Pages - Menu

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chinese Dragon Tortoise

Dragons and tortoises are two of the most powerful symbols in Chinese mythology. The Dragon itself stands for many things. Wealth, fertility, positive energy and immortality are but a few of the symbolic meanings. The Dragon is a positive influence, most often a benevolent creature in Chinese mythology, unlike the fire-breathing evil dragons as portrayed in Western mythology.

The tortoise represents longevity, of steadfast effort, of deliberate action that inevitably leads to success. The combination of the Dragon and Tortoise combines the qualities of both animals into a potent symbol of success and longevity.

The Dragon tortoise is portrayed with the head of a dragon and the body of a tortoise. There is usually a small turtle on the back of the tortoise shell, and the dragon tortoise is standing on a pile of coins and precious metal ingots. There is very often a coin in the dragon's mouth.

This symbol is used in Feng Shui for decorating homes and offices. Because of the incredible energy this symbol represents, it is recommended that it not be placed in any room of rest, such as a bedroom. Have the painting or figurine of the dragon tortoise hanging on or near the east wall of the room it is used in. Any area that is used as an office is a good place for a dragon tortoise. Also any area that creative work or research is done is a good place for one.

Whether represented in a painting, or a figurine of wood, metal, crystal or stone, the Dragon Tortoise symbolizes good fortune and longevity.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Birthstones - The Modern List

There have been many different lists of stones that correspond with the months or signs of the zodiac. The most recent one is a list that was adopted by the American National Association of Jewelers in 1912. This is the official list of birthstones used in the United States. Not only are certain stones associated with a given month, but each month has a color associated with it. These colors have been derived from the natural color of the individual birthstones. Following is the modern list of gemstones and corresponding colors:
  • January - Garnet gemstone, deep red color. Although garnet is most often thought of as being a red stone, garnet occurs in every color except blue. Each color of garnet technically has its own name.
  • February - Amethyst gemstone, purple color. Amethyst is one of the most popular gemstones and is worn by many regardless of their birth month. Amethyst is the purple variety of quartz.
  • March - Aquamarine gemstone, pale blue color. Aquamarine is a member of the beryl family of gems, along with emerald.
  • April - Diamond gemstone, white or clear color. There is nothing else like the sparkle and fire of a good quality diamond in the world of gems.
  • May - Emerald gemstone, green color. Emeralds are found in many countries, with Columbia and Brazil producing some of the finest stones.
  • June - Pearl or Moonstone, white color. Pearls are the only gems that come from living creatures.
  • July - Ruby gemstone, red color. Ruby and Sapphire are types of the mineral corundum. The only gemstone harder than a ruby or sapphire is a diamond.
  • August - Peridot gemstone, pale green color. Peridot occurs in many areas of the world, and is also occasionally found in meteorites.
  • September - Sapphire gemstone, deep blue color. Sapphire occurs in nature in many different colors besides blue, but the blue stone is associated with September.
  • October - Opal gemstone, multi-colors or pink. There are two types of opals, precious and common. Precious opals are the stones that display the 'fire' or play of colors the stone is famous for.
  • November - Yellow topaz or Citrine gemstones, yellow color. Yellow topaz of good quality is relatively rare and expensive. Citrine is often substituted.
  • December - Blue topaz or turquoise gemstones, blue color. Blue topaz is sometimes irradiated to improve and deepen the blue color. Tanzanite was added to the December birthstone selections by the American Gem Trade Association in 2002.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Buttons - History and Facts

When did buttons begin to be used? What was used to secure clothing before them? Some history and facts about the button:

Button-like objects have been found in the Indus Valley of ancient Pakistan and date back to around 2000 B.C.E. These were not used for fasteners, but for ornaments. Before they were used for fastening, pins, leather lacing and belts were used to secure clothing.

Before buttons could be used as fasteners, the button hole had to be devised.

Evidence dates the first button and button hole closure systems to the 13th century in Germany. This may have been a solution to the problem of how to secure clothing that was becoming more and more form-fitting, without having to resort to sharp pins.

As with most anything that is new, they became a fad. Buttons and button holes covered the clothing of the well to do. The number of them and what they were made out of became a status symbol. It has been rumored that King Louis XIV of France spent over $5 million on them in his lifetime.

Ever wonder why men's suit coats have non-functioning buttons sewn on the sleeves? Some say they are just for decoration, but there is also the story that King Frederick The Great of Prussia started the practice in the 18th century. The rumor goes that after an inspection of his troops, he ordered that buttons be sewn on the sleeves of their coats to discourage them from wiping their noses on them!

The Scovill Manufacturing Company in America made a set of gold buttons with the profile of George Washington on them that were presented to Marquis de Lafayette during his U.S. visit in 1824.

With the increased cost of ivory in the 19th century, button manufacturers began to make them out of a nut from a specific kind of palm tree in South America. This is called vegetable ivory, or corozo. When the nut is dried, it is a very reasonable facsimile for genuine ivory, and is still used today.

The first buttons made from celluloid, one of the first types of plastics, were made in the 1860's.

Before World War One, most button manufacturing was done in Europe, specifically England. After the war, the United States became the center of button making until modern times.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wind Chimes - Music of the Air

Wind chimes are probably older than knowable history. But it is in Asia where they had their recorded development. Buddhist attached many wind chimes to their temple structures. They were also hung in private homes and were thought to attract good spirits and bring good luck. The ancients understood that the sound of them can help reconnect mind and spirit and lead to a sense of well being.

The use of wind chimes in the past was not only for decoration and spiritual well being of mind and body. Wind chimes were used to detect the direction of the wind. Chimes would be hung on all sides of a house or structure to aid in weather forecasting. People that lived in a certain region began to equate wind direction and speed with the upcoming weather. The sound of the chimes could also help approximate the speed of the wind, thus giving sailors, farmers and other people a guide to weather forecasting.

They can be made in many different sizes and shapes, and of many materials. Wood, bamboo, different metals, plastic, glass, sea shells, gourds, ceramics, and stones have all been used. Each material gives a different sound, the size of the material determines pitch. Most are not tuned, thus the tones produced are random pitches. Pitch can be controlled by length and size of materials. Some of the more expensive wind chimes are tuned.

Wind chimes are not only enjoyed for their sound, but they also have visual appeal. They can be hung outside the house or inside. Feng Shui uses them in many ways to restore balance and harmony in the home and garden. There are guidelines within Feng Shui as to placement, size, number of hanging items on the chime, and material the chime is made from. But it is not necessary to follow any guidelines to enjoy wind chimes. Put them where they will please you the most, in the size you like, made out the materials you like.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Pearl - Cultured and Beautiful

The pearl, birthstone for June, is the only gemstone that is created by an animal. They are formed within mollusks, usually oysters or mussels, when a piece of foreign matter enters and irritates the soft body of the mollusk. As a defense against this irritation, the mollusk secretes a crystalline structure around the irritant to encapsulate it. As long as the irritant remains, the mollusk will continue to put layer upon layer on it.

The pearl is also the only gem that needs no working to bring out its beauty. As soon as it is removed from the oyster it shows off the qualities that have made it so desirable and valuable since their discovery by humans.

Finding a naturally formed pearl in a mollusk is very rare and it was for this reason that their value and price was so high for centuries. Until the early 20th century wild pearls were the only kind known. Most today are cultured. The beginning of a cultured pearl is when a human implants or nucleates an irritant into the mollusk. While this method has produced many of the gems in the nearly one hundred years it has been done, this type of production is a risky business. Millions of salt water oysters are nucleated each year, but very few produce. The seeding itself kills some, disease, weather, predators, parasites all take their toll. Fifty percent or less of all nucleated oysters survive to yield a pearl. Of these, only twenty percent are marketable. Only five percent of nucleated oysters give forth pearls that are of gemstone quality.

Cultured pearls are grown in saltwater and freshwater. Saltwater pearls come from oysters, while freshwater pearls come from mussels. This culture is done in various areas of the world, but mostly in China, Japan, and the United States.

They can come in many different shapes besides round. Oval, half round, pear shaped, circle, button, and irregular which is called baroque. The most common color is the familiar iridescent white, but they can range in color from white to black, with tones of pink, cream, gold, purple, blue and green.

The pearl still catches the eye like it has for countless centuries, whether it's freshwater or saltwater, cultured or wild, white or colored. While it is the intervention of human hands that accounts for the beginnings of most modern pearls, it is still nature that works the miracle of their forming.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Maitreya - The Laughing Buddha

Buddhism is most often associated with Japan, China, and other countries of that area of the world. But Buddhism had its beginning in India, roughly in the 5th century B.C. Buddhism was the result of challenges to traditional Hinduism, and these challenges culminated with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a wealthy tribal chieftain. He renounced his wealth and became the Buddha, or the awakened one. Buddhism came to China circa 60 A.D., but it did not become well known and popular until the third century A.D.

Maitreya, the future Buddha, is a bodhisattva, which is a Sanskrit word that roughly means wise, enlightened being. A bodhisattva is dedicated to helping others achieve enlightenment. Some sects of Buddhism believe that Maitreya will appear when the teachings of Gautama Buddha are no longer taught and are forgotten. But the meanings and beliefs about Matireya are many and varied within Buddhist beliefs.

The laughing Buddha was a Ch'an Buddhist Monk that lived in China over 1000 years ago. The Ch'an sect of Buddhism is called Zen in Japan. Tradition says that this monk's name was Hotei, or Pu Tai (which means cloth sack). Tradition also says that he was a man of good and loving character, and as such he was linked with the traditions of Maitreya the future Buddha. Because of his large belly and smile he was also called The Laughing Buddha.

The Laughing Buddha is often times portrayed as carrying a cloth sack which is filled with various things. Money, candy for children, food, even the woes of the world. Sometimes he is portrayed as sitting, fanning himself with a type of fan called a 'wish giving' fan. He is sometimes portrayed with a begging bowl. But whether sitting or standing, he is always bald with a big pot belly and a smile on his face.

Belief in The Laughing Buddha is mostly based on legend. It is said that rubbing his protruding belly brings good luck Statues of Maitreya are displayed in Buddhist temples, Chinese and Japanese homes, and other places around the world. The many schools of Feng Shui, the art of arranging spaces to fit the environment to achieve balance and harmony, utilize statues of Maitreya in many ways. In the office or in the home, a statue of this wandering monk can bring wealth, peace and joy.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Checkers - Facts and History

The game of checkers is older than most people think. Some facts and history about the ancient game of checkers:
  • Scholars believe the modern game evolved from a similar game played as far back as 1400 B.C.E. called Alquerque or Quirkat. It was played in ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and India. The game used two sets of round flat pieces in different colors. It was played on a 5 x 5 grid. There were ten pieces per side, and the object was to capture all the opposing pieces.
  • The next development towards modern checkers is thought to have come from 13th century southern France. The rules and pieces of Alquerque were expanded to be played on an 8 x 8 chess board. The game was called Fierges, the pieces called ferses, the identical name given to the queen in chess.
  • By the 15th century, the earlier association with the queen in chess saw the name of the game changed to Jeu De Dames, most often shortened to Dames.
  • By the 16th century, Dames was very popular in France. Variants of the game were many, and one of these was the 'forced capture' variant, where a player had to capture an opponents piece instead of making a different move. This variant became known as Jeu Force.
  • The game of Jeu Force was taken to England where it was called draughts, and finally to North America where it was called checkers.
  • In France the game of Dames without the forced capture rule was still popular and called Le Jeu Plaisant De Dames, shortened to Plaisant. In the 18th century, the game in France changed to a 10 x 10 grid and 20 pieces on each side. This game is still played and is known as International or Continental Draughts.
  • There are international tournaments for both Checkers/Draughts and International Draughts. The first tournament for English Draughts occurred in 1847.
  • There are many variants of the game around the world today, but Chinese Checkers is not one of them. The game has nothing to do with China, but originated in Germany. The game was put on the market in the early 1900's and was called Chinese Checkers to capitalize on people' familiarity with checkers and to give the game an oriental flavor, as marketing ploys.