategies of war, they do take prisoners of war. Still, this imprisonment compares not at all with the sad lot of those captured during the violent days when the taking of slaves, both male and female, remained a primary focus of conquering enemies. The classic scenario, then, meant killing the men and enslaving the women and children.

Historians calculate that, by 1502, European slave traders shipped approximately 11 to 16 million slaves to the Americas, including 500,000 to the United States. Prior to that time, American Indians comprised the majority of slaves in the U.S. By 1700, slavery existed in every territory colonized by Europeans.

The British Empire officially abolished slavery in 1833. The United States did the same in 1865 by ratifying the 13th Amendment. This Amendment states: " Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

It shocks many to learn all slavery was not abolished by this amendment. Notice the exception, "except as a punishment for a crime." After 1865, this exception allowed anyone convicted of a crime to be used as forced labor in businesses, farm fields, lumber camps, railroads and mines. People by the tens of thousands (predominantly African Americans) became ensnared in this cruel legal form of slavery called "convict leasing." This system put to work children as young as six years old. And it did not take much to become convicted, especially when quotas had to be met. Until 1930, Alabama continued to provide convict leasing.

During the 1880's, in England, White Slavery (trafficking in women) caused a public uproar. The trade expanded rapidly. I remember, when still a little girl, every time someone vanished, whispers of White Slavery filled the air. White Slavery, meaning "the abduction of young girls for sale as sex slaves," also continues to this day. Authorities claim well-organized criminal organizations now operate this as a world-wide, underground syndicate.

In 1910, Chicago's U. S. Attorney first held an international crime ring responsible for abducting young girls in Europe and forcing them to work in Chicago brothels. As a result, Illinois Congressman James Mann introduced the White Slave Traffic Act, or "Mann Act." This law forbade the transportation of minors across state lines for criminal purposes.

The concept of White Slavery is shrouded by mystery, rumor and questionable aspects. Check it out at: "Was there really such a thing as white slavery?" and "The Shanghaied Bride."

Human trafficking, well concealed, still takes place in virtually every country, affecting every race. A friend of mine, while in the U. S. Military, visited Agadez, Niger, West Africa, during 1963-68. One day, he and a friend stumbled upon a slave auction while touring the ancient quarter. More than three hundred Tuareg nomads crowded the market area, elbow to elbow, about a city block in size. On a central, raised platform stood a frightened, 12-year-old Arab girl, ready to be sold. She was but one among some 20 slaves for sale.

Upon seeing the two Americans, the Tuaregs began drawing their swords. Only the quick action of an accompanying native official, who worked for the current president, saved their lives. Telling the surround of hostile Tuaregs, "The stupid Americans do not understand either the language or what is going on," he hustled them away. His additional claim, "They know nothing of these things," managed to defuse the situation. The Tauregs let go of their swords and allowed the visitors to depart unscathed. If they had drawn their swords from their scabbards, their custom demanded they must "take blood." My friend and his companion narrowly escaped death, as well as being sliced to bits and disposed of in some unmarked grave.

My friend had wanted to purchase the young girl and free her. But the official told him, "You can't do that! She would be back up on that platform before the day is over. And, just think how your purchase would look in the world newspapers--'American buys young African girl.' Why that would create an International Incident!"

On two other occasions in Upper Volta, various sheiks offered my friend slaves to keep as his own. Only by the grace of God and the assistance of the same official did he manage to escape those situations as well, and without offending his hosts or getting killed in the process.

Recently, a U. S. State Department report stated, "human trafficking has reached staggering proportions, affecting more than 700,000 people a year." The report estimated slave masters traffic 45,000 to 50,000 people, annually, through the United States alone, using the USA as a transit rather than a destination point. Most countries are working to end the problem. Twenty-three, however, are failing to do so. These include Greece, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and South Korea. Compare these statistics with the 500,000 Africans that were brought to this country as slaves prior to 1865. It is obvious we still have a problem of greater significance than ever imagined.

I, therefore, ask again: Could you, or someone you know and love, become a slave? In view of the current levels of world-wide human trafficking for prostitution and forced labor . . . and the fact this is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity . . . the answer to that question must be a resounding "Yes!" Slavery is alive and well on planet earth.

Visit these sites to learn more:


Friday, April 4, 2008

A Day in the Life of an Angel

Right away, I'm in trouble using this title for the post. Of course, angels are not subject to time such as day or night. They are immortal beings. But these ones figure into our mortal days and nights throughout history.

Thousands of angels are named in folklore and literature. They are included in the beliefs of every religion on earth and are primarily categorized as either holy or evil. Even though vast numbers of angels are said to be all around us, we humans do not have the faculties to see them unless they choose to make themselves known. What might these ones be doing right now behind the scenes? What is on their schedules for us today? What do we know about them and where did that information come from?

Angels are invisible, supernatural, created beings who can take on different forms. They can visibly appear as humans, animals, or beings of light, fire or lightning. Sometimes they have wings and sometimes, not. Their primary purpose is to be an intermediary or messenger between God and mankind. They give guidance, inflict judgment, and protect. Their characteristic trait is stealth in their encounters with mankind. They do not attempt to draw attention to themselves, and an angel's motivation (at least a holy angel) is to pass any glory they might receive to God and never be worshipped themselves. An angelic visitation is a brief glimpse into the invisible spiritual world.

In Hebrew, the word for angel is "malakh," meaning messenger, and messenger in the Greek is "angelos." In Persian, it is "angaros," meaning courier. The Western concept of angels comes primarily from the mythologies of Babylonia and Persia.

Angels are key figures throughout the Christian Bible, yet only two angels are named, Michael and Gabriel. Raphael is named in the apocryphal Book of Tobit, so the Catholic Church forbids the use of names other than these three. Other works in the Apochrypha and Pseudepigrapha give names to many, many other angels.

For Egyptians, Greeks, Hebrews, Assyrians, Essenes and Gnostics, the proper names of angels held great mystical and magical powers. They believed the vibrations of spoken words released this power. Angelic names were used in prayers, incantations and on amulets in order to access the powers represented by the angel's name. The power of their names was determined by the use of gematria, which is where numerical values are assigned to each letter of the alphabet. The sum of the values of each letter in a particular name is given meaning by comparing it with the same numerical value of other words. Gematria was also used to interpret scripture. For example, early Christians viewed the dove as the symbol of Jesus because the Greek word for dove adds up to 801, the same as the sum of the letters in the Greek words for alpha and omega, representing the Beginning and the End. The possible first use of gematria was by the Babylonian King Sargon II in the 8th century B.C. He built a wall, the length of which corresponded to the numerical value of his name.

Along with names, angels are ranked into groups. The Bible names the groups as angels, archangels, principalities, powers, dominions, virtues, thrones, cherubim and seraphim. Throughout history, theologians, philosophers and artists have built upon these groupings and established hierarchies based upon what they interpreted as angelic duties. Those who wrote about these hierarchies include Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Ignatius Martyr, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and Gregory the Great. The best-known hierarchy is an arrangement by Pseudo-Dionysius of nine choirs in three tiers. The term "choir" also means "an organized group" as well as referring to singers; therefore, it is not limited to the idea of singing. Following is a brief breakdown of his ideas about each choir of angel and their duties:

* Seraphim - Are closest to God. "Seraphim" means "fire makers," "carriers of warmth" or "ardor." They are the only angels above the throne of God, and they constantly glorify Him, saying "holy, holy, holy." They can appear in a form with four heads and six wings-two for flying, two to cover their faces and two to cover their feet.

* Cherubim - From the Hebrew "kerub," meaning "fullness of knowledge" or "one who intercedes." Cherubim are thought to be the voice of divine wisdom and possessing insight into God's secrets, which they pass on to lower levels of angels. Ezekiel described Cherubim as having four faces-a cherub, a man, a lion and an eagle. In Revelation, they are the living beasts, having many eyes and six wings.

* Thrones - These are the chariots of God which are driven by the Cherubs. God himself rests upon them and they are depicted as wheels with many eyes.

* Dominions - Angels who regulate the duties of other angels and make known God's commandments.

* Virtues - Angels who carry out the orders of Dominions. They are in charge of miracles and provide courage, grace and valor.

* Powers - Angels who fight against evil spirits, protect divine plans initiated by Dominions and carried out by Virtues.

* Principalities - Angels who watch over and govern the visible world of nations and cities and are the protectors of religion.

* Archangels - Angels who are in charge of Heaven's armies and are the supervisors of guardian angels. The Archangel Michael is the only one specifically named as an archangel in the Bible. However, the seven angels spoken of in Revelation 8:2 are thought to be archangels.

* Angels - Angels who are closest to the earth. They go between realms, delivering prayers to God and God's answers and other messages to mankind.

Much difference of opinion exists about the question of whether people have a specific angel attached to them as a guardian angel. Cultures other than Judeo-Christian believe in guardian spirits and spirit guides as well. Guardian angels are not specifically named in the Bible, but the Church fathers agreed on the existence of personal angels even though they disagreed on various aspects of those attachments.

While the ministry of a guardian angel is carried out unbeknownst to us, many have experienced the appearance of a mysterious stranger, who appears out of nowhere, interacts in the current problem, and then disappears into thin air. There is nothing that differentiates these mysterious strangers from the average Joe or Jane on the street. Only their appearance and disappearance after solving the problem at hand creates that sense of awe, of entertaining an angel unaware, after the hair on the back of your neck settles down!

I have often wondered why God created angels. He is all-powerful. Why would he need angels to do anything? But I can see that rather than God needing angels, perhaps he created them because people need them. God only knows how many times his angels have kept us from horrible accidents or ministered peace to us in the dark hour of the night. Even though some angels decided not to keep the place where God placed them, far more angels are committed to staying right there. May we not worship these magnificent beings but work together with them in the accomplishment of God's purposes.


Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1996). Encyclopedia of Angels. New York: Facts On File, Inc.

A History of Angels in Western Thought

The Straight Dope: What's the deal with angels?

Ministering Spirits: Terms and Descriptions of Angels

Thursday, April 3, 2008

That Mysterious First Kiss

I watched a documentary on television on the subject of kissing which pointed out that this physical act reduces stress, produces a peaceful feeling of being loved, and even boosts our immune systems. With all the benefits and pleasures of the act of kissing, does history reveal when humanity's first kiss took place?

Years ago, scientists thought that when two lips met during kissing an electric current was generated. They now know that this is completely untrue. Scientific fact is that kissing signals our brains to produce oxytocin which is a hormone that causes a good feeling. One study stated that our brains are equipped to help us find our lover's lips in the dark.

German physicians and psychologists say that those who kiss their spouses each morning before leaving for work miss less work because of illness than those who do not. Those who kiss also have fewer auto accidents on the way to work, earn 20-30 percent more per month and live approximately five years longer.

So who invented kissing? Anthropologists think kissing's origins are to be found in primitive times when mothers chewed food and transferred it directly from their mouths to their babies' mouths, a method of preparing baby food that is still practiced in some cultures today. Another theory comes from the Ziller Valley of Central Europe where pre-chewed tobacco was exchanged between males and females. The man would hold a piece of tobacco between his teeth and invite a girl to grasp it with her teeth which would cause her to press her mouth on his.

Perhaps the origins of kissing came from another source. Indications are from as early as 2000 B.C., various cultures believed that bringing the mouths together signified the joining of two souls.

According to one anthropologist, Vaughn Bryant, Jr., the first erotic kiss was exchanged in about 1500 B.C. in India. Prior to that no clay tablets, cave paintings or written records say anything about kissing.

Kissing is frequently shown in Egyptian art. Scholars believe kissing would have been associated with "giving life" in the ancient Egyptian culture.

The Celts had no word for kiss. The Romans are attributed with perfecting the kiss as we know it today. They kissed each other hello on the mouth or on the eyes, kissed robes, rings and statues of gods to indicate submission and respect. One Roman emperor ranked a person's importance by the body part he allowed them to kiss. Important nobles kissed his lips, less important ones kissed his hands and the least, kissed his feet. Romans assigned words for different types of kisses: osculum meaning a friendship kiss; basium meaning passionate kiss; and savium meaning deep kiss. Today, some natives of African tribes honor their chief by kissing the ground he walks over.

Kissing became the means by which many a bargain was sealed throughout history. In the feudal system, a vassal would kneel before his overlord, put his hands in those of the lord and declare himself his man. Then the overlord bound himself by kissing the vassal and raising him to his feet. Russians may have been the first to incorporate the kiss into the marriage ceremony.

France was the first to accept kissing in courtship. In the sixth century, dancing was a way to display affection and each dance was sealed with a kiss. Of course, the French are attributed with the invention of the French kiss. According to the Online Encyclopedia, the term, maraichinage, is a prolonged kiss, often lasting for several hours and originates from residents of Pays de Mont in Britanny, the Maraichins, who popularized the practice. It is the likely predecesser of what is now commonly referred to as french kissing. A maraichinage often lasts for several hours, and involves a profound exploration of the mouth of one's partner. French kiss is also known as tongue wrestling and tonsil hockey. In British slang, this type of kissing is commonly known as snogging.

Kissing shows up in religious practice as well. It is recorded throughout the Bible in approximately 46 references in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus was betrayed by a kiss. The Holy Kiss is encouraged in the New Testament between believers. Kissing of relics is practiced by many religions including Islam. The Black Stone housed at Mecca is worn hollow by centuries of veneration and is now held together with a silver band. The act of blowing kisses with the hand comes from old religions where they blew kisses' to the gods.

Nature has its assassin bug, also known as the kissing bug, which bites its victims around the mouth. Mononucleosis is called the kissing disease because it is spread by kissing. The longest kiss in film history was between Jane Wyman and Regis Tommey in the 1941 film, "You're in the Army Now," lasting 3 minutes and 5 seconds. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is thought to originate with the Druids and other early Europeans. Read about that at Mistletoe History.

Probably one of the most famous legends involving kissing is from a small city of Cork, the village of Blarney. It is not completely known how this originated, but one legend has it that an old woman put a spell on one of the stones of the castle of Blarney in an almost inaccessible place near the top that would bestow the gift of eloquence to all who kissed it. In times past, people were hung by their heels over the edge of the parapet to kiss the stone, but this stopped when one person fell to his death. From then on, anyone kissing the blarney stone must lie on their back, grasp two iron rails on each side and be lowered backward into position.

Perhaps one of the most important health aspects about kissing is that mothers transfer beneficial bacteria to their babies by kissing them. Fathers do as well, but scientists have found that babies do not receive as much bacteria as they could from their fathers simply because they do not kiss them very often.

Alas, we may never know when humanity's mysterious first kiss occurred, but hopefully armed with all this information, each of us will keep practicing.


Kissing Chronicles

Why Do We Kiss?

Kissing Trivia

Humorous Pictures
see more crazy cat pics

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Role of Animals in History

Even though the majority of mankind is happily entrenched in the electronic age and mostly prefers to live in a concrete jungle, the mysterious link between humans and animals continues to hold true. Most of our contact with animals these days is limited to the fleeting glimpse of a bird overhead, the scurry of a squirrel or chipmunk across our paths, or the companionship of a pet. Yet the role of animals in history is of such great importance that we would not be where we are today without them.

Animals have always been a source of food, clothing, an obedient workforce and religious sacrifices. We count on them to provide their unique contributions to balance out nature and to give us much needed companionship.

Even though scientific information tells us that mankind and dinosaurs did not coexist, the fossil remains of those animals greatly impacted the beliefs and lifestyles of early peoples. The sight of massive bones and weathered sculls protruding from the earth fueled their imaginations. In her book, "The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times," Adrienne Mayor describes her theory that mythical creatures were based upon fossil remains. She believes mythical griffin lore, for example, came about after Protoceratops skeletons were found. She also theorizes that the belief in giant humans and mythological heroes came from the abundance of ancient elephant, mastodon and mammoth fossils.

Apart from fossil remains, animals that did coexist with humans bore a hefty portion of the burden of transporting mankind toward civilization. They were the first major food source, and people began domesticating certain animals as they came together into groups. Actually, how various species became domesticated is somewhat of a mystery in itself. Several ways animals can be domesticated have been researched. Mutations of a species can cause some to be more receptive to human control. Selective breeding can be responsible for the changes necessary for domestication. Natural selection can occur as well. Dogs, sheep and goats were the first to be domesticated.

Human survival has often depended upon animals. The camel, also known as the ship of the desert, was instrumental in the exploration and settlement of Australia, for example. They are one of the few animals where every function and physical part of them is of use to humans, including the dung which is used for fuel.

From the beginning, people have venerated the superhuman characteristics of the animals they worshipped and thought they were the embodiment of gods. Animism, the belief that a soul exists in every animate and inanimate object, is one of the oldest beliefs, dating to around the Paleolithic age. Ancient Egyptians worshipped nearly every animal. Their sacred bull Apis was believed to be the incarnation of a god. The Greeks had their sacred eagle of Zeus. The Aztecs had the Quetzalcoatl bird.

In 1994, a white buffalo was born near Janesville, Wisconsin, USA, the first white buffalo calf born since 1933. Since then other white buffalos have been born. See a list of these at Wikipedia's "White Buffalo." To American and Canadian Indians, a white buffalo is a symbol of hope and renewal for humanity and for harmony between all races of people.

American Indians have worn eagle feathers for thousands of years. To them, they represent fierceness, strength and power, and warriors earned the feathers in battle. No higher honor can be obtained by an American Indian than to receive an eagle feather. By law in the United States in recent years, only a member of a tribe that is recognized by the government can obtain a permit to own eagle parts. No one else is allowed to have them.

The Chinese attribute the power of controlling hours, days, months and years to animals, similar to the belief that the zodiac influences peoples' lives and fates. Twelve symbolic animals represent twelve terrestrial branches. They are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and pig. These are assigned to various years.

Perhaps one of the most influential animals upon history, if not THE most influential animal, is the horse. The horse provided the perfect solution to our need to go places and transport things. Even the sight of a horse stirs feelings deep within us. Psychologists tell us that horses are the only animals that give the impression of being naked. Muscles rippling, a running horse is quite exhilarating for most people to see. Although some of us rarely see a horse anymore, the horse is referenced frequently in our everyday language since we measure the power of motors by horsepower. This term is attributed to James Watt who lived from 1736-1819. He devised a way to measure the power available from ponies lifting coal from a coal mine. He discovered that a mine pony could do 22,000 foot-pounds of work in a minute. He increased that number by 50% and set the definition of "horsepower" as 33,000 foot-pounds of work in one minute.

Animals have contributed much to our enjoyment of life as well. Among the many famous animals who have impacted children was an American black bear named Winnie who lived at the London Zoo. A Canadian lieutenant brought her there in 1914 at the beginning of WWI. A. A. Milne and his son Christopher visited the bear that later became Winnie the Pooh in Milne's stories. Balto, a black and white Alaskan malamute, is famous for leading a dogsled team through an Alaskan blizzard, which delivered the antitoxin needed to stop a diphtheria epidemic. Puppets and animated creatures comfort and entertain in the absence of the real thing. Pluto, the dog, Teddy bears, and a personal favorite of mine from the 50s, Soupy Sales' White Fang, "the meanest dog in the USA," can also touch that mysterious spot in our hearts marked "animals belong here."

Space will not permit but a mention of the incredible instincts of animals. We have all read stories of cats and dogs traversing great distances to return to their former residences after their families have moved. Buzzards return to Hinkley, Ohio, like clockwork every March. Capistrano has its sparrows.

The animal kingdom will impact future generations on a grand scale in other ways. Some of the worse plagues in history, like the Bubonic plague, have involved animals. HIV-AIDS has its origins in the Green Monkey of Africa where the virus was transmitted to humans through bites and eating raw monkey meat. Bird flu is now a threat for the next world pandemic. The Bible includes prophecy involving animals in Revelation 6:8 which states, "8And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."

Research on the bond between person and pet has revealed that pets can somehow know when their masters are on the way home. My dog instantly knew when I was upset and would rush to me to remedy the situation. He would get quite agitated whenever I would cry and would try to comfort me by jumping up and frantically licking my face. Look into a dog's eyes, and there seems to be more than kibbles in that body. But do animals have immortal spirits?

One thing we do know is that the role of animals in history was crucial and their impact on our future is just as important. While we are spending billions to find life on Mars, animals on earth are going extinct right under our noses. Geneticists are also beginning to tinker with animal DNA, adding human genes to the mix. Will a new breed of monsters emerge? What with such a mysterious bond between us and our co-inhabitants of the earth, we better ensure that animal strains are preserved and they remain here as long as we do.

Prepare to be amazed while watching this elephant paint:

Book Review - The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times by Adrienne Mayor

Animal Worship

Miracle, the Sacred White Buffalo

Canku Ota, Native American Newsletter-August 25, 2001

How Horsepower Works

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Beginning and Ending of Trees

Trees, tall and short, grow silently in backyards, parks and hills. These beautiful, towering organisms have been around since the beginning of time. People love trees, sometimes worship them, and other times obliterate all the trees they can. What is it with trees?

As I contemplated that question, my thoughts turned to why we have such a regard for trees. I believe one reason we are fascinated with trees is that they appear to us as embodiments of time. Even today, we mark special events and peoples' lives with the planting of a tree, expecting that these living memorials will remain far longer than a single lifetime. We also use the concept of a tree in genealogies, our Family Trees.

The beginning of time has trees and the ending of time has trees. The Bible states that trees were created on the third day of creation even before lights in the heavens. Man was then placed in the Garden of Eden to tend trees but fell by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Fast forwarding through the Bible, the end is with a tree as well in the last chapter of Revelation. It is written that the Tree of Life will be planted on both sides of the River of God, with twelve varieties of fruit and its leaves for the healing of the nations.

Trees stir emotions in people. Some have even gone so far as to chain themselves to a tree trunk in order to keep the tree from being cut down. At our core, we have a primordial respect for trees. They have sheltered us from the elements, given us warmth from burning their wood, and provided us food from their fruits. Actually, if our homes are made of wood, we are living in a tree. When that basic respect for trees breaks down, one symptom is the elimination of the rain forests. When respect escalates, veneration of trees is the result.

This veneration of trees appeared throughout history in ancient cultures. Sacred Trees are often believed to be guarded by dragons or serpents. Trees of significance included oaks which were sacred to Druids, and the tamarisk in Egypt which was often planted around temples.

In Celtic tradition, trees were looked to as a source of wisdom and hope, a link between upper and lower worlds. The grove was the center of their religion. The Celtic Tree of Life appears on Celtic crosses and in the manuscript, the Book of Kells. The Celtic Green Man joins man with tree in a kinship symbolizing the cycle of renewal and birth.

During a trip to Ireland, a friend and I drove past a curious looking tree next to one road in the countryside. A quick turnaround brought us back to inspect it. Here was one of Ireland's "rag trees." All manner of articles of clothing and personal belongings draped every bough and the trunk of the tree. Baby bonnets, men's socks, women's scarves, and every other item of clothing imaginable testified of each person's belief that this tree has spiritual powers of healing.

Hinduism, the world's oldest religion still practiced today, reveres the tree as a symbol of abundance. World Trees appear as universal symbols in many cultures representing life and credited with bringing everything into existence. The World Tree shows up in different forms of the same thing such as in the Hebrew Kabbala's Sephirothal Tree of Life, the Rosicrucian's Rose, and the Scandinavian Ash or Yggdrasil of the Eddas.

In Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Fangorn forest stands as an important element in the plot. In the movie, Legolas, the elf, comments that the forest is old and angry and the trees are speaking to one another. The character of Treebeard is an Ent, a guardian of the forest. He and other Ents do battle against Saruman at Isengard. Ents are mythical creatures resembing trees which were invented by Tolkien.

The belief in spirits inhabiting trees, however, do appear in many religions. The ancient Chinese believed spirits of the dead and various gods resided in trees planted in the vicinity of tombs and temples. What is called the faerie triad of trees is a belief that where oak, ash and thorn grow together, faeries live. Animism is the belief that spirits inhabit animals, trees and other objects.

Some of the most well-known customs involving trees are totem poles, Maypoles and Christmas trees. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest Coast are known for their totem poles. According to, a totem is "an animal, plant, or natural object serving among certain tribal or traditional peoples as the emblem of a clan or family and sometimes revered as its founder, ancestor, or guardian." A totem pole is the trunk of a tree which is carved with various totems. Totem poles fall into three categories: a central post of houses, a memorial pole, or a monument for the dead.

The Maypole was used in ancient British fertility rites which ushered in spring and was believed to ensure a good crop and increase in livestock. The Maypole may be a phallic symbol. A tree was cut from the forest and its trunk set up in a central place and decorated. Then the people danced around it. Maypoles were banned in the sixteenth century as being heathenistic.

The decorated Christmas tree came to Briton by way of the marriage of Prince Albert, a German, to Queen Victoria. Legend has it that Martin Luther of Germany started the custom of decorating evergreens, but many ancient cultures would feel right at home with the veneration of the evergreen. The ancient Egyptians worshipped it. Romans and Scandinavians all had customs involving the evergreen, comparable to the customs of Druids who regarded evergreen holly as meaning eternal life. In other superstitions, evergreen branches placed over the door kept out witches and evil spirits.

Sequoia Redwoods, the King of Trees, are the oldest living organisms on earth. They can live to be 2,000 years old. Interestingly, their reproduction depends upon fire which causes their cones to open and release the seeds. Unfortunately, other trees are under "fire" and this fire in the Rain Forests is causing their demise.

Having visited Iceland, I have seen a place where there are no large trees, only smaller shrubs. Beautiful as Iceland is, I would miss trees if I lived there. So what is it with trees? Beauty. Time. History. I've recently tried tree hugging at the risk of appearing quite mad and am astonished that it is possible to feel living energy coming from the tree. Try it sometime, especially hugging the very old ones.

Resources for this article:

Sacred Trees, Oghams & Celtic Symbolism
Ireland's OWN: Celtic Symbols, The Celtic Tree of Life
Forum on Religion & Ecology, Introduction to Hinduism
World Trees
Totem Poles
Ask Yahoo: What is the history of the Maypole?
Captain Jack's Christmas Tree Farm - Traditions - Trees & Ornaments
California Pictures - Sequoia Natonal Park