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Although it’s the men of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn we associate with the magical order, specifically the great poet and mystic W.B. Yeats and the sociopath and con man Aleister Crowley, women were fundamental to its running from the very beginning. Unlike the Christian churches they mostly came from, either Catholic or Protestant, women were allowed to be priestesses, allowed to write doctrine, allowed to design ceremonies. Not only allowed, but simply did. For these independent-minded late-19th-century and early-20th-century women, moving from the dominant religion to a religion of the occult and mystical moved them from subordination into power.

The rise of the Golden Dawn, and Spiritualism in the United States, came at a troubled time. There was widespread poverty, a rigid patriarchal system, disease, and high mortality rates in children. With so much instability, it was difficult for many to simply live their lives with dignity. Alcohol consumption was high, domestic violence was treated casually, and many died young. In such times, it can be difficult to imagine how to get through tomorrow, let alone how to envision a better future. More… “The Feminine Mystic”

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How many artists out there can say they completely transformed an entire genre so much that there is a clear demarcation point between what came before and what came after?

Manga artist Moto Hagio can. She had help, though. As one of the members of Magnificent 49ers, also known as the Year 24 Group, Hagio is a member of a loose affiliation of female cartoonists all allegedly born in or around the 24th year of the Showa era (1949, hence the name), that transformed girls’ comics in Japan, a.k.a. Shoujo manga. More… “The Magnificent Moto”

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My Atta Joann bought her house in Skokie, Illinois the same year that I was born. My parents had been living in Michigan for quite some time after moving from Chicago, but even with a toddler and a full-time job, my mother would still come with the same frequency as if she were still a bachelorette on Devon Avenue to see her sister for baklava and a cup of black tea.

I grow up at my aunt’s breakfast nook, always the weary traveler. I come as a tired kid from Ann Arbor who drinks tea only if it is steeped in milk and drowned in sugar. I see family and friends — lines blurred between who was who — nearly always cramped in the small kitchen, shouting over one another in neo-Aramaic as my aunt elegantly sweeps through with a tray of teacups for the table, already full of cheese, eggs, and bread for those who end up there. More… “Home Sweet Hummus”

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I became a fool for horses rather late in life. In my early 30s I got a job as a counselor in a horseback program for juvenile delinquents. Except for a few pony rides as a kid — one at a circus and another offered by a classmate who had a crush on me — I had no experience with horses and learned along with my charges. The majority of the teenage girls with whom I worked were African-Americans, and the program honored the Buffalo Soldiers. (The Buffalo Soldiers — ninth and tenth Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments — were the first all-black units the U.S. military established and instrumental in campaigns against the Comanches and Apaches.) Together, we went through all the original drills, countless injuries and embarrassments, and about once a month, to a reenactment. Our battlefields were eastern, and the McClellan saddles and tack English-inspired, but our horses had been bred on desert and prairie soils: hardy Texas and Arizona ponies, some of them bearing white freeze brands on their necks that marked them as mustangs captured and auctioned off by the Bureau of Land Management.

My stint at this program still is the only time I ever set foot east of the Rockies. Our camp simmered in subtropical humidity near Florida’s Yeehaw Junction, a wretched crossroads 30 miles north of Lake Okeechobee. It was primitive: wall tents with cots for the kids, a mess tent, fenced pasture, and unfurnished trailers for staff, everything plunked into a clearing hacked from saw palmetto thickets — the unwanted rounded up in an unwanted place. More… “Here’s to the Horses”

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The polar bear is not only the planet’s biggest land-based carnivore, but it also has a long and colorful, if often violent, history of interaction with humans, which is the topic of an illustrated new book titled Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon (University of Washington Press, November 2016) by Michael Engelhard. Michael Engelhard is both a cultural anthropologist and a wilderness guide. He is the author of two essay collections, Where the Rain Children Sleep and American Wild, and the editor of four anthologies, including Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North. Engelhard lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

More… “Big as a Calf, White as a Swan”

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Wandering around Tokyo’s Shinjuku district alone one winter, on a research trip, I found a taco joint. No one who knows me was surprised by this. “Of course you found a taco joint,” my wife Rebekah said. “You always do.” I was raised in the Arizona desert, eating tacos, burritos, and enchiladas every week. Even though I’d moved to Portland, Oregon far from the Mexican border, I still ate Mexican food at a rapid, rabid pace. So when I found a hand-painted sign on the Tokyo street listing “Mexico tacos” and nothing more, I got excited. In Japanese tako means “octopus.” I loved grilled tako’s flavor, and I was curious to taste Japan’s version of my native desert cuisine. More… “Tacos / Takos”

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The first time I have been to Valtellina was at the end of last year’s harvest season with three Italians, my other half and a couple of friends from the region. After running the Valtellina wine trail (a scenic marathon through the vineyards) we visited Chiuro to do a tasting of the heady Sforzato wine made with partially dried Nebbiolo grapes grown on impossibly steep terraced vineyards. Beer was the last thing on our minds when we entered the cellars of the winemaker Balgera. We were in for a surprise.

This was when we first heard about the making of the Italian grape ale. A long-standing family wine company Balgera and an artisanal beer company Pintalpina had worked together to make this ale, a newly classified type of beer. But we couldn’t taste it as it was not yet bottled. More… “The Beer Harvest”

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Sushi is old hat in America. Since getting popular during the 1980s and ’90s, sushi has integrated itself into our everyday lives, appearing everywhere from mainstream grocery store cold cases to TV shows and corner restaurants. You see it in malls and on college campuses. Yet some people still find the idea of eating raw fish repellent. For those who hesitate, sitcom writer Phil Rosenthal offers some wisdom to help break the ice on his food show I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. “Here’s how you get into it. You ever have smoked salmon?” he says. “You ever have lox? Lox is the gateway sushi.” I have no motivational equivalent for canned fish. Most Americans are grossed out by the smell, let alone the idea, of canned fish. The fear is as irrational as arachnophobia. It resists logic, but I still can’t resist trying to make sense of it.

One reason I’m so fascinated by people’s aversion is my own devotion to the stuff. I eat canned fish almost weekly. For breakfast, I’ll heat Japanese glazed saury in a skillet to serve over warm white rice. For lunch, I’ll lay oil-cured Spanish anchovies on toasted white bread. On a solo trip to Tokyo, I ate a one-Yen can of sardines for breakfast outside my hotel window and sent a photo of the precarious set up to my other half Rebekah back in Oregon. Pretty much every white person I know thinks I’m disgusting. I think they’re missing out. More… “Ode to Canned Fish”

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My library has a display shelf, near the main circulation desk, of recently returned books. I love this shelf. They’re just random books, new and old — novels, cookbooks, photography books, biographies, how-to manuals, self-help. I often find something I want to read amongst them. It’s anti-curation — my options are reduced, but there’s no discernible algorithm behind the selection. They are not even recommended.

It reminds me of a game my brother and I used to play in the backseat of the family car. We’d flip through a catalog from a toy store or Sharper Image and choose the one thing we most wanted from each full-page spread. In airport bookstores, my husband and I like to go row by row and choose which bestseller we’d read if we had to read one. We don’t buy the books, of course; we’ve brought our own. As kids, we didn’t get the toys. But the act of choosing was a form of entertainment. Choice itself is pleasurable. More… “On Choice”

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I interviewed Karen Armstrong, the deep-thinking comparative religionist and former nun in 2009 and still remember vividly the openness and subtlety of her thoughts on religion. Now, more than ever, her insights into the kinship among religions and the value of compassion and empathy seem worth hearing. Her landmark book is the 1993 A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. • More… “Celebrating Karen”