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The world’s last wild frankincense forests

In a tradition dating to Biblical times, men rise at dawn in the rugged Cal Madow mountains of Somaliland in the Horn of Africa to scale rocky outcrops in search of the prized sap of wild frankincense trees.

Bracing against high winds, Musse Ismail Hassan climbs with his feet wrapped in cloth to protect against the sticky resin. With a metal scraper, he chips off bark and the tree’s white sap bleeds into the salty air. “My father and grandfather were both doing this job,” said Hassan, who like all around here is Muslim. “We heard that it was with Jesus.”

When dried and burned, the sap produces a fragrant smoke which perfumes churches and mosques around the world. Frankincense, along with gold and myrrh, was brought by the Three Kings as gifts in the Gospel account of the birth of Jesus.

But now these last intact wild frankincense forests on Earth are under threat as prices have shot up in recent years with the global appetite for essential oils. Overharvesting has led to the trees dying off faster than they can replenish, putting the ancient resin trade at risk. (AP)

Photos: AP Photo/Jason Patinkin

See more images of the world’s last wild frankincense forests on Yahoo News

The noble pen shell (Pinna nobilis) is one of the largest bivalves, native to the Mediterranean region, where it lives in sea grass beds, partly buried in soft sediment and anchored by the byssus, which means “fine linen” in Greek. Since antiquity and until the mid-twentieth century—mainly in Taranto (Apulia) and Sardinia—the Pinna’s byssus or “sea silk,” has been harvested for the manufacture of luxurious textiles that are famous for their fine texture, durability, and bright golden color. Some scholars theorize that the Golden Fleece of the Argonauts in Greek mythology was actually a cloth of byssus. The oldest surviving object made from sea silk is a knitted cap from the fourteenth century discovered during excavations in the vicinity of St. Denis, north of Paris. Due to overharvesting for food, the noble pen shell has become endangered, and today only a handful of artisans in Sardinia preserve the craft of sea-silk processing for posterity.

Image: Pinna nobilis (noble pen shell); from Giuseppe Saverio Poli, Testacea utriusque Siciliae … , 1791–1827

This print is included in the latest literary offering from the American Museum of Natural History and Sterling Signature: The Seashell Collector. The boxed set features a booklet containing some of the most beautiful images of seashells from texts held in the Museum’s Rare Book Collection, along with lessons about the creatures who call these shells home and background about how shells are formed and the role they have played throughout human history, as decoration, currency, and much more.

Learn more about The Seashell Collector.

Get to Know Your Fellow Witches

Questions by @horned-deity​ tagged by @safran28

1. Are you a religious witch?

Not precisely. I have my patrons, but my worship and my craft are two separate things, and I consider myself spiritual more than religious.

2. What is your preferred herb?

Depends on what I’m doing, really. Basil and Rosemary are my go-to herbs for many, many things, with Green Sage following close behind. I like my White Sage, but only because I grow it myself. (I don’t recommend buying White Sage from occult shops, as it’s usually wildcrafted, and wild populations of White Sage are badly overharvested. Alternative herbs are easy enough to find.)

3. What is your preferred gem?

Moonstone. I’m always wearing at least one, preferably more. It used to be three every day, but…well, one’s been replaced by a very pretty little emerald. :)

4. Do you do divination? What kind?

I have a personal set of runes that work very well, but I’m fairly shite with everything else. Cards, ogham staves, pendulums, scrying, tasseomancy… forget it.

5. Favorite tarot card?

Strength. In The Golden Tarot, Strength is a red-haired maiden restraining a lion, and the card has a lot of symbolism for me.

6. To curse or not to curse?

For me, to curse. For anyone else, that’s their decision and no one else’s. I am known for being very curse-positive, meaning I firmly believe in and advocate for each individual practitioner’s right to decide when and whether and how to use baneful magic.

7. Do you have a familiar?

I do! He’s an old black cat named Sebastian, and he’s effectively retired due to his advanced age. My gingerboy Havoc is in training and shows the potential to be a very good witchcat. But out of respect, I won’t take on another familiar while Sebastian still lives. I’ve worked without a familiar for years, so it’s no burden to me to let the dear old grump live out his days in peace.

8. Favorite candle color?

Black, or red-orange. This is largely because my two favorite Yankee Candle scents are Witches’ Brew and Apple Pumpkin, which come in those colors.

9. Favorite rune?

I don’t really have a favorite rune, but my favorite ogham letter is Saille.

10. Do you celebrate full moons, the solstices, etc?

Some of the time. I’m not nearly as dedicated as some witches I know. I don’t celebrate the esbats, and I even give some of the sabbats a miss if I’m super-busy or just don’t have the funds or the energy to do anything special. However, I always make sure to celebrate Imbolc, Lughnasadh, Mabon, Samhain, and Yule. Part of this is to honor my patrons, and part is because I have my favorites among the holidays. And also, it’s hard to get away from doing SOMETHING for the winter holiday season, so we combine Christmas and Yule.

11. Do you wear a pentacle?

Yes indeed! I’ve had the same small silver pentacle for many years now, and it hangs on a necklace with my favorite moonstone pendant. I have a moonstone ring with crescent moons and pentacles on it, which I bought for myself when I first became a witch. I don’t wear it anymore (see above comment about the emerald) but it holds a place of honor by my altar. I also have other pentacle rings and earrings that I wear occasionally, and I’m always on the lookout for something new and interesting.

And if you count body modifications, I also have a pentacle tattooed on my back.

12. Have a broom?

Yup! I have several, actually. There’s a twig besom hanging beside my altar, and a simple decorative one over my office window. I’d still like to get one for over the dining room window or the front door.

13. Have a pendulum?

I own a few, but I don’t use them for divination. They’re more for altar decoration and occasionally for finding things.

14. Have an athame?

Indeed! It’s a rather plain dagger with a golden-plated handle. My father bought it for me many years ago; it was my first knife. I also have a bowie knife of Damascus steel that was a gift from Ragnar, and she’s the anchor for our household wards. Neither of the knives gets used very often, except for the annual recasting. I also have a couple of bolines, one that’s purely decorative and one that’s for gardening.

15. How often do you meditate?

Not often, really. I don’t have the focus for it, and it’s not really required for anything that I do.

16. Do yoga?

Nope. Could probably stand to, for flexibility and weight loss purposes.

17. Favorite tea?

Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger :)

18. Do you support manipulation magic?

To a point, yes. I support persuasion and command spells for certain things. I draw the line at love spells, though. Love spells should ALWAYS be consensual and should not circumvent free will. It’s one thing to impose your will on another to try and sway a situation to your benefit or banish them from your life; it’s quite another to force someone to love you.

19. How many altars?

Just the one. It’s the household altar and it’s also where the holiday offerings are placed. One day, when we have a house, I’ll build another one that’s just for the patrons, with statues and dedicated offering bowls, instead of just shot glasses that get bring out for special occasions and then put away again. (It’s not a requirement, but it is something I’d like to do someday.)

20. Do you do magic outside often?

Not so much. We live in an apartment complex without any private outdoor space. The little lawn space that we do have near us reeks because it’s where people walk their dogs. I used to do magic outside fairly regularly when I lived in PA, and I certainly will again when I have a house and a yard.

21. Read palms or tea leaves?

Nope. Completely hopeless with both, although I’d love to learn to read tea leaves.

22. Open own metaphysical shop?

Oh man, LIFE GOALS. If I ever win the lottery and don’t have to work anymore, I’m going to pay off a shit-ton of bills and loans for several people, and then I’m going to open my own little pagan shop, with good reliable info sources, quality herbs, spell kits, and homegrown advice. -wistful sigh-

23. Is your third eye open?

Yes it is, and I wish to all the gods that it wasn’t.

24. Do you like astrology? Whats your sign?

Taurus in the Year of the Boar. I don’t put a ton of stock in Western interpretations of astrological symbols, but I’m told that I’m very typical of both. (Pretty much boils down to “Earthy, Loyal, and Stubborn As Fuck.”)

25. Favorite flower or tree?

Favorite flowers are lilacs. Favorite trees are oaks and willows.

26. Do you have an animal guide?

Not as such, but I have animals with whom I identify on a spiritual level.

27. Favorite type of magic?

Herb- and plant-based, that one’s easy. I’m better at writing spells than I am at performing them, but warding spells do come sort of naturally.

28. Out of the broom closet?

Yup. Way out. There are very few people among my friends, family, or acquaintances that don’t know that I’m a witch. It’s at the point now where I’m kind of like, “You can like it or lump it, but it’s who I am and it’s not changing.”

30. Hereditary or self-discovered?

Self-trained and self-decided. I don’t believe that being a witch is something that’s inherited unbeknownst or suddenly “discovered” like in Charmed or Harry Potter. The only way that I believe witchcraft is hereditary is if your family teaches it to you and it’s an inherited practice. The only preternatural thing you can inherit in regards to being a witch is an affinity for magic that makes it easier for you to learn than it might be for others. (And mediumship doesn’t count. That’s a separate matter.)

31. Coven or solitary?

I tried sitting circle with other witches for a while. It didn’t work out. I’ve been a solitary witch for most of my witchy career, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.

32. Want to be in a coven? How big?

I don’t really feel the need to be part of a formal coven, or to lead one (since people have asked). I don’t need to tell other witches what to do, and I don’t need someone else telling ME what to do.

33. When did you become a witch?

In my early twenties, after much soul-searching and discontent, and after discovering the link between herbal medicine and herbal magic. Took a few years to really find my niche, but I’m quite comfy now.

34. Do you make your own spells?

Oh lord yes. I’ve probably written over a hundred at this point in my witchy career. Hell, there’s a whole BOOK’S worth that you can buy on Amazon (shameless plug), and there’s a sequel coming out next year.

35. Make your own sigils?

I’ve made a few in my time. I used to make them a lot more often, but the ones I have work pretty well.

36. Why are you a witch?

Because on this one crazy day, I discovered that it was possible to harness my own power to make things happen, and I liked that a lot better than going through life just hoping everything would work out to my benefit. So…empowerment. Empowerment and tiny jars.

37. Favorite element?

Earth. Very solidly Earth. Ask anyone who knows me what my home element is, and that’s what they’ll tell you.

38. Do any misc. Magic (dragon, sex, etc)?

Not really, no. My strengths are in the cottage-variety magics, so that’s where I stay.

39. Magic/anything you wont do?

Love magic. I’ve done precisely one love spell in my life, it worked out exactly the way I’d hoped, and I don’t foresee a need to ever perform such a spell again.  Also, with very few exceptions, I won’t cast spells on behalf of other people. Spells never work out as well when the caster doesn’t have a personal stake in the outcome.

40. Strangest way a spell is backfired?

Generally, my spells either work or they don’t. There’s not really any backfiring.

…Well, there was this one thing. I put anti-theft wards on my car, and I wasn’t specific enough with the wording. So when I accidentally locked my keys in my car one day, it took the combined efforts of four or five different people to get the door open. And when I took it to the garage because the driver’s side door had stopped working, they discovered that instead of the slimjim popping up the lock, the mechanism had actually COME APART rather than unlocking the door.

I had a good laugh about it afterwards, even though at the time it wasn’t very funny.

Tagging: If you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged! MWAHAHAHA! (If you feel like giving this a try, go for it! Just remember to repost, not reblog.)

Seahorse from Heinrich Rudolf Schinz’s Naturgeschichte und Abbildungen der Fische, 1856. Seahorses belong to the genus Hippocampus, a name derived from the Greek hippos meaning horse and kampos for sea monster. Far from monsters, these charming fishes are today greatly threatened by overharvesting for traditional medicines, curios, and the pet trade. 

See this and many other aquatic illustrations in Opulent Oceans, now on view at the Museum. 

Photo by @daviddoubilet May 23 is World Turtle Day. This baby green sea turtle is heading to the safety of the open sea in Nengo Nengo French Polynesia. Green sea turtles are the ancient mariners of the sea, migrating long distances to return to their nesting beach. Adults prefer sea grass diets, and can live to 80 + years. Green sea turtles are an IUCN and CITES listed endangered species due to declines related to direct overharvest, by-catch and habitat loss. With @natgeo @natgeocreative @thephotosociety #ocean #worldturtleday #life #beauty #sea #wild for #moreocean follow @jenniferhayes and @daviddoubilet by natgeo