The Feast of the Ladies of the Night

Most readers know that I’m a pretty big fan of author Claude Lecouteux, and that his latest book, “Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead” may very well be my favorite. In fact, it was one of my favorite things of 2011! However, in a book full of interesting history, legends, and folktales, there was one particular section that really stuck with me since I read it; “The Good Women Who Roam the Night”.

Lecouteux’s writing is dense, rich with the fruits of exhaustive research. I couldn’t hope to do a summary that would even come close to doing justice to the man’s work. Instead, let me ditch the scholarship and attempt to explain why after reading “Phantom Armies of the Night” I decided this holiday season to leave food and drink out for The Feast of the Ladies of the Night.

I’m guessing it’s an idea not exclusive to the Middle Ages, nor to the German speaking countries of the era, but there had been a belief that there were a troop of women who would roam the night. Specifically they would travel during the holy nights between the birth of Jesus and the night of Epiphany. Led by Dame Abundia and Satia, or Fraw Percht or Perchtum, these ladies would visit homes. If the households had chosen to leave out food and drink for the ladies to feast on (being sure to have all containers open), the homes would be blessed with prosperity and abundance for the next year. Needless to say, the Church wasn’t a fan of such customs. At best they considered the practice a misguided superstition, at their most assertive the Church worked to recast these Good Women as minions of Satan, eaters of babies and corrupters of households.

I’m no stranger to mythologies, religions, or folktales, but for some reason the plight of these Good Women touched my heart. Not only had they been forgotten by so many, but to potentially be remembered as something so perverted from your true nature? It seemed like not such a big deal to set out a little something and take a moment to remember them as they were intended.

My Feast for the Good Women

10 Questions with Dawn Hunt

1. You describe yourself as a Kitchen Witch. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, can you tell my readers what that means?
A Kitchen Witch is one who uses food, and the preparation and consumption of it to glean spiritual and personal goals. We use the power of intention and mindfulness to focus energy into food as well as awakening the innate magickal properties in food to help us along our chosen path. By putting love, joy and positivity in our kitchen and recognizing the power of ritual cooking a Kitchen Witch can create the sacred every day through simple recipes and make any meal magickal with the right tools and intentions. Make no mistake, you don’t have to be the world’s best cook and your recipes don’t have to be gourmet or high priced, just full of positive energy and joy and love! At least, that is how I see the world of Kitchen Magick. It is more about your energy than the food in your fridge.

2. How did you end up working with the Temple of Witchcraft to do “Tastes from the Temple: Kitchen Witchery from the Temple of Witchcraft”?
This book was something the Temple of Witchcraft wanted to do for a while, I’m told. However the project was put on hold until fate stepped in and put me in the right place at the right time! I had cooked for a couple of events and vended my Witchy Wares and I guess that they decided to put their faith in my abilities and know how as a Kitchen Witch. I am forever grateful that they thought so much of me!!!

3. “Tastes from the Temple” is a fundraiser for the Temple of Witchcraft, can you tell my readers a little bit about the organization?
Well, I am an honorary member of the Temple, which means I have not been through all the formal training but I am considered part of the community because I have helped out at many events and help as much as I can. The organization as a whole was founded by Christopher Penczak, Steve Kenson and Adam Sartwell. These three brilliant, kind and Magickal men grew the Temple of Witchcraft as a nonprofit charitable religious organization based in the State of New Hampshire. The Temple of Witchcraft’s goal on an individual level is to awaken the potential of the human soul to its natural gifts of psychic awareness, communion with nature and the spirits, and magick. Your readers can find out more at www.templeofwitchcraft.org

4. In what ways does “Tastes from the Temple” differ from other cookbooks?
In many ways it is a book in the true spirit of community cookbooks. The kind that old churches would put together to raise funds and unite spirits in a church or organization. But “Tastes From the Temple” has recipes from not only our immediate community but also from all over the country. Stories and anecdotes from Temple of Witchcraft members accompany every recipe so we can really get to know this community. I have taken each recipe and added a little dash of magick by including the innate magickal attributes of the foods, how and why to use them and for what magickal purposes.

5. One section of the book features recipes that highlight “Heirloom Magick”. Can you tell my readers a little bit about this tradition?
Heirloom Magick is one of my favorite portions of the book. It is what I call the idea of cooking with and for the ancestors. We can stay connected to our past loves ones through food and keep their memories alive when we cook their recipes or use their kitchen tools. This is something I really started doing this past year after my grandmother passed away. I got a box full of her old pots and pans, even a muffin tin that had been my Great Grandmother’s back in Italy. I noticed how when using these as ritual tools really helped me to stay close to, not only my grandmother, but my heritage. Recipes I had never made before started erupting from heart and everything just tasted so wonderful and full of love and tradition. I love this type of food magick so much I have even started to teach classes on it!

6. The Temple of Witchcraft community contributed many of the recipes featured in “Tastes from the Temple”, what is one of your favorites contributed from the community and why?
I think one of my favorite contributions is from Alix Wright. She is a lead minister of the Temple and a very, very dear friend of mine. Her recipe is found in the “Sweets” section of the book. It is a fruit cake soaked in brandy for up to a month. Fruit cake is not something most of us find very appetizing but this one is so very rich and a little naughty with all that brandy! To be honest it is one of my favorites because it is something I never would have thought of on my own. It is very unique and has a history and a deep affection among Alix’s family and friends. In the true spirit of Kitchen Witchery this cake is made with love and patience and gets better with time.

7. Now I know this one is going to be really hard, but what’s one of your favorites of your recipes that you used in “Tastes from the Temple” and why?
OH Yes. This is a very hard question…Hummm…I think it is a tie between the Pasta Fagioli in the Heirloom Magick chapter and the Three Bean Chili in the Witchy Entertaining Chapter. The Pasta Fagioli really rings true to everything I mentioned earlier about Heirloom Magick. When I cook it I am taken back to my childhood and cold Autumn nights after jumping in piles of leaves or walking the dog. And the Three Bean Chili is something I make all the time. It has become a staple in my home and for my friends. When I don’t have any in the freezer I make a huge pot of it to be sure that I always have some on hand. In fact, as I write this I am reminded that just yesterday my husband, Justin, asked when we were going to have some chili! It is easy, filling, healthy and comforting; wonderful for big crowds of people or for a cozy night in on the couch. I would be hard pressed to have to choose between these two!

8. Since these recipes are magical, they all magically have no calories, right?
Of course! I have magickaly removed all the calories, fat, sugar and cholesterol! HA HA! The truth is many of these recipes are healthy options and many use good old fashioned butter, sugar, cream and/or beef! The key to anything is moderation. Enjoy everything, just don’t sit down and eat the entire pan of Four Cheese Baked Macaroni found in the Comfort Foods chapter all by yourself!

9. You’re always busy doing events and writing for websites and publications. Where can my readers see you, or read you next?
Well right now I am really focused on “Tastes from the Temple”. I will be selling signed copies at Muse Gifts and Books in Marlborough, NH on January 15th. February 4th I can be found at the Robin’s Nest in Bellingham, MA for my Recipes for Romance Class. And look for my “Cooking with the Element of Air” article in the upcoming “Witches and Pagans” Magazine in early Spring. For a full list of my events and upcoming Classes visit me at www.CucinaAurora.com

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
WOW! I get to ask you a question???? OK…What is your favorite food to cook/eat and what magick does it hold for you?

That’s tough. Due to some ongoing health issues my relationship with food has become pretty adversarial at times. These days I enjoy sushi greatly. I always liked it, but as long as it isn’t packing spicy stuff or fried stuff I can pretty much eat as much as my wallet allows. It’s tasty, fun, and we love our local place. We gave them cookies for the holidays!

If I was healthy, I truly miss delivery New York style pizza. Not only is it delicious (in moderation, of course), but it’s the food of parties, of bad days at work when you come home and don’t want to cook, and of course, of rewarding groups for hard labor (like helping you move)!

About Dawn Hunt:
Dawn Aurora Hunt, known as “the Kitchen Witch”, is the founder of Cucina Aurora Kitchen Witchery. She teaches classes on Kitchen Witchery and food Magic, touring and giving workshops along the East Coast. Creating the sacred every day though simple spell recipes and kitchen rituals, Dawn has brought food Magick into the homes of Pagans and Non-Pagans alike. Through her line of infused olive oils, dips, cookie mixes, and Kitchen Witch Ware products she has shown that simple home-made foods are best for the body, mind and soul. She and her husband, Justin, live in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts. For more information visit her website: www.cucinaaurora.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter at Cucina Aurora Kitchen Witchery.

About The Temple of Witchcraft:
Witchcraft is a tradition of experience, and the best way to experience the path of the Witch is to actively train in its magickal and spiritual lessons. The Temple of Witchcraft provides a complete system of training and tradition, with four degrees found in the Mystery School for personal and magickal development and a fifth degree in the Seminary for the training of High Priestesses and High Priests interested in serving the gods, spirits, and community as ministers. Teachings are divided by degree into the Oracular, Fertility, Ecstatic, Gnostic, and Resurrection Mysteries. Training emphasizes the ability to look within, awaken your own gifts and abilities, and perform both lesser and greater magicks for your own evolution and the betterment of the world around you. The Temple of Witchcraft offers both in-person and online courses with direct teaching and mentorship. Classes use the “Temple of Witchcraft” series of books and CD Companions as primary texts, supplemented monthly with information from the Temple’s Book of Shadows, MP3 recordings of lectures and meditations from our founders, social support through group discussion with classmates, and direct individual feedback from a mentor. For more information and current schedules, please visit: www.templeofwitchcraft.org.

Tokens of Light

It used to be all I ever saw were tarot decks; tarot decks that held pretty tight to the template set by the Universal Waite Tarot Deck. Then I noticed tarot decks that meandered off that path at times, and occasionally I saw sets of runes. Then it was oracle decks, that conformed in no way to the traditional tarot, and I saw I Ching sets. It seems for every person out there awaits a type of oracle just for them! And I’m here today to introduce you to another wonderful member of this expanding family, “Tokens of Light”.

“Tokens of Light” is subtitled “66 Paths for insights and prediction according to the Hebrew Alphabet” and it was created by Orna Ben-Shoshan. Astute readers will remember that name from back in April 2011 when I reviewed the “King Solomon Oracle Cards“. Orna was responsible for the beautiful artwork found in that deck, and I’m happy to say “Tokens of Light” is perhaps an even better space for her art.

The tokens are 66 sturdy coins (made of a slightly more sturdy stock than tarot cards). One side of the coin has its number, 1-66, (The total number of 66 was derived by using 3 different aspects of each one of the 22 Hebrew letters.) and underneath it a Hebrew letter with a serial code to which the answer relates. The other side has a beautiful Orna Ben-Shoshan illustration to help you make a visual connection with the coin. The coins come with a pretty drawstring bag to use for carrying, storage, or pulling the tokens from for readings.

You don’t need to be able to read Hebrew to use “Tokens of Light”. Thank goodness! The set comes with an interpretation booklet that gives you some ideas as to what drawing a particular coin might mean, and also some different suggested ways to use “Tokens of Light” for guidance. Despite its beautiful, mysterious, occult appearance, it’s pretty freakin’ simple to use. How about one more “Thank goodness!”?

Along with the tokens, you also get two amulet coins that are not to be included in your readings, but kept close to you. One coin contains the priestly blessing for protection and fulfillment of your wishes, and the other coin contains letter combinations taken from the “72 Names of God” that will bring balance and success to all areas of life.

“Tokens of Light” is a unique addition to the expanding landscape of oracle products. To learn more about it, visit their site.

Shalom-Nuts?

Many of you probably know, but in case you weren’t aware, yesterday was the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. This year it was our turn to host a dinner for the holiday, and so as always I turned to my well worn copy of “Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays: Complete Menus, Rituals, and Party-Planning Ideas for Every Holiday of the Year” by Marlene Sorosky. Every time I flip through her book I always come across something new, despite how many times in the past I’ve looked through the darn thing. This year, as always, her book didn’t disappoint!

Sorosky is quick to point out that traditional foods associated with Hanukkah are related to the miracle of oil. Ahhhh, the miracle of oil. Normally that makes people think of latkes, potato pancakes. We tried her Giant Potato-Carrot Latkes which were delicious and required someone to carve them at the table! However it was her mentioning doughnuts that got my attention.

I hadn’t really thought about it, but yes, fried doughnuts certainly would qualify as a food related to oil. She suggests using them to help create a Menorah centerpiece, but I thought, why couldn’t they be dessert?

Even better, I’m still on a pretty restricted diet, so instead of genuine fried doughnuts, couldn’t we use our nifty little baked griddle baby doughnut maker that our friend bought us? Jim has gotten really good at making all kinds of versions and despite the lack of frying, symbolically our dessert would be righteous. Right?

Well, I don’t know if we’ve started the next newest Hebrew craze, but I present…….

Doughnuts!

Or should they be, Shalom-nuts?

To those who celebrate, Happy Hanukkah!

Just Think Happy Thoughts!

by Bob Makransky
(This essay originally appeared in the Magical Almanac Ezine. Used here with the author’s permission.)

Whenever I hear some spiritual guru proclaim that all you gotta do is “just think happy thoughts!”, it makes me want to pop him one upside the head and see how long he can keep on thinking his “happy thoughts.”

Take as an example Miguel Ruiz’s best selling “Four Agreements”, which exhorts readers to “Be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; don’t make assumptions; always do your best.” The degree of profundity or usefulness of this advice is beside the point; it does a disservice to the reader. No effort was made to explain why it’s impossible to be impeccable with your word (in a society based upon lying to other people and yourself); not to take things personally (when all your social training is pointed at inflating your self-importance); not to make assumptions (in a society which discourages thinking for yourself, or thinking at all); or why it’s impossible to do your best (in a society which teaches you to cringe helplessly and wallow in self-pity). In other words, fluffy writing just adds more guilt to the burden of self-hatred which people are already carrying by making people blame themselves, rather than their hypocritical society, for their unhappiness. Fluffy writing may sound soothing because it’s simplistic; but it’s of no real help to anyone.

Who is thinking happy thoughts? The evangelizing proselytizers with their toothpaste-advertisement grins and their used-car-salesman spiels? If those people were truly happy in their hearts, would they be running around trying to make other people like them (in all senses of that word)? Being in denial is not the same thing as being happy. NOBODY (except maybe a few lamas meditating in caves in the Himalayas maybe) can control their thoughts. People can most certainly run away from their issues by distracting themselves, but that is not the same thing as controlling thoughts. It’s like masturbation was in the Victorian age – everybody was doing it while paying lip service to denial; and then feeling ashamed of themselves for being so “perverted”. Similarly, people are being lied to about “just thinking happy thoughts” – and then are made to feel worse about themselves because they are incapable of accomplishing this unattainable feat.

It’s all a lie – this “Positive Thinking” baloney, like so much New Age cant (oh yeah, that’s another one: “never say can’t!”). If you are not happy inside, then 1) it’s impossible to think happy thoughts (unless you’re in denial); and 2) thinking happy thoughts isn’t the way to change your mood in any case (it works the other way around: when you are able to control your moment-to-moment mood – or better said, relax into indifference – THEN your thoughts naturally tend to be happy). What creates your reality is your underlying mood, not what you tell yourself (not your thoughts).

The pundits of Positive Thinking have their cause-and-effect backwards. And they exacerbate people’s problems by blaming them for being unable to control their thoughts – as if society doesn’t heap enough blame and shame on people as it is … now in the New Age people have to blame themselves for being unable to accomplish the impossible. To expect that YOU – l’il ol’ nose pickin’ and pastin’ it under the furniture YOU – should be able to control your thoughts (and then chide yourself when you fail to live up to this ridiculous expectation) is completely absurd. Positive thinking is just another of society’s lies designed to make you feel crummy about yourself.

People need to be told that it’s okay if they are unhappy; that everybody in our society is unhappy, and any appearance to the contrary is just that – an appearance. This is another of our materialistic society’s dirty tricks: constantly telling people “See – those guys over there who bought our useless products are happier than you are! Go for it!” Having us compare ourselves to other people is stupid, since everyone’s karma is so different. And since our superficial society forbids us to talk openly about anything that really matters, we rarely know what anyone else is truly feeling inside in any case.

This is not to say that people don’t have to take complete personal responsibility to get themselves out of the messes they find themselves in. Just that there’s no need to feel guilty for not fulfilling society’s expectations (including being able to “think happy thoughts”), since society’s expectations are impossible to fulfill; moreover, the rewards for fulfilling them aren’t even worth it. This realization is the first step on the spiritual path.

Clue Number 1: Your image of what the spiritual path is all about is wrong – absolutely wrong. Completely off the mark. Not even close. When you finally do get “there”, you’ll realize that the things which you thought were of the essence, aren’t; and the things which are, weren’t part of your thinking at all (they were too subtle, so you overlooked them at the time). What spirituality is all about has to be felt in your heart, not conceptualized. When don Juan finally explained his teachings to Carlos Castaneda (just prior to his leaving him forever, at the end of “Tales of Power”), he told Castaneda that he had been deliberately misleading and sidetracking him all along during the apprenticeship, keeping Castaneda’s thinking mind focused on irrelevancies, and making light of the issues which were indeed the crux. This is because the thinking mind only gets in the way on the spiritual path. The thinking mind is of utmost importance in getting along in society, but it is actually a hindrance in pursuit of the spiritual, which is why don Juan averred that the best sorcerers were either completely stupid or completely crazy. Isn’t it true that in our society the most spiritual people (most open-hearted) are usually either retarded or lunatics?

Clue 2: If you find the spiritual path enjoyable, you ain’t on it. The spiritual path sucks – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Do you suppose St. John of the Cross was just kidding around when he spoke of the Dark Night of the Soul? On the spiritual path, as in the gym, no pain means no gain. Why do you suppose that gurus such as Sri Yukteswar and Gurdjieff and don Juan (and don Juan’s teacher don Julian) were so abusive to their disciples (except for the disciples who were pretty selfless to begin with)? Why do you think don Juan recommended finding a petty tyrant – an oppressor who spits on you and stomps your self-esteem into the mud – as the most important element of spiritual training? Self-importance is not eliminated by having other people envy you or pat you on the back and tell you how great you are; or by having all your fantasies and daydreams come true. It’s eliminated by having your self-images – everything you crave and strive to uphold – trampled into the dirt.

The spiritual path lies in the diametrically opposite direction from the path society has conditioned you to travel. The spiritual path – the deconditioning process – involves prying your grasping fingers loose from everything society has conditioned you to cling to. This is not pleasant at all. Moreover, nobody is going to give you any reward or recognition for your spiritual accomplishments: depending on your karma (people who are pretty selfless to begin with have it easier than the rest of us), probably most people around you will do everything in their power to frustrate you, be jealous of you, or belittle your efforts. As don Juan told Castaneda, “A warrior has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country; he has only life to be lived, and under these circumstances, his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly.” Anybody who is really on the spiritual path (unlike the happy-thought thinkers) is usually crucified by society and the people around them.

The point is that the true spiritual path is entered by facing things squarely as they are (not by denying your reality by “thinking happy thoughts” or otherwise running away from yourself); and then by just accepting your situation – giving up the ghost, stopping all the struggling and fuming, getting off your own case and other people’s case and God’s case. There are no shortcuts on the spiritual path. There definitely are techniques; and it is necessary to find congenial techniques which you can practice daily, to focus your intent. But there is no way to change anything by snapping your fingers or taking a workshop or just thinking happy thoughts.

To tell someone who is in great pain to “just think happy thoughts” is like telling someone without legs to just get up and walk. Deconditioning and reconditioning your mindset requires a tremendous amount of time and endurance – it’s not something you can “just do”. It’s also why magicians aver that there is no point in even considering undertaking the task until you are completely desperate. True spiritual growth is basically just a matter of exhaustion, of complete wipe-out, of coming to realize the futility of it all. But there is no way to hurry anything up. No way. The sooner you give up trying, or lying to yourself by “thinking happy thoughts”, the sooner true change will happen.

About the author:
Bob Makransky is a systems analyst, computer programmer and professional astrologer. He lives on a farm in highland Guatemala where he is a Mayan priest and is head of the local blueberry growers’ association. Check out his free downloadable Mayan Horoscope software, free downloadable Planetary Hours calculator, free downloadable Primary Directions / celestial sphere mathematics textbook, complete instructions on how to channel by automatic writing and how to run past life regressions, articles, books, stories, cartoons, etc. etc. at www.dearbrutus.com.

Favorite Things 2011

Last December I wrote an article called “The Favorite Things Post” that highlighted a few things I liked. In honor of Oprah’s normal broadcast television show ending I called it that. Now I know Oprah has her own freakin’ network, and at least one magazine, and I’m certain she’s out there floggin’ her favorite things this year like every year, but I’m going to offer a list and call it my favorite things, and I shall fear no Oprah and here is why….

What is up with Oprah being so damn popular? I never got it. And women who like her would tell me, she’s so accessible, she’s like me. What the heck do you mean, she’s like me, I would ask. After a long, thoughtful pause I would be told she struggles with her weight. That’s it? That’s all it takes? Gather round your monitors people…..I struggle with my weight, I struggle with gray hair, and I’m in my mid-thirties and still struggling with acne! So using my rudimentary math skills I calculate that I am THREE TIMES more accessible than Oprah, and thus should be three times more popular. Oprah, you’ve had a good run, why not get some rest and leave the favoriting of things to me?

Let’s get to it, shall we? There was A LOT of great stuff in 2011 but somehow I managed to whittle it down to only 10 things.

Below is a list of My Favorite Things 2011. I tried to provide websites where you can learn more and/or make purchases. Nearly everything I talk about is available on Amazon.com. Heck, most of it is on the Amazon.com widget on the right hand side of the screen here! That said, when possible you should try to support your local businesses. I’m sure now that they know what the all mighty Rebecca has proclaimed “favorite” they are all scrambling to full their shelves with these awesome wares!

Voices of Gnosticism
Miguel Conner has this radio show called Aeon Byte where he interviews authors and scholars about Christianity, Gnosticism, and other subjects. Bardic Press had this great idea to transcribe some of the interviews into a book they called “Voices of Gnosticism”. What a great way to learn about Gnosticism! The conversational tone makes the sometimes tricky subject matter much easier to digest. If you’re looking to learn about Gnosticism, this is a great place to start!

Voices of Gnosticism by Miguel Conner: http://www.voicesofgnosticism.com/ (Right on the front page of the site is a convenient list of links of places to order the book from!)

Defense Against the Dark
There are a lot of books out there about protecting yourself from demons, curses, dark magics, etc. But this year saw the release of my new favorite in the field, “Defense Against the Dark” by Emily Carlin. Carlin is the Dean of Dark Arts for the Grey School of Wizardy but her book is accessible to magical practitioner and average joe. It leaves no stone unturned, no question unanswered. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen, and now that includes you.

Defense Against the Dark: A Field Guide to Protecting Yourself from Predatory Spirits, Energy Vampires, and Malevolent Magick by Emily Carlin: http://www.e-carlin.com/index.html (The “Book” tab on her site provides a link directly to Amazon.com for her book.)

Wandlore
This year saw the release of “Wandlore”. What’s so freakin’ sweet about Alferian’s book is that it’s about more than just wands, it’s about the components of magic itself! If you’re interested in magic at all, you’ll get something out of this book. However be warned, it’s impossible to read “Wandlore” and not get the intense urge to start crafting or purchasing wands for yourself. I don’t practice magic and I found myself feeling like I really, really, needed a wand, or two, or three.

Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool by Alferian Gwydion MacLir: http://www.bardwood.com/ (Right on his home page is an Amazon.com button.)

The Hole Behind Midnight
I don’t have a lot of time to read fiction these days, and honestly, I don’t really notice that it’s not in my life. But not too long ago I got the opportunity to read a copy of “The Hole Behind Midnight” by Clinton J. Boomer and I couldn’t resist. To my mind Boomer is the hometown kid made good: bartender, writer for the roleplaying game industry, and self published author, he accomplishes more in a day than I do in a month and seems to enjoy it all a lot more than I do. I had high expectations for “The Hole Behind Midnight” and I was not disappointed. This book has it all: religion, mythology, magic, violence, pop culture touchstones, classic bull in china shop detective work, and a protagonist who might be the most unlikable son of a bitch you’ll ever find yourself whole heartedly rooting for. If you’re looking for something to cut through the saccharin syrup of the holiday season, get yourself a copy of “The Hold Behind Midnight”.

The Hole Behind Midnight: A Story of the 25th Hour by Clinton J. Boomer: http://www.clintonjboomer.com/ (You can get the book in paperback or ebook from Lulu.com and for the Kindle from Amazon.com)

Phantom Armies of the Night
What can I say about this next thing besides I can’t pronounce the author’s name?! I love this GUY! I loved “The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes“. I REALLY loved “The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind“. And this year saw the release of “Phantom Armies of the Night” which may very well be my favorite of the bunch. It is hard to choose, a bit like asking Mom to pick a favorite. But with the themes of punishment and redemption, existence beyond death, and of course seeing the influence of Christianity over Pagan belief, “Phantom Armies of the Night” is one of the most fascinating books I read this year!

Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead by Claude Lecouteux: As far as I’m aware he doesn’t have a website. (His books can be found easily enough on Amazon.com.)

The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook
As long as we’re doing names I can’t pronounce, is it Kenaz? Keenaz? Filan? Feelan? However you pronounce the name, the author’s book “The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook” can be declared definitely excellent. I expected this book to be a relatively straight forward, kind of point a to b, perhaps vaguely how to-ish guide to New Orleans Voodoo. What it turned out to be was SO much better than that! The amazing diversity of influences that went into the creation of the New Orleans Voodoo tradition are well presented. You learn about New Orleans history, music, food, religions besides Voodoo, Voodoo, and more! I frequently tell people that anyone planning a trip to New Orleans should read it as they would any other travel guide. That you could in fact do the Kenaz? Keenaz? New Orleans Voodoo Handbook tour! Pick up this book and fall in love with New Orleans.

The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook by Kenaz Filan: http://www.kenazfilan.com/ (Like most, this book can be found at Amazon.com.)

Glen & Tyler’s Honeymoon Adventure
Last in the realm of books is another oddity because it’s fiction. Since apparently he’s declined every opportunity to pimp it out on the site I suppose it’s up to me. Did you know that JB Sanders, the guy who regularly provides Buffet readers with the fun Geek Month in Review articles, has a book? Yep, it’s true. “Glen & Tyler’s Honeymoon Adventure”. It’s a fun bit of escapism that I highly recommend. I don’t want to give too much away, but life long friends Glen and Tyler, get married, realize they’re in love, (it makes sense if you read the book), become stupidly, ridiculously, secretly control the world level of rich, and then things get really fun! Pirates, mobsters, family politics, and the quest for a decent honeymoon that doesn’t involve pirates, mobsters, or family politics are to be found! Looking to curl up and disappear into a world of wealth, intrigue, fun, and heart? “Glen & Tyler’s Honeymoon Adventure” will fit the bill perfectly.

Glen & Tyler’s Honeymoon Adventure by JB Sanders: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com/ (“Glen & Tyler” is available in paperback and hardcover on Amazon.com, hardcover and for the Nook on BN.com, and in paperback, hardcover, and ebook on Lulu.com)

The Mystic Pyramid
Still have some people you need a gift for this holiday season? Problem solved. It’s called the Mystic Pyramid and it is made of awesome.

It’s just a lot of fun. I love it. My friends love it. It’s just great.

The Mystic Pyramid: http://www.usgamesinc.com/product.php?productid=1127 (Can also be found on Amazon.com.)

Deborah Blake’s Hocus Pocus
Magical Buffet readers know that I have whatever the female equivalent of a bromance is with Witchcraft author Deborah Blake. Womance? Sismance? Anyway. I talk about her so much as a writer that I tend to forget that she is a talented artist who crafts jewelry. This is particularly ironic considering she made one of my favorite necklaces. Until recently if you wanted to see her jewelry you had to travel to The Artisan’s Guild in Oneonta, NY, but recently she opened up an online Esty store called Hocus Pocus. Now anyone with access to the internet can see a small selection of her work and of course, if so inclined, buy. Blake’s jewelry is so beautiful and I’m thrilled that it’s now online for everyone to see!

My Deborah Blake Necklace. Beautiful, right?

Hocus Pocus by Deborah Blake: http://www.etsy.com/shop/deborahblake (If you aren’t getting it there, you’re driving to The Artisans’ Guild in Oneonta, NY!)

Looking for Group
Last, during this time of year when it seems everything involves dropping some cash, here’s a favorite thing that is totally free if you have access to the internet, Looking for Group. Looking for Group is a fantasy webcomic that publishes on Monday and Thursday. It follows the adventures of a slightly too good elf and a way too evil necromancer as they form into a group, have zany adventures, learn about compromise, rickrolling, and recently, taking a stand by occupying hat. The comic is archived so you can easily start at the beginning, like I decided to do this year, and if you like what you read, you can purchase the comics collected into physical books or buy prints of individual pages. If you enjoy the fantasy genre and laughing, you should give this a try.

Looking for Group: http://www.lfgcomic.com/ (You can buy LFG merchandise on the website, and physical books of the collected comics on their site, Amazon.com, and often times at comic book/game stores.)

And there you have it folks, I came, I saw, I favorited all over the place. I hope you enjoyed it. More importantly, while I have this moment to sort of talk to you directly, I want to tell each and every one of you how much your support means to me. The Magical Buffet still doesn’t do any sort of paid marketing but our readership continues to slowly grow and that’s thanks to you guys sharing our articles on social networks, telling your friends about us, and supporting me and the site when we go to events. Thank you guys, I seriously couldn’t do this without you. Also, in the spirit of the season I want to say one last thing, Oprah, don’t sue me, I don’t have any money. For reals yo.

Special Bonus! Where did Rebecca do 85% of her holiday shopping?

Celebrate Samhain: http://www.celebratesamhain.com/

From What Vendors Did She Shop?

Cucina Aurora: http://www.cucinaaurora.com/
FairySpa.com: http://www.fairyspa.com/
The Haunted Wood: http://hauntedwoodonline.com/
Featherscale: http://www.featherscale.com/

Meditation: The Completest of Guides

I know it will sound like the start of some sort of silly advertisement, but when I first pulled my copy of “Meditation: The Complete Guide” out of the envelope from New World Library I found myself thinking, “Complete guide? We’ll see about that.” Well consider me soundly put in my place because Patricia Monaghan and Eleanor G. Viereck couldn’t have created a more complete resource without shipping actual living meditation instructors to your home. Honestly, the thoroughness of their book would border on ridiculous if it didn’t create such an amazing resource.

“Meditation: The Complete Guide” begins with an introductory section that discusses meditation in general, why people practice meditation, what kind of meditation practice might work best for you, and more. For those who may be curious, following the suggestions in this section of the book, my top types of meditation practice would be biofeedback and/or Qigong followed closely by Yoga and/or Tai Chi.

The rest is divided into 10 parts and you just won’t believe everything to be found: trance dancing, drumming, ritual body postures, Yoga Asanas, Yoga breathing, Yoga meditation, Mantra, Yantra, Vipassana, loving-kindness, Zazen, Zen in action, Haiku, brush painting, Tai Chi, Qigong, the Mussar Movement, Hitbodedut, contemplative prayer, Hesychasm, Taize singing, Quaker worship, Sufi breathing, Sufi dancing, candle meditation, inspirational reading, free-form meditation groups, labyrinth walking, prayer beads, biofeedback, sketching from nature, needle crafts, journaling, dialogues with self, visualization, sports as meditation, gardening, pilgrimage, and nature. Whew! My fingers are exhausted! And each of these things includes a checklist for practice and resources specific to the type of meditation being discussed.

I would imagine whether a beginner, or someone with an established practice they enjoy, anyone with an interest in meditation would find “Meditation: The Complete Guide” a valuable resource.

Old Sir Christmas

By John Matthews and Caitlin Matthews from their book The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas (used here with the Quest Books permission)

The Birth of Santa Claus

His story is a complex one. Many will know that Santa means saint, and is of modern usage. Others will tell us that the nearest point of origin for Santa Claus – in time, anyway – is St. Nicholas of Patara, a third-century Bishop of Myra, near the present-day village of Demre in Asia Minor. Born in Turkey to a wealthy family around A.D. 270 he became well known for his anonymous gifts to the poor. Tradition has it that he left these offerings in the houses of selected recipients, sneaking in during the night to leave money or food in the shoes or stockings of children – though it is doubtful whether they would have worn either in that hot land, assuming they could afford such luxuries anyway. However, such is the tradition, and it is from this that we derive the custom of hanging stockings by the fireplace, while in various countries such as Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland, December 6th, St. Nicholas’s official day, is also Children’s Day, and is considered just as important as Christmas Day itself. In fact, it is only in comparatively recent times that we have conflated the two dates – the 6th and the 25th – making the latter a general festival for the exchanging of gifts.

Good Old Saint Nick

If we go back to the Middle Ages, about 1,200 years after St. Nicholas actually lived, we can see how this might have begun. In the words of Naogeorgus, the author of the Latin Vita Sant Nicolai (Life of St. Nicholas):

The mothers all their children
on the eve do cause to fast,
And when they every one
at night in sense sleep are cast,
Both apples, nuts,
and prayers they bring,
and other things beside,
As caps, and shoes, and petticoats,
with kirtles they hide,
And in the morning found,
they say: “St. Nicholas
this brought.”

This has most of the ideas that we associate with the figure of Santa Claus, but there is another, stranger story told of St. Nicholas, which actually points the way to his true origin far more clearly:

An Asiatic gentleman, sending his two sons to Athens for education, ordered them to wait on the bishop for his benediction. On arriving at Myra with their baggage, theytook up their lodgings at an inn, proposing to defer their visit till the morrow; but, in the meantime, the innkeeper, to secure their effects to himself killed the young gentlemen, cut them into pieces, salted them, and intended to sell them for pickled pork. St. Nicholas, being favoured with a sight of their proceedings in a vision, went to the inn, and reproached the landlord with the crime, who, immediately confessing it, entreated the saint to pray to heaven for his pardon. The bishop, moved by his confession and contrition, besought forgiveness for him, and supplicated restoration of life to the children. Scarcely had he finished, when the pieces reunited, and the resuscitated youths threw themselves from the brine tub at the feet of the bishop; he raised them up, blessed them, and sent them to Athens, with great joy to prosecute their studies.

A.T. Hampson: Popular Customs and Superstitions of the Middle Ages

On one level this story may be regarded as nothing more than a pious anecdote illustrating the sanctity and goodness of the saint. But there is more to it than that. The notion of a person being dismembered and put back together, as portrayed in this tale, again derives from a far older time, and when it is placed in conjunction with certain other factors, a surprising new image begins to appear that has all the characteristics of the traditional Santa without any of its later overtones of bishops and Christianity.

The Gift Givers

In comes I, Old Father Christmas.
Welcome – or welcome not,
I hope Old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.

The Longparish Mummers’ Play

Santa Claus is really only the latest of many figures which have come to be associated with bringing gifts on the night of December 25th. In France presents are given on New Year’s Day and called entrennes, a name that can be traced back to the strenae, green branches, exchanged between people at the Roman feast of the goddess Strenia. In Sicily it is an old woman named Strina who brings gifts at Christmas, continuing a tradition that began in the days of the Roman Empire.

The figure who stands behind the jolly old man of Christmas is older even than this, however. In fact, his story takes us back to the beginning of recorded history, when some other characters climbed up trees of a different kind, and returned with gifts for everyone. These were not toys or perfume or watches, but messages concerning the year to come, or the turning of the seasons, or the fate of the world. These people were the shamans, who performed the functions of priest, historian and record keeper, scientist, and magician. Of course there were shamans all over the world, and in most cases they performed the same or similar functions, but, for obvious reasons, it is those who originated in the far North – anywhere from Lapland to Siberia– that interest us most in this context. It is these people who often wore bells on their ritual costumes, who shinned up the central polesof their skin tents, and who returned with the gigts of prophecy and wonder from the Otherworlds. Its is to these people that we have to look for the first appearance of the figure who, thousands of years later, evolved into the jolly old man of Christmas himself, Santa Claus.

If we look for a moment at some of those similarities we can catch a glimpse of the evolution of one into the other. If we dip our hands into Santa’s sack – so like the shaman’s bag of tricks – the first thing we find are the bells that jingle on the harness of the eight magical reindeer. Contemporary accounts of northern shamans, including those of the Altaic and Buryat regions of Siberia and those of the Finns and Laplanders, again and again emphasize the importance of bells in their traditional costumes. These form a double function; as noise-makers to announce the presence of the shaman as he enters the spirit world, and to frighten off any unfriendly spirits who might be lying in wait for him. In addition, iron disks representing the sun or curved in the shape of the moon represent the importance solar and lunar rites among these Northern people– and important point in our consideration of the Solstice itself.

Red Robes and Firelight

Reaching into the sack again we find a red robe or cloak, trimmed with white. Many authorities on shamanic tradition have commented on the importance of the color red in the shaman’s costume. This is, on one level, significant of the sacred blood that links all human beings and that is also perceived as a link between humans and animals, and between the shaman and the earth. It is also, of course, a symbol of fire, that most powerful of magical weapons, as well as the gift of warmth and life to all, especially significant in such cold lands as those we are considering here.

Next in the sack we find a burning brand that signifies the eternal light and the warmth without which all life would perish. The shamans possessed this gift of fire, which initially perhaps they alone had the power to kindle (the number of flint fire-lighters found among shamans’ bundles alone is enough to suggest this) and which was a gift they brought to the tribal people they served. It was believed that these gifts were entrusted to them for the people by the gods and spirits of the land. Here, the symbolism of red fire in the white desert of Winter is a vital image. Is it stretching the point too far to see an echo of this in the red and white costume and white beard of a certain other figure? Certainly the importance of these colors throughout the northern world is beyond question.

Dipping into the sack again we find reindeer with bells on their harnesses, who can fly through the sky and cover vast distances in no time at all. This is yet another echo of the shaman’s journey into and through the heavens, in search of the gifts of fire and prophecy. In addition, there is the obvious importance of reindeer to the people of Lapland and Siberia is obvious. To these people the reindeer not only provided a source of food but also skins for clothing and tents, sinews for thread, bones for needles, and, when rendered down, fat for rush lights and
glue to mend pots and fix spearheads in place.

So Santa is an old man dressed in red who comes out of the dark forest of the North on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. It is significant then that the shamans hunted the reindeer, ran with them in spirit Corm, drew their shapes on rocks with red ochre as a means of capturing them, even saw them as a symbol of the newly born sun of Midwinter. A wonderful modern poem speaks of the hunting of spirit deer, who, impervious to the hunter’s arrows, were a symbolic reference point for hunting the real creatures:

A red deer comes over the hill,
Shoot your arrows as you will,
The deer will stand there still!

Alison Mcleay: Solstice

The Shaman in the Tree

Consider the image of the shaman climbing down through the smoke hole of a skin tent with bells jingling, bearing in his hands a red painted wooden reindeer. The shamans saw to it that the sun returned from that point when, at the very edge of the horizon, it dipped and, for a moment, was gone. Then, summoned by the ancient language of the elements, it returned. Sun images were hung on a tree, that also formed the central pole of the tent and represented the axis of the world, the connection which leads to the heavens the final destination of the shaman who was, indeed, the midwife of the sun.

Imagine some of the questions asked of the shaman. As Alison Mcleay put it in her wonderful evocation of the Solstice in a radio broadcast she made in 1985:

Shaman, will the sun be reborn?
Will we have a good harvest?
Will we catch enough fish, will
there be enough meat to eat,
will the reindeer drop enough
offspring to keep us through another year?
What will the new year
bring for us, for me?
Tell us, shaman, make your
journey and bring us the
gifts of your seeing?
You are the bringer of gifts,
the protector, the magician,
the future is yours to see, the
gifts of the future and the past
—tell, us shaman, tell us.

Sacrifices were hung on the living tree: animals, birds, perhaps once even humans, such as Odin hanging on the windy tree of Yggdrasil to bring back the gifts of the runes. Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnyr may also be linked with Santa’s sleigh and its eight reindeer. And that song – next out of the sack:

0 the rising of the sun, and the running of
the deer, The playing of the merry organ,
sweet singing in the choir

The Holly and The Ivy

These are old images, stolen by a later time, and reflect two aspects married under the Solstice tree: the running deer who were the totem creatures of many different Northern tribal groups, and the singing of carols in the stone forests of the Christian world. The old ways were not wholly forgotten, not even after the coming of the Christ child, who brought the gifts of light and eternal life to the world, and who received gifts from the wandering wise men – the Magi of biblical and pre-biblical tradition. They too contribute to the image of Santa the gift bringer, and, as we have seen, there is more to them than meets the eye.

About John Matthews:
John Matthews is an international authority on Celtic folklore, the Western mystery tradition, and the Grail legends, and is one of the great culture-bearers of our times. He has written over forty books on the Arthurian legends, esoteric wisdom, and the Grail. His Quest Book “The Winter Solstice” won the Benjamin Franklin Award in 1998. With his wife and frequent coauthor Caitlin, John established the Foundation of Inspirational and Oracular Studies. To visit the author’s website, www.hallowquest.org.uk

Geek Month in Review: November 2011

By JB Sanders

Some interesting reading as the snow falls…

Stars over Crater Lake
Another amazing time-lapse video of the star-scape over Crater Lake. Watch for the vault of the heavens view reflected in the smooth surface of the lake about 2/3 of the way into the video. And for the photography geeks out there, details on equipment used at the end of the video.

They Might Be Giants Slashdot Interview
There’s a lot of Geek in this link: pre-eminent indie-rockers They Might Be Giants, Slashdot and Science! For those who might need a reminder, They Might Be Giants are an odd-ball rock band from way back in the 80’s who gave us such songs as “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”, “Particle Man”, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, and “Boss of Me” (better known as the theme song of the TV show “Malcom in the Middle”). So why are they Geeky (capital G)? Because these guys are HUGE geeks. They used USENET groups in 1992 to send notices to their fans about upcoming gigs. They created Dial-a-Song, basically an answering machine people could call to listen to their new music (and some fake ads). They created one of the first artist-owned online music stores, selling MP3s directly to fans before most record companies knew about this Internet thing. I could go on.

This is a Good Sign
More and more kids are getting into the Maker Movement — which is basically Mad Scientist Training Camp, as far as I can see. There are more kids getting into creating things, buying circuit boards and soldering them together, for instance, or making their own marshmallow cannons. Great trend!

Electric-powered Multi-copter Manned Flight
Some German scientists/hobbyists built and flew the first manned multi-copter. What’s a multi-copter, you say? It’s a vehicle that produces lift (and flight) via multiple helicopter-like rotors. It’s like a hovercraft that flies. Watch the video to see what I mean. Interestingly, this is all done via electric motors. The folks behind it estimate that a one hour flight on the final device would cost about 6 euros of electricity to run.

Extreme Light Infrastructure
Or ELI for short! Scientists want to build a laser to “rip a hole in space-time”. Yeah, it’s another start to a scifi movie. To do this, they want to concentrate 10 lasers wielding 200 petawatts of power into one spot for a trillionth of a second. Fun!

Fake Mars Mission Returns from Fake Mars
Remember that Fake Mars Mission I mentioned a few Geek Reviews ago? Where they finally reached Fake Mars? No? Here’s the link:

Well, the Fake Mars crew is back from Fake Mars. It appears to have been a great success. No murders, for instance. When you consider that 6 guys just spent 520 days in the same space as a bus, stabbing a guy for taking the last pudding cup doesn’t seem that out there. The other great success was that they didn’t leave their fake spacecraft, even though they could at any time — so it’s at least more successful than the Bio-Dome (1 or 2).

288,000 Jelly Beans, One Singer and a Stop-Motion Camera
How to make a music video that’s both simple and amazingly artful. I never imagined that jelly beans could also do surreal sound-scapes, too. The link includes the video, and a behind-the-scenes look at how it was all done. One shocking factoid from the behind-the-scenes video: no green screen was used. The singer lay on top of a glass case over the jelly beans to make the video. Yeah.

3D Volumetric Projection
This is the very early steps towards those cool scifi holograms we’ve seen for 40 years in the theater — only for real! Right now they’re limited to just 10 rotational voxels, but the prof working on it hopes to use over 100 projectors (small ones, I’m guessing) to provide real, crisp resolution.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijOK_hb18kE

Global Village Construction Set
This group has created and posted the plans for 50 different industrial machines that they consider crucial for a “small civilization with modern comforts”. It includes a 3D printer, and the ability to build a very modern village.

Video Time Machine
Pick a year, and watch what comes up on the screen. It’s a giant archive of the video culture, organized by year, and randomized for your amusement. Sports clips, commercials, video games, news casts, movies, and music.

It’s a Polaroid! Sort-of
So there’s this camera that gives you an immediate print of what you photographed? Sound familiar? Like 1948 all over again? Well, it’s not. The same company that brought you the instant film camera now is coming out with a digital camera (14MP) that’s tied to an instant printer in the same unit. I’m not sure if this is a genius move or using new technology to do something old-fashioned.

Darwin and Human Emotions
Did you know that Darwin conducted an experiment (over 150 years ago) to see whether the facial expressions of human emotions were recognized or used the same regardless of cultural background. He did! They do! And now there’s an international experiment being conducted to further study this effect, only involving as many people as can get to the online website and take the test.

An Airship That Goes Anywhere
I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, but this is the first real video of a working prototype I’ve seen. This company makes what’s called a Hybrid Airship — the hybrid part is because it’s a little like a plane, a helicopter and a regular (helium-filled, thank you) airship. It can take off and land without the need of a runway (or even land, if you’ve got the water-gear on). It can stay aloft for up to 3 weeks at a time (yes WEEKS), and the full version will be 1000 feet long and be able to carry over 1000 tons. I mean, wow! Sure, you’ve heard that all before. How serious is this? The US military has bought a few.

Acoustic Ruler Using iPhone
This is kind of wild. This guy made an iPhone app that measures distance just using acoustics. It has two modes: two phones or 1 (w/headphones). You put one iPhone where you want to measure to, and the first phone where you want to measure from, they play some tones and calculate the difference. Or the same using the headphones.

Amazing Fly-over of Earth
From the International Space Station. For best results, put on HD, full-screen it, and turn up the volume on the trippy musical score.

Raise the Ice Shields!
The capital city of Mongolia, Ulan Bator, is planning on creating artificial glaciers that will very slowly melt over the course of the summer to help cool the city. Read about how they plan on doing that:

Ghost Mountains Explained
And before you get up on your high-horse about silly paranormal photos and PhotoShop, hush. These are mountains in Antarctica, buried under 4 km of ice. Scientists have finally figured out how mountains exist where everyone thought it was just a barren flat wasteland of ice. The article includes a link to an animated explanation.

New Maps of the Moon
Higher resolution topographic maps of the moon are now available, including false-color images showing detail up to 100 meters.

Giant Robot Snake
Designers have created a giant robot snake 35 feet long (because THAT was necessary), and even better, it’s based on a 50-foot long prehistoric serpent. Watch the video so you can see the very realistic movement of the giant robot snake, and also the guy in the spider-leg car (no, I’m not kidding).

Computer Legends First Computers
Speaking of giants, this article asks several giants of the computer age about their first computer experiences. See what Vint Cerf, William Gibson and others remember.

Building the World’s Largest Tesla Coils
Or how to do man-made lightning. By “world’s largest”, they mean tesla coils 10 stories tall, and 260 feet apart. Yes, there is a video.

The 2,100-Year-Old Wrist Watch
Remember the Antikythera mechanism? So last century, right? Well how about this wrist-watch version? Watchmaker’s Hublot have put together a concept piece that replicates the Antikythera’s inner workings in miniature, with a handy time-keeping circuit to show you the time, too. It can accurately show the motions of the 5 planetary objects the Greeks knew about 2200 years ago and predict eclipses. Full video from the watchmaker’s detailing their work.

Worlds lightest material
Remember aerogel? The stuff that’s super-light and non-conductive? Weighs almost nothing? So last century.

They’re Just Cake Sprinkles
Ever wonder how many cake sprinkles you’d need to make a photo-realistic mosaic? About 221,184.

Flying Robots Build Tower
I know, it sounds soooo 2236, but really, it’s happening today.

Earthscraper Concept Taking Off
Yes, that’s “earth scraper” as opposed to skyscraper. The idea is to build down (which has happened before). In this case, the idea is to build down BIG. Like arcology big.

Not sure what an arcology is? Try this:

Miniatur Wunderland
Think you have a nifty model train set? Think you’ve seen some great miniature setups? Think again. Let’s try 12,000 meters of track (yes, that’s 12 km), 200,000 human figurines or 300,000 lights.


Those pesky time travelers, always trying “fix” things. This guy was caught outside the Large Hadron Collider and admitted to sabotage, claiming to be from the future and intent on stopping it from discovering things and destroying the world.

The priceless quote from the article? “Mr Cole was taken to a secure mental health facility in Geneva but later disappeared from his cell. Police are baffled, but not that bothered.”

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

Sounds Like Winter

By Marcy Lovitch

Not really “feeling it” this holiday season? Tired of hearing the same old Christmas music wherever you go? Worry not. There’s actually a plethora of wintry and non-denominational treasures that you haven’t heard a million times on Muzac at the mall.

Pop/Rock

Being single at the holidays can be a drag, especially when it’s not by choice. You can take solace in the 80s’ sounding ballad, “Early Winter” by Gwen Stefani,from her 2006 solo album “The Sweet Escape”. It examines lost love as autumn fades into the colder, darker days of winter. On the other hand, if you did the dumping, then assuage your guilt with Taylor Swift, exploring regret, apology and the pain of leaving a relationship in “Back to December”.

Beloved rock songstresses who evoke the contemplative mood of the cold season include Tori Amos with her reflective “Winter,” a beautiful ballad on solo piano with Tori’s soulful lyrics (“Little Earthquakes”, 1992). Equally cool is Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong” album featuring 12 tracks about wintertime including a the glistening gems “Wintersong,” “Song for a Winter’s Night” and a cover of the Joni Mitchell classic, “River.”

Ambient Instrumental

If you’d rather chill without lyrics, there are plenty of ambient, new age and solo piano albums to explore. Grab a cup of hot cocoa, a cozy blanket and the beautiful piano solos from Michele de Wilton new release, “Snow Angel”. Tracks like “Snowfall,” “In the Bleak MidWinter” “WinterBlueGreen,” and the story of The Ice Maiden in “Waltz for Gerda and Kay,” will transport you into a winter wonderland for the soul.

Award winning artist and extraordinary voice Seay offers with “A Winter Blessing: Songs for the Season”, a festive, seasonal album celebrating all things winter and the holidays. Filled with Seay’s spectacular vocals, your heart will be filled with magic, love and light.

Beloved international concert pianist Danny Wright offers an evergreen favorite with “An Intimate Christmas”, bursting with both traditional carols and original compositions written for people whose stories moved him to create. If loneliness is what ails you, this album wraps its metaphorical arms around you and brings a quiet solace.

Windham Hill Records’ Winter’s Solstice collections (there are six volumes) offer relaxing instrumental selections from various Ambient, New Age and Jazz artists. Pianists George Winston, Liz Story and guitarist William Ackerman are just a few contributors to this mood-setting music series. It’s the perfect background accompaniment while curled up in front of a fire.

Retro classics

Once you’ve rocked and lulled through the selections above, perhaps you’ll be ready to get back out there in the spirit of the season. Consider revisiting a few of these old faves; so many artists have covered these songs that you can pick and choose your favorite versions.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside,” a pop standard by Broadway and Hollywood composer Frank Loesser never fails to get you in a snuggly, romantic state of mind. Some notable versions include the duet with Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong; the Bette Midler version (joined by James Caan) from the 1991 film, “For the Boys”, and the pairing of James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

Another timeless standard “Let It Snow” gets a big band-y, jazzy treatment from crooner Michael Bublé. Diana Krall gives the tune a more intimate treatment. For something even slower and more low key, check out John Legend’s cut of the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song.

“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” by Irving Berlin has been sung by some of the best in the business: Billie Holliday, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra, among others. Canadian songstress Lily Frost delivers a stylized, cabaret style version off of her album, “Lily Swings”. But perhaps the best of all is Rat Packer, King of Cool, Dean Martin’s swingy, smooth as silk recording….just press play on that one, and — in no time at all — you’ll be wanting to drag your sweetie – or some lucky stranger – over to the mistletoe.

About Marcy Lovitch:
Marcy Lovitch is a New York-based freelance writer; she is not crazy about Christmas music. She’s a contributor at: http://hiltonshead.blogspot.com/