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All the Pretty Vampires

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All the Pretty Vampires

Since the cover reveal for my upcoming book, Conspiracy of Angels, I've gotten a number of questions about the series -- what's it about? have you stopped writing non-fiction? who's that hot gal on the cover holding the big knife? -- but the most consistent question has been about vampires. Specifically, Will there be vampires in this series? The short answer, of course, is yes.

I mean, how could I not have vampires in my series? I've spent over two decades of my life hip-deep in the modern vampire community, appearing on everything from the History Channel to CNN to talk about it. I've lectured at universities around the country on vampires in fiction, folklore, and pop culture. And I've written foundational works on the phenomenon of psychic vampirism that have helped to shape an entire generation of practitioners. Vampires are, as they say, my thing.

On the other hand, expressly because I have done so much on vampires since the early 90s, I didn't want to make vampires the sole focus of the Shadowside world. So, while Zachary Westland's world definitely includes vampires, they are not the only things my main character encounters, nor does that main character sport fangs himself.

Fans of vampires in fiction will, I think, be delighted and intrigued with my take on this immortal archetype. I've held off talking about the vampires in the Shadowside series until now, however, because I'm not so certain what the vampire community itself is going to think. As a writer who addresses paranormal and supernatural topics in both my fiction and my non-fiction, I'm aware that, for some readers, the lines between real life and the story might seem blurry -- but those lines are not blurry for me.

Vampires

Certainly, in crafting the world of the Shadowside, I have drawn upon my extensive knowledge of psychic phenomenon, occult practices, and paranormal events. The verisimilitude that drives the Urban Fantasy genre is part of its allure to me as a writer -- the technique that weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft called "supernatural realism." Simply put, with supernatural realism, a generous commingling of facts wedded to the fantastic helps to make the fiction that much more immersive and exciting.

That said, the vampires in Conspiracy of Angels and the later books of the Shadowside series are not based off of anyone in the modern vampire community. Satire -- even self-satire -- was not my goal with this series. The vampires of the Shadowside instead draw upon the vampire archetype as it has been expressed in the time-honored fiction that I love. They have fangs. They drink blood. They wear their sunglasses after dark.

They do not sparkle.

The vampires of the Shadowside are not the good guys. Most are right bastards. They weave skeins and skeins of intrigue, manipulation, and betrayal -- because any being that long-lived would have to -- both in order to survive as well as to alleviate the boredom of an endless march of nights.

There is a distinctly monstrous element to my vampires, and while they make an effort to pass as human, they absolutely do not function on human rules -- as main character Zachary Westland discovers swiftly and to his detriment.

Of course, Zack isn't exactly your garden variety mortal either. As he learns more about who he is and what this means for him, he discovers that, even against ageless, scheming vampires, he can hold his own.

--M

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Conspiracy of Angels

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Conspiracy of Angels

It's real. It is finally real -- this tale that has been roiling inside of me and struggling to get out. The official cover has gone live and Book One of the series, Conspiracy of Angels, can be pre-ordered in all the places where one may order books. It won't be out until October -- always a momentous month for me -- and that seems like such a very long time from now. But maybe it is just long enough -- long enough for me to get the word out. Long enough for me to explain why the story of Zachary Westland has been spilling forth like fire from my lips.

This journey started in 2008. I remember the night with that clarity that sometimes comes with those moments of time that you know, even in the midst of them, are significant. I was working a case with the PRS, and I was sitting outside this house in California with gorgeous acreage -- rocks and trees and wide, starlit skies.

I don't often like to sit idle. My brain is always rushing through words and images and song. All these things demand release from the whorls of my grey matter, so I rarely go anywhere without some means of writing them down.

I had pens and a notepad, and I sat on a crate, hunched over these in the lights for the cameras, scribbling things down. A name. Zack Westland. An image -- riding into a city. My city, Cleveland, Ohio. Although I've grown up in Hinckley and I live in Medina -- both greener, more rural suburbs of the original Metropolis (Superman was born here), Cleveland is the closest major city to where I live, and it's the urban center I claim as my own. There's a lot of history in that town -- known to far too many as the Mistake on the Lake, or the City of the Burning River. But it is also the city where Rockefeller built the bulk of his empire, where Edison worked tirelessly in Nela Park. There are many stories and secrets in Cleveland, not the least of which slumber in the depths of its neighboring lake, Erie.

Conspiracy_Cover_Official

As I sat beneath harsh lights and distant stars in a land far removed from my native Midwest, characters unwound and then dialogue, and then all the bones upon which I would build this story, this world. And a word: the Shadowside. That lay at the heart of it -- or, perhaps I should say, it was woven throughout it. Because, as with most fiction, that point of view character whose name (a short version of it, at least) was Zack, shared things in common with his creator as I wielded my pen. We were both psychic. We both perceived spirits. And from that common point, all the rest of his world -- which looked so much like my world, yet wasn't -- blossomed.

Zachary Westland, who sees through to the Shadowside. Zachary Westland, who feels a compelling need to battle the darker things that spill forth from that shadowy part of reality one step off from our familiar, flesh-and-blood world.

Most of you reading this know that, in 2008, I was writer already. Books on vampires and ghosts and psychic experiences had already spilled forth from my pen. Non-fiction (though I maintain no illusions that many out in the world are quite certain these topics might as well be fiction) was what I was known for, and what had landed me into the curious experience of being a person on TV. And I had a comfortable place as a writer on the weird world of the paranormal and the strange. I was (and still am) happy with the folks at Llewellyn, who published the majority of my work. But they couldn't publish this story -- fiction wasn't in their wheelhouse. So, if Zack was to live and to walk in the imaginations of others, I would have to embark on a journey I knew would take every bit of stubborn persistence that I had: I had to delve into the daunting and competitive world of traditional publishing.

Llewellyn, of course, is a publisher, and by that, a part of the publishing industry. And yet, the great and many-headed beast of publishing itself views a company like Llewellyn as something akin to a digit on a finger. It is not an arm. It is certainly not a head. Llewellyn, for all that it is one of the largest publishers of Pagan and magickal books, is nevertheless a niche market. The publishing behemoths like Penguin and Harper Collins themselves (as I would discover later in this challenging journey) hardly considered it a gnat. I never had to acquire the help of a literary agent simply to obtain the privilege to submit a manuscript to Llewellyn. The company takes unagented work, and they stand at a level within the publishing industry where this is feasible -- and neither party is much in danger of being terribly screwed without the benefit of such an intermediary.

Where I wanted to aim with the Shadowside Series took me into entirely different territory. It was territory I had explored twenty years previously -- often with mixed results. Traditional publishing requires a strong stomach and an even thicker skin. It's not uncommon for good books -- amazing books that later bear out to be best-sellers that change the face of the publishing world -- to meet with rejection not once, not twice, but over and over. I think of it as an endurance test for the ego. And when I was an aspiring novelist in college, I did not have what it took to keep at it. Because that's what you have to do -- find an agent (a process in and of itself that often comes with a great deal of waiting and rejection) and grind your face against what seems like an endless stream of rejection letters all the while maintaining belief in the book.

Maybe I'd never had a story that meant enough to me to keep me going even after some of the blistering or utterly apathetic replies (the critical ones aren't the worse -- the ones that have always killed me are the ones where the editor praises the work glowingly, and then ends with some terse phrase like, "we can't market it at this time," that makes all that praise turn to ash on the tongue). I'd always give up after two or three such rejections. I'd doubt my capabilities. I'd doubt the project. But, most of all, I'd doubt my ability to persevere for the amount of time that landing a publisher would so obviously take.

The Shadowside series was different. It came to me at a time in my life when I knew what it meant to be patient. I knew what it meant to see a book bear fruit. And I had the luxury of time. So, from that night in 2008 and thereafter, I set about crafting a story and a world that I could live in comfortably as a writer for the next ten or twenty years. Not a one-shot novel, but a series. A place that, creatively, I could call home.

And I learned more about Zack in subsequent revisions. And I met Lil, who I can best describe as Jessica Rabbit mixed with equal portions of Kali-Ma. Sal, who is Machiavelli in garters, and soft-spoken Remy who spent at least two days arguing with me in my head over the issue of a hat (he gets his damned fedora eventually, never fear).

Many revisions later, I sought out the Holy Grail of fiction publishing -- a literary agent. And I was lucky enough to have Lucienne Diver, who also represents (among many other noteworthy and recognizable writers) a childhood hero, P.N. Elrod, take an interest in Zack and his world. She agreed to take me on.

Twenty years before, when I'd first been trying to establish my name as a fiction writer, I had decried the necessity of a literary agent. I resented the notion that I had to rely on some other person to help sell my book -- that I needed an agent like Charlie needed that Golden Ticket just for the privilege of even entering the elusive realm of the slush pile.

Now I don't know what I'd do without an advocate as skilled and savvy as Lucienne.

Rejections came in, of course. Some -- well, that's material for another entry, should I feel that it's appropriate to make it. Suffice that, my work as a non-fiction writer, no matter how many books I'd gotten under my belt, didn't necessarily help me. Actually, it didn't really count for squat. And my identity as a television personality in most cases worked against me. TV people don't often write their own books. They are not seen as writers. That label must be earned.

And earn it I did - in the eyes of Steve Saffel at Titan Books -- a publishing company that still leaves me feeling a little breathless at the thought that they were willing to take Zack and his world on.

And now, seven years later, we are here. And there is a cover. Zack has a face, as does Lil. And I am almost able to share his world with all of you.

I have not, by any means, given up my non-fiction writing. I have (as recent appearances on Monsters and Mysteries in America will attest) continued to work in television. But fiction -- and the Shadowside, especially -- is what I want to do with the rest of my life. To live in this story and to shape it, and to share Zack's adventures with all of you.

October 27th, the first book comes out. I can't wait.

--M

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The Whately Mansion Saga

The Story Thus Far: The vampire Alexander LeMourru acquired the Old Whately Mansion for reasons known only to himself. Formerly the scene of unspeakable murders, Alexander and his crew have refurbished the ramshackle mansion, making it home to a curious collection of blue-shirted cultists. They keep mostly to themselves, save for opening the place to the litterati of New England for grand seances on the weekends.

Alexander has long been a thorn in the side of the local Giovanni, a family of vampires and necromancers thoroughly entrenched in the shadowed underworld of Providence. Led by the stern and sometimes hot-headed patriarch, Antonio, the famiglia has determined that whatever Alexander is up to in the old mansion, it is not in their best interests.

After a week of preparation and recon, Antonio, his enforcer, Menecrites, and the grim, solitary necromancer Karl Beck headed out to discover what secrets the old murder house might hold.

No plan survives the field. The three sought to capture Alexander's cat's paw, Jeff York, unawares, but the spirit of Old Man Whately gave them away. While the Giovanni had hoped to infiltrate the mansion bloodlessly, they are hardly the sort to shy away from conflict once it becomes inevitable.

Adapting to complications none of them could have foreseen, Antonio, Menecrites, and Beck successfully take York as a hostage -- but not without some losses. Jeff pulled what appears to have been an Oblivion bomb from his pocket, and in the resulting explosion of negative energy, Julie, Karl’s wraith, as well as the wraith of Old Man Whately, were both consumed by the darkness. The bomb also did a level of aggravated damage to all of the living (or undead) beings standing in a ten foot radius around its epicenter. This included Jeff York.

As everyone recovered from this development, Karl discovered that his ring of unseen presence was no longer working. With a sinking feeling, he checked his other soul-forged items, only to discover that they now were also inert. The spirits bound to power them had been devoured by the concussive wave of Oblivion just like Old Man Whately and his companion, Julie.

This led Antonio to check his prize swordcane, forged with the soul of the Assamite once sent to kill him. Upon inspecting the blade, veins begin to stand out on Antonio’s forehead. His hands tremble for a moment, and then, closing his eyes, he puts forth a monumental effort to maintain control and not give in to frenzy. But it is very clear that Antonio is not pleased with this development.

In the parlour, one cultist, a young woman, lies dead, shot between the eyes by Menecrites in a mercy killing. Although Menecrites’ gun is equipped with a silencer, the girl’s desperate screams prior to her death caught the attention of at least one cultist who remained in the upstairs portion of the mansion. From the sound of things, that person has come to the top of the stairs and is calling down to York to see if everything is ok.

The story continues tomorrow ...

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Diversity in Fiction: Changing the Narrative

I grew up in a tiny Midwestern town where the only people of color in my school were the Ahmeds. Everyone else was some flavor of European descent. The Ahmeds were Muslim, but I didn't learn this until some time late in high school. No one ever talked about the family's religion, just as no one ever asked why none of the Ahmeds were ever around for lunch (they very quietly went off to pray to Mecca at noon, as is the custom of that faith). Since nearly everyone in the school had been raised in some form of Christianity, it never occurred to us to consider that someone might not be. This is relevant to my work in fiction. I'm sure you've heard the catch phrase, "Write from life." Well, even if a writer isn't consciously drawing upon their own life experiences, that's how creativity works. The worlds and stories in our heads are cobbled together from what we are exposed to, day after day. When we people our inner worlds, the characters are drawn from what is most familiar to us -- at least, that's our default if we don't make an effort for it to be otherwise.

If, like me, you happened to have grown up in predominantly white, predominantly Christian Middle America, where a person could stand out simply because they dressed differently, that means your default inner world isn't a particularly diverse one.

That is not to say this diversity is lacking due to a conscious decision to exclude other races or religions or lifestyles. It's simply human nature. We default to what we have always known -- the people, roles, and situations we have consistently been exposed to.

TV reinforces most of the things I grew up with -- over and over again, the situations portrayed on television feature predominantly white, predominantly Christian, predominantly straight male protagonists. Are the writers of your favorite show being intentionally racist and sexist when they pen episodes where women and people of color are consistently cast in minor roles -- or where they only appear as victims or villains? Not necessarily. They're just parroting back the world they have been exposed to themselves, a world reinforced by other writers doing the exact same thing.

It's a vicious cycle, and it's one that needs to stop.

The world we live in today isn't the whitebread Middle America I grew up in. Especially because of the advances in media communications, we live in an increasingly global society. Straight, white, European men are only a small part of that. When I grew up, race was an issue of black people and white people -- we didn't even know what to do with the Ahmeds! They didn't fit the script, so we treated them as outliers. We really had no clue. And maybe at that time, we had some excuse. But these days, with the wealth of races and cultures people are exposed to? We have to think differently.

And some of that must start in the stories that we tell.

Again, I'm going to stress that this is not about conscious racism, sexism, and exclusion. It's about a quirk in how humans order our world in our heads, and how everything we subsequently imagine is then shaped by that order.

Humor me for a minute. Imagine a little scene -- let's make it a bustling cafe. Picture the tables, the chairs, the counter, the sign with all the prices and names of the drinks.

Now populate it with characters. People sitting at the tables. People standing in line. People behind the counter. Imagine the scene as clearly as you can.

Now ... take a look at the scene you have built in your mind. What color are the people? If they're all the same color as you (or nearly all of them), ask yourself why. And if your answer is something like, "There's always more white people in places like this," really give that answer some thought.

Is the person serving behind the counter a girl? Why? What narratives have you been consistently exposed to that make women your mental default for a service position? I'm sure you weren't thinking about it that way, but that's how these persistent narratives get insidious. We don't see them as necessarily sexist or stereotyping. We see them so often, we simply view them as normal.

Speaking of "normal" -- what's everyone wearing? What kind of diversity (or lack of diversity) do these outfits suggest? Dig deeper into why this would be your default choice. And then ask yourself -- is it a truly accurate portrayal of people these days, or is it merely the projection of the same old stereotypes we are all exposed to through mainstream media, day after day?

The only way to change that default so it more accurately reflects the diversity that truly exists in our world is to change the narratives. To be conscious of when we are defaulting to an assumed projection of how the world looks, as opposed to how the world -- right now as we are living in it -- actually is.

And you might ask -- if you're writing fiction, why is it important to accurately reflect this part of our world?

Maybe you can get away with not changing the narrative if you're writing high fantasy in a setting specifically built upon white European culture -- but I think, even in that circumstance, it is crucial to ask yourself why that white European basis is important to the story. If the only reason is familiarity, then maybe you should rethink that.

The genre I've chosen is called Urban Fantasy -- although there's magick, the stories don't take place in Middle Earth or Westeros. Urban Fantasy happens right here -- preferably in a big city that becomes something of a character itself. An important part of any city is its diversity. To make that setting genuine in fiction, you've got to capture that diversity.

That means white people and black people, brown people and yellow people -- straight people, gay people, Christian, Sikh, Jew, transpeople, differently-abled people -- all the exciting and varied flavors of humanity peopling our world.

If we are serious about telling stories in books, on TV, and in the movies, we have to stop recycling the same worn, paste-board cut-outs we've been fed over and over again. They no longer show things as they are -- assuming generously that they ever did. If all we ever do is repeat the same tired narratives, those stereotypical defaults living in so many of our heads will keep us blinkered to the world as it really is.

And the real world is pretty damned amazing.

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What Defines a Religion?

 In the wake of the Black Mass controversy that unfolded at Harvard over the weekend, it may be time to re-evaluate what we think the First Amendment means about religion in theory and in practice.

When issues of religious freedom are addressed in the news, we tend primarily to hear about majority religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam. There is an undercurrent of popular opinion by which time and familiarity make these religions more acceptable than less familiar practices. Up until the past several years, I'm not even certain I would have included Islam in the list of what the US considers "accepted majority religions" - and an argument could be made that it is still treated (at least in my country) as if it were some spiritual whippersnapper trying to muscle in like an unruly child to sit at the table with the adults. Legitimacy in a religious practice is equated, in most peoples' minds, with tradition: the age and popular establishment of that faith.

Of course, this whole attitude breaks down when you realize that the majority of US citizens look upon Hinduism and Buddhism both as strange, fringe anomalies that are neither as valid nor as socially acceptable as monolithic Christianity. Never mind that both of these religious traditions are, in fact, older than Christianity.

How is this even possible? Ignorance of a faith seems to equate, at least in some peoples' minds, to that faith being new and, therefore, strange. That's hard even for me to wrap my brain around, and yet I've encountered the attitude again and again. Familiarity -- and along with that, popularity (within one's own cultural group) -- become the measurement for legitimacy.

When most Christians - who tend to view themselves as the prime religion of validity within the United States - are still struggling to wrap their heads around Buddhism, Hinduism (and, let's be honest - Islam) as valid religions, that leaves a huge number of other, equality valid traditions, out in the cold - from Sikhs to Pagans to our knee-jerk tradition of the week, Satanists.

And I can anticipate a response to that, because I've seen those responses written across my social media. Satanism isn't a religion. It can't be! It's all about being anti-religious, so surely that doesn't allow it to qualify under that hallowed First Amendment right -- does it?

On a theoretical or spiritual level, we could argue over what defines a religion for days. However, it's fairly simple to outline that definition in the grand US of A. So enamored of its forms and filing and making sure everyone is counted and in their place, the legal definition of a religion within the United States revolves around paperwork. You want a religion that allows you to worship the Disney Princesses as a modern pantheon of Goddesses? Get your hands on the appropriate paperwork and file it. If you submit the proper form, and it is accepted, your Disney Pantheon is a religious group, with all the rights and privileges there unto -- from tax exempt status to the protection of your right to practice your sincerely held beliefs mandated by the First Amendment.

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It sounds silly when I frame it around Disney Princesses, and yet, with the system we have in place, Disney-ism, if filed and recognized, would be just as legally valid a religion as Christianity, or Scientology, or LaVeyan Satanism, or The Universal Life Church. And in the end, whether we personally agree with the beliefs and practices of any of the religious groups listed above, if we are going to enact laws to protect the rights of one, those laws absolutely must protect the rights of all. If we truly want to support religious freedom in this country, we cannot allow the discourse to devolve to something from Orwell's Animal Farm, where, out of one side of our mouths, we proudly state, "All religions are created equal!" and then, out of the other side, we add, "But some are more equal than others!"

 

--M

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Sympathy for the Devil

I know that more than a few of you who know me exclusively from my work on Paranormal State are baffled about my stance on the Black Mass that they're planning to perform at Harvard this coming Monday. For some of you, it's probably sounding like Captain America defending the rights of the Agents of Hydra to hold evil master-mind meetings to plot the control of the world. I mean, I help fight the big bad things, right? So why would I speak up and tell you that this Black Mass isn't necessarily the worst thing ever. One person: Chris Robichaud.

Some of you know I went to a Jesuit Catholic university. I'm not Christian by any stretch, but the Jesuits are amazing educators. I didn't exactly fit in, but I do not regret the education I received. Intellectually, I flourished at that school.

Chris was a year behind me at the college. We both took the same course on demonology. We both adored the professor, Dr. Joseph Kelley, who taught it, and we took as many of the classes offered by the brilliant man as we could.

If you've read my book, Haunting Experiences, and you were chilled and thrilled by the antics of whatever walks the place called "Whitethorn Woods," you have met Chris under a pseudonym. He was there, raising hell in the woods of Geauga County with the rest of us. He was a whipsmart, intense, and fiery soul then, and it surprises me not one jot to see that he has gone on to become a brilliant, outspoken, and influential teacher in his own right these twenty years later.

A Harvard ethicist, Chris was asked to speak before the performance of the Black Mass -- to give the event a little context. He's had people attempt to dissuade him from doing so, offering dire warnings that the controversy surrounding this event will tarnish his career.

True to what I know of him, that controversy has not discouraged him. He has a powerful message -- and getting those words out to people is worth more than any of the censure he might possibly face for being associated with some devilish spectacle.

They are words that you absolutely should hear yourselves, even if you would never venture within 100 miles of a Black Mass -- regardless of whether or not it was merely an "historical reenactment" of such a rite. Chris's message revolves around the possible existence of the Devil and whether or not something like a Black Mass might pose a danger with regards to that scion of evil:

I tell you this much. If Satan does exist, you're not going to find him at historical reenactments of black masses, or in the ouija board, or at the D&D table. You're going to find him, primarily, in every moment of indifference we have toward those who are suffering, an indifference that is only facilitated by an obsession with preventing inconsequential nonsense from happening, rather than directing one's energies toward addressing very real moral atrocities.

-- Christopher Robichaud, Harvard Ethicist

And this -- this is why I've picked the issue up, written on it, and spammed the hell out of that writing on my social media over the past few days. I'd spill ink across the whole of the Internet in order to help get that message out. Because real evil is never where you expect to see it. A rich man who makes his profits knowingly upon the suffering of others has done more to invite the Devil into this world than a bunch of college students in spooky black robes will ever be able to -- no matter how good they are at speaking the Lord's Prayer backwards in Latin.

--M

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Raising Hell at Harvard

This blog is normally reserved for samples and snippets of my fiction, but today I have something else to share. My life is often stranger than any fiction I could possibly concoct, and that became abundantly clear the other day when I learned that a good friend I loaned several of my demonology books to back in college happens to be one of the people involved in a highly controversial rite being held by a student group at Harvard this coming Monday.

They're doing a Black Mass.

Here's the skinny:

A student group at Harvard will be performing a Black Mass on Monday. After the performance, there will be discussion about the spectacle and what it means in a country founded on -- among other liberties -- freedom of religion.

For those unaware of the ritual, a Black Mass is an intentional perversion of the traditional Catholic ritual of the Eucharist, taking the whole sacrament and turning it on its head. It is offensive to Christians and specifically to Catholics -- and to be frank, it was designed to be that way.

Although, during the European witch trials, there were plenty of allegations that the wild worshipers of Satan were engaged in Black Masses (along with other awful perfidies performed at secret orgies in the woods), the real performance of a ritual like a Black Mass often came down not to Devil worshipers but to Atheists and Rationalists who were seeking to mock the religious fervor of their Christian peers in a time when they felt the devout masses should know better.

Yes, I'm suggesting the Black Mass is an outgrowth of the Age of Reason -- a loud, flamboyant and somewhat mean-spirited reaction to religious fundamentalism. Given the atmosphere in the US today, it should not be surprising to see intellectuals going to such an extreme. In a country where we pride ourselves on our liberties -- freedom of religion being a major one -- we recently had a member of the Hindu clergy more or less shouted down by Christian extremists when he attempted to lead our Senate in prayer. Notably, he was invited to do this. That wasn't good enough for the folks whose notion of our country has skewed from the Land of the Free to One Nation Under God -- a God who, apparently, must always be theirs.

The Black Mass then -- and in a similar vein, the Satan statue that's going up in Oklahoma -- is an equal and opposite reaction to this frothing extremism. It is a conscious spectacle of satire in the spirit of mock religions like the Church of Bob or the Internet religion surrounding the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is also -- though the utility of this remains to be seen -- an intellectual exercise intended to make people think about what it means to allow anyone to worship however they please.

Civil liberties are at the heart of many of our hot button issues right now -- with freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the thickest and nastiest parts of the arguments. The Black Mass at Harvard contains, by its radical satire of an accepted Christian rite, a powerful question in subtext: if freedom of religion means any religion (including no religion), where do we draw the line between one group's right to worship and the offended sensibilities of another, equally valid, group?

In a world that seems divided down the ranks of Christian, Muslim, and Jew -- while any people who fit into the "none of the above" category get caught in the crossfire, in a world where the science show Cosmos is threatened to be cut off the air in states that feel it should express, not science, but Creationist views, in a world where law-makers speak with horror about the possibility that Sharia law may creep into our legal system -- only to turn around and pass legislation blatantly based upon Biblical Christian values -- Harvard's Black Mass raises some damned good questions.

Where do we draw the line?

And perhaps it's an older question than we realize. It may surprise most of you, but Monday night's performance scheduled at Harvard hearkens back to the activities of at least one of our founding fathers. In his dealings with Dashwood's Hellfire Club, it is almost certain that Benjamin Franklin himself participated in mock masses inspired at least in part by that Age of Reason disdain for organized religion.

Something to think about -- and that's the whole point.

--M

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