Immortal Blues: The Wrap Up

At the end of January this year I started publishing a fiction serial by Greg Bullard called “Immortal Blues”. It was published every other Sunday with it just concluding on May 15th. I thought it would be nice, and convenient if I did a quick post that featured the links to each of the nine installments so you could easily just click your way through the series. However then I thought it might be fun to ask the author to share a few thoughts about “Immortal Blues”, and he did!

When I sat down to write “Immortal Blues”, I had a few thoughts that all managed to converge to turn into the story you (might have) read.

1. There’s so much great stuff in Urban Fantasy right now. I really want to be a part of that.

2. There’s way too much great stuff in Urban Fantasy right now, I’m not sure there’s anything original left to write.

3. What happened that we now depict Fairies as …well, Fairies? The Fae (or Fey) of legend were the original Bogey Men. They were the threats lurking outside the door that kept your kids in line. They were awe-inspiring, amazing, frightful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes hideous, often capricious and far more complex than the few stories most of us have been left with today.

So that made up my mind, I really needed a bad-ass Fae Detective.

That having been decided, my next struggle was how to handle all of the Fae lore. To put it succinctly, there’s a lot. It’s predominant in the history of Celtic culture, but differs greatly in Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh folklore (not to mention the presence of Fae in the mythology of other cultures).

Mostly I went with the great writings of W.B. Yeats and his tales of Irish Fairy and Folklore. However, even that is just a set of individual stories with some overlap, but not a consistent mythology. So I set out to build my own.

If you come across something in my story that makes you go, “Wait, that’s not what a _______ is!” Then that’s almost certainly my fault, because I put my own spin on it.

To be more precise, I went with the foundation that the Sidhe at the heart of the Tuatha Dé Danann were old lesser gods and goddesses in their own right, but subject to the Pagan goddess, Dana. The lesser or less regal Fae were their subjects, sometimes reluctantly.

As other cultures and religions came to dominance among the Celtic nations, the old myths were partial consumed by Christianity and partially discarded. Fae lore is the same.

Christianity gave us a rich character with a touching history in Saint Brigit of Kildare. However, for the Irish people of the time, they already had a Brigid. She had been a Pagan goddess for centuries.

Today we know that Christianity, in an effort to be accepted by the masses, tried to integrate itself as closely to their existing religions as possible; co-opting holidays, saints, holy sites, etc.

Knowing that, I wondered, so what happens if you accept that Brigid wasn’t just a goddess, co-opted by Christianity, but instead was a willing participant in the transition from one religion to another.

I took that willingness to change, and adopted it as the schism which fractured the Fae courts into Dark and Light (Seelie and Unseelie). In touching upon the two courts, I had moved firmly over into the Scottish Fae lore, rather than Irish. However, as I said, I wanted to try to bridge the different mythologies into one coherent history and mythology.

Now that I had a mythology I was happy with, I was ready to write a story about a bad-ass Fae detective. Of course, any time you have someone who is a bad-ass, it’s hard to write a compelling story about them that remains engaging, because they just bad-ass their way out of the problems you throw at them.

So what do you do? You take it all away, but leave them with a glimmer of hope, and that’s “Immortal Blues”.

Did you miss “Immortal Blues”? Want to relive it? Here you go!

Immortal Blues: Part One
Welcome to part one of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. In our first installment there is gun fire, spanakopita, classic blues music, and eventually a decision to visit The Crone.

Immortal Blues: Part Two
Welcome to part two of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. In part two we meet The Crone, Isabella, and her granddaughter Marisela. In search of answers do we instead get more questions?

Immortal Blues: Part Three
Welcome to part three of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. Returning to the scene of the crime offers few new insights aside from the fact that our killer means business.

Immortal Blues: Part Four
Welcome to part four of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. In the latest installment blues music reappears and leads the way to a discussion of why a demon might kill you.

Immortal Blues: Part Five
Welcome to part five of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. Ready? Fight!

Immortal Blues: Part Six
Welcome to part six of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. We say good-bye to The Crone, Isabella, and hello to a frenemy from the past.

Immortal Blues: Part Seven
Welcome to part seven of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. Aine Marina hangs around long enough to create more questions than answered and again, shots are fired.

Immortal Blues: Part Eight
Welcome to part eight of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. The end game approaches. Motivations are revealed, as well as the blues man.

Immortal Blues: Part Nine
Welcome to the ninth and final installment in the fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard.

About Greg Bullard:
Greg currently resides in Austin, TX, trying to do his part to Keep Austin Weird. While his wife, Julia, and daughter, Emily, both work hard to keep him on his toes, it is Julia’s red editing pen that does the most work. When he is not muddling his way through some fiction, he usually writes about What Greg Eats.

Angel Ambush

At London’s Victoria Station a voluptuous angel fell from the sky and interacted with unsuspecting humans. Needless to say, it created quite a reaction. However, the angel in question didn’t actually fall from the sky; she leapt out of someone’s laptop.

In Europe they’re known as Lynx, but to us Americans the brand name of Axe might be more familiar. It wasn’t too long ago that they launched a new television ad that was, in fact, really quite clever. Some average Joe sprays some Axe body spray and the next thing you know smokin’ hot angels are falling from the sky and smashing their halos for a chance to be with him. Like I said, it’s pretty amusing. Take a look for yourself.

This is where a thing called “augmented reality” comes in. According to the anonymous folks at Wikipedia, “augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or an indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one.

The television series ‘Firefly’ depicts numerous AR applications, including a real-time medical scanner which allows a doctor to use his hands to manipulate a detailed and labeled projection of a patient’s brain. In ‘Minority Report’, Tom Cruise stands in front of a supercomputer using AR technology, and in the movie ‘Mission Impossible 2’, Tom Cruise uses Augmented Reality technology via a set of sunglasses he wears to debrief himself of his forthcoming mission, Chimera, after he completes climbing a mountain at the very outset of the movie.”

More than ever companies are exploring augmented reality for, you guessed it, marketing. And that is what led to “Angel Ambush”, which featured an angel falling from the sky to interact with people at Victoria Station.

According to an article by Sharif Sakr on the BBC News website “some experts have commented that ‘Angel Ambush’ was not ‘real’ augmented reality at all because the virtual angel was just a layer of video manipulated by a human operator, rather than an independent 3D object.” The article goes on to state that Myles Peyton, UK Sales Director of Total Immersion, says “The true commercial power of augmented reality lies in its ability to let consumers virtually hold and interact with products that are fully and accurately modeled in the virtual world.”

So perhaps “Angel Ambush” wasn’t “true” augmented reality, but it sure looks like a lot of fun. I do find myself wondering if it will be so fun once it’s everywhere jumping out at me; trying to get me to buy all kinds of crap I don’t need. Until then, bring on the angels!

Interested in learning more about augmented reality? The website How Stuff Works has got everything you’d want to know!

I’m Calling it a Win

As most Magical Buffet readers know, I have a bit of an axe to grind about Zimbabwe. I won’t bog you down with links here. If you don’t know the history, just go to The Buffet’s home page and click on politics in the column on the right hand side of your screen. But consider yourself warned, I started all of this way back in July 2008! Goodness I’ve been talking about Zimbabwe for a damned long time!

I’m here to discuss one of my more recent posts on the subject. In November 2010 I sent a letter “across the pond” to Matthew Coats and Damian Green about Britain resuming enforced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. I thought I made some pretty eloquent points, if I do say so myself.

As an aside, that post is particularly special to me because if you look in the comments section you’ll see someone from Britain left a comment that ends with “Keep your nose out of British politics and decisions – you do not pay for the assorted wandering nomad immigrants who decide to dump themselves in Britain – I am forced to finance them.” A few years I ago I may have panicked, thinking, oh no, I upset someone. However my immediate response to seeing this comment instead was, oh my God! Someone in Britain is reading my blog? Sweet. For a while I was getting pretty regular visits from the U.K. I just assumed it was that guy looking to see if I responded to his comment. Sorry fella’, this is as close to a response as you’re going to see. And that day was when I realized I must truly be a blogger.

Where the heck was I? Oh yes, me writing to Britain about enforced returns of failed asylum seeker to Zimbabwe. A country that has the sad fate of possessing no oil, and having no A List celebrities adopting children from there, so the United States will continue to do nothing besides remind the country that we have targeted sanctions on President Mugabe and others. Oh, was that out loud? Good. I’m pretty bitter about it. (By the way, The Daily Show also wonders about America’s “Freedom Packages”.) Anyway, here’s where I’m trying to go with this. In that letter to Coats and Green I mention X Factor contestant Gamu Nhengu who was facing deportation.

Well, on May 11, 2011 BBC News published this. Yep, “X Factor’s Gamu Nhengu wins right to stay in the UK”. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t much of anything. My letters definitely had nothing to do with it. But you know what? I’m going to just sit back, smile, and call it a win anyway. Some days, you just have to take what you can get.

The Small Town Pagan’s Survival Guide

There is no way for me to write this review and not be sad. If you read my April 12th article “A Nice Guy and Some Special Ladies in my Life” then you already heard part of this story, but those who have not, here it is.

While flipping through a magazine I saw that a book called “The Small Town Pagan’s Survival Guide: How to Thrive in Any Community” was coming out in June 2011. Without having even read the book I knew this would be excellent subject matter for an interview, so I reached out to Llewellyn Publications and secured a review copy of the book and my foot in the door for an interview with the author Bronwen Forbes. Under 72 hours later I learned that she had passed away. Ultimately I was saddened that I had missed the opportunity to interview a woman who had touched so many lives. Then I received my copy of “The Small Town Pagan’s Survival Guide”.

This book gives us a glimpse at a woman who lived an extremely full life, and she shares it in intimate detail. From divorces to workplace harassment, to meeting the love of her life, raising a small child, and moving around the country, it is there on the page for all to read and learn from. Forbes’ writing is honest, often times humorous, and authoritative. Just her experiences alone would have made “The Small Town Pagan’s Survival Guide” a worthwhile book, but she didn’t stop there.

Not only did Forbes recount her own experiences and lessons learned from moving to small town in Missouri from the suburbs of Washington, DC, but she surveyed and interviewed roughly 50 other people who identified themselves as Pagans residing in small towns. The book is filled with direct quotes from the surveys as well as insights gained from examining the survey results as a whole.

I was surprised to realize that “The Small Town Pagan’s Survival Guide” contained information that was useful for Pagans in smaller towns, but also Pagans in cities. There’s information for Pagans looking to start discussion groups or considering forming a coven. It would even be helpful for someone who perhaps hasn’t fully decided if they’re Pagan or not. This book has information and reflections that just about any Pagan would be able to take something away from. I also think the book is a worthwhile read for folks like me who are not Pagan, but are always looking for a better understanding of Pagan spirituality and the people who practice it.

But I’ll always wonder about that interview…..

“The Small Town Pagan’s Survival Guide” releases in June 2011.

Geek Month in Review: April 2011

By JB Sanders

Early start for a warm month (well, it’s warm NOW).

Robo-fun
RoboGames 2011, the worlds largest robot competition. Do I need to say more?

Squishy Circuits
Ever wanted to teach your 4-year-old about electrical engineering and circuitry? No? Why not!? How about you show them about battery packs, LED lights and play-dough. Yeah, did you know that regular commercial play-dough can conduct electricity? Or that with a little work, you can make your own play-dough? With a slight variation of the recipe, you can even make a resistive play-dough to help create play-dough circuits. Very cool stuff.

First Legal Challenge to 3D Printing Repository
How long did you think we could go without a 3D link? The folks at Thingiverse, an open-source repository of 3D models and content, got a DMCA take-down notice because someone posted the CAD files for printing a Penrose Triangle. Read the details. (Tons of cool links embedded in the article on the subject of 3D printing)

And while I’m on the subject, some really amazing objects printed by a 3D printer.

Visualizing Fusion Propulsion
Using the designs from the Project Deadalus space propulsion project of the 1970’s, these folks put together an animation of how the system would and could work.

Commodore 64 Coming Out
Seriously. Again. Only this time, the guts are a LITTLE more powerful. Debuting 30 years after it first hit the market, this system (with the SAME exterior) includes a 1.8 Ghz dual-core processor, optional Blu-ray player and HDMI ports (for between $250-900). Crazy times, huh?

100 Classic Atari Games
It’s nostalgia month! Atari is releasing 18 titles from the arcade, and 82 from the 2600 on the iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) platform, including the free Pong. They’re also releasing something called the iCade, which is a fancy case for the iPad that turns it into an arcade-like device with a real analog (but now Bluetooth) joystick and giant mashable buttons. Yes, exactly like the ThinkGeek April Fool’s Day of 2010 — apparently Atari liked the idea so much, they’re having someone make it for them. $100.

How Much is Smaug Worth, Anyway?
And of course, look no further than Forbes magazine for that answer. The article is a behind-the-scenes (“showing a little ankle” as the author amusingly puts it) look at how Forbes goes about evaluating the “Fictional 15”, or the 15 richest fictional characters. It’s humorous and a little surreal seeing a mainstream discussion of what I would have thought was just a fan-boy discussion of relative fictional fortunes. Possibly the geekiest article I’ve ever linked to.

Tallest LEGO Tower
Bigger than any LEGO tower you built.

UFOs, For Real
Where’s Mulder when stuff like this comes out? The FBI has released a document under the Freedom of Information Act that describes an interview with an Air Force investigator in Roswell New Mexico, where he talks about captured flying saucers and aliens in shiny metallic suits. Yes, really. Go read it for yourself. While you’re there, take a look at the FBI’s FOIA archives.

Garden of the Future!
There should be an echo on that title. It’s called Aquaponics, and it’s a hybrid of various “green” technologies to make food on 1/10th of an acre (2600lbs worth). It’s like the utopian convergence of every hippy technology into one location: wind power, passive solar heating, grey water systems, hydroponics and fish. Lots of fish.

A direct link to the project.

Origins of Language
Interesting application of biological methods (like DNA tracking) to linguistics.

Robots for “Sale”
Ok, so it’s an ad for a video game, but it’s got robots and a sarcastic ad-like voice-over. You be the judge.

Who Stole My Volcano?
A blog article about an interview with the man who was the production designer for such movies as “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang”, “Dr Strangelove” and numerous Bond movies. The subtitle of the blog post is “Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dematerialisation of Supervillain Architecture.” Totally worth a read.

Sarah Jane Has Died
First Alfred last month, now Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who portrayed the character Sarah Jane Smith on Dr Who for over 40 years has passed away. There aren’t many actors who get to portray a character over that length of time, nor with such iconic strength that they stand the test of time so well. The BBC blog entry below quotes Steve Moffat (current Lead Writer and Executive Producer of current Dr Who) as saying that his son, when shown the old Doctor Who, immediately recognized the character of Sarah Jane and was surprised she hadn’t changed at all.

3D Scanner — Using Just Your iPhone
Some crazy guys at Georgia Tech have created an app for the iPhone that lets you make low-end 3D scans of objects (or your face!) just using the phone’s built-in front-facing camera. Also works on iPad 2 and iPod touch.

The First Theme Park
You know, it’s either this, or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and there’s some dispute as to whether those Hanging Gardens even existed. Anyway, this is History Geeky. Vauxhall Gardens were outdoor public gardens, which charged an entrance fee, and were described thusly:

“The main walks were lit at night by hundreds of lamps. Over time more features and eyecatchers were added: additional supper boxes, a music room, a Chinese pavilion, a gothic orchestra that accommodated fifty musicians, and ruins, arches, statues and a cascade.”

If that’s not a theme park, I don’t know what is.

Brooklyn in LEGOs
So this NYC guy builds a replica of Brooklyn, entirely made out of LEGOs. And there are pictures. Do you really need more than that?

Also, British warship made out of LEGO.

24th Annual Rube Goldberg Contest
First off, how did I not know about this? I feel cheated! Second, check out the video of the winning machine. Wow.

3D Photos of Earth, Moon and Mars
Plus some other random things. Requires those red/blue glasses.

All of Doctor Who in 6 Minutes
A light, and lightning-fast, overview of all of Doctor Who’s 47 years on television in 6 minutes. Fun!

What is IQ?
What does an IQ test really measure? Intelligence, or intelligence plus motivation. Spoiler: the study found that the more money offered to the test takers, the higher their resultant IQ score.

The Last Typewriter Factory Closes
To which pretty much everyone I know would respond: they still make those things?

Roads of Light
Solar-cells as paving stones, that is.

Zombie-proof House
At least, in theory. Testing still to be done. A little bit bunker-like from the road (as you’d expect) but pretty open-air from the other side. It folds up to be pretty much completely sealed, including the drawbridge to the second-floor entrance to the house.

Pictures.

More, with floor plans.

Pan-and-Scan Views of the Sky: 360
Full views of the night sky you can pan around to get a better look at. Feel free to ZOOM way the heck in, too.

Awesome Moon Video
And speaking of cool astronomy pictures, try this video of the moon, shot from Fenway park, with a fun guest interposed between the moon and the videographer.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia

Where on Earth do I begin? “Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia” by Andrei Znamenski was totally alien to me. Knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism? Minimal. Familiarity with the politics of Eurasia in the 1920’s and 1930’s? Nonexistent. An understanding of the variety of interpretations of Shambhala and its associated prophecies? Nope. Are you now frightened of this daunting book? Well don’t be.

Author Andrei Znamenski breaks everything down to its most basic parts to help bring order to this chaos. He begins by explaining the assorted legends, myths, and religious tales of Shambhala and its association with those living in Mongolia, Tibet, and surrounding lands. To sum up, Shambhala is a legendary kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia. It’s considered a land of purity and enlightenment and home for a more spiritually advanced and possibly technologically advanced civilization. Of course most modern Buddhists consider Shambhala a spiritual place to be found within oneself, but Znamenski carefully outlines a period of time when Shambhala was considered an actual location that those of pure intention could find.

The next layer to be added to “Red Shambhala” is an explanation of the Bolshevik revolution that took place in 1917. This was when the Bolsheviks, a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, came to power during the October Revolution phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Bolsheviks were an organization consisting primarily of workers who considered themselves the leaders of the revolutionary working class of Russia. This is where Znamenski starts to introduce you to some of the future players in the quest for Shambhala.

What comes next is the unbelievable true life story of how the idea of Shambhala was a tool used in assorted political and megalomaniacal schemes all focused on the conquest of Mongolia and Tibet. Alexander Barchenko wants to find Shambhala to learn the sacred wisdom there and believes by introducing the elite of Red Russia to the knowledge of Shambhala he will be able to make the Communist project in Russia less violent. The elite see Barchenko’s theological journey to Inner Asia as a chance to plant the seeds of Communism in other lands. Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg travels to the east, and uses the legend of Shambhala as a tool to unite the nomads of Mongolia in an effort to restore monarchies. The Roerichs, Nicholas, his wife Helena, and their son George, attempt to establish a Buddhist-Communist theocracy. Nicholas poses as the reincarnation of the fifth Dalai Lama, obviously not counting on the politically shrewd living Dalai Lama of the time. And those are just a taste of the eccentric, larger than life characters that really truly lived, and very much tried their hand at king making and empire building.

After reading “Red Shambhala” you’ll come away with new insights into the history of Communism, Tibetan Buddhism, and the use of propaganda. They say real life can be stranger than fiction, and Andrei Znamenski’s research proves that phrase to be very, very true.

“Red Shambhala” releases in June 2011.

Immortal Blues: Part Nine

By Greg Bullard

Welcome to the ninth and final installment in the fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. If you need to catch up, here is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, and Part Eight.

“Taliesin, First of the Bards,” I said it slowly, menacingly. I said it slowly because I was trying to think up something witty to say along with it. I had nothing. Damn.

He sat his guitar aside, wiped his hands off on his trousers – needlessly I might add, the jackass – and looked up at me and said, “This is easy, Ciaran, just give up.”

I raised an eyebrow, “Give up?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “give up. The bridge will open in an hour, just take it. Go home.”

“Who sent you, Taliesin? Why are you here?”

He shrugged, “Does it matter if someone sent me? Couldn’t I have my own agenda? She’s gorgeous. We all love her. I love her. I have sat in that court for hundreds of years, and I have played. I have poured myself into my songs, my poems and my words and I have played. Do you know how hard it is to give everything of yourself every day for so long?”

It was my turn to shrug.

“I’ll answer for you, you don’t. If you had ever half-tried you could have been a god. Perhaps you are even, God of the Dilettantes maybe?” he laughed at his own little joke.

Continuing, he said, “The point is, I do know what it is like. So many years, so much of myself, do you think I gave it all for them? Do you think I tried so hard for her father, the King? For all of the first-born, the Elder Sidhe? I gave it all for her. I sang every song, for her. She’s my muse. My brilliant inspiration. Every day for 1500 years I’ve given her my heart, completely in song.”

I shrugged, “And tell me Bard, has she noticed? All those years, all those songs, did she ever see who was playing, or were you just another detail in the background?”

He seemed to genuinely ponder my question before shaking his head and saying, “I would give anything to know, Ciaran.”

I waved him off dismissively, “I don’t use that name any longer.”

“No one was certain what name you used now, it was the best I could do.”

“Good,” I said, “so, who sent you?”

“Better question would be, who didn’t send me? No one wants you.”

“It’s not really a choice for any of you,” I frowned. “Let’s get on to more important matters though – you’ve tried to kill me twice.”

“I wasn’t very serious about it though; think of it as a deterrent,” he smiled – smug, charming bastard.

“If it’s alright with you,” I replied, “I’m going to go ahead and think of it as, you’ve tried to kill me twice.”

“I guess it’s lucky for him that you aren’t in any condition to take your revenge.” I didn’t recognize the voice, but I knew her anyway. Turning, I saw her standing in the open doorway to my bedroom. I had not known she was there. Aine Marina could hop in and out of human forms with relative ease. She had chosen well this time, young, red hair, all the right curves, luscious.

I didn’t bother trying to mask the anger in my voice, “Aine Marina, you’ve crossed a line. Fix it while I’m feeling forgiving.”

“I would,” she shrugged, “if I had done anything wrong.”

“If you had done anything wrong? What the hell do you mean? I kiss you once, unintentionally, and suddenly, this,” I gestured up and down at my form.

“Consider how much older you are than her,” Taliesin said, “do you think it’s really fair to blame her for your looks?”

“Oh, he’s blaming me for the loss of his vitality, speed, strength and more, and he has a point, I stripped him of them.”

“Then you admit it!” I accused.

“Of course I do, that was never in contention. Right now, we’re discussing whether or not I did anything wrong. I did not, this was mandated – at the highest level.”

“What do you mean? Mandated?”

“Did you really think that spending 200 years on Earth, for one such as yourself, was any real trial or challenge? You’ve spent centuries here, willingly. You even seem to prefer it sometimes. No, no,” she shook her finger at me. “You want redemption? It won’t come so easily as a stroll along the streets of New York City for a length of time that will disappear in the blink of an eye for you.”

I stood in stunned silence, considering the ramifications.

“Your next 198 years on Earth won’t go so easily as the thousands before them. You’ll feel every day of it,” she continued with malicious glee, her voice building in rage and tempo, “you’ll ache and hurt, you’ll hunger, you’ll need to support yourself,” she gestured around her and spoke more softly, “absent these fine accommodations, you’ll need a job…”

She continued on, but I only listened half-heartedly, until something she was saying caught my attention, “Wait, repeat that.”

She smirked and said, “On the solstices and equinoxes, when our worlds are closest, you will be yourself entirely. On those days, and only on those days, you can back out. All you need do is cross the bridge, and this will all be over. This morning, when the bridge fades, if you haven’t crossed, ending this, then you are stuck here until at least the summer solstice.”

“You said this came from the highest level, who?”

In reply, she crossed the distance between us and held out her hand. I frowned and wordlessly extended my right hand, palm up, to receive whatever it is she held. Her look was pure evil as she deposited something in my palm.
“A token,” she said, “cherish it.”

Almost an hour later, near to dawn, Aine and Taliesin had both let themselves out as I still sat, staring at my palm and the lock of fiery red hair, tied with a simple linen ribbon.

With a start, I saw my hands fade to transparency. The stars outside my window extended a bridge to massive curved stairs reaching at once to both the light and the darkness. All I had to do was take a few steps and I would be on that bridge, my choice made, my way clear to the welcoming safety of the shadows that had sustained me for so long.

The pain in my side would fade, as I healed almost instantly. The fatigue in my muscles would disappear as vitality filled me. My drooping eye lids would revive with a rush of energy.

I was still staring when the sun broke over Central Park and the stairway was shattered into a thousand twinkling shards that disappeared in the dawn light.

Another day in New York City. I turned and checked my lunar calendar; April 30, 1961, it was less than two months until the Summer Solstice.

***

With a start, I snapped out of it. I don’t know how long I had stood, staring at the calendar as a torrent of memories came flooding back to me. Fifty years since that day, how they did not go by in a blink. I sat down at my desk, turning on my computer.

It was Monday, April 30, 2011, the office of Noble Investigations, Est. 1961, was once again, open to welcome a brand new day.

About Greg Bullard:
Greg currently resides in Austin, TX, trying to do his part to Keep Austin Weird. While his wife, Julia, and daughter, Emily, both work hard to keep him on his toes, it is Julia’s red editing pen that does the most work. When he is not muddling his way through some fiction, he usually writes about What Greg Eats.

10 Questions with Megan Don

1. For readers who aren’t familiar with her, can you tell my readers a little bit about Teresa of Avila?

Teresa of Avila was a 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, who was renowned for her astute insight into the workings of the human soul and who came into her realized self after many years of following her spiritual path. Do not be fooled by her outer nun role, she was a powerful woman who spoke her mind, and who engaged in the fullness of her passionate heart. She was guided to a vocation of reform, that is, reforming the Carmelite Order, for both women and men, returning it to the original intention of “tending to the garden of the soul.” She established seventeen new monasteries along the length and breadth of Spain, which included buying and selling real estate, fundraising to pay for the properties, and ensuring that each monastery had an income so they were self supporting. She was a dynamic powerhouse of energy and manifestation, and at the same time nurtured a deeply spiritual connection with her Inner Beloved. She says, that the only way she achieved so much was through the absolute reliance upon the divine. She is the perfect example for us today as we align ourselves with both our inner and outer world and all that needs to be tended to in order to live upon this earth in a wholesome way.

2. What made you decide to focus your research on her?

I did not decide. I think she or the Beloved did, or both. One evening being awoken from sleep, I was given a vision of Teresa’s life. I knew it was her, I knew the stones of the monastery walls I was seeing, and in the morning I knew I had to visit Avila, Spain and also to study her writings. Within six months I was in Avila, and while there I was making some notes about my experiences. It was then I realized that I would be writing a book on her. Not being a writer, this was a little perplexing, so I said if a book was to be written then the Spirit needed to write it, as I had no idea what to do. I therefore, see this book as a gift I was given and which I gift onwards and outwards to the world. It has been an extraordinary journey, for which I am very grateful.

3. Your book “Meditations with Teresa of Avila: A Journey into the Sacred” contains hundreds of quotes attributed to Teresa of Avila. Do you have a particular favorite?

I think I will need to extend this to two favorites:

I can find nothing to compare with the great beauty of a soul and its infinite capacity…the soul is nothing but a paradise in which the Beloved takes delight.

We have not been taught self-love in our culture, and here Teresa is pointing to an inner beauty so profound and so infinite that I think there are very few who can touch this or believe it. While meditating at her birthplace in Avila, I was given the experience of this quote, of knowing how infinitely we are loved, and that is, the whole of our being. There is no distinction between ego and the divine self, we are loved completely exactly as we are. After many years, it still touches my soul deeply when I revisit this experience, and it is something that I wish every soul on earth could know and experience.

Outside this castle neither security nor peace will be found…[the soul] should avoid going about to strange houses since its own is so filled with blessings.

Teresa described the soul as being like a luminous crystal castle, and here she reiterates the need for us all to draw deep within our own beings. It is within that we will find we have everything and more than what we need. We are so filled with blessings and yet we still seek to be blessed and loved from the outside of ourselves. It is interesting that our true source of happiness lies within and yet we prefer to experience unhappiness through a constant seeking without.

4. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

The book has been written so that it can be experienced, that is, there are quotes from Teresa’s work, then a short exposition relating her wisdom to our contemporary living, and then a meditation in order that we can experience and embody the teachings given. My hope is that the book will provide a transformational experience for the readers, that it will relate to, and open their lives to the greater reality that they are, and most of all, that they will come to know the Inner Beloved and the love of self.

5. In your book you discuss how it can be read for group study. Have you heard from readers who have done this? What were their experiences?

Yes, the response has been wonderful. Groups (and individuals) have been most grateful for the accessibility to Teresa’s teachings. Her original writings can be a little laborious at times, and they are also ensconced in 16th century terminology that is not so appealing to the modern mind. People were aware that Teresa held a key for their spiritual path but were previously unable to access her, so being able to enter her wisdom in a very practical way, relating it to their everyday living has been appreciated.

There has also been a lot of appreciation to know of Teresa’s struggles in her life, as these struggles are still ones we face today. Teresa fought her way through a quagmire of fear and self-doubt (for many years), and she struggled with belief in her self and her spiritual experiences. She had to release old friends who no longer supported her life and she had to stand up in the face of much criticism by colleagues and fellow spirit travelers. Many of us have also experienced these same challenges and to read of her story and her overcoming these things brings hope to us all. Teresa was a woman of great courage, though she is quick to say, it was the Spirit who gave her the courage. And this is what the readers have relayed, that they were given a newfound courage to step out on their pathway and to follow their inner guidance.

6. “Meditations with Teresa of Avila” is divided into seven “dwellings”. What is the significance of the “seven dwelling places”?

The seven dwellings are places in which the soul travels as it makes its journey back to the Beloved. As said above, Teresa saw the soul as a luminous crystal castle, and within this castle there are the seven dwellings and within the dwellings there are rooms upon rooms. As we enter each dwelling we come closer and closer to the Inner Beloved and the center of the soul. These dwellings are pathways or a spiritual map, if you like, taking you through different stages upon your journey. We enter the dwelling of Awakening, The Return, Self Knowledge, Interior Recollection, Surrender, Betrothal, and finally The Sacred Marriage. Though it is important to note that the journey is not linear. We enter different dwellings at different times according to the needs of our soul. For instance, the Awakening is not a one-time visit, but something that happens over and over again, and as our journey continues the experiences become more subtle and more refined. So it is more like a circular journey into the infinity of our being, a journey that never ends. As Teresa said, I think God too is on a journey.

7. On your website, www.mysticpeace.com, I see you have pilgrimages planned for Assisi, Italy in May, Ireland in June, Ireland again in July, and Avila, Spain in September! What kind of work goes into putting together all these trips?

A lot of work, and I love it. Of course, there are the very practical details to work out, such as schedules, where and when we will stay, eat, and take ferry rides and so on. Plus tending to everyone’s practical needs and questions before and during the pilgrimage. And then there is the very spiritual nature of the journey to attend to; being led to the places that are spiritually powerful and have a resonance that is alive and living; and opening to the wisdom contained therein and how it may relate to our own souls and journeys. There are also themes for every pilgrimage, for instance, the upcoming pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, is “Remembering Your Sacred Work,” and one of the pilgrimages to Ireland is “Living as an Elder,” so I also do much preparation around these themes and recommend reading prior to journeying so everyone can have a full experience. Fortunately, I have been granted the gifts of administrator and the ability to tend to details, as well as the ability to open to the mystic wisdoms.

Something so magically potent occurs when on a pilgrimage. For me, it is the body connecting with the body of the land you are walking on, praying with, and listening to. I have many people return and participate in different pilgrimages with me each year. We form an inner bond that is very sacred. These same people are also often in Spiritual Direction with me, so the experiences together are exquisitely rich. There are no words to describe the deep transformations that people experience – it is deeply humbling to be a sacred witness.

8. You have another book called “Sacred Companions, Sacred Community: Reflections with Clare of Assisi”. Who was Clare of Assisi, and what can we learn from her?

Clare of Assisi was Francis of Assisi’s spiritual companion. Perhaps the most understated enlightened woman of our Christian heritage. As Richard Rohr speaks in the foreword of my book (and I paraphrase here), it is a travesty that she has been so overshadowed by Francis and the male order of Franciscans, and he calls for a return to the feminine wisdom of Clare and her sisters as a way to bring back a fragment of sanity and calm to our world.

Clare was extremely masterful at creating community, and if she had had her way, the Franciscan community would have been one of both women and men, and not segregated. Francis unfortunately bailed on this idea, as I believe, his attraction to Clare was so great that he didn’t know what to do with all his passion and feelings, and therefore, best to separate and be safe. Clare was not at all happy about this, but Francis was a stubborn and willful man and so a different history was created.

I speak of Clare as being the first propagator of Non-Violent Communication. For her, kindness of speech was imperative in creating a harmonious community, and also compassion of the heart. Her writings give great wisdom into community harmony and living. She also writes profoundly about her mystical world and her relationship with the divine love. She writes, Place your mind before the mirror of eternity, place your soul in the brilliance of glory, place your heart in the figure of the divine substance, and through contemplation, transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead itself. Her own commitment to her contemplative and prayer time raised her consciousness and image into the light body of love. This divine love affair and her great love for Francis I cannot separate – they were one and the same – yet she had a pathway of needing to release attachment to Francis over and over again, even to the point of his death.

I cannot emphasize enough the quiet power of this woman. It is my joy to bring her wisdom forward and to lead people to her home in Assisi – there she is readily felt and known, as is her companion and love, Francis.

9. What’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects my readers can look forward to?

Ah yes, it is indeed a wonderful journey. I have been studying the Gnostic Gospels and other related Gnostic texts, unveiling the great wisdom of the early Christian communities, along with the mysteries of Mary Magdalene and the feminine teachings. Joining with this, my Celtic heritage has re-emerged and my childhood gifts of working with the animal and tree spirits and elemental beings. I am finding these traditions so effortlessly join together, and when we remember Mary Magdalene’s many years of teaching and living in Southern France and the great Celtic and Druid presence throughout France, it makes sense for this re-emergence and re-union if you will. So I envision another book revealing this work and my experiences, and pilgrimages to these areas also.

I also have a great interest in community, and opening the way as a house of hospitality for people to come and enter into their sacred self even more deeply, for varying lengths of time, and drawing on the work and themes as reiterated above. So readers may watch for something of this nature being created in the future.

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

The first question that came to me was, “Can we create a special Magical Buffet Pilgrimage, where readers can come and journey together into these sacred wisdoms?”

Just a thought. Can you imagine the logistics of that – even first off deciding the place? Next year I head to Glastonbury in May/June and then Chartres Cathedral and Mont St. Michel in France in September. Perhaps a Magical Buffet contingent can descend and then ascend together?

By the way, love what you are doing at Magical Buffet – brava!

See, I think you give me too much credit. I see The Magical Buffet Pilgrimage going to Puerto Rico for the religious for me experience of the Taste of Rum Festival, or maybe going across town to a friend’s house for an action movie marathon. I’m not a very exciting lady!

About Megan Don:
Megan Don is the author of “Meditations with Teresa of Avila”. She is a spiritual counselor and teacher of “The Pathway of the Mystic.” She leads pilgrimages to Avila, Spain and other sacred sites in Europe. Megan devotes herself to awakening the mystic within humanity and teaches an embodied spirituality that honors all traditions. She divides her time between the United States and Europe. Visit her online at www.mysticpeace.com.

The Mystical Pathway to Peace

By Megan Don

“It is in your power to live and to die with this peace.” – Teresa of Avila

Our society is fraught with conflict, be it political, religious or personal. It might even be said that we, as a human race, thrive on conflict, as it seems to be a precursor to our growth and change. It provides a stimulus for disintegration of old thoughts and ways of being and regeneration for new modalities and paradigms. From the rebel teenager, to the warring couple, to international peacekeeping efforts or the political terrorist, their aim is the same – to overthrow, or keep at bay, what they perceive as a hindering force to their right to freedom (whatever that may be). But what is the real freedom we all seek? And can we not find another more peaceful method of change? First, we need to look at the nature of conflict and to see how and where it arises.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, was very familiar with conflict. From a young age Teresa experienced a dichotomous inner relationship with herself. She developed a deep respect for the spiritual life through her father’s influence, but she also cultivated a great taste for the materialistic life through the nobility of her mother. She was ultimately split into two different modes of being and was unable to reconcile these two influences until late in her life, even while living in the monastery.

Conflict became as a personal paradigm for Teresa. She was incredibly strong-willed and began the battle with her own ego, which she clearly perceived as constantly rallying against the greater will of God. This caused her much internal pain and a sense of division, as she was unable to surrender her own thoughts and will. In her resistance, she felt the ego struggling to remain in control, and yet, she distinctly felt the pull of her inner spirit. This spirit was inviting her to another place – the place of freedom and peace. Separation from God was the cause of Teresa’s conflict, and only when she was able to join her soul with the divine spirit did she find peace. It was through surrendering the ego, not annihilating it, that enabled this to occur. It was not an immediate release however, but a gradual remembering and relearning by her soul.

As with Teresa, I believe that the paradigm of conflict is paramount in our society. The ego has been living a life of separation from the spirit, causing conflict to occur. On a personal developmental level change frequently occurs after a great inner tension and conflict has been felt and lived. On a political level that same tension and conflict causes a change in leadership and power, but unfortunately is often manifested and affected through violence and war. This framework and partnership of change and conflict now needs to be dismantled.

This regenerative process of change can be affected in a loving way. The great beauty about Jesus was that he brought the message of truth and love. Truth without love is harsh. Love without truth can become sentimental. The two together can bring about long-lasting and effective change, both in a personal and societal context. The truth can revolutionize the way we love and the way we love can revolutionize the way we live.

Acting in a loving and compassionate way was very important to Teresa and became the foundation for the success of her communal monasteries. Let us take this same concern into our workplace, into our homes, and into any situation that requires a breaking down of the old ways. Above all, let us be kind to one another and our selves. If we can affect a gentle process of change internally, then we can also manifest this in our external environment.

Teresa’s lifelong quest, though lived over four centuries ago, is still an example and inspiration for us to follow today. We can carry placards in the street demanding peace not war, but of what use is that if we are still warring within our own selves. We each have the responsibility to look deeply within and to be honest about the state of our own being. We each need to see how we are in conflict with the natural state of our soul. We need to look and see where we are split in our lives. Where we find conflict in our lives let us look deeply for the origin, and surrender it to God. Where we find places of unrest and lack of peace, let us surrender this too. In turning to our interior life we can lovingly heal any splits that may have occurred throughout our lifetime. We can release ourselves from the dichotomous relationship that so many of us have become accustomed to.

The definition then, of real freedom is inner peace, known through acceptance and surrender. And the way of truth and love is the way of change. Like Teresa, we can become examples of what it means to live a wholesome life, surrendered to the divine will, and living in peace on this planet.

Megan Don is the author of Meditations with Saint Teresa of Avila: A Journey into the Sacred.
Based on the book Meditations with Teresa of Avila © 2011 by Megan Don. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

Liked what you saw? Then stay tuned! On Thursday May 12th we’ll be back with 10 Questions with Megan Don! We’ll talk about her book, Teresa of Avila, and her other work!

Hadi Thawra! Rap Music in Libya

It’s no real secret that I’m a fan of rap music. Not all rap music, and I’m certainly not an expert, but I do know what I like. You’ve seen it in “Public Enemy and the People Who Love Them” and “Nas – Big Damn Hero”. You may also recall an article I wrote about how important it was that music had returned to Afghanistan in “Music Matters”, and that it also gave mention to the struggle of heavy metal music in Iraq. But I’ve always had the most fun discussing rap music in my sporadic but ongoing series of “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad” articles. Several countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have “Vice Squads” to police the morality of their citizens; be it showing a little denim pant leg or setting up turntables. Rap music in these environments was discussed back in 2007 in “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 2: The Rap Edition” which dealt with Iran and in 2010 with “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 6: Rap Music Strikes Again!” which was also Iran-o-centric.

I’ve always talked about how rap music can be the voice of rebellion, a means of expressing a life that many can’t imagine, and essentially a catalyst to society as a whole. This is why I was not surprised to learn that there is a rap music movement in Libya that has been exploding since February 21, 2011. Twenty somethings in Libya had been making music in hiding, never sharing it for fear of repercussions that would include prison and possibly death. 23 year-old Mutaz el Obidy of the group Revolution Beat is quoted in a France 24 article as saying, “We weren’t allowed to talk about the system, we could not speak our thoughts. We were not allowed to perform in college or anywhere. I was afraid not about myself, but about my family. They would have been killed, I’d have to watch my sister being raped. I never got in trouble because I wasn’t stupid about it, we never published it.”

However now France 24 interviewed Revolution Beat because they started distributing copies of their song “Hadi Thawra” to anti-Gaddafi demonstrators in Benghazi’s central courthouse. I’d say it’s public now. Leela Jacinto reporting for France 24 says, “This is revolution the way the Libyan youth see it. If every history-mending youth movement were to have its own Bob Dylan vocalizing the dissent and dreams of a generation, ‘Hadi Thawra’ is the ‘Times They Are a-Changin’ of the anti-Gaddafi hipster set.”

An Associated Press article quotes Mutaz el Obidy of Revolution Beat as he explains that, “Rap is more popular than rock and country among the young people in Libya because it expresses anger and frustration.” If it helps Mutaz, that’s what Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were saying with “The Message”, what Public Enemy was doing with “Bring the Noise”, and certainly what N.W.A. were expressing in “F*#k the Police”.

Rap grew in America when a segment of the population felt marginalized and set up by a system that didn’t appear to care about them. It is the universality of that feeling of anger and frustration that causes rap music to ferment globally. When I reviewed the book “Sufi Rapper” I learned of the vibrant French rap community that comes from the “deprived Paris suburbs”, aka the projects. I’ve written about the rise of rap music in Iran. And now we’re looking at Libya. Perhaps large segments of the population will never see or feel the way I do about the power of rap music, but the genre has withstood the test of time and has inspired people around the world. And I dare say, these rap communities in Iran or Libya are probably more true to origins of the music than we’re seeing from many popular rap artists today. For these artists rap music is about the struggle. They realize how unlikely it is that they will ever have the lifestyles of their American counterparts, but they just don’t stop. Maybe it’s just another facet of their struggle. Maybe they’ll write a song about it.