Friday, December 6, 2019

“Voice(s) across Space-Time”: A Review of Michael McNamara’s This Transmission

(Argotist Ebooks, 2019, https://www.argotistonline.co.uk)

Irish poet Michael McNamara’s latest collection packs into 35 pages a wealth of imagery in its visionary calls across the viscous, enigmatic ether of Space-Time. This ebook’s striking cover features dozens of bearded, wild-haired faces—similar, yet unique—held in a heartlike, streaming-ribbons shape, although one at the bottom breaks (or falls?) away in screaming fury.
The author?
Aspects, of, perhaps, of some other entity entirely, as you will see.
Like dialing in a radio from a far off station, the poems in This Transmission change voices, tones, periods, and perspectives in a cascade of crisp images and dire observations. The title poem puts the mysterious, myriad faces on the cover into context: “the Chinese, the Spanish Mexicans, the Native Americans, Siberians and Inuit” and extends the focus beyond the minority male, asking, “Was that Yoko, Cleopatra or The Magdalene?”: powerful, misunderstood, and misrepresented women all.
In the second poem, “From Prussia with Love” (mark the pop culture and art/literary riffs—they are everywhere embedded), the collection’s Voice gets stronger, declaring, “I'm your Alpha, your Omega.”
We’ve heard that one before.
But who is this declarer? In a later poem, the Voice says:
That’s me posing for Modigliani.
That’s me with Jacob Boehme.
That’s me behind The Maid of Orleans.
I am The Boer, The Troubadour, The Carthaginian, A Flower Girl, Soul Queen Of Harlem.
I stood with Alexander

Like the Faceless Men in Game of Thrones, the Voice declares:

I will steal another man’s face
and speak with my mouth his truth.

This enigmatic, energized Voice speaks much of war, of the monks who immolated themselves in protest of the Vietnam War and those who Crusade in the name of God. It speaks of the death of Rasputin (but not overtly), and of “births, deaths, and rebirths.”

This not-always-empowered Voice across Space-Time knows its Bible stories, claiming its title as the “last of The Great Magicians” and evoking the names of Samson and Delilah, Lazarus, and “the other Nazarite” (meaning the Voice was also from Nazareth?) while likening the whole set of sequences to a circus where he is but a clown in sackcloth, like an Old-New Testament Pagliacci as they hate it and laugh in derision.

Keeping on with the biblical theme, turning ever darker, comes this tercet from the poem “Ireland 2016”:

Incense and the blood of Christ's dark antithesis is
the smell of stale cigar smoke and blood
on the toilet seat at the Catholic church.

Followed by references to Caravaggio and the Easter Rising. Then the Voice says, in the very wisest of wisdoms:

(We are clever people
handicapped by stupidity).

Though parenthetical, it is key.

Poems like “Before the Days,” all 10 lines of it, operate as ciphers as to whom the Voice might be.

An actor? Unquestionably. Both as a noun and as a verb—one who plays a role and one who is actively sending out… transmissions. But not an actor of high renown, of great success and celebrity, but “an aging actor soaked outside the faux theatre rain.” One who has known the very Ancient and is remarking upon the very modern: “They scribble false obits for the suicide”—Jeffrey Epstein? If I think it as the reader, Umberto Eco told us, it must be so.

In “Benighted Lightlessness,” the Ancient and Modern don’t so much collide as co-habitate, as they must in the Akashic Record, the Etheric Plane from which these Transmissions seem to come. Here we have “Pict, Jute, and Dane” and “The machine [that] holds neither malice/ nor compassion,/ no sense of power;/ it simply does.”

Just like the Voice… it matters not who “it” is or how or why it exists… because it simply does.

And by the end of the book, we are grateful for its effort.



Monday, December 2, 2019

“Inspirational Innovation”: A Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku

“Inspirational Innovation”: A Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku (East Rockaway: Marsh Hawk Press, 2019, ISBN: 978-0-9969911-6-2)
The great white whale for all true Creatives is the alchemical creation of something New. Wholly new. Something Never Before Done.
But, in reality, how many emotional crews and spiritual lower legs have we sacrificed in the pursuit of such seeming folly?
I was recently engaged in a discussion with creative colleagues when the idea that “there is nothing new” left to create came up. For one of us, it was a statement originally made to him some 30 years ago by a professor in the college where he had enrolled.
So—is it true? Outside of deconstructionism and post-postmodernism, aside from homage and pastiche (all four of which are prevalent in my own work), is there anything truly new?
This retrospective collection says yes.
Embracing variations on the haiku and tercet forms while honoring Philippine culture and elements of the Diaspora, Tabios’ Hay(na)ku form has, to put it mildly, caught on with a worldwide community of poets, breeding variations that both honor the form from which they come and the strength of the form itself.
For those new to Tabios’ work (and with her credits tallying 50 collections, visual art, mini-books, websites of reviews and other writings, and 15 anthologies in which she has played a role, who isn’t new to it in some respect?—herself included, as you shall see), this collection offers histories and essays about not only Hay(na)ku but several aspects of this innovative artist’s work.
At this point, I lose count, but I estimate that this is the twelfth or thirteenth review of Tabios’ work that I have undertaken. A great deal of the material in this collection is familiar to me—even more so because Tabios recycles much of her writing using a “poetry generator” and through her experimentation with new and existing forms.
Simply by placing it in a new context, with new divisions and crafted proximities that suit the flow of the work, be it by year or by style, Tabios renders Old now New. In the process, she also illuminates the nigredo from which her poetic alchemy emerges: Life, Death, and Resurrection; Romantic Relationships; Memory (and Forgetting); the artist’s relationship with other artists (including homage, overlap, and subtler inspiration), the aforementioned Philippine Diaspora, and orphans/adoption. One gets that sense that, as free-ranging and transdisciplinary as Tabios is (and she must be to generate so much fresh and innovative text), that she is equally as intimate with these self-same subjects. One can feel the arc of the original inspiration, the spiritual depth-diving with which she engages said subjects to such an extent that the silver thread that holds them is taut enough to pluck and hear the tone as though it were the Music of the Spheres manifestly made.
So make no mistake—Tabios is not innovating and recycling to mask a lack of writing power. Take this tercet, from “listening to what woke me”:
in the city, as summer evaporates off the streets
the stilled, sharp blades of a three-pronged fan
behind the curve of its grated metal mask (27)
Hear the music?
Although Tabios does not write exclusively for those who might be disparagingly called “hyper-intellectuals,” being well read and culturally adept has its added rewards when engaging with her work. Not only does she riff on and take as the jumping-off point an impressive myriad of source material, she clearly loves to play frolic with language. Take “Adjectives From The Last Time They Met,” where the conceit is a cornucopian panoply of words like “taphophobia,” “hastilude,” “sternutation,” “argy-bargy,” “nictitating,” “xanthic, ” “cyanic,” and “nugatory” (Microsoft Word recognizes less than half of them… Shame on you, B. Gates…)
In the section devoted to the history and form of the Hay(na)ku, my favorite expression of it is the method of using 3 words, then 2, then 1. It is elegant, both visually and in the way it reinforces the reductionism of the form itself. Here is an example, from “The Singer”:
When they heard
him, they
heard

the whips over
his ancestors,
as

they were forced
out from
India. (130)

Deriving from and building on the Hay(na)ku is a form called Haybun. The selections here are from 147 Million Orphans. Haybun takes a Hay(na)ku tercet as its start, followed by a prose poem. Although not all verse poets are adept at doing prose, Tabios’s prose poems hold a depth and artistry begging slow, multiple reads.

Next in the collection is a section on the Murder, Death, Resurrection (MDR) poetry generator. Now, this may not be strictly new—Burroughs and Gysin get credit for pioneering “cut-up” poetry, and everyone from David Bowie to yours truly have used it in some way, shape, or form. But Tabios, ever the innovator, has, in one iteration of this exploration, taken 1,167 lines from 27 collections and arranged them in tercets, starting each with “I Forgot,” an homage to Tom Beckett’s poem. The result is a masterful journey through memory. As with Burroughs, Gysin, and the rest, the process yields nothing less than a new reality. Words as spells, as they were meant to be, with adjusted frequencies that change the elements around them.

I could go on, but I think it’s time for the reviewer to stop and your role as reader to begin.

One last thing… to me, the most important (and perhaps to Tabios too): Be Inspired. Stay open. Don’t be passive. Find your own forms. Riff on Tabios’. Take some of your writing—even grocery lists will work—and see

What you can
do new
Now

Write on.





Thursday, October 17, 2019

“The Power of Meditation”: A Review of Books I and II of The Eedoo Trilogy, by W. W. Rowe

(Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 2018 and 2019). ISBN 978-1-936012-84-8 and 978-1-936012-86-2

Book I: Sharoo Awakens

Spirituality is often difficult to talk about with children. Despite numerous studies that show that meditation can help with everything from concentration to stress, most school systems do not have meditation programs, as it is perceived by many parents to be a form of religion—and one to which they are not comfortable having their children exposed.

Given this unfortunate situation, W. W. Rowe’s Eedoo Trilogy is important. Taking place in a parallel universe where things are close enough to ours to be recognizable but different enough to be a fun literary device, these chapter books (each chapter is set off by an illustration by Benjamin Slatoff-Burke) introduce or reinforce the importance of being in touch with your higher self, represented in Book I by the enigmatic, warning spirit guide/guardian angel called Eedoo (who is termed a Floater).

Like imaginary friends, the existence of Eedoo is questioned by adults, with some significant results.

I mentioned that the parallel universe is fun. This is partially so because of the adjustments to common words and phrases, which also serve, similar to A Series of Unfortunate Events, to call attention to vocabulary (e.g., flutterbys instead of butterflies). There are also phrase adjustments like sleep room and water rituals (washing up, we called it).

Rowe also has fun with alternatives for popular acronyms, such as URL (to us it means Uniform Resource Locator, but in the universe of the book it is Ultra-Rarified Level). There is also plenty of punning, which also shines light on vocabulary and the uses of language.  Young readers are introduced to portmanteaus in the form of a planet called Blore, a combination of blood and gore.

At a time when parallel universes are no longer in question, given the work of NASA, Google, D-Wave quantum computing, and quantum physics, children being exposed to the subtleties of the shifts in paradigm that might be likely is no less than good education.

Any children’s book that takes place in a school, especially one with elements of mysticism and magic, is likely to be compared to the Harry Potter series. One comparison in particular is the school teacher who has it out for the students, in this case Mr. Sade (a nod to the infamous marquis from whom the term sadist derived) and his corporal punishment device, the Zapper. In my days in Catholic school, a wooden ruler or a tug on the ear would do. When one of the children mentions the teacher’s battle-axe of a wife, I thought of the schoolmaster in Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

The heroine of the trilogy is Sharoo, recognizable as a cross between Judy Bloom’s Sheila the Great and J.K. Rowling’s Hermione Granger. She is a character that is likeable because she is identifiable. She navigates home and school as the targeted audience of ages 9 to 12 must.

It is interesting that, despite the book making a strong case for the importance of meditation and being in touch with our guides that the fortune teller/witch character is so stereotypical, from her cackle to the “curved, warty nose” and single tooth. I know many psychic mediums (I am married to one and father to another) and given their beauty and “normality” it’s probably time for such off-putting stereotypes to go.

In the last third of the book, Sharoo answers the call to adventure, becoming the stranger in a strange land as she leaves her home to help the king and queen.

Book II: Invaders from Blore

As indicated by the title, and as is often the case with a series, the scope of Book II becomes larger, with bigger, weightier problems to solve. Sharoo is now an acknowledged hero in her country and with it comes responsibility.

Although only touched on near the end of Book I, the notion that a Floater/spirit guide cannot tell you everything—that you must figure things out and choose your own path—is central to the sequel. This is an important aspect of spiritual work, either within formal religions or in a more general spiritual practice. Additionally, Empowerment is a must in stories for youth, so it was good to see this take on more prevalence in Book II.

Meditation is also a core subject of the sequel, with Sharoo leading a class in it. Rowe does an excellent job of outlining both the benefits and challenges of meditation practice.

Rowe also touches on alcoholism, which affects many families. I look forward to the outcome of what is set in motion here in the final book of the trilogy.

As a professional paranormal investigator and author I also want to mention that Rowe is knowledgeable in this area, with many of the events that take place in Book II squarely in the realm of the case studies and literature on these phenomena.

Rowe is also good at paying off reader IOUs. Plot mysteries touched on in Book I are revealed in Book II and there are other reveals that respect the reader and juice the plot. This is not always the case with YA books, and Rowe is to be applauded.

There is a situation in Book II that is concerning, similar to the derogatory, stereotypical description of the witch I mentioned from Book I, and that is that spells and incantations are made light of. This is a missed opportunity for more education. Mantra-based meditation, using Sanskrit, is based on the quality and energy of sounds. Further, in books like these that are concerned with vocabulary, mentioning the fact that the spelling of words comes from spell-ing (magic through words) would have been value-added. This could be a lesson in both Intention and in the inherent power of the sounds of the words we choose to use, and not just their meaning.

The first two books in the trilogy are Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Winners for ages 9 to 12. As I was completing this review the publisher, Larson, announced that the third book in the trilogy has also won this award.



Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Review of John A. Keel: The Man, The Myths, and The Ongoing Mysteries, by Brent Raynes

A Review of John A. Keel: The Man, The Myths, and The Ongoing Mysteries, by Brent Raynes (Available on Amazon and from the author, 2019). ISBN 978-1-0790-1450-1
If you are interested in the paranormal—whether it be UFOs, cryptids, or poltergeist and haunting phenomena—chances are good that you know the name John A. Keel. A journalist turned paranormal investigator and author of some of the foundational works in the field (including perhaps his most famous—The Mothman Prophecies), Keel was cutting edge and controversial.
To fully appreciate his complexity, Brent Raynes—a life-long investigator, publisher, and podcast host—delivers a text that is part biography and part survey of the areas that Keel was studying and the prevalent investigators who are still carrying on that work. I found this approach to be refreshing and appropriate given who Keel was, and, as stated in the subtitle, the “ongoing mysteries” that survive him in death. It is also an opportunity for the reader to apply Keel’s cutting-edge theories in “real-time” to the cases that Raynes includes, which cover areas such as tulpas, poltergeists, alien abduction, and the lore around Aleister Crowley.
I was introduced to Keel’s work after watching the film based on his book about the cryptid sadly named “The Mothman” and visiting the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia on the Ohio River in 2009, where my wife and I saw an interdimensional being. Ten years later, we are professional paranormal investigators and authors and the works of John Keel have been invaluable to our work and understanding of these complex phenomena.
Raynes sought out others who personally knew and collaborated with Keel, including Rosemary Ellen Guiley, who provides the Foreword and an interview. This is bittersweet, as Guiley, one of the most respected investigator–authors in the history of this work (and my mentor, friend, and publisher), passed away right as the book was being published.
In short, because there is lots to cover, writers like Raynes and Guiley are the most qualified to speak about and shine a light on Keel, which makes this book a must-read for anyone with an interest in the paranormal.
It is no surprise that considerable pages are spent on The Mothman, including interviews and anecdotes from many of the key witnesses (much of which is available in other books and documentaries) but also from lesser-known witnesses and Swedish researcher Ake Franzen, whose visits to Point Pleasant and intimate involvement with one of the first witnesses I knew nothing about. There is also the corollary phenomena, such as the Men in Black and UFO sightings during that time.
Keel was in contact with all of the luminaries in the field—such as Colin Wilson, Ivan Sanderson, Jacques Vallee, and Allen J. Hynek—some of which he got on with, and some of which he didn’t. Being a pioneer-prophet, Keel’s ideas were at first maligned before being adopted by more than a few initial skeptics. If you want to try and understand the history of in-fighting, squabbling, and back-stabbing that is an embarrassing but undeniable facet of our field, this book does a fine job of laying some of it out.
Part of this was because Keel was no-nonsense and tell-it-like-it-is—a privilege that he more than earned. After all, he was truly ahead of his time with his theories of “ultraterrestrials” and the theory that hauntings, UFO sightings, and cryptids are all related phenomena, and the nuts and bolts and flesh and blood theories of the paranormal don’t make sense once you begin to depth-dive into the cases. Keel also led the call for a multidisciplinary study of phenomena—including religion and mythology—that has been answered by a growing number of investigators and authors. My own work, which I term transdisciplinary, is very much in line with what Keel was urging fifty years ago.
There isn’t the space to cover in this review all of the facets of Keel’s life, from TV writer to magician to world traveler—you’ll just have to read the book. Raynes offers some eyebrow-raising revelations about the Military–Industrial–Intelligence Complex’s interaction with/manipulation of the phenomena.
I appreciate Raynes’s warts-and-all approach. Keel didn’t always get it right and was at times coy (like his contemporary Grey Barker) about where pure fact ended and the literary flair began. I have always struggled with this when engaging with his work, and I appreciate Raynes giving a full picture. Many of the interviewees that share anecdotes and impressions throughout the book are also honest about a man who was far more complicated than most.
No matter where you land on the spectrum of thoughts about Keel, he was inarguably a pioneer, a talented investigator and writer, and one of the true giants on whose shoulders we all stand. His perseverance in the face of trials is inspiring (Mothman Prophecies sold poorly and money for a traveling investigator/writer is often short). He definitely wasn’t in it for money or for glory.  
Along the way we learn a lot about the biographer, to whose passion and professionalism I can personally attest—and there is ample evidence in the chapters of this book for you to come to your own conclusions about what Raynes has accomplished. He knew Keel for decades, starting as a boy, and even received communications from him through a “ghost box” after Keel passed.
No need for skepticism—several of us have recently received communications from beyond the veil indicating that Keel is indeed still at it, and he is working with at least one investigator, recently deceased, whose impressions of Keel are included in the book.
As the subtitle says: the mysteries are ongoing and probably always will be.

Just how Keel would want it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

“A High-Paced, Historical Romp through Time”: A Review of Fountain of Hope: Dimensions, by Baylus C. Brooks

 (Gainesville, FL: Poseidon Historical Publications, 2018). ISBN 978-1-4116-3266-0

Although this is his first work of fiction, Baylus C. Brooks is no stranger to maritime-themed research and writing. He is an acknowledged expert on the life and death of Edward “Blackbeard” Thache (pronounced Teach), having come closer to tracing Thache’s origins in his three books on the subject than any other scholar before him. His research has been crucial to my work in historical education and entertainment related to the Golden Age of Piracy.

Never one to be afraid of controversy or putting himself out there as a scholar, it is no surprise that Brooks does not ease his way into fiction writing, but throws himself instead into the deep end of the ocean by giving us a novel that not only deals with Time Travel, but does so in a compelling, cutting-edge way.

If you are a fan of other time-jumping historical fiction like the Outlander series, or even such nonhistorical entertainment as Avengers: Endgame or the Terminator series and the multiple timelines of Westworld, then this is a novel for you.

The first thing you’ll want to do (although it is not necessary to understanding the multi-time-period plot) is to track the time periods. The book begins with a prologue set in 1781 at the deciding battle of the American Revolution, Yorktown, before jumping to 2072, when the world is locked in a semi-worst-case scenario involving new alignments in geopolitical divisions based on our current world events and a food supply that has dwindled to a specially engineered kelp. Yes… science. There is plenty of mysterious science in Fountains of Hope, as with any sci-fi adventure novel and whether or not it is true science is, as always, besides the point. I like Brooks’s take on the evil aspects of advanced science and the nefarious shadow organizations whose morality is as questionable as their authority is unearned.

Next we move to 1808, where we meet our hero, Lt. Stephen Hathorne, who, during a hurricane off the coast of Florida (as I type this, Dorian’s bearing down on them), is thrown from that most famously named of all American naval vessels, the USS Enterprise. Those with a love of pirate history will recall that another devastating hurricane, in 1715, sunk the Spanish plate fleet and not only financed the Republic of Pirates led by Benjamin Hornigold and “Black” Sam Bellamy, but gave rise to a key plot point in the hit series Black Sails.

At this stage, only about 10 percent through the story, we already see Brooks’s abilities as a researcher, as he describes the Yorktown battlefield and larger context as well as the chaos on a sailing vessel during a hurricane with authority and authenticity. His writing here reminds me of John Jakes.

As the ship struggles to stay afloat, Stephen finds his father’s timepiece in his sea trunk. This object, a silver watch with supernatural properties, including electric blue light that emanates as it operates, is the mechanism by which time travel is accomplished.

It is here that we get some family backstory, which includes Stephen’s father’s best friend George. It was he who was by Stephen’s father’s side when he died of his wounds at Yorktown.

Washing up on the shore of St. Augustine, the oldest town in America, Stephen engages with the Indigenous tribes, and again Brooks shows the depth of his research (he lives in that area), exploring the ever-important subjects of slavery and colonization as well as the shamanic aspects of native cultures.

Shifting to 2073, we meet the heroine, Robyn, whose love of old books and films gives her a context for the time travel she encounters when—you guessed it—she meets and falls in love with our hero in a romantic comedy “meet-cute” that serves the story well.

During their adventures the romance continues, and as they travel through time, Robyn adjusts at a believable pace (rare in time-travel tales) and the couple work together puzzling out what is taking place. Their interactions lend credence to the time travel parameters and paradoxes that send the majority of these kinds of stories off the rails.

Once the ground rules for time travel have been shared, the narrative goes by at a blazing pace, jumping back and forth with glee as we meet a murderous, maniacal villain; encounter doppelgangers aplenty; take a breathtaking journey up the East Coast of colonial America in 1781 (where Brooks’s scholarship shines; the sequence on the Dutch merchant vessel, including a run-in with pirates, is a highlight); and wind up in Salem, Massachusetts 70 years earlier, during the Witch Trials, where Brooks incorporates the historical personage of Justice of the Peace John Hathorne into the narrative as the great grandfather of Stephen.

A quick aside. As a writer of historical fiction, blending your fiction with the facts is half the fun. I believe for the reader as well.

The ending is satisfying and sensible—although not a guarantee with stories of this kind. And—remember how I suggested you track the time periods?—it all ends earlier than it started, in 1539.

At its core, Fountain of Hope is a morality tale about where the world is and where it is going, both geopolitically and in terms of increasingly insidious, invasive technology. Couple that with a good-old swashbuckling revenge story with some surprising reveals and this is a book well worth a read.


Highly researched, Fountain of Hope is richly illustrated with maps, woodcuts, and images that lend historical credence and situate the reader more fully in the worlds Brooks crafts with his words.

Monday, September 9, 2019

“Messages from Mary”: A Review of The Magdelene Gates, by Richard G. Geldard

 (Burdett, NY: Larson Publications). ISBN 978-1-936012-90-9

Over the years I have reviewed many books from Larson Publications, including those they publish on behalf of the Paul Brunton Foundation. I have never been disappointed. This publisher has an eye for quality narratives grounded in scholarship and a crucial spiritual insight, and their books are a balm for a sorely troubled world.

Having long been a student of the Gnostic Gospels (e.g., Thomas, Phillip, and Mary), the gospels of the Essenes, and other esoteric documents from the early centuries of Christianity, as well as the true nature of Jesus and those who knew him best, The Magdalene Gates was a book I was keen to read. It takes as its central plot device the uncovering of scrolls from a dig site in Turkey—scrolls that put Mary Magdalene center stage in Jesus’s life and offer spiritual guidance to both the book’s characters and well as the reader.

Mary Magdalene is one of the most contested, misrepresented, and misunderstood characters in the Bible. Many know her only through what they’ve learned from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and the song “Alabaster Box” sung by CeCe Winans. In the Church’s schema of Jesus’s life, Mary Magdalene is the whore side of the Madonna/whore dichotomy completed by Mary Mater.

The problem is, there is no evidence at all of her being a whore. Perhaps she is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. This would be of crucial importance, as I subscribe to the belief that Lazarus’s “death” was metaphorical and the culmination of his training/induction ritual into the Essenes.

So his sister would be an important figure indeed. Perhaps even Jesus’s wife, another theory to which I subscribe.

Certainly she is, in the Gospel of John, the “Beloved.” Scripture gives us clues that Mary was one of the most important (if not the most) of Jesus’s inner circle of confidants and disciples.

So, her words are important to hear and understand.

The book opens with, in romantic comedy parlance, a “meet cute,” as an uninspired graduate student specializing in ancient Greek tombs named Tonio meets Maia, an educator, at the ruins of a Greek theatre.

The reader will immediately notice the author’s facility with all things Greek, from the landscape, to the architecture, to mythology, history, and theatre.

It brings to mind John Fowles’s The Magus, as well as William Azuski’s Travels in Elysium, for all their Mediterranean mystery and splendor.
Once Tonio and Maia come together, answering the call of adventure in the classic hero’s journey, they blossom into a couple through an Indiana Jones–style adventure and work together—along with an interesting array of secondary characters comprising a blend of Maia’s family and specialist scholars—to solve the clues in the newly found scrolls.
There are rites of passages, secrets, setbacks, and through it all an underlying commentary on spiritual growth and authenticity.
The Magdelene Gates is structured and reads like other spiritual fables, such as The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, and The Twelfth Insight by James Redfield.

The chapters, labeled Gates One through Nine, parallel the Nine Gates found in the scrolls. Nine is a sacred and mystical number and Geldard goes the extra step of correlating his meta-story with the spiritual journey through the gates. This careful construction begs close and multiple reads.

As it often throws me off and takes me out of the narrative, I want to let the potential reader know that the book is written in present tense, like some fables, but this style of writing can potentially jar the reader out the otherwise beautifully immersive world of the story after long periods of dialogue.

This admittedly subjective caveat aside, The Magdelene Gates is essential reading for difficult times. Geldard’s characters, in their simplicity and commitment to a spiritual and meaningful life of communitas, signal a path away from the greed, loneliness, and meaninglessness that limits the life of so many in the world and offers a series of gates to a fuller way of living and knowing Source.




Thursday, August 15, 2019

“Hope, Health, and Happiness”: A Review of 100 Secrets From the World’s Happiest Centenarians, by Dr. Elizabeth Lopez

 (Leader’s Press, 2019). ISBN (ebook) 978-1-943386-54-3
Longevity is a topic under much discussion in the twenty-first century, although humans have always been fascinated by those who live to the triple digits. But it is not just a matter of quantity—at least not to me—but of quality, and that is the draw and value of this important book by Dr. Elizabeth Lopez.
A trained psychologist, Lopez focuses on the Nicoya region of Costa Rica, known for a high percentage of centenarians, despite the economic struggles and lack of adequate food and water that have also led to a high infant mortality rate. Through face to face interviews with numerous centenarians, Lopez teases out the overlapping elements that create the physical and psychological conditions conducive to a long life.
Some are not surprising, while others truly do make you stop and assess the way you live your life.
Lopez’s research extends from a “Blue Zone” (places where the percentage of centenarians is unusually high) expedition to the region in 2007, funded by National Geographic and CNN. Second only to Sardinia in its proportion of centenarians, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is a statistical anomaly worth studying, and Lopez does a tremendous job of bringing the humanity and energy of her interview subjects to life through extensive quotations and photographs that could easily have come from the pages of National Geographic. The vitality and spirit of the people in those photographs is proof enough that what is revealed in the text works.
It should come as no surprise, after reading this book, that Costa Rica is also often voted one of the happiest places on Earth. Happiness cannot be underestimated when it comes to longevity. The Harvard Grant and Glueck Study took place over 75 years and showed that strong relationships make people happy and keep them healthy. I had watched a TED talk a few years ago by the director of the study, Robert Waldinger, who is quoted in this book. The talk is available on YouTube.
Lopez’s mother is from Guanacaste, the region where the study area is situated and it was a place she visited as a child. That history gives an underlying connective energy to the narrative that would not have been possible were she an outsider.
Some of the most striking common features of centenarians in the region are that their culture and society are collective. With resources scarce and material comforts not a priority, the people of Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula rely on each other. Out of this comes a respect for the elders of the community—a practice sadly lacking in the United States, where we now talk about Ageism and the Sandwich Generation and the gaps between youth and their elders are not so much learning opportunities as a source of mutual disrespect.
Another feature is a deep faith in God in an area where the Catholic Church’s influence is strong. As America becomes increasingly secular, it will be important to see if a common spirituality emerges or if Atheism and its danger of leading to Nihilism and despondency will prevail.
Community cannot be emphasized enough. The centenarians interviewed are “optimistic and easy-going” and exhibit “low neuroticism.” They love music (especially marimba) and dancing and gathering together with members of all generations. They also take great pride in their ability to care for themselves. The centenarians in Costa Rica began work at a young age and continued working until they were in their eighties or, in some cases, their nineties. And the work was hard—in the fields from dawn to dusk—but fulfilling. They were all walkers as well, sometimes covering miles in a day.
A similar case study can be found in the Introduction to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, where he discusses the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, which has an Italian immigrant community with many of the same dynamics as in the Nicoya Peninsula. Not surprisingly, the people are atypically happy, healthy, and living long lives free of disease and addiction.
100 Secrets is gorgeous, with a colorful and inviting graphical layout that allows Lopez to present the core data in numerous, easily digestible and memorable formats. A table in the back charts the centarians’ names, key characteristics, and related quotes.  
The Recipes section highlights the diet of the centenarians, which is a crucial component of their longevity and, more important—their vitality. I intend to try them all.
In one of the review blurbs that open the book, author Doug Smith reports that “someone born today has a 50/50 chance of living to 100.” It is important to keep in mind that quantity is nothing without quality. I have seen evidence of this over and over with members of my family. So if it is your goal to be a centenarian, apply the characteristics, mindsets, habits, and try the recipes shared by Lopez—they will make the difference.  

It should be noted in closing that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go toward supporting Costa Rica’s centenarians. Just one more reason to buy this book and start applying its lessons without delay.