Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest-blogger Literary Translator Lisa Carter with 5 Tastes of Spain for Armchair Travelers

Lisa Carter
Ole! Sombreros off to my fellow American Literary Translators Association member and translator extraordinaire, Lisa Carter. Her latest is the translation of the novel The House of Impossible Loves, by prize-winning Spanish author Cristina López Barrio. Billed as a work of magical realism, it is that and so much more: real and ethereal, light and dark, woven through with a thread of Spanish history, culture and literary influences. To celebrate the launch, Lisa will be hosting a virtualliterary salon with the author and the acquiring editor, Christina Morgan, on Saturday, June 29th. Everyone who loves books, translation, Spain -- any or all of these -- is cordially invited to attend.

Read more at Lisa's website: 

5 Tastes of Spain for Armchair Travelers
By Lisa Carter
One of the beauties of literature in translation is that you can explore faraway places without having to go through the rigors of learning the language or finding your way in another culture. Here are five tastes of Spain – all with some connection to the book – that you can savor from the comfort of your own home.
Antonio Machado
Campos de Castilla is a book of poetry by the Spaniard Antonio Machado, one of Cristina López Barrio's literary inspirations for The House of Impossible Loves. Her story takes place in an unnamed town somewhere in the department of Castile. This landscape video whisks you along the actual fields of Castile, while Joan Manuel Serrat sings one of my favorite Machado poem, Cantares.
Food & Wine
More than one character in this novel has a passion for food – a passion I can absolutely relate to, especially when it comes to Spanish cuisine. Whether you plan to attend the online literary salon or host a summer party soon, these recipes will put you in an olive-oil-drenched, Spanish frame of mind.
"Storyteller" by Mario Castro Quintet
One of the characters toward the end of The House of Impossible Loves is an oral storyteller in a Madrid café. This jazz piece titled "Storyteller" was performed at Café Mercedes in Valencia and, like all jazz, tells a story itself.
Galician homes
Since translating this novel, I've been dreaming about what it would be like to own a hundred-year-old home in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. But when daunted by all of the work and expense that would involve, I turn to Vacation Rentals By Owner to at least imagine living in one while on holiday.
Masterpieces of the Prado Museum
Toward the end of the novel, two characters stroll up and down Madrid's famous El Prado. I used Google Maps to make sure I got all of the street names right. Here, Google Earth takes you inside the magnificent Prado Museum to explore some of its masterpieces in super high resolution. 

>Recent guest-bloggers for Madam Mayo include novelists Victoria Wilcox, Amy Kwei and Joanna Hershon, and children's writer Mary Lynn Patton.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Excerpt: José Fidencio Sintora Constantino, El Niño Fidencio

Another excerpt from my revised and much-expanded introduction to my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Spritist Manual (forthcoming in paperback, Kindle and iBook this year; the link goes to current first edition available only on Kindle). 

***UPDATE My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available***

Francisco I. Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico 1911-1913. As Mexican historian Enrique Krauze eloquently argues in his biography, Francisco I. Madero: Místico de la libertad, in the case of Madero, "Politics does not displace Spiritism, it is born of it." So, whatever one's personal opinion of Spiritism may be, Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911 (written in 1909-1910), becomes a key document for understanding the Mexican Revolution.

Note: The excerpt refers to Pachita, the Mexican "psychic surgeon"-- another excerpt about her will be posted soon.

José Fidencio Sintora Constantino
El Niño Fidencio 
Anyone who explores heterodox Spiritism in 20th century Mexico comes to the enigma of José Fidencio Sintora Constantino, “El Niño Fidencio,” who laughingly predicted his own sudden death in 1938. As a healer, Fidencio is more famous than Doña Pachita and than his predecessor, Teresa Urrea, the “Santa de Cabora.” Throughout northern Mexico and in Chicano communities Texas and as far north as Chicago, it is not uncommon to see, right alongside those to Jesus, San Judas Tadeo (St. Jude Thaddeus), and Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, candles, pictures, and even elaborate plastic flower-draped altars dedicated to Fidencio. Called niño or “child,” because of his high-pitched voice and
gentle, playful nature, as a boy, Fidencio was taken underwing by a German-born Spiritist named Teodoro von Wernich, who recognized and encouraged his development as a mediumistic healer. As news of Fidencio’s healing powers spread, increasing numbers of pilgrims arrived in his remote desert home in Espinazo, Nuevo León, so many that the place became a tent city, with its own post office, and far more substantial than Teresa Urrea’s colossal gatherings, or “romerías” of Mayo Indians, Yaquis and mestizos all yearning for her magic touch, that had so disturbed the Porfirian authorities. The apogee of Fidencio’s career came in 1928: President Plutarco Elías Calles, seeking healing for a skin ailment, pulled into Espinazo on his private train. 

Espinazo was not in my travel plans, but I was able to visit from my armchair by means of Juan Farré’s documentary, Niño Fidencio: de Roma a Espinazo. Ancient ranch people, their voices slow, eyes rheumy, remembered Fidencio, contradicting each other about the color of his skin. One said the Niño cured President Calles by slathering him in honey. The camera panned slowly over the jars immortalizing the tumors the Niño had extracted using his specially-chosen piece of broken glass. An old blind woman who had known Fidencio told the story of a boy who had been swimming in the ocean with two friends, and when the two were eaten by a whale, he was so shocked he could not longer speak. In Espinazo, Fidencio put him on a swing, pushing him so high he screamed and was cured. Another old woman said the Niño operated on cataracts using a razor blade. Another remembered that he fed the lepers boiled coyote and vulture, but they all died anyway.

More techniques: the Niño would smack people with an apple or a tejocote. On others he would sic his mountain lion, a declawed pet named Concha. He might climb up onto a swing, holding a paralytic close to his heart, and then, when the swing stopped, the man would walk—said one devotee.

The variety in Fidencio’s repertoire seemed endless: plants and herbs and the Charquito, or “little puddle.” In a sunny contemporary scene in the Charquito, men who might have been truck drivers spread their arms wide and fell backwards; a circle of pilgrims, the water jostling above their their knees, held hands, closed their eyes and prayed. Zombie-like men, women, children, hair and faces covered in mud, sloshed through the waist-high murk. Alongside the Charquita, to the pound of drums, dancers with headdresses of quetzal feathers and rattles on their ankles stomped and whirled. On the ground, a teenager slowly rolled, over and over, his T-shirt becoming yellower and yellower with dirt.

Fidencio, said another of the old timers, knew he was going to die. But he said, “Don’t bury me right away because I am going to rise on the third day.” With the news of his death, pilgrims rushed in from all over northern Mexico and parts beyond to witness the miracle. But their “saint” did not revive, or at least, not in the way they were expecting. Some of the fidencistas believed they could now enter a trance and receive his spirit, so that, through them, the Niño could continue his work. These materias, or mediums, call themselves cajitas, or “little boxes,” and they wear white robes trimmed in gold and capes the colors of popsicles. Their modus operandi is to stand close to their patient, a hand on his shoulder, and whisper into his ear words of compassion and instruction in Fidencio’s babylike voice. I watched as they, too, shiny capes and all, waded into the Charquito. Someone dumped a bucket of mud over a child’s head. More men fell backwards, stiff as planks, splash, into the chocolately soup.

The film’s finale was rare footage, a scratchy black-and-white flickering, of Fidencio, from on high, pitching fruit at his followers; then, like a rock star, writhing over a mosh pit of their arms; everywhere arising from that carpet-like tangle of humanity, hands, more hands, hands like hungry spiders on his hair, his hip, his shoulder, his foot.

When imagery such as this is the first thing that comes to mind for many of Mexico's intellectual and political elite when Spiritism is mentioned, perhaps we can understand the desire to suppress or ignore the Spiritist beliefs of a national hero.

Don Francisco I. Madero was also a healer who ministered to those too poor to pay a doctor, many of whom might have been no different than the grandparents of those old ranch people in the movie about Fidencio. But no, he did not perform “psychic surgery” nor thrash around in a mud pit or chuck apples at anybody. Madero performed hands-on "magnetic" healing, hypnotism, which he apparently learned from French books, and homeopathy, a German doctor’s innovation of treating illnesses with remedies of “like with like,” tiny white sugar pills infused with extremely  diluted substances. But Madero's true calling, as he understood it, was to heal the Mexican body politic.

When Madero finished with his studies in France and boarded his ship to Mexico, neither Fidencio nor Pachita had yet been born. Teresa Urrea, the “Santa de Cabora,” heroine to the Tomochitecos, had just fled to Nogales, Arizona. Madero’s fellow mystics would prove to be a more educated, more literary-minded type: among them, Porfirio Díaz’s own Secretary of Foreign Relations, Ignacio Mariscal.

And after Madero, a small but adventurous portion of Mexico's intellectual, political, and scientific elite was dedicated to communicating with disembodied consciousnesses. I send interested readers to Una ventana al mundo invisible (A Window to the Invisible World), a now very rare book published in 1960 which contains the detailed records of dozens of séances held from 1940-1952 and lists of their participants--among them, both in life and in spirit, Plutarco Elías Calles-- for the Instituto Mexicano de Investigaciones Síquicas (Mexican Institute of Psychic Research). 
Onward now to Madero’s metaphysical odyssey. As you know, it is going to end in a slick of blood.

Copyright C.M. Mayo all rights reserved.
>Visit the book's webpage, with more excerpts, Q & A, and resources for researchers.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Francisco I. Madero's Commentary on the Baghavad-Gita (or Bhaghavad-Gita)


One of the most crucial things I discuss in the forthcoming revised and expanded introduction to my translation of Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911 (***UPDATE My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available***)
is his treatment of the Hindu holy book, the Baghavad-Gita (also spelled Bhagavad-Gita, and with or without the dash and various accents). Madero's commentary was originally published in the Mexican Spiritist magazine, Helios, Tomo VII, 1912-- while he was serving as President of Mexico-- and it is reprinted in José Vasconcelo's Estudios Indostánicos,  of which I found the third edition of 1938. Herewith Vasconcelos' introduction (in italics), then Madero's commentary, and finally, in italics again, Vasconcelos' conclusion. English translation coming ASAP.

(Note that Madero here refers to the warrior Bima, but used Bhima with the added "h" as his pen name for the Spiritist Manual. What was going on with that h, I have no idea. The bold text is as as I found it.)

Ya hemos indicado en los apuntes históricos que el Mahabharatta corresponde al segundo periódo del pensamiento indostánico. No se conoce la fecha del poema, pero por las doctrinas y referencias que contiene, se deduce que es posterior a los Upanishads y probablemente anterior al budismo. El episodio más importante del Mahabharatta es el libro conocido con el nombre Baghavad-Gita. Nada se sabe del autor de la obra sino que se llama Vyasa, un nombre, por lo demás, muy común en la literatura hindú. El poema está escrito en sánscrito.
Comienza con un diálogo entre Arjuna, el jefe de un ejército y Krishna, el dios que lo auxilia en la batalla. Los cuernos de la guerra han anunciado que va a comenzar el combate, las flechas comienzan a volar por el aire, y entonces Arhuja pide a Krishna que le permita ver el ejércit enemigo. Krishna interpone su carro luminoso y por un momento interrupte el combate. Arjuna pasa revista a sus enemigos. Allí esta Bima, su rival, fuerte y rodeado de atrevidos guerreros, acompañado de las tribus y de los mismos parientes y amigos de Arjuna. Al contemplar a todos estos hombres, Arjuna siente que no los odia, y se duele de tener que luchar con ellos;  vacila y pregunta a Krishna: ¿cómo podré yo cambatir contra Bima y Drona, si entre todos los hombres ellos son los más dignos de mi respeto? Preferiré mendigar mi pan por el mundo, antes que ser el asesino de estas gentes... No podría decir si es preferible que nos derrotan o qye nosotros los derrotemos. Pues los enemigos que allí nos esperan, con los pechos llenos de rencor, son los hijos del pueblo de Dhiritarashtra, si si hubieren de perecer por mi mano, yo no desearía vivir... no los combatiré...
Krishna contesta, haciendo ver a Arjuna la futilidad de la vida lo mismo que la imposibilidad de la muerte, la imposibilidad de matar el espíritu, etc. Le hacer ver también que si huye y no combate, el enemigo lo atribuirá a cobardía; en cambio, una vez iniciado el combate, si mueres, le dice Krishna, irás al cielo; y si vences, el mundo será tuyo. En el curso de su disertación, Krishna instruye al guerrero en las doctrinas del yoga activo y en la salvación que se logra mediante las acciones justas y el abandono de los deseos; le expone la doctrina de la reencarnación y de la liberación.
En el capítulo tercero, Krishna sigue su discurso, explicando la salvación que se logra por la ejecución adecuada de las acciones. En el cíatulo cuarto, se habla del conocimiento espiritual.
A partir de este capítulo cuarto, suspendo mis notas, remitiendo a los lectores al admirable texto original, que es muy fácil de obtener; pero quiero cerrar mi capítulo con un comentario que es quizás el primero que se escribió en México, del Baghavad-Gita;  un comentario que procede del extraordinario y nobilísimo espíritu, que enyre nosotros fue apóstol, pensador y presidente mártir, y que conocimos con el nombre terrestre de Francisco I. Madero. Del comentario de Madero posee sólo un fragmento, que dice textualmente:

"Este capítulo (el 4o.) trata de la verdadera devoción, en términos tales que merecen meditarse seriamente, porque demuestran cuán profundas y grandiosas son las enseñanzas del Baghavad-Gita; cuán amplio es su espíritu de tolerancia y cómo concuerda conlas enseñanzas de Jesús, quien consideraba como ley principal el amarnos los unos a los otros. Así el Baghavad-Gita dice en este capítulo, versículo 4, que el principal culto que debe rendirse al Ser Supremo y el camino que él conduce, consiste en refrenar los sentimientos, equilibrando el entendimiento y complaciéndose en el bien de todos los seres.

"Se vé, pues, que el  modo más eficaz de adorar a la divinidad es "complacerse en el bien de todos los seres", o lo que es lo mismo, amar a nuestros hermanos, como decía Jesús.
"Es indiscutible que también es necesario refrenar y dominar los sentidos, pues de otra manera los deseos y las pasiones nos ofuscan e impiden amar a nuestros semejantes y desear su bien.
"En los versículos 5 y 6 explícase que: "ardua por demás es la tarea de aquel cuya mente se halla fija en lo Inmanifestado"; refiriéndose a la gran dificultad que implica concentrar por completo la mente en lo divino y permanecer en constante meditación o adoración. Y en verdad, cualquiera que haya intendado concentrar su mente en ese sentido, habrá observado cuán pocos son los minutos en que se puede lograr  tal resultado, siendo casi imposible evitar que otros pensamientos vengan a perturbar y distraer la atención.
"Así dice que ese camino está lleno de dificultades, pero en cambio, no es indispensable tal práctica, sino que basta con renunciar en El todas sus acciones y que El constituya el idea supremo, para que lo salve sin tardanza del piélago de a muerte y de la existencia.
"Por renuncia en El de todas sus acciones, debe entenderse que todos nuestros actos deben tener un fin altruísta, un fin bueno; el de servir los designados de la Divinidad, trabajando en cualquier forma por acelerar la evolución de la humanidad y por ayudar a nuestros semejantes.
"Todas las acciones que tengan un fin de tal naturaleza y no busquen recompensa terrenal, sino que se ejecuten con el propósito de servir a la Divinidad, son las que más pesan en su balanza. 
"Los que obran de esta manera, indudablemente consideran a la Divinidad como su ideal supremo, puesto que sus principales aspiraciones consisten en colaborar de acuerdo con sus designios a la realización del grandioso plan Divino.
"En los versículos 8, 9, 10, 11 y 12 vuelven a expresarse las mismas ideas, considerando siempre superior a la renuncia las obras, al conocimiento, la práctica perserverante y a la meditación (Versículo 12).
"El versículo 8 recomienda la concentración de nuestra mente para adorar al Ser Supremo; pero como esto es muy difícil obtenerlo, según acabamos de exponer, entonces el versículo 9 recomienda toda clase de prácticas religiosas, las cuales ayudan a concentrar la atención y a aumentar la devoción. Si aun  esto se dificulta, recomiendo el versículo 10 dedicarse a ejecutar obras por consideración a El tan sólo. Como este concepto parace semejante al que se expresa en el versículo inmediato, consideramos que debe interpretarse en el sentido de: consagrarse al culto de la Divinidad, afiliándose en alguna sociedad u orden religiosa, puesto que un sacerdote de cualquier culto indudablemente se dedica a ejecutar obras por consideración a la Divinidad a cuyo servicio dedica todos sus esfuerzos desde el momento de su consagración.
"Por último, si aun esto no es posible, entonces recomienda refugiarse en El por medio de la Unión Espiritual, y, subyugándose a sí mismo, renunciando por completo al fruto de sus acciones.
"Todo esto puede efectuarse llevando la vida mundana, sin necesidad de recluírse en un claustro, no de abandonar la familia y las ocupaciones ordinarias. Es, por consiguiente, posible llegar al grado máximo de virtud y evolución que puede alcanzar el ser humano, dedicándose a la vida ordinaria, a la profesional, a la agricultura, a los negocios, a la política y a todas las ocupaciones que exige la moderna civilización, así como la constitución de un hogar y de una familia; basta para ello unirse espiritualmente con el Ser Supremo, es decir, llegar al resultado de que todos nuestros actos tengan un fin bueno y útil a la humanidad, o sea, que todos ellos estén en harmonia con el Plan Divino, porque tienden favorecer el bienestar del género humano y su evolución. Para lograr este resultado, es indispensable, como dice el mismo versículo, "subyugarse a sí mismo", porque de otra manera las pasiones nos impiden tener la serenidad de espíritu y la rectitud necesarias para obrar siempre bien.
"Por último, estando unificados espiritualmente con la Divinidad y habiéndonos subyugado a nosotros mismos, "debemos renunciar al fruto de nuestras acciones". Ya hemos explicado que por "renunciar al fruto de nuestras acciones" debe entenderse que al ejecutar cualquier acto meritorio no debemos hacerlo en vista de la recompensa que de él esperamos, sino por considerar que tal es nuestro deber y que de esa manera servimos al Ser Supremo: lo cual debe ser para nosotros la principal y la más honda de las aspiraciones. Servir a la Divinidad, convertirnos en agentes de su voluntad, en colaboradores, y buscar como recompensa la satisfacción qie se siente con la conciencia del deber cumplido, con la paz que se disfruta cuando ningún deseo ni pasión nos agita, tal debe ser nuestra aspiración suprema.
"El resto del capítulo expresa la idea de que los hombres de ideas benévolas, compasivos, indiferentes en medio del placer y del dolor, pacientes en las ofensas, contentos con su suerte, constantamente harmonizados dueños de sí mismos, firmes en sus resoluciones, con la mente y el discernimiento fijos únicamente en la Divinidad y devotos en ella, así como aquel que no turba al mundo ni por el mundo se ve turbado, que está libre de las emociones causados por la alegría, la cólera y el temor, etc., son dignos de la estimación, el aprecio y el afecto de la Divinidad.
"También son acreedores a este afecto los que se muestran iguales ante el amigo y el enemigo, indiferentes en el honor y en la ignominia, imperturbables a la alabanza y al vituperio, etc.
"Insistiendo sobre la idea ya expresada anteriormente, afirma que es el objeto de la predelicción del Ser Supremo, aquel que lleno de fe sigue la ley que confiere la inmortalidad (complacerse en el bien de todos los seres y renunciar en la Divinidad todas sus acciones), asimismo al que hace del Ser Supremo el más alto ideal de sus aspiraciones, idea que debe entenderse según la hemos expresado en los comentarios de este capítulo.
"Como se ve, son grandiosas todas las concepciones que encierra el Baghavad-Gita, y está muy lejos de recomendar esas prácticas supersticiosas tan en boga en la mayoría de las religiones, aun de las que actualemente profesan los pueblos civilizados, y, según las cuales se da más importancia a determinadas prácticas religiosas que al cumplimiento del deber, sin considerar que cumpliendo con el deber, es como se favorece en un plano más vasto y extenso el bienestar y progreso de la humanidad.
"Indudablemente un guerrero, que va a la lucha por el bien de sus semejantes, hace un acto más meritorio ante la Divinidad que el sacerdote que se dedica exclusivamente a sus prácticas religiosas ', sin unir a la oración la acción. Este sacerdote, si acaso, se limita a tener buenos deseos para la humanidad, si no es que, como acontece generalmente, piensa únicamente en la salvación de su propria alma, y con tal objeto e inspirado en un sentimiento egoísta, se dedica a las prácticas religiosas más extrañas.
"No queremos terminar el comentario de este capítulo dejando inadvertido el versículo 8o. en lo relacionado con la idea panteísta, pues viene a confirmar nuestras constantes observaciones sobre el Baghavad-Gita, y es que en esta obra no tienen cabida las ideas panteístas, contrariamente a las deducciones hechas por investigadores superficiales.
"En este versículo dice: "Fija, pues, tu mente en Mí, penetra en Mí tu entendimiento y sin duda alguna, después de tu muerte, viviras en Mí en las alturas."
"Vivirás en Mí en las alturas", no significa ir a absorbernos en el Ser Supremo y a formar parte de El mismo, sino que nos acercaremos a El, y llegando a identificarnose con sus designios, viviremos para El y dentro de El; pero siempre conservando nuestra propia individualidad, así como la inmensa y muy respetable distancia que nos separa de Aquél "que con una partícula de Sí mismo dio origen y actividad al Universo entero y sigue existiendo" (capítulo X, versículo 42).
"Por ese motivo, cada uno de nosotros, parte infinitesimal de ese Universo, no puede pretender llegar a ser tan alto como El, que lo creó con una partícula de Sí mismo.
"Nuestro destino es muy glorioso y muy alto el lugar que llegaremos a ocupar entre los que rodean al Ser Supremo y del gobierno del Universo; llegarán nuestras aspiraciones a confundirse con sus designios; pero por más que nos identifiquemos con el plan divino, nunca perderemos nuestro Yo, nunca llegaremos a ser parte del Dios, que no está integrado por millares de seres, sino que es Uno e Indivisible."
 Impresionante resulta imaginar los pensamientos de Madero cuando llegó a encontrarse en los campos mexicanos, en la situación de Arjuna dispuesto a combatir un ejército de enemigos que no odiaba, pero que era su deber destruír. Venció a esos enemigos, el Arjuna de México, en la noble lid de la fuerza, y después perdonóles con tierno espíritu cristiano; más para ser víctima de Judas, en la más negra y cruel de las tradiciones.

Related posts:
>Enter Allan Kardec, Chef du Spiritisme
>Madame Blavatsky, Messenger from the Mahatmas


Monday, June 10, 2013

Enter Allan Kardec, Chef du Spiritisme

Racing to meet the deadline.... I'm almost finished with my revised and expanded introduction to Spiritist Manual, my translation of Manual Espíritathe secret book of 1911 by Francisco I. Madero, leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico 1911-1913.  This excerpt mentions Swedenborg and the Fox sisters of Hydesville-- more about them anon.

Enter Allen Kardec, Chef du Spiritisme
Allan Kardec
Though an energetic evangelist, Francisco I. Madero schemed to hide his Spiritism from the public—his personal letters during his campaigns and his presidency make this clear—  and, over the several decades after his death, few Mexicans in public positions have had the incentive, the metaphysical context, or whatever wherewithal to begrudge more than a glancing mention of it. As early as 1915, any public discussion of Spiritism became taboo—historian Yolia Tortolero uses this word, and quite rightly, even while, as she also notes, Spiritism was being practiced “under cover by many public figures.” There is more to say about this thundering silence about Spiritism in Mexico, which, with a few notable exceptions, has persisted to this day, but to first properly comprehend the term we must hie back to Paris of 1891 and, reanimating our scene, let that page of La Revue Spirite fall. And another.
This magazine Pancho Madero is reading belongs to his father—though his mother and other family members are devout Catholics and, as he surely knows, the Pope had declared the main ritual of Spiritualism and its derivative, Spiritism, the séance, diabolical. Decades earlier, Pope Pius IX had slapped the works of Allan Kardec, founder of La Revue Spirite, on the Index, the Vatican’s list of prohibited books.
Allan Kardec: this elbow-sharp and magnetic nom de plume, supposedly taken from one of his other lifetimes as a Druid priest, belonged to a French educator named Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, who died in 1869. From his stern-looking portrait, with his knob-chin and kingly pose, one might take him for a mightily conservative banker. Kardec was an unlikely guru. According to his English translator, Anna Blackwell, he was “grave, slow of speech, unassuming in manner, yet not without a certain quiet dignity.” Further, and somewhat frighteningly, “he was never known to laugh.” Yet anyone who doubts his influence, from France to Mexico, Brazil to the Philippines, can visit Paris’s Père La Chaise cemetery and find, among the stone angels and sarcophagi and mausoleums of the likes of Chopin, Collette, Victor Hugo, La Fontaine and Molière, Kardec’s megalithic tomb ever-heaped with flowers.
Rivail had been educated by the Swiss Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who, radically for the time, emphasized freedom of thought and direct observation. According to John Warne Monroe in Laboratories of Faith: Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern France, Rivail was a longtime student of mesmerism in 1853 when he learned of the strange phenomenon of the tables parlantes or table tipping, from a friend who said he had managed to induce a table to lift by itself off the ground and turn, and more: like the Fox sisters of Hydesville, he was communicating with spirits through the table by means of raps and knocks.
Though skeptical, Rivail determined to study this phenomenon. He soon moved on to observing mediumistic writing, in which two young mediums, the Mlles Baudin, would place their fingertips on a planchette, a triangular contraption with little wheels and a pencil attached, thus allowing spirits to answer his questions and offer messages in writing.
It was the spirit “Zéphyr” who assigned him the name Allan Kardec, and, along with other spirits, such a mass of teachings to solve “the controversial problem of humanity’s past and future,”  that Rivail turned it into a book—including additional information channeled by medium Célina Japhet. Published in 1857, Le Livre des Esprits, (The Book of the Spirits), concurrently with the levitating medium D.D. Homes’ visit to France, became a best-seller of its time, translated into multiple languages, and is still in print today. 
With down-to-earth language and easy-to-reference numbered questions and answers, The Book of the Spirits is a guide to nothing less than the universe and its laws, the nature of God, the spirit world and its relations with humanity. The concluding message, channeled from the spirit of Saint Augustine, calls for kindness and benevolence. It is this work that first spelled out the doctrine of Spiritism, which Kardec distinguishes from Spiritualism—the latter, according to him, simply the belief that there is more than physical matter— as a doctrine based on the specific nature of relations between the physical and spirit worlds. Spiritism’s most notable departure from Spiritualism is its assertion that spirits reincarnate as, in life after life, whether on Earth or some other planet, they evolve into ever greater states of consciousness.
This was the most modern of modern science, Kardec argued, for, as a scientist might peer through a microscope to see the detail in a leaf, so he could employ a medium to communicate with the spirit world. Through Ermance Dufaux, a teenaged medium famous for her channeled autobiography of Joan of Arc, a nameless spirit instructed Kardec to publish La Revue Spirite as soon as possible and using his own money and so, in 1858, he did. In 1861, Kardec published Le Livre des Médiums (The Book on Mediums), a how-to and advisory on the dangers of communicating with spirits based on his own and collagues’ experiences as well as more material channeled from spirits, among them Erastrus, Channing, “Spirit of Truth,” and Matthew. More followed: The Gospel Explained by Spirits (1864) ; Heaven and Hell (1865); and Genesis (1867), in addition to shorter works. 
This was the Swedenborg-sized pile that Pancho Madero, having finished with La Revue Spirite, ran to that magazine’s offices to purchase. In his words:
"I did not read [Kardec’s] books; I devoured them, for their doctrines were so rational, so beautiful, so new, they seduced me and ever since I consider myself a Spiritist." 
That is to say, Madero believed he had incarnated on this planet in order to help usher in a golden age, evangelist for the doctrine that was nothing less than, to quote Kardec in Genesis, “the pivot on which the human race will turn.”
Our Coahuilan prince has stepped onto his metaphysical Montgolfier, as it were. Soon he will be tossing sandbags overboard.
(Copyright © C.M. Mayo 2013, all rights reserved) 

>>Read more about the Spiritist Manual (website includes Q & A and resources for researchers)
>>Get the current edition on Kindle.
>>Read a previous excerpt on this blog, "Madame Blavatsky, Messenger from the Mahatmas"

***UPDATE My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available***


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Guest-blogger Children's Author Mary Lynn Patton with 5 Links on Mexico and E-Publishing

Mary Lynn Patton

Delighted to see Mary Lynn Patton's first two children's books, Sounds of Mexico and Sounds of Mexico Maya, up in the iBookstore with links from As Mary Lynn writes:

"These two bilingual books star my canary, Pavarotti, who loves to sing along with the sounds of Mexico. He takes the reader on adventures set in the magical mountains of Tepoztlan in the first book and the sacred land of the Maya people in the second. I recall with a chuckle my first plea for your help in finding a publisher for these books and your suggestion to self-publish as an iBook (books with sound require a connection to iTunes so the Amazon/Kindle combination was not possible). My collaborators, illustrator Margarita Sada from Mexico City, Salvador Espinosa, sound engineer, and Judith Segura, translator, and I (all from Tepoztlan, Morelos home to the Canadian Mexican Literary Festival), worked together to publish. It was thrilling. By the second book we were becoming increasingly interactive in our presentation and for the third book we are considering the Read Aloud feature available in iBooks. I want a hard copy published book to hold in addition to these e-books but as the Madam herself asserts (Seven Reasons Why E-Books Will Be Big in Mexico) this works to reach readers here and now. A bit of research revealed the phenomenal escalating sales for e-books, $1.3 billion in 2012 (No, E-book Sales Are Not Declining). Mexico City has a new eBook publishing company called editorial-ink for digital books ( and a new digital library ( Children the world over from middle and upper class homes are receiving iPad minis in child-proof cases as their birthday surprise to download interactive books."
> Recent guest-bloggers here at Madam Mayo include novelists Victoria Wilcox, Amy Kwei, and Joanna Hershon
> Check out the complete archive of guest-blogs here.
P.S. My embryonic and to-be-frequently-updated list of recommended reading on Mexico is here.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Madame Blavatsky, Messenger from the Mahatmas

An excerpt from the section on the history of 19th century metaphysics in my forthcoming book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual:

Madame Blavatsky, Messenger from the Mahatmas
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
As Don Evaristo Madero cast his massive shadow over northern Mexico, so Helena Petrovna Blavatsky cast hers over metaphysically-minded Western civilization, that is to say, Europe, England, Australia, and the Americas, for she was the monumental figure of modern esotericism. (Not that that those two ever met. I am quite sure that if they had, any crockery in the vicinity would have exploded.)
She was fat and her eyes bulged. She swore like a stevedore, her tobacco was cheap, and the flower pots around her piled up with stubs. Madame Blavatsky had left her husband in Russia, first breaking a candlestick over his head, and then, before arriving to settle for a spell in New York, traveled to Central America, all over Europe, several times to Egypt (where, among other exploits, she disguised herself as a Muslim man and studied Coptic magic), and twice trekked into Tibet to attend a secret school led by enlighted sages called “mahatmas,” or “Great White Brothers.” She also claimed that, after her return to the West, she remained in telepathic communication with the mahatmas, who could also travel anywhere on earth and the universe by means of their astral bodies. 
A psychic medium and self-styled scholar, Madam Blavatsky exuded a charisma impossible to fathom. Her presence seemed to occasion fires, raps, knocks, tables rising from the floor, and messages in golden ink from the mahatmas dropping out of thin air. Her fellow Theosophist William Quan Judge recalled “marvels wholly unexplainable on the theory of jugglery,” including little orbs creeping over the furniture in her apartment in New York City and, as she sat in the parlor, a spoon flying into her hand all the way from the kitchen.
In a word, Madame Blavatsky made Cagliostro look like a pipqueak and Monsieur Kardec, for all his spirit world adventures via teenaged mediums, thoroughly bourgeois. 
For Madame Blavatsky, there were higher truths than Christianity and Spiritualism and its Johnny-come-lately offshoot, Spiritism; the Orient, wellspring of Buddhism and Hinduism, was the authentic source of spiritual knowledge. 
Now, to take an orbit-worthy leap over novel-length episodes—among them, Blavatsky’s meeting with Col. Henry Steel Olcott in the Vermont farmhouse of the Eddy brothers, mediums who brought forth such shades of the dead as a giant Winnebago chief, a squaw with her pet flying squirrel, and a naval officer in full dress with a sword— Blavatsky and Olcott founded the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. Not a religion, it was an association to promote religious universality, and that included Buddhism and Hinduism— which, as one might imagine, would not endear them to Christian missionaries and many of the colonial authorities. 
Our young Mexican Spiritist never joined, but he, like many outstanding figures whom we remember today, from inventor Thomas Edison to Paul Gaugin, novelist D.H. Lawrence and poet W.B. Yeats, and the leader of India’s independence movement, Mohandas Gandhi, were influenced by Madame Blavatsky, and, as we shall see in Madero’s case especially—  and crucially— the Theosophists’ enthusiasm for the Hindu wisdom book, The Bhagavad Gita. 
So before spiraling on to Mexico, we must slow for a moment to pack into another nutshell another ouevre. 
Blavatsky’s first book, Isis Unveiled, published in 1877 and still in print, was inspired, she claimed, by the mahatmas and is nothing less than, as the subtitle says, the Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. A decade later, in 1888, after she and Olcott had stirred up a Buddhist revival in Ceylon and removed the headquarters of the Theosophical Society to Adyar, near Madras in India, Blavatsky published her massive two volume The Secret Doctrine, also still in print, which provides the spiritual history of the cosmos and human life based on the stanzas of the Dyzan.
The first:
Another, number 40, plucked at random: 
No one had heard of the Dyzan, nor has any scholar yet found it. Blavatsky claimed that it was part of the commentary esoteric literature of Tibetan Buddhism and that she had memorized the stanzas as given to by her teacher in North India and Tibet, where she first arrived in the 1850s. That she, a European woman traveling solo, made it into Tibet at all might sound preposterous if not for the fact that, among other sightings, one Captain Charles Murray of the Bengal Army encountered her on the Sikkim border. According to Michael Gomes, editor of the abridged version of The Secret Doctrine, esoteric scholars have noted similarities of these stanzas to the literature of the Kalachakra, or “Wheel of Time,” the ancient Tibetan Buddhist esoteric scripture blending Hindu and Buddhist ideas. And the Kalachakra, by the way, is a living idea. A quick google search brought up a lengthy discussion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his website,, and a video tour of the fabulously intricate 3D structure of the Kalachakra Mandala, a visual representation of the teachings, made in honor of the Dalai Lama’s 2007 visit to Cornell University, at  . (With the low-voiced chanting and clanging, it is all very wonderfully mesmerizing.)
What to conclude about the Dyzan? I am not planning to get a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist studies (not in this lifetime anyway), but I can stretch so far as to agree with Gomes, who concludes that, “[f]act or fiction, the stanzas [of the Dyzan] provide one of the greatest mythos of our time, whose influence on modern esotericism is undeniable.”

Copyright C.M. Mayo all rights reserved.

***UPDATE: Read W. B. Yeats on Madame Blavatsky in The Trembling of the Veil-- very amusing. Includes a link to the free ebook.

>>Read another excerpt, Enter Allan Kardec, Chef du Spiritsme

P.S. As a result of this unexpectedly Mount Everest-esque project, and a laptop crash, I have fallen woefully behind on the Marfa Mondays podcasts. But stay tuned... three fascinating interviews are almost ready to go: Dallas Baxter, founding editor of Cenizo Journal; Enrique Madrid of Redfern; and historian John Tutino, author of the magnificent Making a New World, are all almost ready to go. (Eleven posted so far, 13 to go.) 

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

***UPDATE: Excellent and fascinating interview with Blavatsky expert Michael Gomes.