In June of 1973 I was teaching biology and general science in a very rough school in Brooklyn. Like many people who eventually became practitioners of the natural healing arts, I am driven by a strong Tubercular miasm current. Thus, like a fire-horse straining at the reins, my soul yearned to be out in Nature among the wild plants, animals, trails and streams.
The main themes of the Tubercular miasm include a feeling of being oppressed with a need to break free to avoid dying. In the success state of this miasm, there may be significant creativity–a compulsion to work hard in order to break free of oppression. But in the failed state, the individual is burnt out and consumed with defeatism. The feelings of the Tubercular miasm include: caught and suffocating; compressed; the gap is narrowing; time is running out.
In my case, Brooklyn’s hard-edged congestion and sedimentary grime oppressed me. Oddly, even though I grew up in the “asphalt jungle,” I only felt truly at home in Nature. The demands of teaching in a tense, inner city school raised my Tubercular miasm feelings to a fever pitch.
When the last week of school finally arrived, I already had my camping gear and supplies sorted and packed. Two days after the end of the term, I whistled my golden retriever into the back of my Chevy station wagon, climbed into the driver’s seat and headed west. It wasn’t until after I had passed through gritty, industrial New Jersey and entered rural Pennsylvania that I took my first deep breath of free air. I was no longer caught and suffocating. Time was no longer running out. My clock had been rewound.
My traveling partner that summer was my dog Mangas Colorado. At the time I got him, I was studying a great deal about the culture and history of the Plains and Rocky Mountain Indian tribes. This dog had huge paws and an eager athleticism that inspired me to name him after a renowned Apache war chief.
In the mid-19th century, John Cremony, author of Life Among The Apaches, described this great warrior. He writes: “Mangas Colorado, or Red Sleeves, was, undoubtedly, the most prominent and influential Apache who has existed for a century. Gifted with a large and powerful frame, corded with iron-like sinews and muscles, and possessed of far more than an ordinary amount of brain strength, he succeeded at an early age, in winning a reputation unequaled in his tribe.”
My dog Mangas was unusually large, athletic and strong. As it turned out, he became a fearsome warrior. Like most golden retrievers, he was a loveable teddy bear when interacting with humans. However, when a potential male-dog rival arrived on the scene, Mangas immediately established who was top dog. He was an absolutely fearless fighter.
When I got home from work, Mangas and I would run 3 miles. I would drive to the last open fields in Canarsie, the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up, and still lived. Situated about 50 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, this undeveloped area consisted of several square miles of open fields and cattail marshes from which redwing blackbirds called back and forth. Until I left New York for good in 1976, this wild area sustained me. On cold winter days while Mangas scouted around, I would build a fire in the shelter of some tall hedges and watch the Atlantic weather move across the sky.
One afternoon as Mangas and I walked from the sidewalk down a narrow trail into the fields, we heard some growling. I looked to my left and emerging from among the cattails was a pack of about eight feral dogs. This was not a welcome sight. We were badly outnumbered and there were no big sticks lying around to use for defense.
Only a few seconds had passed before an additional growling sound began. It was Mangas, hackles raised, walking stiff-legged and menacingly toward the pack. For a few heartbeats, the ferals got ready to rumble: baring teeth, growling in concert and edging forward. Then as Mangas, utterly undeterred, kept coming, they one by one turned and trotted off until only the biggest, toughest one was standing alone to face Mangas as he kept moving forward with serious intent. The wild dog made a quick assessment of the situation, then tucked his tail between his legs and disappeared into the marshes. We never saw the pack again.
Ostensibly, I was Mangas’ master. However, it’s safe to say I was in awe of that dog. He was the kind of dog that made a Brooklyn boy swell with pride and feel a lot safer both when trekking through wild country and along mean streets.
Yarrow Oil and the Warrior-Type
There are many essential oils that may be relevant for a “warrior-type” individual. Leading among these, and the first one to come to my mind regarding Mangas, is yarrow.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is named for the Greek hero Achilles who used the herb to treat his wounded soldiers during the siege of Troy. In fact, yarrow was used in this capacity up to and through the American Civil War. Achilles, who was predisposed by his mother from birth to play the role of hero, chose to live a short, glorious life rather than a long, uneventful one. In ancient Rome, yarrow was dedicated to the spilling of blood in honor of Mars, the god of war. Also, yarrow has a rich tradition for the treatment of wounds inflicted by weapons and was once referred to as “military herb” or “soldier’s wound wort.” Yet there is a unique polarity in yarrow in that it also has a soft, yielding side to its nature for which its many soft, finely branched leaves are a prominent signature.
Juniper Trees and a Place of a Vanished People
That summer, Mangas and I camped in wild places all across the country: the Midwest, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, California coast and the Pacific Northwest. On the return leg of our journey, after a long drive on a warm August day, we pulled in at a small, dusty camping area with only a few rough-hewn picnic tables and fire pits. I backed the Chevy under a fairly large juniper tree, its branches heavy with berries, and set up camp there. (Interestingly, a juniper berry is the female seed cone. It takes about 18 months to fully mature, and it’s not a true berry but rather a cone with unusually fleshy, merged scales that lend it a berry-like appearance.)
The few other campsites were empty, except for one. Tucked into a corner under another sizeable juniper tree was a small, old trailer–the kind that hooks onto a hitch on the rear bumper of a truck or car. This one appeared to have been built in the 40s or 50s. Its white paint was dull and chipped, the outward-facing side-window had a weary looking, angled Venetian blind pulled all the way down, slats closed. There was no vehicle parked by it. The trailer did not have the air of “camping trip” about it. Instead, it had a look of shabby permanence.
The whole place radiated a melancholy energy that seemed to emanate from long ago. It was like a ghost town where one could feel, rather than hear, echoes from the past. I called to Mangas and we followed a trail out of the camping area on to an open plateau populated only by scattered junipers and sagebrush. I couldn’t shake the psychic perception of historical desolation and abandonment.
Previously that summer I had spent time in the Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred ground of the Lakota (Sioux) tribes. I could feel the presence of despairing ghosts there. I felt that same presence here in dry Idaho country. I felt certain this was ancient tribal land, perhaps Shoshone. The difference here was that, unlike the Black Hills, there weren’t any dense forests to buffer one’s encounter with inhabitant spirits. This was a place of stark, rough terrain populated by patches of sagebrush and individual junipers who kept their distance from each other.
The ground was reddish-brown hardpan that sounded like a mixture of dry soil and ground glass when trod upon. To my left was a deep ravine out of which rose a rugged, barren red hillside. It was one of those cloudy days when the clouds are not delineated and the grayness is backlit by a preternatural luminescence.
After we had walked no more than 50 yards, I looked upward and saw two buzzards circling about 100 feet above us, wings outspread, floating on a thermal. This added to my sense of unease. I noted that Mangas wasn’t showing his usual eagerness to run around after the long drive. Instead, he walked closely by my side. I had no desire to walk any farther and so turned back toward our camp. Mangas concurred and trotted back to camp with alacrity. He had the great nose of a hunting dog and must have picked up the scent of ghosts.
Open juniper woodlands such as this one serve as watersheds in dry country and are important ranges for wildlife, especially deer and songbirds. But that day, aside from the buzzards, I saw no animal life nor heard any bird utter a sound. The silence was eerie and pervasive.
Juniper is considered to be a protective oil which supports the spirit during challenging situations. It encourages inner visions and facilitates trances such as those that characterized the Native American spirit quest. Juniper is also one of the herbs burnt by Tibetans as a means of driving off evil spirits. Too, various American Indian tribes used juniper to treat wounds.
When Mangas and I returned to camp, I heard the door of the trailer open. I turned and saw a middle-aged man in Western garb step out and move about his campsite. He was perhaps in his late 50s or 60s. When he turned in my direction, I waved and he nodded back. After a minute or two, he reentered his trailer and shut the door.
He had been inside there all along. He clearly didn’t have a vehicle, and I realized then that he actually lived in this desolate place. I had the feeling that he had been watching us through the gaps of his window blind and now had taken the opportunity to announce his presence to the visitors to his home-ground.
It was now late afternoon, so I started preparing my supper and getting ready for nightfall. I walked around the area and gathered pieces of long-dried juniper wood that lay like old bison bones amid the sagebrush and got a fire going.
By the time I had finished dinner and fed Mangas, night had fallen. Like a lot of members of the Woodstock generation, I had taken up guitar. I taught myself how to play some chords and traditional finger-picking patterns. Aside from the crackle of the fire and the sound of Mangas chewing on a stick of firewood, the place was still totally silent, so I got out my guitar to fill the void.
I was sitting on a picnic table bench and had played through a few of the simple tunes I was able to play with some degree of competence when I heard the trailer door open. I didn’t see Jack until he walked out of the darkness into my small circle of firelight. He was dressed in a clean white Western-style shirt, neatly pressed jeans with a large brass belt buckle and polished cowboy boots, all topped with a new-looking white cowboy hat. (In general, the juniper-type tends toward neatness of appearance.) He had the appearance of someone who had just stepped out of an old-style hotel like you see in movie westerns.
He was neatly shaven and I could pick up the scent of aftershave tinctured with whisky. He had the raw beefsteak complexion and glazed corneas of the serious drinker. I stood and we shook hands and introduced ourselves. “I’m Jack,” he said.
I invited him to have a seat and we sat in silence a bit with Mangas curled up by the fire, his golden coat glowing in its light and burning juniper wood scenting the air. Then, he asked me to play some songs. I was a bit hesitant as, at best, I was a mediocre guitarist. Nevertheless, I proceeded to play and sing the traditional folk-blues songs I knew, such as Midnight Special and House Of The Rising Sun, figuring this was the genre most suitable for this particular audience.
He was silent throughout my performance. I didn’t know whether he liked the music or was just politely waiting for me to quit. As the old saying goes: Beggars can’t be choosers. There wasn’t exactly a line of professional musicians lining up to play this venue.
After a few songs, I put down the guitar and we began to talk. I told him I was a science and biology teacher from New York City. He looked at me as if I’d said I just landed from Saturn. I asked him about his life and he described his many years working on ranches, herding cows, mending fence, etc. With the wonder of a Brooklyn boy who had grown up watching old black and white westerns on rainy weekend afternoons, I couldn’t help thinking: By golly, I’m sitting and talking with a real live cowboy.
Jack had the quiet voice and withdrawn manner of a man who had spent much of his life alone, doing hard and often dangerous physical labor. Like this place where he chose to live, his essence was infused with loss, regret and loneliness. There is a song (relevant regarding Jack) that goes: “Half my life I can’t remember, the other half I can’t forget.”
Neither one of us liked talking about ourselves too much, so after a while the conversation petered out and we bid each other goodnight. I watched the juniper fire burn down and then got into my sleeping bag with Mangas settling down by my side. It had been a long day.
Looking Back and the Sycotic Miasm
The next morning at daybreak, I ate a quick breakfast and stowed my gear in the station wagon. Unbidden, Mangas leapt into the back. This was his way of saying: Start this car and step on it. I shifted into first gear and rolled slowly out of the camping area. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the battered old trailer for the last time. There was no sign of Jack.
I had a lot of unique experiences that summer but only a few have stayed so vividly chronicled in my memory. It wasn’t until 25 years after I had my encounter with Jack – when I was writing the Juniper chapter for my Synthesis Materia Medica/Spiritualis of Essential Oils – that I realized Jack was an archetypical Juniper individual, and it was no coincidence that he chose to live under a juniper tree.
It should be noted that the juniper type does not necessarily have a history of significant alcohol use. In some cases, the juniper-type, while not particularly drawn to alcohol, reports that his father or mother were heavy drinkers. The parent sometimes actually preferred gin. In other cases, there is no personal or family history of alcohol abuse.
However, juniper has an historical association with alcohol as it has long been used as a flavoring ingredient in gin. The name gin is derived from the Dutch word jenever which means “juniper.” It is used in Sweden to make a variety of beer. Also, juniper oil is sometimes used to help an individual to overcome addictions.
The juniper alcoholic tends to be non-violent, melancholy, morose and withdrawn. When the juniper-type drinks, the alcohol does not fuel rage, but rather, helps to sustain his need for withdrawal from life’s relentless assaults. The juniper alcoholic craves a barroom’s sheltering darkness and quietness and is moved by the songs of pain and loss coming from its jukebox. Looking back now, I can see why my instincts led me to play folk-blues when Jack called for a song.
Juniper is associated with the Sycotic miasm, a keynote of which is secretiveness. The juniper patient’s Sycotic secretiveness is not so much motivated by an inherent secretiveness as by a yearning to withdraw or retreat from life’s stressful challenges and to build a fort around deep-seated fears and emotional wounds, weaknesses and weariness.
The “hiding” of the juniper-type is a strategic retreat, a self-imposed isolation due to the feeling that one is misunderstood and unsupported by others. In concert with this desire to withdraw, a type of aloofness due to acquired skepticism, cynicism, loss of social confidence and an inability to place trust in themselves or others should guide the blender to juniper oil.
The Key Difference Between Juniper and Thuja
Juniper is closely related to Thuja (Thuja occidentalis), another major Sycotic oil. There are some similarities between these two oils yet they are also quite different in many ways, and one is readily distinguishable from the other. Juniper lacks thuja’s intense deceptive quality. The secretiveness of thuja is one that is colder and more calculating.
Whereas the shame and hiddenness of thuja derives from acts that the thuja individual has personally committed, these same qualities in the juniper-type are generally due to acts committed by others with whom they are closely linked. The juniper-type tends to be the witness or victim rather than the perpetrator. For instance, while the thuja-type may feel shame about committing adultery, the juniper-type feels shame because her father or husband committed adultery. The case history of the juniper-type commonly features a pattern of sexual misconduct by a family member. Juniper is a specific for the Sycotic individual who, though secretive, tends to be gentle and sensitive.
The “Feeling” of Juniper
My purpose in writing this piece is to convey the “feeling” of juniper oil. Juniper oil and Cowboy Jack have become inseparable in my mind. Most likely he is gone now. Alcoholics living alone in battered trailers are not ideal candidates for living to a ripe old age. Perhaps he has joined the other spirits that inhabit that place where we met. If so, I hope their company comforts him.
- Juniper Materia Medica$5.00