Monday, February 20, 2017

Heribert von Feilitzsch on Dr. Arnold Krumm-Heller and the Mexican Revolution, Plus a Note on "El Tatwametro"

One hundred years and counting since the explosion of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, treasures are still being pulled out of the dust of various archives, and narratives refashioned accordingly. The latest contribution should spark the interest of anyone who ponders the whys, wherefores and eye-crossing chaos of that tumult-- and the history of German-Mexican relations and of metaphysical religion: The essay by Heribert von Feiltzsch entitled "Medical Doctor, Occultist, Revolutionary, Spy: Arnold Krumm-Heller and the Mexican Revolution," which is included in the anthology edited by Roberto Cantú, Equestrian Rebels: Critical Perspectives on Mariano Azuela and the Novel of the Mexican Revolution (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016).

Little known as he may be at present, Dr. Krumm-Heller was a key figure in the Mexican Revolution, and in particular, for his role in the defeat of Pancho Villa. Why then have historians, with counted few exceptions, tended to overlook him? I would wager that it could be for one or more of three reasons: (1) lack of archival resources about Krumm-Heller and/or lack of access to those in German; (2) resistance to reconsidering enduring paradigms of the revolution; (3) resistance to considering the occult / metaphysical religion and

anyone connected with it. Indeed, Dr. Krumm-Heller, aka "Maestro Huiracocha," was a flamboyant enthusiast and a prolific author of esoterica, a Spiritist, a Mason, a Theosophist, and a leading figure in 20th century Rosicrucianism and the Ordo Templi Orientis.

For many historians, alas, it has been easier to dismiss such ideas and movements than to dig in and attempt to come to a broader understanding of their nature and context. I know from first-hand experience how challenging this can be: for my book on Manual espírita of 1911, the secret book by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, Francisco I. Madero, I had to read through a Himalaya of works that were at times for me--as I surmise they would be for most researchers of the Mexican Revolution-- discomfiting in the extreme. (I discuss this challenge at some length in my review of Strieber and Kripal's Super Natural.)

In his detailed and well documented article, von Feilitzsch has made a vital contribution not only to the literature on the Mexican Revolution but also to German-Mexican relations and the history of metaphysical religion. Those interested in the latter subject will recognize names of Dr. Krumm-Heller's teachers and mentors, among them, Madame Blavatsky, Papus, Franz Hartmann, and Rudolph Steiner. 

I am honored that von Feilitzsch cited my work on Madero's Spiritism, as well as some of my correspondence speculating about Madero's attitude towards Theosophy and the nature of Madero's relationship with Dr. Krumm-Heller. 

One thing that jumped out as new to me was von Feilitzsch's mention that Krumm-Heller "had his first training in esotericism through the French spiritist León Denis." Denis was one of the leaders of the Spiritist movement after Allan Kardec. Francisco I. Madero and his father, Francisco Madero, were the sponsors of the Spanish translation of Denis's book, Après la Mort (After Death). Since some historians erroneously claim that that translation was never published, I made this little video showing my copy of that title, Después de la muerte, which was indeed published in 1906. 

Related posts of interest:

>> Professor Roberto Cantú

>> Heribert von Feilitzsch's webpage and Mexican Revolution blog.

>> von Feilitzsch: "A Decision with Grave Consequences: Arnold Krumm-Heller and the Demise of Pancho Villa"

>> My review for Literal of von Feilitzsch's In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908-1914 (which mentions Dr Krumm-Heller)

>> Some of my blog posts on Dr Krumm-Heller:

More About the Mysterious Dr. Krumm-Heller and His Book Fur Freiheit und Recht (For Freedom and Justice)
Del Incienso a la Osmoterapia (From Incense to Osmoptherapy) by Arnoldo Krumm-Heller
Arnold Krumm-Heller (1876-1949) and Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913): Some Notes on Sources


Dr. Krumm-Heller prepared the draft of El Tatwametro in 1911-- when he was in Mexico with Madero-- although he did not publish it until 1926. The photos shown here are of my copy, a first edition from Barcelona. 

Here is my translation of the opening page:

By Dr. Krumm-Heller

Upon receiving my initiation, my guru gave me detailed instructions about the tatwas and the tatwameter, but I was never able to find a way to publish them. Around the year 1912 in Mexico I read an article about this matter, by my friend Brandler-Pracht* of Berlin, and then I wrote a 
pamphlet about the practical application of the tatwas.

Five years later in Berlin we had some occult experiences together and Brandler-Pracht told me that he had published a larger work on this same subject. 

I have not been able to find a copy of of the latest edition, but it is likely that my book and Brandler-Pracht's are very similar, since they are based on material from the same source. At the end of this work there is something by that author.

But, what is tatwa?

It is the name the Hindus give to powers that are as mysterious as they are powerful.

For us westerners tatwas is the vibration of the ether.

*Karl Brandler-Pracht was the author of several works on the occult. The German National Library (Deutsche National Bibliotek) has a catalog of his books here. The book he wrote on the tatwas is Tattwische und astrale Einflüsse: ein Schlüssel zur prakischen Verwendung der it dem menschlichen Leben enverbundenen kosmischen Schwingungen, wodurch jedermann sein Geschick günstig beeinflussen kannHere's my rough go at translating that mouthful: The Tatwas and Astral Influences: A Key to the Practical Use of the Cosmic Vibrations that are Intimately Connected to Human Life, Whereby Everone Can Influence Their Fate Favorably. As far as I can ascertain it was originally published in 1924.

+ + + + + +

For those of you wondering what's up with my Far West Texas book and Marfa Mondays Podcasts, bless y'all, and stay tuned. Meanwhile, I invite you to listen in anytime to the 20 podcasts posted to date. The 21st podcast, an essay, has required a heap more background reading than I bargained for... To give you an idea of the complexity, should that be your cup of buffalo blood, check out my review of Hamalainen's The Comanche Empire.


Monday, February 13, 2017


Mexico has been very much on my mind these past days because I have been working on some translations of works by Mexican writers Agustín Cadena and Rose Mary Salum... more news about those soon... and also (not entirely a digression from the book in-progress about Far West Texas) I have been working on an essay about books in Mexico tentatively titled "Dispatch from the Sister Republic." A brief excerpt from that as yet unpublished essay:
The Dresden Codex was water-damaged in the firebombings of World War II. Fortunately for us, around 1825, a facsimile had been made by the Italian artist Agostino Aglio, commissioned by the Irish peer Edward King, Lord Kingsborough—the latter a believer in the theory, to become an article of faith for the Mormons, that the Mesoamericans were descendants of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Aglio’s facsimile is included in Kingsborough’s colossal multi-volume Antiquities of Mexico. And when I say “colossal” I do not exaggerate. In those days before photography, Lord Kingsborough sent Aglio all over Europe, to the Vatican Library, the royal libraries of Berlin, Dresden, and Paris, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford, among many others, to copy their Mexican codices, painstakingly tracing the elaborate diagrams and glyphics, and then coloring them in. Aglio also made paintings of Mexican sculptures and other artifacts in European collections. The whole project, from making the fascimiles to the state-of-the-art color printing and luxury binding, was at once a visionary contribution to world culture and an extravagance beyond folly. It could be said that Antiquities of Mexico killed Lord Kingsborough; having exhausted his liquidity before paying for the paper, he was imprisoned in Dublin, where he contracted typhoid.*
 Lord Kingsborough never made it to Mexico, but it was in Mexico City, on a tour of the Biblioteca Vasconcelos, that I saw one of those volumes of Antiquities of Mexico up close. That particular volume was part of the personal library, then recently acquired, of Carlos Monsiváis, one of Mexico’s most esteemed journalists and leftist social critics, who died in 2010. I could not tell you which volume of Antiquities of Mexico it was nor why nor how it was separated from its fellow volumes in its set, nor why nor how Monsiváis, famous for his witty musings on Mexican popular culture, had acquired it.
The librarian, wearing white gloves, strained to lift the volume off its shelf. Bound in navy-blue Morrocco leather, it was the size of a small suitcase. With the grimace of a weight-lifter, he slowly lowered it onto the table. He levered up the cover, then turned a couple of the pages. The colors of the prints of Aglio’s paintings of the leaves from a codex— red, yellow, turquoise, ochre— were as bright as if painted that morning. 
I later learned that that single volume weighed some 65 pounds.

*Sylvia D. Whitmore, "Lord Kingsborough and His Contribution to Ancient Mesoamerican Scholarship: The Antiquities of Mexico," The PARI Journal, Spring, 2009 

>> Read more about the Antiquities of Mexico at Dorothy Sloan-Rare Books, a description of a set that was auctioned for USD 61, 625.

>> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Texas Institute of Letters

I am honored to announce that I have been elected to the Texas Institute of Letters. Herewith the announcement on the TIL websitenew members for 2017 include a batch of very accomplished writers. On the website, whoo hoo, there's my name next to Larry McMurtry's! And there are Cormac McCarthy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sergio Troncoso... it's a long list. 

Funny, Larry McMurtry has been on my mind of late because first, after I caught the bug for an Hermes 3000 typewriter,  I found out that he used (uses?) one; second, for an essay I'm writing about books I read his memoir, Books— an experience I would liken to the perfect BLT on the perfect afternoon. 

What's my connection with Texas? I was born in El Paso, and I am writing about that in a book in-progress on Far West Texas. Culturally I would describe myself as pre-Silicon Valley (I grew up there, but left before it became what it is today) and with the overlay of Chilangolandia, that is, Mexico City, where I have lived for most of my life. 

>> About that book in-progress on Far West Texas: Listen in any time to the podcasts apropos of this project here. Twenty podcasts have been posted to date; I will do 4 more to round it off at 24 podcasts. Stay tuned. The ridiculously delayed podcast about my visit to Bracketville is taking shape....

In case you missed them, here are a few of my Far West Texas podcasts:

Listen here.

Listen here.

Listen here.

Listen here.

And a few of my recent book reviews on Texas topics:

The Comanche Empire
by Pekka Hämäläinen
Reviewed for Madam Mayo blog

Nut Country: Right-wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy
by Edward H. Miller
Reviewed for Washington Independent Review of Books

The Pecan: A History of America's Native Nut 
by James McWilliams
Reviewed for Madam Mayo blog

Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America
by Richard Parker
For Madam Mayo blog

> All book reviews here.

P.S. If you're in the Washington DC area and find this of interest, I will be teaching a one day only workshop on literary travel writing at the Writer's Center on Saturday April 22 10 AM to 1 PM in Bethesda. More info about that workshop here.

>> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The vast stretches of the Texas-Mexico border region enfold some unusual cultural niches. The mediumnistic healer El Niño Fidencio, who died in northern Mexico in 1938, and his followers, the fidencistas, are unquestionably among the most intriguing of subjects for a history and an enthnography, and with El Niño Fidencio and the Fidencistas: Folk Religion in the US-Mexico Borderland, anthropologist Antonio Noé Zavaleta has just published precisely that.

Zavaleta's El Niño Fidencio and the Fidencistas crossed my radar because I did a fair amount of reading on this very subject, including Zavaleta's fascinating book with curandero Alberto Salinas Jr., Curandero Conversations, when I was writing my book on the "secret book," Spiritist Manual of 1911, by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, Francisco I. Madero.

(See my 2013 blog post on Niño Fidencio.)

I cannot say for sure, but I doubt that Niño Fidencio and Madero met. Niño Fidencio did not consider himself a Spiritist, and when Madero died in the coup d'etat that ended his presidency in 1913, Fidencio was still a teenaged worker on a remote ranch. 

But there is an intermediating figure who appears multiple times in Zavaleta's new book: Teodoro von Wernich, a wealthy hacendado of northern Mexico, personality in the San Antonio Texas Spiritist scene, friend and supporter of Francisco I. Madero, and employer, patient of, and mentor to his worker José Fidencio Sintoro Constantino, the boy who became the folk saint revered on both sides of the border as "El Niño Fidencio." 

(Researchers take note: With Teodoro von Wernich and his circle there may be rich lodes still to mine, and in archives on both sides of the border.) 

In sum, Zavaleta's latest is a must-read for anyone interested in Niño Fidencio, shamanism, and the cross-border cultures of northern Mexico and South Texas. 

More anon.

> Your comments are always and ever most welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Visit to El Paso's "The Equestrian"

This finds me working on the book on Far West Texas, and about to resume the Marfa Mondays podcasts (20 podcasts posted so far, 4 more to go, listen in anytime). I just posted a brief video of my visit last November to see, among other wonders and curiosities, a most extraordinary and controversial statue at the El Paso International Airport. 

Because of the way it is placed, directly behind a grove of extra-fluffy trees, and at the entrance where most drivers, speeding in, are on the lookout for signs, such as rental car return, departures, arrivals or parking, I daresay few passersby would even notice the statue. I myself drove by it more times that I would like to admit before I realized it was there.

Here's my 3 minute video:

My video mentions "The Last Conquistador," a magnificent documentary about this statue and the controversy. Watch the trailer:

POV Interactive offers the first clip of "The Last Conquistador" documentary:

For "Behind the Lens POV PBS"
Cristina Ibarra and John Valadez Talk about the Juan de Oñate Sculpture:

I'll give the sculptor, John Sherrill Houser, the last word, quoting him from the documentary:

"Here it is, look at this and think about it, good and bad, the whole thing. The history."

> Your comments are ever and always most welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Biographers International Interview: A Strange Spark of the Mexican Revolution

I'm the featured member interview this month in the Biographers International newsletter. Herewith:

BIOGRAPHERS INTERNATIONAL: What is your current project and at what stage is it?

C.M. MAYO: I'm at work on World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas, not a biography properly so-called, but the narrative weaves in some history and so encompasses a number of biographical vignettes from Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the conquistador who got lost, to some of the contemporary artists working in Marfa. Stage: still banging out the first complete draft. 

My latest publication, however, is about a major figure of the Mexican Revolution, and that certainly informs the Far West Texas book, for some of the key battles were fought along the US-Mexico border: Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. 

Madero was the leader of Mexico’s 1910 Revolution and President of  Mexico from 1911-1913, so the fact that he was a Spiritist medium and, albeit under a pseudonym, author of a book of Spiritism published in—yes—1911, is a dramatic twist in the paradigm of how we understand the spark of the Mexican Revolution. 

My book, which includes my translation of Madero’s book, was published in 2014, so I am well into the promotion stage. (I’m delighted to report that Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution won the National Indie Excellence Award for History, and to date, I've given talks about it at Mexico City’s Centro de Estudios de la Historia de México, Rice University, Stanford University, UCSD’s Center for US-Mexico Studies, and the University of Texas El Paso, among other venues.)

> Listen to and/or read some of my talks about this book here.

BI: What person would you most like to write about?

C.M. MAYO: At the moment, because I'm writing about Far West Texas, pioneer petroleum geologist Wallace E. Pratt. I am especially intrigued that he would choose to live for many years in a such an isolated place as McKittrick Canyon, deep in the Guadalupe Mountains. It is, in large part, thanks to Pratt's visionary gift that we now have the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I am very honored to say that I will be one of the artists-in-residence in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park this spring, so I will have the chance to retrace his steps and visit his house.

BI: Who is your favorite biographer or what is your favorite biography?

C.M. MAYO: As far as my Far West Texas reading goes, I both admired and especially relished the biography of the 20th century bard of Texas, J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind, by Stephen L. Davis. Many of the popular ideas we take for granted about Texas and Texans have their roots in Dobie's works. 

My two all-time favorite biographies are Nancy Marie Brown’s The Far-Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman and Paula Kamen’s Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind.

BI: What have been your most satisfying moments as a biographer?

[[ Visit this book's webpage ]]
C.M. MAYO: I'll answer this for my book on Francisco I. Madero, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution. After many years of reading and archival research, it was tremendously satisfying to be able to fit together the pieces of what had been a humdinger of a puzzle—how could Madero be rifle-toting revolutionary and a Spiritist, a savvy political organizer and victim of a coup d’etat?— into a narrative of high strangeness but relative sense. Suddenly Mexico itself looked very different.

BI: One research/marketing/attitudinal tip to share?

C.M. MAYO: As a biographer I have only published the one title, however, I have published several other works of fiction and  nonfiction, so I do have more than a little  experience about this perennially mystifying and consternating topic. 

My short answer is three words: sports psychology helps.

My long answer is: take consistent resilient actions, answer the email that deserves an answer, write an op-ed if you can, and be generous (what goes around comes around, albeit willynilly). The true reward is in the writing itself. It is a wondrous privilege to be able to write at all. Don't ignore the "publishing business," but don't take it too seriously, either. Books can have deeply strange destinies. After all, they are magical time travelers.

BI: What genre, besides biography, do you read for pleasure and who are some of your favorite writers?

C.M. MAYO: I mainly read history, literary essay, and literary fiction. Just this year I've come across several historians who are my new favorites: Patricia Nelson Limerick (The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West); Jill Lepore (The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origin of American Identity); and Rebecca Solnit (River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West). 

For literary essay I remain in awe of V.S. Naipaul, in particular, his memoir published in 1989, A Turn in the South. This year I especially admired Shelley Armitage's Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place and, last year, one of my favorite writers writing on Mexico, Sam Quinones, brought out Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic— a grenade of a book, a must read for anyone and everyone living anywhere in North America.

Fiction: Agustín Cadena, Truman Capote, Willa Cather, Anton Chekhov, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Ann Patchett, Leo Tolstoy, Edith Wharton. 

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Typosphere, Ho! "Stay West" on My 1961 Hermes 3000

[[ My first attempt at typing on a typewriter in nearly thirty years ]]

[[ My writing assistant denies any and all responsibility for slipshod typing 
or head-scratching sushi poetry. ]]


My refurbished 1961 Hermes 3000 typewriter has arrived in Mexico City. Typewriter Techs, the Riverside, Illinois company that refurbished it, shipped it to California in a box so well padded it could have survived a Mars landing; having discarded the packing materials and box, I then grew some new biceps carrying it on board my flight home. I'd say it weighs about the same as a wet brick. It was a loooooong way from the security screening area to the gate. Jack LaLanne, watch out.

[[ No, not the French scarf company. 
This Hermes was of Swiss manufacture of yore. ]]
The color is just as I had hoped, a foamy celadon (although it looks gray in this photo too strong a flash). 


I'm old enough to have had nearly two decades of experience with typewriters, both manual and electric, before I started using a computer in the late 1980s. It was an eerie experience to type on a typewriter again... like time traveling. 

My first attempts at typing on this antique were clumsy, since I am, as are we all, so used to letting fingertips fly over a laptop's keys and making scads of corrections en medias res and whatever whenever wherever and with the benefit of, after penicillin and sliced bread, the bestest thing ever invented: CNTRL Z! 

But I like the deliberateness of typing on a manual typewriter the goose-stepping linearity of it. That is the whole point, for me as a writer now. (Why? See my previous post, Consider the Typewriter. Am I kidding? No, I am not kidding.)

Madam Mayo says, The Anti-Digital Revolution will be Youtubed! 
And blogged! And, when I get around to it, tweeted!
Git yer iron-knee right here, on a spatula!
But seriously, check out this fine trailer for philosopher Richard Polt's 
excellent and thought-provoking resource The Typewriter Revolution


I chose the Hermes 3000 because of Richard Polt's recommendation in The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist's Companion for the 21st Century:

"The 3000 model is a Swiss segment-shifted typewriter with excellent alignment, smooth carriage return, and quality manufacturing, introduced in the fifties. You’ll find it in a wonderfully bulbous body, painted in a color that some call “sea-foam green”... Not the very fastest or snappiest typewriter, but “buttery” in its smoothness, as fans like to say... Users include Larry McMurtry, Sam Shepard, Eugene Ionesco, and Stephen Fry."
A tip of the Stetson to my fellow Texan Mr. McMurtry. As for Monsieur Ionesco, voila l'entrevue:

[[ Watch the interview with English subtitles here
No, alas, Ionesco's Hermes 3000 does not make an appearance.
Mais nous pouvons utiliser notre imagination. ]]

[[ My 1961 Hermes 3000  arrived in its original carrying case,
along with, LOL, total yay, a packet of jellybeans!! ]]

[[ Under the jellybeans, a message from Typewriter Techs. ]]
[[ The original 1961 Hermes 3000 instruction manual 
(Ha! Will those websites and YouTube videos still be available 
and playable in 55 years?! You reeeeeeeeeally think so...?) ]]

[[ The warranty, yay, from Typewriter Techs. ]]


Although we now inhabit a consumersphere rife with such exploitative poppycock as single-serve Nespresso
 capsules... it is nonetheless easy-peasy to find typewriter ribbons that work for multitudinous models and makes of typewriters. I knew that from reading Polt's The Typewriter Revolution, and a quick Google. Furthermore, Typewriter Techs included this with their shipment:

In case you cannot read the image and/or your brain, like mine, goes into blur mode WITH ANYTHING WRITTEN PLEASEGODWHY ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS, it says:

"In the 1950s ribbon sales topped 50 million annually, they were the toner of their day. But unlike toner most typewriters will take the same ribbons. There are several direct replacement ribbons available for most machines. If you cannot find one, don't panic. The ribbon itself is identical, only the spool changes. We recommend you purchase the genetic black., or black and red ribbon and rewind it onto your current spools. This is the least expensive and guarantees a correct fit. You can also contact us we stock a large variety if replacement ribbons.
"Cloth ribbons will hold more ink than nylon. Cotton will soak up the ink, nylon it just lays on top of it. A typical ribbon should last about 900,000 characters or about 180,000 words... That's around 500 pages. A good quality ribbon will transfer the ink without leaving excessive ink on the type bars or pages. If the entire type slug is covered in blue, it's probably not a good ribbon to use again. Black only ribbons can be turned upside down and doubled in life."


A related and most felicitous purchase was the Jackalope typewriter pad. Definitely it cuts the noise.

[[ The typewriter pad. Land o' Goshen,
why didn't I use one of these before?! ]]


[[ My writing assistant remains confused yet pugfully blasé. ]]

A most thoughtful holiday gift from my sister's dog (yes, in our family the dogs give presents): this yardage of neat-o typewriter fabric and I do like it draped over the Hermes, just so. Nope, I am not going to attempt anything on a sewing machine, the typewriter is my own personal Mount Everest for the moment. Must get typing. 

More anon.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.