HAIL The Satanic Temple

When I grew up in Utah, every public middle and high school had a Mormon seminary building in close proximity. (Often right next door.) Once a week, Mormon students were excused from class to leave the school property and go study their religion at “Seminary.”

Not being a member of the LDS faith, I never got to participate in this “release program.” As far as I, and the rest of the “gentiles” could tell, the religious training consisted of social activities, field trips, and preparation for becoming a Mormon Missionary.

LDS Seminary’s sociological impact was (and as far as I know, still is) an institutional form of indoctrination for insiders, and systematic identification, exclusion, and social isolation of outsiders.

As a childless adult, I didn’t know that in the years since my schooling, the Mormon model of “release time religious instruction” has spread across the country. But I am pleased to learn that The Satanic Temple is introducing an alternative program of public school religious training: The Hellion Academy of Independent Learning (HAIL).

The HAIL program is available in any school district who already has release time religious instruction in place. For more information about it, see the newsletter announcement. I almost wish I had a child in the Utah school system so that I could lead the charge to bring HAIL to my old hometown.

If you’re not familiar with the work of The Satanic Temple, see their website. Briefly, they are a brave organization that utilizes the tactics of Christian fanaticism to advance the cause of personal freedom and science. They are worthy of your support.

Book Review: How to Lie with Maps

I read this book as part of my research for a forthcoming edition of my Bizarre Fact Files series. The book is a well-written, deep exploration into the techniques and politics of cartography. By the time I finished this technical exploration — learning about things I didn’t even know existed — my perspective on mapping was forever changed.

gordon meyer holding book

Yes, I said the politics of mapping. As this book makes clear, every map is a political statement. Maps represent reality, but are not of reality. And the power to define reality lies with the person holding the pen.

Although I didn’t see it referred to in the book, I feel obligated to also mention Alfred Korzybski’s meditations that “the map is not the territory.”

One of my favorite chapters, “Data Maps: A thicket of thorny choices” should be required reading for every social scientist, if not citizen voter, for its clear discussion of how aggregation, homogeneity, and other choices make it easy to distort “data.” Keep this in mind the next time you see a purported map of crime levels, real estate values, or other “facts” superimposed on an areal map. (The author’s book Mapping It Out: Expository Cartography for the Humanities and Social Sciences promises even more about this important topic.)

There were numerous tidbits that caught my attention. A few examples:

  • Deliberate blunders, “trap streets” are non-existent features placed on maps to catch copyists. But this common practice died off in 1997 after a court ruled that even imaginary streets are “facts” and can’t be copyrighted. (What the hell‽)
  • Souvenir, a typeface used for map labels by the US Geographic Survey, is an abomination in the context of mapping. The author makes a compelling case for how it ruins cartographic features with its heavy-handed and ugly typography.
  • Commercial placements on maps eschew important cartographic features (such as elevation, and topography) in favor of paid inclusions. This renders the maps useless for functions such as emergency management and national defense, but makes them handy for shopping.
  • Online mapping, covertly paid for by commercial placements, has forever changed the expectations, style, and quality of maps for the public. In Europe, bookstores still carry high-quality regional maps, but good luck finding them in the United States. (Younger readers might be surprised to learn that gas stations used to give away printed maps to customers!)
  • Placenames, those words which define a location or area, are often just accepted as being true, but in reality they can reflect bias and politics. Traditionally, mapmakers have accepted local vernacular, but that leads to codifying some odd, and often racist, stereotypes. The author has a separate book about this topic, From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame.

How to Lie with Maps, published by the venerable University of Chicago Press, is not a casual read. But for an outsider such as myself, it was fascinating and insightful. The author, Mark Monmonier, has several related titles, as well as a rich website that will take you deep into a delightful rabbit hole. To get your copy of this book, try the Amazon.

Book Review: Move

Caroline Williams’ book is subtitled “How the New Science of Body Movement Can Set Your Mind Free.” It’s a very approachable book of science reporting that includes the latest research into bodily movement and overall health, and how our traditional view of “exercise” is inadequate.

Although there is a bit too much blaming of technology for our woes to suit my taste, Williams does discuss some interesting studies revealing correlations with sedentary lifestyles, lower IQs, mental illness, and anti-social behavior. And, as evidence of how current this book is, there is discussion about how the COVID-19 pandemic has served to limit movement further.

gordon meyer holding book

One thing I particularly enjoyed were the explorations of mind-body linkages — that is, not treating movement as a way of getting fit, but also as a way of promoting mental acuity. By the time I completed the book, I had a better understanding of why there are mindfulness and breathing functions in the Apple Watch.

Speaking of breathing, I also learned that benefits of breathing exercises are decreased by mouth breathing. “In through the nose, out through the mouth” is a cliché, but it turns out at least the first part is backed by science.

There are other tidbits that triggered “aha” moments, and some reminded me of “new age” or “ancient” wisdom. There is some discussion about the body’s role in memory (perhaps the brain is not the seat of all things), and also a long discussion of research into audio frequencies, the body’s electrical network, and rhythm. (Maybe those drum circles aren’t just for hippies after all.)

I also came to new understanding about the role of the vagus nerve. And although I have only witnessed, not experienced, the healing power of acupuncture the discussion of the latest research into the body’s fascia was fascinating.

The book is not only approachable and interesting, it’s also well indexed with an interesting bibliography. Overall, I’m impressed and pleased that I took some time to study it. I bought my copy at Barbara’s Bookstore in Northwestern Hospital, but you can also find it on the Amazon.

This documentary is on fire

Historian and public speaker William Pack has produced a nice documentary about The Great Chicago Fire. (This year being the 150th anniversary of the event.) He was nice enough to cast me as one of commentators, but aside from that, you'll enjoy it. It's available on YouTube for a limited time.

The Essential Great Chicago Fire on YouTube

gordon meyer on screen

Screen shot courtesy of another talented Chicagoan, Michael Burke.

Book Review: The Lake Michigan Mothman

Having grown up in the land of the Bear Lake Monster, Skin Walkers, and Bigfoot, I simply can’t deny that, for me, there’s no lore like cryptid lore. So for that reason alone, this book by Tobias Wayland was a no-brainer addition to my library. When you add that it’s centered in my hometown — even in my neighborhood, — and that the legend is part of my annual “Dark Tales of Bucktown” tour, it’s surprising that I haven’t read it multiple times already.

Gordon Meyer with mothman book

Did I enjoy the book? Duh. Do I wish it were better organized and written? Yeah, I do. Don’t get me wrong; the book is unique and useful because it compiles so many creature sightings into one volume. And almost all of them are first-person accounts as written by the witnesses. Unfortunately, this is also where the books desperately needs an editor and unifying perspective. It’s great these witnesses came forth with what they saw, but most of them are not going to win any essay contests (or even get a passing grade in English 101.) It takes a more tolerant reader than I am to read more than a few pages of this book at one sitting.

The only other beef I have is the book’s title. It should be called “The Chicago Bat.” I understand that “Lake Michigan” is more inclusive, accurate, and commercial, so I’ll accept that. But “Mothman” is, in my opinion, just wrong. Let West Virginia keep the Mothman to themselves. (They have so little to boast about, after all.) And while I understand that referring to the creature in this way is easy shorthand, it’s also misleading. The only significant similarity between the Chicago creature and the West Virginia creature is that they are winged humanoids. (OK, I can hear some of my fundamentalist friends thinking — “Um, both are also imaginary.” But I’ve moved beyond that.) Furthermore, as it becomes clear from the reports in the book, almost every witness describes it as being similar to a bat. So for these reasons, and more, I will continue to use the name “Chicago Bat” instead. (But not, for certain, “Batman.”)

Now, I should acknowledge that if it weren’t for the Milwaukee-based Singular Fortean Society, much of this creature’s story would be lost. Through their website, and now this book, they are the leading source of timely and interesting reports of all kinds of unusual occurrences. Bravo, and gratitude, for their work.

Here are a handful of tidbits that stood out for me, but like all good stories, there are more if you dig in and follow the trails embedded within.

  • There have been more than a hundred sightings of the Chicago Bat since 2017, but Wayland’s research convincingly extends the timeline back to 1957. The latest sighting, as I write this, was less than a month ago, in the Loop.
  • The book’s subtitle is “High Strangeness in the Midwest.” I love this turn of phrase.
  • Regarding the controversial, if not downright wacky aspects of these types of stories, Wayland writes: “…(all this) is a hard pill to swallow for scientific materialists, but my job as an investigator isn’t to make mainstream scientist types feel better; my job is to follow the trail wherever leads, even if that’s right into the gaping maw of the impossible.”
  • One possible rational explanation for the sightings is that large migratory birds not normally seen in the midwest are being driven to the Lake Michigan area by climate changes. How’s that for an unforeseen consequence of global warming!

I bought my copy from Amazon, but you can also buy a signed copy directly from the publisher. Either way, you’ll enjoy the tales, and if you’re a local — keep your eyes peeled!

Keep your vaccination card in Notes

Once you have your COVID-19 vaccination card from the CDC (and you do have one, right?) some people are recommending that you take a photo of it, so you have a copy on your iPhone.

That’s not a bad idea, and will probably serve you well until the government comes up with a more uniform (and secure) method of proving your vaccinated. (As a small business owner, I hope they hurry and do so.)

I think a better idea, though, is to use the iPhone scanner feature to save an image of the card in the Notes app. Briefly:

  1. Open Notes, then tap the New Note button.
  2. Enter a heading for the note, such as “COVID Vaccine.”
  3. Tap the Camera button in the Notes app, then tap Scan Document.

When you’re done, you’ll have a nice tidy scan of your vaccination card. (You might as well scan both sides of it, or better yet, scan your loved ones’ cards, so you have them handy if needed.)

This method is better than just snapping a photo because the scanner creates a better copy. Also, thanks to the heading you added to the note, now you can find it a lot faster than if it were just one of a zillion pictures in the Photos app. Just type “covid” or “vaccine” into the iPhone search field, and it pops right up. Easy-peasy.

Covid note in Notes app being searched

Book Review: Urban Faery Magick

This book is subtitled “Connecting to the Fae in the Modern World.” And let’s get one thing out of the way now—to get any enjoyment from this charming book by Tara Sanchez you have to be inclined to agree with her statement:

“The skill of imagination is one we have in abundance as children. Yet as adults, our social conditioning relieves us of one of the most valuable magical skills we will ever possess: the ability to imagine.”

I enjoyed this book, and I love the attempt at imagining how the fae might be part of the urban world. The books also covers how to spot signs of their likely presence, how to invite interaction with them, and how to tell when it’s safe (or not) to do so. It even includes chants, lures, and recipes for fairy treats to aid in your quest.

gordon meyer with book

I also learned a lot about different types and alignments of fairies, and that genius loci (house spirit) is not a fae at all. I especially enjoyed the discussion of the Will-o’-the-wisp, given my visitations.

One of Sanchez’s observations that I found particularly interesting is how, in current times, spirituality (broadly speaking) is primarily driven by what it can do for the practitioner. An attitude of “what can you do for me” will not get you very far in the fairy world, she cautions.

Throughout the book are brief recaps of legend and lore that I hadn’t encountered before. (For example, hiding an old shoe in the wall of a building under construction to ward away goblins, demons, and elves.) There are also numerous contemporary references to locations that have ties to fairy occupation—such as the Fairy Bridge on the Isle of Man where, tradition holds, you must greet the fae while crossing.

And speaking of contemporary, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the entries in the bibliography are recent publications. Who knew that so many books about fairies have been published in the last couple of decades? (I was expecting them to all be of Brothers Grimm vintage.)

In a discussion of the intersection of fairy study and Eastern philosophy, there’s a tangent about the ages of mankind. We are currently living in the age of Iron, which, as Sanchez observes, is a rather alarming description of the worst part of our world:

… during this age, humans live an existing of toil and misery. Children dishonor their parents, family feuds cause deep rifts, and bad people use lies to be thought good.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and learned quite a bit. Sanchez’s writing style is warm and easy, and if you’re willing to go along the journey, she’ll help you see your city in a new light. (Check out her website.) This book was published in 2021 by noted woo-woo publisher Llewellyn and I got my copy at Quimby’s Books in Chicago, but of course, it’s also found at the Amazon.

Book Review: The Cosmic Serpent

I wish I could remember who told me about this book; I’d like to thank them. The book is hard to describe because a cursory description — an ethnographic narrative about the similarities of cross-culture shamanism and DNA structures — doesn’t really do justice to the insights and feeling of revelation that the book provides. If you’ve studied esoteric works, the connections that this book identifies will bring forth more than a few “ah-ha!” moments. If this is all new to you, it might just pull you down a rabbit hole from which you’ll never escape.

gordon meyer with the cosmic serpent book

The book’s subtitle is “DNA and the Origins of Knowledge,” and the reviews from far more serious readers than I are not just notable, some declare that it could be a Copernican revolution for both social and life sciences. And while there is a psychedelic aspect to it, it’s perfectly approachable to those, like me, with an unexpanded mind.

A sampling of the notes I made while reading:

  • I was particularly tickled with the discussion that modern anesthesia is based on curare, which is a Stone Age formula that Western scientists insist was accidentally discovered by Amazonian natives, yet it is very complex to create and, even today, it remains unknown as to how it actually works. (Remember that next time you’re having surgery!)
  • Another interesting fact that stood out: If one were to stretch out the DNA contained in the nucleus of a single human cell, it would be a two-yard long thread that is only 10 atoms wide! If you were to lay out all the DNA in a human body, it would stretch 125 billion miles. (Presumably even longer for someone built like I am.)
  • Regarding the “cosmic serpent” of the title, it is primarily an old god found at the beginning of all cosmogonies, and this book lays out the ways in which our understanding of DNA overlaps with the serpents’ characteristics and traits. Is it possible the answer to life was given to us in life-creation “myths”?
  • That’s a bold claim, but using only a rationale perspective that insists on dissecting and separating all things into compartments to understand them destroys complementary insights. Or, to put it as Roald Dahl wrote, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

The author of this book, Jeremy Narby, has done an excellent job in making it both readable and technical enough to provide some real insight — not too bad at all considering he’s an anthropologist. (That’s a joke. Sort of.) The back third of the book contains more than enough footnotes and references to satisfy any nitpicker or researcher. Get your copy at Amazon (no relation to the Shamans).

Book Review: Astronumerography

gordon meyer astronumerology book

The prolific Professor Oddfellow has resurrected (and, I suspect, updated) an ancient form of divination and personality reading that combines astrology with numerology. It’s a deep system, but clearly explained and is based on your birthdate, so the occult mathematics aren’t too intimidating. And the result is a lovely figuregraph that makes utilizing the revelations and insights simple. I especially appreciated both the summary worksheet, and the example readings, that the author includes. (I do wish, though, that blank reading sheets were available for download.) Now that this system has been made accessible to a modern audience I expect to see it offered by psychic readers in most large cities. Avoid the rush and get your copy at Amazon then check out Oddfellow’s other books while you’re there.