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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”

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.

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As a teacher of first-year writing since 1987, I have learned to share my passions with students. Sharing what really matters to you can lead to deep learning, but it can also involve emotional risk.

In a class that focuses on using research, writing, and re-writing to think about the connections between literary texts and our lives, I have chosen a theme I think about a lot: Deception. We read short stories in which characters deceive or are deceived. How many of these stories do you recognize? More… “Magic Class”

Fred Siegel teaches in the English and Philosophy Department at Drexel University. His writings have appeared in The Drama Review, Journal of Modern Literature, Kugelmass, When Falls the Coliseum, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He also performs magic shows in a variety of venues, and plays the role of “Fred” in the autobiographical performance, Man of Mystery. A copy of his doctoral dissertation, The Vaudeville Magic Act, 1880-1932, mysteriously appeared on eBay recently. He has lied for money in the Coney Island Sideshow (1989-90), and has been logging his dreams since 1993. He also does improvised performances with Comedysportz Philadelphia and Tongue & Groove. To read more, go to his Geekadelphia Profile.

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Back in June, when the sun was rising at 4:30 a.m. and setting after I went to sleep, I was having a little solstice dinner. It didn’t really feel like the summer solstice, even with the sun trying to rile you from bed at ungodly hours. Summer in Berlin is temperate and wet. There’s only one week or so that blazes through and leaves you gasping on your kitchen tile floor, or — like one pregnant woman in Germany — losing your shit on the un-air conditioned public train, taking off your shoe, and using it to pound through the window. But that never happens until mid-July. In June, you’re still wearing your leather jacket and you are able to do things like make a roast for the solstice and drink a Spanish red. And because there the sun feels vague rather than relentlessly mutating your skin cells into pre-cancerous… More…

Harry Houdini’s escape trunk stands in the Jewish Museum like a coffin. “Embedded in Houdini’s ventures were competing ambitions,” says the wall text in the museum’s new “Houdini: Art and Magic” exhibition, “he simultaneously courted mortality and the triumph of life.” There’s a lot of metaphor in a trunk: adventure, travel, excitement, secrets. Houdini turned his trunk into a symbol of resurrection. Houdini’s audiences couldn’t know what tricks went on inside that trunk after he had allowed himself to be locked in and the curtain was closed. But some part of them believed that when Harry Houdini burst free, undefeated and smiling, he had shaken hands with the Grim Reaper and spat in his eye. Harry Houdini met death and came back to tell the tale.