10 Questions with Claude Lecouteux

A little note here from me (Rebecca). Claude Lecouteux, in my opinion, is a certified bad ass. His book “The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind” became an all-time favorite of mine as soon as I read it. In the two years since of doing book reviews “The Return of the Dead” is still one of my favorites to recommend. Lecouteux’s latest book, “Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and Ghostly Processions of the Undead” is simply amazing. I’d say go buy it now but I want you to stick around because it was my extremely giddy honor to get to interview Claude Lecouteux and I want everyone to read that. Seriously, like every single person ever, because I got to interview Claude Lecouteux!

Crap, what did I actually set out here to say? Oh yeah. Claude Lecouteux is French and as such English is not his native language so some of the phrasing and use of language may seem “off”. Since the only French I know comes from the song “Lady Marmalade”, I was impressed at how good his answers came across.

1. With previous books such as “Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies” and “The Return of the Dead” it seems like much of your work has now culminated in your new book “The Wild Hunt and Ghostly Processions of the Undead”. Is that the case?

It is not the case. The field of my research is so large that I was constrained to go step by step. “The Return of the Dead” showed me the different facets of the believes connected with the death and the dead. This book was a first approach, the basis of my other investigations: I could not say and explain all the ramifications of the subject just in one book.

In “Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies” I found the answer to a question that bored me: what returns? A shape? A corpse? A soul in human form? The answer was the alter ego, the root of the believe in an external soul.

The “Phantom Armies of the Night” explores the return of troops of dead and tries to show that we are confronted with a blend of different legends which roots are the believe in a life after the life, the dangers for the livings to meet such troops, what often involves an obligation, and a warning: don’t have an unsocial behaviour, don’t transgress the moral codex of the community.

2. For readers unfamiliar with the term, could you describe what The Wild Hunt is?

The Wild Hunt is a band of the dead whose passage over the earth at certain times of the year is accompanied by diverse phenomena. The leader of that Hunt is a giant or a devil or a warning rider. Unfortunately the Wild Hunt was confused with the legend of the Wild Hunter.

3. How does The Wild Hunt differ from other troops of the dead or phantom armies that show up in folklore and mythology?

The Wild Hunt differs from the other troops through its highly Christian character and through its message: be careful in all you act! A bad life involves the damnation, the members of the Hunt are sinners.

4. With so many versions of The Wild Hunt and associated processions of the undead how did you go about sorting through all of it to find the definitive stories?

I search first the common points, then the sources of the differences, I compare all the testimonies I have found and analyze the part the Medieval church plays in the variations. A myth is the result of all its variations.

5. One of things I find fascinating in your books is how you show the role Christianity has played in shaping and/or distorting Pagan folklore. While researching your books do you find this an interesting puzzle to work out or just a frustrating obstacle in getting to the heart of a particular legend?

I found it an interesting enigma. I am like a detective investigating for traces. One of the aims of my studies is to raise the veil of the Christian distortions.

6. You kick off “Phantom Armies of the Night” discussing “The Good Women Who Roam the Night”. Although later in the book they are sometimes associated with leading unbaptized children who have died (obviously an unpleasant thought), and of course there is the mandatory demonization by Christianity, at the heart they seem like perhaps the only group discussed that doesn’t do harm or act as a harbinger of bad things to come. Is that correct, because I may opt to see if they’ll eat at my house this year.

You are right! The good woman leading a troop of dead children is not a harbinger of bad things to come. And if the good women, three in number, visit your home and if you have done what they expected, you’ll be happy and lucky.

7. My readers may not be aware, but you are French and live in Paris. Your latest book, “Phantom Armies”, was actually published in French in 1999 under the title “Chasses fantastiques et cohorts de la nuit au moyen age”. Do you get nervous about having your work translated into other languages?

I am not nervous if I can read the translation before publication. But it’s not always the case. My books were translated in 12 languages – Chinese, Czech, etc. – so that I have no control. I just understand the west and north European languages.

8. Since your work is published in France and then America, what are some upcoming projects that my readers can look forward to in either country, or both?

Jon Graham will translate two other books of mine: my analysis of the poltergeists and my Dictionary of the magical and medicinal stones and gems.

In France the next book is entitled “The poisonous maiden”, an anthology of legends and fairy tales of the Middle Ages; this is a part of my corpus of research, like my other anthologies on Werewolves, Dwarfs, Vampires and other selections I published.

The translation of Franz Obert’s “Tales of Transylvania” (collected 1856) I made with my wife will appear soon.

My last project I began 1995 is a Dictionary of the magical words and formulas; to day 1000 entries!

9. You conclude “Phantom Armies of the Night” by saying, “As you will have guessed, an investigation such as ours here is an attempt at discovery. We cannot reach a conclusion, and to reach one would be presumptuous, as long as so many texts remain to be exhumed, so many testimonies remain to be pulled from unpublished archives that are piled on library shelves.” With the book already being 12 years-old, does this mean perhaps we can look forward to an updated edition in the future?

It depends not from me but from the editors!

Karin Ueltschi, a friend of mine, wrote her PhD on the subject; I was in the jury and I can say her book (published in 2008) can be considered as the updated edition of my study.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Hi! It’s Rebecca again. I think the kind of joke of asking me a question got lost in translation, so I’ll use this space to share a few final thoughts.

1. Buy “Phantom Armies of the Night”.
2. Please Inner Traditions, hurry and publish an English version of “The Poisonous Maiden”!
3. When you do publish it (soon), for goodness sake keep the title “The Poisonous Maiden”! What a great title!
4. I get a review copy of that, right?

About Claude Lecouteux:
Claude Lecouteux is a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne. He is the author of numerous books on medieval and pagan afterlife beliefs, including “The Return of the Dead”, “The Secret History of Vampires”, and “Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies”. He lives in Paris.

The Vengeful Djinn Introduction

Not too long ago I received a review copy of “The Vengeful Djinn: Unveiling the Hidden Agendas of Genies” by Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Philip J. Imbrogno. I really enjoyed the book and set about trying to verbalize what the book was about and why it was a worthy read. The problem was, my mind kept wandering back to the introduction written by Philip J. Imbrogno. It was just so good at explaining the book, and it did so in such a way that I couldn’t wait to get into reading the book itself. On a whim I contacted Llewellyn, the publisher of “The Vengeful Djinn” about being able to publish Imbrogno’s introduction on The Magical Buffet for my readers, and much to my delight they said yes.

So without further ado, Philip J. Imbrogno’s introduction from “The Vengeful Djinn”!

INTRODUCTION

There has been a growing interest in the paranormal in the past several decades. Ghosts, poltergeists, spook lights, demons, angels, fairies, shadow people, strange creatures, and UFOs have become staples of movies and prime-time television shows. Our attraction to the supernatural is more than a passing fascination—claims of encounters with paranormal entities such as those mentioned above are not restricted to believers or wide-eyed dreamers. Accounts of sometimes frightening experiences are made by people from all walks of life—credible people—who report seemingly incredible things.

I have been investigating paranormal phenomena with an emphasis on UFOs for more than thirty years. I have found myself amazed and sometimes even confused by the variety of reports I’ve received. I’d often ask myself, “Where do these phenomena come from and where do they go when they aren’t seen?” The answer to this question can now be answered by new ideas in theoretical physics. One of these new ideas states that our universe is composed of not one, but multiple dimensions, some very close to our own and many far away in space and time. Periodically, several of these closer dimensions may interact with our world, resulting in the merging of several realities.

My investigations over the years have led me to believe that what we call “the paranormal” takes on a variety of guises, making us humans think we are witnessing multi-faceted phenomena. Actually, this may not be the case at all. In one of these other realities or dimensions close to our own is an intelligent, ancient race that has existed before humans walked the earth—beings with great power who throughout recorded history have been identified by every culture. The Native American shamans call them the “great tricksters,” and to the Hindu of India they are known as “deceivers.” In the West, they are called “devils” and “demons.” New Age spiritualists know them as “the con men of the universe.” This ancient race may be responsible for the majority of paranormal events witnessed over the centuries. We have known very little about them, for only one part of the world has historically documented them and their effect on the human race. Ancient Middle Eastern lore tell tales of a race of mysterious and highly intelligent creatures called the djinn. In the Qur’an, a surah entitled Al-djinn frequently mentions the djinn and refers to them as “God’s other people.” The word djinn is thought to be derived from the Arabic root janna, which means “hidden” and should not be confused with the Arabic word jannah, which means “paradise.”

In the West, the djinn are known as the genies of fairy tales, wish-giving entities trapped in bottles, lamps, and rings. The word genie usually conjures up exotic but harmless images, such as the 1960s television series I Dream of Jeannie, in which Barbara Eden played an obliging, well-meaning, and often ditzy genie freed from a bottle by an astronaut, played by Larry Hagman. “Genie” also has comical associations, such as in the Disney movie Aladdin, based on the tale from Arabian lore. In these depictions, genies may have a bit of prankster in them, but they seem benign, even helpful, and we in the West laugh at them. We have little knowledge and lack fear of the real race, the djinn.

Middle Eastern cultures have a considerably different view of the djinn, however. In many Islamic households, just speaking the name of the djinn will cause the bravest to flee in terror. They consider the djinn to be quite real and a great threat to humanity, causing misfortune, illness, possession, and even death. The djinn hide in the shadows, biding their time and watching us, looking for opportunities to strike, interacting with humans only when it suits their purpose. They are powerful shapeshifters and can live for thousands of years. To cross the djinn is to invite destruction.

My introduction to the world of the djinn began in the mid-1990s while I was traveling through the Middle East researching the Knights Templar and their connection to the Holy Grail. After two weeks of what seemed to be nothing more than a wild goose chase, I began to hear stories about the djinn. At first I had no idea what they were. An old friend, who later became my guide through some very perilous country there, explained the djinn as the origin of the Western “genie.” Like many westerners, I laughed, thinking of those jolly wish-granting spirits. Well, my host took the existence of the djinn very seriously—to him, they were very real. The djinn’s true nature and reality became evident to me as I collected a great deal of information on them and visited some of the places where they are reputed to enter our world. I realized they represent an aspect of the paranormal that had been largely untouched by western researchers. I also realized the djinn could be the hidden source of the diversity of paranormal events everywhere.

I briefly introduced the djinn in two of my previous books, Interdimensional Universe: The New Science of UFOs, Paranormal Phenomena, and Otherdimensional Beings and Files from the Edge: A Paranormal Investigator’s Explorations into High Strangeness. Although I didn’t go into much detail, I found the djinn attracted a lot of curiosity and attention among readers.

Several years ago, noted paranormal investigator Rosemary Ellen Guiley and I began investigating paranormal hot spots in New York that generate a great number of reports relating to UFOs and other types of phenomena. We have been exploring the possibility that in many of these high strangeness locations, portals that connect our world to an unseen world exist. When I mentioned my research on the djinn to Rosemary, she told me she was very interested in them due to her research into angels, demons, fairies, and shadow people. After many long discussions, things began falling into place; we could see the connections among parallel dimensions, the emergence of paranormal phenomena, and the race of ancient beings that exist in a reality very close to our own. During our research, we gathered evidence of the djinn in the Western Hemisphere and applied it to paranormal and UFO phenomena. The result is an interesting and compelling picture that raises many questions about what people are really experiencing. Are the djinn behind our paranormal encounters and experiences? Are they behind some of the terrifying experiences people report? If so, what is their purpose? According to ancient lore, the djinn once occupied this world, and they seek to reclaim it. Are they using paranormal avenues to invade our reality? Is their reality merging with ours? We should consider all of these possibilities. There may be a dark agenda below the surface of our experiences, and we fail to see it because we’re preoccupied with the superficial characteristics of the experiences themselves. No one has the complete solution to this cosmic puzzle yet, but I believe we are offering a number of important pieces to solve the mystery.

This book will take you on an adventure into a world of the unseen, hidden from us in the shadows for countless centuries. We present to you the truth about the race of beings you thought only existed in your imagination—or your nightmares. If you choose to fear anything in your life, fear the djinn. Enter their world…if you dare!

–Philip J. Imbrogno

Excerpt reproduced from The Vengeful Djinn by Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Philip J. Imbrogno © 2011 Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd. 2143 Wooddale Drive, Woodbury MN 55125-2989. Used with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Hooters and Goddess Worship?

Here’s the deal folks, I like Hooters. The restaurant, not the anatomy. However I think we can all agree that Salma Hayek’s are quite magnificent. Much the way people say they read Playboy for the articles (and let’s all admit that occasionally they do have great articles), people say they go to Hooters for the food. And you know what folks? Holy crap is their chicken delicious! I never had an aversion to Hooters, but I had just never found the reason to go there to eat. Then one weekday afternoon while out and about with my boyfriend (who became my husband) it was suggested that we go to Hooters for lunch. We had a pretty waitress, who honestly was lacking a little in the hooter department, that I kept thinking must be freezing in her outfit. It was also a touch odd to realize I was the only woman that was a customer. I had their Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and proclaimed that it was in fact the finest Buffalo Chicken Sandwich I’d ever had. It was good enough that I’m actually bummed that there is no longer a Hooters restaurant in the area. Sigh….

Anyway, my affection for Hooters is why I was so intrigued when I found an article called “Hooters and Goddess Worship?” on the Surohorus website. (Update: The site is now found here.) Despite admitting to never going to a Hooters (a bit of honesty I appreciate), Suroh makes some interesting points with regards to some of the symbolism associated with the restaurant chain. And although I doubt that by frequenting the establishment you run the risk of “eating something inedible and dying”, I am amused to now associate Hooters with Athena. When you consider the level of influence some of those waitresses have on their customers, perhaps them embodying a bit of the divine isn’t as far off as previously thought.

Hooters and Goddess Worship?

By Suroh
(Article was originally published on 11/28/10 at http://thesurohorus.tk/ and is used with the author’s permission.)

Introduction

Hooters restaurant is a standard sports bar aside from one thing, the wait staff is primarily made up of extremely attractive women usually scantily clothed. I myself have never been to a Hooters before but I am more than sure most males growing up in North America have heard about the chain on TV or in the movies. The attractive women are more than capable to keep everyone minds occupied for the time within the doors of a Hooters restaurant as the “Customers” are kept in a daze fantasizing about the waitresses. Little do the men know they are taking part in an ancient rite of goddess worship.

Sexual Innuendo

The name Hooters is a term originally used to refer to an Owl. In the modern age it has been known to take a quite a different meaning…or is it just understood too simply?

Hooter
•One that hoots, especially an owl.
•hooters Vulgar Slang. A woman’s breasts.

Sex sells right? It is common practice for advertising and marketers to veil sexual innuendo to keep the prospective customers attention. Proof is this is the complete disconnect of commercials themselves and the actual product they are actually selling. It’s the old magicians trick. Occupy the mark (person) with something trivial that will draw them in order to manipulate them better towards your real goal. It happens every day. For example buy one get one free, 20% Off*On Selected Merchandise only. Almost always it comes with a catch where the deal is no where near as good as what was claimed. In my experience utilities (Phone and Internet) companies are the worse known for this. But that’s a whole article in itself.

The Symbol of the Goddess

The logo for the Hooters chain is an Owl. Owls have been identified with many ancient gods, for example Athena in Greek mythology the goddess of war, civilization, wisdom, strength, strategy, crafts, justice and skill. Hera, another ancient Greek goddess, is also associated with the Owl.

Hera (HEE-ruh or HER-uh), Roman name Juno.
Hera was the goddess of marriage, the wife of Zeus and the Queen of the Olympians. Enemy of Heracles, she sent snakes to attack him when he was still an infant and later stirred up the Amazons against him when he was on one of his quests. On the other hand, Hera aided the hero Jason.

In Greek mythology, Hera was the reigning female goddess of Olympus because she was Zeus’s wife. But her worship is actually far older than that of her husband. It goes back to a time when the creative force we call “God” was conceived of as a woman. The Goddess took many forms, among them that of a bird.

Then when we take a look at the symbol from a global perspective of all beliefs/symbolism about the Owl, a much different pattern is discovered. In many cultures including the Aztecs, Africa, and Arabia the owl is considered a unbalanced symbol or a “negative” omen as it is a creature of the night and thus darkness. In essence the Owl represents unbalanced Male force. This again supports the exact environment existing when inside a Hooters restaurant.

Conclusion

Almost every public place we go has currents of metaphysical energy brought about and utilized to create and encourage certain types or styles of behavior. In most cases this is not negative or positive, it just is, but most importantly in order for it to remain neutral it is good to be aware of the influences being pressed upon you just as you monitor the types of things you eat in order to not eat something inedible and die.

To see more articles like this, visit http://suroh.tk/.

Touched by His Noodly Appendage

As you know, I have been publishing my old “Letters from the Publisher” from back when The Magical Buffet was a monthly e-zine because the letters didn’t migrate over to the new blog format. Most of my letters aren’t worth republishing. However there are a few that share some of my more personal thoughts that I wanted new readers to have access to. With that said, here is my “Letter from the Publisher” from May 2008.

What defines a religion? What is the nature of faith? Does religion require genuine faith or can it get by on a set of rituals and a community that acts in sync? Guess what? I can’t answer those questions! I think everyone has their own opinion to those sorts of questions, so I can’t, and won’t, pretend that my thoughts on such topics are answers. But what’s great is when something happens that makes people ask themselves these kinds of questions. Which brings me to the subject of this month’s Magical Buffet Mythology, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It’s true that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was created out of an act of annoyance by founder Bobby Henderson. Specifically a letter of protest that he wrote to the Kansas State Board of Education, that he then also posted on the website www.venganza.org. Essentially it was a sarcastic piece explaining that he fully endorsed the idea of intelligent design being taught as a science, but if they were going to do that, he needed to stress the importance of the inclusion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster creation theory, which is certainly as valid as intelligent design. (Do yourself a favor and read it on the website, my sum up doesn’t do it justice at all.)

This has led many to say that Henderson is mocking faith, and to sum up most of the hate mail on the website, that he’s a jerk. Obviously, I don’t agree. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and its adherents, Pastafarians, serve a vital purpose. They force people to examine their beliefs and the double standards that exist in a country that is supposed to believe in a separation of Church and State. In March 2008, Pastafarians in Crossville, Tennessee successfully won city approval to place a Flying Spaghetti Monster statue next to the Courthouse, and proceeded to do so. If it’s good enough for the Ten Commandments, then it’s good enough for the adorable Flying Spaghetti Monster. They make schools ask themselves, what is science, and what is spiritual? And, they do it all with a wonderful sense of humor and a pirate’s accent!

Is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster a “real” religion? Well, they have a definite belief system, a rich mythology, and academic endorsements. People say they are Pastafarians, and are subject to harassment and threats, like many other religious groups. They do not have a not-for-profit status like most religions, but since many religions profit greatly from their followers anyway, I can’t hold that against the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The American Academy of Religion hosts discussions of the Pastafarians at their annual meetings.

I can’t speak for everyone reading this, but I for one have been touched by His Noodly Appendage!

~Rebecca

I wrote this letter for the month I decided to feature the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the deity for the Magical Buffet Mythology. I wanted to explain its inclusion, and use it as a touchstone to discuss the nature of faith. In reading this letter now, and the profile I wrote up for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I realize I really didn’t do the FSM, or it’s church, justice. Honestly, I don’t know if I can do any better now. The thing with the Flying Spaghetti Monster is, either you get it or you don’t.

I love how the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has taken on a life of it’s own. Pastafarians challenge the idea of what makes a religion a religion, work tirelessly to uphold America’s separation of church and state, and endeavor to maintain the integrity of science. All of that awesomeness comes wrapped in an adorable little ball of spaghetti with a bunch of followers who talk like pirates.

What’s not love about this?

I still remain touched by His Noodly Appendage!

By the way, that awesome illustration of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was done by Will Hobbs back when I first published the Flying Spaghetti Monster article. It’s so adorable I couldn’t resist featuring it again here.

Magical Buffet Mythology: Phryne

Illustration by Will Hobbs

I frequently say that I love people who hustle. It’s a hard thing to define since I don’t necessarily mean “to earn one’s living by illicit or unethical means,” as Random House Dictionary says. When I say I love the hustle, or people who have got their “hustle on”, I’m generally talking about “to proceed or work rapidly or energetically, to push or force one’s way; jostle or shove, to be aggressive, esp. in business or other financial dealings,” as the rest of the 2010 Random House Dictionary entry states. Kathy Griffin? Hustle. Perez Hilton? Hustle. David Pitkin? Hustle. However there is one lady who I put above all others when thinking about the hustle. Is it Oprah? Nope, it’s a woman whose hustle was so potent that she, despite being an actual person, has become entwined with the Gods themselves.

Phryne arrived in ancient Athens, Greece at the age of thirteen during the time of the hetaerae, sophisticated female escorts. The hetaerae of the era wore see through gowns, blond wigs, extensive makeup and extravagant jewelry. All things that Phryne, coming from work in the caper fields, could not compete with. Instead of competing with these women head on, she changed the game entirely. That’s right, she got her hustle on.

Phryne created an air of mystery. She dressed in opaque robes and wore no makeup or wigs, often time fully covering herself in veils. Phryne insisted on making love in the dark and charged huge fees for her companionship that she adjusted as she liked. At the annual Festival of Poseidon she would perform a striptease at the holy temple and then walk naked through the crowds to the sea shore where she would reenact the birth of Aphrodite from the sea.

These things turned Phryne into a superstar, commanding unheard of prices for an evening. Poets and painters honored her as the goddess made flesh. The sculptor Praxiteles used her as the model for his Cnidian Aphrodite.

Perhaps that was the tipping point. As any celebrity that has shot to superstardom can tell you, there is always a backlash. In Phryne’s case, the city fathers charged her with blasphemy (Some say that Phryne asked too large a payment from one of the city’s officials who took revenge by indicting her on a charge of impiety). However, when the case seemed lost, her lawyer took a new approach. One only made possible by Phryne’s beauty and her skillful hustle. Her lawyer ripped open her gown and exposed her breasts for the court. In ancient Greece physical beauty was deemed to have been given to someone from the gods themselves. Phryne’s bosom was so beautiful that the court voted to release her as a prophetess and priestess of Aphrodite.

Now granted with divine immunity, Phryne was able to continue her life as the most exclusive of courtesans, living to a ripe old age and amassing a fortune. So vast was her wealth that she offered to rebuild the wall of Thebes after Alexander the Great destroyed it, on the condition that the Thebans agreed to inscribe on the new wall “destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan”. They declined her offer.

And that my friends is what I call a hustle of mythological proportions.

The Hero’s Journey: A Solid Kick to the Groin

Last month I published one of my old “Letters from the Publisher” from back when The Magical Buffet was a monthly e-zine because the letters didn’t migrate over to the new blog format. As I said then, most of my letters aren’t worth republishing. However there were a few that shared some of my more personal thoughts that I wanted new readers to have access to. With that said, here is my “Letter from the Publisher” from August 2007.

In folklore, mythology, history, and religion you will find instances of the “hero’s journey”. Much like Jung’s archetypes, the hero’s journey is universal regardless of culture. The basic, bare bones telling of the hero’s journey is as follows:

A member of a tribe, through fate or choice, becomes exiled by their fellow tribesmen, thrown out, or leaves the tribe. Thus begins the hero’s journey, where the hero learns of a different purpose separate of the tribe, has their purpose tested, and inevitably they return where they are welcomed back as one who has gifts to share with the tribe.

Does that sound familiar to you now? How about, an independent blind girl in an isolated village in old Pennsylvania suddenly must leave her family and village to travel through a dark alien forest inhabited by horrible monsters to get medicine for her dying true love? Yes, that’s the plot for the film “The Village”, and it is a marvelous example of the hero’s journey.

It sounds so brave, so noble, the hero’s journey. Down right epic. Doesn’t it just seem like everything should just fall into place? You know your purpose, you’re to lead the Jews out of Egypt, you’re to find the shard (do you know what that one is from?), you’re to do whatever “it” is. It just seems like once the hero steps on the path, each step is surely predestined to land exactly where it should be. On the surface, it would appear to be a place where there is no doubt or fear.

Of course, life has the tendency to kick you in the groin. Heroes suffer, physically and I am sure, emotionally. To paraphrase a thought from Carolyn Myss’s book “Sacred Contracts”, if Buddha could occasionally wonder if he’s on the right path, well then EVERYBODY has got to wonder from time to time, no matter how certain the path seems. There you are, certain that this is it, the path to take. Each of your steps fall exactly as you feel fate would have it. But just as every hero on the journey encounters obstacles that make them wonder, life kicks us average Joes square in the groin, and let’s face it, that makes anyone wonder.

We don’t all have epic hero’s journeys to take, but all of us want to find a path to follow. I consider these to be “average Joe” journeys. None of us want to start our own religion or feel we’re going to end up in circumstances where the fate of the known world is in our hands. “Average Joes” want to know they’re doing right for themselves, their families, and their communities. Just because we’re “average”, doesn’t make our “average” journeys any less scary, painful, or difficult. As I have said, and will say again, life will sometimes just kick you in the groin. Occasionally, while you’re crunched in the fetal position, rolling around on the floor, life will gut kick you, just to make sure you felt it. The thing that makes the journey heroic is when you get back up and start on the path again.

This month’s issue features lots of wonderful people who in my opinion are undertaking extraordinary journeys: Lisa McSherry, who is helping us explore nature based spirituality online; the editorial staff of Hinduism Today, that helps hopeless bumblers like me understand what Hinduism is; and the folks at Pagan Troop Support, that insure that Pagan and Wiccan soldiers are supplied with the tools necessary to practice their faith. I’d be comfortable knowing that the fate of the world was in their hands.

~Rebecca

This one resonates with me more today than it did a few years back. At the time I wrote this, the extent of my “Average Joe” journey was working on my Bachelors in Metaphysics and figuring out how to make The Magical Buffet work. As I’ve alluded to a few times, I’ve been having prolonged health issues. These have made everything harder, much harder. Although I rarely find it the case, my husband assures me that despite what I think I handle my unpredictable health and bevy of doctors and appointments well. Honestly, I don’t see it. However, in looking this old letter over, I see it staring right at me. “The thing that makes the journey heroic is when you get back up and start on the path again.”

It’s true that no matter how many times I’ve been given false hope, how many times I’ve exhausted the limits of allegedly the greatest health care system in the world, the plans that I’ve had to cancel, and the times I’ve tried to play through the pain only to fail, despite every time I want to just drop out and let life happen around me, my body refuses to stop and I get up the next day and do it all over again. And before you think, oh how heroic, trust me, it’s not. It’s ugly and trying and essentially devoid of any triumph. That said, I can perhaps now see, from the outside looking in, how it might not be heroic, but it could certainly be an “Average Joe” journey.

Also, I still stand by referencing “The Village”. I liked that movie, okay? Sure, the “big reveal” may not have been that shocking, or whatever else people seem to like to grouse about, but I liked it. If you have a heart in your chest how could you not have loved at least 85% of that movie? Was it “Unbreakable”? No. Was it “The Sixth Sense”? People, get over that, you can’t make “The Sixth Sense” twice. Could I have used “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Wizard of Oz” as examples? Yes, but by my calculations it would have made this post 75% less cool. Although if I were to write this one again today, I probably would drop “The Village” in favor of a “Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List” reference. The same calculations show this would have made the post 120% cooler.

Religion and Mythology

For those of you who are new to The Magical Buffet, you may not be aware that in October 2006, when we launched The Magical Buffet, it was actually a monthly e-zine. Once a month our subscribers would have all the content emailed to them. Since it was trying to follow a magazine-like format, I decided there should be a letter from the publisher, like most magazines have.

When we relaunched The Magical Buffet into it’s new blog format, all of the old e-zine articles migrated over. This means even if you’re new, with a little time you could read all the content you may have missed from the “old days”. However my opening letters to my readers did not make it over to the new blog. I didn’t worry about it because they’re “just letters”, they’re not “real writing”. But as time passed I started to wonder, was something missing by them not being here on the blog?

So recently I started to read them again. In truth, as a new reader you’re probably not missing out on too much. The letters were generally just filled with gratitude. Thank you letters of the most earnest kind, published in response to the surprising outpouring of support and faith that I received, and continue to receive today. I’ve always prided myself on loyalty, and it made me happy to see that many of the people who I thanked in those letters are people and organizations that I still interact with today. It felt good to think that maybe I’ve done all right after all.

That said, there were a few letters that stood out. These were letters that I found offered up a piece of who I am and what I believe to my readers. Things that I thought I would like anyone who reads The Magical Buffet at any point to know about me, the person behind the keyboard.

This is one of those letters……

“Religion without myth not only fails to work, it also fails to offer man the promise of unity with the transpersonal and eternal.” C.G. Jung

“BETHANY (rubbing her temples): Two thirds of me wants to forget about this and go home. You know, yesterday I wasn’t sure God even existed. And now I’m up to my ass in Christian Mythology.

RUFUS: Let me let you in on a little inside info. God hates it when it’s referred to as mythology.” Kevin Smith’s film Dogma

What is religion? What is mythology? Is there a difference? Not to me. They say history is written by the winners and it’s safe to say that Judeo Christian beliefs won over let’s say for example the pantheonic beliefs of the ancient Romans. That which is generally considered mythology, at one point was fervently believed in as religion, as much as Christianity or Judaism is today. Is it fair to say that just because a mythological deity isn’t actively worshipped in the mainstream that it’s mythology, while the epic stories of The Bible are most assuredly religion? Absolutely not, and I reckon that there are some Goddess worshippers reading this that will tell you that straight up! An individual’s faith and belief are what makes a group of mythological tales a religion. It’s in the stories of a faith that its tenants are demonstrated. A religion that is a rule book doesn’t work. It has to incorporate stories, myths if you will, to transform a set of rules into a living breathing creation.

So what is “Magical Buffet Mythology”? It’s where I retell some of the definitive stories of various deities, and perhaps events, etc. Last month was Artemis, this month is Kuan Yin. For most, Artemis is considered myth, for over half the global population Kuan Yin is considered religion. Both are called “Magical Buffet Mythology”. Why? Because for one, it’s safe to say that my particular interpretations shouldn’t be considered the definitive versions of these tales! I’m a sarcastic person and it’s in these columns that I let my snarky flag fly! Also, a myth is just one believer away from a religion in my book. Who am I to decide which one is which?

I hope that everyone continues to enjoy the “Magical Buffet Mythology” columns. I certainly enjoy doing them. I also hope that everyone keeps an open mind about religion verses mythology and that no one takes offense to my personal views on the topic. After all, it’s just one opinionated dish along the buffet line.

Until next month,
Rebecca Elson
Publisher, The Magical Buffet

This was the second letter from the publisher that I wrote. Everything was new, and much like l am in real life, I just wanted everyone to like me. I feared that a column known as “Magical Buffet Mythology” that I was planning on using to discuss all kinds of noteworthy and little known deities had the potential of insulting someone about their personal beliefs. That would be the exact opposite of what I was hoping to do with my newly founded e-zine. When I decided to follow up my Artemis article with an article about Kuan Yin, a personal favorite of mine and a deity actively prayed to by probably half the global population, I grew concerned. This letter was written to express my personal views on mythology and religion. Since I didn’t lose any subscribers, it must have done the trick. Or perhaps even better, my readers didn’t have those kinds of hang ups.

With the new blog format you see that I do in fact have a category for religion and for mythology. To be honest, I’m sure how what I call mythology or religion these days. Most of the time, I categorize the articles as both. However, when I write about a deity, even in this new format, I still title every one “Magical Buffet Mythology”. And hopefully my new readers also don’t have those kinds of hang ups.

Russian Magic

It’s not that I never think of Russia, except that honestly I don’t really think about Russia. Nothing against the country, just for some reason, they never really cross my mind. That’s why I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review “Russian Magic: Living Folk Traditions of an Enchanted Landscape” by Cherry Gilchrist. I was hoping that I would come away with a refreshing understanding of a country that I had obviously overlooked. I was right.

“Russian Magic” is everything a book of its type should be, potential authors of folkloric books take note. The book is engaging and covers a surprisingly large swath of Russian traditions, religious practices, folklore traditions, and more. It is well researched but also filled with first hand accounts from the author brushing up against these practices.

There were the “standards” such as Baba Yaga and Matrioshka (those adorable nesting dolls). However I was also introduced to a colorful cast of characters like Father Frost, Mokosh (Damp Earth Mother), and Perun (Lord of Thunder). I learned about various divination practices, dates of unique celebrations, the landscapes, and even the significance of the architecture of the traditional village house! Better still, whereas most books of this type would only look at these things from the perspective of their significance in the past, the author takes all of that history and shows you its influence on modern society in Russia.

I also need to tell you that I couldn’t help but be pleased when the domavoi made an appearance. Some readers may remember that WAY back in 2006 I wrote an article about these helpful and potentially harmful house guests. What I didn’t know then, but do now (thanks to “Russian Magic”) is that the domavoi’s birthday is February 10th! If you have one of these guys in your home, that’s the day to really kiss up to him! And now you know.

And if you’re looking to know more, I highly suggest picking up this entertaining and enlightening book.

Magical Buffet Mythology: Tlazolteotl

by Rebecca
illustrated by Will Hobbs

I like duality deities. I don’t know why, I just do. Perhaps it’s just true, opposites attract. All those creation/destruction deities just float my boat. So you can understand how excited I was when I discovered Tlazolteotl.

Tlazolteotl is the Aztec goddess of purification and filth. She gets you dirty, she gets you clean. Dirty, as in disease, dirt, and vices like gambling or adultery, and clean, as in steam baths and forgiving disease caused by misdeeds, particularly of a sexual nature (wink, wink). Tlazolteotl is a patroness of adulterers and midwives. I like this lady, she’s loaded with opposites! She inspires desires and forgives you when you indulge in them. Nice, right?

Tlazolteotl is sometimes depicted wearing the skin of a human sacrifice, a headdress that has a spindle of cotton, and carrying a grass broom. Other times she is naked and squatting, as if giving birth.

Through a priest you can confess your sins to Tlazolteotl, who will forgive them (she is known as She Who Eats Sin). There is a catch, unlike in other faiths that feature confession, you can only confess to Tlazolteotl once in your life. So you had better save it for a real doozey or when you’re very old!

The Harpy

By Rebecca
Illustration by Will Hobbs

Generally when we say harpy, we’re referring to, as Random House Dictionary states, “a scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; shrew, or a greedy, predatory person.” Perhaps it’s that innate fear or repulsion that leads to so much trouble when trying to learn about the mythological creature the harpy.

Let’s start with appearance, one source tells me that harpies started out as beautiful goddesses but over time were morphed into nasty creatures, and then others say they started out down right hideous, but have been toned down to the creatures we generally think of when considering the harpy. Therefore, what are we looking at here? Obviously it varies based on artistic interpretation, but at the most basic it’s a woman who from the torso down is bird and has wings large enough to carry her in flight. Sometimes the face is less human in appearance, with bulging eyes and tusks, other times the face is the only human component and the body is entirely bird. (For the record, for me the harpy will always look like the harpy from the movie “The Last Unicorn”.)

Everyone seems to agree that in Greek mythology the harpies were the daughters of Thaumas and Electra. Of course, how many were there? A few sources say two to three: Aello and Octpete, with Celaeno as a later addition. One source goes so far as to say three to four: Aello, Octpete, Celaeno, and a possible extra to make four! No matter the number, harpies make appearances throughout Greek myth, generally harassing, stealing, or killing anything they feel like.

In the Middle Ages an image of a harpy was used on coats-of-arms. It was referred to as the “virgin eagle”. I have many exciting theories on why the harpy was a virgin, all of them would be inappropriate for me to say, and many of which you can guess for yourself.

In an interesting, and more all age appropriate side note, the largest raptor found in North and South America is the Harpy Eagle. Yup, named after the mythological creature. It’s certainly cuter than any version of the mythological harpy I can imagine. On the other hand, it still totally gives me the creeps.