Tuesday, August 25, 2020

“Hardboiled History”: A Review of Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder, by Janet Roger (Leicestershire, UK: Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing, 2019). ISBN: 9781838599867

Somewhere between the fast-paced action of a 1940s noir and detailed, methodical read-by-the-fire novel, Shamus Dust is a well-researched, engaging exploration of London post–World War II (when “eggs were powder, bread was on ration, and bacon wasn’t even a rumor”), where the bombings and disruptions of the war have opened the gates to all manner of subterfuge and cash-grabs. According to her biography, Janet Roger cut her thriller and mystery teeth on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and it definitely shows. But, as I said, this is more than just a trope-filled whodunit, although fans of the genre—myself included—will not be disappointed. If you are familiar with Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller, it has the very same layer of intelligence. As a writer of historical novels who loves to do research and create highly detailed descriptions of the worlds in which they happen, as well as a playwright who has penned two audience-chooses-the-endings murder mystery musicals and an Escape Room based on my 1940s Manhattan gumshoe Dirk Manzman, I am well acquainted with the immense amount of work that goes into combining the two as Roger has accomplished. The historical research really is exquisite, from the Roman presence in Britain at the turn from BC to AD and onward for hundreds of years to the German V-2 rocket launches. There are references to an RKO newsreel and film of the time. It helps to know your history when Newman references “Dickie Mountbatten” (the popularity of The Crown, and Charles Dance’s portrayal, should help) and another character says, “[T]hey charged at Balaclava and were chums with General Gordon in China” (George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series, anyone?). There’s even a reference to a 1927 chess match. See if you can find it. I really had a chuckle when I read about a US Army black market gasoline operation in France involving an NCO. I edited the memoir of an American veteran, also an NCO, who was involved in a version of this elsewhere in belle France. The descriptions of London in 1947 are so detailed they are almost holographic. I was right there every step of the way with the hero of the tale, Inspector Newman—first name unknown—as he tries to solve a growing list of murders around the Christmas holiday. Whether it’s a sleazy tavern or a mansion, the banks of the Thames or a snowy street, the details are crisp and clear. And within these perfectly rendered sets, Newman engages with all the wonderful stock characters a lover of 1940s noir expects to be populating them—the ultra rich, the educated, the distrustful police, the opportunistic journalists, the showgirls and soldiers, the medical professionals and outright vagabonds. You can smell the cigarette smoke and the whiskey (cheap and expensive) as Newman unravels the mystery, paying a heavy physical price. That is not a spoiler. We want him to take his lumps. That’s how the genre works. There are at times intense conversations amidst the gender politics of today about who “has permission/agency” to write certain characters. I think it’s a great twist and quite successful here that a female is writing a stereotypical male private detective. Tom Kies, who I’m privileged to call a colleague, writes a female journalist protagonist to great effect in his Random Road series, which I highly recommend. Also in line with the tropes the genre demands, we meet Newman being woken up by the ringing of the phone on Christmas day. He tells us a bit about his background. It’s familiar, yet unique. An American living in London, it is clear Newman has been around the block and is decent at his job. For the week or so that the story takes place, Newman keeps busy chasing the breadcrumbs in a form of private dick snowball sampling—interviews unlock clues that lead to other interviews, until he’s working day and night. The body count’s considerable. The killer is always one step ahead, knocking off suspects and the innocent in equal measure. And, like I said, as Newman gets closer to the truth, he takes his bumps and bruises. Roger combines—without giving the core of things away—decadent secrets (anticipating the arrest of Alan Turing by five years), real estate dealings, and good old-fashioned greed in a potent concoction for criminality in the world of archaeology and custodianship of the past. If you know Lanford Wilson’s The Mound Builders, you’ll know the highly contentious dualities to which I allude. Shamus Dust really has it all—witty dialogue, great character names (how about Dillys Valentine?), and Roger is well schooled in the mechanisms for keeping tension, unveiling facts at a proper pace, paying her IOUs, and using techniques like “the Pope in the pool” to deliver needed exposition without bogging down the story. She also has a knack for lacing the narrative with little moments of business that bring it further to life: “The hatcheck blonde was fixing her stocking run with nail varnish.” When my college writing professor drilled into us to “slow the language down” this is what he meant. Cinematic and Technicolor writing. Perfect for the long-form cable series audience. And Newman is quite the anomaly. He has all of the masochism we would expect, getting in his own way and taking the hits to solve the case, but Roger also makes him well read and cultured. When she writes “like Proust meeting his grandmother,” that’s not a reference everyone in the typical audience is going to get. But Newman has all the layers, describing Norway as a “military equivalent of Laurel and Hardy.” It could be that we get more of Newman’s story in the future, as, near the conclusion, he receives an offer from a Beverly Hills, California investigative agency exploring the possibility of his working for them in London. I hope that is the case. Pun of course intended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

“For the Page as well as the Stage”: A Review of The Blood of Squirrels, a play by Gabriel Rosenstock

“For the Page as well as the Stage”: A Review of The Blood of Squirrels, a play by Gabriel Rosenstock (Dublin: Original Writing Ltd, 2012), ISBN: 978-1-909007-12-3
Some days, it is splendid to be a reviewer.

Most days, honestly. But the days when a little gift is delivered to my email in-box in the form of a book—or a play—that is in need of some attention, some publicity… those are the best for me.

Of the nearly 200 reviews I have written, roughly 180 of them are of fiction and nonfiction books. I have also reviewed music and videos. And also some plays.

Plays are interesting to review. An argument is often made that teaching Shakespeare as literature instead of theatre is detrimental. Well, of course you are missing the performance element, which is what the plays were expressly written for… but more people have probably read those plays than seen them, so overall it’s been helpful.

And here we are, five months into the pandemic, with Broadway shut down until at least 2021 and regional and small theatres struggling and closing. As a result, (millions of) people are watching plays on cable: Hamilton comes to mind, as well as the Danny Boyle–directed Frankenstein from the National Theatre starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch that was available on YouTube several months ago.

I have been hired to adapt one of my musicals—a Gothic horror—to be performed live in Los Angeles, as well as being filmed very cinematically at dress rehearsals and again opening night, and live-streamed and then edited into a film version for Blu-Ray and streaming.

It is clear that this is a brave new world for theatre and for plays.

So why not take the time to read some?

The Blood of Squirrels is a good place to start. It’s at times funny and at others threatening and cruel. It reminds me a bit of J. M. Ballard’s High Rise (novel to film) and also Yasmina Reza’s Carnage (play to film). Watching civilization devolve over incidental, every day things is instructive. And, if you are a fan of Yeats and Joyce, there are elements you will love.
The play takes place at a campsite in the south of France, where a trio of Irish druids, an English soldier and former mercenary and his wife, and an English refrigerator repairman and his wife are forced to engage through proximity, as their tents are all in a row and they share a central table.
We all know how that goes.
The place is picturesque—lofty pines lit by moonlight set the opening scene. This points to one of the advantages of reading rather than seeing a play. The mind is not shackled by the budgets and levels of talent that often cuff a production and thwart the playwright’s vision.
Have the Internet handy. There is plenty of beautiful Gaelic language and chant and you will want to type it in to one of those pronunciation programs and hear it spoken proper.
As the seven characters come together in the evening, we quickly learn their different styles and see how they conflict. The two English couples are vastly different, highlighting the kinds of inter-country class conflicts that are so obvious in the United States at present.
The trio of modern Druids, a married couple and their daughter, are of course spiritual and intimately tied to nature, and they are also incredibly well read and polyglots—the kinds of well-rounded, deeply interesting people that so many others cannot stand.
Especially in a happenstance meeting on vacation.
We have all been there (me being closer to the side of the Druids…)
Rosenstock’s dialogue is face-paced and intelligent, cutting to socioeconomic and political issues running deep and far and wide. Language—rich, alliterative, rhythmically interesting, and energized—is one of Rosenstock’s strengths (a benefit of also being a poet). When, in the warm glow just post the heat of passion, one the characters says, “Invisible. Inaudible. Inviolable” I wanted to pick up the mantra and make some magic myself (read that as you will).
So do some of the others. This isn’t your grandma’s community theatre in an airless black box in July. 
He offers some monologues, suggesting that they could be delivered as voiceovers, that illuminate the characters’ inner-most thoughts. And that is yet another reason a read of this play is encouraged. Having the text there in front of you to see how the verbal and cerebral conflict and coalesce truly is a treat.
Fans of The Crown (me included) will love the banter, fan-girling, and origin-storying regarding the prince of Wales and duke of Edinburgh.
This is just some of the humor, which partners with a dose of genuine magic, to give this set-in-the-woods theatre piece a lovely mix of energies.
What might be most enjoyable is the wisdom of youth represented by the pre-teen Druid apprentice, LasairfhĂ­ona. She would be hard to cast for the average theatre company, but I suggest you picture a young Saoirse Ronan, or even Dakota Fanning.
It’s the theatre director in me. But I have to say it works.
Given the different backgrounds and nationalities of the characters (there are a few Germans in there as well), there is plenty of (refreshingly) non-PC dialogue and antics, my favorite being one of the Englishmen holding up his Union Jack boxer shorts for all the campsite to see.
It’s not all frolicking and farce, however. There are poignant gems of wisdom. Moments that pass by quickly on the stage, but which you can savor with a read. For example, “A very eloquent man. Eloquence and persuasive rhetoric are often applied by deceivers, manipulators.”
In the end, there are the requisite revelations about inner and outer character and the changes in perspective and possibility that a story arc demands.
As to the title… squirrels. It helps to know your Yeats… but you can let the characters unpack it just as well.
Should you find yourself so inspired that you want to become a theatre producer (online even, with Zoom, a current, compelling trend), or you happen to know one among this rare and dying breed (I am semi-retired), queries in relation to performance rights may be addressed to the author, along with requests for a PDF.

Monday, June 29, 2020

“Different mirrors; different reflections.”: A Review of Michael McNamara’s Loose Canon

(Subterranean Blue Poetry, 2020, www.subterraneanbluepoetry.com) ISBN: 979-8654276247
“Loose Cannon”: an expression that derives from the danger posed by an unsecured cannon on the deck of a ship.
Irish poet Michael McNamara’s newest collection plays on this definition. If he is the first to do so, I applaud him. The implications of this homonym certainly fit and the implications are profound.
Edgar Allen Poe said that a novel is a cannon, while a short story is a rifle. But what of poetry? We might say that a collection is a cannon, while the individual poem is the rifle.
Inserting the homonym, this loose canon of collected poetry can certainly do some damage: to the established canon and to our perceptions of time, place, and death.
These themes, prevalent in McNamara’s work, are the primary reason I am deeply engaged with it. I recently reviewed his collection, This Transmission (Argotist Ebooks, 2019), a complex work on the amorphous nature of identity. As founding editor of newmystics.com, I have promoted McNamara’s work through his author page and recently had the opportunity to read an as yet unpublished piece of his that is Gregory Corso–esque in its ruminations on death.
In Loose Canon, which features the poet on the cover, photographed with what appears to be a thermal-imaging camera, McNamara takes us around the world, looking at love, identity, death, and art. His image on the cover is done at a Dutch angle, cuing the tilt that will set that unsecured can(n)on—the poet—in motion.
The first poem, “No Fixed Abode,” encapsulates the thematic whole, like any well-structured story should. We are introduced to an “an incognito psycho wearing a Savile Row smile” in a place that sets the ancient against the modern. Duality is a primary operative in McNamara’s explorations. What is interesting is that, instead of setting things against each other, their proximal friction creates the energy that powers the poetry.
This is perhaps most prevalent in the pairs “courtly, cuntly.” High and low, in both language and socioeconomic image; yet, if you spend as much time watching Historical Fiction on Netflix and Amazon as I do—and maybe even writing it, as I also do—you know that these fit hand in glove. So much so that I have come to believe that Freud was closer to the truth of all desires, motivations, and actions originating in the groin than our pseudo-civilized society wants to admit.
Another pair, perhaps more profound in their historical linkage, is “Bloody, bloody, bloody. Holy, holy, holy.”
In the poem “Silence Folding Softly,” there are intimations of past lives remembered:
Once, I lived in a mansion, but it was cold,
the servants whispered day and night.
In this hovel the avocado stone sprouts
on the windowsill.

In “Cycles,” McNamara honors the foundational poetic approach of “No ideas but in things” (William Carlos Williams), “solidity of specificity” (William James), “details are the life of [poetry]” (Jack Kerouac), and “the natural object is always the adequate symbol” (Ezra Pound).
Yesterday’s flowers.
Someone smoking.
A played-out record recycling
scratches on a turntable
your face.

As wrote William Blake, “They became what they beheld.” What we see contained in a single frame makes a collective statement (hopefully transformative) to us. If there is dichotomy and juxtaposition, then it’s all the richer.
One of the poet’s tools, to which Shakespeare alluded, is the mirror. But mirrors can distort and reverse. McNamara writes, “Different mirrors; different reflections.”

And, in another poem, “Blind Insight”:

All our mirrors
Have been smeared
By medicine men
Masquerading as
Looking glass engineers.

Passengers, navigators we are, doing the best that we are able, each and every one of us (or perhaps at least most): “You and I, we are very simple people drawn to complex issues,
unversed in long division we contemplate geometric fractals.”

Perhaps this pair of lines, from a poem called “Dear Editor” best serve as a summation:
There are many deaths on our way to dying,
while in our words we live.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

“It Is Already There, Awaiting You”: A Review of Connect to the Light, by Receive Joy

 (Naples, FL: Receive Joy Publishing, 2019), ISBN: 978-0-9988484-1-9
A number of years ago, when I was living on the beautiful Crystal Coast in the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina, an author client referred me to the writing team of Carisa Jones and Sylvia Lehmann, collectively known as Receive Joy.
During a long lunch on the waterfront of my beloved Beaufort, we talked at length about their exciting work in positive thought and manifestation. By the end of the conversation, I had agreed to be the editor for their first book, Ask and You Shall Receive.
A truly dynamic duo, I was most impressed with their energy, enthusiasm, deep belief in God and His Gifts, and their commitment to write the book using only positive words.
During the course of my work with them, I attended several of their Miracle Group meetings and have since worked with them in other capacities.
Between Ask and You Shall Receive and the current book, they have stayed active in their mission to teach and mentor others in manifesting and positive living. They have also published several CDs, their Daily Asking Journal, and the Inspiration and Focus Wheel workbooks.
In addition, they co-created the Million True Millionaires, a Family of Wealth. For $225 a year, you can benefit from this business networking and support organization, which carries the same positive energies as Receive Joy’s other projects (www.milliontruemillionaires.com).
Connect to the Light shares much in common with like attraction practices such as The Secret, with a core emphasis on God and the Bible and a strong energy that derives from the deep belief and commitment to their work by Receive Joy. The book is rich in applicable Bible verses from a variety of editions, offers abundant worksheets and guided practices, and, like its predecessor, is chock full of anecdotes by the authors and others detailing how staying Connected to the Light and practicing the tenets in this book and the larger program work to bring joy, love, abundance (material and otherwise) into your life.
Prepare to be amazed and inspired by some of the stories. They are no less than miraculous.
Presented in two parts—Connect! and Stay Connected!—the book is written with high energy and plenty of encouragement.
As should any practical handbook for better living, Connect to the Light gives you ample opportunity to answers the questions you should be asking yourself every day. For this purpose, Receive Joy has designed specific worksheets and workbooks, and they also recommend keeping notebooks and daily journaling. When you ask yourself these questions about your personal relationships, career, overall fulfillment, hopes and dreams, emotions, and connection to God, you will quickly see a path to a more fulfilling, healthy, and wealthy life illuminate before you.
The exercises and practices in this book will ensure it stays lit up.
One of my favorite features of the Receive Joy method is the premium they put on Imagination. This goes well beyond like attraction programs like The Secret. By keeping connected with the Source—God—our Imagination is powered by no less than the abundant energy of the Universe. Manifestation is as easy as the discipline of daily connection, specific asking, and belief that our prayers and askings will be answered; as a matter of fact, all we want already is there, awaiting us.
Another aspect of this work that I find invaluable is that, in order to consider and answer the questions put forth, in order to do daily journaling and engage our Imagination, we have to take time for ourselves. In this rush-around world, that simple practice is often neglected, and it has proven to be crucial for a sound and healthy life.
More important, when you read the dozens of personal stories contained in this book, you will see that Receive Joy practice what they preach and reap the rewards from an abundant and giving God and Universe. From manifesting the money to help a friend in need, to finding screening for their home after a hurricane when none was  available for anyone else, the anecdotes clearly show how energy flows to those who remain in connection.
Part Two is devoted to this practice of staying connected. There are chapters on prayer/talking to God, contemplative meditation/listening to God, reading the bible, community, nature, receiving joy, contribution, and journaling. These chapters are followed by a comprehensive overview featuring half a dozen additional practices, complete with exercises, that you can use to make and keep your connection with God.
There is also a list of 284 “beautiful positive words” that you can use in your daily affirmations and when communicating both professionally and personally. There is also an invitation to add to the list via email.
Connect to the Light ends with a special section, named as the book itself, which offers a “Happy New Day Prayer to Connect First” and two helpful lists: “Ways to Connect and Stay Connected” and “Nine Steps to Conscious Creation.”

With all that we are experiencing in 2020, it is at times hard to find and stay in the light. But in times of hardship and crisis, such connection is what we need the most. The daily practices in Connect to the Light and the complete Receive Joy series of books, workbooks, and CDs—as well as their authors—are here, awaiting you, ready to help.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

“Spirits, Sphinx, and Serpents”: A Review of A Search in Secret Egypt, by Paul Brunton

 (Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 2007 [Orig. 1936, E.P. Dutton]). ISBN 978-0-943914-98-5

Paul Brunton, perhaps best known for his Short Path to Enlightenment and theories about the Oversoul, was an explorer, spiritualist, and thinker in the great tradition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As humankind grappled with the Industrial Revolution and the question of the moral validity of Empire, Brunton and others like him sought to understand the varied religious, historical, and political systems of the world by experiencing them firsthand.

Prior to going to Egypt, he traveled to India, writing the precursor to this volume.

As Timothy J. Smith writes in the introduction, this journal is not only outward but an “inward journey of initiation.” When I first received it I anticipated a travelogue with valuable information about Egypt and its wonders through the lens of the 1930s. Although it is certainly that, detailed in its descriptions of buildings and people and filled with pictures—most taken by Brunton—it is also a great deal more.

If you’re interested in a spiritual explorer’s insights into the magick and mystery of Egypt, this is a treasure trove of unique experiences. Brunton heard the Sphinx speaking to him early on in his visit, and when he later spent the night in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid he had a profound encounter with Demons as well as Angels of Light.

Brunton is not shy about his theories. He talks about Atlantis as though it is absolute fact (and it very well may be), based on what he hears whispered by the Sphinx and his own extensive studies.

Brunton has both the technical and descriptive skills to be a travel writer. He mixes history and science into his engaging prose. This edition of the book has ample maps and diagrams to bring to life even further his words.

A major draw is the encounters Brunton has with magicians, hypnotists, fakirs, Dervishes, snake-charmers, and other mystics. The entities most Westerners call genies are called in the Middle East the djinn. In my work as a paranormal researcher and novelist I have undertaken a thorough study of them. They are dark entities that can be called upon to help or protect a magician and there is abundant research indicating that those in power in certain places are there because they have made a pact with the djinn. It is said that King Solomon controlled the djinn by way of a magic ring and it was they that built his temple. Brunton’s encounter with a magician who kills a chicken with his mind in order to summon a djinn is a fascinating study. 

Some of the capabilities of the mystics he encounters—to be cut without bleeding, to be buried in a box for a day or more and survive—are truly extraordinary. Brunton invites doctors to examine them, as he does with snake charmers, and they cannot provide explanations, although the mystics are consistent in saying that anyone can do these things with enough study and discipline. To put this to the test, Brunton undertakes a practicum in snake charming, including the handling of cobras. Talk about commitment!
Brunton’s experience here best illuminates his skepticism and commitment to finding the scientific mechanisms behind spiritual practices, although he is wise enough to know that the liminal, numinous, and what we might call supernatural are also clearly at play.

There’s a chapter devoted to the famed fakir Tahra Bey that’s a highlight of the book.

Perhaps the most important chapters in a real-world, contemporary sense, are Chapter 8, “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, and Merciful!” and Chapter 9, “An Interview with the Spiritual Head of the Muhammedans.” Brunton begins with a historical overview of the call of the Prophet Muhammad and the growth of the Islamic faith. He then looks at the evolution of Islam and explores the perceptions and misconceptions he and many Westerners have. And this is in 1936! Things as you know have only gotten worse. For those who are looking for the truth amidst the propaganda that demonizes millions for the extremism of thousands, this is important reading. Chapter 9 derives from the time Brunton spent with Skeikh Moustapha el Maraghi, at the time the head of the Islamic world. The conversation is open and honest and most of all respectful.

For the Egyptologist, the sections on Abydos, Hathor’s Temple, Karnak, the Valley of Kings, and Luxor, complete with the author’s color photographs and detailed descriptions, including some floor plans, are ample reason to add this to your library.

Brunton also gets deeply into the Mystery Rites as they were taught and undertaken in these temple complexes. Although I have a considerable library and have studied for decades the symbolism of these death–rebirth and spiritual journey rituals over the centuries, there was much new and valuable here. 

For enthusiasts, the Epilogue and Commentary on Epilogue unpack the fundamental meanings behind a typical Mystery Rite journey. Those familiar with Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry will see their roots in the rites and rituals of ancient Egypt.

Brunton closes the book by sharing his experiences with an Adept named Ra-Mak Hotep. These chapters also serve as a summation of all that has come before, as Ra-Mak Hotep is highly skilled and some of his revelations almost defy belief.

It is always surprising how many readers choose to skip forewords, epilogues, and the like. Even more skip About the Book. But this is a true must read, as everything from the photo choices to the book’s layout (all based on sacred geometric ratios) are explained by the editors. Also, given the cost of this edition ($110, unless you go to the Larson Publications website [https://www.larsonpublications.com/shop/product-detail.php?id=8], where it is normally $88 but right now is half price), you can understand what a special edition it is.

I encourage the reader to research Paul Brunton (not his real name): his life and explorations of the world of matter and spirit are as fascinating as the stories and characters in this book. Larson Publications is also the publisher of many of his works on behalf of the Paul Brunton Foundation.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Review of The Divine Dark: Mystery as Origin and Destination, by William Douglas Horden

(Ithaca, NY: Delok Publishing, 2020). ISBN: 979-86293322732 (paperback)

It has been my privilege as a reviewer over the past twenty years to have the opportunity to track the growth of a handful of writers whose new works I have been sent year after year by themselves or their publishers. For a mind like mine, that looks at all things—most especially narrative—through myriad, multilayered lenses, it is instructive and often inspiring to see psychological growth, refinement of perspective, and narrative skill with the written word develop over time.
William Douglas Horden is one of those handful of authors. Since returning home eleven years ago to find a package from Horden’s publisher on my porch with one of his first books, The Toltec I-Ching, coauthored with Martha Ramirez-Oropeza, I have read, on average, one of Horden’s twenty-plus books every year. Sometimes two or three. Many I have reviewed, although review has become, at this point, an inaccuracy. It has become my challenge to absorb, process, and distill for readers of my reviews the essence of Horden’s work, whether it takes the form of workbook, poetry, or novel.
The Divine Dark is a masterwork. In a recent conversation (he was a guest recently on my weekly Livestream, “Into the Outer Realms,” https://www.facebook.com/1897294063691771/videos/1975172995948796/UzpfSTEyNDM5NTEzNzI6MTAyMTc4NzI3ODcxMTE2OTk/) I likened this book to the statue that emerges when the marble is carefully chipped away and shaped by the master sculptor. It is a sparse work, in the sense that there is much white space on the page and the words are carefully chosen for maximum power.
This is not a narrative so much as it is a series of prayers. Of koans and sutras. It reads like the I-Ching, which Horden has studied, practiced, and taught others about for half a century. It is the work you would expect from a wise wizard whose fully lived years have begun to accumulate behind him. And I say this with utmost respect.
Before I get into the body of The Divine Dark I want to bring your attention to the appendix, which I recommend reading first, especially if you are not familiar with Horden’s work. In the first section he explains some important terms, such as psyche and vision. In the second he relates a story about an experience of a vision of moving lights while a Brazilian composer he was collaborating with played a progression of chords based on the mystic Gurdjieff’s theory of octaves. The lights Horden describes are very much like prevalent twenty-first-century UFO sightings reported all over the world. The appendix then relates the circumstances of Horden’s selection as a lineage student by an I Ching master and, at 53 years old, his near death/out of body experience.
Now for the body of the book. The Divine Dark is not a work to be hurriedly read and shelved. It is a workbook. A prayer book. A primer useful for daily meditation. It is a pathway to reuniting the earthly and celestial souls. To take the Parts and make them Whole, to take the Many and make them One, to use Horden’s words. For readers familiar with Jung, you will see his ideas on sacred marriage, the Hieros Gamos and Mysterium Conjuctionis, in elegant operation here.
In the Dialogue, which is a key component of each section, the earthly and celestial souls are in conversation on odd and even numbered starting pages, respectively. I would have treasured this idea of putting these seemingly separate aspects of “me” into conversation rather than have them make war on one another while in my late teens and twenties. I have Jung to thank for the initial shift and Horden for the last decade of guidance in my daily practice.  
There are 64 chapters, correlating to the I Ching’s 64 hexagrams. They begin with 63: Completion and end with 0: Creation. Already we see the counterintuitive freedom of thought inherent in this ancient system of divination and wisdom. Like drawing from the opposite side of your brain by turning images upside down, we begin with Completion and work our way into Creation. Most systems flip this process, to their detriment.
Each chapter is formatted as follows: A unique Invocation. A Formula, which is a mixture of repeated phrases and those applicable to the chapter at hand. Here is an example:

The wayfarer rests in the mountain moonlight.
Owls glide silently through the silver night.
Moths float skyward toward the dark fire.
The very marrow of the forest sighs aloud.

As you can see, these are beautifully crafted images—doorways to the Imaginal Realm—which can be meditated on, used for astral journeys or lucid dreaming, or to connect with your totem animals or spirit guides.

Others are reminders of balanced and grounded living in connection with the One: “We accomplish great things because we align ourselves with that which is greater than ourselves.”

Then there is the Dialogue. This, to me, is the most beautiful and moving element of The Divine Dark. Comprised of varying numbers of sutra-like mini-meditations, these poetic passages could be a lifetime’s work to meditate upon and master. Here is one of my favorites: “What is a children’s choir on that side is a celestial chorus of
archangels on this side.”
As a side note, Horden has a Soundcloud account (3 + 4 :: 6 + 1 :: return) where he has created music and guided meditations. One I use daily is called “Both Sides of the Gate.”
Each Dialogue is preceded by the following across the chapters:
To speak of the Unspeakable is an act of reverence. To speak
from within the Unspeakable is an act of mystical union. To
speak to the Unspeakable is an act of creation.
The next section is the Entrance, which is repeated throughout:
We are the perfecting Eyes and Hands.
This is our Work.
We forward the Transfiguration of the World.
This is our Art.
If you are familiar with the works of William Douglas Horden, this book is a must read masterwork. If you are not, this is a powerful place to start.

“Life and Death in Balance”: A Review of Daniel Lawley’s Bliss

(United Kingdom, 2020), ISBN-13: 9798633753684

As a fantasy writer, I know quite well the challenges (and rewards) of writing in a genre with abundant tropes and forebears with names like Tolkien, Lewis, and Martin. There is much to live up to and every opportunity to make anew, with a fresh perspective or unique element, must be seized.
Daniel Lawley has succeeded in honoring the fantasy genre, while emphasizing adventure and religious–philosophical elements that allow his novel to stand on its own amidst excellent company.
Each chapter of Bliss begins with an excerpt from an ancient book, rhyme, song, or proverb. This is a crucial device in Fantasy to give the world depth, history, and substance. These epigraphs also cue the reader to the philosophical themes being explored in each chapter, working, in quatrains, like a Greek chorus.
The world of Bliss has two suns, which is interesting because the story is rich with dichotomies… life and death, light and dark, powerful and powerless, good and evil… all the things we expect in a Fantasy–Adventure novel. As the two suns shine down upon the characters, they are constantly reminded of these dualities, which operate in dynamic tension throughout, yielding notable effects.
At first, as we are introduced to such religious entities as the Order of the Pearl and the Temple of the Three, we can emerge easily into the world through the classic religious symbolism of the Trinity.
A familiar door opened, we then witness the Inciting Incident that leads to the Call to Adventure—a nine-year-old girl named Armatrine Dupree is taken by the priests of the Order from her guardian, Arlandus. Reminiscent of Witcher and the Merlin sagas, we learn that Armatrine is the Chosen One. And who doesn’t like a story filled with the grim struggles, self-doubt, and quest for redemption after costly mistakes that come with honoring your purpose, no matter the personal cost?
Lawley quickly establishes himself as a writer with a flare for words and poetic images. For example: “In the orange flare of burning candle light a sinister crimson crept.” “… his cutlass, razor sharp and dripping with murderous intent.” “…friction transforming her skin into a chitinous carapace.”
If you’re lost on that last pair of words, look them up. It’s a spot-on description of the object in question.
As many know, I do a lot of storytelling, writing, and performing as pirates in the Golden Age. So I was thrilled to find here this misunderstood breed of rebel revolutionary in the guise of sky-sailors who are in many ways like the pirates of the 1600s–1700s. Having been immersed in research for five years, I guarantee Lawley knows this world well. Other than the sea being replaced by the sky, protocols and the ship itself operate almost exactly as in long-ago Earth times (pay attention to almost—Lawley created interesting upgrades). Also like our history, the powers that be are compelled to action against the pirates when their bottom line suffers, when they then go full on, the whole nine yards. The lead pirate is Captain Afton Orochi, of the wonderfully named Stormkite. If you like blaring cannons, press gangs, boarding raids, and daring maneuvers, Orochi delivers them all.
The action sequences are elegantly described and full of energy. Lawley gives us a swordfight complete with technical terms (strike, reposte) that speak to authenticity through research, although they don't delay the story for an instant.
This balance of detail and energy also comes into play with the abstract elements of Bliss. This is not just an adventure story but high fantasy filled with the spiritual and philosophic. Lawley has created an impressive array of character types to explore different expressions of these themes. The narrative never bogs down with didactic passages, even from the priests. Questions of Cosmic Balance, Destiny, and the role we each play in the dance; themes of matriarchy and the Triple Goddess; following our inner voice; the limits of Materialism; what constitutes True Power; and the Oneness behind Duality—all are explored by the actions of the characters, summed by the quote: “All creation existed in a circular state.”
These are crucial themes in light of the times in which we find ourselves.
Further driving the action, there is an object that must be found and retrieved, part and parcel of the requisite hero’s journey, which is laced with serious challenges and entertaining surprises that kept me turning pages.
Stories are nothing without their malcontents, willing to ransom the kingdom or ruin social order to get the wealth and power they believe they deserve. In Bliss, this character is Brother Mitrick Tenebris, who sells his soul in service to a character that all I wish to divulge about is that she is in some aspects the trope of the dark, evil goddess and in others a breath of fresh air and essential to the philosophical structure of the themes. In Jungian terms, the shadow aspect so crucial to personal and Universal balance—that which we deny or suppress—comes back to destroy us. Their scenes are crisp and easily visualized. Were I to cast this for film, Stephen Dillane and Katie McGrath would be perfect.
Although Bliss features what most call magic, it is woven in subtly and is very much a part of Lawley’s carefully crafted world. Being a practitioner of meditation, lucid dreaming, and astral travel, I categorize it as much more a part of the natural world than the supernatural one, as it is for the characters.
There are moments in Bliss that writers of fantasy should take note of and learn from. The action and violence can be brutal. Rightfully so. Making war all about glory on a horse (or quarterdeck) and not in the mud, muck, and mire does a disservice. So when Lawley writes, post-battle, “All around her the wounded lay bleeding, or dying, or soiling themselves with the fear of the end and the release of bodily functions,” that’s a lesson in writing Reality into your Fantasy.
In these Trying Times, it is important to remember that all things—people, organizations, or ideas—eventually die, which makes way for the new.

Bliss offers such comfort, balanced with eloquent reminders of the often steep price such a cycle demands.