Amazon’s recommendations never let you down

I’m just loving Amazon’s recommendations lately. That is all.

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Published in: on August 28, 2017 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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May Amazon suggest some medical books for your edification?

I occasionally use Amazon at work to confirm bibliographic info like ISBNs, and I also use it occasionally for personal stuff. Either because Google/Chrome is tracking everything I type across platforms or because I’ve signed in to Amazon on my personal account at work, I get some interesting recommendations. But I was especially happy to see Amazon getting all medieval on its ideas about medicine: (Click to embiggen)

So maybe Amazon’s AI isn’t a threat, yet, to readers’ advisory and reference librarians.

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 7:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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Big time!

I am a real author now. I can tell because my book has been pirated on a notorious scamming site called “Geeker.” (Sorry, no link!) I gather they just get people to “register” to download books and other media, and ask for a credit card which they will drain of funds. Nice.

Rather unamusingly, their contact form for requesting take downs has a phony CAPTCHA so you can’t actually ask them to take it down.

Published in: on May 29, 2017 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wherein I blog about a play I haven’t seen

So my kid is in the drama program at her school and an assignment this week is to see a play or musical this weekend and write a report on it. It would have been awesome if the teacher had suggested some age appropriate plays that are running in the area. Doing our own research, I was a little shocked at how many local theaters are hosting graduation ceremonies rather than having shows, and wondered a little about the teacher’s thought processes, but in the end I found a couple of prospects meeting my requirements that they:

  • not be experimental theater with a lot of adult content
  • not be adaptations of Disney musicals
  • not be during other holiday events we were already committed to
  • be less than $25 a ticket

One is “Incorruptible“, a play about the hijinks at a medieval shrine where the monks make a killing selling fake relics, but run into some difficulty when they need to show a visiting bishop the supposedly incorrupt body of a long-dead saint. That’s kind of up my alley and down my street as it were, since I spent a lot of time researching relics and shrines and miracles for my book Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity. The problem is, “Incorruptible” is playing pretty far away, and maybe I’m pushing that because I would be interested in it moreso than my kid would be.  So we’ll be seeing a more local and slightly more expensive production of “Baskerville,” a comic adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story. But maybe I’ll find a way to make “Incorruptible” next week. If so, I’ll post a review.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 11:29 am  Comments (3)  
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GaryCon

I won’t be at Gary Con, which is starting tomorrow. But I understand that my book Burgs & Bailiffs: Trinity will be there. If you’re there, you’re probably not reading blog posts, but if you are, stop by Black Blade Publishing‘s table where I’m told it will be available in print. And say hi for me.

Published in: on March 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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Saint Patrick’s Purgatory (now with leaked material!)

Forget leprechauns and banshees … here’s your St. Patrick’s Day adventure!

Fortunatus, we are told, had heard in his travels of how two days’ journey from the town, Valdric, in Ireland, was a town, Vernic, where was the entrance to the Purgatory; so thither he went with many servants. He found a great abbey, and behind the altar of the church a door, which led into the dark cave which is called the Purgatory of S. Patrick.  In order to enter it, leave had to be obtained from the abbot; consequently, Leopold, servant to Fortunatus, betook himself to that worthy, and made known to him that a nobleman from Cyprus desired to enter the mysterious cavern. The abbot at once requested Leopold to bring his master to supper with him.  Fortunatus bought a large jar of wine, and sent it as a present to the monastery, and followed at the meal time.

“Venerable sir!” said Fortunatus, “I understand the Purgatory of S. Patrick is here; is it so?” 

The abbot replied, ” It is so indeed. Many hundred years ago, this place, where stand the abbey and the town, was a howling wilderness. Not far off, however, lived a venerable hermit, Patrick by name, who often sought the desert for the purpose of therein exercising his austerities. One day he lighted on this cave, which is of vast extent.  He entered it, and wandering on in the dark, lost his way, so that he could no more find how to return to the light of day.  After long ramblings through the gloomy passages, he fell on his knees, and besought Almighty God, if it were His will, to deliver him from the great peril wherein he lay. Whilst Patrick thus prayed, he was ware of piteous cries issuing from the depths of the cave, just such as would be the wailings of souls in purgatory. The hermit rose from his orison, and by God’s mercy found his way back to the surface, and from that day exercised greater austerities, and after his death he was numbered with the saints.  Pious people, who had heard the story of Patrick’s adventure in the cave, built this cloister on the site.”

Then Fortunatus asked whether all who ventured into the place heard likewise the howls of the tormented souls. The abbot replied, ” Some have affirmed that they have heard a bitter crying and piping therein whilst others have heard and seen nothing.  None, however, has penetrated, as yet, to the furthest limits of the cavern.”

(From Sabine Baring-Gould’s Curious myths of the Middle Ages)

Via Wikipedia, here is a map of Station Island. Click to Embiggen. “Caverna Purgatory,” noted between the two large buildings, denotes the site of the cave.

St. Patrick features rather prominently in my book, Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity: The poor pilgrim’s almanack. Some excerpts follow below in italics. He was a very important saint, and had several hagiographies written on his life and miracles. Unsurprisingly many different places claimed to house his remains or other relics important to him. The disputes began right after he died:

In cases of disputes about the proper home of a relic, ordeals might be held to settle them. After the death of St. Patrick, the churches of Saul and Armagh both claimed his body. To settle the dispute, two untamed bulls were yoked to the cart which bore his body and left to go where they would. They stopped at the spot where the church of Downpatrick was built and Patrick buried.

(From the chapter “Furta sacra” (holy theft))

Here are three pilgrimage sites in Ireland from the chapter “Whither Pilgrim”?

 

St. Patrick’s tomb
Location: Downpatrick, Ireland
Miracles: Sticks to Snakes, Snake Charm, Speak with the Dead, Dispel Magic
Downpatrick is the most likely of the several claimants to St. Patrick’s tomb; he is also said to be buried with St. Briget and St. Columba. When Downpatrick wasn’t being looted and burned by Vikings (as happened at least seven times), it was one of Ireland’s most popular pilgrimage spots. But since most of Ireland was usually being looted and burned by invaders anyway, it was still a top attraction even in the “off season”.

Croagh Patrick (Mount Patrick, also called The Reek)
Location: County Mayo, Ireland
Miracles: Dispel Magic, Silence 15’ Radius
This was a pagan pilgrimage site for the summer solstice for thousands of years. But as a Christian site, it is said to be where the Saint fasted for 40 days. The best time to visit was the last Sunday in July (Reek Sunday), when the pious celebrated the time Patrick killed a witch by repelling her spell back onto her. Pilgrims, usually barefoot, circle the mount clockwise seven times saying seven prayers.

St. Patrick’s Purgatory
Location: Lough Derg (a lake island, also called Station Island)
Miracles: Detect Magic, True Seeing, Plane Shift, Speak with Monsters, Resist Fire
Restrictions: Visitors must convince the shrine keepers to unlock the door over the cave, and then spend a night inside. They will face various demons and devils inside.
Supposedly the cave was created when Patrick asked for a visual aid to convince sinners of the reality of Hell.

He also has a tomb in England:

Glastonbury Tor
Location: Glastonbury, Somerset, England
Miracles: Holy Word, Commune
Restrictions: Must approach with peas in shoes (-2 to Dex for a week afterward); possibly guarded by fairies or knights
This mound was the site of an ancient monastery, but in the 12th century, in legend it grew into “ground-zero” of Christianity on England. So in 63 CE, Joseph of Arimathea arrived with the Grail. The Chalice Well provides healing waters. His staff grew into a hawthorn tree — the Holy Thorn Tree or Glastonbury Thorn. The Thorn blooms every Christmas. Many minor saints, as well as King Arthur, Guinevere, and St. Patrick are said to be buried here, and Christ spent some of his missing years here, building a church.
Pilgrims used to walk the 512-foot-high Glastonbury Tor with peas lining their shoes for penance.
The tor or hill also has pagan associations (as a fairy mound and entrance to the Otherworld, and abode of the king of the fairies) and later with the Arthur legends (the tor is known was the Isle of Avalon to the Britons and the final resting place of King Arthur).

“Appendix I: an index of saints, spells, and relics” mentions a few more spots to visit if you need some relics of St. Patrick.

St. Patrick (Snake Charm, Dispel Magic, Speak with Dead, Snakes to Sticks) [crosier, tooth, and bell: Dublin; lower jaw: Derriaghy]

This appendix lists nearly 200 saints and Biblical figures with miracles associated with them. Each entry in Appendix I follows the format: Name (Miracles) [relics: places], so every miracle associated with a given saint is in one place, and any relics of the saint not mentioned in “Whiter Pilgrim?” are also indicated. These matter because the book also gives a couple of systems whereby clerical magic requires either relics for casting, or pilgrimages for learning, spells. Off to fight the snake cult? Better stop by St Patrick’s tomb to learn Snake Charm, or possibly swipe one of his bones to take with you.

Published in: on March 17, 2017 at 9:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Charmed, I’m sure

Everybody steals everything online, it seems. I never mind when someone legitimately swipes pictures or quotes from my blog when they’re writing about swords, dorkery, or swords and dorkery, but occasionally weird content farmers steal entire posts just populate their awful little adfarms. Most recently “Cellulite Planet” started swiping my posts, in their entirety, though I have jack-all to say about cellulite. Must be hard to sell cellulite on its own merits or something.

They even took the trouble to the text through some kind of paraphrasing script, too.

I don’t mind admitting I’m kind of psyched that my book is now available on DriveThru RPG. The Lost Pages store is the place to get the hard copy, shipped from Scotland (I also hear some copies may be showing up at the better conventions too). But obviously Drive Thru RPG is an important distributor, and I’m glad people might be able to stumble upon my book even if they’ve never heard of it. 

becomes

I don’t thoughts admitting I’m sort of psyched that my schedule is now readily available on the subject of DriveThru RPG. The Shed Pages keep is the put to grab the tough copy, shipped from Scotland (I likewise hear some copies could be showing up at the much better conventions too). Yet obviously Drive Thru RPG is an crucial distributor, and I’m pleased individuals could be able to stumble upon my schedule also if they’ve never ever heard of it.

They paraphrased my title as “The Unsatisfactory Pilgrim’s Almanack” too. That’s pretty harsh for a robotThey didn’t even have the decency to include a link to buy my damn book. But they are like #5 or 6 on the Google hit list if you search “Poor pilgrim’s almanack” (as I might do occasionally to see if anyone has taken notice of it).

As a librarian, I’ve run into some really shady operations that publish books this way swiping Wikipedia entries, which they’d be allowed to do if they gave proper attribution, but then no-one would buy their crap books, so they leave out the attribution. When people started catching on to this, the next evasive action was to paraphrase the articles, much like my post was paraphrased above. It gets dangerous though with some of these — I’ve seen books like this on various medical and legal topics, which could probably get someone killed or in jail.

Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 4:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack now on Drivethru RPG!

I don’t mind admitting I’m kind of psyched that my book is now available on DriveThru RPG. The Lost Pages store is the place to get the hard copy, shipped from Scotland (I also hear some copies may be showing up at the better conventions too). But obviously Drive Thru RPG is an important distributor, and I’m glad people might be able to stumble upon my book even if they’ve never heard of it.

What is the Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack? (And here I begin just quoting the blurb:)

An historical supplement on pilgrimages, relics and religion in the European Middle Ages.

The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack is filled with painstakingly researched essays on religious life (and death) in the middle ages. It lets you use relics and pilgrimage as the basis of an alternative conception of clerical magic. Also included are details on travel, burial customs, catacombs, and the business of relic theft. A travelogue of shrines and other pilgrimage sites, detailed rules for relics and reliquaries, and a listing of historical miracles (corresponding to familiar clerical spells) make this 128 page sourcebook a treasure trove of inspiration. Dozens of adventure seeds and tables for generating encounters on the road, graves and grave goods, and randomized catacomb generation and stocking round out the contents. A new class, the Palmer, provides a novel take on religious adventurers. 
But wait! Don’t take my word for it. Here’s something someone said:

An excellent and necessary supplement if you’re wanting your campaign’s religious culture to feel more European Medieval and less the polytheistic/pantheon style used in mainstream D&D

– James Raggi, Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Published in: on February 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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Research mathoms III

I’ve been noting what’s NOT in Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity : The poor pilgrim’s almanack, or, The handbook of pilgrimage and relic theft. But what’s in there? Here’s a screencap of the table of contents. It doesn’t list sidebars, but it does drill down to the section headings within the four main essays: On the road (which covers travel generally); Death, Burial & Grave Goods; Furta Sacra (all about relics and their theft); Into the catacombs (all about catacombs); Whither pilgrim? (a gazetteer of shrines, holy wells, tombs, and other pilgrimage destinations); and Relics & Clerics (which offers a revised clerical spell casting system and a completely different kind of cleric that is dedicated to pilgrimage). Click to embiggen.

toc-screenshot

 

Here’s one more mathom.

Beheaded martyrs

If you read much about martyrs, you will quickly notice that a large number of martyrs went through multiple executions before being really, sincerely martyred. They might be broiled, beaten, shot with arrows, crushed, hung, trampled by animals, or have any number of brutal treatments and still survive until they are finally beheaded. While we might be tempted to imagine the persecutors shouting “There can be only one!” scholars speculate that the beheadings are often later additions to the stories, because by the Middle Ages, only beheading was considered an appropriate execution for high-status individuals. For the saints to be killed by lesser — even common — means was incongruous with their status as God’s elect, so the hagiographies were amended to end with a more aesthetically pleasing (to the generally noble or high-ranking patrons of the scribes) death.

More fancifully, the trope of saints being beheaded also spawned another category of saints: celaphores. These were saints who are depicted — visually in icons and statues, or narratively in their hagiographies — as carrying their own severed heads. Celaphores are often said to have carried their severed heads to their burial places, in some cases preaching as they walked; most famously, St. Denis of Paris did this, but folklorists have counted more than a hundred cases. Apart from making memorable miracles and dramatizing the saint’s power over death, this behavior helps legitimize the final resting place of a saint, and discourages further translation.

 

 

 

Published in: on December 13, 2016 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Research mathoms II

Here are few more sidebars, etc., that didn’t make it into The poor pilgrim’s almanack, or, The handbook of pilgrimage and relic theft. (#shamelesscommerce) The illustrations here and in the other Research Mathoms post were not necessarily meant to be in it though — we used only black & white or greyscale images that were in the public domain or under CC license.

The incorruptibles 

Many saints were found to be “incorruptible” when exhumed. In a few cases this meant that the corpse remained largely untouched by decay for a very long time — perhaps perpetually. The bodies are often displayed under glass. But most incorruptible bodies eventually decay. The designation that a saint’s body was “incorruptible” required only that the corpse look fresh when first exhumed. Decay may set in almost immediately. The relics would be encased in reliquaries, or possibly chased in gold, or covered with wax to represent the appearance of the body when it was exhumed.

St. Cuthbert being exhumed and found incorrupt (image from Wikipedia) — 

Note that “incorrupt” is a relative term. Here’s an incorrupt saint, St. Zita. Not too bad for a 750 year old corpse.

Image result for incorrupt

***

Fantastic relics

In addition to the relics of saints and Biblical figures, some collections at shrines included unusual items such as Griffin’s claws, phoenix feathers, unicorn horns, and other parts of monsters — collected by pilgrims in foreign lands, sent as rare and valuable tributes, or even as trophies from the ordeals of saints. One church boasted that it had the tip of Lucifer’s tail, lost in a fight with a Syrian hermit. Some such objects were reputed to have their own occult power to heal, but most were simply exhibited along with the fine clothes, jewelry, and other valuables offered in honor of the saint.

Alicorns — the supposed horns of unicorns, most often in the form of narwhal horns or vessels carved from rhinoceros horns — were a highly valued item both because of their intrinsic worth (princes would pay up to 20 times their weight in gold for them, and a large narwhal horn could weight over 12 pounds) and for their supposed magical properties. St. Denis cathedral near Paris had a 7 foot long, 13 pound alicorn among its treasures; St. Mark’s in Venice had two alicorns, each about a meter long and supposedly looted from Constantinople in 1204, plus another of a later date that was two meters long; other impressive specimens were in cathedrals and churches at Milan, Raskeld, St. Paul’s in London, and Westminster Abbey. Alicorns were thought to cure or prevent poisoning and pestilential disease. Unscrupulous guardians might sell filings from the horns for quick cash, and there are records of alicorns being gilded or chased in silver to prevent this. Griffin claws — the horns of ibex or buffalo — were thought to neutralize poison too.

There were also an array highly unusual items with supposed supernatural origins in various church collections. A ray from the star of Bethlehem, objects given to saints by angels ranging from clothing to clocks, body parts from angels, the foreskin of Jesus (as well as many other unlikely mementos of his infancy and childhood), feathers (!) from the Holy Spirit, and even fire from the Burning Bush were all inventoried in various collections.

 

Corpse Roads and Lych Gates

The local parish church held funeral rites and everyone who could afford the fees would prefer to be buried in the parish graveyard. However as small villages sprang up further and further away from the central parish church, it became necessary to establish roads leading from the villages to the church. These roads would be used solely for transporting the dead for burial, as the presence of a corpse was unlucky at best and potentially dangerous at worst. Moreover the ghosts of the dead were thought to wander the corpse road for as long as the soul was in purgatory — potentially many years. For these reasons the corpse road was always laid out in unwanted and otherwise untraveled land. The corpse road was also kept as straight as possible, even if it meant cutting through difficult terrain or crossing streams, because it was thought the ghosts traveled only in straight lines, and no-one wanted the ghosts to wander off the road. Corpse roads always led to a Lych Gate, the gate to the burial yard (“lych” meaning body or corpse).

Lych Gate at St. Mary’s, Wendover (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Published in: on December 9, 2016 at 8:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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