Artemisia

This is a worldwide genus of aromatic plants, usually silver-gray foliage and inconspicuous flower-heads. Though artemisia is their botanic name, it’s often used as a common name – an easy identification for such varieties as Sagebrush, dusty miller, southernwood, old man, wormwood, and mugwort.

Some authorities say it commemorates Queen Artemisia of ancient history, who supposedly discovered the medical virtues of this genus and gave them her own name to show that they were her royal herbs. Others say, with equal authority, that the genus was dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and the hunt, who also protected mortals from pestilence and disease. But whoever their patroness, native artemisias have been used in medicine by the Chinese, the Europeans, and the American Indians for tonics …

On the Missouri River. Went early to the bluffs, to the southwestward, on one of which I observed fourteen buffaloe skulls placed in a row. The cavities of the eyes and the nostrils were filled with a species of Artemisia common on the prairies… On my return, I caused our interpreter to enquire into the reason for this, and found that it was an honor conferred on the buffaloes which the Indians had killed, in order to appease their spirits, and prevent them from apprising the living buffaloes of the danger they run in approaching the neighborhood. -John Bradbury Travels in the Interior of America, 1809-1811

Warrior’s Mind

One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year’s Day through the night of New Year’s Eve.

As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow.

Here are the reasons for that. All human life is likened to evening dew and morning frost, considered something quite fragile and ephemeral. While this is so of all people’s lives, the life of the warrior is particularly precarious.

If people comfort their minds with the assumption that they will live a long time, something might happen, because they think they will have forever to do their work… they may fail to perform.

But if you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, you will have the sense that this may be the last time — so you become truly attentive.

Gift of Gifts

O gift of gifts! O grace of faith! My God! How can it be that thou, who has discerned love, shouldst give that love to me?

How many hearts thou mightst have had more innocent than mine! How many souls more worthy far of that sweet touch of thine?

Ah, grace! into unlikeliest hearts it is thy boast to come, the glory of thy light to find in darkest spots a home.

Oh, happy, happy that I am! If thou canst be, O faith, the treasure that thou art in life what wilt thou be in death?

The Earth-alter Tree

A wandering carpenter saw on his travels a gigantic old oak tree standing in a field near an earth-alter. The carpenter said to his apprentice, who was admiring the oak: “This is a useless tree. If you wanted to make a ship, it wouldn’t work so well; if you wanted to make tools, they would break. You can’t do anything useful with this tree, and that’s why it has become so old.”

But in an inn, that same evening, when the carpenter went to sleep, the old oak appeared to him in his dream and said: “Why do you compare me to your cultivated trees such as whitethorn, pear, orange, and apple trees, and all the others that bear fruit? Even before they can ripen their fruit, people take their fruit. Their branches are broken, their twigs are torn. Their own gifts bring harm to them and they cannot live out their natural span. That is what happens everywhere, and that is why I have long since tried to become completely useless. You poor mortal! Imagine if I had been useful in any way, would I have reached this size? Furthermore, you and I are both creatures, and how can one creature set himself so high as to judge another creature? You useless mortal man, what do you know about useless trees?”

The carpenter woke up and meditated upon his dream, and later, when his apprentice asked him why just this one tree served to protect the earth-alter, he answered, “Keep your mouth shut! Let’s hear no more about it! The tree grew here on purpose… If it were not the tree of the earth-alter, it might have been chopped down.”

The Golden Spindle

“Gold and silver spindles may seem to us the stuff of fairy tales, as when Sleeping Beauty hurt her finger on a golden spindle and fell asleep for a century. After all, why should a woman rich enough to own so much gold need to spin thread… Yet archaeologists have actually found such precious objects. The earliest golden spindles lay in opulent tombs dating to the middle of the third millennium B.C., in the Early Bronze Age, not long after the use of soft metals had become widespread.

The royal graves of Alaca Höyük in central Turkey, spectacularly rich in precious metals, are the best documented of this group… Just beyond her hands lay… a silver spindle with a golden head.”