Monday, December 30, 2013

William Curry Holden's Teresita, the Biography of Teresa Urrea, La Santa de Cabora

Rare book collecting update: Finally I got my hands on a first edition, a lovely one, autographed and with the dust jacket intact, of William Curry Holden's Teresita, illustrated by José Cisneros. First published in English in 1978, this is the first book-length biography of the Mexican folk saint and, as Holden details in his prologue, he and his wife Frances really did, and in the most extraordinary way, dig the story of her life out of obscurity, over many years interviewing hundreds of people, from Yaqui devotees to members of her family, and visiting out of the way archives on both sides of the US-Mexico border.

I'm all about rare book collecting these days, having realized that so many vitally important historical works (and sometimes in superb condition) are not all that expensive-- now. Most of the rare books I've been collecting recently, apropos of my recent book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual Introduced and Translated are in the range of, say, a pair of made-in-China shoes-- pretty darned cheap, and especially when one considers their historical importance. Some in fact could be compared to peanuts. I look for (preferably) first editions in as good a condition as possible, with dust jacket, autographed (ideally).  It's not rocket science. (That said, I do have Rare Book School on my radar.)

Though the subject of this latest acquisition, charismatic mediumnistic healer Teresa Urrea, died some years before the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, she is a key figure in the lead-up to it, and in the history of Mexican Spiritism (though she did not consider herself a Spiritist). I go on at some length about Teresa Urrea and the Tomóchic rebellion in Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution. She's also the subject of her great nephew Luis Alberto Urrea's two wonderful novels, The Hummingbird's Daughter and Queen of America.

The author of Teresita, William Curry Holden (1896-1993), was a distinguished Texan historian and archaeologist. Read more about him on the back cover of Teresita:

Back cover of William Curry Holden's Teresita

>My previous blog post on my copy of Leon Denis's Después de la muerte, translated by Ignacio Mariscal and sponsored by Francisco Madero and Francisco I. Madero, 1906.

>Quill & Brush's book collecting tips.

>Excerpts from Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Writing and Reading Edition

Sophy Burnham interview for the
Washington Independent Review of Books
Ever-inspiring historical novelist, dear amiga, and author of The Art of Intuition, Sophy Burnham, has granted an interview to the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Washington DC poet Sunil Freeman's splendid essay in Leslie Pietrzyk's also splendid Redux: "Reprieve for the Minor Pain Ladies"

Hilariously weird: Michael Savitz's "Confessions of a Used Book Salesman" in Slate.

Benjamin L. Clark, The Exile Bibliophile, on "A Gentle Introduction to the Gentle Madness"-- of book collecting. You'll find The Exile Bibliophile on my blogroll under "Rare Books."

"The Broken Book": A very consternating story about a magnificent book in Elaine Treharne's Text Technologies.

From Susan Page Davis' blog post about
Texan rancher Larry Chittenden's
library in Christmas Cove, Maine
Speaking of rare book collecting, Susan Page Davis has a fascinating blog post about Texan rancher Larry Chittenden's Christmas Cove Library in (yes) Maine. 

Yore mind vill bend lahk spaaaace: From printed pages to networked screens:

Better than candy: For when you can't read (cooking, driving): Chris Gondek's delightfully crunchy podcast interviews for Harvard University Press authors over at Heron & Crane.

The tiny book (maybe good for a tiny house?)

My own most recent book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual Introduced and Translated, is now available in Kindle. The paperback edition, slightly delayed, will be available in January 2014, as will the Spanish translation by Agustín Cadena, Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana. And apropos of that, I'll be blogging next week about some of my latest rare book finds. More esoterica by the mysterious Dr. Krumm-Heller.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Print All Over Me (Again) Sweatshirt Edition

No, I'm not getting a commission from these guys, I don't even know them. I just adore the concept of Seems to me this is where fashion is going... very personal, very strange, a combination of bespoke and made-in-China (or wherever the cheapest and fastest factory might happen to be). The idea is, they can print whatever image you send them on a baseball cap, tote bag, T-shirt, tailored shirt, sweatshirt and/or sweatpants. Of course a bagillion people got the idea to slap on a picture of their dog, cat, campy celebrity, and/or giant eye. There's a lot of what would do nicely over at LOLcats, if you get my drift. That said, it's amazing fun. Anyone can buy, anyone can design.

Herewith a few fun sweatshirt picks:

print all over . me









And when you're feeling like everybody had better notice you and steer way clear:

P.S. Someone knows about fashion (as opposed to myself) is Femme et Fleur, who has left a most generous visual candy store of a blog post about the opening of the Dover Street Market here.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Bughouse Poet's and Other Far Out Books Edition

Definitely different: Bill Zavatsky on Richard Griffin, the Bughouse Poet, in The Sienese Shredder.

Mine it! My amiga novelist and blogger (Work-inProgress) Leslie Pietrzyk has posted her best books read in 2013 list.

(Mine mine here.)

Honey & Wax has issued an amazing second catalog-- for those who might prefer to buy a book instead of a car. (Well, pourquoi pas?)

It was in-print for over a century: Jeff Peachy on the parachute guy and the best bookbinding manual ever. (Jeff Peachy is one of my new favorite bloggers.)

Laila Lailami has just announced her new novel forthcoming in 2014, The Moor's Account. For my book-in-progress about Far West Texas, I'm writing about Cabeza de Vaca, so I'm especially eager to read this novel from the point of view of Estebanico.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Paperback Edition of Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution

**Further Update Jan 6, 2014: Yet another version of the paperback edition cover. I think this one is it:

***Update Jan 5, 2014: The cover for the paperback has been redone-- here's the draft-- and here's hoping the book is out this month (January 2014):

Just got the cover for the English paperback edition of Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution. I hope to be able to announce its availability before the end of 2013. (Meanwhile, the Kindle is available here.)

Back cover of the English paperback edition of C.M. Mayo's
Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution:
Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual Introduced and Translated

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 10 Books Read 2013

Madam Mayo's #1 for 2013
1. Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections
A strange, fascinating, and mightily illuminating memoir. 

2. John Tutino's Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America
La bomba atómica! Read my review in Literal.

3. Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Rich as a truffle, delightful, sad, scary, astonishing, and a gift in so many ways.

4. Heribert von Feilitzsch's In Plain Sight: Felix Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908-1914
A deeply researched paradigm-smasher of a biography-- and major addition to the bibliography on the Mexican Revolution. Sommerfeld was President Madero's chief of secret service and a German spy. He was also close to President Madero's personal doctor, Arnoldo Krumm-Heller, another German spy, mason, Spiritist, and esoteric author (aka "Maestro Huiracocha") who went on to become the chief of artillery under General Obregon.
Felix Sommerfeld
>Visit von Feilitzsch's website
>Read my blog post, Arnoldo Krumm-Heller and Francisco I. Madero: Some Notes on Sources.

5. Paul Vanderwood's The Power of God Against the Guns of Government: Religious Upheaval in Mexico at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century
Must reading for anyone interested in Teresa Urrea, aka La Santa de Cabora, star of Luis Alberto Urrea's latest works. It is also crucial for understanding what really happened in Tomóchic, a key episode in the lead-up to the 1910 Revolution.

6. Deborah Blum's Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death
Not only a fascinating read, this is a monumental work of scholarship about the 19th century father of modern psychology's (and many others') adventures in psychic research.

7. Alessandro Marzo Magno's Bound in Venice: The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book
A delightful companion to Greenblatt's The Swerve (see # 3, above).

8. John Tutino (editor), Mexico and the Mexicans in the Making of the United States
Read my review in Literal.

9. Pat Schneider's How the Light Gets in: Writing as a Spiritual Practice
By a visionary teacher and prolific and talented writer and poet. Genuinely inspiring.
***UPDATE: Read Pat Schneider's new year's post on voice.

10. Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
It is always a pleasure to read Gladwell. Fun conversations ensue. It was especially interesting to read this as I was writing Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution-- the David (Francisco I. Madero) and Goliath (Porfirio Díaz)  metaphor came up often.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + +

Top 10 Books Read 2012
#1 Sara Mansfield Taber's Born Under An Assumed Name

Top 10 Books Read 2011
#1 Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace

Top 10 Books Read 2010
#1 Paula Kamen's Finding Iris Chang

Top 10 Books Read 2009
#1 Rosemary Sullivan's Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille

Top 10 Books Read 2008
#1 Nancy Marie Brown's The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman

Top 10 Books Read 2007
#1 Patricia Klindienst's The Earth Knows My Name
#1 Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Pie and More Good Things Edition

Lonn Taylor, aka The Rambling Boy on pie (and how to tell thems Yankees).

My DC writer amiga Judy Leaver is Thankful for the Synchronicity of Good Things.

Poet, writer and translator Pat Dubrava just keeps falling in love with people.

For my next foray across Wyoming, I totally want this dinosaur fossil sweatshirt, available from Print All Over Me (hat tip to swissmiss). (This is along the lines of Spoonflower-- and by the way, for some curtains, I ordered some fabric with artist Kathryn Dunn's designs. PS Make and sell your own designs.)

If I had a little writing hut in the forest, this flooring could definitely work...

Not for me, but maybe you know someone who needs an inflatable unicorn head. Just sayin.

3D Printed salsa-dancing spider!

And Ten Pound Island has just issued a new catalog of rare books about world travels, "Get Me Out of Here!" (PDF).

More anon.

(Wrapped up in production issues this week. My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available in Kindle; the paperback has a been a bit delayed but should be available before the end of this year. The Spanish edition, Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana, translated (I am delighted and honored to say) by the amazing Agustín Cadena, will be available from Editorial Espejo de Obsidiana early in 2014, and in Kindle as well. Then back to the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project...)


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Exploring the Burned-Over District Blog

Few people, and extremely few Mexicans have heard of the so-called Burned-Over District-- yet a vital root of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 lies in this very place. I go on at length about this in my new book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution. Apropos of that, a most extraordinary blog I surfed onto the other day: Exploring the Burned-Over District, in which "Chris and Luke visit all the sacred sites that will let them in." On the "about" section they state:
In the Fall of 2011, we made a plan to visit as many spiritually significant sites in the Rochester, NY area as possible. The goal really was to explore all of the different spiritual and religious cultures, and learn more about their history in this particular geographical area. Then we realized, it would be incredibly short-sighted to only stick to Rochester. Western and Central NY was once referred to as the “Burned Over District” because so many religious movements were born, and many died, in the area. This blog takes you along our travels to visit and explore as many places as we possibly can. 
*Public Service Announcement: Neither one of us endorse any particular religious belief system over another, we treat each of them with equal amounts of skepticism and open-mindedness. Neither one of us claim to be a member of any one sect, denomination or organization–other than simply being humans.

Exploring the Burned-Over District
T-Shirt shop on CafePress
By the way, they'll sell you a T-Shirt with their logo-- a backpacker engulfed in flames. Check out their Exploring the Burned-Over District shop on CafePress.

A few highlights from their blog:

Hydesville Memorial Park
Site of the Fox cottage, birthplace of Spiritualism
Lily Dale
Includes pix of Fairy Village
Plymouth Spiritualist Church
(check out the orb under the chair!)
Hill Cumorah
Includes a picture of the bedroom where the Angel Moroni reportedly appeared. (No orbs at this time, alas.)
First Church of Christ, Scientist-- Rochester
Guys, great concept for a blog. Happy travels!

***UPDATE: I just surfed upon a very informative blog post about the Burned-Over District by Universalist Phil Ebersole.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

W.B. Yeats on Madame Blavatsky: The Trembling of the Veil

W.B. Yeats
How things have changed with the digital abundance! Back when I was writing The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, I found myself shelling out for books I knew I would need to consult often and at length. In addition to some (then) wildly expensive print-on-demand editions, I bought a number of rare books that probably were not the best investments. (Main lesson learned: if you're going to shell out for a rare book, get the best quality condition you can, first edition if possible, and make sure it has its dust-jacket.) 

But these days, much as I relish collecting rare books, I am thrilled to be able to find so many old books free, yes ~ ~ ~ free as the wind ~ ~ ~ on-line on sites such as One that is on my bibliography for Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution is Irish poet W.B. Yeats's memoir, The Trembling of the Veil (1,000 copies privately printed, 1922), which includes a spicy riff on Oscar Wilde, and this about his friend Madame Blavatsky (especially fun parts in bold):
I found Madame Blavatsky in a little house at Norwood, with but, as she said, three followers left—the Society of Psychical Research had just reported on her Indian phenomena—and as one of the three followers sat in an outer room to keep out undesirable visitors, I was kept a long time kicking my heels. Presently I was admitted and found an old woman in a plain loose dark dress: a sort of old Irish peasant woman with an air of humour and audacious power. I was still kept waiting, for she was deep in conversation with a woman visitor. I strayed through folding doors into the next room and stood, in sheer idleness of mind, looking at a cuckoo clock. It was certainly stopped, for the weights were off and lying upon the ground, and yet, as I stood there the cuckoo came out and cuckooed at me. I interrupted Madame Blavatsky to say, “Your clock has hooted me.”[Pg 61] “It oftens hoots at a stranger,” she replied. “Is there a spirit in it?” I said. “I do not know,” she said, “I should have to be alone to know what is in it.” I went back to the clock and began examining it and heard her say: “Do not break my clock.” I wondered if there was some hidden mechanism and I should have been put out, I suppose, had I found any, though Henley had said to me, “Of course she gets up fraudulent miracles, but a person of genius has to do something; Sarah Bernhardt sleeps in her coffin.” Presently the visitor went away and Madame Blavatsky explained that she was a propagandist for women’s rights who had called to find out “why men were so bad.” “What explanation did you give her?” I said. “That men were born bad, but women made themselves so,” and then she explained that I had been kept waiting because she had mistaken me for some man, whose name resembled mine and who wanted to persuade her of the flatness of the earth.
When I next saw her she had moved into a house at Holland Park, and some time must have passed—probably I had been in Sligo where I returned constantly for long visits—for she was surrounded by followers. She sat nightly before a little table covered with green baize and on this green baize she scribbled constantly with a piece of white chalk. She would scribble symbols, sometimes humorously explained, and sometimes unintelligible figures, but the chalk was intended to mark down her score when she played patience. One saw in the next room a large table where every night her followers and guests, often a great number, sat down to their vegetable meal, while she encouraged or mocked through the folding doors. A great passionate nature, a sort of[Pg 62] female Dr Johnson, impressive I think to every man or woman who had themselves any richness, she seemed impatient of the formalism of the shrill abstract idealism of those about her, and this impatience broke out in railing and many nicknames: “O you are a flap-doodle, but then you are a theosophist and a brother.” The most devout and learned of all her followers said to me, “H. P. B. has just told me that there is another globe stuck on to this at the north pole, so that the earth has really a shape something like a dumb-bell.” I said, for I knew that her imagination contained all the folklore of the world, “That must be some piece of Eastern mythology.” “O no it is not,” he said, “of that I am certain, and there must be something in it or she would not have said it.” Her mockery was not kept for her followers alone, and her voice would become harsh, and her mockery lose fantasy and humour, when she spoke of what seemed to her scientific materialism. Once I saw this antagonism, guided by some kind of telepathic divination, take a form of brutal fantasy. I brought a very able Dublin woman to see her and this woman had a brother, a physiologist whose reputation, though known to specialists alone, was European, and because of this brother a family pride in everything scientific and modern. The Dublin woman scarcely opened her mouth the whole evening and her name was certainly unknown to Madame Blavatsky, yet I saw at once in that wrinkled old face bent over the cards, and the only time I ever saw it there, a personal hostility, the dislike of one woman for another. Madame Blavatsky seemed to bundle herself up, becoming all primeval peasant, and began complaining of her ailments, more especially of her bad leg. But of late[Pg 63] her master—her “old Jew,” her “Ahasuerus”—cured it, or set it on the way to be cured. “I was sitting here in my chair,” said she, “when the master came in and brought something with him which he put over my knee, something warm which enclosed my knee—it was a live dog which he had cut open.” I recognized a cure used sometimes in mediaeval medicine. She had two masters and their portraits, ideal Indian heads, painted by some most incompetent artist, stood upon either side of the folding doors. One night when talk was impersonal and general, I sat gazing through the folding doors into the dimly lighted dining room beyond. I noticed a curious red light shining upon a picture and got up to see where the red light came from. It was the picture of an Indian and as I came near it slowly vanished. When I returned to my seat, Madame Blavatsky said, “What did you see?” “A picture,” I said. “Tell it to go away.” “It is already gone.” “So much the better,” she said, “I was afraid it was mediumship. But it is only clairvoyance.” “What is the difference?” “If it had been mediumship, it would have stayed in spite of you. Beware of mediumship; it is a kind of madness; I know for I have been through it.”
I found her almost always full of gaiety that, unlike the occasional joking of those about her, was illogical and incalculable and yet always kindly and tolerant. I had called one evening to find her absent but expected every moment. She had been somewhere at the seaside for her health and arrived with a little suite of followers. She sat down at once in her big chair, and began unfolding a brown paper parcel while all looked on full of curiosity. It contained a large family Bible. “This is a present for my maid,”[Pg 64] she said. “What a Bible and not even annotated!” said some shocked voice. “Well, my children,” was the answer, “what is the good of giving lemons to those who want oranges?” When I first began to frequent her house, as I soon did very constantly, I noticed a handsome clever woman of the world there, who seemed certainly very much out of place, penitent though she thought herself. Presently there was much scandal and gossip for the penitent was plainly entangled with two young men, who were expected to grow into ascetic sages.
The scandal was so great that Madame Blavatsky had to call the penitent before her and to speak after this fashion, “We think that it is necessary to crush the animal nature; you should live in chastity in act and thought. Initiation is granted only to those who are entirely chaste,” and so it ran on for some time. However, after some minutes in that vehement style, the penitent standing crushed and shamed before her, she had wound up, “I cannot permit you more than one.” She was quite sincere but thought that nothing mattered but what happened in the mind, and that if we could not master the mind our actions were of little importance. One young man filled her with exasperation for she thought that his settled gloom came from his chastity. I had known him in Dublin where he had been accustomed to interrupt long periods of asceticism, in which he would eat vegetables and drink water, with brief outbreaks of what he considered the devil. After an outbreak he would for a few hours dazzle the imagination of the members of the local theosophical society with poetical rhapsodies about harlots and street lamps, and then sink into weeks of melancholy. A fellow-theosophist once found him hanging from the windowpole, but cut him down in[Pg 65] the nick of time. I said to the man who cut him down, “What did you say to each other?” He said, “We spent the night telling comic stories and laughing a great deal.” This man, torn between sensuality and visionary ambition, was now the most devout of all, and told me that in the middle of the night he could often hear the ringing of the little “astral bell” whereby Madame Blavatsky’s master called her attention, and that, although it was a silvery low tone, it made the whole house shake.
Another night I found him waiting in the hall to show in those who had right of entrance, on some night when the discussion was private, and as I passed he whispered into my ear, “Madame Blavatsky is perhaps not a real woman at all. They say that her dead body was found many years ago upon some Russian battlefield.” She had two dominant moods, both of extreme activity, one calm and philosophic, and this was the mood always on that night in the week when she answered questions upon her system, and as I look back after thirty years I often ask myself, “Was her speech automatic? Was she a trance medium, or in some similar state, one night in every week?” In the other mood she was full of fantasy and inconsequent raillery. “That is the Greek Church, a triangle like all true religion,” I recall her saying, as she chalked out a triangle on the green baize, and then as she made it disappear in meaningless scribbles, “it spread out and became a bramble bush like the Church of Rome.” Then rubbing it all out except one straight line, “Now they have lopped off the branches and turned it into a broomstick and that is protestantism.” And so it was night after night always varied and unforeseen. I have observed a like sudden extreme change in others,[Pg 66] half whose thought was supernatural and Lawrence Oliphant records somewhere or other like observations. I can remember only once finding her in a mood of reverie, something had happened to damp her spirits, some attack upon her movement, or upon herself. She spoke of Balzac, whom she had seen but once, of Alfred de Musset, whom she had known well enough to dislike for his morbidity, and George Sand, whom she had known so well that they had dabbled in magic together of which “neither knew anything at all” in those days; and she ran on, as if there was nobody there to overhear her, “I used to wonder at and pity the people who sell their souls to the devil, but now I only pity them. They do it to have somebody on their side,” and added to that, after some words I have forgotten, “I write, write, write as the Wandering Jew walks, walks, walks.”
Besides the devotees, who came to listen and to turn every doctrine into a new sanction for the puritanical convictions of their Victorian childhood, cranks came from half Europe and from all America, and they came that they might talk. One American said to me, “She has become the most famous woman in the world by sitting in a big chair and permitting us to talk.” They talked and she played patience, and totted up her score on the green baize, and generally seemed to listen, but sometimes she would listen no more. There was a woman who talked perpetually of “the divine spark” within her, until Madame Blavatsky stopped her with—“Yes, my dear, you have a divine spark within you and if you are not very careful you will hear it snore.” A certain Salvation Army captain probably pleased her, for if vociferous and loud of voice, he had much animation. He had known hardship and spoke of his visions while starving[Pg 67] in the streets and he was still perhaps a little light in the head. I wondered what he could preach to ignorant men, his head ablaze with wild mysticism, till I met a man who had heard him talking near Covent Garden to some crowd in the street. “My friends,” he was saying, “you have the kingdom of heaven within you and it would take a pretty big pill to get that out.”

P.S. For those W.B. Yeats fans with some $$$, a first edition, autographed, with dust-jacket, of The Trembling of the Veil is listed on for USD $1,900.

PSS Update: and here is another first edition, also signed, for $2,951.

Read more blog posts about Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution

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

Monday, December 09, 2013

Rupert Sheldrake, William Tiller, John Mack

These three gentlemen get a mention in my book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, in the introductory chapter which provides some background, relevant for my subject, Francisco I. Madero, about 19th century psychic research-- though they are researchers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Sheldrake, a biologist, and Tiller, a Stanford University physicist (emeritus), are active as I write; Mack, a member of Harvard University's Medical School faculty, passed away in 2004. Sheldrake's TEDx talk was removed from the website; Tiller has encountered no end of resistance to his ideas; and the Dean of Harvard's Medical School attempted to revoke Mack's tenure. My point is simply that the Torquemadas of orthodoxy persist.

For those interested in a fascinating bit of surfing:

Rupert Sheldrake's homepage
Rupert Sheldrake talk at TEDx Whitechapel
The controversy about his TEDx talk

William Tiller's The Tiller Foundation: Institute for Psychoenergetic Science.
Meryn José's Merlian News Podcast interview with Dr Tiller

John Mack Biography
John Mack Institute
And--not for the faint-of-heart--John Mack and Budd Hopkins in conversation in 1997.

Among the scientists on Francisco I. Madero's radar were Sir William Crookes, a distinguished Oxford University chemist whose psychic research earned him no end of disrespect, and French Nobel -prize winner Charles Richet, who did--there is no other word-- wild experiments with Italian medium Eusapia Palladino and who coined the term ectoplasm.


Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Burned-Over District

One of the fun but sometimes crazy-making aspects of putting together a book is finding the right images and maps. I was fortunate to have worked with expert map-maker Bill Nelson when I did the anthology Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion for Whereabouts Press. So I brought him on board again for The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books) and now, my latest, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual Introduced and Translated (Dancing Chiva). For the latter, what I needed, apart from a map of Mexico, was one of the so-called Burned-Over District-- of New York State.

To me, one of the strangest things about Spiritism (and there are many) is that its origins, in large part, can be found in upstate New York. Given that Francisco I. Madero, leader of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, was not only an ardent Spiritist but one who saw his political action in spiritual terms, well, we can say then that one of the many roots of the Mexican Revolution lies in the Burned-Over District. Does this sound too fantastic? It did to me-- at first.

Herewith the map:

The Burned-Over District (Roughly, between Albany and Buffalo)
Map by Bill Nelson
From: Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution by C.M. Mayo

EXCERPT From Chapter 1: Roots, Entanglements, Encounters"  Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution:

. . . Once the heartland of the Iroquois nation, this approximately 50-by-500 kilometer swath of verdant Yankee farmland between Albany and Buffalo got its name not from any fire but from the fiery passions of its nineteenth-century religious revival movements. Traveling preachers filled billowing tents with celebrants, and Mitch Horowitz writes in Occult America, “[f]or days afterward, without the prompting of ministers or revivalists, men and women would speak in tongues and writhe in religious ecstasy. Many would report visitations from angels or spirits.” A few outstanding figures in the long list of those who traveled through, settled in, or departed from the Burned-Over District include Jemima Wilkinson, aka “The Publick Universal Friend” who called herself a channel for the Divine Spirit; the utopian Oneida Community; the Millerites, who sold their worldly possessions in expectation of Judgment Day in 1844; Shakers; Quakers; Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who claimed to receive instructions from the Angel Moroni to unearth the golden plates of the Book of Mormon; and, most relevant to the story at-hand, the Fox sisters of Hydesville.
The Foxes, a Methodist farmworker family, the father a blacksmith, moved into their cottage shortly before Christmas 1847. There would have been snow pillowing up to the windowsills, and a pre-electricity sky spectacular with stars. On their straw-stuffed mattresses, the family would have been bundled in blankets and quilts. But through the cruel winter nights of 1848, their sleep suffered with odd noises, crackles, scrapings—as if of moving furniture, bangs, and knocks. By springtime the children had become so frightened by the “spirit raps,” they insisted on sleeping with their parents. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, of Sherlock Holmes fame) recounts in The History of Spiritualism:

Finally, upon the night of March 31 there was a very loud and continued outbreak of inexplicable sounds. It was on this night that one of the great points of psychic evolution was reached, for it was then that young Kate Fox challenged the unseen power to repeat the snaps of her fingers. That rude room, with its earnest, expectant, half-clad occupants with eager upturned faces, its circle of candlelight, and its heavy shadows lurking in the corners, might well be made the subject of a great historical painting. Search all the palaces and chancelleries of 1848, and where will you find a chamber which has made its place in history as secure as this bedroom of a shack? The child’s challenge, though given in flippant words, was instantly answered. Every snap was echoed by a knock. However humble the operator at either end, the spiritual telegraph was at last working.

Kate Fox, eleven, and her sister, Maggie, fourteen, determined that the spirit they called “Mr. Split-foot” was that of a peddler who had been murdered and buried in the house. Conan Doyle, who went so far as to reprint the sworn April 11, 1848, testimony of both parents, was one of many Spiritualists, as they came to call themselves, who considered the events in the so-called “Spook House” of Hydesville “the most important thing that America has given to the commonweal of the world.” And whether one laughingly discards, ardently accepts, or finely sifts and resifts ad infinitum the evidence of the existence of said murdered peddler and any communications from beyond the veil, the fact remains that whatever happened in Hydesville ignited an enthusiasm for “spirit” phenomena evoked in the ritual of the séance—from channeling to table tipping to pencils and chalk stubs writing by themselves, or by communication by means of a planchette; clairvoyance; flashes of light and floating orbs; levitation; ectoplasmic hands, feet and faces oozing out of velvety darkness; and “spirit photography”—throughout the Burned-Over District, north to Canada, out west, south, to England and Ireland and, at full-gallop, across the European continent into Russia. 
The Fox sisters received an avalanche of press, which only increased after P.T. Barnum put them on display in his American Museum on New York City’s Broadway, charging a dollar—then more than a tidy sum—to communicate through them to the ghost of one’s choice. (As science historian Deborah Blum recounts in Ghost Hunters, among those who paid their dollar were the novelist James Fenimore Cooper and Horace Greely, editor of The New York Tribune, both of whom left convinced that they had heard from spirit.) Scores of mediums now emerged, claiming to communicate with spirits as diverse as a drowned child, Egyptian high priests, and “astral” beings; seeking them out in darkened rooms came legions of the bereaved, curiosity-seekers, skeptics on a mission, and quite a few intellectuals.
Among the celebrated mediums in this period were the English Florence Cook; Nettie Colburn, who gave séances for Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln in the White House; and Scottish-born American Daniel Dunglas (D.D.) Home, who toured France in the 1850s, which, according to historian John Warne Monroe, “seemed to mark the first step in the spread of this second, metaphysical American Revolution.” According to magic historian Henry Ridgely Evans, “No man since Caglisotro ever created so profound a sensation in the Old World.”
Home’s séances, like his audience itself, attained a new level of glamour, a world apart from the Fox sisters. Attended by royalty, including the Emperor Louis Napoleon and his Empress Eugénie, and high society of all stripes, according to Janet Oppenheim in The Other World, an evening with Home might feature a spine-tingling cornucopia of phenomena:

[F]urniture trembled, swayed, and rose from the floor (often without disturbing objects on its surface); diverse articles soared through the air; the séance room itself might appear to shake with quivering vibrations; raps announced the arrival of the communicating spirits; spirit arms and hands emerged, occasionally to write messages or distribute favors to the sitters; musical instruments, particularly Home’s celebrated accordion, produced their own music; spirit voices uttered their pronouncements; spirit lights twinkled, and cool breezes chilled the sitters. If Home announced his own levitation, as he did from time to time, the sitters might feel their hair ruffled by the soles of his feet.

Let us float down from the ceiling for a moment, back to the grittier question of roots. 

Copyright C.M. Mayo. All rights reserved.

>Visit the book's webpage for more excerpts, Q & A, podcasts, videos, resources for researchers, and more.
>Get it on Kindle now
>Further reading about the Burned-Over District:

>Paperback edition of Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, and Spanish edition, Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana, are forthcoming. have been published.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Prozac Not Needed Edition

Digby & Iona's
Eyes & Stars Signet Ring
The weirdest little ring advertisement video ever. (Hat tip to Swiss Miss). Think: Clint Eastwood meets Aleister Crowley.

Free live streaming baroque music.

The Ultimate Pug Video Compilation.

The Contrary Farmer says there are More Trees Than 100 Years Ago.

Visit Mundo Chocolate, the Mexico City Museum of Chocolate.

Désert de Retz folly garden.

Mary Oliver's Dog Songs.

More anon.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Women Writing the West: A Wilder Rose Goes to the Library

One of the best things I have done for myself in the past year is join Women Writing the West. As a writer born in El Paso, Texas,  raised in northern California and now, though living in Mexico City, writing about Far West Texas, for me, it's a perfect fit. The listserv discussions and the blog-- anyone can read the Women Writing the West blog, do check it out-- have been invaluable. And some of the most useful information for me, as I embark on my adventures in publishing Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, has come from WWW member Susan Wittig Albert. Today on the WWW blog Susan shares her tips for shepherding a self-published book into libraries. As an ex-literary journal editor and previous self-publisher (with The Visitors / Los Visitantes), I can tell you, dear reader, getting self-published books into libraries is truly a species of alchemy. Herewith the arcanum:

The Wilder Rose Goes to the Library
By Susan Wittig Albert 
I’ve been writing traditionally-published fiction and nonfiction for nearly three decades. But this year, I decided to publish a stand-alone novel—A Wilder Rose—under my own imprint, Persevero Press. All things considered, I’m glad I chose to take this route, but there have been bumps. A few potholes. Big trees across the road. Getting the book into libraries, for example... CONTINUE READING

Monday, December 02, 2013

Matching Books with Museums in Mexico City by Carmen Amato

Chapultepec Castle
Photo from wikipedia
Over on her blog, novelist Carmen Amato mentioned my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, as reading for a visit to Chapultepec Castle. Gosh, gracias! Here goes:

The museum: Perched on top of a hill, with sweeping views over Mexico City’s western sprawl, the fortress-style castle was home to the ill-fated Emperor Maxmillian I and his empress, Carlota, during the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867. You can walk through the rooms, which are arranged shotgun fashion–each leading into the other–insuring that no one at the court had much privacy. The gilded, delicate French-style furniture is an indication just how out of touch the royal court was from real life in Mexico. Take the trolley from street level up the hill, otherwise you’ll be too exhausted from the climb to appreciate the museum.

The book: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is a fictionalized account of the Second Mexican Empire seen mostly through the eyes of the American woman whose son was adopted (or seized depending on your point of view) by the childless Maxmillian and Carlota in the vain attempt to establish an heir to the Mexican throne. The book is a real gem and shows off both amazingly detailed research into the life and times of the Second Mexican Empire and the author’s ability to create wholly believable historical characters. Get it here.
CONTINUE READING CARMEN AMATO on "Matching Museums with Books in Mexico City"

And I have been looking at that very novel this very morning because it is so elegantly designed. And I do say myself-- I mean, I am not, as they say, "putting cream on my tacos," because it was designed by the publisher, Unbridled Books.

Right now, with the help of a designer, I am figuring out how to format a CreateSpace print-on-demand paperback edition of my latest book, which is a most unusual one about a very strange book-- Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual Introduced and Translated.  Understandably, Metaphysical Odyssey was not of interest to Unbridled Books, which specializes in literary fiction. It might seem a good fit for any one of a number of university presses, but having published with university presses in the past, I am feeling rather blasé about jumping through all their hoops for such a paltry deal as they offer these days. Hence, self-publishing, this Wild West adventure of increasing popularity. Most self-published books look like crap, alas, with unreadable fonts and skimpy margins... here's hoping I learn something from my little tour of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire's lovely design... and I hope to be able to announce the paperback of Metaphysical Odyssey shortly. In the meantime, it is available in Kindle.