Monday, April 30, 2007

Postcards from the Future that Never Was

From a German chocolate maker in 1900, postcards showing life in 2000.

Thank the gods we never got to the personal flying machines, when you consider how some people drive in just two dimensions.

The source is Paleo-Future, a blog that looks into "the future that never was." (Via Making Light.)


What I Will Be Doing for Beltane

Yes, "will be doing." Some people look at the calendar and say that Beltane is this evening and tomorrow. Others celebrated last weekend, according to the "weekend nearest the cross-quarter day" rule. Only by that rule, it comes next weekend.

By the Sun, it falls on Saturday the 5th, as this archaeastronomical Web site will show you.

I plan to visit one of the archaeastronomical sites in southeastern Colorado of which I have written before. This one, the Sun Temple, as the contemporary researchers call it, will be new to me. Something is supposed to happen there on the cross-quarter days. I hope to post photos and/or video links next week.

Meanwhile, you may decide if Beltane and the other cross-quarter and quarter days is

a. Calculated by the solar/astronomical calendar.
b. Calculated by the secular calendar and celebrants' work schedules.
c. A week-long season, so the day does not matter.

If (a) or (b), is it better to celebrate early to get "rising energy" or as close to the actual moment as possible?

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Spring Runoff

Spring runoff fills Hardscrabble Creek,
Wild plum blossoms scent the air—
not quite sweet.

28 April 2007


Teen Witches and Sociologists

Cover of Teenage Witches, by Helen Berger and Douglas EzzyTeenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self, a sociological study of young Pagan Witches, will be shipping in a few days from Rutgers University Press.

I have heard co-authors Helen Berger and Doug Ezzy give presentations from their research, which is excellent.

From the Rutgers University Press catalog:

As Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy show in this in-depth look into the lives of teenage Witches, the reality of their practices, beliefs, values, and motivations is very different from the sensational depictions we see in popular culture. Drawing on extensive research across three countries-the United States, England, and Australia-and interviews with young people from diverse backgrounds, what they find are highly spiritual and self-reflective young men and women attempting to make sense of a postmodern world via a religion that celebrates the earth and emphasizes self-development.

Not to be confused with Silver Ravenwolf's Teen Witch.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

The Wight-Hand Path

Robin Artisson has an interesting posting on house-wights and land-wights:

Land wights and house wights are kin to humans, in many ways. They are another population of sentient beings that share our world, and we spring from the same source, the same web of life. The same Gods that preside over the human world also act as "chief powers" over the wights of any world.

And he is right about the offerings. I should do that more; I tend not to visit the outdoor shrine enough during the winter, when it means slogging through snow. But the snow is over now, let's hope.



Leftovers tossed into a pot:

¶ From my friend Rowan in Colorado Springs: Ten Things to Do to Get Ready to Join a Coven. Nothing about candles or astral projection. Learn to cook, keep your word, have a life.

¶ Using the "Mary Magdalene as sacred prostitute" meme to sell sex aids, if you consider the site's overall purpose. (See also Aphrodite pandemos.)

¶ M. and I watched The Last King of Scotland on DVD. Forest Whitaker owned the title role of Idi Amin Dada. He fully deserved the Oscar.

¶ I think that two of my nature-writing students have joined the cult of Charles Bowden.

¶ Weirdest Web search string of the month to bring someone here: sex in cotopaxi colorado. I hope he found some--Cotopaxi is pretty tiny--but is AOL Search the best way to start?

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Wicca's Legimacy as Religion

It is often a bad idea to read the comments on political blogs. They tend to degenerate into vicious name-calling by anonymous persons all too quickly.

A recent post on the pentacle grave marker case at the political blog Winds of Change bemoaned the fact that Americans litigate over religion:

I abhor the kind of attitude that leads to people hassling Christians over creches at Christmas, and that spurred the ACLU to threaten to sue a Christian cross off the seal of the County of Los Angeles California.

At the same time, blogger David Blue continued,

This long struggle for religious fairness for those who have died defending America has now reached a satisfactory end, mostly because George W. Bush shot his mouth off too much, and consequently it was better for the US Department of Veterans Affairs to settle, with a non-disclosure agreement, than to defend a weak case in court.

And he praised Jason Pitz-Waters' "brilliant, link-rich posts at The Wild Hunt Blog" for their coverage.

The comments that follow are interesting. Many commenters argue for fairness: given that there are hundreds of Wiccans in the military, they deserve the same treatment as followers of Eckankar and other new religions, not to mention avowed atheists, who have their own military grave marker symbol.

Some comments make much of the newness of Wicca, while others note that all religions start as new religions. I was impressed that a couple of comments came from names that I know from religious-studies circles.

Personally, I found the comment thread interesting because it reminds me that much of the blogosphere is an echo chamber. People read bloggers with whom they agree, or they read their ideological opponents just so that they can make nasty comments, usually anonymously. I read some of these comments, and I wonder, "How can anyone still think that way?"

But of course they do. It is good to be reminded.

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Empty classrooms

Classes are over; only finals week remains. That means a lot of sitting in my office in a suddenly quiet building, reading papers and portfolios.

In his memoir Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, the literary critic Paul Fussell writes,

When deserted by students, classrooms are dead in a way no other public spaces are. . . . College students are so fresh, so noisy, and so beautiful that their absence from empty classrooms is unignorably melodramatic and touching. They and their charming loquacity pass, but the room is silent, and it remains, in its permanence and anonymity making its ironic comment: "You young people will grow old; your hopes and certainties alike will fade away; your vigor and beauty will vanish; you will be replaced by others like you, equally self-certain and self-concerned."


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Wiccan Prison Chaplain Responds

A Wiccan prison chaplain writes,

Because Normal Ordinary Responsible People (NORPs) cannot conceive of committing horrendous acts themselves, we find it difficult to think or believe that there are people who commit horrendous acts willingly. We struggle to understand the incomprehensible. Since most people accept that others think like they do, when we hear of someone who thinks differently, and we see the horrible, painful results of that thinking, we assume that something must have "driven" them to it--an unjust, dysfunctional culture, bad parenting or an abusive childhood, mental illness, or a host of other reasons. But this theory of criminal behavior is badly flawed.

With more than 2,000,000 individuals currently incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States, we have the highest absolute number of imprisoned persons in the world. There are currently some 6,000,000 people under some form of court-ordered supervision; electronic monitoring, probation or parole. These numbers are appalling, but they amount to less than 5% of our population. That means that more than 95% of Americans manage to live their lives without committing horrendous crimes, in spite of the fact that they live in this same sick dysfunctional culture. More than 99% manage to do it without murdering anybody.

The inmates that I work with, if they're honest with themselves and honest with me, all say that they made a choice to commit crime, either through an active choice, or by going along with someone else's decision. Many of them can cite addiction or abuse, or a host of other extenuating circumstances, but they acknowledge personal choice at the center of their decision. When pressed for a reason, the most common is that "it seemed like a good idea at the time".
(Emphasis added. Quoted with permission from the original writer, Martin Anthony.)

So when someone (as has happened) tries to deal with, for instance, the Virginia Tech shootings by going all Reclaiming ("Each of us embodies the divine."), the appropriate response might be, "Fine, but if they are trying to kill me, I am going to try to stop them with my own innate divinity--and whatever weapons are handy."


Muslims attack Yazidis

Followers of "the religion of peace" attack members of a religious minority, the Yazidis of northern Iraq. (This is what you can expect from them if you do not follow a "religion of the book.")

Journalist Michael Yon recently visited a Yazidi village, where he was treated well.

I had been hearing about the Yezidi people who live in villages near Dohuk. Followers of an ancient religion, whose proponents claim it is the oldest in the world, there are thought to be about a half million Yezidis, living mostly in the area of Mosul, with smaller bands in forgotten villages scattered across northern Iraq, Syria, Turkey and other lands. Saddam had labeled the Yezidis “Devil Worshippers,” a claim I’d heard other Iraqis make, but no source offered substantiation. I wanted to know more.

(Thanks to MacRaven.)


Monday, April 23, 2007

VA Approves the Wiccan Pentagram

The first message (from a Pagan staffer at the American Academy of Religion) hit my inbox at 12:28 today, and then the Colorado Pagan email lists lit up: The Veterans Adminstration approved the pentagram for veterans' grave markers.

(Pentagram, pentacle, same thing as far as the news media are concerned. Personally, to me the "pentacle" is a disk with a pentagram engraved or drawn on it, but I won't quibble.)

Credit for the heavy legal lifting goes to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who report the news here. Credit also to Circle Sanctuary for serving as the plaintiff.

The litigation charged that denying a pentacle to deceased Wiccan service personnel, while granting religious symbols to those of other traditions, violated the U.S. Constitution.

“This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America, including among our nation’s veterans,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “It is a proud day for religious freedom in the United States.”

From what I heard last November from the spouse of one of the lawyers involved, Americans United pretty well had the VA nailed for violating their own regulations and were counting on the potential embarrassment of a court trial to scare the VA into doing the right thing. It looks like that legal strategy worked.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

40 Things That Only Happen in Movies


10. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window of any building in Paris.

13. If staying in a haunted house, women should investigate any strange noises wearing their most revealing underwear.

17. If you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts, your opponents will wait patiently to attack you one by one by dancing around you in a threatening manner until you have defeated their predecessor.

Read them all.


Why I Dropped Sitemeter

Not that you have been checking the graphics on my sidebar, but if you have, you will not longer see Sitemeter's little rainbow square.

As this article from Geek News Central states, Sitemeter started planting spyware/third-party cookies on visitors' computers.

I already had an account with StatCounter for a commercial Web project, so I have added my blogs to it. They say they won't use third-party cookies. And StatCounter has a free counter and visitor-tracking service too.

When I am at home with a dial-up connection, I can see the difference: this blog loads more quickly now that the Sitemeter code is removed.

And, speaking of banners, I added one to the definitive Pagan blogs list.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Sneaky Doin's in the Graveyard

Cremains were the apparent target in this case from Los Angeles.

It sounds to me as though the accused grave robber was making up her own kind of "goofer dust".

(Hat tip: Steve Bodio.)


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vulnerability in the Classroom-2

My earlier post.

This issue has taken off in academic circles. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley writes an op-ed in the New York Times, ending with

In other words, most of the broad social “lessons” we are being told we must learn from the Virginia Tech shootings have little to do with what allowed the horrors to occur. This is about evil, and about how our universities are able to deal with it as a literary subject but not as a fact of life. Can administrators and deans really continue to leave professors and other college personnel to deal with deeply disturbed students on their own, with only pencils in their defense?

Law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh asks questions about self defense:

What, though, is the argument against allowing professors and other university staff to possess weapons, if they choose? (Assume the professors lack criminal records, and assume they go through whatever testing and modest training is required to get a concealed carry permit, or perhaps even some extra training.) One argument is that it's just dangerous for law-abiding citizens to have weapons, because they'll start shooting over arguments or fender-benders. But that's precisely the argument that has been rejected by the 38 states that allow any law-abiding citizen to get a concealed carry license (or, in 2 of the 38 states, to carry without a license).

I've also heard some arguments that suggest universities are different because they are places for reasoning, not violence: They should be gun-free zones (except of course for university police officers and security guards, who for some reason don't count) because that's needed to create the proper climate of peaceful inquiry. But the sad fact is that you can't make a university into a gun-free zone. Mad killers can bring guns, and use them, regardless of what policies you announce.

The Combat Philosopher fears that administrations will just implement heavy-handed "security" measures:

It is also quite likely that there will be new provisions made, in a bid by the administration to enhance campus security. In all likelihood, these provisions will be burdensome and work against the free flow of people and ideas that makes campus life vibrant. Would you be inclined to return to your office, or lab of an evening if you had to run a gauntlet of security?

On my campus, the new director of counseling (not the person I mentioned earlier) writes a campus-wide email:

If you encounter a person who you believe to be a risk to you or someone else and wish to discuss your concern with someone at the Student Counseling Center, we will help you evaluate the level of threat.

That is fine, but the problem is the conflict between student privacy laws and warning the instructor. If I have a deaf student, for instance, he or she will show up with a letter from the Disability Center explaining his or her needs, such as an interpretor. But no one tells you if you have a mentally disturbed student in your class--or what to do about it. You are left to figure it out on your own. In a big class, you might never know.

What usually happens is described by The Phantom Professor:

It's a common strategy for dealing with troubled and troubling students: Just get 'em through the department. Do whatever it takes, but don't cause problems or invite legal hassles by leaning too hard on him. Is he still paying his tuition? Then just deal with it. He'll be gone next year. Shut up and deal with it.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lutheran Terrorists Release Brit Captives

And now for something completely different: From the fertile brain of Iowahawk, Midwest Peace Breakthrough as British Marines Released. (He can even do Brit tabloid headline-ese. Man's a genius.)


The surprise morning release of the 38 sailors and marines ended a tense three-day standoff between the British government and a breakaway Lutheran militia group that controls large swaths of the notorious "Manure Triangle" region spanning Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.


As he skipped and cartwheeled off to the waiting double-decker, a beaming Rumpsworthy turned to BBC cameras and shouted, "Look, Mum! Weeee! I'm a hero!"


The former captives' ordeal began Tuesday, when the British destroyer HMS Chamberlain was conducting joint training exercises with the US Navy at Great Lakes Naval Training Station on Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago. According to insurgent naval commander Chuck Sorenson, the vessel strayed into Lutheran territorial waters.

"Oh yah, dey were totally on the Wisconsin side," said Sorenson. "I was tossin' some empty driveway patch cans out dere in my storage shed and I could see 'em out dere on da lake, big as day."

Read the whole thing.


The Student is Psycho--What Then?

Dr. Helen Smith continues blogging on the problems of dealing with "time bomb" students.

I had one such experience, and it illustrates how difficult it is for universities to deal with them.

She was a "non-traditional" (30-something) student in one of my upper-division nonfiction writing classes. One day she brought in for workshopping an article about Satanists in our city. It was all very 1980s "satanic panic" stuff, only a decade later.

But the stunning part was that she accused an education professor at our university of being the local Satanic leader. He not only knew where the bodies were buried, she claimed, he had put some of them in the ground himself.

And not one of the mass comm. majors in the room suggested that this might, possibly, be libelous. I suppose they were waiting for me. And I let her go ("Very interesting . . um. . . who's next.") I faced bad writing before, but not 24-caret craziness.

After class I went straight to the office of one of the senior people in my department who mentored me. "What do I do?" I asked her. "Tell [Dept. Chairman]," she said.

I went to his office with a copy of the satanism article. He already knew about the student, knew that she did not have both oars in the water, and that she had been kicked out of the teacher-training program by Education Professor. She had been allowed to change her major to English. He suggested talking to the counseling office, and that was all he could offer.

I ended up in a surreal conversation with the director of student counseling, who was also well-acquainted with Nutcase Student. Her response went something like this:

"Because of privacy rules, I cannot discuss a particular case. However, if I knew that a student was behaving that way, and if I knew that she had a psychiatrist in the city, I might possibly suggest to that psychiatrist that her medications be adjusted."

I called Education Professor at home and got his wife instead. She was seriously concerned that Nutcase Student was stalking her husband and also that he did not recognize the danger. When I spoke to him, he did try to downplay the situation.

Time passed. Nutcase stopped coming to my class, for which I was thankful.

Then I had a call from the provost's secretary. (The provost is the university official in charge of academic affairs.)

It turned out that Nutcase Student had shown up at Education Professor's door about 2 a.m. with a knife. She was arrested and spent some time in jail. All faculty members who had had contact with her were being notified that she was now back on the street. And did I want a university security guard to sit in on my class?

I said no. And Nutcase never returned. But when the call came, it was late afternoon, and I felt very alone in my office on the long, echoing corridor.

She was no Cho Seung-Hui. But the pattern was there:

The violence-prone individual is more likely to have enduring personality pathology, such as a paranoid, schizoid, narcissistic, or antisocial personality, and a long history of difficult interpersonal relationships. He may ruminate about perceived slights or injustices for months or even years.

The counseling office cannot help someone who does not want help. Faculty members get no more advice beyond, "Be careful." And, ironically, the advent of new psychotropic medications mean that more mentally disturbed people can sign up for higher education. They can get government-guaranteed loans too, just like the rest of the students.

Dr. Helen ends up regarding this as a civil rights issue--for university staff and other students.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Vulnerability in the classroom

As a college professor with an office across campus from the sheriff's substation that is supposed to protect us, I have been thinking about the Virginia Tech shootings. (Not the worst in US history, by the way.)

Mostly I have been thinking of Professor Librescu, who acted like a grown-up. Maybe it's the Israeli connection: many Israelis whom I have met are take-charge people who know that you don't wait for help to arrive--you do it yourself. Perhaps after what he had lived through, he knew evil coming when he saw it.

This Virginia Tech student, meanwhile, speaks for anyone who who has outgrown their nanny:

First, I never want to have my safety fully in the hands of anyone else, including the police.

Forensic psychologist Helen Smith (correction: Reynolds is her married name) has some thoughts on why "the experts" always want you to give up:

Have you noticed that most of the tips you get in recent years for how to survive a violent crime involve an accompanying psychological maneuver of first trying to make you feel impotent?

Professor Librescu obviously did not lean that way.

I never had to protect my students from a mad gunman. (But today I put a Band-aid on a student's finger.) But I run the scenarios in my head, and I have been doing that since 1999.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sex in World Religions & Other Updates

¶ First, here is a better version of the Pagan rosary story, "'Hail Persephone:' Pagans Retool the Rosary," which has a photo and also some of the rosary invocations.

Kimberly Winston's article was also mentioned at the GetReligion blog on religion and journalism.

¶ My recent post on Carlos Castaneda must have reflected the zeitgeist. "The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castaneda" by Robert Marshall treats him as "the 20th century's most successful literary trickster."

Castaneda was viewed by many as a compelling writer, and his early books received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Time called them "beautifully lucid" and remarked on a "narrative power unmatched in other anthropological studies." They were widely accepted as factual, and this contributed to their success. (Thanks, Jason.)

¶ Those mysterious Etruscans . . . seem to have led lives filled with varied sex. (Site probably NSFW, unless you are a classicist.) These images and texts reflect the upper rungs of Etruscan society, I suspect. (Thanks: 2blowhards.)

¶ In case you forgot, "all acts of love and pleasure" are definitely not Allah's rituals. In fact, nudity during sex invalidates marriage, says a high-ranking Islamic cleric. Some of his colleagues disagree, saying that nudity is permissible as long as you don't look at your partner.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Saying the Pagan Rosary

Pagans and the rosary: religion journalist Kimberly Winston examines a spiritual practice and some Pagan material culture.

Fuensanta Plaza, a follower of the Norse gods who lives in Carmel, Calif., says if her house caught fire, the only thing she would run back for would be her pagan prayer beads, dedicated to the god Loki and goddess Sigyn.

"They are extremely important to my spiritual life, and therefore to my life," she said. Every day, she sits before her home altar and slips them through her fingers one at a time, "very much, presumably, as my Catholic grandmother used to say her rosary every day."

Yes, I linked to BeliefNet, despite what I and others are starting to think about BeliefNet, where polytheists are not welcome.

But Winston's story may pop up in some newspapers as well. And she quotes me, yay.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007


¶ Here in Colorado, Rocky Mountain PBS' group of stations weights their offerings heavily toward programs like Lawrence Welk and Antiques Roadshow. When they really want to be cutting edge, such as during fund drives, they run a John Denver special.

Having once been peripherally connected with the antiques trade, I actually enjoy Antiques Roadshow sometimes. M., however, makes some comment about the "white-shoe crowd" and leaves the room. I wish I had been watching when an Austin Osman Spare painting was discussed. Did anyone mention ceremonial magic and Borough Satyr?

PanGaia managing editor Elizabeth Barrette has a a new poem published in the fantasy webzine Lorelei Signal. She also has a book in the work on writing Pagan spells, poetry, and ritual texts. She reminds us that PanGaia's fiction-contest deadline is June 24.

¶ This may be just too obvious, but anyway... If you work at an organization that is cyber-security obsessed, where you frequently have to change your network password, why not encode a magical intention into your password? For a writer, something like "Public@tion08". And, look, it's a "strong" password with a non-alphanumeric character.

¶ BeliefNet's Blog Heaven site has been cleansed of non-monotheists. No Buddhist bloggers, no Hindus, no Pagans. And yet I hear that BeliefNet is still trying to get some Pagans to write essays for the main site. Do we even need them, with all the Pagan sites and forums out there?

¶ Stop whatever you are doing and read this. Then bookmark the blog. It is one of the best out there.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Dionysus, Jesus, Castaneda

After watching the BBC take on anthropologist - novelist - sorcerer Carlos Castaneda, M. and I rented another documentary about him. Enigma of a Sorcerer was released in 2002. It is available through Netflix, but it is only for the hardcore student of neo-shamanism as phenomenon.

Since it is only a collection of interviews (including the late Dan Noel), someone had the bright idea to put pulsating "psychedelic" backgrounds behind each talking head. "I need Dramamine," M. said, turning away from the screen.

Amy Wallace, one of Castaneda's inner circle of lovers-students in the 1990s and author of a memoir about that time, was another of the persons interviewed.

Watching both videos, however, you see how Castaneda was somehow possessed by Dionysus--just like every other death-defying savior with a circle of women: Krishna, Jesus, Joe Smith, Carl Jung (compare his "valkyries" to Castaneda's "witches.") Gurdjieff too, probably.

Soteriology--the various doctrines of salvation--all suggest the story of the God of variousness whose salvific function is well known in the Orphic cult. His name is Dionysus.

So writes David L. Miller (not to be confused with this David Miller) in The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses (1974), a book a little ahead of its time.

All promised the overcoming of death. Castaneda, according to the interviews, offered a non-ordinary death--to disappear "bodily into the Second Attention"--to his followers. After he expired from liver cancer in 1998, at least one of his lovers went alone to Death Valley, where her bones were later found. Three of the "witches," Florinda Donner Grau, Taisha Abelar, and Carol Tiggs, also killed themselves, Wallace claims. But she offers no details as to when and how--she just thinks that they must have done so.

Actually, had the BBC wanted to do real journalism, they could have found out who cashes the royalty checks from all of Castaneda's books. I assume that they go to Cleargreen, Inc., the organization that he set up to incorporate his teaching methods.

Castaneda even has his own "Saint Paul," Victor Sanchez, who fills the role of the person who never met the Teacher but who claims to be passing on his methods.

Maybe the woman we call Mary Magdalene was either a composite figure or possibly only one of a group of her Dionysian teacher's intimates. There could be a book there . . .

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"I don't care if it rains or freezes . . . "

Drug-runners lose in court over "profiling" claim regarding Bibles on the dashboards of their cars.

Personally, when running a load from the Coast, I decorate the dash with The Confessions of Aleister Crowley or the current issue of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

(Read the rest of the quoted song lyric.)

Hat tip: Religion Clause, now on the blogroll under "Religion and Journalism."


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

See, this is fame

In the postal mail and email:

1. Two fat envelopes bearing mss. of how-to Witchcraft books from publishers who want my name on a cover blurb. Neither came from Woodbury, Minnesota, however. How quickly they forget, eager to move on to the hot new titles in astral sex.

2. An email from someone who shares my surname. My name had come up both her genealogical research and her Pagan research, so "[I] believe that I am supposed to contact you." Her son is a "sorcer" with a "great destiny" too. Yowie.

They claim descent from the Cliftons of Cornwall. Maybe so. It's a geographical name (meaning, literally, farm under/by the cliff), so it can pop up anywhere the Angles and Saxons went, but my family lore always said that we came from some Cliftons in the north of England, possibly County Durham.

Of course, family lore and $2 will get you a cup of Starbucks coffee.

3. A Colorado author wrote me a letter, wanting permission to reprint photos from my first-ever book(let), Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek.

"You are hard to track down!" she writes.

If only. See item no. 2.

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