Death and Halloween

A few days away till the best holiday of all… Halloween!

Spirits, witches, pumpkins, and candy (LOTS of candy)… what is there not to love?

For some, Oct 31st is a secular holiday dedicated to trick or treating, parties, and telling ghostly tales whilst sitting round the parlor.

For others, it is a spiritual time. A night to contact one’s departed, as well as marking the end of the harvest as the dark half of the year begins. A time of endings, and beginnings.

For all who celebrate All Hallows, it is the symbol of Death which is most prominent. Not the scary Death of Hollywood, but the mysterious comforter. For all are equal in Her embrace.

“-I’m not blessed, or merciful. I’m just me. I’ve got a job to do, and I do it. Listen: even as we’re talking, I’m there for old and young, innocent and guilty, those who die together and those who die alone. I’m in cars and boats and planes; in hospitals and forests and abbatoirs. For some folks death is a release, and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I’m there for all of them.”- Death from Gaiman’s, Sandman

Published in: on October 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm  Comments (23)  
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Writing Meme: day 13- Favorite Cultures and Times

*Skipping question 12 of this neverending meme since it doesn’t pertain to my works (least not thus far)

13. What’s your favorite culture to write, fictional or not?

Well, it’s not a culture per se, but obviously my favorite time period to write about is the 19th century.    Just an amazing, vital time: the Romantics, The Free Love Movement (yes, that was around way before the hippies!), Spiritualism,  The Transcendentalists, the birth of the telegraph (the internet of its day) art movements from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Hudson River School, to all the vast political and religious movements…

But, being the history buff that I am, I also have a great desire to explore characters in ancient civilizations and see how their stories unfold under my pen.

What about you?

Writing, Meditating, and Mummies

  Karloff and Johann in The Mummy

 

Throughout the process of writing a novel, a writer will inevitably reach points where they can not see in which direction the story should go; or, they do see- only they have no idea how the hell they’re going to get there.  Or, their characters remain aloof;  mere outlines rather than three-dimensional beings.

And the more one struggles to breakthrough, the more strongly the problem grips its claws.  Answers are much more likely to come while in a relaxed state of being.

In the biography The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell recalled a conversation she’d had with the authoress while staying at her home in Haworth.  “I asked whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, – vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, &c.  She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which she had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling asleep, – wondering what it was like or how it would be, – till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened.”

 Actress Zita Johann used a techinque which she called, “The Theater of the Spirit”, which could very well be used for writers.   Ms. Johann, mostly known for playing the dual role of the sophisticated Helen Gosvenor and her previous incarnation, The Princess Anck-es-en-Amon in the original The Mummy,   held a life-long interest in the occult.   As Spiritualists would call upon dearly departed ones, she would meditate and invoke her characters to reach a special depth of emotion.  Though the revered stage actress never truly made it big in Hollywood (largely due to her outspoken disdain of Tinseltown),  her hypnotic performance in the aforementioned film is unforgettable and gives a glimpse into why she was regarded as, “The White Flame of the American Theater”.

One of my favorite meditation methods when it comes to writing is to think intensely on the subject (or problem) at hand, and then completely let it go by meditating on something totally different: an image,  a mantra… Then, hours or days later- the answer pops into my mind as I’m in the twilight state between sleep and wakefulness; or, just as likely, when I’m doing something as mundane as the dishes.

Do you use meditation for your writing?

  Helen is hypnotized in The Mummy

 

   Helen remembers her life as the Princess

A Writer’s Mad Tea Party

“A bright idea came into Alice’s head. ‘Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?’ she asked.

‘Yes, that’s it,’ said the Hatter with a sigh: ‘it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.'”- from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

If you could cordially invite six authors (3 males, 3 females- living or dead) to a tea party- who would they be?

Sitting around my checkered-clothed table, while  indulging in scones, clotted cream and jam, I would love to converse with the following:

1. Agatha Christie- Not only did she write over 80 novels and therein create the über-sharp Miss Marple and brilliant Hercule Poirot (Belgium.  Warning: Never call him French), but she was a nurse during the second World War, and later traveled around the world from England to Australia to Egypt.   The  true stories she could regale us with!

2.  Mark Twain-  Not only a great writer (Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer…), but witty as all hell.  I’d invite him just to hear him wax poetic on the German language:  http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html

3.  Anne Bronte- Of course, a Bronte must be invited to my party.  Why not Emily or Charlotte?  Well, let’s face it.  Emily would just turn down the invitation, and spend the day roaming through her moors.   Charlotte would be fun, but she left us many letters.   Anne, however, has been quieted throughout the centuries.  But it’s obvious in her novels, Agnes Grey and Tenant of Wildfell Hall that she was very perceptive of human nature with much to say.   I’d want to meet the oft- forgotten sister.

4.   Edgar Allen Poe- To him recite The Raven, The Conqueror Worm, and Annabel Lee.  To listen to how he came up with his ideas for The Tell-tale Heart, Ligeia, and more.  And most of all, to let the man know who died penniless and alone,   how beloved and respected his work is today.

5.  Daphne Du Maurier-  When she wasn’t spinning  incredible gothic romance tales such as  Rebecca and Jamaicca Inn,  she was penning chilling tales such as The Birds and Don’t Look Now.    I’d love to hear her insights on plot and narrative structure.

6. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- Creator of  Sherlock Holmes.  That’s reason enough.   But he was also part of the 19th century Spiritualist movement and it would be so much fun to hear first hand accounts of seances he attended.

So, who is cordially invited to your tea party?

Animal Writing Totem

The belief that everyone has an animal spirit guide is prominant in religions from all corners of the world.  From shamanism in the mountain ranges of Siberia to Celtic mythology to Native American Spirituality.

According to such belief, each person enters the world with an animal spirit who helps them throughout their life.   Along with this lifelong animal spirit, a person may encounter  totems who see them through particular trials.   Shadow animals may also appear to test a person, to make them face what they fear, and what they must overcome.

 I thought it would be fun to imagine what your animal writing totem would be if such existed.  (who knows-maybe they do!)

This exercise came to me because in the last few days,  I’ve compared myself  twice to a magpie when it comes to writing.   Endlessly curious- If I go to a website to research a particular subject for my novel, I will then follow another interesting link…and then, yet another, and another…

It’s hard for me to focus on one story because I’m always being distracted by shiny objects (ideas) everywhere.

   As magpies steal anything they can carry,  I steal inspiration from everything and anything I come across: dreams, poetry, conversations, books, music, newspaper articles, films, rain, the night sky, sunrises and sunsets, biographies, names on tombstones…

Magpies are opportunists-  and good stories are everywhere.

Further, magpies are symbols of otherworlds,  the hidden, and the mysteries of life and death.   Themes that often play in my works.

So, what would your animal writing totem be?   A wise, observant owl- perhaps writing omniscient?   Are your stories as clever and unpredictable as a monkey?   Is your writing sensitive and filled with the keen observations of a deer?  Do you write swiftly and freely as a horse?  Do you gently weave stories together like a spider?  Do your stories deal primarily with emotional issues like a dove?

Use your imagination and have fun!

Mary: The Mysterious 19th Century Medium

The Spiritualist movement sprung from humble origins.  In 1848,  twelve and thirteen year-old Katherine and Margaret Fox heard unexplainable knockings and rappings in their reportedly haunted family home in upstate New York.    The girls, rather than being afraid, were thrilled, and established a simple code to communicate with the spirits.

One early message read:  “Dear friends, you must proclaim the truth to the world. This is the dawning of a new era; you must not conceal it any longer.  When you do your duty God will protect you and good spirits will watch over you.”

Spiritualism spread across America.  Four years later, the accomplished American Mrs. Hayden traveled to England and introduced it to the fashionable world.

During the height of the movement, while public spiritualists displayed thrilling shows- private home circles were venerated for instilling proper spiritual values and harmony within families.

Spiritualism was a blessed relief to the countless Victorian families who’d lost children.  Now, they were not only  certain  the soul survived, but they could also communicate with loved ones on the other side.  Death was simply a transition to another realm which could be reached any time.  It also appealed to those who were tired of dogmatism and wished to experience God in a personal way.

The middle-class Theobald family of London became involved in Spiritualism in the 1860s.  Morell Theobald lived with his wife and four children.  His spinster sister, Florence, often stayed with them.  Florence always stated she’d been born “sensitive” and immediately was drawn to this new religion.

Florence began practicing automatic writing in 1863.   After she received many loving messages from deceased relatives, the rest of the Theobald family became involved.   Soon they were having regular family sittings in which Morell Theobald’s other children who’d died in early youth communicated with them.  They spoke of their daily activities in heaven and answered some questions related to theology.

As time passed,  the spirits became more active.  Throughout the house, raps broke out at will.  The spirit children spelled out their love to “mama” through the furniture on her birthday.  The spirits encouraged them to live life fully as well as care for their spiritual needs.

The Theobalds became one of the most respected families in the spiritualist community.

In the early 1880s, a new cook named Mary, entered their household.  She claimed to have had psychic experiences  as a child which resulted in being “whipped as a witch” by her parents.

Mary related to the Theobalds that while working in Brighton she’d been “told” one day she would live with a kind, sympathetic family at Granville Park.  (The Theobalds had moved there in 1873 after spirits warned Morell about the ill health effects of the clay soil in Highgate)

The family sittings were their spiritual sphere and always began with prayer.  The servants attended but stood to the side.

In 1882, Mary announced she saw spirits.  The Theobalds were impressed with her powers, yet she was a servant.  Her place was downstairs.  However, as time passed, and her powers became more and more evident, they welcomed her as a family member.  After the rest of the servants gave notice, it was decided Mary would share the household duties with daughter, Nellie Theobald.  They did not want any negative outside forces to interfere with their harmonious circle.

In the class-obsessed Victorian era, associates were horrified.  While  the Theobalds were obviously legitimate  and astute spiritualists, Mary must be a fake, an unscrupulous villain.  Many friends severed ties with them.

Morell Theobald refused to bow down to this prejudice.  He defended their decision by publicly announcing in a journal: “Spiritualism comes somewhat as a leveler of social distinctions……”

Mary became best friends with Nellie.  They ran the house together and Nellie also began developing mediumistic abilities through writing.

Soon, many bizarre ghostly happening occurred.   The girls reported finding fires already lit in the morning.  The dining table already set for breakfast.  Mysterious letters were discovered in locked boxes. Spontaneous writings appeared on the ceiling.  Mr. Theobald rose early and waited in the kitchen in order to see the spirits start the fires or set the table.  They never came.  During family sittings, the spirits informed him  they could not perform fragile operations while being watched.

In 1884, the family acquired a cabinet and were thrilled when Mary produced materializations of spirit hands and feet.   After Mr. Theobald detailed some of their experiences in the spiritualist journal, Light, he was met with more scorn.

The Society of Psychic Research insisted on drilling Mary through a set of tests.  The Theobalds refused to force her through these brutal experiments.  During this tension-filled time, Mary grew quite ill and took to bed.  Morell claimed  the Society was trying to disprove spiritualist ideas rather than observe and record its merits and distanced himself from them.

Through the years, the Theobald family and Mary remained closely knit.

Was Mary a fraud?

On one hand, it was convenient that no one else saw the fires being lit or tables being set.  Some claim Nellie was in cahoots, seeking special attention.

On the other hand, the class prejudice can not be ignored.  It had been perfectly fine when Mary participated in the sittings as a servant. It was only when the Theobalds regarded her as part of their family, that accusations of fraud circulated.