Friday, June 23, 2017

Back in the day with Ferlinghetti and Bukowski!

Over Sixty years ago, Ferlinghetti, now 98, was the principal publisher of an iconoclastic band of writers and poets known as the Beat Generation. Today, he's still co-owner of City Lights, one of the most celebrated independent book stores in America. These are quieter days for the internationally acclaimed poet and painter. His eyes are going, but his mind and humor are sharp. 

Kenneth Atchity with  Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Charles Bukowski

Check out this wonderful 2015 NPR interview.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Coming Soon from Laura Joh Rowland

Coming Soon from Laura Joh Rowland

A Mortal Likeness: A Victorian Mystery
Releasing on January 09, 2018
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You have subscribed to new release emails for Laura Joh Rowland. You won't want to miss this new book.

A photographer in Whitechapel, London, Sarah Bain is also a private detective—skilled at capturing others’ dark secrets, and expert at keeping her own. When a wealthy banker, Sir Gerald Mariner, posts a handsome reward for finding his missing infant, all of London joins in, hoping to win that money for themselves. Usually discouraged by a saturated market, Sarah is instead curiously allured as she realizes the case hits much closer to home than she first thought.

As she dives in, she discovers a photograph of baby Robin Mariner and his mother. But it eerily resembles the post-mortem photographs Sarah, herself, takes of deceased children posed to look as if they were alive. Now it’s unclear whether the kidnapping is a cover-up to hide the reality of his disappearance, or if it’s truly a cry for help.

The clock is ticking and Sarah must uncover the truth before her past catches up to her in A Mortal Likeness, the gripping follow-up to bestselling author Laura Joh Rowland’s The Ripper’s Shadow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Personal History Behind One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez working on “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” 1965 Photograph by Guillermo Angulo / Harry Ransom Center

This post is in partnership with the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. A version of the article below was originally published on the Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass blog.

“The problem is mine,” Gabriel García Márquez confessed to a friend in a letter in July 1966, “that after so many years of working like an animal, I feel overwhelmed with fatigue, without clear perspectives, except in the only terrain that I like and does not feed me: the novel.” He also told his friend that he had just finished writing One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad). But he had serious doubts about whether the novel was good at all. For the past four months he had been under the impression that the novel “embarked me in an adventure that could be either fortunate or catastrophic.”

In this “very long and very complex” novel, as he described it to Editorial Sudamericana’s acquisitions editor, García Márquez wanted to fictionalize the atmosphere of his childhood when he lived with his maternal grandparents in Aracataca, a town located in Colombia’s Caribbean region. He stayed in his grandparents’ house until the age of 8. Soon after, the memory of the house, the family, and Aracataca not only started to haunt him but also proved crucial to his successful literary career, because the reminiscences of his childhood became the seed of One Hundred Years of Solitude and some of his early fictional works, which centered around the Buendía family and the town of Macondo.
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Before he took on literature, the young García Márquez had two passions: drawing and music. Although he did not pursue drawing professionally, he was known for doodling long-stemmed flowers when dedicating his books to close friends, such as the flower that appears on the first page of a photocopied typescript of One Hundred Years of Solitude that he gave to his friend Álvaro Cepeda Samudio.

His other passion, music, permanently accompanied him. Photos of his office in Mexico City show that over the years music (first, in the form of vinyl records and cassettes, and later as CDs) occupied as much space on the shelves as his literature books. Listening to music, in fact, was as important a part of his creative process as reading was.

In March 1966, his beloved vallenatos — a popular folk music of Colombia — welcomed him to Aracataca. That month he paused the writing of One Hundred of Years of Solitude and flew from Mexico to Colombia to present Tiempo de morir at the Cartagena Film Festival. Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein directed the movie and García Márquez wrote the script. After Cartagena, he traveled to Aracataca with his friend Cepeda Samudio in order to revisit the locations of his fictional Macondo, including his grandparents’ house. To García Márquez’s delight, his visit coincided with the town’s first festival of vallenato. An energized García Márquez resumed work on the novel upon return to Mexico City.

Writing took him approximately 13 months, from July 1965 to August 1966. Little documentation survives to this day to understand how he wrote it. Allegedly, García Márquez burnt all manuscripts, notes, and diagrams after receiving the first copy of the book from Sudamericana. He only saved the last version of the novel’s typescript, now kept at the Ransom Center. This typescript contains over 200 handwritten corrections, which reveal surprising textual variants with the final text of the novel published by Sudamericana. Some variants of special interest can be found on pages 46, 149, and 282.

Upon its publication on May 30, 1967, the novel achieved rapid success in Spanish-speaking countries. Yet neither the author nor the publisher expected it to succeed the way it did. At that time, they hoped One Hundred Years of Solitude would attain a success similar to other contemporary Latin American novels, such as Ernesto Sábato’s On Heroes and Tombs (1961), Alejo Carpentier’s Explosion in a Cathedral (1962), Carlos Fuentes’s The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962), Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Time of the Hero (1962), Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (1963), Juan Carlos Onetti’s Body Snatcher (1964), and José Donoso’s Hell Has No Limits (1966). To their surprise, the novel became an international bestseller.

Given the magnitude of its success, media outlets in Latin America and Spain tried to explain the literary phenomenon of One Hundred Years of Solitude, including special publications such as the issue number 9 of Coral, a journal of tourism, art, and culture published in Valparaíso, Chile. This special issue included a compilation of critical essays on the novel written by 11 critics and writers in five countries. Enthusiastic reviews and record sales in Latin America and Spain favored an avalanche of translations. Its publication in Great Britain, in particular, included the release of a large-format, illustrated brochure stating that echoes of William Faulkner, Leo Tolstoy, and Thomas Mann were present in García Márquez’s novel. The brochure also reproduced the famous 1967 Times Literary Supplement review calling One Hundred Years of Solitude a “masterpiece.” Witnessing the novel’s international success unfold was García Márquez’s wife, Mercedes Barcha, who, as he said in multiple occasions, appears in disguise in most of his books.

Partly due to the novel’s success, García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. Since then, the stature of One Hundred Years of Solitude has continued to grow, and its style — popularly known as magical realism — has influenced major writers and books, from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children to Toni Morrison’s Beloved to the Harry Potter series. By now, One Hundred Years of Solitude has officially sold over 45 million copies and has been published into 44 languages, making it the second most translated literary work in Spanish after Don Quixote.

In 2007, the Royal Spanish Academy released a special edition of the novel to commemorate its fortieth anniversary. With the goal of amending the mistakes present in the original edition of 1967, the Academy asked García Márquez to re-read and edit the text for the last time, so that this edition will show the text as he originally intended it to be. According to the galleys kept at the Ransom Center, he made a total of 61 changes, most of them related to spelling errors. But he also took advantage of this final opportunity and brought to life several of the editing practices he adopted 40 years before, when revising the last version of the novel’s typescript. So in the 2007 edition he introduced some changes in the text to conform to his original intention of making the language as precise as possible; for example, he replaced “colonial organism” (p. 448) with “colonial liver” (p. 432). Other changes conform to his original idea of augmenting the geographic isolation of Macondo; for instance, he replaced “kilometers” with “leagues,” a more archaic unit of length, when referring to the distance between Macondo and the site of the signing of the Treaty of Neerlandia.

Half a century after its publication, the influence of One Hundred Years of Solitude on world literature is so deep and entrenched that, as American writer Eric Ormsby said, “‘it seems always to have existed.” Yet little could a García Márquez “overwhelmed with fatigue” in 1966 foresee that this novel would soon embark him on the most fortunate of literary adventures.

Álvaro Santana-Acuña is a Research Fellow at the Harry Ransom Center. His next book is titled Ascent to Glory: The Transformation of One Hundred Years of Solitude Into a Global Classic (forthcoming from Columbia University Press). His research on One Hundred Years of Solitude has received several awards and published in multiple media, including the American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Nexos, and Books & Ideas, and The Atlantic. He holds a PhD in Sociology from Harvard University and is an Assistant Professor at Whitman College.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The World's Most Mysterious Book

Deep inside Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library lies a 240 page tome. Recently carbon dated to around 1420, its pages feature looping handwriting and hand drawn images seemingly stolen from a dream. It is called the Voynich manuscript, and it’s one of history’s biggest unsolved mysteries. The reason why? No one can figure out what it says. Stephen Bax investigates this cryptic work.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Philip Daay's Abduct ...

ABDUCT is set to release in the UK and is being distributed by High Octane Pictures in the U.S.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

More Story Merchant Books Amazon eBook Deals for June!

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Joshua: Son of None

"What if John F. Kennedy were cloned shortly after his assassination? How would a scientist carry it off and under what rationale? Who would raise him? Better still HOW would he be raised so that when grown the "clonee" had the same environmental influences? Could he change the world yet again? Nancy Mars Freedman explores all of this in this remarkable work.

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Scot D Hines' Heroines of Classical Greece Book series Medusa

Scot Hines retells the legend of Medusa in a way that makes her feel like a contemporary millennial girl with very special problems.

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Western Lights by Andrew Furst

Western Lights is a collection of essays from the viewpoint of a Western Buddhist teacher. It speaks about Eastern concepts like karma, hope, attachment, and amptiness from a personal perspective and in terms familiar to Americans. They’re grounded in subject matter familiar to Americans like politics, science, psychology, heaven, and nature.


Free  June 21 - June 25

Jerry Amernic’s The Last Witness

The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally complacent about events of the last century, Jack is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where, as a little boy, he had to fend for himself to survive after losing his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.

FREE June 27 - July 1

Write: Quotes by Kenneth Atchity 

This serendipitous collection of quotes spans inspiration, the creative process; the imagination; language and style; wit and entertainment; and what writers have to say about success, failure, editors, critics, readers, and audiences. An indispensable addition to your writer’s book shelf.

Scorsese's Protégée and Her Daughter Are the Freest Women in Hollywood

Female filmmakers are rarely afforded the opportunity to have the kind of long, varied careers that are seemingly awarded to even their most mediocre male peers, but Allison Anders has defied the odds at every turn. She's been writing and directing independent films, studio pictures, and television episodes for more than 30 years, with credits including Mi Vida Loca, Grace of My Heart, the Peabody Award–winning Things Behind the Sun, and, most recently, a remake of the 1988 film Beaches.

In the 1980s and 1990s, in the midst of raising her three children as a single mother, Allison became one of the premiere voices in the American new wave of independent filmmakers. But since 2008, she's also been behind Don't Knock the Rock, a music documentary film festival in Los Angeles, which she created with her eldest daughter, musician and music supervisor Tiffany Anders. Together, they champion under-the-radar artists whose work you might not see anywhere else.

Like her mom, Tiffany Anders is a renaissance woman in the worlds of film and music. As a musician, Anders released two critically acclaimed albums, including 2001's Funny Happy Cry Gift, which was produced by singer-songwriter PJ Harvey. These days, you can hear Tiffany's song selections on shows like You're the Worst and Making History; she's also been director James Ponsoldt's go-to music supervisor since their first collaboration, on Smashed in 2012.

The mother-daughter duo occupies a unique position in the film and music industries. In bringing their passions to a wide range of audiences, each has managed never to lose sight of her voice as a female creator. The three of us sat down together to talk about inherent industry sexism, the lack of female heroines for young women, and the value of mentorship in the arts.

Kate Hagen: I saw you guys at the Cinefamily theater in L.A. presenting Border Radio a couple of years ago. Tiffany, you were talking about sleeping in the editing room as a kid during the making of that film. Allison, do you think it's easier to be a mother working in the film industry now, or when it was more independent and there were fewer rules about what was acceptable?

Allison Anders: I'd say it was easier to be a single mom back then, because nowadays, I think you really have to be more present and less selfish with your children than I was. We would do things that you would never dream of doing as parents now, like editing at night and going, "We'll take the sleeping bags and they'll just sleep on the editing-room floor and we'll take them out for breakfast in the morning and send them to school."

KH: For both of you, the sonic component of film, especially when it comes to soundtracking, is paramount. Allison, do you start with a song, or do you start with a script when you begin each new film project?

AA: I always make a playlist as I'm writing. Music is really important to me. I do get attached to certain songs. Tiffany can really speak to this with other directors, as well; this is one of the many reasons why she's such a great music supervisor — she knows that when a director is attached to a song, it's not bullshit. She's really able to respect that and pry that song out of your hands, replacing it without making you feel like you're being a ridiculous idiot.

Tiffany Anders: I very much approach being a music supervisor in the way that I do because of my mom — figuring out how to work with a director to enable their vision. Music is so subjective to different people. Nobody's going to be like, "Come on in and paint my movie with whatever you want!" So for me, what I like about the job is working with the director, starting with something that they had in mind. James Ponsoldt had a playlist when he sent me Smashed, and about two or three of those songs ended up in the movie. But, you can also introduce them to new things that they don't know about that they're amazed you're able to find.

KH: What were you guys listening to in your house growing up? How did you rebel against a mom who was into rock 'n' roll?

TA: I was listening to my mom's records — the ones she didn't need to sell. She had X and the Gun Club and soundtracks from Tess and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I also liked the pop bands of the day, like Duran Duran and Guns N' Roses and then started to discover bands like Redd Kross and Dinosaur Jr. on my own.
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AA: I grew up musically, too, with a young, single mom. One day, our babysitter told us that the Beatles were going to be on Ed Sullivan that weekend. My mom made me turn off Walt Disney and I was like, Ugh! But then I fell in love — that totally changed my life, my mom making me watch the Beatles.

KH: Tiffany, I wanted to ask you about being a singer-songwriter in the early 2000s during the peak of schoolgirl pop and how you flew in the face of all that. Your record Funny Cry Happy Gift was produced by PJ Harvey, which is amazing.

TA: Making that record was one of the high points of my life. I learned so much from her, and we developed such a good process while working on it. It was one of those creative things that, when you're doing it, you're not thinking about anything else. You're completely devoted to it.

Tiffany was educated by me, and I was educated by my mother. We didn't need any guys telling us what to listen to.

KH: What was it like working with men in the music industry at that time? How do they compare to men working in film now? Both industries are notorious for treating women poorly.

TA: It's funny, because after I did the record with Polly, I did a record here in LA. There were boys recording and producing it with me and I never had any issues with sexism. But in terms of the record-collecting world, boys are definitely threatened by girls coming in and knowing something. They just assume that you cannot possibly know. They tune you out.

AA: The movie-nerd thing is exactly the same, where they just assume that you don't know anything and you can't possibly be as nerdy about movies as they are. I think it goes to a deeper thing of like, We might invite you in, but you don't get to hold the knowledge that we have. It's just ludicrous. I mean, Tiffany was educated by me, and I was educated by my mother. We didn't need any guys telling us what to listen to.

KH: But to combat that, you created Don't Knock the Rock. Tell us a bit about how you created the festival.

AA: I'd been to a great festival in Sheffield, England, with a lot of music films. They showed a couple of my films there, and there was also this great rock-'n'-roll museum right across the street from the festival. I was like, This is so fun playing all these music films. I thought, I want to have a festival. I talked to Tiffany and I go, "Would you do this festival with me? I could get some movies and you could get some bands." We kicked it off like that. Now she curates the movies every bit as much as I do. It's a complete partnership.

KH: I imagine most of these films show at festivals and aren't getting distributors, so if you want to see it, you need to see it right now.

AA: It's unbelievable. Nobody ever makes a dime off of these movies. Those are the kinds of films that we go looking for — that the filmmaker foolishly, against everything everybody's told him or her, has decided, No, I'm doing this. I'm going to spend at least five years, if not ten years, of my life on this obsession. That's gold to us.

KH: You are both extremely focused on showcasing underappreciated female artists. Allison, you co-hosted Trailblazing Women in Film on TCM in 2015, and Tiffany, your blog, Jumble Queen, highlights lesser-known female musicians. We're at a point in time where there are more avenues to see films and hear music than ever before, but even with feminism having a moment, there's still so much lost art by women.

AA: During the Oscars, I'm seeing one guy after another talk about his little Walmart receipt that he's going to make a movie about. I was like, "Where is the woman director in here?" Last year, women got lost in the conversation in terms of diversity at the Oscars — the women were left out for the most part. I don't see anyone decrying it this year either.

When I first saw the website for Trailblazing Women in Film, I cried. To see all these women filmmakers throughout film history and to be able to talk about those films for weeks with Illeana Douglas was a blast.

KH: I read a great quote from you, Allison, where you said, "There are no girl wonders in film." That's so true, but there's certainly no shortage of boy wonders. You have these amazing intellectual-property ideas — like if Pippi Longstocking were a boy, there'd be ten Pippi Longstocking movies.

AA: With Pippi, what charmed me as a mother, what I'll never forget, was Tiffany crying after the movie. She looked at me and said, "She's funny." I loved that my daughter was connecting to such an anarchic energy. Pippi is her own boss and has magical powers that she uses however the hell she wants.

TA: I remember loving the fact that she didn't let any rules bind her. She was her own person.

KH: We don't get those kinds of characters for young girls. Young girls don't get to go on adventures.

Tiffany, I wanted to ask about James Ponsoldt because, to me, your relationship with him is a mirror of other relationships that women collaborators have had with male directors. You have Scorsese and his film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and Quentin Tarantino and his editor, the late Sally Menke. How does that work for you and James?

TA: He and I have a really good working relationship because he's very knowledgeable about music and really knows what he wants, which makes my job easier. We can talk about how a song or a cue is working and we can overthink it until the cows come home. For me, that's great fun.

KH: Allison, I also wanted to ask about working with Scorsese on Grace of My Heart. How did that relationship shake out as you guys were making the movie?

AA: Needless to say, it was an amazing opportunity. I was telling Quentin Tarantino, who I was seeing at the time, that I was going to have lasagna at Martin's house. Quentin goes, "I wear this guy around my neck like a ball and chain and he's making you lasagna?"

It was amazing what a generous mentor he was. He took his ego out of everything to teach me what he knew.

KH: How do you inspire one another as mother and daughter, but also as creators?

AA: Nothing makes me happier than to know that each time I listen to her show or her perspective on something that nobody else will ever introduce it to me except for her. She reintroduced me to Dory Previn, who I knew as a feminist teenager, but I never knew "The Lady With the Braid." I listen to that song probably once a week now.

She inspires me with her true independence. There's a part of me that's still a little attached to the male perspective. But Tiffany has this unwillingness to take shit from other people.

TA: I beg to differ. I would say that I get my independence from you. I feel extremely fortunate that I was raised by such a strong woman. I didn't care about going to the prom, I didn't care about my hair being pink, or people thinking I was weird for listening to punk rock. I was always taught that being myself was completely OK.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Kate Hagen is a writer living in Los Angeles. She's the creator of 31 Days of Feminist Horror Films, and the director of community for the Black List.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pen and Muse Interview : The Messiah Matrix by Kenneth John Atchity

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Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!I was born in Eunice, Louisiana, and raised in Kansas City, alternating back and forth between Missouri and Louisiana until I left for college at Georgetown. Graduate school at Yale, then professor at Occidental College for twenty years until I left to become a producer and literary manager.

How do you create your characters?
I think of someone I know well and care about, use them as a starting point, shaping them  as the story demands.

Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
In Jesuit high school, my teachers kept comparing Jesus Christ to Julius Caesar. Then I ran into research that led me further into the connections between Augustus and Christianity. The more I read, the more the story leapt out at me.

What inspires and what got your started in writing?
My mother told me I had a terrible imagination, and urged me to start writing stories as she and her south Louisiana siblings did with their front porch tales.

Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
No. I write everywhere. Love writing on the plane, and in exotic locations looking out at wonderful sights like Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, Campo dei Fiori in Rome, or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

How do you get your ideas for writing?
Things that intrigue me, and that I’m willing to spend a year on, are candidates for a new story. Ideas are everywhere, as omnipresent as air.

What do you like to read?
When I’m not sneaking time to re-read a classic like Don Quixote, I prefer thrillers and historical nonfiction, like William Manchester’s The Death of a President, which I recently re-read as background for the film we’re developing, The Kennedy Detail, based on Jerry Blaine and Lisa McCubbins’ bestseller by the same name.

What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Don’t let a single day go by without writing. Never give up. Don’t hesitate over rejection, but go out and get as many nos as you can before you get to the yes you need.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Go for it! Use yourself up, body, mind, and soul. That’s what we’re here for.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

THE MYTHIC ROOTS OF YOGA by Dr. Kenneth Atchity, Ph.D.

The roots of yoga reach down to primordial myth that nurtures the entire human race. Cultures throughout the world share the myth of “the world tree,” sometimes known as “the tree at the navel of the earth.” The Indian yoga masters, the shamans of Siberia (for whom the tree was a nursery as well as a cosmic ladder), the Persian priests, the ancient Celts, and even the Vikings knew this tree well. The Siberian shaman’s drum was said to be made from the wood of the world tree.

The Quran refers to the “Tree of Immortality” or the “Tree of Life”—very similar to the trees, “of Life,” and of “the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” in the Jewish and Christian Genesis. Even before Genesis, as long ago as 4,000 B.C., the Babylonians thought the sacred tree was somewhere near the ancient city of Eridu. In its leaves was the throne of Zikum, queen of the heavens; its trunk was the holy abode of Davkina, the Earth Goddess.

In Aztec and Mayan cultures, the world tree, Yax-cheel-cab, is filled with fruit, from apples to figs—even breasts. Mayans worshipped the kakaw tree, source of cacao and chocolate, discovered by the gods on a mountain. One depiction of the chocolate tree clearly reveals its identification with the human spine. Those “plumps” depict not only the cacao fruit but breasts, the source of all nurture.

In the creation myth of the Maori, the first thing formed from the navel of the void was the world-tree, from whose buds emerged all creation. Just as in the Garden of Eden, the world tree abounds with birds and animals—and the inevitable reptile. In Norse mythology, the sharp-eyed eagle stood watch in Yggdrasil’s upper branches to ward off the serpent Niddhogg’s constant assaults.

The Plumed Serpent gave cacao to the Maya—its symbolic depiction almost identical to the Greek caduceus, the healing rod-tree carried around which snakes are coiled, carried by the god Hermes (Mercury). In kundalini yoga belief the serpent is coiled around the human spine (the word kundalini itself means “coiled”).

The ancient Egypt hieroglyphic character ankh meant "life" or “breath of life.” A tree stylized as a straight rod with a serpent coiled around it, the ankh was considered by some as a predecessor of the Christian cross (itself another world tree). The ankh was also known as the “key of the Nile” or “crux ansata” (Latin, meaning "cross with a handle").

In universal tree mythology, diametrically opposite forces hold life and death in balance; while the tree itself remains eternally stationary.

In the pre-classical Homeric Odyssey the tree of life is the living marriage bed of Penelope. She uses her knowledge of how Odysseus carved it from the living tree around which he built their palace to identify her husband when he returns home disguised as a beggar after twenty years of wandering. 

The world tree is the post that connects heaven, earth, and the underworld; its roots mirror its branches. It links the conscious with the unconscious mind.
Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus described the world tree in one of the few cryptic fragments that have come down to us through the ages: “The way up and the way down are the same thing.” Find the world tree, and the shaman has access to the spiritual realms of the heavens and the dark earthy knowledge of the underworld. In the Torah, Jacob’s ladder is guarded by angels as you climb, by demons as you descend. Not surprisingly, Carl Jung, one of the founders of modern psychology, identified the tree with the axis mundi, the unmoving axle on which the world turns. Jung saw it as a personal “meridian,” or psychological umbilical connecting each individual to the divine source in its branches and to the dark vaults of our animal nature in its roots.

In every culture, the Tree of Life is hidden and can be found only by the initiate--the Druidic priest, the ecstatic Dionysian, or the son of God who dies on the tree for the sins of all humanity then descends from it to hell, and finally climbs it to his enlightened seat at the right hand of his father. When you practice yoga, you reenact the ancient shamanic journey toward “truth” or “enlightenment,” as your meditative breath climbs up and down the world tree. Padma Purana and Skanda Purana enumerate the many benefits to be secured from reverentially approaching and worshipping the world tree.

In ancient Hindu culture, as the Buddha discovered under that Bodhi tree (ficus
religiosa), the Tree of Life is the human spine, hidden from the living, visible only to the dead—and to the practitioner who explores it with his or her breath. The gods and goddesses in its high branches are all rooted in the trunk, which is identified with Brahman, the ultimate Reality. The atman, the individual soul, finds enlightenment by traveling up and down this internal tree as it approaches identity with Brahman. The kundalini serpent coils up from the spine-tree’s roots, its navel holds the power of rebirth, the celestial Third Eye sits at its crown and the initiate, the yogi, climbs with his breath up and down the tree at will.

Like any tree, the hidden spine bends with the wind-breath. The more it bends the longer it lives, the more life it experiences and the stronger it becomes. “There is an eternal tree called the Ashvattha, which has its roots above and its branches below,” says Katha Upanishad, a text which unveils secrets of life and death.
From “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “the Green Man,” to the Yule tree coiled with lights to light your way home through the dark, to Virgil’s “golden bough,” to Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents, to the Tree of Souls in James Cameron’s Avatar, symbols of the world tree are as universal as human backbones. Cutting the tree down is the end of communication between higher and lower worlds. Strengthening it through the initiate’s ritual discipline leads to physical health and spiritual enlightenment. In Exodus, God turned Moses’ rigid staff into a snake and back into a staff which signifies the power of keeping the spine as supple as a serpent: It is better to bend than to break.

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