Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Story of a Sunflower

The Story of a Sunflower

Ah! Sun-flower


Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,

Who contest the steps of the Sun:

Seeking after that sweet golden clime

Where the travelers journey is done. 

Where the Youth pined away with desire,

And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: 

Arise from their graves and aspire, 

Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Sunflowers are a member of the Aster or Composite family and they commonly grow to heights between 1.5 and 3.5 m (5–12 ft). The flower head on a mature sunflower (also referred to as composite flower or florets) has numerous small flowers all crowded together. The outer petal-bearing florets are the sterile florets and can be yellow, red, orange, or other colors. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into seeds. The flower petals within the sunflower's cluster are usually set in a double-spiral pattern. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head. Sunflowers grow best when planted in rows that align with the axis of Mother Earth. The strange pith in the stalk when alive is the lightest known, and when dry becomes hard as rock.

The sunflower, an important, high-energy food source, is believed to have originated in the Americas. Evidence suggests that the plant was cultivated by Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America. 

Some archaeologists explore the notion that sunflower may have been domesticated before corn. In some Indian legends Sunflower is referred to as the “fourth sister”, the other sisters being the corn, bean and squash.

Sunflowers were considered by some North American Indians as the symbol of courage, therefore warriors would carry sunflower cakes with them to battle or, when they went hunting, they would sprinkle sunflower powder on their clothes to recharge and keep up their spirit. Men also ate the seeds for "strength in love," as they were a good source of arginine, which increased potency.

Sunflower seeds used as sustenance were ground or pounded into flour for cakes, mashed or made into bread. As a meal it would sometimes be mixed with other vegetables such as beans, squash, and corn. And much like today, the seeds were used as nutritional snack in between meals. 

The oil derived from the sunflower seeds, aside from its nutritional function, it had also cosmetic and medicinal properties. It was a good source for attaining and maintaining smooth skin and hair as well as being made into a poultice for the treatment anything ranging from snake and spider bites to various skin ailments. 

When the squashed sunflower seeds were combined with peppermint and thyme they delivered soothing relief of pain. The seeds were also essential component in easing the pain of the menstrual cycle of females. It was considered helpful due to the Sun having a daily cycle which kept them warm and helped to grow food and all medicinal plants. 

We now know that sunflower seeds are considered to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic and expectorant properties. Sunflower leaves can be used as an infusion to treat high fevers, lung problems and diarrhea. 

They can help reducing the symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and help in cases of bronchial, pulmonary and laryngeal problems as well as controlling high blood pressure and migraine headaches. The sunflower plant contains one of the best sources of phenylalamine, helpful in the control of pain, and is a rich source of vitamin E.

The seeds, rich in phytosterols, reduce cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health. With high levels of magnesium counterbalance calcium, it helps to regulate nerve function. The substantial content of the amino acid, tryptophan, meanwhile enhances serotonin production and thus improves mood and alleviates depression. Sounds like a wonder seed? Well, I think it is; hence the reason for its timeless popularity.

Back in the old days different varieties of the Sunflower were also cultivated to produce purple and yellow dyes for textiles, body painting and other decorations. The plant and the seeds were widely used in ceremonies. Meanwhile, the dried stalk was used as a building material. 

Common sunflower or a ga li ha, is a sacred plant that appears in many Indian myths and stories. The Cherokee talked of this naming and its relationship. It is said in one story that the sunflower came from Anthoteknon after Disocuri spilled ambrosia on his grave and he arose as a sunflower.

In another Native American Indian legend, salmon when caught were always laid upon the stems and leaves of the sunflower plant. This may have something to do with the pulling up of the plant, which may also have been interpreted as some kind of doorway. 

Mystified? A quote from G. T. Garrett in his book can perhaps serve as the brief explanative: “The Cherokee Herbal: Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions," "the East was considered an "open door," the direction we are born into this life to meet the Sun. Conversely, the West, the direction of death and passing from this world to the netherworld of our ancestors, was considered the "back door," with the spirit guides as the gatekeepers to the "darkened land." The sacred teachings teach us therefore that life and death were experiences of the spirit moving through a doorway or portal, from which we continue our journey." The sunflower turns its head following the sun as it moves from east to west across the sky.

The Americas had long enjoyed the many benefits of the sunflower when in the 1500’s the Spanish adventurers chanced on this great find purely by accident. The first European to encounter the sunflower was Francisco Pizarro in Tahuantinsuyo, Peru. In the early 16th Century he took golden images of the flower as well as the actual seeds back to Spain. Deemed a strange flower, it was at first mainly used as a decoration. 

By 1716, an English patent was granted for squeezing oil from sunflower seed. However, this was never regarded as an edible plant till it traveled to Russia. By 1830, the manufacture of sunflower oil was done on a commercial scale. It took Russia by a storm and Russian farmers were soon engaged in growing vast numbers of these sunflowers. The use of sunflower oil became very popular, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils that were allowed during Lent.

To date seeds of the large-seeded varieties are enjoyed my many as a nutritional snack. Roasted in the same manner as coffee, they make an agreeable drink, and the seeds have been used in Portugal and Russia to make wholesome and nutritious bread. 

The oil pressed from the seeds is of a citron yellow color and a sweet taste and is considered equal to olive oil or almond oil for table use. The resulting oil-cake when warm pressed is used mainly for soap-making, candle-making and in the art of wool-dressing. As a drying oil for mixing paint, it is equal to linseed oil and is great as a lubricant for massages.

Then the residue after the oil is pressed is used as cattle-fodder. This form of oil-cake is relished by sheep, pigs, and poultry. Even the damaged, bruised sunflower seeds are utilized to make excellent chicken and fowl feed, as it’s believed to increase egg productivity. Is it any wonder that Sunflowers are currently grown in many parts of the world such as Russia, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Egypt, India, China and Japan?

Oh, and it makes an excellent addition for your garden as they are delightfully sturdy and beautiful just as flowers.

Another Poem to enjoy:



are named well

for they, like the sun, 

give joy to those who feel their radiance

it is as if

nature heard all of the children's joyful shouts

in the meadow-

the grass moving in the wind,

like a great emerald dragon-

and wove their shouts

of love


and exuberance

into a flower

that the children would pot

and water with love

and the sunflowers would thrive 

to be the smiles on cloudy days

(Author: The Poems Within, who noted “I wrote this poem for a contest on Vincent Van Gogh's sunflower painting. The painting inspired me to write this poem.”)

Sunflowers, 1888., by Vincent Van Gogh

The End.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Hungry Ghosts

Hungry Ghosts

In Ontario we have a rather short summer season, three months tops. In August, being the final month of summer, many will try to stack up as much fun and memorable events, evenings being no exception, before returning to the winter grind. They are completely oblivious or unaware of the serious significance and the dangers this month holds. That’s right; it is the “Hungry Ghost” period, known to most everyone with Oriental heritage.

Cultures from Europe to China all have traditional days of the dead or ghost days, many thousands of years old that were part of the tribal folk religions before the advent of Christianity in Europe and Buddhism in Asia. (Typically however, belief in "Hungry Ghosts" is now also part of Chinese Buddhism and Taoism.)

Historical records reveal that in Great Britain, Halloween had originated from the traditional holiday of Celts who believed that the last day of October was “the day of the dead” or “the ghost day” when ghosts crossed over the boundary between the living and the dead. The Chinese belief is similar. In many ways, this festival is reminiscent of Halloween or the Night of the Dead in Western countries.

The “Hungry Ghost” period (that falls in July or August in our Western calendar) and the resulting festival are celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. (Halloween comes just a tad later, depending on the growing season, and the harvest times.) Similarly, the Chinese believe that on the days of the Hungry Ghost Month, and especially on the night of the full moon, there is more of a bridge between the dead and the living and that the gates of hell are opened wide releasing all the hungry ghosts into the living realm. 

This is where it gets particularly interesting, for it is believed that the soul contains elements of both yin and yang. The yin is the kui, or demon part, and the yang is the shen, or spirit part. When death occurs, the kui should return to earth, and the shen to the grave or family shrine. The shen, or ancestral spirit is believed to watch over its descendants, and if properly worshipped, bring the living descendents a good fortune. If a ghost is neglected however, it will become a kui. Now the hungry ghosts can arise from the deceased that had had a violent end. Some of the unhappy circumstance or evil deeds that had lead them to being reborn or to becoming a hungry ghost are killing, theft, sexual misconduct, gluttony and greed.

There are some stipulations or precautions for dealing or honouring the dead and same time warding off the possible wrath, attacks or pranks of these discontented, deprived entities that have now been temporarily allowed to roam free in the living world.

Typically, the Hungry Ghost bent on mischief and harm can be appeased through tribute, such as the burning of “hell money (a valid currency in the underworld)”, or other forms of joss paper such as paper houses, cars and televisions. Meanwhile, it is best to keep in mind many of the superstitions and taboos surrounding the Hungry Ghost Festival. For instance, at night during this time it would be best to remain indoors or visit only well lit areas to avoid danger of being possessed by evil spirits. After all they are capable of assuming many forms, including snakes, moths, birds, foxes, wolves, and tigers. Some can even use the guise of a beautiful man or woman to seduce and possess.

Typically, there has been many such stories in existence; one such refers to a ghost who takes the form of a pretty girl and seduces a young man until a priest intervenes and sends the spirit back to hell. It is believed that possession can cause illness and/or mental disorders. Swimming is to be avoided as spirits may also cause drowning.

Families also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts to avoid spiritual attacks and misfortune. Red painted paper lanterns are placed everywhere including business and residential areas and, because many believe it is important to appease the ghosts; this culminates in a very lively phase with many temple, street and market ceremonies being performed. 

During the festival shops are usually closed to leave the streets open for the ghosts. In the middle of each street stands an altar of incense with fresh fruit and sacrifices displayed on it. Behind the altar, monks will sing songs that it is believed only the ghosts can understand. This rite is called shi ge'r, meaning "singing ghost songs". After an offering has been burnt for the spirits, stepping on or near the burnt area must be avoided, as it is considered an "opening" to the spirit world and touching it may cause the person to be possessed. Do we really need to say this: one must also avoid sampling any of the food placed on the offering table, as doing this can result in "mysterious” illness.

The main ceremonies at the temples, organized by resident monks, typically begin at dusk. Usually a big feast is held for the ghosts on the 15th day of the 7th month, where people bring samples of food and place them on the offering table to both please the ghosts and ward off bad luck. Supposedly the ghosts won't do something terrible to the living or curse them after eating their sacrifices and while holding their money. 

Any person attending a show at indoor entertainment venues will notice the first row of chairs is left empty. These seats are reserved for the spirits, and it is considered bad form to sit in them. The shows are always put on at night and at high volumes, so that the sound attracts and pleases the ghosts. 

Additionally, during an evening incense is burnt in front of the doors of many homes for incense stands for prosperity and the more incense is burnt; the greater will be one's prosperity. Subsequently, at the end of fifteen days the Taoist monks chant to facilitate the ghosts’ departure and to send them back to whence they came from. The ghosts are thought to hate the sound of chant, and so scream and wail all the way back to the realm of the dead.

In the evening, people float lanterns on water and set them outside their houses in order to ensure that all the hungry ghosts find their way back to underworld. The ghosts are believed to follow the floating river lanterns away. These lanterns are made by setting a lotus flower-shaped lantern on a piece of board. When the lanterns all go out, it is a sign that the Hungry ghosts have by then found their way back to the nether region.

It is interesting to note that some people presume that the gates of heaven are also opened during this month, and they worship their ancestors from heaven too.

And finally, during The Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival here’s a summary of “not to do” list:

-Do not venture outside during the darkened hours. 

- If this is unavoidable, then walk by a wall or something else that is visible at your side view.

- Avoid standing or loitering under a tree in the middle of the night.

- Bad manners aside, restrain from spitting in the street or at a tree.

-Do not stare at the candlelight or lit fire.

- Avoid stepping on or kicking the offerings or the joss sticks left alongside of the road.

- Cover up your forehead at night; always pin or put up your hair as high as possible. Wearing any kind of a hat is a good idea.

- Do not play or loiter at the playground in the middle of the night, particularly the swings.

- Resist staring at an “apparition” if you happen to see one; swiftly look or walk away with calm composure. 

- Do not be disrespectful or utter funny jokes or comments on any display altar or offering items along the street

- Resist the urge to look underneath the altar table during a prayer session

- Do not shift your gaze from left to right or right to left repeatedly when you sense something akin to an apparition; instead, look straight ahead and advance toward your destination calmly.

- Should you detect an unexplained, pleasant or sweet smell ahead or around you, restrain from sniffing it. 

- It’s best to avoid using any Dark or Black color manicure at this particular time.

- Do not sit on the first few Front Rows of any performed entertainment.

- Do not wait around at any Bus Stop after Mid-Night especially when it has already passed the bus service operating hours

- You mustn’t whistle alone at night; if you detect someone singing when you know you are alone, do not accompany him or her.

- Do not open your umbrella at night, especially red color umbrellas

- It’s not advisable to wear red color costume with high heels and walk alone at night

- Resist any urge to pick up any unique items found on the street or road

- No swimming in the pool or lake in the middle of the night; something maybe waiting to pull your legs under

- Mustn’t hang your clothes out in the middle of the night

- Do not give answer or respond when someone calls you, especially from behind

- Do not turn around or turn your head when someone unexpected pats on your shoulders in the middle of the deserted street

- Avoid combing your hair in front of the mirror in the middle of the night

- Do not be rowdy; best not to shout or scream in the middle of the night. Remain as quiet as possible, particularly if you should feel a sudden, unexplained coldness or temperature drop. 

- Mustn’t’ be emotional and cry in the middle of the night

- Resist being a curious person or hero if you hear some "strange" sound or noise, especially a soft crying tone.

- Do not leave any fresh or bleeding wounds out in an open air; always cover the injury/ lesion with proper bandage materials.

- And finally, never respond to a dare or take up the challenge to enter cemetery area or abandoned houses.

The End

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Colours of a Tourist Town

Colours of a Tourist Town

“In the cultivation of the mind, our emphasis should not be on concentration, but on attention. Concentration is a process of forcing the mind to narrow down to a point, whereas attention is without frontiers.”   

Colours are not specific to metropolis; towns have also their particular charm.

Below BoSt galleries has provided a collection of Modern art:

The End