Cinnamon Tea – The Oxbow episode 4

In this episode of The Oxbow a Benegal Spice cinnamon tea teabag is the mailed-in suggestion. This ends up being a springboard for sourcing good spices, reflecting on offerings to the divine in texts like the Hymns of Orpheus and the Bible. And then the great tale of the emergence Sri NarasimhaDev, the lion man god of Vedic India somehow all comes up. Who is the animal that invokes the divine and summons culture? Some wonderings today at The Oxbow.

Resources mentioned

Hymns of Orpheus translated by Thomas Taylor

Sri Narasimhadev

Lion Man of


Here, we provide a very rough transcript for your reading pleasure:

[00:00:00] Hello, everybody. Welcome back to The Oxbow. Still, not really sure how to start these things off without having anyone else to talk to, but maybe that will be revealed, uh, gotten in front of me. Oh, you know what I wanted to say this, um, the last episode I talked to all about John Milton, the poet, and I didn’t reference that

[00:00:25] I learned all that stuff about John Milton from a college professor that I had. Who is an amazing, amazing influence on me. Uh, his name was professor John Hoey, and I took one class with him and he was a real like old-school classicist type. And, um, I just loved that class. I don’t remember what it was, but he sort of took a shine to, to me and I, I don’t remember exactly how it went, but it ended up that me and my friend, um, Cindy Walker, um, really just loved what he had to say about literature of that period.

[00:01:07] And we ended up taking, if I recall, um, a private study with him, if he was a semester long, maybe it was two, but it was basically just Cindy and I, and just talking about literature with professor Howie. And Milton was, maybe there was the whole one section on Melton, but I just fell in love with John Milton, with John Howie.

[00:01:34] That was, I sort of have the recollection that he was being pushed out at the time. He certainly was old, but maybe there’s like a sense of like, there was a type of modernism that was important in literature. I sort of had this sense even then that he was being forgotten. But it was definitely his last year.

[00:01:57] He retired, uh, we were sort of like the last private students that he had. And what I recall very clearly is that he was so grateful that we were so close to him that he, when he studied at Oxford or Cambridge, I don’t recall, but he sold for pennies, pennies, so much of his university library and my first and I’m a bookish person, but my first like personal library that I started to collect on my own was from Dr.

[00:02:27] Howie. And I read plenty of Milton with him and definitely learned all about voltas and poetic structures from him via great influence and I wanted to acknowledge that I learned that from somewhere and from someone. So that said, uh, today’s word, I don’t know what it is yet, but we have from a woman who I know in Ottawa named Barbara Brown and Barbara Brown is just an absolutely incredible stunner of a person, her quality of listening and her bright eyes and her earned depth are so honorable.

[00:03:08] I love being around her and the fact that she said. Uh, letter from Ottawa is very touching to me. Um, if they, um, to red envelope and it’s looks like it’s the size that a, uh, like a Christmas card would be into like that color as well. Um, but it’s just a little bit thick. There’s also an embossed rose on the back.

[00:03:34] So I’ll take a look, open it up with this nice letter opener here.

[00:03:40] There we go. Well, this is a very pretty card. Um, and I don’t even know how to describe this. Um, well, I’ll take a picture and I’ll put it in the show notes. It’s really pretty. Um, but inside, dear Matthew, with the gratitude for all that you offer in the. I send you a few snippets in a cup of my favorite teas, fodder for your new podcast.

[00:04:14] I wish only that we could sit together and enjoy a cup of tea. One day, perhaps. Fondly, Barbara, best brewed in a thermos for four hours. It brings out the sweetness of the cinnamon.

[00:04:27] Oh, that’s so great. That’s so great. It smelled amazing. Um, it is cinnamon tea. Okay, well, the ingredients say Bengal spice and then the ingredients are cinnamon, roasted chicory, roasted carob, natural flavors, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg, the industrial, the smoker.

[00:04:54] Wow. Um, well I am going to gust it. My suggestion now is cinnamon tea, Bengal spice. Wow. Um, okay, well, Hmm. Well, the first thing, I guess that’s easiest to say is like where to get the best cinnamon and I have an opinion on that. I’ll have two opinions on that. Um, there’s two kinds of cinnamon there’s um, what we sort of generally know as cinnamon, which is known as cityum cinnamon Cassia, which is not as good.

[00:05:34] And then there’s cinnamon verum, which is the real stuff, the much more expensive. And it’s really remarkable. So they’re here, there’s two or companies, which I really think are great. And one is a Diaspora. Yep. There it is. And this is a small company run by, uh, a woman who I am acquainted with, but I don’t know personally, but I’ve corresponded with.

[00:06:04] And Sana Javari, cadre. Um, and I mean her website, diasporaco, um, let me just go to her about page. Um, yeah, here’s what she writes. I’m gone with her orientation on this is so great. Um, so she writes this on her about page.

[00:06:24] The original intent of colonial conquest or the Indian sub-continent was a desire for domination with spice trade. 400-ish years later, as a young woman born and raised in post-colonial Mumbai, working at the intersection of food and culture, I was slowly discovering that not much about that system had changed. Farmers made no money. Spices changed hands upwards of 10 times before reaching the consumer. And the final spice on your shelf was usually an old dusty shadow of what it once was.

[00:06:55] So in 2016, I booked a one-way ticket home to move. And signed myself up for seven months of highly unpaid market research, 40 plus farm visits, endless unanswered phone calls, a squishy motorbike ride through a rice paddy, and one life-changing meeting with the good folks at the Indian Institute of spice research.

[00:07:15] A lot of processing of doubts and fears later, a 23 year old Sana founded diaspora co in the fall of 2017 with just one spice – Pragati Turmeric –

[00:07:26] source from an equally young and idealistic farm partner or now dear partner, Mr. Prabhu, Casa in any, but from our very first day, the big audacious dream was to grow a radically new decidedly, delicious and truly equitable spice trade to push a broken system into an equal exchange and to have a lot of fun doing it.

[00:07:48] Today, we source 30 single origin spices from 150 farms across India and Sri Lanka.

[00:07:55] We’re proud to pay our farm partners an average of six times above the commodity price and a system where a fair trade as a mere 15% premium, we pay what we believe to be a living wage and investment, that kind of leadership and land stewardship that will build a climate resilience and a more delicious food system.

[00:08:14] Being in this community is about connecting deeply with culture and heritage of the regions that we source from and about learning as we go. Complicating and deepening what “Made in South Asia” means and how we tell our own stories of freedom of struggle and diaspora through food. We’re so happy to have you along for the ride.

[00:08:34] With love and in community.

[00:08:36] Sana Javeri Kadri, founder and CEO.

[00:08:39] I love the way that Sana, uh, walks in the world and certainly started this company. The quality of these, uh, spices, which I’ve procured through her are remarks. So so fine, and I couldn’t recommend their stuff more, their ethics, more, and their approach, their humble approach towards gathering these spices.

[00:09:09] And there was no entitlement. There’s no, none of the colonial approach, which is just we get to get it. So diaspora co is remarkable, really great. And they have cinnamon. Another company, which does really similar stuff as a company called burlap and barrel. Um, and let’s just open up theirs and they have a very similar approach though.

[00:09:36] They are not indigenous to the place that they’re, um, sought out as you know, is, is of Indian extraction. The guys who have pull up in barrel of a very similar approach to supporting smaller farm holders. Um, and so on their about page, they say that we’re working towards ending inequality and exploitation in food systems and disenfranchise, skilled farmers.

[00:10:01] And we do this by connecting small holder farmers to high value markets, educating consumers about the impact of product traceability on human rights and sourcing unique foods with terroir that are grown biodynamically and organically using traditional techniques. They redefined sustainability saying that mainstream conversations around food sustainability rarely consider the people involved in growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, and cooking food.

[00:10:29] Sustainability is discussed in terms of environmental impact or the comfort of livestock, providing meat, dairy, or eggs. We believe that the standard measures of sustainability must evolve to consider the conditions. In which the farmers who drive global food supply chains earn their livelihood, single origin ingredients, draw attention to the unique environments in which incredible ingredients grow into the farmers with the expertise and commitment to grow them well.

[00:10:59] Um, and then it goes on. I love, I won’t read this whole thing to you. It’s really, really great. Their approach is fantastic. Um, I have more. For a laugh and barrel spices in my house than any other kind though. I have lots of diaspora as well. Um, and just brilliant, brilliant stuff. And there was cinnamon verum is fantastic.

[00:11:25] I mean, I use it all the time and sweet and savory dishes. Um, I don’t bake a lot personally, but I put it in yogurt all the time. Um, I’ve made lamb with it. Uh, got it. So good. Um, cinema embarrassing. So I don’t know, I’m not amazing on the history. I mean, obviously what’s in this teabag mix is evocative of spices and there’s so much to say about the spice trade and culture and colonization, and so much of why they’re called as forces of Europe found, quote unquote, the new world.

[00:12:02] Wasn’t there. Hunter. For spices. I mean, that’s real. Um, and everyone sort of knows about Eldorado and Pizarros search for the city of gold, but his younger brother actually searched for LA Canela the city of cinnamon. Uh, he never found the city of cinnamon, of course. Um, but there is, you know, that same sort of like a hunt for this, uh, this place where riches and find this one.

[00:12:34] We could say about cinnamon. Well, I guess one thing to say about cinnamon, you know, besides the fact that there’s two kinds and that cinnamon verum is rarer and harder to find, and you know, the history on exactly how Casio, which is the sort of grittier more intense, but not as sweet and not as perfumey.

[00:13:00] How that came to be. I don’t really know that really well. I know it’s, it’s less expensive and it was, what’s considered to be that even then, uh, even like both cinnamon and Cassie are mentioned in the Bible, uh, both were used as offerings. I think both, both of them were almost certainly used for involving, uh, sarcophagus and mummies and Egypt, but Casio was definitely.

[00:13:29] Cheaper. Um, also I think in the hymns of Orpheus, which were amazing, fascinating devotional prayers to different Greek gods before each, um, devotion, they had a different, uh, fumigation, that thing that you would burn before you offer you sent the prayer and there’ll be. Frankincense aromatics or whatever.

[00:14:00] But, um, I think in some of them it says like don’t burn casita, which is just lesser. Um, so we, I don’t think it says in at least in Orpheus saying about cinnamon, but cinnamon was definitely mentioned in the Bible. It’s like an offering, um, to God, which of course says that even 2000 ish or 3000 years ago, there was a spice trade.

[00:14:25] With the people who, from that part of the world, certainly we’re, we’re middlemen. Um, the trip to Europe hadn’t really started yet, but there was a movement from the middle east to Asia for spices. I mean, for sure. Um, cause the Romans certainly were big on that too. One thing I definitely know about now that I’m thinking about it, but I definitely know about, um, cinnamon is.

[00:14:55] I don’t know if it’s true about Casio or they’re both related with cinnamon for sure is incredibly sustainable to grow because of the way that they grow at. Um, they do it use a technique called Capossela. I’m almost sure of this. And composting is when you cut down a, a, uh, a Bush or a tree down to a stump to stimulate new growth, and then you get new.

[00:15:23] Sprouts and branches off it. And from there that you skin these new branches, and then you’ve got the dried quills of cinnamon or cinnamon verum. And then with, I think with Kathia, it’s more like a tree and you can just take the bark off and make the quills, which is lovely. It looks similar, but there’s something that’s sustainable about cinnamon itself, which I think is very beautiful.

[00:15:45] The practice of coppicing has helped. I don’t know about all over the world, certainly in Europe and certainly in Asia. Um, but this process is how so many, uh, like Willow fences have been made is by coppice. And you can basically cut these trees down to their stumps, not eternally, but, um, for incredibly long time and get much more out of if you’d never let it, um, be compost at all.

[00:16:12] So there’s something about this reductionism in a good. That the capacity to be reduced allows for more growth to happen. And I think that’s very beautiful as a principal. I mean, maybe that says something about our capacity for witnessing elders in the world is the capacity for reduction to actually give in it’s lessening, um, and to offer something that’s really that finding fragranced, maybe that’s in there too.

[00:16:47] I mean, No, as I’ve heard Stephen Jenkinson say a man who has learned a tremendous amount from you. If you start with a hundred gallons of grape juice, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a hundred gallons of wine, but the stuff that makes it in the last, you know, despite any breakages or settling will be finer, if you know anything about making wine.

[00:17:14] And so that reduction. Is something that looks like elderhood, but the finest comes from there being less, not more, maybe there’s something about that in cinnamon, but more comes through the reduction and the virtue and the value. Hmm. Maybe. Um, yeah, that’s something about cinnamon, the smelling again, looking at it.

[00:17:41] This say Bengal spice. Cinnamon definitely comes from is traditionally from Salem. Um, or maybe what’s called Salem. It was called that, but, um, Sri Lanka, well, this is called Bengal spice. So this is sort of like, uh, a generic name for, you know, a particular region, the Bangor region of India. And, huh. I mean then go through that comes to mind first, when I think of Bengali is the amazing, famous.

[00:18:14] Saint from there. Um, Rama Krishna. I mean, there’s a lot to say about him, I guess. Well, I won’t go down that road. Um, but he’s amazing. His, you know, the gospel of Sri Rama Krishna is very, very beautiful, um, remarkable circle of people that he gathered. And then also think about, um, Bengala of course you think about Bengali tigers.

[00:18:43] Um, but also from Bengali, not only Bengali on our it’s the Asiatic lion. And so that, that is where, yeah. All, I’ll say something about that. Here’s how this would go.

[00:19:07] So there was a time before time, an old, old time where there was a, uh, And evil king and aren’t these stories. So many times have these stories of these evil Kings. There was an evil king who was named Hiranyakashipu and he like so many evil Kings before and since have had that desire to rule the entire world.

[00:19:41] And Hiranyakashipu was obstinately committed to. Taking his particular brand of, uh, darkness over every inch of land that any one human or animal could ever see. And he knew that while he was strong and he was powerful that he couldn’t do it on the power that he had at that moment. And he was a man of great power and great will.

[00:20:13] And so he decided to take on what was. Known as top us, top us as a Sanskrit word, which means a, a painful act of devotion. And you certainly have maybe seen, uh, images of Indian sod whose, who keep one arm in the air for, for decades or. We’ll only, never cut their nails or travel by rolling on the ground and never walking.

[00:20:47] These are some of the acts of top us go Hiranyakashipu did, was he stood with both arms in the air at the top of a mountain in absolute stillness. And he stood there for a year. And after that first year,

[00:21:11] If the story is recalled correctly, a, an Eagle flew over the mountain, holding a silk and brushed the top of the mountain that he was standing on.

[00:21:28] And that was just after one year, he stood there off slowly, still unmoving devoted, knowing that if he did this long. But the gods themselves would come to him and grant him a boon. And he stood there and he stood there for five years and 10 and 20 and 50 and a hundred. And every once in a while, another Eagle would come by with holding a silk and brushing the top of the mountain.

[00:22:01] And he kept on standing there for a thousand years and 10,000. And he stood there for 50,000 years, unmoving. So devoted was his cause. And at this point, the Eagle has flown by and has reduced the height of the mountain by just brushing it once with a piece of silk, the Eagle has flown by so many times that the mountain has dropped one foot.

[00:22:28] That’s how long he’s been there on moving and the power of his devotion. Starts to make the world shake. He’s so fervent in his fixedness that the earth starts to crack. And the gods start to look at themselves and say, this can’t go on. This is getting worse, but they don’t want to grant this evil man is boon, but the earth starts to shake more after another, a thousand years after another 10,000 years.

[00:22:56] And finally, the earth is quaking from his devotions and bras. The creator, God comes down and says, Hiranyakashipu, you can stop here your top. You can stop your devotions. I’m here to grant you a boon Hiranyakashipu who is turned into a skeleton by this point, all his flesh comes back and he looks at Brahma, the creator God, and says, finally, I knew.

[00:23:34] I have a boon and you will grant it brought my says, I will such a, your devotions on Shikoku says I want to be immortal. And Brockman says even I, the great creator of the universe cannot grant that I am not that asked for something else. I hear I’m sure who says. Ah, fine. All right. Here’s what I want. I want to not be able to be killed by man or beast.

[00:24:14] I’d want to be able to be killed by hand or by any weapon. I don’t want to be able to be killed in my house or outside of my house. And I don’t want to be too. In the day or in the night. And I don’t want to be touched when I’m in the air or if I’m touching the ground and brought my says, so be it who, I don’t know if he had a mustache or not, but at that moment he twirled his mustache and said, aha, I got you.

[00:24:50] This is exactly what I wanted. Nailed it. And so he, uh, goes on his. And he, with this incredible power, he now has, uh, has more wives than you could count and start taking over the whole earth and doing all sorts of record destructions that you would imagine. And people will quake in fear at this evil king.

[00:25:15] And he’s basically unstoppable and battle, which is its own type of terror to see someone without any armor and without any weapons to just walk into. Uh, hoards of armies and be able to take them all down just by himself. All this is terrifying. And so, because he’s an evil king, he always asks and demands that everyone bowed out to him as being the greatest, greater than any God, because no, God does such things and shows their power in the same way.

[00:25:44] Now he has many children, but there was one son, but he has, whose name is prologue, who refuses to bow to his evil father. To his father’s face when his father says you about out to me in this castle, it says I only bow down to one and that is the eternal great. And that is not you. And of course his father is outraged and says to one of his assistants, kill my son, you know what to do.

[00:26:16] And so prologue knows this is sort of coming. He’s seen what happens in the, uh, the belly of. Of the castle and he increases his devotions to, to the great Brock mall, to the great Shiva, to the great Vishnu, to the great Krishna. That’s where he puts his prayers towards that one. And so the, uh, the first way that they try and of course, by saying first I’d given away the fact that this one fails, um, they try to throw them into boiling.

[00:26:55] But such are his devotions and the power of his prayers that the oil itself retreats from him being, uh, in such awe of his devotion to these primary, highest of gods. But the oil itself says you are, your prayer quality is too fine. We cannot boil you. And of course the henchman are enraged by this and they try to throw them into.

[00:27:25] A pit of alligators and that doesn’t work either. Then there’s a, uh, a third one where they try to pull them apart with, uh, with ropes. And of course the ropes refuse to pull all because of the quality and power of his prayer. Uh, this is my echo, a little bit to the Daniel and the lion’s den from the Bible.

[00:27:47] They don’t have similar sources, but have a list to my knowledge, such as the power of. The goodness somehow. And the henchman sort of, you know, sniffily come up to Horan Shikibu and say like master, we tried, but the oil wouldn’t boil them. And the alligators wouldn’t eat him. And the ropes wouldn’t pull him and her undershirt pupusas you fools.

[00:28:13] I will do this myself. I will kill my insolent wretched son who doesn’t understand migraine. So standing in the courtyard of the castle stands prologue and his father you’re on the shampoo and it runs you could who draws back his giant sword. And at that moment it just happens to be sunset. And as he draws back his sword, the sword hits a pillar behind him and out of the pillar, leaps.

[00:28:52] Sri Narasimhadev is half lion half man, all God. Uh, Sri means sort of like the great. Nara in Sanskrit means lion, uh, or, uh, nara means, man. Simha means lion, and dev means God. And so. Explodes from this pillar, Sri Narasimhadev at sunset. And he’s so terrifying and he’s so huge and he’s so unexpected.

[00:29:34] And he grabs Hiranyakashipu and puts him on his lap, which is neither in the air nor on the ground. And he puts him on the threshold. Well, the courtyard, which is neither in the house nor out of the house and uses his claws, which are neither hand nor weapon and guts him and eats him and prologue bows to Sri Narasimhadev says, thank you. Great Lord for saving me. Now. I love the story. I’ve I’ve known this story since I was a kid. Um, and Sri Narasimhadev there’s great pictures of. Uh, he looks terrifying, um, and cool. And she’s a greatly beloved God in India and he sort of a little bit like the St. Jude of India.

[00:30:30] Like he’s the God of last, last chances. Like when everything else isn’t going to add up, you know, he’s the, the last hope and he shows up, um, in his terrible. I mean, I just love that story and I’ve always loved how Coolio looked. I loved that there was this understanding. Now of course, the story is normally understood as sort of like a good versus evil.

[00:30:58] And then like, even in the end, Goodwin’s even path to take out a terrible form. Um, and that it’s also like a bit of a, a moral tale. About prologue, like the power of your devotion brings good to you. And that’s the traditional understanding. And I’ll leave aside whether that’s right or wrong. And what I love even more about this story is that the old Indian understanding and this story of course is a Hindu story, but it would have its roots in pre Hindu understanding.

[00:31:38] Somehow the redemptive quality and the redemptive function exists in a non-human world. And there’s something about that. The people who lived in India would have seen Bengal tigers. Certainly we also would have seen the Asiatic lion and somehow seeing themselves in it so much so that they could imagine the divinity that mixed, that incredible animal and humans.

[00:32:08] But somehow that understanding of the redemptive function could only happen with the intersection of human and animal. And that sort of speaks to me in a really old way about the deep relationality between the animal and human about our connection to wildness in the wild and how our capacity to summons.

[00:32:36] Um, requires our ability to speak the devotional language of the wild that it comes to us. Not that we go to it, uh, because properly when we go to the wild, the wild retreats. So for me like this amazing Bengal spice teabag makes me think of all these things of our relationship, to the wild and to. The animal world and the non-human world and how that mixture is something about where redemptive quality for living and last chances might live.

[00:33:18] It could make a lot of connections of that to, to climate change or taking care of the natural world, which is obsolete proper. But it’s not just so easy just to say, like com it really requires, um, a type of. Deep knowing of a place. And that takes a long time. You were storyline wonders, prolonged, and her on the sugar poo and Sri Norris, and how to have, could only emerge from a place in the people that had a deep relationship with that.

[00:33:50] Cause mostly when we see lions or tigers, we’re like, oh wow, amazing. But our capacity to imagine ourselves in them and have them and mixed with them as a redemptive function could only come from something much more old. What is wrong? Just makes me think of like, what is that called? Is that a lion man?

[00:34:19] Oh, yeah, here it is. Lion man. Startled, Germany. Yeah. Very old carved figure called the Löwenmensch figurine a lion man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel, a prehistoric ivory sculpture, uh, discover in Hohlenstein-Stadel, a German cave in 1939. So, oh yeah, this is so cool. Was this like 40,000 years old? I forgot how old this is.

[00:34:43] Oh, got it. So. Yeah, 40,000 years old, 31 centimeters tall, the head of a lion part of the human body. You stands upright perhaps on tip toes, legs apart. I mean, is this where that, that her Sri NarasimhaDev story came from no idea, but there was this old understanding about humans and animals being mixed and that our identity isn’t just human, that our identity is also animal as well.

[00:35:12] And that’s our redemptive quality came from. Yeah, that’s plenty. What a wondering, thank you, Barbara. Thank you for sending me this tea to make me wonder about all this stuff. I’m grateful. Um, until soon.

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