Lacto-fermentation and Probiotics 2: Condiments

In the last post I showed you how to make yoghurt, and then how to strain the yoghurt to get your whey (and some particularly tasty cream cheese!) Now I am going to share with you some recipes for probiotic condiments. They are 100% natural, super tasty, and actually help both your digestion and your overall health.

Sauerkraut – King of Probiotics!

If you have ever taken or been advised to take probiotic capsules, you will know that if you want anything decent you can expect to pay rather a lot of money. I just did a quick check online and found that an organic cabbage at a medium price range British supermarket will cost about £1.40. That cabbage when shredded will make at least 1 litre of sauerkraut (I usually get about 2 litres out of a cabbage). Last year Dr Mercola sent some of his home made sauerkraut to be analysed at a laboratory. The results work out that the 1 litre you can make from the cabbage will equate to about 9  bottles of 180 capsules, which I just checked on Amazon would cost about £170.

You might feel uncomfortable with the notion of fermented cabbage to begin with, I certainly did. Cabbage was about bottom of my list of vegetables I wanted to eat, and pickled cabbage only dropped it further. But after hearing about the benefits of eating sauerkraut, I thought I would give it a try and it turned out to be alright. Now I am accustomed to it and enjoy it with scrambled eggs for breakfast!

For a bit more information on sauerkraut check out this link

So, how do you make this magical elixir of life? Well, it’s pretty easy, you should be able to make 2 litres in about 1/2 an hour if you have a food processor, without one you might need a little more time.

Ingredients: 1 head of cabbage (washed and cleaned), 1 tablespoon of salt, 4 tablespoons of whey* (see the previous post), 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds.

*If you want to do dairy free, you can substitute an extra tablespoon of salt for the whey.

Equipment: 2 litres worth of glass jars – either one big one or a few small ones, food processor or cheese grater, big knife, rolling pin, large bowl.

Method: Chop the cabbage into small pieces using either the shredder attachment of your food processor (like you were going to make coleslaw) or with a big knife or cheese grater. Put the shredded cabbage in the bowl and add the salt, whey and caraway seeds. Using the end of the rolling pin (like a big pestle and mortar), bash the cabbage, taking care not to break the bowl. Keep going until you see the cabbage juice building up in the bottom of the bowl, it should get slightly foamy. Now transfer the pounded, shredded cabbage into the glass jars and push the cabbage down firmly so that the juice comes to the top.

It is VERY important to leave a space between the top of the cabbage and the lid of the jar. The fermentation process usually causes the cabbage to expand, and there is a possibility of a pressure explosion, or at the very least a messy puddle around the jar. In a 1 litre jar I leave an inch of head space, the larger the jar, the more space is needed. 

Put the jar in a suitable place at room temperature. The fermentation process will take between 2 and 4 days, depending on how warm your location is. You will see the cabbage expand and give off some gas, then it will drop back down the jar. That is the point when I usually put it in the fridge. It will continue to ferment slowly, even in the fridge, and will keep for several weeks. Occasionally white spots of overgrowth of bacteria may form on top after a long storage. These are apparently harmless and can just be scooped off and discarded.

Mayonnaise

Eggs are a really challenging subject and raw egg is even more so. My British conditioning put up so many warning flags about raw egg, I was rather reluctant to try this at first. Then there is the eggs and cholesterol thing too, and to be honest it really makes my head spin. The cholesterol issue has been largely discredited, here is just one article citing research suggesting that. My understanding is that eggs are pretty much nature’s most perfect food, and if you want to get the best out of this nutritional powerhouse, they should be consumed raw. Now, of course there are some caveats to that, and I am certainly not at the stage where I down a couple of raw eggs in the morning!

  1. For eggs to be all they can be, the chickens need to be eating a proper diet and that means true free range. They need a mix of grasses and leaves, bugs and the occasional seed. Grain fed just doesn’t work, it doesn’t give the spectrum of nutrients that a true free range egg should have.
  2. Eggs should be dirty on the outside. If they have been washed, they have probably lost their natural protective coating which stops bacteria getting in, which means they should be refrigerated. Some of the bacteria may even have got through the shell already. If your egg has chicken poo and feathers on it, take this as a good sign!
  3. Get your eggs from friends with chickens or local farmers where you can actually see the birds if you ask to. You are trying to derive the benefits from their products, why not take 5 minutes to check out where your food is coming from. It also will help you to ensure your eggs are fresh.

I buy eggs here in Guatemala in the market. Mostly the conditions of sanitation are not that of the UK or the USA. I make mayonnaise with the eggs I buy here and it has never made me sick. This does not mean it can’t happen in the UK. Of course, if you are pregnant or nursing you may want to consult your doctor before trying recipes containing raw egg. This recipe is taken from Nourishing Traditions

Ingredients: 1 Egg Yolk, 1 Whole Egg, Juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon of whey, 1 teaspoon of prepared mustard, 250ml / 1 cup of Extra Virgin Cold Pressed olive oil

Equipment: Blender (or food processor), 350ml glass jar

Method: Put the egg yolk, whole egg, mustard, lemon juice, whey or salt in the blender jug. Whizz it up for about 30 seconds to allow all the ingredients to mix thoroughly. With the blender still running, remove the centre part of the lid and SLOWLY pour in the olive oil. You don’t need to be really slow, add it over 10 seconds or so. As you add it, the mayonnaise will begin to thicken. Put the mayonnaise in a jar and leave it at room temperature for about 7 hours for the probiotic bacteria to colonise. I have also eaten it straight away without issue. The mayonnaise will keep for about 10 days, but I would be very surprised if you don’t finish it before that!

Dijon Mustard

Most mustard here is some weird, sweet fluorescent yellow paste, but it has long been one of my favourite condiments. Mustard seeds have nutritional and medical value, although I would be surprised if any of that would apply to the fluorescent stuff. Here is a rather nice page on the benefits of mustard seeds.

So, being as true English mustard was out of the question at the time, I found a little jar of Dijon mustard. It was phenomenally expensive, and really was not that good. I thought I might be able to do better. I found a basic recipe on the internet and tweaked it a bit. It proved to be a big hit.

Ingredients: 250ml of ground yellow mustard seeds, 375ml of black mustard seeds, 400ml of apple cider vinegar (with the mother) 400ml of water, 150ml of white wine, 6 cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of ground allspice, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1 tablespoon of honey, 4 tablespoons of whey.

Equipment: Slow cooker (crock pot), food processor

Method: Mix together the ground yellow mustard and the black mustard seeds in a bowl. Add 250ml apple cider vinegar, 250ml water and 75ml white wine, stir well and cover. You need to allow this to stand for about 2 days, stirring a couple of time per day. Make sure there is always enough liquid, you may need to add more of the vinegar/water/wine mixture, making sure you keep the ratio the same. After the 2 days, put the mixture in the food processor with the 6 cloves of garlic and process for about 6 minutes, until it is smooth and creamy, adding a little more of the vinegar/water wine blend if necessary. Put the mixture in a slow cooker and cook on low for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Be aware that the hot vinegar will hurt your eyes and nose if you put your head right over the pot – I speak from experience!

Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then add the spices, honey and whey. Allow the mustard to stand at room temperature for 2 days before transferring to the fridge. You should be able to store this in the fridge for at least 6 months.

In the next article, I will give the recipe for my rather awesome tomato ketchup, and some weird fermented vegetable products that may turn out to be your favourites.

3 Kan – 21st November 2015

3 KanKan is one of the more powerful nawales and it represents just that – power. It is connected to serpents, and serpent symbology is very strong in Maya mythology. In the past, lightning was referred to as sky serpents, and what is seen in the outer world is reflected by the inner world. The power of Kan comes from something which is referred to as itz or coyopa, the lightning in the blood. This is the power which may also be known as Ki, Chi, Prana, kundalini or “the force”. It is life force energy. Kundalini is a sanskrit word actually meaning coiled, like a snake. When working with any of these energies, training must be undertaken in order to understand how to use them. In it’s most positive aspect, the energy of Kan brings great wisdom; in it’s negative aspect, great destruction. A lack of understanding or control of this power can lead to undesirable consequences. The dark side of Kan can seduce with it’s power, and a very sexy power it is too, holding it’s prey in an almost hypnotic grip with it’s allure. It can become the ultimate ego trap.

The-Jungle-Book-GIF

However, it is also said that the feathered serpent Q’uq’umatz (also known as Kulkulkan or Quetzalcoatl) brought wisdom, through the sciences of astronomy and agriculture, to the ancient Maya. Here we see the positive aspect of Kan, where the ability to work with the body lightning brings great wisdom. People born on a Kan day can become some of the greatest healers or psychics, or they can become the darkest sorcerers and manipulators.

The number 3 is still in the low end of the range of numbers. It does not have much energy yet, and it is also an odd number. It is possibly the most troublesome of the numbers to deal with, it lacks stability. It can represent the home, relating to the three hearthstones laid by the creators, and this is probably a good focus for a 3 day.

The day 3 Kan may bring some challenges to power and wisdom. This is a day on which big decisions should be avoided, your wisdom may be obscured. It is probably better to stay home and focus your power there. However, everyone will experience the same problem and you may start to see behind any hypnotic fascades that have been projected towards you by those trying to deceive you.

2 K’at – 20th November 2015

2 KatK’at signifies a net and represents gathering together or bundling. Here, in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, to this day many crops are harvested and carried in nets – oranges, lemons, avocados to name but a few. Through this we see one of the positive meanings of this nawal, that of abundance and harvest. K’at is a great day to draw things together, whether this means gathering in your crops, collecting ideas and opinions for your projects, or inviting people to a social event. It is a day of prosperity and the bounty which comes from the Earth, a day of gardeners, but also of merchants.

Avocado

However, K’at also has it’s more challenging side. An abundant crop will fill the net, but it will also slow you down. K’at is also the nawal of prisons and burdens, as the net which gathers, can also ensnare us. When candles are purchased for the fire ceremonies, they come in bundles held together by little strings. When the nawal K’at is addressed during the fire ceremony, these strings are put in to the fire,  with offerings, to ask K’at to help us release ourselves from our burdens, from the ties which bind us.  These ties can also be seen as excessive attachment to material things.

The number 2 is representative of duality, of polarity. Although it is a low number it has surprising strength as it is said to be able to call upon both aspects or polarities of what it is attached to. It is said to be the number of lovers, it signifies relationships and self-sacrifice. Whilst it can lend itself to mediation, seeing both sides of the story, it also can be indecisive.

This day 2 K’at could be a good day to gather together ideas from differing perspectives and to gather your abundance. It is also a day on which you can release burdens, a day to take your harvest to market and open your net. A day to release any situations where self sacrifice has been holding you back, and maybe a day on which to cast your net with the intention of catching a new lover.

1 Aq’ab’al – 19th November 2015

1 AqabalIn the Kiche language, the word aq’ab means night. The suffix -al changes the meaning slightly, to hint at change and alludes to the dawning of the day, the time between darkness and light, night and day. Just as birth is the beginning of the mortal journey, Aq’ab’al is the beginning of the day, although the detail of the day may still be obscured. Aq’ab’al is representative of new things, things which are not yet fully formed. While in Santiago Atitlan one day, a friend explained to me the different parts of a weaving in process on a backstrap loom. Aq’ab’al is the warp (the vertical threads), B’atz is the weft (the horizontal threads) which creates the whole cloth, and the newly woven cloth is Kawok. In order for the weaver to create, first she has an idea in her head or a dream. She sets out the dream on her loom by setting up the warp. Thus, the design has passed from being just an idea, to the beginnings of a woven reality, although it still requires creative input before it becomes whole. Aq’ab’al can also represent conception, the fertilised egg is far from ready to be born, but has passed from the dream or spirit world into the physical.

Aq’ab’al days are great days for the start of new things, particularly new relationships – Aq’ab’al has a strong affinity with marriage. It is also a perfect day for starting new projects, or at least bringing them into the world of light from the world of dreams and ideas.

The number 1 is representative of the seed, of unity. It represents birth and beginnings. It is a low and odd number, which usually represents something challenging. However, the seed can grow into a mighty tree, it is full of potential. It just needs the correct nutrients and conditions to germinate and develop, just as sometimes we need encouragement to develop our ideas.

When we put these together, it can be seen that the day 1 Aq’ab’al is an excellent day for getting your ideas out into the world, for starting new ventures and for receiving the encouragement we need for new projects.

Lacto-fermentation and Probiotics 1: Making Yoghurt

One of the Four Pillars mentioned in Deep Nutrition is fermented foods. These ancient recipes are the original supplements and superfoods, We have been losing these gems of nutrition at a surprisingly rapid rate, thanks to industrial standardisation, centralisation and sterilisation. As we have moved towards this post industrial revolution diet, we have become more susceptible to the ravages of diseases that were almost non-existent only a few years ago. (How many young people do you know with food intolerances or allergies?)

In our not-to-distant past, every region would have their specialities. From sauerkraut, to kvass, to ginger beer, to pickles, to ketchup, seasonal fruits and vegetables were preserved using natural means for later consumption. Rather than negating their nutritional value, as most modern preservation methods do, these ancient methods enhance and enrich the foods. Essential nutrients were sometimes made more bio-available by the simple action of a few bugs and digestibility of some foodstuffs was enhanced.

Keeping the crew happy

It is estimated that only 10% of the cells which make up your body are human, the rest are micro-organisms (mostly bacteria and fungi) that form a symbiotic relationship with your body. This is known as the human biome. As such it may be more accurate to imagine your body as a ship and the micro-organisms as the crew. The crew carry out specific functions, such as aiding digestion, creating vitamins and many other duties. Most importantly, they help to fight off invaders. It is estimated that 70% of the immune system is based in the gut. Without the crew, the ship would begin to fall apart. If the crew are not well looked after they may become inefficient at their jobs, or they even start to mutiny and turn on the body causing auto-immune disorders. We can keep the crew happy by keeping them well fed and looked after and in turn, the happy crew carry out their duties. An unhappy, underfed crew create a tension within. This could be seen as a release of chemical signals within our bodies which can trigger cravings or allergies, although there is another possibility. If we consider that every living organism has a bio-energetic field that interacts with the bio-energetic fields of it’s neighbours, we may start to get another idea about cravings. What we have observed with candida albicans overgrowth is cravings for those things that feed the bugs, i.e. sugars and carbohydrates. We say that the bugs are doing the thinking. I don’t doubt that they are causing some biochemical imbalance which also leads to cravings, but when you realise that your crew makes up 90% of you, it must be impossible for the captain (your mind) not to hear them!

Prepare for real taste sensations

Introducing fermented foods and beverages into your diet can be one of the easiest steps towards feeling good, both physically and mentally. It doesn’t take up much time and it doesn’t cost much. You probably have most of the equipment and ingredients around already, although I have to warn you that you may become a jar hoarder once you develop a taste for fermentation! You get to play, you get to create taste sensations and you start to realise that what you always thought was the premium product is actually a pale shadow of the real thing.

This happened to me with mayonnaise. I had a fierce loyalty towards Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (especially on turkey sandwiches!) I had tried other mayonnaise, but it just didn’t measure up to Hellmann’s. Then I moved to Guatemala. It was different here, the premium products were from the US. Things tasted weird, and not in a good way, even the Hellmann’s mayonnaise. The ketchup was made using high fructose corn syrup rather than sugar and was way too sweet. My first reaction was to just stop buying those products, which was probably a pretty good thing. Then nostalgia set in, I started to want things I could not find in the stores. I wanted Heinz baked beans and Marmite, so I turned to the internet and found that I was not alone. Other people had already been experimenting, making their own versions of their favourites. The baked beans were pretty easy, and proved rather popular amongst the British ex-pats here, the Marmite is to date one of my most complicated and unusual projects.

Getting back to the mayonnaise, when I received my copy of Nourishing Traditions, I started to understand what condiments really were, what their original purpose was. We use modern, store bought condiments as flavour enhancers, to brighten up foods, and often to get a sugar hit to feed our sugar addictions. These sauces and pickles have been redesigned from their origins. Mass produced condiments use sugar and vinegar to extend shelf life and create conformity. Naturally fermented, probiotic condiments help you to digest your food and bolster your own biome. It is like taking a shot of tasty medicine with your meal. When I learnt how easy it is to make REAL mayonnaise, that is every bit as thick and creamy as the store bought version, but is laced with probiotic bacteria, I never looked at a store bought version again. I’ll share the recipe with you shortly.

Where to start?

Many of the recipes in Nourishing Traditions call for whey. This was something I had seen as an ingredient on packets, but never seen in real life. I use it in my recipes too, usually, although some changes in the milk here have caused me to try whey free versions, which also worked. I do recognise that some people who read this may want to work with dairy free versions. But whey, where does it come from, how do get hold of some? The answer is far easier than you may expect. Whey is that liquid that you find floating on the top of good quality yoghurt. It is yellowy green and slightly viscous, it often reminds me of diesel! One litre of yoghurt will usually yield about half a litre of whey. If you are in a rush to get started you could buy a litre of good quality live yoghurt, otherwise you can make your yoghurt, which can work out a lot cheaper.

Making yoghurt

It is so easy, once you start you will wonder why you ever bought yoghurt. Of course the best quality of ingredients you can get will give you the most nutritions product, but do the best you can. If you live somewhere that you can get hold of organic,  raw milk from pasture fed cows, you have hit the jackpot. However, most of us have to make do with store bought, pasteurised milk. For your first experiment at least try to find organic whole milk, if possible not homogenised. The yoghurt starter should also be the best quality you can find, such as Rachel’s or Yeo Valley in the UK. Make sure that the only ingredients are milk and yoghurt cultures. If there is anything else on the label, choose another brand.

You will need:

Ingredients: 1 litre of milk, 2 tablespoons of plain live yoghurt

Materials: Saucepan, 1 litre clean glass jar, thermometer (optional), cooler/ice chest/ cardboard box with a blanket or towel.

Take the original yoghurt culture out of the fridge and put two tablespoons into a 1 litre glass jar, this will allow the bugs to come up to room temperature and get active.

For store milk: Heat the milk in a saucepan to about 90C (180F) if you have  a thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, this is the point where the skin just starts to form on the milk with a few bubbles under it. Turn off the heat and allow the milk to cool to 45C (110F). This should be about the temperature of a pleasantly warm bath.

For raw milk: Heat the milk to about 45C (110F) taking care not to scorch it

Pour the milk into the jar with the yoghurt starter and stir well with a wooden spoon. Put the lid on the jar and put the jar in a warm place. I am fortunate in that I live in a place warm enough that I can make yoghurt without too much difficulty. If you have an airing cupboard, this might be a great option for keeping your yoghurt warm. I have also used an oven which has been turned off and allowed to cool down. Another option is to put a couple of bottles of warm water in an ice box or cardboard box. Wrap a blanket or towel around your yoghurt jar to keep it away from extremes of temperature, then leave it alone. For some reason, yoghurt bugs don’t seem to respond well to being moved around. After 8 – 12 hours you will have your first batch of yoghurt. It should look thick, almost solid and you may see the whey floating on top. You can now store it in the fridge. The yoghurt will continue to slowly ferment in the fridge, and should not really go bad, although it will get increasingly sour as more lactose is turned to lactic acid. Always remember to keep a couple of tablespoons of your yoghurt as a starter for the next batch.

Whey and Cream Cheese

So now you can get to making your whey. This is a very easy process that has a rather tasty by product – cream cheese!

You will need: A batch of yoghurt, a large strainer or sieve,  cheesecloth or paper kitchen towel, a large bowl

Line the strainer with cheesecloth or paper towel and place over the bowl, then pour your yoghurt into the cheesecloth. I put a plate on top of the strainer and then a tea towel over the plate to stop flies getting in. The whey will collect in the bowl. Once it has stopped dripping (12-24 hours), the cream cheese is ready. Put the whey in a glass bottle and store in the fridge. the cream cheese should separate out of the cheesecloth / paper towel quite easily. I like to add chopped walnuts, herbs, garlic and salt to the cream cheese, then store it in the refrigerator.

In the next post we will be using the whey as a starter in lacto-fermented foods.

Me and nutrition

A few years ago I started to get much more involved with food. I have always liked to make “proper” food. True, I did enjoy takeaway food from time to time, but I also enjoyed making Sunday roast dinners too. I wasn’t really in to preprepared foods, although I did use them when I was younger.

Then, in June of 2004, I was asked to help look after my brother, who was very ill. When he was first diagnosed, we specifically asked if there was any particular foods that he should eat or avoid. We were told that it was important that he should keep his spirits up, so we should get him whatever he would like to eat. We were also told that the food served in the hospital was basically a filler with little nutritional value, to stop people from being hungry. Chemotherapy had twice failed to deal with his cancer, and he had decided to try an alternative route. We went for an appointment in Northern England with a woman who carried out some Kinesiology testing and gave him a program of dietary changes, detoxing treatments and therapies to follow. I was drafted in to help him, as at the time I was about the only one who had set food in a health food shop, although I have to admit I was probably only one step ahead of the rest of my family. The dietary changes suggested for him were pretty radical for us to comprehend and work with. There were names of things we could hardly pronounce, let alone have any idea of where to get hold of them. It turned out that these things were actually not that mysterious, they were actually available in local supermarkets, they were just in the aisles we never looked down. So I started to learn about sprouting and juicing, about organic food, about supplements, different ways of preparation of foods. It seemed that the dietary advice he had been given had partly been based on the book “Eat Right for Your Type”, so we ordered a copy of that. I also came across a book that I would strongly recommend, Paul Pitchford’s “Healing with Whole Foods.” I learnt so much then, and none of it corresponded with that first advice from the well meaning, but misguided, medical staff. It turned out that those crayfish and rocket sandwiches my brother had been so fond of probably were not the thing he needed to help him recover, even if they were tasty.

We set to work with our new found ingredients, and with the juicer, making new things for my brother to try. I remember vividly the look on his face after drinking his first green juice! We set about a wholesale change of his diet (along with a program of Reiki and yoga) and for the two weeks we watched his energy coming back, we watched him getting better. I don’t know what would have happened if we could have continued solely with that route. About 2 weeks in to his new program he got a phone call, the specialists had come across a potential treatment for him in the shape of an experimental type of chemotherapy. It is very difficult to revitalise a body already weakened by an aggressive disease and chemotherapy, even more so when it is still being poisoned by more chemotherapy. Sadly, he never recovered from his illness.

Meet Dr Weston A Price

Of course this had a huge impact on me, but what is more is that what I had learned could not now be unlearned. Partly through my new understandings, I started to modify the way I was eating. Now, 11 years later I can see how far I have come, although I realise there is so much more to learn and try. Every book or article I read gives me a little something more, another little piece. Some books give far more of their fair share to my understanding. They share a common root, the work of Dr Weston A Price, a dentist who travelled the world in the 1930’s examining the health of remote communities. These included Swiss, Irish, Scottish, Bulgarian, African, Asian and Eskimo communities eating their traditional foods. What he found was that they were generally in excellent health with very few caries. They were strong, attractive and had healthy children. They were eating their traditional diets, which consisted of meats, fats, vegetables and a little carbohydrate. Their foods were minimally processed, fresh and raw. Another common trait was the consumption of lacto-fermented foods, whether it was dairy products, vegetables, meats or grains, each of these populations had their specific ways of preserving and enriching their foods. He compared these remote communities with their peers, living close to ports and eating modern processed foods and found that their “civilised” peers had huge levels of tooth decay, degenerative diseases, crooked teeth, deformed bone structure and infertility. In fact, it seems that much of what he observed with regards to the diets of the “uncivilised” people was in direct opposition to what I understood as healthy eating, particularly when it came to animal fats, but that I will cover in another post.

Lacto-experimentation

My first introduction to Dr Weston Price’s work was a book called Nourishing Traditions. Nadia suggested we got hold of a copy as she thought it might interest me. things started to make sense, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the book, it is a fantastic starting point. It has both articles and recipes, and shows how to make many of these ancestral elixirs. Within weeks our kitchen was transformed into my laboratory, where jars of strange looking foods bubbles and changed of their own accord. Some processes took a long time, but the actual work involved was relatively minimal, especially after I got myself a food processor. Making precursors, multistep processes, it ended up like having a whole bunch of new pets, although these pets were microscopic lactobacilli, fungi and yeasts. These tiny creatures were doing most of the work for me, enriching our food, while I kept my part of the bargain and ensured they had a constant supply of nutrients. I was very new to this, it was not anything that was in my family tradition. I had NEVER eaten sauerkraut before I made my own, mostly because I avoided pickles due to my aversion to vinegar. I always thought that special equipment was needed to make yoghurt, having seen a friend’s mum’s yoghurt maker machine in the 70’s. These were all things which were so far out of my life experience, I never imagined the richness I was missing out on.

I continued to work through the book making various strange brews, most were tasty, and only one went directly down the drain! My sauerkraut became rather popular and was even bought by some of my German friends here, something I felt rather proud of. My ginger beer was also well liked. I became more and more interested in the nutrition side of things until I decided to enrol on a diploma course in holistic nutrition, although once again I was disappointed to see some of the same advice given on what is considered to be healthy eating.

The Four Pillars

Additionally, I also was interested in more natural ways of making things around the home. Most of the products in the shops here contain ingredients I don’t want around my home. I often find that standards of products from the USA are much lower than Europe, and of course Central America tends to manage to step below the US. While I was looking for inspiration on soap making, I came across the Wellness Mama site, which is a very inspirational site, packed full of interesting stuff. While I was on there I happened to find a review of another book which has become a big influence on me – Deep Nutrition by Dr Catherine Shanahan. The book goes into detail about our need for traditional foods, and actually gave me the inspiration for the name of my web domain. “Dr Cate” as she is known, cites Four Pillars of successful traditional cuisine. These are: meat on the bone, fermented and sprouted foods, organ meat, and “fresh, unadulterated plant and animal products”.

She goes into detail with regards to how natural foods nourish us at a genetic level, and how the allergies and diseases we are seeing appear now are not just because of the choices of our generation, but those of our grandparents. For me one of the most interesting points that she makes is that our food is information about the state of the soil it is grown in. Several years ago, my dad, who is close to the farming community, told me that the soil in the fields of England was little more than a medium to support the root structure of the plants. It was pretty much devoid of nutrients, and only the artificial fertilisers being put onto those fields was growing the crops. Combine this with many other modern farming practices and of course the food that we make with those crops is coming up short of the mark.

However, all is not lost. The human body is a truly remarkable things and thankfully we can recuperate, we can regenerate, we can rebuild. We can nurture our bodies, we can detoxify the years of abuse and replenish our vitality. I am working towards making things right , but I still have a way to go. I am by no means anywhere near perfect. Yet again, this is a journey for me, and I have taken the first few steps along the path. I am excited about sharing my discoveries in these steps.

What is Mayan Astrology?

Nawales in a ringMayan astrology is system of interpretation based on the Mayan sacred calendar of 260 days. There are at least two different counts of sacred calendar in use; one used by the Maya people, particularly here in highland Guatemala, commonly called the Chol Q’ij or Quiche count; and one used primarily in the “New Age” community often called the Tzolkin.

The cycle of 260 days is a harmonious fragment, a fraction which correlates and interconnects many aspects of our lives and reality. In its expanded form within Mayan Astrology, it can be closely related with the gestation period of human beings. Mayan creation stories relate that humanity was created from maize dough and oil, the maize grown at this latitude also having a life cycle of 260 days between planting (conception) and harvest (birth).

Isn’t astrology connected to the heavens?

Whilst these aspects are obviously terrestrial, the sacred calendar also relates to movements of the planets, particularly Venus and Mars. Mars has a synodic period, the time required to return to the same or approximately the same position relative to the Sun as seen by an observer on the Earth, of 780 days, exactly 3 revolutions of the 260 day calendar. Venus has a 584 day synodic period. During this time venus will appear as a morning star for 236 days, disappear for 90 days, reappear as an evening star for 250 days and finally disappear for 8 days before reappearing as a morning star. When Venus reappears as the morning star, it is not quite in the same position in the sky as the previous cycles. This gives rise to a second part of the harmonic, where the 584 day cycle is actually part of a 2920 day cycle. Venus can be seen in one of five different places, and 2920 days later will be in exactly the same place in the sky. This motion of Venus is recorded in the Dresden Codex, a Maya document from the 11th or 12th century copied from an earlier document created around four centuries earlier. The Venus table as it is known shows the day of the sacred calendar on which Venus will appear or disappear in each of its phases. This table, produced perhaps 1400 years ago is still accurate today. I have been making observations and using the internet to track Venus. Venus appeared on 13th December 2014 as an evening star on the day 11 Iq’ within the Quiche count of the sacred calendar, disappeared on 20th August 2015 on the day 1 E’, and then reappeared as a morning star on the day 9 Ajpu, 28th August 2015, exactly as shown in the table.

In this way we see that even after 1400 years the Quiche sacred calendar is still tied in to the motions of at least two of the closest planets in our solar system, the gestation period of humans and the life cycle of maize. It acts as a bridge between the heart of the sky (movements of the planets) and the heart of the earth (roots of the maize). As such it can be used to determine the interaction of the divine with the earthly plane, or as it we could put it the earthly life path chosen by ones soul.

So how does it apply to people?

According to Mayan astrology, you are born on one of the 260 days of the sacred calendar. This is known as your awach q’ij (face of the sun). It consists of a number between 1 and 13 and one of twenty nawales. Both the numbers and the nawales all have different characteristics. The combination of the number and the nawal is thought to determine your personality, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Additionally, this is modified by the year in which you were born. The 260 day sacred calendar interacts with a 365 day solar calendar known as the Ha’ab. The first day of the Ha’ab is known as the arrival of the Mam, or old man, the carrier of time. This is also known as the day 0 Pop, and colloquially as Mayan new year. Currently this occurs on 21st February, although it moves back 1 day every four years due to the lack of a leap day in the Ha’ab. Due to the way that the calendars engage, somewhat like gears in a clock, the first day of the new solar year can occur on one of only four of the nawales, which are known as year bearers. As there are 4 year bearers and 13 numbers, this gives a 52 ha’ab year cycle which is seen as an important cycle of life. It is said that the 52 years represent the time at which one becomes an elder. We can certainly understand this from more traditional societies, where at 52 years one has accumulated a great deal of knowledge and is probably a grandparent by that age. Within Mayan astrology, when you have completed 52 revolutions of the sun, you have spent a year getting to know each of the year bearers, and hence you have gained knowledge and experience from each of them. This 52 Ha’ab years is equal to 18980 days, or exactly the half way point of the 13 synodic cycles of Venus. The year bearer of the year in which you are born also gives you certain strengths and weaknesses, and in some ways can be seen as giving you a certain potential to fulfil within life. In order to fulfil this potential you receive a skill set from your number and nawal combination, and so both the sacred calendar and the solar calendar are involved in Mayan astrology.

From this combination we can derive a reading, which can help to highlight what qualities you carry, we are able to look beneath the outward personality at your true drives and motivations, what will bring you joy and where your challenges lie. A simple combination of number and nawal can be expanded to give what is known as the Mayan cross, which introduces secondary numbers and nawales representing your past, future, intuitive and physical aspects. This can further be expanded into a nine sign constellation showing the past and future of both your intuitive and physical aspects.

Some nawales carry the energy of the arts, some of plants, some of prayer makers and some of law keepers. However, in our world the idea of working in harmony with that which comes naturally is sacrificed in favour of that which pays well. When your daily work is in harmony with the energy of your nawal, you will have a natural talent at what you do. Most people will find this pleasing as they will be able to enjoy what they do and be successful at it.  Mayan astrology can be helpful to people who have reached a crossroads in their life, have become dissatisfied with their profession and are wondering what to do next. It can also be very useful to determine the talents of a young child so that materials which will bring out their natural talents can be made freely available to them.

If you are interested to schedule a reading with me, I am available to make them over Skype. You can contact me here to give me your name and birth information. I charge US$95 for a reading, which I can accept through PayPal. I look forward to hearing from you.

Why am I writing about Mayan Astrology?

Phone Nov 2015 196Some time ago I decided I wanted to write a book about Mayan Astrology. This has been a project that has been on my mind for at least five years. I have been asked by others, and it has been suggested to me by people I deeply respect that I put what I know on paper. I started meeting authors and decided that I would definitely do it, yet it is only now that I begin. I am sure that no one sets out with the intention of writing something which is less than what they consider to be the best book on their chosen subject matter, neither did I, but I now realise why it has taken me so long to get around to writing this. I wanted to have the most accurate book on Mayan Astrology available. I wanted it to be authentic from the point of view of what is practiced here in the highlands of Guatemala. I wanted it to be the most essential truth from the real calendars of the real living Maya people. All of these were obstacles which stood in the way of me writing. There is no one truth, each Aj Q’ij (Mayan Spiritual Guide / priest / shaman) will tell you something a little different about their perception of a Nawal, or what day to do a ceremony on, or what to use in ceremony. Perhaps it is our “Western” minds which try to categorise and define systems, we want to standardise everything into something which we can say is definite. Perhaps we are a little too left brained in these ideas, especially when we are dealing with a system which is essentially derived from a very right brained and heart combination. To try to put these ideas down is rather like taking a photograph of a moving, living thing. The photograph will give one perspective of the subject, but without personal observation it is impossible to truly understand the subject.

I wanted to do something anthropologically correct, well that has already been adequately covered by the wonderful writings of Barbara Tedlock and Kenneth Johnson, who reported so accurately on the procedures and practices of Maya spiritual guides in Momostenango. I realised that much of what I wanted to write about was not standard practice. It was my extrapolations and interpretations of practices and ideas. Every Aj Q’ij makes ceremony a little differently, every Aj Q’ij has slightly different ideas. They are working with their hearts and minds engaged with the Heart of the Sky and the Heart of the Earth. Their work is like painting, they may be painting a picture of the same subject, but they will use their own style and possibly their own palette.

I realised that the only option open to me is to set it out straight that this is my interpretation of Mayan calendar systems, of Mayan astrology, of Mayan shamanic practice. This is based on my experiences over sixteen years with people like my teachers Michael Baker, Alloa Patricia Mercier, Don Rigoberto Itzep Chanchavac, with Isaias Mendoza, Ingrid Arevalo, Dolores Ratzan, Nadia Petrova, Kenneth Johnson, Anita Garr and many other teachers, day keepers, observers and interested parties. From each came a part of the puzzle, an ingredient for the caldo. As Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez Oxlaj told me, “there is no right way, there is no wrong way, everyone does it in their own way.”

What I am working with has been applied over hundreds of readings with people and seems to be remarkably accurate. How and why it works is a mystery even to me, but I am hoping that some clarity will come as I write this. It is my clients and students that have encouraged me to do this, my peers and fellow adventurers that have helped to make this possible and my teachers that have inspired me. I thank you all.