Autumn equinox A reflective ritual

A few weeks after Tipkamol turned twenty-five, she visited her grandaunt, Ratana who lived in a popular riverside village located at the foot of a mountain. Tipkamol had rented a cabin 1km west of her grandaunt’s jungalow and 2km north of the Pia River because her grandaunt; Ratana was all for sweating it out; no air-conditioning. Tipkamol wasn’t ready for a long lecture stating how the world was burning, and air conditioning was undoubtedly a factor in that. She would be reminded that the hydrofluorocarbons, the refrigerants used in a/c units, are far more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide or methane. Grandaunt Ratana was a preservationist; observing the effects of global warming on the tropical environment, and learning about the indigenous Thai people.

After a plate of mushroom soup, bitter greens with tomatoes the size of peas, rare roast beef slices as thin as paper, and noodles in a green sauce, they ate melted cheese served with sweet blue grapes as they sat on Ratana’s wooden floor. They casually drink tea while discussing and laughing out loud until deep into the night. At last, Ratana said, “maybe it’s about time you went to your cabin.” Tipkamol crawled up and walked to the door.

“It’s completely dark outside,” she shrieked and shut the door immediately. Grandaunt Ratana lit the lantern and said, “Why not take this?” Just as Tipkamol was about to take the lamp from her grandaunt’s hands, Ratana blew out the flame. Tipkamol was surprised but she suspected it could be a prelude to one of Ratana’s Zen teachings. Yes, she was right.

“It is not just another night; in a few hours, the sun will be exactly above the Equator and day and night will be of equal length. It’s another equinox Tipkamol!” Ratana announced excitedly.

Grandaunt Ratana held Tipkamol by the hand into the darkness and they walked along an unlit footpath through a field into an open scenery. “Darkness is a thing many have come to fear and shy away from. It has become a metaphor for evil and depression, a place held at bay by our electric-lit world. But we must not shut ourselves from our natural surroundings, we must embrace the novelty of the night. A deep unfamiliar sound roused Tipkamol from her reverie and Ratana told her it was the cronk call of a raven ahead. They continued walking as the breeze caressed their faces.

“The Autumn Equinox is a meaningful time of year to honor the harvest. Whether of a “real” harvest of the things planted in your garden or the harvest of efforts and intentions for your life path that you set earlier in the year,” explained Ratana.

Thick cloud cover prevented the moonlight from illuminating their way ahead. Yet, as their eyes began to get used to the darkness, the landscape around them revealed itself in a new light – albeit a shady one. “Walking at night is a powerful way of reconnecting. When your vision is reduced, your other senses are sharpened,” Ratana stated as the night became chilly and darker.

Tipkamol was so engrossed in her Grandaunt’s talk that she barely knew they were back at her Grandaunt’s half-timbered facade. “Like other seasonal transitions, the autumnal equinox is celebrated in cultures around the world. For instance, a few years ago, I witnessed the Mabon festival celebrated in Thornborough Henges in North Yorkshire. It was such a delight; it typically involved apple picking, feasting, and making an altar for the Celtic god of harvest. Also in Japan, practitioners of Buddhism honour the dead during the six-day holiday of Higan, celebrated during both equinoxes. Indigenous cultures recognized earth-based wisdom and understood that the four focal points of the year: the Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumn Equinox; are illuminated stages of an inner spiritual journey – a spiritual cycle that the individual takes within themselves,” Ratana expounded passionately.

They both got onto the wooden porch and sat in the recliners as Ratana continued, “The changing seasons are key points in the cycle of life in nature, and within this cycle, many ancient cultures perceived a powerful deeper message for humanity. The many elements of autumn either intrinsically deliver happiness or trigger memories of past joy from which we can keep taking bites, as from a freshly baked apple pie. While we celebrate the seasonal joys, we should remind ourselves that they are blazes on a trail that goes deep into a beautiful forest of wisdom and meaning.”

“On the Autumn Equinox you may want to honour all that you have in your life and shift your consciousness from one of lack to one of prosperity and gratitude in some ways through a small ritual or ceremony,” she advised.

“Would you care to join me for my favorite ritual?” she asked. “I take the 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after the precise moment of the equinox to sit quietly on the ground in thoughtfulness and meditation and open my mind and my senses to the intelligence of nature all around,” Grandaunt Ratana disclosed. “In this time spent in thoughtfulness around the moment of equal light and equal dark, I acknowledge my personal growth cycle and ask for harmony and balance to be the fertilizer in the soil of my life’s garden,” she added.

Ratana went on to prepare the Autumn Equinox ritual on her perfectly rolled lawn. She placed a red candle in the center of a dish, made a circle of salt around the edge, then placed rose petals over the salt. Ratana repeated the process on another side. Some minutes later, she invited Tipkamol into one of the circles. They sat facing each other, cross-legged in a half-lotus position. They took some time to get comfortable, sitting peacefully and breathing in and out to calm their minds. They lit the candles and upon the Autumn Equinox, amid the chilly air, beneath the noble starry black, they observed the beauty of the moon giving thanks. They visualized their minds, bodies, and spirits being cleansed, with new doors opening for them as they transitioned with the planet.


So Absurd, It Must Be True Are spirit spouses responsible for sexsomnia?

My fiancé and I were driving home one evening as he had just picked me up from the hospital where I worked. His office was afew kilometres from mine. He turned on the car radio and tuned to a local radio station. A radio jingle from a well-known church in our city was playing. It was assiduously advertising a two-day deliverance crusade. The less-than-a-minute jingle insinuated that women who were over thirty and weren’t married had “spirit husbands”. It repeatedly echoed, “Come and bedelivered from your spirit husbands and be married within seven days.” It was so ridiculous that I started laughing. I found itabsurd that spirit husbands could be in any way a reason why women over thirty were unmarried. To my utmost dismay, my fiancé seemed to believe in the perception of spirit husbands and he was actually amazed that I had never heard about this phenomenon. He said it was common talk everywhere. So he took some time to enlighten me.

The concept of spirit spouse is a prevalent ideology of mysticism, dispersed through various cultures and religions around the world. Often, these spirit husbands or wives are primarily accused of sexually arousing and harassing their victims while they are asleep which often leads to subsequent ejaculation in men. They wake up to a hard penis that just ejaculated. For women, they are sexually aroused which leads to vaginal wetness and awaking to experience an orgasm.

Oh, really! Men do have spiritual wives too.

I giggled.

Of course, but spiritual husbands are more common. Some women sleep through their climax. The ones who have orgasms while sleeping are not able to say with certainty if they had orgasms during their sleep or not which makes it spookier because their spiritual husband wiped it off their memory through demonic manipulation.

Demonic manipulation?

I interrupted.

Do you truly believe in these kinds of superstitions? Why have you ruled out the thought that this said victim could be having a wet dream or is aroused by his or her mind recreating an event that happened during the day

I jolted his thoughts.

Basically, wet dreams do not occur with manual or spirit stimulation, but instead as a result of natural processes.

I said agitatedly, turning down the radio because the jingle was up again.

Natural as in the you-can’t-stop-thinking-about-how-hot-your-waiter-was-before-you-fell-asleep type of vibes.

Oh, come on! These things do happen and it’s normal. There is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, supernatural or demonic about sexual arousal in your sleep or even orgasm.

Sexual arousal happens during REM sleep: During the REM stage in sleep, the blood flow in the pelvic region gets boosted. This leads to erection in men and vaginal wetting in women. Sexual arousal can occur when one watches erotic films, masturbates or even after sexual intercourse. A lot of times, many people are brought awake to find themselves sexually aroused or having had/still having a sexual orgasm.

Aaaahhh! You haven’t seen or heard anything yet. These things are more than just wet dreams. I recently watched a video online of a lady making love to the air in her bed at night. She was actively doing every sexual move.

I have been a clinical psychologist for eight years and in all my years of practice at home and abroad, I haven’t heard anything this silly.

Look at you. It’s because you were schooled abroad and practised a few years there before returning. Now you’re practising in one of the biggest hospitals in the city where your clients are mostly the highest social strata. They wouldn’t come to you with the issues of spiritual spouses.

He teased.

These things do happen but there are no spirit husbands in the picture. The lady in question may have a sleep disorder.

Sleep disorder?

Yes sleep disorder. It is called sexsomnia also known as sleep sex. It is considered a type of parasomnia, an abnormal activity, behaviour, or experience that occurs during deep sleep. As with other parasomnias, such as sleepwalking, sleep talking, and sleep driving, sexsomnia could be caused by a disruption while the brain is moving between deep sleep cycles. These disturbances are often called confusion arousals (CAs).

See, the words you used to describe these behaviours were abnormal and confusion arousal yet you say it’s normal. Come off it my dear, spiritual things do exist and some women have spiritual husbands. Our God is not a God of confusion so this behaviour is from the pit of hell, the pit of hell I say.

He growled holding the steering wheel firmly.

Gosh! This is ridiculous. Ok, as a sociologist who has been a bank representative for a few years now and I know you’re a firm believer in Freud’s psychodynamic theories. Freud’s theory of dreams suggests that dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts, wish fulfilment, and motivations. Even you should know that.

Freud’s theory contains some elements of truth. However, it is not wholly true. All dreams are not direct or indirect fulfilments. There are several counter arguments to Freud’s theories. So you better not

I better not what? You of all people should know better. These conditions are real and treatable but not by deliverance. One must first see a professional and get a diagno…

The car came to an abrupt stop. We were in front of my block of flats.

I love you, and I respect you. Let’s speak about this later when we are both kinder and ready to see each other’s point of view.

I will come over for lunch tomorrow

He said kissing my right hand.

The well-intentioned conversation had grown into an argument that was reductive, pointless and exhausting. So I stopped, stepped out of the car and walked into my apartment quietly.


The Oldest Form Of Art

Whether it’s a cultural rite of passage, a reward of bravery, evidence of merit, a sentimental piece, or just a really cool design, people have been getting their bodies modified for many reasons since prehistory.

If life is the greatest art form of all, then it’s only reasonable for people to use the physical body as a medium of expression. In many cultures, the human body serves as an actor, medium, performance, and communicative canvas that showcases cogent information about the societal socio-cultural belief system. Body art is a rich display of visual artistry that connotes beauty, social status, occupation, puberty, religion and so on, in an artistically and aesthetically pleasing manner. Traditions, beliefs, values and lifestyle all shine forth through what is produced as art, whether it is known or not.

Body art has always been intriguing, as have its origin, significance, and acquisition

Although tattoos and body piercing have become the most popular forms of body art they are not the only forms of body art. Tattoos, body painting, body piercing, branding, scarification, dermal anchors and three-dimensional art or body modifications such as beading, are all classed as body art.

 

What’s most interesting about the origination of body art is that numerous cultures independently began body modification, prior to any communication with other cultures. In other words, body art cannot be traced to a single culture or people.

Body art is not a new phenomenon. There are existing shreds of evidence in both old and new civilizations from Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia that clearly shows several body modifications heritage. It is generally accepted by many historians that body art is an essential part of various cultures, often showcasing their inner qualities, wishes for the future, images of gods, and many natural or war themes.

Tattoos are an art form that involves the insertion of pigment skin deep to change its colour permanently. This practice is actually very ancient and might just be the very embodiment of self-expression.

According to historical records and archaeological sites, tattooing is one of the earliest types of body art that has been practised by humans for a very long time. Instruments that seem to have been fashioned explicitly for crafting tattoos have been found in prehistoric sites around France, Portugal, and Scandinavia. These items, it turns out, are no less than 12,000 years old! The oldest physical proof of tattoos has been found on an ancient mummy from the Alps, called Ötzi. This prehistoric human has been dated to around the 5th to 4th millennium BC.

It is also widely known that ancient Norsemen and Celtic tribes commonly practised tattooing as a culture. Various ancient Egyptian mummies have also been found to have tattoos on them. It is also believed that many ancient cultures, like Egypt and India, used tattoos as a form of healing and religious worship. Amongst the Dayak people on the island of Borneo, tattooing is performed as part of a sacred ritual that is accompanied by the sacrifice of fowl and the donning of special clothes made from the bark of the mulberry tree, a cloth normally reserved for widows and the dead.

In diverse cultures, tattooing is used for coming-of-age ceremonies and initiations, symbolising both death and birth – the passing of the old and the start of the new. Among the Fulani people in sub-Saharan Africa, tattoos are used to mark a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, and in some cases can be a sexual lure, a sign of fertility or a sign of beauty. At puberty, Fulani girls tattoo the bottom part of their lips as a sign of beauty and courage. Similarly, Kayan women of Thailand are tattooed at puberty to show that they have become adults, while Iban women also of the island of Borneo are marked in recognition of their accomplishments in singing, dancing and weaving while the men were recognized for triumphs in hunting and warfare.

Scarification is most widely practised in Africa and among Australian Aboriginal groups not incidentally because the other way of permanently marking the skin – tattooing – isn’t as effective on dark skin. Maori men of New Zealand etched deep tattoos over their entire faces. Patterns were chiselled into the skin to create parallel ridges and grooves, much like designs cut into wood. This painful process created raised tattoos that made Maori men look fierce in battle and attractive to women. Since no two patterns were alike, the raised facial tattoos also marked identity.

Elsewhere in Africa, scarification is done for other reasons. The Ekoi (Ejagham) of southeast Nigeria believe that the scars on their bodies will serve them as money on their way to the place of the dead. Suri men of Ethiopia scar their bodies to show they’ve killed someone from an enemy tribe, one group for example cutting a horseshoe shape on their right arm to indicate they’ve killed a man, and on their left for female victim. In contrast, neighbours of the Suri, in Ethiopia’s Omo valley, the Mursi, practise scarification for largely aesthetic reasons. Both men and women create swirling dotted patterns on their bodies that may not necessarily mean anything but which attract the opposite sex and enhance the tactile experience of sexual relations. Also, among the Yoruba people in Western Nigeria, deep cuts are usually carved on both cheeks and the forehead of children born into the community as a mark of identity. These tribal marks also held stories of pain, reincarnation and beauty.

Tattoos, epidermal alterations or scarification in many cultures go further than just skin deep but from way back, they’re signifiers for tribal affiliation and markings of progress within one’s own society & culture. They are methods of curing disease, wards against spirits and reflections of one’s own personality.

Unlike tattooing, body painting is a more temporary art form used by many indigenous and modern cultures for a variety of reasons. These include among others health (protection, cleansing and skin toning), religious and spiritual rituals, military camouflage, rite of passage and face decoration. The nature of a particular painting depends mainly on the purpose of the ritual or ceremony. Most tribal cultures exhibited some form of body painting either with earth, plant, or animal-based pigments.

Henna body painting is plant-based and synonymous with so many indigenous groups in Asia. Although not an exclusive practice to just Asia, the art of henna – also known as mehndi or mehendi– is a traditional activity used on predominantly women’s bodies to celebrate special occasions, such as tribal ceremonies and weddings. Traditionally, the henna plants’ leaves were crushed, dried and cooled to create the ink to stain the skin with beautiful designs.

Along with wet charcoal for black marks, two plants have been traditionally used by the Cherokees and some other Native American groups for face and body painting — achiote (Bixa orellana) and huito, genipa, or jagua (Genipa americana). They painted soldier’s faces red, as the colour was associated with violence. Reportedly some tribes recognized black as the colour of the ‘living’ and fighters wore it on their face in preparation for war. After a battle, successful warriors were painted with symbols to reflect their battleground achievements. This idea is not too dissimilar from that experienced by today’s soldiers, who receive badges and medals to celebrate their acts of bravery during a war.

There are fewer examples of pigment obtained from animals for body painting than those retrieved from plants and earth. However, many colours were extracted from insects throughout history. Some Aztec women stained their teeth red with the crushed bodies of cochineal insects, a native bug, to make themselves more sexually appealing. For certain religious rituals, Aztecs were also known to paint their faces red with their own blood.

Piercing a hole through the skin and inserting metal, bone, shells, ivory, or glass is another type of body art. Among many Aboriginal tribes, it served as a rite of passage, a sign of adulthood, and of full membership in a tribe. Roman centurions pierced their nipples to advertise their courage and virility. In ancient Egypt, a pierced navel was a sign of royalty. In ninth-century Iraq, men pierced their ears. Women in Iran had multiple ear piercings over 4000 years ago. In modern times, piercing various parts of the body is commonplace and accepted generally by society.

Ear spools and earplugs are making a comeback in fringe elements of present-day society. These large holes (up to 3cm in diameter) in the ears bear a remarkable resemblance to those worn by the ancient Maya and other ancient South American peoples. Stretching the earlobes up to a dozen centimetres by wearing heavy earrings was thought beautiful in sixteenth-century China as well as in present-day Borneo. Lip piercing defined the social status of Inuit groups in Alaska up until the late nineteenth century. Both men and women wear lip plugs called labrets. Likewise in Africa, the Surma and Mursi people of the lower Omo River valley in Ethiopia use lip plates, these are large discs (usually circular, and made from clay or wood) which are inserted into a pierced hole in either the upper or lower lip, or both, thereby stretching it. Nose rings, located through the side or through the septum of the nose could be found in ancient Mexico and India. Nose rings remain popular in India and Pakistan and are gaining popularity in North America and Europe.

In many ways, body art like any other process has evolved. It has developed within many societies and advanced with them — sometimes organically, and sometimes through collision with another culture. The practice grew, changed and took on new meanings. Towards the end of the 21st century, we experienced the development of non-normative body modifications such as tattooing, piercing, stretching, branding, scarification, and genital modifications, which allowed individuals to step outside of the bounds of the normal social order, and mark membership in alternative subcultures, such as bikers, punks, convicts, gang members, or among those who practice alternative sexualities.

These days, it is fascinating how body art has seemingly become an immensely popular fashion statement among youth. People today regard body art as a way of asserting one’s personality and a marker of their identity. Exposure to Western culture has transformed youth immensely as love for various body art has taken hold. Body art has been greatly influenced by international music stars and sports heroes who often display elaborate body art like tattoos, body piercing, dermal anchors and three-dimensional art. In the past, many cultures were influenced by some Western religions like Islam and Christianity. Many people began to frown on body art and viewed them as unholy and sacrilegious. Today, cultural attitudes are shifting back more in the direction of our ancient ancestors.

The human body has always been used as a means of expression and self-construction, it is not surprising that people are once again embracing their bodies as a means to express their identity, beliefs, and personal style. It is great to see young people showcasing their individuality through body art; setting themselves apart from others in ways that make them feel unique and confident.

Change is cyclical by nature. Almost all rejected or obsolete trends will make their way back into the cycle at some point. There are very few “new” trends that hit the scenes nowadays. Rather, lifestyles are in a constant state of repetition and resurrection, renewing old approaches in modernized ways. In so many ways, we are subconsciously influenced by our ancestral past.