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.

Mini Music Review Madness!

I seem to buy music in batches. I don’t know how it happens but somehow it does. Despite the amazing lack of music related posts, I’ve been listening to all kinds of good stuff recently. The problem is, I sit down to write about it and essentially come up with, “this album was great!” Although articles are generally shorter in a blog format, a one sentence music review might be too brief to consider an actual article.

In November I published a review of Passion Pit’s album “Manners”. It was easy to single that one out of the batch because of its quirky nature. I bought “Manners” at the same time as The Gossip’s “Music for Men” and Tegan and Sara’s “Sainthood”. Both of those albums were just as good as the Passion Pit album. However, when pressed to try and write about them I tended to come up with, “The lead vocalist of The Gossip, Beth Ditto, has a huge booming voice that when paired with the soul laced rock of the band creates musical magic,” and “Tegan and Sara create intelligent rock music that makes you want to roll down the windows of your car and turn the volume up.” All three albums were great, but for some reason I just couldn’t make proper reviews out of two of them. Trust me; it’s due to my ineptitude, not a poor quality product from The Gossip or Tegan and Sara.

Then, after my triumphant review of Sade’s new album “Soldier of Love”, which I call triumphant because it spent 3 weeks at #1 on the Billboard album charts, I again find myself in a music review pickle.

My recent batch of albums are varied: Weezer’s “Raditude”, Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint 3”, Johnny Cash’s “American VI: Ain’t No Grave”, and Florence and the Machine’s “Lungs”. Again I don’t know what to say about any one of them to make a proper music review, so I’m giving you my mini-reviews, and perhaps a video or two to round it out.

First up is Weezer’s “Raditude”. I love Weezer. Years ago I read an interview with the lead singer Rivers Cuomo about how he tried to create a mathematical equation for creating great pop music. All that geekiness with an electric guitar? I’ve been in love ever since. That said, I didn’t really care for Weezer’s previous album “Weezer aka The Red Album”. It was more experimental, which as a band was probably a good thing since internet rumor has it that Cuomo had been a bit of a control freak in the past, but not so great for me. I’m happy to say that with “Raditude”, I’m back full on into Weezer. Although I assume Cuomo abandoned his mathematical pop music musings, Weezer still crafts the best pop rock songs around. Whether it’s the anthemic “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”, or the catchy ironic “Can’t Stop Partying” featuring Lil’ Wayne, you’re guaranteed to sing along and tap your foot. Singing along + tapping foot=great Weezer album. Here, tap your foot and sing along!

Next up is Jay-Z. I’m not overly familiar with Jay-Z’s past work, but I heard a few songs off of his latest album, “The Blueprint 3”, and just caught the Jay-Z bug. I found the album on sale cheap and said, what the heck, and picked it up. I haven’t listened to a rap album to death this much since the Nas “Untitled” album! Although lyrically “The Blueprint 3” isn’t as thoughtful as the Nas album, it is loaded with clever rhymes, and the beats, the music with it makes me try to do “The Harlem Shake” while typing at my desk. However, the coolest part of the album is the track “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”. If you want to feel like a certified bad ass, put on your sunglasses, roll down the windows of your car, and turn it up. Seriously, this is good stuff.

(On a totally random side note, does anyone recognize the chef in this video? I swear it looks like the chef that did the Anthony Bourdain episode where Bourdain decided to work the line at his restaurant after years out of the game. Of course I could wrong, it has been known to happen.)

Since this will be quick, let me take a moment to address “American VI: Ain’t No Grave”. I love Johnny Cash. I say I love loads of artists, but I LOVE Cash. Ask anyone that worked with me during my time in music retail, they will tell you I put up with a lot of crap, but if anyone said anything bad about Johnny Cash they were given a stern talking to. It actually reached the point where some of my co-workers knew my abbreviated monologue on the greatness that is Johnny Cash. Despite his age and health issues, my heart broke a little bit when I heard he died. “American VI” is fantastic. Producer Rick Rubin gave America the final musical moments of Cash’s life. It’s a thing of beauty.

That leaves Florence and the Machine’s album “Lungs”. The album is excellent. I keep reading it being described as Kate Bush meets Bjork. I personally see it more as Siouxsie Sioux meets Ida Maria (As an aside, Florence, if you ever see this, I would love to hear you cover “Kiss Them for Me”.) Florence has an amazing voice; she can do smoky (“Girl With One Eye), she can go with epic storytelling vocals (“Rabbit Heart”), she can rub a little funk on it (“You’ve Got the Love”), and can channel the inner rage in just the cutest way (“Kiss With a Fist”). The Machine is actually a rotating cast of musicians that help create the varying sounds from song to song. The constant on the album is Florence’s amazing voice and intelligent lyrics. I love the album so much I find myself wanting to feature every video I can find of them on You Tube! (By the way, the peeps at Wikipedia say this is a “break up” album. If that is true, this may be one of the best break up albums in recent history. Beating Amy Winehouse’s “Back in Black” is an impressive feat.) Okay, let’s go with adorable rage…..

And epic……

The Secret History of Vampires

Vampires. They’re everywhere you look these days. Not to sound all old grandma on you, but back in the day all a girl had to get her vampire fix with was a beat up VHS of “The Lost Boys”, a pirated copy of “Near Dark” (which was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who just won the Oscar for “The Hurt Locker”, thank you very much), and some new type of game called “Vampire: The Masquerade”. It’s true young female readers, there was a time when rarely was a vampire pined for by adoring masses. They were bloody, they were cruel, and they never shined like Robert Pattinson covered in diamond dust. And no, I won’t be slamming on “Twilight” here. I get it. If I was 13 years-old again I could easily imagine me replacing my dreams of marrying Wil Wheaton or Jonathon Knight of New Kids on the Block with spending eternity with Edward. That is his name, right? Lord I am old.

However, for as jarring as it may be for 13 year-old girls to come to terms with Kiefer Sutherland biting into a guy’s skull like it’s an overly ripe cantaloupe, yes, Jack Bauer was once an evil vampire, it may be even harder for the collective consciousness of our society to get a handle on what vampires were like really way back in the day. There is a secret history of vampires, and there is only one man, in my opinion, who is qualified to educate us.

You may have guessed. Yes, Claude Lecouteux is back with “The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes”. Who is Claude Lecouteux? He’s the man who wrote “The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind”. Now do you remember? The guy who brought back revenants via his specialty of medieval literature and civilization. Yes, him.

And Lecouteux does it again. Using ample literary and sources of record he traces the evolution of the Western culture’s vampire. Would you think it morbid of me if I said I took great delight in reading about the precursors of the vampire? Well, I did. Fascinating folklore and testimony bring to light the unlife and times of The Summoner, The Knocker, The Visitor, The Famished, The Nonicide, The Appesart, The Nightmare, The Strangler, and the always creepy, The Chewer. Seriously, you’ll never think of chewing the same way after this. The same holds true for examining the many names that are related to vampires, of course ending with vampir.

Lecouteux leaves no stone unturned, and no perspective at the side lines, in his examination of the vampire. Whether discussing where vampires come from, the opinions of theologians and medical professionals, or examining the methods to destroy them, Lecouteux covers all the bases in a surprisingly concise manner. This makes “The Secret History of Vampires” an informative and engaging read.

My personal recommendation? If you don’t already own it, buy yourself a copy of “The Return of the Dead” and follow it up with getting “The Secret History of Vampires”. This pair of books are a must for anyone interested in things that go bump in the night.

What I Learned from Twitter (or How Talking to Strangers Can be Good)

Many of you may remember that back on September 22, 2009 I wrote about how Facebook gave me some startling revelations about myself. In fact, until my recent interview with The Vigilant Citizen it had been the most read article in the history of The Magical Buffet. I had another odd moment of insight thanks to the recent addition of a list feature on Twitter.

I’m guessing most of you are familiar with Twitter, but in case you’re not, let Wikipedia school you. (Seriously, for every problem there is a Wikipedia solution.) “Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers.”

Not too long ago Twitter added a feature where you can create lists of people you follow. It’s a handy way to keep up with different groups of friends on Twitter. Let’s use The Magical Buffet’s Twitter as an example. Currently I’m following 188 different individuals or organizations on Twitter. It’s nearly impossible for me to keep up with all the tweets these guys generate, as much as I wish I could! Now obviously I definitely want to keep up with all the tweets from people who contribute to The Magical Buffet, so I created a list called “Friends of the Buffet”. Then I made sure that every person who has contributed to The Magical Buffet in some way is on that list. When I click on that list it shows me only their tweets. Better still, other users can opt to follow my list. Right now there is one person who wants to keeps up with my friends. Thank you ma’am!

Now all of that explanation is the set up for this tidbit of information. When someone puts you on a list, you know about it. There is a part on your page that shows how many lists your Twitter feed is a part of. Currently The Magical Buffet is part of 13 different lists. The interesting thing is the names of the lists. Some are expected, like paganwiccanspiritual, pagan-occult-etc, spirit, and pagan-2. I find myself flattered to be on lists titled people-to-follow and friends, and tickled by being included on lists of occulty-people, this-that-and-more, and mutans. However, one Twitter user, @HipGnosis23, has The Magical Buffet on 4 different lists: social-change, creatives, philo-sophia, and bloggers. I found myself truly flattered, whoever this guy is; he seems to really get the Buffet. How much can a person learn about someone from their tweets? This guy seemed to do all right by it. Can you find a kindred creative spirit from ricocheting tweets?

I decided to find out who this guy is that seems to understand The Magical Buffet from my seemingly nonsensical Twitter page. Obviously I could go to his Twitter profile and from there go to his website and learn all kinds of stuff, but where is the fun in that? Wouldn’t it be more fun to just send this guy a direct message on Twitter to the effect of, who the heck are you? However, you can only use 140 characters in a direct message, and I wanted to actually give the guy a little context so I sent him the following direct message:

“Strange question, do you have an email address I can contact you at? I’m working on an unusual essay for my website and would like your help.”

He replied, “Sure” and provided me an email address.

And so I sent him all the text that you just read to find out who the heck this guy is, what he does, and how he decided what lists The Magical Buffet should be in.

And here’s what he had to say…..

I use Twitter’s list function to sort through streams of hand-picked users about certain subjects. I’m good at deciding who will talk about what, I think. The Magical Buffet seemed like an interesting account to follow and I listed it under “philo-sophia” (literally “lover of wisdom”); “social-change,” as I could glance through her past tweets and get an idea of her views on society. I could see that she was passionate about issues like equality, personal freedom (and also personal responsibility,) and also about individual expressions of spirituality and open exploration of being.

I have several public lists, some of which have quite a few subscribers. I take pride in cultivating them. I maintain a list of occult-oriented Tweeters, my musicians-producers list (rather self-explanatory) and several others, including an extensive list of interesting bloggers of which The Magical Buffet is a member.

To my own introduction, I am known as HipGnosis: I am a musician. A performer of music. A producer of music. A purveyor of music. You bring the booze, I’ll bring the beats, I guess is the general theme of this part of the presentation. If you’re ever down for a journey in sound, check out my wed 10 pm CST/11 pm EST/4 am GMT show on http://glitch.fm or check my mixes at http://hipgnosisdjsets.tk. I put a lot of stuff up there, also at http://music.hipgnosis.us where you can download stuff directly from me on the cheap. Also I’m on iTunes. But enough about that…

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook and IRC (instant relay chat). I know it. My followers and friends certainly know it, as they see my tweets flood through their streams all day each day, and I chat in IRC or leave comments on walls or generally make a nuisance of myself somehow.

I get a bit ranty sometimes, but I try to keep it as tin-foil-hat-ranty as possible. It’s the least I can do for all you wonderful people. I’m not ashamed of how much time I spend on these social networks; I have some incredible interactions with people through this new medium of communication.

A lot can be expressed in 140 characters or less. Sometimes, I’ll sacrifice a few of those characters to post links to music or videos, to articles and interesting websites. I also give music away and just talk with friends. We discuss philosophy, politics, food, books, art. A lot of the time I rant about whatever is making me angry at that particular moment. Not that I’m an angry person… I just get carried away easily. Apparently people enjoy it, or maybe they want me to shut up and make more music, after what just happened to me.

Recently, I was working for a few hours at a local non-profit organization, and my house was broken into. The burglars took my laptop and some minor electronic equipment and random prescription medicines (including some Prozac! Yum!) Well, I was devastated, as you may imagine. This was not just any laptop, but a music workstation that I use for performance and making music that I share with my friends and supporters. I announced what happened on Twitter and Facebook and immediately received an outpouring of sympathy and support.

At the suggestion of one of my friends in the http://glitch.fm IRC channel, I set up a paypal donation page and asked across these networks if anyone would be willing to chip in. I really didn’t expect this, not to this extent.

In approximately 24 hours, so much generosity and such a spirit of community was shown to me. With donations from my friends and supporters on these two social networks, I was able to raise the money to purchase a new laptop and have it delivered in time for my performance at Winter Music Conference in Miami (March 23-27, 2010).

Without this incredible show of love and generosity, I would have had to cancel or rely on borrowing equipment for the show on the 27th. This has enabled me to continue and grow further, and I owe it to these wonderful people.

Rebecca here at The Magical Buffet is one of those wonderful people, reminding me (and hopefully you) to remember that the world is a beautiful place despite ugly things that can happen. There are amazing things that can be done when we work together, when we are generous and kind and respectful to one another.

I have always had a problem when people referred to people they may spend hours each day chatting with as “online friends.” Of course their “IRL friends” (in real life) are in a separate category, because you have met them and smelled them and touched them. I am humbled by what just happened to me, and I owe it all to my friends. Not my “online friends.” these are just friends.

Quest Books Loves Magical Buffet Readers

Quest Books, the fine folks who brought us “Russian Magic” and “A New Science of the Paranormal“, love Magical Buffet readers! To prove their devotion to you, Quest Books will be giving away a free copy of “A Dictionary of Gnosticism” by Andrew Phillip Smith (Remember, the guy who wrote the last article we published.) and a Quest Books tote bag to one lucky Magical Buffet subscriber.

How do you get the free swag? It’s easy! Subscribe to The Magical Buffet! On March 31, 2010 we will randomly select a subscriber of The Buffet! Already a subscriber? Already entered my friend! The winner will be notified at the email address provided with their subscription, at which time we’ll get the name and address of the winner. Then faster than you can say “Dude, this is sweet,” you’ll receive a package from Quest Books!

I can sense your concern. How do you know this will truly be random? You’ll be happy to know that after careful consideration and consultation with experts I have devised a fool proof system. I don’t want to bog you down with the technicalities, but it will involve a bottle of “Menage a Trois Folie a Deux California Red Wine”, closed eyes, and a loose center scroll wheel on my mouse.

To conclude, if you have found yourself saying any of these following things:

I really like The Magical Buffet.
I really liked that article “Reading the Gnostics”.
I really like free stuff.
I really like Quest Books and The Magical Buffet attempting to buy my affection.

You should subscribe to The Magical Buffet! Not only will you never miss a post again, you could win, what I can honestly say is an amazing reference book (“A Dictionary of Gnosticism”! Weren’t you paying attention?).

Pssst! To subscribe just click the word Subscribe in our banner and give us your email address. I swear on my copy of “Absolute Watchmen” that The Magical Buffet will never give your email address to anyone else.

Reading the Gnostics

By Andrew Phillip Smith

And he [Jesus] said, “The kingdom is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea; then he drew it up from the sea, full of little fish from below. Among them he found one good large fish. So he threw all of the little fish back down into the sea without regret. Whoever has ears to listen, let him listen.”

This parable, distinctively in the voice of Jesus, is found nowhere in the New Testament. It comes from the Gospel of Thomas, the best known of the ancient writings found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. The Gospel of Thomas is overwhelmingly the most famous and most read of the texts found in this cache for two reasons:- it has a good claim to contain sayings of Jesus that are as old and as authentic as those in the canonical gospels, and it is, at least superficially, easy to understand. It is one of nearly fifty different texts or tractates in the Nag Hammadi library, the bulk of which are Gnostic.

Gnosticism was a Christian-related religion that thrived in the second to fourth centuries CE, though its origins may have been a little earlier and it persisted in various forms much later. It emphasised the importance of gnosis—experiential knowledge of the divine—within a framework of myth and ritual. No two texts or Gnostic groups agreed on the details of the Gnostic myth, but it typically involves the following: the supreme, unique God emanates divine beings known as aeons. These form the Pleroma, the fullness of God. However, the youngest of these aeons, Sophia, falls from grace and in doing so creates the material world, which is ruled by her bastard offspring the demiurge, the craftsman of our world, often called Yaldabaoth. The demiurge and his minions create the soul and body of mankind but are tricked into incorporating an element of spirit in the human makeup. Thus humans contain a divine spark which may be nurtured and fanned into a flame. The subsequent history of mankind involves a struggle for the human soul, on the one side the demiurge and his archons, on the other a series of saviours or revealers who teach mankind how to attain gnosis and develop the spiritual seed within them. Abbreviated and simplified in this way, the Gnostic myth is understandable and appealing. However, the original Gnostic texts are more concerned with their individual elaborations of the myths than with clarity, and can be quite obscure.

Not all of the Nag Hammadi texts are difficult to penetrate. The Exegesis on the Soul (despite its awkward title) is a beautiful and straightforward account of the fall of the soul, personified as a young woman who drifts into prostitution and is abused by thieves and adulterers but who eventually repents and returns to her father and, in a daring use of sexual imagery, may couple with the bridegroom in the bridal chamber.

Thunder: Perfect Mind is a striking proclamation by a female voice, which includes fascinating, contrary statements —“I am the whore and the holy, I am the wife and the virgin.” Thunder has been adapted as a musical piece by David Tibet’s Current 93 band, and even into an advertisement for Prada perfume directed by Ridley and Jordan Scott.

The Nag Hammadi Library has popularly been known as the Gnostic Gospels, largely through the influence of Elaine Pagels’ popular and groundbreaking 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels. Nothing in the Nag Hammadi Library closely resembles the gospels in the New Testament, but a few of the works have ‘gospel’ in the title, and Jesus features prominently in some of the other texts. In addition to the Gospel of Thomas, we have the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth (thought the name has been deduced by scholars) and the Gospel of the Egyptians (though its preferred title is now The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit.)

The Gospel of Thomas is the only one of these to have any claim to reflect the actual teaching or life of the historical Jesus (the study of which is a fraught endeavour in itself. The Gospel of Philip, while quite a different beast to the Gospel of Thomas, is also superficially clear and full of elegant imagery, and includes a few references to Jesus, in many of which he is a mystical or theological figure. The Gospel of Philip itself consists of a series of short section—discourses, sayings, contemplations and extended metaphors—most of which do not explicitly refer to Jesus. Among the nuggets are a statement by Philip the apostle that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was fashioned by Jesus the carpenter. Another is a mysterious miracle in which Jesus threw 72 coloured cloths into a vat at the dye-works of Levi and brought them out all white. Its greatest claim to fame, though, are two brief references to Mary Magdalene. “There were three Marys who walked with the Lord at all times: his mother and his sister and the Magdalene, who is called his companion. So his mother and sister and companion are called ‘Mary.’”

And

“And the companion of the saviour is Mary Magdalene. The Lord loved Mary more than the other disciples and kissed her often on her [mouth].75 The rest of them saw him loving Mary and said to him, “Why do you love her more than us?”76 The saviour replied, “Why do I not love you as I do her? When a blind man and one who can see are both in the dark, they are the same as one another.” These indirectly inspired Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, and it is a pity that the work isn’t better known in its entirety.

The Gospel of Truth is a beautiful and highly metaphorical homily quite possibly written by the Gnostic leader Valentinus. The Gospel of the Egyptians, or the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, is a thoroughly Gnostic myth, full of the complex cosmology so central to Gnosticism. A classic example of what is known as “Sethian Gnosticism”, it is Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, who is the primary figure of salvation; he is actually “clothed” with Jesus, making Jesus more or less an incarnation of Seth. It is also notable for a sequence of mystical vowels which were chanted by Gnostics.

In other Nag Hammadi texts, Jesus is seen post-resurrection as a bringer of knowledge. In the Secret Book of John, the Saviour gives John the son of Zebedee a revelation which consists of an extensive cosmology. In the Secret Book of James, the disciples are trying to recall what Jesus had taught them and receive a further visitation from Jesus 550 days after the resurrection, Jesus has a similar role in other writings.

Outside of the Nag Hammadi Library, though often included in modern collections, we have the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas (there are many other apocryphal gospels, such as the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Hebrews, which are not actually Gnostic, plus the little-known Gnostic Gospel of the Saviour, which is very fragmentary and owes its title to modern scholars.)

The Gospel of Mary is distinctive in the attention it gives to Mary (probably Magdalene) who has received the most secret teachings of Jesus. The focus on Mary Magdalens’s supposed role as the wife of Jesus has led many to see her as “Mrs Jesus”, but Gnostics saw her as an important figure in her own right, as the disciple who understood Jesus better than any of the others. The recently published Gospel of Judas is unusual in that its story takes place during the lifetime of Jesus, rather than post-resurrection, yet it is typical in its emphasis on the Gnostic myth that Jesus teaches to Judas. Although there are traces of a more positive view of Judas among Gnostics in the writings of the second-century heresy-hunting church father Irenaeus, recent examination of the Gospel of Judas shows that Judas is no hero, but shares the faults of the other apostles and sacrifices Jesus to the false God, Sakla. There are many other references to Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Library, which is a goldmine of alternative early Christianity. The Nag Hammadi Library gives us a different view of Jesus, one whose teaching is more important than his crucifixion. In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Simon of Cyrenea is actually crucified in the place of Jesus.

The treasures of the Nag Hammadi Library are extensive, but they must be dug out. In addition to the legions of obscure angelic and demonic names, many Gnostic terms are typically left untranslated from the Greek—words like pleroma, (“fullness,” the divine realm), archons (“petty rulers”, demonic assistants to the demiurge ) or pneumatics (not air-driven Gnostics, but those who have spiritual attainment.) To prevent others from encountering the problems I had in my study of the Gnostics, I put together the first ever Gnostic dictionary. Explore these mystical and fascinating works with A Dictionary of Gnosticism by your side.

About the Author:
Andrew Phillip Smith was born and grew up in Penarth in south Wales in the United Kingdom and took his degree in computer science at the University College of Wales, Swansea. From 1987, Andrew worked in computing in London, including a two-year stint providing technical support for the publishers Harcourt Brace. From 1997-2007 Andrew lived in Northern California near the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where he began his writing career. In his time he has busked on the streets of London playing a small harp, delivered leaflets, worked as a security guard, as a letterpress printer and as a librarian to a private library. He now lives in Dublin, Ireland, with his wife Tessa Finn and his son Dylan.

Andrew is the author of over a dozen books and articles on Gnosticism, early Christianity, and esoterica, including The Gnostics: History, Tradition, Scriptures, Influence and several books in Skylight Paths’ annotated and explained series: The Lost Sayings of Jesus, The Gospel of Philip, and Gnostic Writings on the Soul. In addition to writing, Andrew edits The Gnostic, a small press magazine devoted to Gnosticism in all its forms, and runs Bardic Press, which publishes reprints and niche works in the areas of Gnosticism and early Christianity, Celtic interest, Gurdjieff/Fourth Way, and Sufi poetry.

His interests include Welsh and other Celtic mythology, the Fourth Way, graphic novels, and poetry. He is learning to play the uilleann pipes, Irish bagpipes.

For more information visit: andrewphillipsmith.com & bardic-press.com
Find Andrew Phillip Smith on Twitter @bardicpress and on Facebook

10 Questions with Judika Illes

1. I’m sending you these questions right after you got back from the Sacred Space Conference in Maryland. How was the event?

It was wonderful. I hope to return for next year’s event. For those who are unfamiliar, Sacred Space presents an annual four day conference featuring diverse spiritual and metaphysical presenters, workshops, and rituals. Personally, I really enjoy lengthier, more relaxed events where people have time to socialize and exchange thoughts and experiences. Sacred Space has great vendors, great teachers, interesting people. And it was in a hotel! Four days in a hotel crowded with metaphysical people- it doesn’t get much better!

2. The other featured presenters were Christopher Penczak, Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor. I’ve interacted with Christopher a few times for The Magical Buffet and have always found him to be unreasonably nice. How was it to meet Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor?

We had actually met before. I love their work and I love them. Raven, Stephanie, and I did an event together in Salem last October and will be reuniting this coming October for the Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball, which I’m really looking forward to. http://www.festivalofthedead.com/witchesball/

But Sacred Space was the first time I had the opportunity to attend one of their workshops. Raven and Stephanie are great, insightful, and very interesting teachers—very clear, very articulate and dynamic, and very generous with their wisdom.

3. Okay, I’m dieing to talk about the encyclopedias! I own “The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells” that you authored and it is behemoth! What made you decide that you could compile so much magical information into one gigantic tome?

Insanity? Neither the publisher nor I realized how large that book would turn out to be until we were already deeply committed to the project and it was essentially too late to turn back. Just prior to writing “The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells”, I had written a very lean book of spells, “Magic When You Need It”, which has one-hundred fifty spells. My publisher knew that I collected spells- I had boxes and boxes of notes- and asked whether I could write a massive compendium next, something like “The Joy of Cooking” but for spell-casting rather than recipes. The publisher was playing around with numbers- could I write a book with one-thousand spells, three-thousand, five-thousand? At one point, we were up to ten thousand.

In the beginning it was all very theoretical for me. I was asked, “Could you write a book with five thousand spells?” and I replied that theoretically we could do any number. Spells are infinite—they’re like grains of sand on the beach, stars in the sky. There’s always another spell or another variation. Even though five thousand is definitely a lot of spells, it’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

Writing that book in some ways was a luxury for me. As an author, I’m always conscious of the information that has to be left out because there isn’t space to include everything. With 5000 Spells, I was able to include variations of spells, demonstrate the incredible variety of spells, trace the way some spells have evolved over time and through cultures, which, with a smaller book wouldn’t have been possible.

4. You also wrote “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft” and “The Encyclopedia of Spirits”. Can you give us a rough idea of the process you use to compile so much information from varying sources into one cohesive reference book?

Well, simply put, I work around the clock. I’m very focused on whatever I’m working on. It’s complete immersion. When I was writing “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft”, I didn’t watch or read anything in my spare time that didn’t involve a witch. Likewise with “The Encyclopedia of Spirits”.

In terms of selecting content, there are three components. Once a book is designated an “encyclopedia” it has to be comprehensive. It can’t include only my favorite aspects of a topic. Certain things must be included. For example, you can’t write an “encyclopedia of witchcraft” without including Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, Harry Potter, and the witch hunts.

Then I consider who or what should be better known: who are the unsung heroes of witchcraft, for instance, or what spirits aren’t getting the press they deserve. For example, there’s currently a very vital goddess tradition in Vietnam that not many Westerners are aware of—I made sure to include those goddesses in “The Encyclopedia of Spirits”. And then the third component evolves into a voyage of discovery for me. As you begin researching, one thing leads to another and you arrive at some very unexpected places. I learn something new with every book I write and I hope that my own enthusiasm and excitement translates into the pages.

Each of my other encyclopedias, to some extent, derives from the experience of writing 5000 Spells. Although each book is a stand-alone, they also complement each other and serve as companion volumes. Spell-casting is more successful and more pleasurable if you understand all its components. Books by their nature offer only limited space. There are only so many pages. There’s always more information that didn’t fit or was discovered after the book went to print. So although my books are huge and packed with information, I’m very conscious of what’s not in the book, what information isn’t discussed as fully as I would like. Those are things we can discuss more fully during my workshops but sometimes other books also create opportunities.

I began writing “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft” immediately after completing 5000 Spells. One of the things I really wished to expand upon was the magical nature of many plants incorporated into spell-casting. In 5000 Spells there wasn’t always room to discuss in great detail why certain plants are used in certain spells, the significance of individual botanicals. One of the first sections of “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft” that I wrote was a large section devoted to witchcraft-associated plants.

Likewise with the Encyclopedia of Spirits: in 5000 Spells, spirits are constantly referenced. Those spells are easier to understand and accomplish if you really understand the nature of these spirits, if they’re more than just names and superficial legends.

5.I know you love tarot. In a recent article I said I was a fan of more traditional in appearance tarot decks, such as the “Universal Waite Tarot” and the “Smith Waite Tarot”. What are some of your favorite tarot decks?

I call the Ride-Waite-Smith my “old reliable”—I was a telephone psychic for a couple of years and really came to depend on that deck. I love the Albano-Waite Tarot, too. Oswald Wirth’s deck is a favorite as is Kipling West’s Halloween Tarot- I really, really love that deck. Another deck that I’ve been working with lately is Robert Place’s Vampire Tarot—that one really intrigues me. I pull a tarot card almost every night on twitter using whichever deck is closest to hand. I find that’s the deck I reach for most frequently.

6.I saw on your website that you wrote a popular monthly feature, Beauty Secrets of the Ancient Egyptians for TourEgypt, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism’s on-line magazine. How did you land that gig, and any simple beauty tips of ancient Egypt you can pass on?

They had advertised that they were looking for writers and I responded. The concept of ancient Egyptian beauty secrets was my idea. The ancient Egyptians had a very holistic outlook- they didn’t separate beauty from health from magic. It’s all intertwined. So fragrances, for example, are simultaneously evocative and seductive, magically powerful and potentially therapeutic. A very simple anti wrinkle treatment involves placing two drops of essential oil of frankincense into a teaspoon of sweet almond oil and applying it to the cleansed face before retiring for the night. As an added bonus, many people find frankincense to be aphrodisiac plus, if you inhale the fragrance, it creates a relaxing effect and frankincense, like essential oils in general, is antiseptic.

Now that’s a modern adaptation of an Egyptian formula. Back in the old days, the Egyptians would have used goose fat as the base but modern sensibilities probably prefer sweet almond oil, available at virtually every health food store and plenty of supermarkets, too. Another light vegetable oil could be substituted too, if preferred, such as apricot kernel or grape seed.

Link to TourEgypt articles:

http://www.touregypt.net/magazine/egyptcolumns.htm#Ancient%20Beauty%20Secrets

7. You’ve researched thousands of different cultures for your books, what is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in your research?

The virtually universal existence of a magical culture that transcends ethnic, national, political, and religious boundaries. There is a culture of spell-casting that despite all kinds of regional and cultural differences shares so much in common. I am very proud to belong to this greater metaphysical community.

8.What are your thoughts on how magic is portrayed on television and in film?

Well, I’m an easy sell- if you stick a witch or magical practitioner into any sort of entertainment, I’m fairly guaranteed to watch it. But you always have to keep in mind that these portrayals are intended as entertainment. In most cases, what you’re viewing is fantasy and so you have to suspend expectations of reality. This is true even when what you’re watching on-screen superficially looks ‘real’ such as Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. That’s a work of fiction loosely based on a historical event, not an accurate depiction of the events in Salem. This may sound obvious if you’re already grounded in the realities of magic but I receive a lot of email from frustrated people who are sincerely attempting to learn practical magic by watching “Charmed” and “Buffy”.

What I look for personally is the essence of what’s being portrayed. The way that essence is portrayed makes the difference between something I enjoy watching and something that disturbs me. I like my witches fun, empowered, and unrepentant. My favorite movie witch is Veronica Lake’s Jennifer in “I Married a Witch”. I really like “La Sorcière”, although it’s tragic. The way Bellatrix LeStrange is portrayed in the Harry Potter films fascinates me for reasons that will probably end up in a book someday. I like Marge Simpson and her sisters in “Tree House of Horror VIII”.

I can enjoy watching something but still have issues with it. I think Kim Novak is gorgeous in “Bell, Book, and Candle”. I covet her wardrobe but I’m impatient with those old falsehoods about witches not being able to cry or fall in love or wishing they were mundane mortals. I love “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” even though I resent the way that witchcraft is used as a metaphor for addiction.

9. What projects are you working on now that my readers can look forward to?

I just completed “The Weiser Field Guide to Witches”, which should be out later this year. That was a lot of fun- it’s sort of a mini-encyclopedia. Right now, I’m working on another thousand-pager, an encyclopedia devoted to saints, holy people, and miracle workers from around the world and spells and rituals associated with them.

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

Any suggestions for books or classes I should be working on?

I love your encyclopedias! If you can keep finding themes for them, I’ll keep reading them.

About Judika:
Judika Illes is the author of . She is a tarot card reader and a certified aromatherapist. Learn more at www.judikailles.com.

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.

Apple Kimchi Salad

I’ve been seeing someone who I lovingly, and sometimes not so lovingly, refer to as my “hippy nutritionist”. I’m not here to debate the validity of “hippy nutrition” verses anything else, it’s just a label I applied and I suspect it very rapidly gave you the gist of what kind of lady I’m talking about. It’s almost like I’m a writer. Almost.

Anyway, HN (hippy nutritionist) is all about the probiotics. Seriously, I think she’s getting kick backs from “big probiotics” or something. For those of you unfamiliar with probiotics, sit yourself down because you’re in for a queasy ride. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are considered to be beneficial for us. Now this didn’t concern or creep me out, but in case you weren’t aware, yes, your body is like a planet to all kinds of creepy crawlies living full and productive lives inside of you. The idea with probiotics is to actively seek out and consume foods that have some of these living microorganisms. You may be thinking, like WHAT? Well, person freaking out, that yogurt you’re eating for one. Yep, any woman who has been plagued by recurring yeast infections has been given the folksy wisdom to eat at least one serving of yogurt with active live cultures a day.

HN gave the big ol’ whatever to my Fage fat free Greek yogurt (which by the way is AWESOME, in all caps, with a little squirt of honey), and gushed lovingly about fermented vegetables. Personally, I tend to limit my gushing for fermented items to wine and beer. Come on, Rebecca’s only got so much love to give. However, HN seemed quite adamant that fermented vegetables were the way to go. She explained how my husband and I could take a short 45 minute drive to get to a grocer that sold them. At which point, mentally, I gave HN the big ol’ whatever.

That Saturday, while strolling through the “hippy” section of our grocery store, my husband and I saw jars of kimchi. (If you haven’t figured it out, I say “hippy” like it’s a bad thing, all the while essentially eating like a “hippy”. I’m a complex woman of mystery; don’t try to figure me out.) After reading the jar, lo and behold, this kimchi was fermented and not pasteurized. The label boasted how even now, as we were reading the label, that kimchi was still fermenting in the jar. They went so far as to warn us that it may spill out when we open the jar, that’s how brimming with exciting bacteria it is. And look, it was found 10 minutes away from my apartment. In your FACE, HN!

I’m no kimchi expert, but here’s the least you need to know about what we bought. It’s spicy pickled cabbage, carrot, and green onion. It is very spicy, and very good. My husband has now gotten into the habit of having “kimchi dogs” for snacks. This would be a Hebrew National 98% Fat Free Hot Dog with ketchup and kimchi in a whole wheat bun. I, on the other hand, had a revelation of epic proportions.

While reading about kimchi online I saw a website that talked about how the author’s mentor would include sliced up apples or pears in his kimchi to ferment. The idea intrigued me, and besides, I am supposed to be getting more probiotics, right HN? That evening, I took a red apple, chopped it up, and mixed it with the kimchi. Delicious! Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so when we picked up pickles that had the live bacteria, I chopped one of those up and added it to the recipe. I know it sounds odd, but it tastes great. I now whip this up for lunches, as a side dish, and snacks. It’s quick to make, tastes great, and is low in calories and high in dietary fiber. And don’t forget, it’s crawling with those supposedly helpful microorganisms. At this point, I don’t really care about the health benefits, it’s just good eating!

Submitted for your approval, Rebecca’s Apple Kimchi Salad

Ingredients for one serving:
One red apple
One half of large dill fermented pickle
Two or three heaping spoonfuls of kimchi

Directions:
Cube apple and put into a bowl
Cube up the pickle and put into same bowl
Put the kimchi in the bowl
Stir
Feel smug that you’re eating the coolest lunch in your break room.

If any of you try this, post in the comments how it went. If any of you want to be mean to me about alleged slams against “hippy” things, please know that I voluntarily use soymilk, shop local when possible, and eat very little meat. Do you really want to hurt me?