Monday, September 30, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Entertaining Edition

Beeville Memories An entertaining bit of history by resident Yvonne Hastings on the website for the town of Beeville, Texas. If I were teaching a writing workshop this fall (but I'm not), I would use this as a splendid example of the use of vivid detail.  Seriously, great storytelling.

The Mexican Kitchen's Islamic Connections by Rachel Laudan. Read this aloud to a Mexican. There will be huffing and puffing. 

Entertain the kiddies with these nifty projects.

The Secret of the Top Five: Seth Godin says tables of 10 don't work, but five people at a table for 4 do. Yep. I say, the worst, the absolute yawningly horrible, are those long narrow banquet tables. Especially if you're sitting next to people who must, even as the salad arrives, remain glued to their Blackberries (I call them "the leashed people").


Friday, September 27, 2013

Biblioteca Digital Mexicana en la Biblioteca de México José Vasconcelos

Mexico City's historic Ciudadela has long been converted into the most fabulous library, La Biblioteca de México José Vasconcelos.

Check out their digital collection, an amazing resource for researchers. Featured on the home page is the 1801 edition of Vida de San Felipe de Jesús, the first Mexican saint who was martyred in Japan in the 16th century.

More anon.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Henry Ridgely Evans' Hours with the Ghosts or Nineteenth Century Witchcraft

Finishing up the last edits on the second, revised and expanded prologue of my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911. (For those new to the blog, Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 revolution and President of Mexico 1911-1913.) One of the additions to my prologue is a bit more from and about Henry Ridgely Evans (1861-1949), a magic historian who also happened to be a childhood friend of Agustin de Iturbide y Green (who also comes into the revised prologue).

Like Madero, Evans was a 33 degree Mason, and intensely interested in anomalous phenomena. Madero was a convinced Spiritist and, though influenced by the Theosophists, in particular their enthusiasm for the Hindu epic the Baghavad-Gita, from his correspondence we know that he  apparently, if diplomatically, disapproved of Madam Blavatsky, et al.

Evans, born in Baltimore and a long-time resident of Washington DC, was not a Spiritist but an expert magician and prolific author-- and he disparaged Madame Blavatsky and other Theosophists at length in one of his best known books, Hours with the Ghosts or Nineteenth Century Witchcraft (Laird & Lee Publishers, 1897). This is an out-to-Mars-expensive collector's item, but fortunately for us, a digital edition of this book is now in the public domain and available free online at

In Hours with the Ghosts, Evans looks at many of the more popular mediumistic displays of the age-- slate writing, table tipping, levitation, apports, spirit photography and so on-- with a magician's practiced eye. While he debunks many of mediums as mere entertainers, he nonetheless remains open to the possibility that there may be some unexplained psychic phenomena operating in some cases (notably Eusapia Palladino), and he accepts telepathic communication, again, in some instances.

Here's the fake "spirit photograph" Evans made to illustrate how it was done:

My favorite Evans quote (gives you a flavor of his tone):

Everyone loves mysteries, especially when they are of the Egyptian kind. Cagliostro, the High Priest of Humbug, knew this when he evolved the Egyptian Rite of Masonry, in the eighteenth century. 

(Evans also wrote a biography of Calgiostro; an article by Evans in The Monist is available on Cagliostro: A Study in Charlatanism.)

P.S. The second edition of my translation of Madero's 1911 Spiritist Manual, with my all new book-length prologue, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, will be available in October.

***UPDATE 2014 My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available***

COMMENTS always welcome.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Amy and George, a wise new novel by Ann McLaughlin

Amy & George is the latest novel by my dear friend Ann McLaughlin, who I admire more than I can say. If you're anywhere near Washington DC this Sunday September 22, 2013, don't miss her reading at Politics & Prose at 1 pm.

Here's what I said about it qua blurb:

Once again, with charm and heart, McLaughlin brings to life a tumultuous period of U.S. history as she probes and delves into a father-daughter relationship that is sometimes a seesaw, sometimes a dance. This is a wise novel.

Oh, and isn't this a ka-pow of a cover? Covers are so crucial! (Ask me about the cover for the Spanish edition of my short stories and you'll know I don't use Botox.) Seriously, this is one of the best covers I've seen, perfectly elegant and perfect for the narrative itself.

COMMENTS always welcome

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Nifty Stuff Edition

Julia Sussner's latest app! (She's my favorite app designer, based in the blazing heart of Palo Alto.) The app, which accompanies an exhibition, "Never Built: Los Angeles," takes a selection of the projects and situates them on a map, creating an interactive experience of the city, as it is, and as it could have been. 
>>Download it now from iTunes here.
(The Trump project may prompt ironic chuckles.)

PS Check out Julia Sussner's guest-blog post on 5 Fabulous Apps to Experience for Yourself

L. Peat O'Neil's Adventure Travel Writer blog
Her joy for travel is infectious, plus heaps of nifty tips.

Dan Gilbert explains the whole happiness thing (but sorry, Dan, I would still rather win the lottery than end up a paraplegic...) Seriously, this is one of the best TED Talks ever.

The Archdruid Takes Us 10 Billion Years Into the Future
No need to smoke anything, folks. 

Via Real Delia, Jane Friedman's talk (video) on audience development for writers.
(very sandwich-worthy).  

La Bloga: Las Mujeres:
Lorna Dee Cervantes, Rosemary Catacalos, and María Espinosa
Una celebración.

Writer Beth Kephart's very thoughtful blog

No cookie search-o-rama! DuckDuckGo 

Link without affecting page rank (kind of evil, maybe sometimes in a good way)

Recommended by Cool Tools (another favorite blog): The Yeti for podcasters.

More anon.

COMMENTS always welcome.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Marfa Mondays Returns with an Interview with Dallas Baxter, "This Precious Place"

A metaphorical asteroid took out the past few months, but (whew) the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project resumes today with podcast #12, an interview with Cenizo Journal's founding editor, Dallas Baxter.

Baxter had just turned over Cenizo Journal to its new owner when I interviewed her last February 2013 in Alpine (about an half hour's drive from Marfa). She had arrived from New York just around the time of 9/11, and as editor of a journal covering the arts and history of the Big Bend / Trans-Pecos region of far West Texas, Baxter has an usually rich experience and perspective. If you wonder how a print publication can make it in this crazy digital age, and what it's like to live in such a remotely beautiful place, listen in. 

There will be 24 podcasts, and the project now extends through 2015.
Listen in to all the podcasts anytime at

Check out the dedicated Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project Blog

Recent Marfa Mondays Podcasts include
+Cowboy Songs by Cowboys
+Mary Baxter, Painting the Landscape (no, she's not related to Dallas Baxter but they are friends)
+A Visit to Swan House
+Moonlight Gemstones
+A Spell in Chinati Hotsprings
... and more. Listen in any time, free, to all of them here.

COMMENTS? Always welcome.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Urim and Thummim, Revelation and Truth in the Burned-Over District

Urim and Thummim

Finishing up my expanded and revised introduction to my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Manual espírita (Spiritist Manual) of 1911, which will be published soon in both English and in Spanish. (To be notified, click here).  [Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, is now available.]

For those of you new to the blog, Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico from 1911-1913. So, as you might imagine, his "secret book" has more than a little historical relevance. 

A note today about one of the more esoteric images that will be included in the Spanish edition: "Urim and Thummim," the pair of "peep stones" or "spectacles" used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. No one has seen them (he said he gave them back to the angel Moroni), but there are several eyewitness descriptions in the literature of the history of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Pictured here (a little extra spooky!) is my take on the spectacles. The black background plays with the stories that Smith put his hat in front of his face while wearing Urim and Thummim, the better to divine the translation of the Book of Mormon.

(What does this have to do with the leader of the Mexican Revolution and President of Mexico, Francisco I. Madero? Well, not much, for he was not a Mormon, but his Spiritist beliefs had vital roots in the so-called Burned-Over District of New York state, whence Mormonism emerged shortly before Spiritualism --and Spiritism emerged shortly thereafter in the works of Allan Kardec in France.  Also, Urim and Thummim were used for what is otherwise known as scrying, that is,  divination by gazing into a stone, a mirror, crystal, water, smoke, etc. Many Spiritists, interested in all things psychic, also delved into scrying-- though, for the record, I have not heard of any using such "spectacles".)

So, what are Urim and Thummim? 

In Judaic tradition, these are divining stones in the high priest's breastplate, and according to the on-line Jewish Encyclopedia, the Hebrew words inscribed on the stones mean "revelation and truth" or "lights and perfections."

The official Bible Dictionary of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) says this:

Urim and Thummim
Hebrew term that means “Lights and Perfections.” An instrument prepared of God to assist man in obtaining revelation from the Lord and in translating languages.. .Using a Urim and Thummim is the special prerogative of a seer, and it would seem reasonable that such instruments were used from the time of Adam. . . . Joseph Smith used it in translating the Book of Mormon and in obtaining other revelations.
It was in upstate New York in 1823 that Joseph Smith received the vision of the Angel Moroni, who revealed to him the golden plates of the Book of Mormon, which appeared with the Urim and Thummim, 

two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, [that] constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted ‘seers’ in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. …
In the article "Joseph Smith's Translation of the Book of Mormon," Stephen D. Ricks notes that Smith used a "seer stone" he had found, in addition to the spectacles or "Nephite interpreters" (that is, Urim and Thummim). Nephites refers to the language of the descendants of Nephi, son of the Jewish prophet Lehi in the Book of Mormon, who (so the Mormons believe) colonized America after 600 B.C. Ricks quotes W.S. Pender, who interviewed Joseph Smith's brother in 1891:

Among other things we inquired minutely about the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate. We asked him what was meant by the expression "two rims of a bow," which held the former. He said a double silver bow was twisted into the shape of the figure eight, and the two stones were placed literally between the two rims of a bow. At one end was attached a rod which was connected with the outer edge of the right shoulder of the breast-plate. By pressing the head a little forward, the rod held the Urim and Thummim before the eyes much like a pair of spectacles. A pocket was prepared in the breastplate on the left side, immediately over the heart. When not in use the Urim and Thummim was placed in this pocket, the rod being of just the right length to allow it to be so deposited. This instrument could, however, be detached from the breastplate and his brother said Joseph often wore it detached when away from home, but always used it in connection with the breastplate when receiving official communications, and usually so when translating as it permitted him to have both hands free to hold the plates.

It sounds to me like the ancient Judaic use was cleromancy, whereas Joseph Smith's was more scrying and along the lines of the use by the 16th century English Dr. Dee (link to a book that quotes Dr Dee on his use of Urim and Thummim: Deborah E. Harkness's John Dee's Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1999).

A batch of relevant links (surf ye on):

+A Mormon's take on "The Translation Process" (Brother Christensen's Fullness of Times blog)

+Charlotte Fell's 1909 biography of Dr. John Dee free on (download PDF or read online)

+Dr Dee's Mexica (Aztec) mirror (link to British Museum)
Note, however, that expert Deborah Harkness says Dee probably did not use this object for his angel conversations (his scryers would have used his crystal ball or "showstone") and in fact, may not have even owned it. But it's one of those things too tempting to assert... 

+Cleromancy (link to wikipedia)

Scrying (link to wikipedia)

+Catoptromancy (wikipedia)
Using mirrors

+ Dr Raymond Moody's Psychomanteum based on the oracle of the dead in Ephyra, Greece (mirrors)

+ Mediante el espejo de obsidiana (PDF, Getty Museum)
About Mexica and other indigenous peoples' use of obsidian mirrors (what Dr Dee used)

+More about crystal balls

+ For more about the Burned-Over District, see Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850.)

Visit the webpage for my translation of Madero's Spiritist Manual.
***UPDATE Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual***

Listen to the podcast (my talk, with lots of Q & A, for PEN San Miguel de Allende in 2012)

Recent related blog posts include:

>Madam Blavatsky, Messenger from the Mahatmas
>Enter Allen Kardec, Chef du Spiritisme
>Francisco Madero's Commentary on the Baghavad-Gita
>José Fidencio Sintora Constantino, El Niño Fidencio
>Creelman Interview with Porfirio Díaz in Pearsons Magazine, March 1908
>Jiddu Krishnamurti and The Lives of Alcyone
>Fox Cottage at Lily Dale, NY
>Arnold Krumm-Heller, Some Notes on Sources
>Del incienso a la Osmoterapia (From Incense to Osmotherapy by Dr Krumm-Heller)
>Victoriano Huerta and Manuel Mondragón

UPDATE 2018: An interesting mention of Urim and Thummim in Art Magic, p. 420.

Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Break the Block Edition with Award-winning Writer Sara Mansfield Taber

My amiga, the fabulously talented writer
Sara Mansfield Taber
Creativity Coaching
and long-time writing workshop leader, Sara Taber is now offering creativity coaching. Here's what she has to say about it on her website:

This is my invitation to you: Come and talk about the life you want to have and the work you want to create. We will work together to make your visions real.
Sessions may include discussion of such issues as:
+ creative aspirations and creativity blocks
+ the isolation of the artist’s life
+ resistance, rejection, recognition, comparison, envy, and other artistic perplexities
+ work-family-creativity balance
+ life transitions
+ child-rearing and parenting
+ sandwich generation challenges: caring for elders, children, and partners, while trying to do one’s creative work
During the life coaching-creativity advising sessions, I provide, according to each person’s need: close listening, mentoring, structure, assignments, writing instruction, writing exercises, art-making activities—or a blend of them all.

There is much more on her website, including links to resources for writers.  Check it out, very highly recommended.

P.S. Listen to my podcast interview with Sara Taber about her many books, including the most recent award-winning memoir, Born Under an Assumed Name.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Rich & Richer Edition

Tyler Cowan has it figured out (mostly): Who Will Prosper in the New World.
Good points, but... as the multitude of sages have said, money isn't everything.

Definitely do not text and drive (link to Werner Herzog documentary).
Hospital bills are not helpful. Unless you're the hospital.

Enrich your mind, enrich the world: Lilivia Soto in Ragazine.

Enrich your mind with Proust et el Alain de Botton in Big Think.

Victoriano Huerta and Manuel Mondragón

Mexican historical portrait painter Ulises Rafael is having a show at the Casa de Cultura in Tlalpan (Mexico City) with an inauguration on September 14, 2013 at 5 pm. That portrait on the announcement is his "General Victoriano Huerta," Mexico's iconic arch-villian-- about whom, it just so happens, I've been doing quite a bit of research and writing for my revised and expanded introduction to my translation of Francisco I. Madero's Manual espírita (Spiritist Manual). (***UPDATE Dec 2013 My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available***)

Well, dig those shades.  Note that snifter of brandy.

For those new to the blog, Francisco I. Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and democratically-elected President from 1911 to February 1913 when his government fell in a coup d'etat led by Generals Victoriano Huerta and Manual Mondragón (among others). The ten days of fighting are known to all Mexicans as La Decena Trágica. 

Here's a brief excerpt from "Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution or, From the Burned-Over District to Bhima's Book," my revised and expanded introduction to Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual of 1911 (to be published later this fall):

. . . The army, and its powerful general Victoriano Huerta, veteran of years of smashing campesino uprisings, turned out to be a lynchpin in sustaining and, in the end, destroying Madero’s government. Apparently, if anything bothered General Huerta’s conscience, he grabbed it by the throat and drowned it in drink. He was famous for his drinking jags; he would die in early 1916, if we are to believe the U.S. Army surgeons at Fort Bliss, and I don’t see why not, of cirrhosis of the liver.
It was General Huerta who had escorted Don Porfirio and his family to their ship in Veracruz. Huerta who, on the orders of interim President de la Barra in 1911, and much to Madero’s disgust, swept into Zapatista territory, burning villages and executing prisoners; Huerta who, now on orders of President Madero, squashed the Orozquista rebellion in the north in 1912. Huerta, who ordered Pancho Villa’s execution for stealing a horse; Huerta who, grudgingly, obeyed when President Madero ordered that Villa be sent to prison instead.
General Manuel Mondragón
And let’s not forget General Manuel Mondragón, lean and mean, a gunslinger out of Central Casting with those sludgy eyebrows. Artillery expert and machine-gun designer, General Mondragón was Porfirio Díaz’s weapons procurer, indignant that, thanks to Madero’s head of secret service, Felix Sommerfeld, the bulk of that lucrative business had been taken from his French friends and given to the Germans. (“His feverish eyes hide a fierce inner fire, noted the poet José Juan Tablada. “What can this fire be but burning ambition for power, control, and despotism?”)

Huerta's usuper government did not last long. Here's a good-bye song of the time:

More anon.

To be alerted when the revised and expanded second edition is available, click here.
***UPDATE Dec 2013 My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available***

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Monday, September 02, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Wonder Dog Edition

Finally! Feldenkreis for dogs! Read all about it. This is going to be big. Woof!

Yes, the Monkey Couch Guardian will keep Fido off the sofa. (But isn't that what vacuum cleaners and plaid blankets are for? Personally I believe all dogs and cats should be allowed on all the furniture all the time. Cute project, though. The how to video made me chuckle-- the expressions on the dog's face!!)

Lessons a dog trainer applied to herself for fitness results (you can put 2 and 2 together for writing...)