An Honest Liar

Today a documentary about the life of Randall James Hamilton Zwinge released into theaters. You may know Zwinge better as James Randi or The Amazing Randi. Upon reflection, a documentary about Randi is long overdue. However, after watching the film “An Honest Liar” any documentary released prior to this one would have been woefully lacking. Filmmakers Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom managed through goodwill and happenstance to be on hand to capture real truth from a master magician, thus a master of diversion and manipulation. Or as Randi says, “in other words, bullshit.”

“An Honest Liar” could easily have been twice as long. We’re talking about a subject who at the age of 17 years-old ran off to join a carnival, and who now at over 80 years-old has never sat still. The film briefly touches on Randi’s childhood, then dives into his successful career as escape artist/magician The Amazing Randi, and we see how that segues into his career as professional skeptic. If you find that Randi’s arc follows in broad strokes the life of Harry Houdini, you’re not the only one who finds that parallel. The coincidence is brought up by magician and skeptic alike throughout the film.

It’s odd that I never knew Randi as The Amazing Randi. I always knew it was part of his background, but until “An Honest Liar” I never saw him escape a straightjacket, a pair of handcuffs, or even a length of rope. To see him so young and roguish, for me, it was like being introduced to a stranger. Then thanks to some excellent archival footage and interview legwork I got to bear witness to stuff that to me was almost legend: Randi vs Uri Gellar, Randi vs Peter Popoff, and Project Alpha, as well as other investigations from that era. Finally the film gets to the only James Randi I’ve really ever known. Long white hair, long white beard. The consummate skeptic, proud atheist, and founder of James Randi Educational Foundation (amongst many other things). He has a keen intellect and a razor sharp wit.

Then, due to a strange twist of fate, a deception that had been lying dormant in Randi’s life being revealed, I come face to face with a James Randi I’m not entirely comfortable with. Gone is the man who is certain of how the world works and who brushes things that disagree with him off with aplomb. In those few moments I am face to face with the fully realized human being that is James Randi.

Weinstein and Meason captured a master escape artist from every angle with “An Honest Liar”. If you get a chance to see it, do so.

To learn more and/or help get the film in more theaters visit: http://anhonestliar.com/wp/

The True Story of the Bridgeport Poltergeist on Lindley Street

By William J. Hall

Laura Goodin was distraught. She was exhausted and concerned, fearing she was nearing the end of her rope. “Why us? Why us?” she repeated in her characteristic loud and less than pleasant, voice. It had been her question for many days now but something about it was different that time. Her tone seemed more reflective than before. She lowered her head into her hands and sobbed.

Laura was a plain looking, overbearing, heavy set women with 1970’s horned rim glasses and a stodgy wardrobe. She was socially inept, though filled with love for her family and eager to provide well for them. She was a loyal and supportive wife and devout in her faith. What little personal strength she had exhibited early in their ordeal clearly had begun to wane.

She lifted her head from her hands and continued, “Everything of value in our home is gone.”

This thorough suffering became immediately obvious as I listened to hour upon hour of private, intimate interviews with the family that had been undertaken and recorded as part of a serious scientific investigation. The Goodin’s story is a perplexing one. All they sought was solitude, away from the reporters and the hordes of people who insisted on hanging on in the hope they might witness some inexplicable event, which they could take away with them and exploit for personal advantage in its retelling. The Goodin’s made no money from the haunting and they shunned fame and self-promotion. They had nothing to prove to the world. Day after day, month after month, they quietly plodded along, side by side with the unexplainable terrors life kept feeding them. This is their story—their real heart-touching, life-changing story.

The year was 1974. The world had experienced “The Exorcist” less than a year before the horror that had been the Goodin’s reality, at last went public. There were the husband and father, Jerry, the wife and mother, Laura, and their ten year old adopted daughter, Marcie. They lived in a tiny bungalow on Lindley Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Jerry supported his family working as a low wage maintenance man at Harvey Hubbell, Inc. in Bridgeport. Laura was a stay at home housewife.

Due to her olive skin color as a full blooded five nations Indian, Marcie was picked on relentlessly at school. The bullying peaked when she was beaten up by another child and, as a result, found herself in a body brace. This incident only further fueled her mother’s destructive, if well meaning, overprotective instincts. The little girl’s frustration and loneliness boiled within her as she struggled to quietly hold it all inside. The parallel with events in the movie, “Carrie”, is uncanny.

According to experts, those kinds of frustrations and enforced inhibitions are the essential elements for inviting a poltergeist into one’s midst. The phenomenon is reflected in objects being moved and damaged, and people being roughly handled by an unseen force. One theory suggests that a child or teen who, without any physical action, unconsciously disrupts a setting, such as a home, by unleashing energy born from his or her pent up, boiling anger. Other paranormal experts suggest that these entities come to occupy areas through a parallel world. Some suggest that the mere circumstance of such an intense emotional phenomenon produces or invites an evil spirit to inhabit the home. Still others say it is a mixture of both spirit and psychic energy. The discrepancy among these theories continues to be the subject of much debate.

One aspect that distinguished this phenomenon from other similar situations was that it morphed into a very public matter. During November of 1974, the bizarre antics of the little house leaked to the public and attracted crowds that swelled to over 2,000 onlookers. Lindley Street was barricaded and traffic was backed up for a mile or more in all directions. A catch phrase developed and spread among the spectators up and down that street, and very soon across the continent: The house on Lindley Street is haunted!

Newspapers, radio, and television stations throughout the U.S. and as far away as Australia and Israel told of the strange things happening there: police officers reported seeing a 300-pound refrigerator float up off the floor and rotate, objects flying off walls, an amorphous, misty figure appearing to a house full of people, a talking cat, and even little Marcie being forced through the air until she hit the wall behind her.

Unlike many alleged ghostly events that had occurred in isolated, rural houses with only the report of their residents, these incidents had more than seventy-seven credible witnesses, among them a police lieutenant, a police captain, two fire chiefs, police officers, firefighters, two priests, neighbors, extended family, a seminary student, reporters, and others. In addition, approximately four hundred onlookers reported seeing the phenomena from outside the home. Well-known paranormal investigator Ed Warren said at the time that it was the most well-documented haunting in 100 years.

A major question remained, then: Why didn’t this case move the reality of the paranormal into a position of legitimate study in mainstream science?

After three days, the Bridgeport Police Superintendent Joseph Walsh announced that the incidents were a hoax created by the resident Goodin family’s ten year-old daughter Marcia and the case was closed. Police badly needed an acceptable explanation to placate and disperse the crowd camped near the house. Its mere presence was disruptive well beyond that block. It continued to block streets for miles around, causing mischief and property damage while holding valuable law enforcement resources hostage.

But behind the scenes, the inquiry into the events at Lindley Street was far from over. Police continued to offer the family protection from the phenomena even after the case was deemed closed by the police. The police captain also required officers, who had been on the scene, to assist in a scientific investigation conducted by two agencies: the Psychical Research Foundation, which got its start at Duke University in 1961, and the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship. It seems obvious that the authorities clearly didn’t believe their own ‘hoax’ explanation. Police and firefighters who witnessed these bizarre events stood by what they had reported at the time.

The study for which they were interviewed concluded that the events were the doings of a poltergeist – literally, meaning “noisy ghost.” Poltergeist activity typically consists of strange noises, footsteps, moving objects, and the destruction of property with no visible physical cause, most often occurring in the environs of a prepubescent child. Ed Warren and a priest on the scene also attributed this particular series of events to a demonic presence in addition to the typical poltergeist manifestations.

So there I sat—a skeptic at heart looking at folder after folder of undeniable proof. In addition to the multitude of recorded and transcribed interviews from 1974 and 1975, there were official data sheets describing each event as it had been witnessed. Each incident was charted, describing what happened and where everyone was at the time. It is very unusual to have such precise and thorough documentation in which multiple witnesses from varying physical perspectives had their testimony charted individually. It allowed for mutual corroboration of the minute details, which substantiated there was no misinterpretation of the facts. The witnesses approached the phenomena logically, often not considering the paranormal as the source until eliminating other possible causes.

In my mind, the investigation did not dare end there. I began retracing the steps of those involved. I contacted several of the witnesses with whom I had interviews from 1974 and 1975. I also discovered numerous new witnesses. There were children of the witnesses from all those years before and electrical engineers, employees who worked in the records department of the Bridgeport Police, friends of the family, Jerry’s co-workers, and, whenever possible, surviving family members.

It is a heartbreaking story about the unwelcome forces that came to dominate every aspect of this poor family’s life – a family whose members only wanted the freedom to establish and maintain a quiet, fulfilling, happy life. They had not sought either fame or notoriety. They accepted no compensation for their story. They shunned the public view and abhorred having been hurled into the court of public opinion.

©2014 William J. Hall, author of “The World’s Most Haunted House: The True Story of the Bridgeport Poltergeist on Lindley Street” published by New Page Books a division of Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. EAN: 978-1601633378 List Price: US $15.99

About William J. Hall:
William J. Hall was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the events of this book took place. He watched the news coverage of the Lindley Street haunting on television when he was 10 years-old. Hall is professionally equipped to recognize trickery. After more than 25 years as a performing magician, he knows how to create and recognize illusions. He is experienced in researching the unexplained, from folklore and urban legend to fortunetelling, the pyramids, and other mysterious tales. His syndicated 1990’s column “Magic and the Unknown” ran for six years in multiple local papers in his home state. Hall has two sons and resides in Plainville, Connecticut.

10 Questions with Dr. Penny Sartori

1. How do you define a near death experience?

It is an experience that some people report following a close brush with death. The experience follows a pattern of common components that were originally defined by Dr Raymond Moody in his book Life After Life in 1975. Common components include hearing the news of being close to death, travelling down a dark tunnel towards a bright light, a panoramic life review, an out of body experience, meeting deceased relatives / friends, meeting a ‘Being of Light’, being sent back to life, a barrier or a point of no return.
Each NDE is unique and not all components occur in every NDE.

2. What inspired you to study near death experiences (NDEs)?

It was an encounter with a dying patient I was looking after when I worked as a nurse in the ICU that inspired me to study NDEs. That encounter made me realize that we really do not understand death so I wanted to have a greater understanding of the dying process to that no other patient would have to undergo such a prolonged and undignified death as that patient who inspired my studies.

3. How has the medical establishment responded to your work studying NDEs?

At first the medical establishment was a little skeptical but as my research progressed they could see that it was ultimately going to benefit patients so they became very interested and supportive of my research. When my research had completed my medical colleagues were very interested and I was asked to present papers at medical conferences to disseminate my research findings.

4. Have you found that age affects the NDE?

No, NDEs can occur in people of all ages even young children who have no concept of death.

5. Do varying cultures affect the NDE?

Yes, the NDEs are influenced by the person’s culture. For example people in the West are more likely to report images of Jesus whereas people from India are more likely to report images of Yamdoots, messengers of Yama the god of the dead or Chitragupta the man with the book of deeds.

6. How are deathbed visions (end of life experiences) different from NDEs?

The deathbed visions are more of a chronic phenomenon and can occur over a few days. As the person gets closer to death so the visions may increase in frequency. Deathbed visions usually begin within a week or a few days before the person dies. NDEs occur spontaneously and occur in a matter of seconds.

7. How do NDEs affect the people who have them?

Many people are profoundly affected by their NDE in many different ways including psychologically, physiologically, spiritually and sociologically.

Their values may change drastically – so much that there can be a high divorce rate in people who have had an NDE. They are less materialistic and simple things in life like spending time with their family or spending time in nature takes priority to their previous lifestyle which may have been very money orientated. Many change careers from a highly paid job to doing voluntary work or working in the caring profession.

Some people have changes in their electromagnetic field and can’t wear a wrist watch or find that electrical items malfunction in their presence.

Some people feel that their religious belief is strengthened whereas others feel that they become more spiritual as opposed to religious. People are generally more compassionate, loving and respectful towards others and also have a heightened awareness of ecological issues.

8. Can you tell my readers a little bit about the 5 year study you did on NDEs?

When I worked as a nurse in the ICU for 5 years I interviewed patients who had survived a close brush with death. I came across 15 people who reported an NDE. I wanted to investigate if the NDE could have been caused by lack of oxygen, the drugs that we give to the patients or due to wishful thinking.

I didn’t find any cause for the NDE – for example one patient reported an NDE while unconscious but at the time he was fully ventilated and receiving high levels of oxygen and his vital signs were monitored throughout and his oxygen levels in his blood were normal. Some patients reported an NDE and had not been given any drugs at the time.

Some patients reported unpleasant NDEs which would not suggest that these are not merely wishful thinking.

I came across some very interesting examples where what the patients reported could not be dismissed or explained away. Patient 10 reported an out of body experience where he accurately reported the actions of the nurse, doctor and physiotherapist – at the time he was deeply unconscious and his eyes were closed. I know what he reported was accurate because I was the nurse looking after him at the time. I’ve nursed thousands of unconscious patients during my 21 year nursing career but no other patient has described an experience in so much detail and with such accuracy. As patients regain consciousness they are very disorientated and groggy and quite vague for some hours and even days yet this patient was very clear and precise about what he experienced as soon as he regained consciousness.

9. Why is it important that we study NDEs?

I think it is crucial that we continue to study NDEs in the clinical environment as they are giving us a different understanding of consciousness. Research in this field is now calling into question the premise that consciousness is produced by the brain. This will then lead us to other ways of investigating and understanding consciousness.

I think studying NDEs will also give us greater insight into the dying process so that we can better support patients as they are dying.

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

Ooh, that’s a difficult one.

Ok, if you knew that today would be the last day of your life, would you be doing anything different right now?

Talk about difficult questions!

Probably, but not by much. Instead of sitting here typing while my husband is stretched out on the other couch I would probably shut off my laptop and cell phone and crawl over and curl up on the sofa with him.

About Dr. Penny Sartori:
Dr. Penny Sartori worked as an intensive care staff nurse for 17 years. She undertook the UK’s largest and first long term prospective study of near-death experiences (NDEs) and was awarded a PhD for her research in 2005. She is uniquely qualified as not only has she worked daily with dying patients for many years but she also has the benefit of undertaking doctoral research into NDEs.

Her second book, “The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences: How Understanding NDEs Can Help Us Live More Fully” is published by Watkins Books. Whereas previous research has been unable to verify events that have been reported, more recent hospital research is showing that NDEs can no longer be dismissed as hallucinations or aberrations of a dying brain. Drawing from many instances throughout her nursing career coupled with many examples from people who have written to her over the years, she discusses that NDEs occur and have very real life changing effects and how, by trying to pathologize NDEs, the very important message that these people bring back has been overlooked. She reiterates that hearing what these people have to say can benefit us all without having to nearly die ourselves.

Encounters: UFO Experience

Good news for those who live near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina or those planning on visiting there this summer! Encounters: UFO Experience will be back and open as of April 1, 2014 for the spring and summer season!

This place sounds so neat! Encounters offers 7 different galleries to showcase artifacts, witness accounts, a wealth of debunking information to attract curious visitors and create the case for the existence of alien life. It includes more than 200 original and reproduction alien artifacts, films, recordings, conceptual models and interactive experiences. Visitors get to experience: Alien Hunter (a laser tag-style shooting gallery), Alien Autopsy (in a tribute to “Grossology,” visitors can grab alien guts and brains), Electromagnetic Propelled UFOs (a propulsion exhibit where UFOs are controlled by magnets and visitors), Alien Gods (a guide to ancient history of aliens), Speak to Aliens (send messages to outer space. A pre-recorded message is sent in response to kids.), Alien Specimens (new life forms have been recovered and are on display), and a Speaker Series (featuring UFOlogists including special guest Stanton Friedman).

Encounters looks like the kind of place that alien/UFO enthusiasts can get their geek on, and still bring the rest of the family for a fun day! For more details, like ticket prices, hours of operation, etc. visit their website ufoexhibition.com.

Blimpin’ for Bigfoot

Readers interested in cryptozoology, specifically Bigfoot, are probably familiar with Dr. Jeff Meldrum. However, for those of you who are not, let me give you a bit of a Wikipedia run down, “Jeffery Meldrum is an Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology and Adjunct Associate Professor of the Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University. Meldrum is also Adjunct Professor of Occupational and Physical Therapy and Affiliate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Idaho Museum of Natural History.” He also happens to investigate evidence and claims of Bigfoot sightings, much to the derision of many of his peers. Meldrum is the author of “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science”, which I’ve never read but now that I know exists I totally want to read.

Next spring Meldrum is hoping to kick it up a notch by using a remote controlled blimp with thermal imaging to scour the Pacific Northwest, as well as the Northern tiers of California and Utah. The small hitch in this plan is the need to raise $300,000 or more from private funding. The news stories I read mentioned donations and/or crowdsourcing, but I haven’t been able to find a place where the average person can go to donate to the Bigfoot search cause. I did find a Facebook page for Dr. Jeff Meldrum – Project Sasquatch. It says, “We are developing an on-line show with CyberStationUSA called ‘Project Sasquatch’ where I will be sharing some of my research and investigations into this most intriguing natural history mystery.” Perhaps this online show is footing the bill?

No matter what, Project Falcon (which is what this is being called) would be a big, bold step in the Bigfoot search. The pressure is on because it seems to me if this $300,000 search yields nothing, it’s unlikely anyone would invest that kind of money in the search for Bigfoot again. Unless it makes for good television of course.

A few news stories, MSNBC and Huffington Post.

Power Crystals

A while back I received a review copy of “Power Crystals: Spiritual and Magical Practices, Crystal Skulls, and Alien Technology” by John DeSalvo Ph.D. With a title that diverse, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It certainly had the potential to fly far afield from reality, if you know what I mean. But I was intrigued, and I had never really read anything about crystal skulls before, so I decided to give it a try. Since you’re here reading this review, it’s safe to assume that I’m glad I did.

I’m blown away by the depth of research in “Power Crystals”. The first four chapters of the book are devoted solely to the quartz crystal; what it is, its history, psychic studies, and its use in healing. Personally, quartz is one of my favorites so I found this interesting reading. It is also in the beginning, when discussing psychic studies, where we start to see DeSalvo’s efforts to bring as much scientific study and reason into subjects that sometimes struggle to be defined by science.

Next up, the crystal skulls. How insanely fascinating was this section of the book guys? Wait, you probably haven’t read it so you don’t know yet. It was great. Again, it’s all about the detail. As I mentioned, I hadn’t really read anything about crystals skulls so the bulk of my knowledge was, “There are skulls out there. They are made of crystal. That seems to matter to some people.” Now I feel like I have a good understanding of these skulls and their allure. DeSalvo shares the skulls history and personal journeys, the attempts at scientific testing of the skulls, and much more. As far as I’m concerned, at this point I’ve gotten my quartz crystal money’s worth, but there is still more.

DeSalvo goes on to discuss scrying and meditating with crystals. Also, crystal’s use in magical rituals. He even includes The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram! Some time is even given to examining the belief in Atlantis and its denizens’ potential use of crystals and the alleged phenomenon of crystal alien implants. It’s hard to imagine that DeSalvo left any crystal role or use unexamined!

“Power Crystals: Spiritual and Magical Practices, Crystal Skulls, and Alien Technology” at merely a touch over 200 pages (and that’s including the index!) is an amazingly in depth resource for everything quartz crystal. Upon finishing it, I immediately wanted to start reading certain sections (cough, ahem, crystal skulls, cough, cough) again. It’s a fascinating and entertaining ride designed for both the new age spiritualist and the skeptic.

Ghosts & Spirits Tarot

Since I just got done reviewing “The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations” by Claude Lecouteux I thought now would be the perfect time to take a look at “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” by Lisa Hunt. I know I seem to be near pants wetting excited over every tarot deck I review, but seriously you guys, “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” is incredibly impressive. How impressive? Incredibly.

I have to say, I think the masterful Mr. Claude Lecouteux himself would be impressed with the amount of work Lisa Hunt put into “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” because what you have here is a tarot deck where each card depicts a different spirit, ghost, or liaison between the earthly and spiritual realms from folklore and legend. So yes Lecouteux fans, all the subjects of his books that have been reviewed here on The Buffet are represented in this deck: The Wild Hunt (The Chariot), Vampire (The Hanged Man), Revenants (Six of Cups), and yes party people, even the Poltergeists from the last review (Ace of Swords).

Ace of Swords - Poltergeist

I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I tell you that I would gasp with surprise and glee with each page turn of the booklet as a treasure trove of creatures and characters were revealed. La Llorona! The Flying Dutchman! Headless Horseman! White Ladies! Each entry has a brief description and bit of context along with a divinatory meaning.

The artwork is perfectly suited to the subject matter and despite the obvious darkness implied, Hunt brings beauty to most of the cards despite the specter of death the hangs around ghosts and spirits. I’m a fan of the Day of the Dead and I became quite smitten with Hunt’s rendering of it for the Ten of Cups.

Ten of Cups - Day of the Dead

And I was swept up by The High Priestess, who in the “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” is an Enchantress/Sibyl. Hunt’s text brings perfect understanding to what we see in the card.

The most famous oracle of Greek/Roman legend, the Sibyl of Cumae (Italy) guided Aeneus through the land of the dead and enabled him to return to the living. The Sibyl interweaves the energies of past lives and future events. She illuminates the scene where dream-like specters mingle with relics of the past. A pathway provides a passage to clarity and higher understanding. The sparkles indicate a divine presence.

The High Priestess - Enchantress/Sibyl

What else can I say to convince you that “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” by Lisa Hunt is 100% amazing? How about even though I received a free copy to review I went ahead and bought a second copy so I could get it signed by the artist? Did I mention I found this deck incredibly impressive?

The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses

Paranormal enthusiasts! Wake up! Over here! Over here! If you consider yourself a paranormal investigator, a ghost hunter, or an armchair paranormal expert I am about to tell you about THE book you need to read if you want to have real game. We’re talking about separating the boys from the men, the Caspers from the, from the, well I can’t think of the name of some adult type ghost but you get the idea. What we’re talking about my friends is Claude Lecouteux.

Regular Buffet readers know that it is no secret that I adore Claude Lecouteux’s books. It started with “Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind”, a rare look at revenants. Then it was “The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes”, where indeed Lecouteux revealed all kinds of vampires. Lastly there was “Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead”, which was one of my favorite things of 2011 AND inspired me to start a new household tradition! And now Lecouteux offers us “The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations.”

As I’ve come to expect from Lecouteux, the level of research is astounding. The book opens with a thoughtful discussion of “What is a Poltergeist?” His aptitude with medieval texts means that “Poltergeists” is not only filled with stories you’ve probably never read before, but it also allows Lecouteux to track the evolution of belief in, and explanation of, poltergeists. A particular highlight for me is back in the Appendices where you’ll find the debunking of a 1649 instance of poltergeist activity. Also in the Appendices; Exorcismus domus a daemonio vexatae (Rite for the Exorcism of a House Tormented by a Demon) which is how priests would attempt to rid homes of poltergeists in the Middle Ages when poltergeists were considered to actually be the Devil or demonic activity.

I can’t imagine a more thorough text available on the subject of poltergeists and the homes they haunt. Are they spirits, genies, the dead, the Devil, demons, witchcraft, hoaxes, or from psychokinetic abilities? Lecouteux covers all of that as well as the variety of ways people from all eras would attempt to rid themselves of poltergeists. If you’re anybody who is anybody claiming to know anything about the paranormal, you have to read this book. Also, if you’re anybody looking for an insanely fascinating read about the evolution of poltergeists in human culture, you also really should read this book.

STUFF!

While I’ve been sitting on the sofa letting my ass get wide working my way through old seasons of “Chuck” and “Numb3rs”, and getting sucked into new television like “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm” (Damn you Hulu!), friends of The Magical Buffet have been actually accomplishing things. So much so that I’m way past due in giving you guys the rundown on all that has been going on.

My friends at the Northern New York Paranormal Research Society have a new website going. It has many of the same features as before, like a chat room and forum, but the upgraded site now also gives them the capability to broadcast investigations live online! Nifty, right? If you haven’t checked them out before, now is the time. www.nnyprs.com

Remember Paula Chaffee Scardamalia who wrote the wonderful essay “Weaving a Woman’s Life” for The Buffet? And how she had a wonderful book, shockingly titled, “Weaving a Woman’s Life: Spiritual Lessons from the Loom”? Well that book is now available as an e-book! Also, her more current work under the umbrella of “Divining the Muse” has a beautiful new website! You can learn more about getting a copy of “Weaving a Woman’s Life” (with free PDF downloadable journal) and her other fascinating work with creativity by visiting her newly refreshed website www.diviningthemuse.com.

Apparently this is the time of year for website upgrades (Jim, get on that!), because New Age musician, and long time friend of The Buffet, Paul Avgerinos just gave the Round Sky Music and Studio Unicorn websites a complete overhaul! You may remember I just talked about Avgerinos’ “Bliss” album in October 2011. In case you’re wondering, it’s still relaxing.

There has also been interesting news out from The Pluralism Project at Harvard University. I received this press release that I think will be of great interest to many of you.

The Pluralism Project at Harvard University is pleased to announce the launch of America’s Interfaith Infrastructure: An Emerging Landscape, a website documenting and resourcing the interfaith movement in the United States. Dr. Diana Eck, a professor at Harvard University and director of the Pluralism Project explains, “While interfaith organizations play a vital role in cities and towns across America, their critical contributions to our multireligious society are often overlooked.”

The Pluralism Project has been researching religious diversity in the United States for the past two decades; however, America’s Interfaith Infrastructure: An Emerging Landscape represents an in-depth pilot study of interfaith efforts in twenty cities across the U.S. Since 9/11, interfaith initiatives on the national scene have gained prominence and are increasingly covered in major media outlets for their outstanding work, yet few have chronicled interfaith efforts at the grassroots level. This pilot project documents the richly diverse interfaith movement as it continues to develop in the United States. Initiatives include: an innovative community video project in Omaha, Nebraska; a thriving women’s interfaith network in Syracuse, New York; and a long-standing, replicable tradition of a festival of faiths in Louisville, Kentucky.

Dr. Diana Eck explains the importance of this new resource as a starting point for scholars, activists, students, and citizens:

“Ten years after 9/11, the need for inter-religious understanding and cooperation has never been greater. Interfaith organizations create innovative programs to engage and educate – they also offer a counter-narrative amidst the rising rhetoric of division. People of all ages and beliefs from across the country are collaborating in the arts, social services, youth leadership programs, and civic initiatives at unprecedented levels. New forms of dialogue are emerging as we speak.”

The Pluralism Project invites activists, students, educators, and community members to share their own story of the interfaith movement by submitting a short audio or written piece that may be included in the storytelling portal of America’s Interfaith Infrastructure: An Emerging Landscape.

The site, www.pluralism.org/interfaith, includes promising practices, leadership profiles, case studies, and multimedia features; a summary report of the findings from this pilot study is also available.

Lastly, (I know! Freakin’ EVERYONE has been doing stuff except me!) remember Avi Glijansky, creator, writer, and director of the awesome web series “The Further Adventures of Cupid and Eros”? Well sadly he isn’t back with season 2 yet (where I secretly hope to get a cameo as God), but he is part of something new and fun that I thought I would bring to your attention; “The Silver Lake Badminton and Adventurers Club”.

In a world full of secrets, lies, and depravity, there are some crimes that the police are just too mainstream to handle. Enter: The Silver Lake Badminton and Adventurers Club. The heroes Silver Lake deserves but hasn’t necessarily heard of yet.

It’s an over the top hipster noir Scooby Doo adventure, filled with actors you may recognize from “Cupid and Eros”. Here’s part one to try out!

I guess this is a reminder that it’s time to get up and get moving! It’s time to innovate, to reinvent, to create! I’ll get right to that after this next episode of “Chuck”.

10 Questions with Varla Ventura

1. So Weiser Books just launched two lines of ebooks, Paranormal Parlor and Magical Creatures. Can you tell my readers a little bit about those two lines?
Magical Creatures is a collection of stories from out-of-print and public domain books and includes such delightful beings as mermaids; goblins, pookas, and other members of the fairy kingdom; vampires; werewolves; and even mummies! Most of these are “fiction” or folkloric. Paranormal Parlor covers the wonderful world of psychic and supernatural—from old Victorian séances to classic ghost stories.

2. You’re the official curator of these two lines of books. What does that job entail?
I comb through volumes of stories, folktales, and true accounts to find hidden gems with secrets of their own. Sometimes the story is more in the author or the creation of the story. Once I have picked out the pieces I write a little about each book and author into an introduction, trying to put it in modern context. Not all the books are outstanding literary works—sometimes they are just quirky enough to be collectible, which is really what this project is all about. Being a lover of the strange and the forgotten, it is truly a labor of love.

3. What are a couple of your favorite books from the two collections?
From the Magical Creatures collection one of my absolute favorites is Polidori’s “Vampyre, A Tale”. One could argue it isn’t the finest vampire story ever written, but it has tons of cultural and pop-cultural significance. Polidori was Lord Byron’s personal physician and was there the fated night that Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary (Wollstonecraft) Shelley were gathered round the fire, conspiring to write their own ghost stories. This story was born that night. In addition, this was the first vampire novel written and published in English, which pre-dates Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” by seventy years.

From the Paranormal Parlor collection I think the stand-out is this novel, “Jap-Herron”, which was written entirely via the Ouija board. Sounds interesting enough on its own, but it turns out the author and her medium were channeling the ghost of Mark Twain and they claimed this was a novel he had been waiting to write since he died seven years before. The author, Emily Grant Hutchings, claimed that Twain identified her as “the one” to be his scribe. It went to press but was pulled immediately from the stands because Twain’s publisher and daughter sued Hutchings and her publisher.

4. Not only are you the curator for these lines of ebooks, you’re also an author. You wrote “Beyond Bizarre: Frightening Facts and Blood-Curdling True Tales” and “Book of the Bizarre: Freaky Facts & Strange Stories”. What are these books like?
These are collections themselves, probably why Weiser’s publisher thought of me for the first of these e-book collections. They are books of supernatural stories, hauntings, ghost encounters, UFO sightings, strange laws still on the books, bizarre news stories, weird medical conditions, and all manner of sea shanties, rock and roll horror stories and basically truth-is-stranger-than fiction kind of stuff. The kind of thing you read or hear about and then think it isn’t true, and then you investigate further and discover not only is it true, but it is way weirder than you first thought.

5. How did you get interested in, for lack of a better phrase, “the bizarre”?
I was kind of raised in a freaky household. We played a lot with Ouija boards and Tarot cards, celebrated Halloween like most families celebrate Christmas. Seriously, one year my mom kept us out of school until after Halloween so we could fully participate in the costume making and pumpkin sculpting. So I kind of always had an unusual outlook on things. I love freaking people out and I was at a party spouting some weird story and my friend said, “Hey, why don’t you put all your crazy stories together into a book?”

6. Care to entertain my readers with a favorite “freaky fact”?
In 1971 a man in Pennsylvania sued Satan—sighting The Devil himself as cause for all of the man’s ill luck. It was thrown out of court on the grounds that it could not be proved that Satan lived in Pennsylvania at the time.

7. Will these two lines of books from Weiser only ever be released as ebooks? Where can my readers go to buy and download them?
As far as I know there are no immediate plans to make them print books, though I would guess that if one in particular were enormously popular it might be considered. The idea is for someone to be able to collect these inexpensively and amass a collection at their fingertips. They are currently available on Amazon for Kindle, B&N’s Nook and in the Apple store for the any of their reading devices. You can search by the names of the collections, individual title, or by my name.

8. Are there going to be more books added to these collections? Any that you can tell us about now?
Oh yes! Many, many more. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what there is to come. Most of these first ones are personal favorites, but I have begun now to start exploring for new books through a variety of channels—references from the backs of my favorite old volumes of books, recommendations from friends and readers, and online searches. Among the next round, which will be released in early December, we have a ghost story by Charles Dickens, a holiday kidnapping story by L. Frank Baum, a collection of Pooka tales, and a fabulous publication circa 1900 all about a series of séances that took place in San Francisco.

9. And what about you? Will there be more books from you for my readers to look forward to?
I am pretty immersed in unearthing and resurrecting these volumes of forgotten lore, but when I surface I am sure to be half-way through my next manuscript. I have a ton of ideas, and am constantly gathering stories.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
Have you ever seen a ghost?

Nope, but it isn’t for a lack of trying.

About Varla Ventura:
Varla Ventura is the author of “The Book of the Bizarre” and “Beyond Bizarre” and is a lover of all things odd and unusual and truly freaky. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, which she celebrates almost every day. She lives in the attic of an old Victorian in San Francisco. She can be found online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/varla-ventura, http://varlaventura.wordpress.com/, and http://facebook.com/varla.ventura.