The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses

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

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

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

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

Technological Brushes with Humanity

Excuse me while I step on JB Sanders toes and talk a little tech talk today. I assure you that my stuff is awesome, more awesome than the “Geek Month in Review”. (I didn’t mean it JB, please keep doing the “Geek Month in Review! Please?) Anyway…..

Google, with the help of Vizzuality, has put its technology to work to help experts in the field of language preservation like the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and The Institute for Language Information and Technology (The Linguist List) at Eastern Michigan University start the Endangered Languages Project.

Why does such a website need to exist? According to the site, “Experts estimate that only 50% of the languages that are alive today will be spoken by the year 2100. The disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information, comparable to the loss of a species. Tools for collaboration between the world communities, scholars, organizations and concerned individuals can make a difference.”

Not to get all website quote crazy but, “The Endangered Languages Project, is an online resource to record, access, and share samples of and research on endangered languages, as well as to share advice and best practices for those working to document or strengthen languages under threat.”

The website is mind blowing, I can’t wait to see what it’s like when it really gets going! The members of the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity that helped the site launch is already an exciting collective. When you explore the site you’re given a map of the world with dots on locations; green means the language there is at risk, yellow, endangered, red, severely endangered, and gray, vitality unknown. I went to Hawaii and had my mind blown to learn that the Endangered Languages Project estimates that there are only 1000 native speakers worldwide of Hawaiian.

Genuine screen shot! Shiny!

The page has video and audio samples of people speaking the language, and although no documentation has been added to the resources section yet, they helpfully show you relevant Google Books search results. Come on, Google did help put this thing together!

To learn more, and I encourage you to do so, visit the website at

Next up, and last up, June 20th was World Refugee Day and apparently the UNHCR (Also called the UN Refugee Agency, but most accurately should be called The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.) put together some real out of the box thinking for the occasion. They have launched the app game “My Life as a Refugee”. This app game recreates the fleeing refugee experience and according to the game’s website is based on the real life experiences reported to the UNHCR by refugees.

From the website, ” Every minute eight people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. If conflict threatened your family, what would you do? Stay and risk your lives? Or try to flee, and risk kidnap, rape or torture? For many refugees the choice is between the horrific or something worse. See if you’ve got what it takes to survive. Download ‘My Life as a Refugee’.”

Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m going to give them credit for some original thinking, and something to recreate the refugee experience is a powerful tool indeed. However, I can’t see myself downloading it. I mean, holy freakin’ downer Batman! I suspect that I’m not its intended audience though. From some of the press I’ve read, I’m getting a classroom vibe intention. And yet again I find myself going, holy schools full of terrified children Batman! (Seriously, you want to know the “holy Batman” thing I say the most in real life? Holy bed hopping hair hoes Batman! I said it once in junior high and apparently it has decided to never leave my brain. Never.)

If you’re interested in learning more about the refugee experience, making a donation to help the UNHCR, or downloading “My Life as a Refugee”, visit their website.

Ego Comes Home to a Break Up Letter

By John Ptacek

Dear Ego,

I’m breaking up with you.

No more circular discussions, no more eleventh hour recriminations. We’re through.

This is not an emotional decision. Actually, it doesn’t feel like a decision at all. We’ve been drifting apart for quite some time now, and more than anything I’m just acknowledging the distance between us. Whatever kept us together just isn’t there anymore.

It won’t do you any good to turn on the charm. Don’t bother trying to fill my head with thoughts about how great we are together or how lost I’ll be without you. You no longer have that kind of power over me. I see right through you now. I look, and there’s nothing there.

It took me a long time to figure you out. Like so many other unhappy couples I know, we drifted into our own little world and for the longest time I mistook it for reality. If you asked me to pinpoint the day this shift occurred, I couldn’t, because it happened so long ago. But I vaguely remember what life was like before I met you. Actually, it’s more a feeling than a memory. A feeling of freedom. Not a “I-have-a-whole-weekend-in-front-of-me-with-no-plans” kind of freedom, but something different altogether. It’s more a sense of spaciousness, the kind children must feel before their heads become filled with worldly nonsense, before their sense of wonder contracts, before they begin to imitate the behavior of the troubled souls around them.

I can feel that sense of spaciousness right now when I close my eyes and forget that I have a body. It’s like I’m not even a person anymore, I’m just this space that goes on forever.

I don’t expect any of this makes sense to you. It never has before. You always have to define things, slot them into categories. But this isn’t something that is easily explained. It’s beyond words– I know, I know, you hate it when I talk like this, when I challenge your black and white view of things. You always get really quiet.

In the old days I would have misinterpreted your silence. I would have felt wrong, even a little crazy, for expressing myself like this. Now that silence suggests something different. It suggests that I threaten you. Am I right? And your silnece tells me something else, something really important. It tells me that I’m perfectly capable of living on my own. When your voice dies away, my voice appears. It’s just there. It’s probably been there the whole the time, but you were always drowning it out. It’s a clear voice. A strong voice. I’m going to be just fine without you.

My friends think I’m crazy. They wonder what I’m going to do without you. They’ve seen what happens when we’re together, the crazy highs and lows, the bizarre behavior, but they still question my decision. This really throws me until I remind myself what it was like to live in an unhealthy relationship. You don’t know it’s unhealthy, and that’s the problem. You talk about happiness but you never never get to touch it. It’s something that’s supposed to happen in the future. Month after month, year after year, you think – it’ll get better, we’ll work this out. But it doesn’t get better. It can’t. Sick relationships like ours don’t get better, they just get sicker.

It’s a small world and no doubt we’ll be running into each other. I guess it’s more “see you around” then it is “goodbye”. At the right distance, we’ll be fine. I need to be far enough away from you to hear the sound of my own voice. I actually wouldn’t mind your company once in a while, like when I’m fixing the sink or packing for a trip. We get along pretty well in those instances. But this time around, you’ll need an invitation. You can’t just come barging in. You don’t live here anymore.

Pack up your things and leave your key on the table. When I come home later, all I want to hear is the sound of you being gone. I to melt into the silence. I want to lose track of where I begin and end, and this time I will do it with my eyes open. You said something once. You said I’m nothing without you. Remember? Well, you were right. I am nothing without you. Thank you for helping me discover this important truth.

Love always.

About John Ptacek:
My life has been enriched by the teachings of wise men and women, and my essays attempt to demystify these sometimes cryptic teachings so that more may be exposed to their wisdom. They appear on my website, On Second Thought, I live in Wisconsin with my wife, Kitty.

Midsummer Faerie Fest 2012

Well, this past Saturday I locked Jim in the driver’s seat and we made another trip out to Marlborough, NH. This time it was to attend the Midsummer Faerie Fest at Muse Gifts & Books featuring workshops from Raven and Stephanie Grimassi and Dawn Hunt of Cucina Aurora. At this point Jim and I are familiar enough with Marlborough to know to show up early enough for me to get an awesome, giant muffin and him a sandwich at Zeppelin & Kaleidoscope, and for me to have a little time to browse around Inkubus to see what’s new in stock for clothes and Mexican sugar skulls. However I didn’t have that much time to dilly dally because soon all the action was going to start over at Muse.

As always I was enchanted by Muse. Kevin and Cynthia maintain such a beautiful store that has such a great energy, and trust me, I’m the kind of person that hates it when people say that some place has a “good vibe” or a “great energy”, but seriously, Muse really does have a wonderful energy thanks to the people who run it and many of the people who frequent it. Despite being there for the event I managed to again drop some cash. I bought Jim another big restock of Cucina Aurora Rosemary Olive Oil, another Crystal Journey Candle like I bought the last time I visited, and even though I’m swimming in fantastic looking review copies of books, I couldn’t resist buying a copy of “The Gates of Witchcraft” by Christopher Penczak. Damn you Penczak! Come on Copper Cauldron, can’t you hook a sista’ up with some review copies?

(L to R) Kevin Satoris, Stephanie Grimassi, Dawn Hunt, Raven Grimassi

Let’s get this party started, first up were Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor with their workshop “Journey to the Faerie Grotto”. I had seen Raven speak before at Celebrate Samhain, but never before with Stephanie. I don’t know if it was the subject matter, the more intimate setting, or Stephanie chiming in from time to time, but this was the best Raven Grimassi presentation I’ve ever heard. You may have heard him speak at Celebrate Samhain and thought he was good, but trust me, this was better. So if you weren’t at Muse this past Saturday you…..missed……out. The first part of the workshop was background information, and the second half was a guided meditation. I have done a few guided meditations when attending events and I have to say I had the most success with this one. Raven’s style is very casual and forgiving, which I mean in a complimentary way. He doesn’t let you get too hung up on things and perhaps that’s why it worked well for me. He’s very encouraging and motivating. Did I mention how you missed out in a big way if you weren’t there?

Dawn Hunt making Sunshine Sandwiches

Just in case you weren’t feeling you missed out enough, it’s time to talk about Dawn Hunt’s turn. For those of you who aren’t aware, Dawn Hunt is a Kitchen Witch and the woman behind Cucina Aurora. Cucina Aurora just launched their new website AND moved into a new office/warehouse space! She’s going to be a Witchy Martha Stewart one day, so you should totally get in on the ground floor of this thing. Anyway, Dawn spent time talking about foods associated with fairies and foods found midsummer and where those overlap. Of course being a Kitchen Witch she also discussed the magical associations of those foods as well. As much fun as it is to listen to Dawn speak, it’s WAY more fun to get to eat what she’s talking about and she cooked up a TON of food for us all to try! We got to eat Mushroom Asparagus Risotto, Tomato Caprese (tomato and mozzarella salad), Mixed Berry Salad, Refreshing Watermelon Salad, Peach Shortcake, and Sunshine Sandwiches (grilled chicken, bacon, swiss cheese, avocado, tomato, lettuce, and herbed mayo, on grilled whole wheat bread).

It was enough food to keep me and Jim nice and full for our drive back home.

The Tarot Playbook

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I received my review copy of “The Tarot Playbook: 78 Novel Ways to Connect with Your Cards” by Lynda Cowles. All I knew was that I was hoping it wouldn’t take itself too seriously. I need not have worried because Cowles has created a whimsical relationship guide to steer you and the tarot deck, or decks, of your choosing to a life long partnership founded on mutual respect, trust, and happiness.

How does it work? By you and your deck working your way through the exercises outlined in the book. You’ll find yourself doing Taroga, which is yoga poses inspired by nine cards drawn from your deck, composing love poetry to court cards, purchasing gifts for your deck, and more! I think the author says it best:

You can’t help but get closer to your deck by trying the activities in this book. But if you’re really serious about this relationship and you want it to last forever – like those beautiful, romantic love affairs you see in the movies every day – you must commit yourself fully, with mind, body, and soul.

What happens when you finish a reading? Chances are you put your deck back in its box/bag/luxury custom-built cradle and go off to do something else. Think for a moment how that makes your deck feel. Would you like it if your friends only hung out with you when they wanted something from you? Even if you’re a professional reader who spends hours every day with your deck, you should still make the effort to spend quality time with it outside office hours. Make sure it knows you love it for who it is – not just what it can do for you.

Take it with you everywhere you go. But don’t just keep it in your bag or pocket – let it see the sights! Lay it on the passenger seat while you’re driving, or buy a special basket for it to sit in when you’re riding your bike. Talk to it about where you’re going and what you can see. Keep it by your side at work and when you go out with your three-dimensional friends for drinks or a bite to eat. Give it a spot on the sofa when you’re watching TV or – better yet – hold it in your hands so you can give it a loving shuffle every now and then. And when bedtime comes, don’t forget to kiss your deck good night. Tuck it under your pillow, safe and sound, and when you wake up in the morning, draw one card to ask it how it slept.

If all of this sounds like madness, you’re starting to get a feel for the contents of this book, wherein you’ll find plenty of irreverent, silly, and downright ridiculous things to do with your cards. But, in all seriousness, time spent with your deck is never time wasted. The most amazing readings can occur when Tarot reader and deck are totally in sync, and isn’t that, after all, what it’s all about?

“The Tarot Playbook” by Lynda Cowles is perfect for both the person new to tarot and the experienced reader. After all, what tarot deck owner wouldn’t want to know how to build a better relationship with their deck?

On the Subject of Tourism

Long time readers know that somehow I have developed a thing that has now been firmly stuck in my craw since 2008 regarding the state of affairs in Zimbabwe. At this point the documentation on the site is kind of out of control! We’ve got the very beginning here in 2008, then President Obama’s inauguration, the disappointing form post card, me pestering the United Nations, my attempt to make sense of it all, talking to Britain, and actually hearing back! It hadn’t really hit me until now that I have been endeavoring to follow Zimbabwean politics for close to/around 4 years now. Not the easiest thing to do considering how their President, Robert Mugabe, hates the press.

Anyway, there was a little bit of Zimbabwe news recently. It rubbed me the wrong way. In the grand scheme of things that get my knickers in a twist when thinking about Zimbabwe, this is nothing. I wasn’t sure I was going to bother sharing it on the site because honestly I couldn’t figure out exactly how to articulate my thoughts on it.

Then came Stephen Colbert to the rescue……

This isn’t the first time Colbert used his show to bring attention to Zimbabwe. In May 2009 I wrote a public thank you to him for the several previous times he mentioned Zimbabwe. If you go to that article you can watch those video clips too!

Just as an extra bit of Zimbabwe weirdness, the South African chicken fast food franchise Nando’s put together a short lived commercial featuring a look-a-like Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Seeing the company his character keeps should give you an idea of how much of the world views Mugabe.

“No one should ever have to eat alone.”

Geek Month in Review: May 2012

By JB Sanders

April showers bring …

Forgotten Bookmarks
So this guy works in his family’s used book store, and comes across the strangest things people have stuck in between the pages of the books. As the site puts it: “It’s happened to all of us: we’re reading a book, something interrupts us, and we grab the closest thing at hand to mark our spot. It could be a train ticket, a letter, an advertisement, a photograph, or a four-leaf clover.” Fun and weird site.

Underground Park
With sunlight! They pipe it in.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Still the Man
There’s a new exhibition of Leonardo’s anatomy drawings going up this week, and it led to discussions of how accurate those drawings are, 500 years later. The answer? Pretty damned accurate. As one professor of clinical anatomy put it: “Leonardo’s image is as accurate as anything that can be produced by scientific artists working today.” See comparisons of Leonardo’s drawings vs computer renderings of 3D CAT scans.

Cool Things to do With Sand
And a Kinect 3D camera and a projector. The setup uses the Kinect camera to detect the height of the sand, and then calculates and projects a topographic map right on the landscape. Plus you can add in virtual water features, as well. Worth the watch.

Testing Mars in an Ice Cave
An Austrian ice cave, to be specific. Scientists tested a variety of things, including walk-about suits, robots and 3D cameras.

Now That’s a Ring
So this guy, a man who should be inducted into the Geek Hall of Fame, forges his own wedding ring. Sure, that’s fine, you say, nice craft skills. The guy has a forge in his own garage, cool. Now, for the Hall of Fame part: he forges his own wedding ring — out of a meteorite.

Bionic Eye Powered by Light
Who needs those nuclear-powered bionic eyes? This one is powered by light! Extra-clever bit: natural light isn’t powerful enough to drive the eye, so they use “eyeglasses” as light-concentrators to boost the power.

Wi-Fi Blocking Wallpaper
So French researchers have come up with a wallpaper that, with conductive ink using silver crystals, blocks wi-fi and only wi-fi signals — cell phones and other radio waves are fine.

More info on the tech here:

2D Printed Loudspeakers
That’s right — not 3D, but 2D. Speakers which are printed using special inks onto paper. The uses are cool and terrifying (as with all good new scifi innovations): newspapers that shout at you, or wallpaper that plays soothing symphonic tunes. You want surround sound? How about the wallpaper IS your speakers?

Moon Throw
You have to be a real astronomy nut to blow $400 on a moonscape-themed throw blanket, but man, it does look really cool. (Tip o’the Hat to the Bad Astronomer for posting this link & photo.)

Monolithic LEGO iPhone Charger
Fan-made 2001: A Space Oddyssey diorama and iPhone charger. Yes.

What Friction?
Kid in Germany solves centuries-old problem posed by Isaac Newton, the one about figuring out the path of a projectile under the effects of gravity — including air resistance. Yup! No frictionless void for this kid.

Zombie-Proof Condos Sell Out
Yes, that’s the exact headline of this article. Isn’t that just exactly the headline you want to read? These former nuclear missile silos have been converted into luxury condos, with a pool, movie theater, library, fitness room and their own independent power (solar and wind!). For only $2M, they were a steal, too.

Be sure to poke around their website and see conceptual drawings, debris-cleaning photos and some of the amenities planned.

Ice Berg Flips
Not a sight you see every day, unless you live in the right places, I guess.

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:

Sneak Peek at “The Hobbit”

“The Hobbit Tarot” that is. Come on, stick around, the tarot is totally worth reading a few minutes more.

Now let’s get to the main event, “The Hobbit Tarot” by Peter Pracownik and Terry Donaldson. Readers may remember that all the way back in 2010 I was fortunate enough to review the “Imperial Dragon Oracle” that was done by Peter Pracownik and Andy Baggot. I spent some serious time lavishing praise on the art done by Peter Pracownik and mentioning that he did all the fantastic art for the collectible card game “Wyvern”. (You know, like I just mentioned here.) That trend of praise will continue.

Pracownik’s art is so enchanting that I had difficulty picking just a few cards that he illustrated to share. Believe me, it look serious work to narrow it down to five, which may be the most cards I’ve ever scanned to share for a tarot deck ever! I couldn’t help myself! Look at “The Sun”. What a beautiful, darling landscape.

The Sun

Or what about the battle scene depicted on “Judgment”? It looks like it is right out of an ancient book of tales. I mean, if you imagined opening up an old, weathered, leather bound book of ancient tales of yore, that’s absolutely the illustration you would expect to see. Am I right, or am I right?


Along those same lines, say hello to the “Knight of Swords”. He would be the hero in the before mentioned illustrated book of ancient tales.

Knight of Swords

Now you can’t have Pracownik do art for you without there being a dragon! Thankfully “The Hobbit” has one.

The Tower

My repeated commenting on how the artist could be illustrating a book of old tales leads me to believe that obviously this is why Pracownik is the perfect choice to do the art for “The Hobbit Tarot”. Tolkien’s work is essentially ancient tales.

Terry Donaldson drew on the rich mythology of “The Hobbit” when writing the accompanying booklet for “The Hobbit Tarot”. For instance “The Sun” isn’t just some random scene, here’s Donaldson’s thoughts on the card:

The road of life leads each of us through our respective Wilderlands. We see Mirkwood in the distance. The forest is where our Companions receive their initiations, teachings, and new skills; where they all become heroes of a sort, by confronting their fears and limitations. On the surface, everything looks so peaceful and welcoming. But we must be ready for the challenges and contradictions that life may throw at us as we move along the road that is our life journey!

Donaldson finds spiritual insight in “The Hobbit” that tarot lovers and Tolkien fans alike should appreciate.

Speaking of fans, I happen to love Wargs, the oversized wolves that appear in Tolkien’s work. So I couldn’t help sharing/boasting that there are two cards featuring Wargs in “The Hobbit Tarot”.

Seven of Wands

And just to prove I’m not a liar, here is a sneak peak at the movie “The Hobbit”.