Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Emily Bronte's 195th Birthday - 'Wuthering Heights' Love

Emily Bronte's 195th birthday was yesterday; the poet and novelist was born on July 30th, 1818. She only lived to be 30, and unfortunately, she only left the world one novel, the masterful Wuthering Heights. Today's post is all about Wuthering Heights, which - if I absolutely had to choose only one favorite book - I would call my favorite book ever.





My library has this graphic novel version. It's awesome.





This, clearly, is my least favorite cover ever.



This isn't in and of itself a bad cover. It's just part of that trend where they tried to make a bunch of classics look like sequels to Twilight and stuck them in the YA section.





I got The Heights from a "secret Santa" blogger exchange, and I really liked it.



Haven't read Wuthering Heights yet? You can get it free for Kindle, so now you have no excuse!




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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nonfiction Book Review: 'Five Days at Memorial' Recounts a Harrowing Hurricane Katrina Tale

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged HospitalFive Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Three and a half stars, really: four stars for the first part, and three stars for the second part. The first part is well-written, but upsetting and hard to read because of the facts in this case. It involves a lot of human misery. Memorial Medical Center, originally founded as Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans and conceived of as a charity hospital, was ordered not to evacuate when Hurricane Katrina threatened in late August 2005. It was assumed that the hospital had plenty of food, water, and medicine and that, with its back-up generators, the hospital would not only be able to keep operating during the hurricane, but could also serve as a storm shelter.

Memorial Medical Center, post-Katrina
Many employees and family members of patients took shelter there, bringing their relatives and pets for safety. As per usual in NOLA, they expected the hurricane to be an almost tail gate party-like atmosphere. No one really expected the devastation of Katrina; windows in the hospital burst, water poured in and it was surrounded by floodwaters, accessible only by helicopter and boat. People heard gunshots outside the hospital, feared looting, and mistakenly believed that martial law had been declared.

Worst of all was the fact that the disaster plan for the hospital, drilled only a few weeks earlier, proved to be of no use whatsoever. No one appeared to be in charge; the corporation that owned the hospital, states away from the disaster, was ineffectual; the government was giving no clear instructions; hospital administrators who were on-site didn't seem to have a cohesive plan. As a result, when it became clear that the hospital would have to evacuate after all, there was no clear plan of what order patients, employees and family members should leave in. At some point, it was decided that the ambulatory patients would be evacuated before the sickest patients.

The evacuation took the five days of the title. By the fifth day, the generators had failed. Machines stopped working, the toilets had long stopped flushing (leading to horrendously unsanitary conditions), and the heat was unbearable. Because the sickest patients had not been evacuated first, nine mostly elderly, ill people lay in hospital beds on the seventh floor, many of them with high fevers. Their overworked, stressed-out caretakers feared they would have permanent brain damage because they were having breathing problems and because of their extremely high body temperatures. Someone decided they people could not be rescued, and ten people were given a combination of drugs, including morphine, that led to their deaths.

The tenth person, Emmett Everett, was only 61 years old. Although he was quadriplegic and had a very large body size, he was very much conscious and in no immediate danger of dying from the conditions inside the hospital. Although it would have been difficult to move Mr. Everett out the window, through the tunnel that led to the garage, and up onto the roof where he could be rescued by helicopter, it was possible, but for some reason no one tried. His story is among the most haunting of this book.

View from the parking garage roof of Memorial - then Southern Baptist - in 1991
The second part of the book deals with the legal proceedings that followed the evacuation of the hospital. No one was ever tried or convicted of anything from this incident, although there were both local and federal investigations, including the convening of a grand jury. The writing style in the second part isn't very compelling in parts, and it could stand to be more logically organized. (Keep in mind I read an advance reader's copy, so the final version may differ.)

I'll give an example: the very last section of the last chapter starts with the words, "'Does anyone feel that they're making a mistake?' a man on the special grand jury had asked his fellow jurors before they took their final vote." Since the previous section was about things that happened after a press conference Dr. Anna Pou held after charges against her were dismissed, mention of the grand jury is clearly out of chronological order. Unless there was a second grand jury? If that's the case, this is a lousy way to end the book, just leaving the reader hanging.

I hope a lot of hospital administrators will read this book and take this away from it: have a good evacuation plan and an emergency plan in place in case the evacuation takes much longer than expected. Make sure your generators can run for a week or more, and prepare your employees to keep giving care even in less-than-ideal conditions in case rescue is delayed.



Clearly, people died in Memorial Medical Center who didn't need to die. Some of them were very sick, but still, the were deprived of dying with dignity and their relatives and personal wishes were left out of the decision. Hurricane Katrina was a catastrophe, no doubt, but in this hospital, some of the misery was entirely preventable. People have to be willing to learn from a terrible situation - like in the 1940s when the terrible Cocoanut Grove fire led to better fire codes, better treatment for burn victims, and more widespread use of antibiotics. Hopefully, this book will help make hospitals safer in natural disasters.

In this clip, you can hear Sheri Fink talk a little bit about it in her own words.


Disclosure: I received this book for free through the Amazon Vine program. This represents my honest opinion. I did not receive any compensation other than the free Advance Readers Edition of the book, in paperback.

View all my reviews

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Letting Out My Inner Tris Prior + #Caturday

I may not exactly be Dauntless material, but I did stumble upon a chance to let out my inner Tris Prior yesterday. My husband Tit Elingtin (who's doing much better since his surgery, thank you) and I went on a walk through the park near our home after work. As we got near the bridge between two parks, we saw some kind of activity going on; soon we figured out that the city department of parks and recreation was offering zip lining across the river.

Not exactly the Hancock Building, but I don't think I'm brave enough for that anyway.

This is a Creative Commons example of what zip lining looks like. 
Everyone looked like they were safe and having fun, and it only cost $10 per person, so I called my mom and asked her if she wanted to do it. I'd remembered that she mentioned wanting to try zip lining in a previous conversation. She agreed to come over to the park, and after Tit and I had supper at a park-adjacent restaurant (I had two tacos, while he had a "Big Ass BLT" made with an entire pound of bacon - the menu board literally said "Not Responsible For Any Heart Attacks"), we met her by the bridge and she and I bought our tickets. Tit, who said he did not want to go, held our stuff and served as videographer.

(The video is still in my mom's camera for the time being - I'm going to try to add music and upload it to my YouTube account.)

When I got up near the front of the line, I thought I heard the woman who was getting ready to jump say, "I'm a virgin." The parks guy who was checking the harnesses said, "What's that?" Then I realized the woman had said, "It's like Divergent," as she told the parks guy a little bit about the book.

Jumping off the scaffold on the high river bank, zipping over the water and touching down on the low river bank was incredibly fun and not scary. It was well worth my $10. I went first, and then my mom went right after me. She was not scared either, and if she says it's not scary then anyone can do it.

Now, let's all enjoy some Caturday pins with A Catlike Curiosity and Butterfly in the Attic



First, a gratuitous picture of myself, a cat-herding moon maiden.



I'm currently one episode behind on True Blood. When last I saw, Lafayette was possessed by the spirit of Sookie Stackhouse's dead father, who was attempting to drown Sookie in a river as he had tried unsuccessfully to do when Sookie was a little mind-reading girl. I assume someone will save her - not Eric, because he's locked up in vampire camp being forced to fight Pam - but maybe Bill or a friendly ghost like Jesus.



If you don't watch True Blood, and/or haven't read Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries series, perhaps it will suffice to say it's a supernatural soap opera.





Typing up her mem-meows.





In all seriousness, I wish to congratulate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of His Royal Highness, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. May he have a long, happy, healthy life.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Feast Day of St. James the Greater! Book Excerpt

July 25th is the feast day of St. James the Greater in the Roman Catholic church and other Western churches that observe saints' feast days. You may also remember that St. James's Day is the title of the third book in the Pagan Spirits novel series.

The name of the novel comes from a planned 12-book series in which each novel would have a title related to a folkloric holiday. Book One, Beltane, featured the Neopagan holiday of Beltane prominently, and represents the month of May. Midsummer Night is named for the June holiday of the summer solstice, and features a prominent reference to William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. July doesn't have a prominent Pagan holiday, but I incorporated some of the folklore of the feast day of St. James, as well as naming a major character James.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Creative Commons image by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sanchez 
At the moment the book series has been pared down to a trilogy. If I ever write a fourth volume, its probable title would be Lammas Night.

St. James's Day is fully written and edited, although it needs at least two more edits. Right now, Tit Elingtin and I plan to publish a revised version of Beltane (already revised, but not yet formatted), then a revised Midsummer Night, then St. James's Day.

A short excerpt. It's a work in progress, so this may not be the final version:

 “I always forget how little of the stars we can see in the city,” Gillian said. “Look, I think we can see the Milky Way.”
Zen looked up and smiled. “Gillian, do you remember the ancient Celtic legend about the Milky Way?”
She did, but suspected it would make Zen feel better if she could tell the story. “Not quite.”
“When you stand on the western coast of the Atlantic and look across the ocean, the Milky Way seems to follow the path of the sun westward. The ancient Celts said when they died, those whose souls were worthy would travel across the ocean on the Milky Way to the land of the dead, Brigid’s land.”
“What happened if you were unworthy?” Ramesh asked, with a bit of a chuckle in his voice.
“Then you were left stranded on the shore. The funny thing is, this is one of those Pagan legends that was adapted by the Christians, at least in Spain. Their symbolic version of the path to the Afterlife is the Way of Santiago, or Saint James.”
“Really?” Gillian said. She’d almost forgotten about the Evangelical Church of Saint James. “What did St. James have to do with Spain?”
“St. James was one of the original disciples of Jesus, a fisherman who answered Jesus’s call to throw away his net and become a ‘fisher of men.’ After he died, the body of St. James was placed in a fishing boat and allowed to drift at sea. Miraculously, the body reached the shores of Spain, where the village of Compostela built a cathedral around the saint’s relics.”
“His dead body,” Ramesh clarified, slightly grossed out.
“You can ask Orlando: every Catholic altar contains some piece of a dead saint or a martyr, or at least their clothing.”
Gillian winced. “I prefer my Wiccan altars, made of good, clean earth, water, fire and wind.”
“So the people of Compostela made their altar around compost,” Ramesh joked. “And Western people mock Hindus because of the linga in our temples.”
“What the hell’s a linga?” Mike asked.
“The image of a phallus, representing Shiva,” Zen explained. “In Hinduism, the gods are often represented by the union of male and female, Shiva and Kali, his linga and her yoni. It‘s sort of the Indian version of yin and yang.”
“I’d rather worship in front of a stone dick than a pile of bones any day,” Ramesh said.
Even Zen laughed a little. “The Catholics may have been a little more morbid than the Pagans, but Brigid’s starry path was not forgotten. Even today, pilgrims follow the Milky Way toward the ocean when they walk the Way of St. James.”
“That’s beautiful,” Gillian said.

Ramesh wrapped his arms around Zen tightly. “You’re shivering. Let’s get you inside.”

****

The 25th of July was chosen as St. James's feast day because it's supposed to have been the day of the saint's martyrdom. The execution of James by Herod Agrippa is Biblically recorded in Acts 12:2, "And he killed James the brother of John with the sword" in the King James translation. I know this because I read it on the blog Executed Today.

Executed Today isn't something I normally read; it's something I stumbled across in the sidebar of a writing blog I was reading. The blogger known as the Headsman writes, "It's certainly plausible--though impossible to substantiate--that James evangelized in Spain prior to his execution. The whole Mediterranean was a Roman lake. More toward the outlandish is the patriotic story that James's relics were miraculously discovered there in 813 at the moment when Muslim expansion into Iberia gave the hard-pressed Christian kingdoms the greatest possible need for a morale boost."

Headsman notes that St. James is the main saint venerated today, but it is also the feast day of St. Christopher of 3rd-early 4th century Rome. In a possible nod to the dog days of summer, this particular St. Christopher is sometimes depicted with a dog head, a la Anubis.


The article also mentions that the path on which St. James's remains were taken was beset by "dragons, pagans and wagons," with a link to an excerpt from The Golden Legend translated by William Granger Ryan at Julie Golick's The Pocket Bard blog. It tells of a Queen Lupa of Spain, unhappy that her people have converted to Christianity, who tells the corpse-bearers to yoke certain oxen they find in the mountains to the wagon that will bear the body. These oxen are wild; she hopes the men will be killed and the body lost. The men encounter and kill a fire-breathing dragon on their way, and when they make the sign of the cross to the wild oxen, the oxen are instantly tamed and, without even having to be driven, bear the body of St. James directly to Lupa's palace. Lupa becomes a believer and converts to Christianity herself.

"Lupa," of course, means "she-wolf" in Latin. "Queen Lupa" probably isn't meant to represent any historical person, but to be a stand-in for the pre-Christian religion of Iberia in general. They may have worshiped a goddess they called Lupa. Barbara J. Walker writes that Lupa was the "sacred She-Wolf of Roman legend, nurse of the foundling twins Romulus and Remus. Lupa's temple harlots were lupae, sometimes called Queens (or high priestesses) in outlying towns of the empire. Lupa's greatest festival was the annual Lupercalia*, celebrated in the Grotto of the She-Wolf with orgiastic rites to insure the year's fertility." Lupa's consort was called Lupus (the Wolf), Feronius, or Dis Pater. Dis was originally the Etruscan god of the dead who had a wolf head and lived underground; via the Romans, Dis was worshiped by the Gallic Celts and in England, says Walker.

(Encyclopedia Mythica says Dis was simply the name the Romans attached to the most prominent god of the Gallic Celts, and it's unclear which Celtic god this referred to - maybe Dagda, who held the title of "All Father.")

St. James is the patron saint of Spain, and his feast day is usually a national celebration. However, there was a terrible high-speed train accident in Spain (in the region of Galicia, on the way to Santiago de Compostela) yesterday that killed more than 70 people, and this nation is in mourning rather than in any mood for a celebration.

In happier times, St. James's Day might call for a seafood feast. Because James and his brother John were fishers, a symbol for St. James is the scallop shell. (The scallop shell is also a symbol of Brigid, and like Brigid, St. James is considered the patron of blacksmiths.) He's sometimes depicted wearing cockleshells, and in England, eating oysters today is considered good luck.

*I mentioned the Lupercalia as being associated with Pan the other day. This Lupercalia essay by Caroline Wise explains the link between Lupa and Pan. Pan - Faustus to the Romans - was the shepherd who lived near Lupa's wolf-den (her luperca) and found the twins the wolf had nursed. Faustus and his wife Fauna raised the twins to adulthood.

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The Wheel of the Year is a beginner's guide to celebrating the eight traditional pagan festivals of the the year.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Oh How Pinteresting: Summer Fun


The only theme to today's pins is "summer." I haven't even been to the beach once this summer, but I can pretend.


This is a mellow, relaxing song, yet hard to listen to without moving your body.


I like a little vintage illustration every now and then. 


Fairies? Elves? These are surely some of the fair folk, frolicking in the midsummer woods. 




The beach is not the only place where a good book is an essential summer accessory. 



Nothing is quite so summery as an ice cream cone. 


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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Amazon Vine Update + A Wonderful Vampire Dream

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A Wonderful Vampire Dream 

I had the most wonderful dream last night. I was a carefree college student, and I was on a trip to a small city I didn't know very well, looking for a hotel to stay in. As I drove down the city's main street looking for a decent hotel, I saw a small pool of water (a large puddle or a small pond) and two men standing - leaning against a wall and a tree - a short distance away. I was vaguely afraid of them. When I looked down in the pool of water, I saw the reflection of a woman in the second-floor window of a house across an alley from the pool. I inferred that this woman was the lover of one of the two men, and this made me vaguely jealous. 

I chose a motel. Once inside my room, I don't think I was able to lock the door, or at least lock it to my satisfaction. The two men were outside my room and I manually held the white wooden double door shut to keep them out. They wanted me to let them in. Eventually, I felt compelled to let them in. I realized at least one of them was a vampire. He looked looked like Robert Pattinson (but not as Edward Cullen - there was no sparkling). 

Photo by Eva Rinaldi, 2012. Creative Commons license.
That part sounds vaguely menacing and not very wonderful, but the next part was what I really enjoyed. The vampire sat on the bed with me, and I noticed how beautiful his hands were. I told him so. After that, I wasn't afraid of the two strangers anymore.

I went into an adjoining room, where some other college students I knew were playing a card game at a big table. I sat in on the card game, and the two men also joined us. With all the conversation going on, we all got to know each other better. That was when the vampire told me he thought I, Erin, would be much happier as an immortal. I became very excited that he was going to change me.

I don't remember all of the details of what happened next, except that the vampire, his friend, and I were joyriding in the back of a convertible that someone else was driving. Whatever else we did, it was something frivolous and essentially innocent fun, and I loved the worry-free feeling of it all, as well as being excited that I was going to become a vampire. When I woke up, I just wanted to go back into the dream reality. 

I may have been thinking about Twilight a little bit before bed, thanks to seeing this on Pinterest


See? It's like the Twilight cover, only with Finnick Odair sugarcubes. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a hot thing in social media yesterday because the second official trailer is out now. 


But we still have to wait until November 22 to see the movie. 

Amazon Vine Update

Last Thursday was Amazon Vine Day 1 for the month of July 2013, and both of the free items I chose were books. They came in the mail yesterday. 

One was the latest Dead Is novel (paranormal, young adult mystery) by Marlene Perez, called Dead Is Just a Dream. Like the classic Nightmare on Elm Street horror films, it's about teenagers who die in their sleep. 


Its official release date is September 3, but you can preorder now. 


The second book is Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. This is a nonfiction book (Fink is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist as well as a physician) about Memorial Medical Center, a New Orleans hospital inside the flooded zone during Hurricane Katrina. 

Again, the book is not available until September (the 10th), but you can preorder now. 


I'm 109 pages in, and it's so sad. I just read a passage in which a doctor has told a nurse that the hospital is out of oxygen tanks and she had to let an elderly patient die, but that information was wrong - the hospital did, in fact, still have oxygen. That devastating experience the nurse had of having the old man die in her arms could have been avoided. 

This is the problem with nonfiction - reality is heartbreaking. Now do you see why I want to live in a dream? 

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Of Men, Nymphs, Satyrs, Incubi, and the God of Shepherds

First, an excerpt from Beltane by Erin O'Riordan:

"Orlando dreamed of the shaded wood, of a forest so lush and thick with springtime foliage, the sunlight came in indistinct and hazy. In this dream, he closed his eyes, his feet firmly planted on a grassy hillock strewn with wildflowers. He breathed in their scent, breathing in too the scent of the still, green lake that lapped at the foot of the hillock. A memory of Slovenia, perhaps. Then, strangely, he heard laughter. Little giggles from the shrubs. Women. He opened his eyes, in this dream, and saw them all around him, surrounding him. They wore gauzy gowns that covered little. Zen was there. Zen, the beautiful stranger, with her pale-blonde hair loose and falling down her back, her bright blue eyes full of mischief. She beckoned him down the hillock, toward the water.

"Orlando shook his head. He looked around at all the faces of the women. They were beautiful, all of them, the blondes and the redheads and the bronze-skinned women with the curling black hair. But something about them saddened him. There was something about them not quite natural, not quite real. Something about them was not to be trusted. They circled around him, dancing, their voices rising to the forest canopy with high, ringing laughter.

"At last he found Catherine’s face among them. Catherine, the most beautiful woman of them all. She wasn’t laughing, only smiling the reassuring smile that told him she loved him and everything was going to be all right. At the lake’s edge, Zen splashed in frustration. Zen stuck out her bottom lip and pouted. Orlando ignored her, holding out his arms toward Catherine. If he could only reach her, he thought, everything would be all right. If he could only reach her—but she seemed to slip further and further from his grasp, until he lost sight of her among the women. He thought he faintly glimpsed her blonde hair disappearing into the darkness of the woods.

"He felt the water lap over his foot, and thought Zen had splashed him. Instead, he looked down and saw his foot—no longer his foot, but a goat’s hoof where his funky red-and-brown suede shoe had been before—was sinking into the lake. Zen had a hold of his arm now. She was dragging him down the hillock and into the lake. He tried to steady himself, tried to grasp at the grasses and flowers as if they would hold him. But Zen’s strength was much greater than he’d ever imagined. He was in the lake up to the waist now, and she was still pulling. A strange song rang through the woods."

The inspiration for Orlando's dream comes from this painting, Nymphs and a Satyr by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. (The image is in the public domain.)


The nymphs in this painting appear to be attacking the satyr rather violently. They seem intent upon dragging him into the water, even though satyrs can't breathe underwater. It's kinda like the W.B. Yeats poem "The Mermaid."

Bouguereau may have had some issues with paranormal women.

Jackie Kessler may have some issues with paranormal men.

You may recall from my review of DemonFire that the paranormal romance I'm currently reading is Hotter Than Hell by Jackie Kessler. It's an appropriate title for a week with temperatures in the mid-90s Fahrenheit.

I've now read Part I, which takes me to approximately the middle of the book. (I haven't read much this week.) When I bring up Kessler's "issues" (and I'm being facetious here), I'm referring to the character Pan.

The hero of the novel is a supporting character from the previous two books, Daun. Daun is short for Daunuan, pronounced "Don Juan." Yep, he's that Don Juan, the one who inspired Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. Daun is an incubus. He seduces evil mortal women, killing them in the process and taking their souls to hell. In this book, he's up for an infernal promotion if he can seduce a woman who isn't evil - usually she'd be completely off-limits to his kind. Her name is Virginia, and as of Part 1, her only direct interaction with Daun has been throwing a drink in his ridiculously handsome false mortal face.

I took this picture of the Don Juan monument in Sevilla, Spain
In Kessler's telling, the demons in hell are grouped by the sins they embody. Incubi and succubi, naturally, belong to the kingdom of Lust, and their king is Pan. Daun's natural form is a satyr, like Pan, although Pan is more goatish, with the characteristic pupils of goat eyes.

Daun is arrogant, smarmy, completely sex-obsessed and crude, but Kessler still portrays him in this series as sympathetic to a certain extent. Pan is the antagonist in that he forces Daun into the "seduce Virginia" challenge, which is the protagonist's obstacle or struggle in this plotline. It's not necessary as a literary device to make the antagonist utterly unsympathetic, but in this case, Pan is utterly unsympathetic. Pan is nothing more than a goat-legged rapist. Thus far, his victims have included a flock of female cherubim and an ancient Greek siren.

To be clear, Daun is a seducer, but he always obtains consent before sex. That the women die is simply the result of their being evil and bound for hell anyway. They're doomed before Daun gets there, although he is the vessel of their destruction.

Paranormal authors are free to use mythological figures however they choose, shaping them into their own distinct characters. I don't have a problem with that. In Cara Lockwood's Can't Teach an Old Demon New Tricks, Pan was a low-level demon of sloth, almost too lazy to even be evil.

If you look in Edith Hamilton's Mythology or Bulfinch's Mythology, you won't learn very much about the classical Pan. These sources - standard 20th-century reference materials on the Greco-Roman myths - agree Pan was a fairly minor agricultural god, worshiped by shepherds and the rural people, whose homes were near his sacred outdoor places. The Lupercalia may have been dedicated to Pan.

The most detailed myth about him involves a musical competition between Pan and Apollo, judged by King Midas. Midas declared Pan the winner, and an indignant Apollo cursed Midas with donkey ears. Pan was considered a son of Hermes.

However, Pan has taken on a whole new role in modern NeoPagan and Wiccan practice. To many witches, Wiccans and NeoPagans, Pan is The Horned God, the representation of the Divine Masculine. He's not the only possible representation of the Horned One or the Wild God of the Wood. The Green Man is one of his manifestations, as is Cernunnos, as is Shiva, as is Lugh, and many more.

What is offensive to some practitioners of the Craft is superimposing ideas of the Christian devil onto the non-evil NeoPagan/Wiccan Pan. As we discussed in the review of The Devil on Lammas Night, not all witches, Wiccans, and NeoPagans believe in and/or worship a devil in the Christian sense.

Caroline Tully, in a blog post titled "Calling the Great God Pan: The Horned God in Witchcraft Today," describes the Horned God as "strong but not violent, playful but deep, sexual but not sleazy, loving without being possessive, and emotional without fearing disintegration." The Horned God offers an image of divine masculinity that opposes the masculinity of Western patriarchy, which can be attractive and healing for male and female Craft practitioners alike.

You can read a very detailed paper about Pan, his ancient Egyptian counterpart Min, and the confusion between Pan and the devil at White Dragon.

I'm offering this not as a criticism of Jackie Kessler's writing, but simply as a complementary perspective. I'm just saying this: Pan isn't always the bad guy.

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Witchcraft - A 2nd Year in the Craft. This course will introduce you to the basics of Witchcraft with a Wiccan fusion. Step-by-step beginner exercises are included to help you start your journey safely and to show you exactly what to do in order to achieve your full magical potential. Plus, you can apply for a Certification of Completion for 2nd Degree Witchcraft.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Oh How Pinteresting! Fantasy Shopping Cart

I won't be around much today; my husband is having surgery on his arm in the late morning. He's getting a fistula, an arm vein that will have an arterial blood flow, which is used for hemodialysis. He doesn't need dialysis yet, but he has been put on the kidney transplant list, and his kidney function is getting close to the point when his nephrologist will want him to go on dialysis - if he doesn't get a donor kidney first.

I'm hoping we can go straight to transplant without dialysis, because any time on dialysis lessens the long-term survival rate. (There are people who live 20 years or more after starting dialysis, but the overall curve isn't as good.) The nephrologist still wants to go ahead and have the vascular surgeon do the fistula surgery, because if the hubster would suddenly need dialysis now, they'd have to create a dialysis port in his neck, and that has a higher risk of infection than when there's a fistula available.

If you have any good, cheerful stories about people who do well with kidney transplants - or with any donated organs, really - please go ahead and share them. Personally, I think the anti-rejection medicine is going to be the worst part, because it can't be ideal to suppress your immune system for the whole rest of your life.

So while I'm having a stressful day, please enjoy these cheerful style pins. The source for all of these is MyHabit. It's a virtual department store that sells clothes and accessories for men, women and children, and it also sells housewares.

I am an affiliate, so if you click through this link:

http://www.myhabit.com/?ie=UTF8&link_code=ur1&camp=217157&adid=01RV3087KC380VCMGZ40&creative=399785

...or the banner at the bottom of my blog and you buy something, I do get a small commission. I don't believe I've ever actually sold anything yet, but I have to say that in the interest of full disclosure. To be honest, the only reason I visit MyHabit is to make a fantasy shopping cart on Pinterest. I never buy anything designer, but I still love to look!







I love Keith Haring's art. I remember reading a published version of his journals and thinking how brilliant he was. It's so sad the artist died so young.

I don't have an iPhone 4, but maybe one of these days I'll find a really cool skin for my Nook.



Some wall art:



...with matching shoes, of course!













It's a relief to actually write a "normal" blog post after two days of folkloric strangeness. These are all my personal style; what goes in your fantasy shopping cart?

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Breaking the Da Vinci Code' by Darrell L. Bock and the Gnostic "Gospel"

On Saturday I went to the discount bookstore, as I may have mentioned. I picked up three books in Nalini Singh's Psy Changeling series, as well as a stack of magazines (they sell them for $1 each) and, for only $1.40, Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D.

This last one is a 2004 book about Dan Brown's book that was first published in 2001. I know this is a subject that was popular 100 years ago in pop culture time, but if you've been reading this blog very long, you know I love to read about books I've read. This isn't the first time I've read a book that supplements The Da Vinci Code. I already own Da Vinci Code Decoded by Martin Lunn (which I've read) and The Unauthorized Dan Brown Companion edited by John Helfers (2006 - I have skimmed it, but not read it the whole way through).


Now I've read Breaking the Da Vinci Code. I very much enjoyed it. Bock is a Protestant Biblical scholar, and his book looks at various ancient texts mentioned in Dan Brown's book to show systematically, using the original source material, that 1) the books of the Bible are as authentic a historical source as any other ancient text, and probably much more so, and 2) the ancient texts show very clearly that the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene was understood by witnesses of their time to be teacher/student, not sexual or a marriage relationship.

One of the sources that Bock addresses is Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses in Latin), a second-century work by Irenaeus, considered one of the "church fathers" and a Catholic saint. Irenaeus, a bishop of what is now Lyons, France, but which was then part of the Roman Empire, wrote in part to combat the Gnostic writings of Valentinus, which were popular in Lyons at the time. Valentinus was a Hellenic Egyptian; he or his followers wrote The Gospel of Truth, which was rediscovered in modern times at Nag Hammadi in 1945.

Bock quotes Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Eastern Orthodox Biblical scholar, in her magazine article "What Heresy?" (Books and Culture, November-December 2003). Mathewes-Green wrote:

"The version attributed to Valentinus, the best-known Gnostic, is typical. Valentinus supposedly taught a hierarchy of spiritual beings called 'aeons.' One of the lowest aeons, Sophia, fell and gave birth to the Demiurge, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. This evil Demiurge created the visible world, which was a bad thing, because now we pure spirits are all tangled up in fleshy bodies. Christ was an aeon who took possession of the body of the human Jesus, and came to free us from the prison of materiality.

"'Us,' by the way, didn't mean everybody. Not all people have a divine spark within, just intellectuals; 'gnosis,' by definition, concerns what you know. Some few who are able to grasp these insights could be initiated into deeper mysteries. Ordinary Christians, who lacked sufficient brainpower, could only obtain the Demiurge's middle realm. Everyone else was doomed. Under Gnosticism, there was no hope of salvation for most of the human race."

Bock explains that "demiurge" is simple a Greek word that means "maker" or "builder," referring to the making of the material world.



If the story of the cosmic spirit-being Sophia giving birth to evil sounds vaguely familiar, it may be that you, like me, are a fan of Lady Gaga. It's the bones of what Lady Gaga wrote in "The Manifesto of Mother Monster" in the full-length "Born This Way" video.


This is the text of the manifesto:

This is the manifesto of Mother Monster:
On G.O.A.T, a Government Owned Alien Territory in space, a birth of magnificent and magical proportions took place. But the birth was not finite; it was infinite. As the wombs numbered, and the mitosis of the future began, it was perceived that this infamous moment in life is not temporal; it is eternal. And thus began the beginning of the new race: a race within the race of humanity, a race which bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom. But on that same day, as the eternal mother hovered in the multiverse, another more terrifying birth took place: the birth of evil. And as she herself split into two, rotating in agony between two ultimate forces, the pendulum of choice began its dance. It seems easy, you imagine, to gravitate instantly and unwaveringly towards good. But she wondered, “How can I protect something so perfect without evil?


That the text represents Gnosticism is not my idea, but rather something I read at MKCulture (which you may remember from last year's conspiracy theory post), an inactive blog that is, as of this writing, still able to be accessed. The blogger doesn't elaborate much in the blog post "Descendants of Sophia," but writes, "In my last post I explored the ever-present theme of the Goddess archetype within the context of pop culture. That inquiry ended with 'Born This Way,' the latest [as of April 2011] music video from pop star Lady Gaga. In the video Lady Gaga embodies Gnostic Goddess Sophia." The rest of the post veers off into Kate Bush's album, Ellen Page's career, and then goddesses associated with the owl and the peacock. 

The blogger has a YouTube account as well, on which this video can be found. It explains the Gaga-as-Sophia concept in a little bit of detail. 


If you want the full "Illuminati" explanation of this same video, visit Vigilant Citizen's "Born This Way" post. I'm not much for Illuminati conspiracy theories. I don't doubt that a small group of people has far more power than it should in this world, and that they probably have some screwed-up ideas about how the world should run, but I also believe pop culture is run more by a quest for increased profit than by some sort of ideological (Masonic/Luciferian/Satanic - depends on who you ask) cabal. But it's there to read, if you want it.

Madonna may be the Material Girl, but Lady Gaga-as-Sophia gave birth to the creator of the material world. Maybe that's why "Born This Way" subtly samples Madonna's "Express Yourself," according to some listeners.

My trusty Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets has more than two pages on Sophia, under the heading "Saint Sophia." Barbara J. Walker describes Sophia (the name literally means "wisdom" in Greek) as "God's mother" but also the shakti, or female soul/power source, of God. Her symbol was the dove, as some of her incarnations include Aphrodite, Isis/Hathor, and "The Holy Ghost." She writes:

"Some said Jesus became Sophia's spouse and his glory depended on this sacred marriage; for he was only one of the Aeons, a minor spirit, the 'common fruit' of the Pleroma [the Gnostic "one true God," a transcendent being].

"Some said Sophia was also Jesus's mother, for she was the Virgin of Light whose spirit entered into the body of Mary to conceive him...Some said Sophia was to God as Metis was to Zeus, his 'mind.'"

Walker goes on to report that when the Church of Hagia Sophia was constructed in Constantinople in the 6th century, it was a shrine to Sophia the Goddess, but to cover up the appearance of goddess worship, Christians made up the "virgin martyr" Saint Sophia. Walker cites the 8th and 9th chapters of the Biblical book of Proverbs as having an ambivalent attitude toward Sophia, or wisdom. In one passage, following Wisdom is to be praised, but in another, "she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city [her temple]," calling to passersby to turn toward her, but if anyone turns into her temple "he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell." Walker sees this as two factions - one in favor of worshiping the Goddess Sophia and another that worships only the male God - having a debate.

If Sophia is thought of as the mother/spouse of Jesus, and she's associated with the "high places of the city" (the temple or watchtower, magdala in Hebrew), it's possibly Sophia is also associated with Mary Magdalene. Perhaps this is another reason why Lady Gaga appears as a Mary Magdalene figure in her "Judas" video, which came out after "Born This Way."

(However, after having watched a little video about Kenneth Anger and Hollywood Babylon the other day, I learned about Anger's experimental film Scorpio Rising. In it, Anger intercut clips of a Biblical drama featuring Jesus with footage of a leather-clad biker, set to 1950s rock 'n roll. The "Judas" video may be an homage to Scorpio Rising. Now, Kenneth Anger - he was openly a Satanist, and would proudly have told you he followed the teachings of Aleister Crowley.)

Neo-Gnosticism is a favorite topic of a blogger I mentioned yesterday, Christopher Loring Knowles. He seems to genuinely believe there is a world of spiritual or energy beings, hidden from us most of the time in the material world, but which seems to break through at times and communicates with us in a language of symbols and coincidences (synchronicities).

VISUP will occasionally mention Gnosticism as well. In one post, VISUP mentions that some Gnostics referred to the Demiurge as Samael, which VISUP says means "blind idiot." Where have I read that name before? In Devil's In the Details, where Samael is the name of Satan's fiance. Synchronicity? Maybe. Dog days of summer weirdness? It's a little early for that, but perhaps.

http://www.betterworldbooks.com/
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Monday, July 15, 2013

What Are the Dog Days of Summer?

On July 15, DigitalBookWorld.com published an article titled, "No Dog Days for Publishing This Summer." The article is about various summer developments in this publishing world, but the phrase "dog days of summer" is a common one. What do dogs have to do with hottest days of summer? What's the origin of this strange phrase?

Wikipedia gives us the basic facts: the ancient Romans called the hottest part of July and August (approximately from July 23 to August 24) the "dies caniculares," or dog days, and associated them with the time the star Sirius rose at approximately the same time as the sun (its heliacal rising). Sirius was called the "dog star" because it appeared in the constellation Canus Major, or the Large Dog. Because of the shift in the earth's rotation on its axis (precession of the equinoxes) over the centuries, this is no longer an exact correspondence. These days have long had a folkloric association with misfortune.

The term "dog days" was also used in ancient Greece. The name Sirius comes from the Greek word seirios, or "burning." In ancient Egypt, the summer solstice and the heliacal rising of Sirius were marked as the New Year, and came shortly before the annual flooding of the Nile. This was so important to the Egyptians, they aligned their temples with the path of Sirius across the sky, and the air shafts within the Great Pyramid opens to the part of the sky in which Sirius can be viewed. Understandable, since the floods deposited the arable silt the Egyptians needed to grow their food crops.



Of course, we all knew that Sirius was called The Dog Star because a) Sirius Satellite Radio once had a dog as part of its logo (it seems to have stopped using the dog image), and b) J.K. Rowling (the artist also known as Robert Galbraith) gave the name Sirius Black to her dog-shapeshifter. "Why Would Sirius Black Become a Black Dog?" is a chapter in David Colbert's The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter.



Blogger VISUP, whom you may remember from "Imbolc, Buddy Holly and Human Sacrifice," wrote a post called "Sirius Rises" that deals with the mythology of the dog days. The post refers to an ancient belief that Sirius and its hot, drying effect on the earth will influence women's sexuality, making women's desire increase and, perhaps, leading women to initiate certain sexual rituals. In addition to sexual rites, the ancient Romans considered the rising of Sirius the appropriate time to sacrifice a brown dog to Demeter. VISUP suggests this custom may have replaced an even more ancient custom of human sacrifice.

VISUP may be suggesting a link - not necessarily cause and effect - between the ancient sacrifices and a modern-day higher rate of violence in the summer months. VISUP only implies this, so I don't know from statistical evidence whether there is more violence in the hot months or in the cold months.

The link between a goddess associated with the Underworld (if we consider Persephone, Demeter and Hecate as three forms of the same Underworld goddess) and dogs is that dogs were considered guardians of the underworld. In Egypt, VISUP tells us, the goddess and god associated with the dog days are Isis and the jackal-headed Anubis, "her guardian dog."



If we return to Colbert, we'll see that the most common places in English folklore associated with the "grim," the spectral black dog central to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, are churchyards and "certain roads" (probably corpse roads). This may be a folkloric echo of the idea of supernatural dogs guarding the Underworld.

The main idea of VISUP's post is that the dog days are an unusually dangerous time of year to this day, essentially that the ancient Greeks and Romans were right to be wary of them, even if the cause of this strangeness (if it, in fact, exists outside of people's subjective perception) wasn't known then and isn't known now.

Another blogger of unusual phenomena, Christopher Loring Knowles of the blog Secret Sun, uses the dog days as a recurring theme. Loring Knowles suggests another link between the goddess and canines: the Egyptians associated the heliacal rising of Sirius with the goddess Isis, and the destructive power of goddesses was often compared in ancient times to predatory animals such as lions (as in the sun-goddess Sekhmet), tigers, wolves and hunting dogs (the Greek goddess Artemis/Roman Diana is sometimes depicted with one or more hunting dogs). He also points out that Demeter's Roman name, Ceres, is similar to Sirius, and implies that Isis, Ceres and Sirius may all be names for one being.



Loring Knowles' main thesis seems to be much the same as VISUP's: that for some unknown reason, strange and unlucky things with some association to dogs and/or Sirius seem to happen during the dog days. A subtextual lesson seems to be that the hottest, strangest days of the summer are associated with a great goddess, with great potential to cause harm - or at least mischief (because not all summer weirdness has life-or-death consequences) - for human beings with an overabundance of heat, both literal and sexual.

How do you feel about the dog days of summer?


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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Like 'Divergent,' Dauntless For The Very First Time (Book Review)

I made it through the Choosing Ceremony
Somehow I made it through
Didn't know how Dauntless I was
Until I found Four...


Okay, enough of that nonsense. I finished reading Divergent, the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth (and soon to be a movie), on Friday night. I first caught bits and pieces of "Tris and Four" talk from my book-loving friends on Tumblr. Then several bloggers who routinely link up with Blonde...Undercover Blonde's Book Club Friday read and reviewed it, and I knew I had to read this book. They claimed it was for people who liked the Hunger Games trilogy, and I definitely did.

In the world of Divergent, which takes place in Chicago some time in the near future, society has been split into five factions, or groups of people who arrange themselves according to the values they consider most important. Beatrice (later nicknamed Tris) Prior is born into Abnegation, which values selflessness. The other factions are Amity (peace), Candor (truthfulness), Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (knowledge). At the beginning of the book, Beatrice is 15 years old. When she turns 16, she'll have to choose the faction she'll stay in for the rest of her life. Society places pressure on young people to stay in the faction into which they were born, but Beatrice senses she doesn't entirely belong in Abnegation.

(Yes, this is an example of the Dangerous Sixteenth Birthday trope, and yes, we also saw it in Beautiful Creatures.)

Before her Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice takes a series of tests that could help her decide which faction she has an aptitude for. She gets an unusual result - Beatrice is Divergent, with no clear aptitude for any one faction, but strong characteristics of three different ones. Being Divergent is dangerous, and she must conceal this from everyone, although no one will tell her exactly why. (She'll later find out that people have been murdered just for being Divergent.)

As much to her surprise as to anyone else's, Beatrice chooses to become Dauntless. The Dauntless initiation is the most dangerous and physically demanding of any of the factions, so much so that there are fewer openings in Dauntless than there are candidates. The first thing they have to do is jump onto the trains that still run through downtown Chicago, and some of the candidates don't make it. They become Factionless; the Factionless do all the menial tasks in society and are perpetually on the edge of starvation, relying on charity from Abnegation.

Thus, Beatrice becomes Tris. You certainly can't put her into the category of weak YA heroines. Every day, Tris gains a little physical and mental strength - and believe me, by Chapter 35 she needs every bit of it. Even though Tris manages to survive her initiation and join the ranks of Dauntless (as the #1 non-Dauntless-born candidate, no less - her Divergent status is a huge advantage when it comes to controlling her fears), another faction has a secret plan to use the brave souls of Dauntless - the closest thing society has to an army - to attack another faction.

This novel can be summed up in one hyphenated word: action-packed. The factions are supposed to work for the good of everyone by having people specialize in what they do best, but in reality, danger lurks around every corner of Tris's world.

Readers who are tired of YA novels with female heroines where the main focus of the story is a romantic relationship will find Divergent refreshing. There is a romance, but it's not the main focus. That said, the hero - nicknamed Four; to give away his given name would be too much of a spoiler - Tris's 18-year-old trainer, is totally yummy. (I love him with Tris, although I think if I were in this world, I would have a crush on Tris's fraternal twin, Caleb, who joins Erudite.)

What happens from Chapter 35 onward makes me very sad, and very eager to read Insurgent. I'm also sad when Tris says that Lake Michigan has dried up into a marshland. The whole image of downtown Chicago being a shadow of what it once was is a bit depressing to contemplate.

If I had to choose a faction, I think I'd pick Amity. Which would you choose?

Other Notes: I went to the discount bookstore today, after an anniversary breakfast with Tit Elingtin. (We've been married 11 years today.) I bought three books in Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series: Branded by Fire (#6), Blaze of Memory (#7) and Play of Passion (#9). Unfortunately, I forgot I already had Play of Passion, so now I have an extra copy. I still need Caressed by Ice (#3) and Bonds of Justice (#8). Anybody want to trade #3 for #9? Let me know.

P.S. I have finally seen The Hobbit. Finally, I watched a movie AFTER reading the book. It was nice to see Frodo, Elrond and Galadriel again, but it needed much, much more Thranduil. I like Lee Pace because he is Garrett from Breaking Dawn Pt. 2, although it is hard to recognize him in elf form.

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Shift by Madison Dunn. $8.99 from Smashwords.com
I'm not sure why it happens, but when I focus just right, I can slow time. Things around me become lighter somehow, and I almost feel the tiny particles of energy spinning inside of them. The thing is, having the ability to transform the world around you isn't all it's cracked up to be -- especially when you are running from the Valencia without any deodorant.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

#ParanormalRomance #BookReview: DemonFire by Kate Douglas

DemonFire is the first book in Kate Douglas's 4-part DemonSlayers series. Based on the series name, you might expect the heroine, Eddy Marks, to be the tattooed, leather-jacketed, tough-as-nails heroine typical of urban fantasy. Actually, she's a reporter in a small northern California town near Mount Shasta. Her life is pretty normal, expect for the fact that her father, Ed, believes in a lost continent of people who live not under the ocean like the Atlantians, but inside the mountain.

In accordance with The Legend of Chekhov*, which states, "When the heroes of a story are told a legend, myth, or fairy tale, you can almost guarantee that the story is true and that the heroes will have to deal with it at some point," the Lemurians who live in Mount Shasta are real. When you think of the Lemurians, think of the elves from the Lord of the Rings books/movies. They're a tall, placid, beautiful people with long, flowing hair and are immortal. 

Although the Lemurian crown prince, Alton, is a major character in this novel, he is not the hero. The hero is Dax, a fallen demon (not a fallen angel, but a born-demon who has rejected The Abyss to become good) who must prevent the escape of the other, much more malevolent demons, which threatens not only the earth but also the paradise dimension, Eden. Dax is able to take on human form for seven days only, and borrows the body of a young American man killed in France in World War II. 

Although they know they can only have one week together, Eddy and Dax are destined to fall in love. 

Note the unflattering haircut on the female cover model. It looks like she had a cute pixie cut, and then someone badly Photoshopped longer hair in behind her head.

I enjoyed the "we only have one week together" twist on the traditional paranormal romance; it helped make this novel more suspenseful. The final chapter is especially suspenseful. It was one of those books that had me flipping to see how many pages were left to see if the story could be wrapped up before the pages ran out. 


Thus far, the DemonSlayer series is not nearly as sexually charged as Kate Douglas's ultra-erotic Wolf Tales series, although this book is an erotic romance.  Eddy and Dax are reluctant to have sex at first because their impending separation will be so painful, but their bodies are drawn to each other. A common theme in many of Kate Douglas's works that I've read is the healing power of love - and, yes, of sex as well - and this book is no exception. It's a nice twist that Dax has never been in a human body before and is really discovering physical pleasure for the first time, which makes for some really hot and emotionally charged sex scenes. I did enjoy those parts of the book. 

The next book in the series promises to introduce a potential romance for Alton, with Eddy's friend who's a 9-1-1 dispatcher. 

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

The Folklore: Dax's true, demon form is sometimes a six-limbed, dragon-like creature, sometimes a snake-like creature, and sometimes a black mist. His human body has a living tattoo of a snake in which his demon powers are stored. The tattoo seems to be alive independent of Dax, and sometimes it tries to attack him. Eddy has the power to calm and soothe it. 

Dax has as his earthly companion Willow, a name that stands for Will O' The Wisp. Also called a sprite, she takes the form of a small blonde woman with blue wings who sparkles with blue energy. Her job is to pull energy out of her surroundings to funnel to Dax. With the energy Willow provides, Dax is able to shoot fire and ice from his human hands, an ability he'd normally have in his demon form. 

The will o' the wisp is a fascinating feature of Northern European and other world folklore. (Rural Argentinians have a strong folkloric tradition of them - they're called Luz Mala in Spanish - as do aboriginal Australians.) You can read quite a bit about it on Wikipedia. That encyclopedia entry associates the will o' the wisp with the hinkypunk of English legend, which of course we all know from the Harry Potter series. Professor Lupin taught Harry and his classmates to battle hinkypunks - which Rowling describes as having the appearance of smoke - in their third-year Defense Against the Dark Arts class. 

The appearance of "ghost lights" or will o' the wisps in graveyards and marshlands is explained scientifically by photon emissions produced from the oxidation of methane and other gases produced by decaying organic materials. The Enlightenment-era physicist Alessandro Volta, for whom electrical volts are named, was among the first scientists to study the phenomenon. 


Literary Aside: Volta is credited with discovering methane. As an interesting literary aside, Volta was a vocal opponent of anatomist Luigi Galvani's theory that electricity was what made living things alive. Galvani could show experimentally, using a rudimentary battery cell, that electricity could cause muscular contractions in dead frogs. His experiments are some of what inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein - sometimes considered the first science fiction novel. But I digress. If you want to know more, you could read An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Age of Enlightenment by Patricia Fara.

What I'm Reading Next: The third book in Jackie Kessler's Hell on Earth series, Hotter Than Hell



Disclosure: I purchased DemonFire with my own funds - I believe I bought it several years ago while Borders was still in business. I was not compensated for this review in any way, shape or form. It represents my own honest opinion. 

*You can thank, or blame, Jinni for introducing me to TVTropes.org