Easter Island, Earth Island

Paul Bahn and John Flenley

The most up-to-date and comprehensive study available of the enigmatic prehistoric culture of Rapa Nui. This book explores the mysteries of Easter Island, overturning many of Thor Heyerdahl’s well-publicized but ill-founded theories. The authors consider the possible methods by which the islanders transported their massive, stone effigies over long distances and erected them on platforms. The authors also look at the largely undeciphered Rongorongo script engraved on wooden boards, and the bizarre cult of the birdman, with its complex egg-hunting ritual. Why, the authors ask, did the islanders deliberately topple the figures after the first Europeans visited the island in the 18th century? Includes 200 terrific illustrations, 15 in color. CS

Publisher: Thames and Hudson
Paperback: 240 pages

The Codex Nuttall

Edited by Zelia Nuttall

One of the greatest tragedies of history is the destruction of nearly all ancient Mexican books by the religiously possessed Spanish priests during their conquest. In their attempt to obliterate all records and histories of these greatly advanced civilizations, they left a mere handful of the great hand-painted books in salvageable condition. In fact, out of untold numbers of Maya pre-conquest manuscripts only four survive. The conquistador Cortes sent two such “codices” to the Emperor Charles V. It is suspected that the Codex Nuttall may have been one of these. This book is a reprint of a 1902 facsimile of an ancient book created in the region now known as Oaxaca, Mexico, shortly before the bloody conquest. It shows the life of kings and warriors centering around the year 1000, including glimpses of ceremonies, birth rites, marriage histories, sacrifices and still-indecipherable symbols of the Mixtec artists. Like much pre-Colombian art, these images combine simplicity with complex mystery. The sense of permanent loss is profound. CS

Publisher: Dover
Paperback: 96 pages

Maya History

Tatiana Proskouriakoff

The final, epic work by one of the world’s foremost Maya scholars. Proskouriakoff was responsible for discovering that a vast number of the glyphs covering Maya buildings and monuments actually recorded the lives and thoughts of specific individuals, not only the priests and Gods as was previously surmised. This significant breakthrough paved the way for a true history of the Maya civilization. The eventual collapse of the Classic Maya is discussed in connection with the corrupting “decadence” in their art, brought on by foreign influences in the Maya lowlands. Fourteen line drawings of stelae and over 300 original drawings of glyphs enhance the intriguing, densely detailed text. CS

Publisher: University of Texas
Hardback: 304 pages

The Paris Codex: Handbook for a Maya Priest

Bruce Love

The Maya civilization left many records carved in the stone of its cities, but only four hand-painted books, or codices, are known to have survived from the pre-Columbian era. The Paris Codex is one of these, and this groundbreaking study is the first comprehensive treatment of this codex since 1910. The Maya priests who used The Paris Codex could see the myriad forces of the Maya spirit world arranged and organized on the pages before them. The interweaving of cycles within cycles became comprehensible and predictable. The invisible world became perceptible. Now, scholars and amateurs alike can discover the unity and harmony of the Maya cosmos. CS

Publisher: University of Texas
Hardback: 172 pages

Chicago by Gaslight: A History of Chicago’s Underworld, 1880-1920

Richard Lindberg

This extensively researched history of Chicago’s early underworld serves as a Midwestern companion to Luc Sante’s compelling Low Life. These, along with Herbert Asbury’s legendary cult volume, The Gangs of New York—now back in print, will supply the reader with a veritable thieves’ den of tasty, textured, late-Victorian depravity by way of peanut shells on the floor, beefsteaks, beer and blood. Includes 15 ghoulish pages concerning notorious murderer Herman Mudgett (a.k.a. H.H. Holmes), an informative complement to the scanty literature dealing with this fascinating maniac and his trap-door-filled “house of horror.” CS

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 236 pages

The Fortean Times Book of Strange Deaths

Compiled by Steve Moore

True, completely documented listings of outrageous, horrendous, truly twisted, tragic yet rip-roaringly funny deaths. Hardy har, death is a riot, eh wot? Chiefly compiled from the archives of Fortean Times magazine. You may as well get a couple examples just for kicks:
• A shy Japanese couple wait 14 years before consummating their desires for the first time. They both have heart attacks during the act. Whoever said “a little coitus never hoitus” is a goddamn liar!
• A British bricklayer died laughing while watching a “fight between a set of bagpipes and a black pudding” on the TV show The Goodies.
You ain’t read nothing yet. The reader also gets death in manure pits, avalanches of books, factory robots gone berserk, sickening sex mutilations, deaths by stupidity, death by swallowing a miniature deck of cards, suicide following a pet chicken’s death, voices prompting atrocious mass crimes (“The Martians made me do it”), Malaysian lucky-lottery sacrificial beheadings, death by overeating (72 snails), animal kingdom revenge sagas, funeral tragedies resulting in multiple burials… and on and on. If you can think of it, the Grim Reaper has done it—and beyond. This book is a morbid variation on “News of the Weird”-type reading. Yet—this sort of info also hints at the myriad variations on any theme—even the darkest—in this delicious world we live… and die in. CS

Publisher: Fortean Times
Paperback: 136 pages

The God of the Witches

Margaret Alice Murray

“The God of the old religion becomes the Devil of the new.” A lucidly written masterpiece of anthropological writing which follows the ritual worship of the “Horned God.” This Dionysiac deity has taken many forms since his early worship in the caves through the Middle Ages. The author goes into great detail concerning the idea of “the dying God,” a sacrifice of a king or leader to encourage fertility of the crops (an idea explored so beautifully in the film, The Wicker Man). Murray posits that Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais were prominent guiding mystical lights of good and evil whose deaths may both be seen as ritual sacrifices. Most interesting is Murray’s unusual sympathy for the “old religion.” This book helped to dispel the cliché image of frightening, snaggle-toothed medieval witches casting death spells. We learn that the world’s oldest religion has always been very much alive, a religion “as old as humankind itself.” Rich with many an example of the “interesting survival of a primitive rite,” this book is part of the seminal literature which inspired the flowering of modern paganism. CS

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 212 pages

The Secret of the Sanngraal

Arthur Machen

A collection of short nonfiction works by turn-of-the-century horror master Arthur Machen. He was the author of the bone-chilling The Great God Pan and other masterpieces of Celtic-twilight-terror fiction. These essays appeared in newspapers like The London Graphic, which are ultra-rare, making this book a must for the Machen collector. The general reader will also be charmed by the Welshman’s particular, bittersweet sense of all things bookishly antiquarian and his haunting nostalgia for a lost, pantheistic childhood. Somewhat less present are what we adore in Machen’s fiction—his talent for wringing preternatural chills from pre-Roman ruins and the not-so-dormant deities nearby. The new Machen reader seeking goose-bumps might do better to seek them in his stories “The Three Impostors,” “The Great God Pan” and others. Still, there is much in this treasure trove of arcana to delight any bibliophile. CS

Publisher: Tartarus
Hardback: 287 pages

A Witch’s Brew: The Art of Making Magical Beverages

Patricia Telesco

No decent Pan-worshiping pagan’s kitchen shelf would be complete without this thorough guide to creating 236 delicious, exotic beverages. The book covers the history and customs of early drinks, including religious and medicinal usages. This excellent investigation into beers, cordials, aperitifs, liquors, meads, punches and other odd brews will have you running to the store for fermenting supplies, pronto. Full recipes for beet wine, onion wine, rhubarb wine, soda pop, beers, long-forgotten teas and decadent cordials are all given here, plus many more. Why settle for merely reading The Pickwick Papers or Boswell’s Life of Johnson when you can giddily brew the authentic, antiquated drinks from the shadowy past described in these books and enjoy them in the blinding present. Cheers! (Hic!) CS

Publisher: Llewellyn
Paperback: 272 pages

Beyond Death: The Chinchorro Mummies of Ancient Chile

Bernardo T. Ariaza

More than 2,000 years before the Egyptians perfected their methods for mummifying their departed royalty, the Chinchorro, prehistoric fishing-peoples living in villages on the Peruvian coast, were mummifying their own dead. In contrast to the Egyptians, every member and class of Chinchorro society received complex mummification rites. This unprecedented hoard of almost 200 bodies was discovered in 1917 but is still pretty much unknown. Since no written record of the Chinchorros exists, all we can surmise about them must come from the mummies themselves. That’s what makes this book fascinating. The author proceeds to tell us an astonishing amount about both the social and physical qualities of life among these shadowy people. This straightforward anthropological study reads like a pre-Columbian episode of Quincy. Only here we learn about the corpse’s life—and problems. By dissecting an 800-year-old corpse one can learn many things. These folks suffered from intestinal parasites, arthritis, frequent ear problems, etc., their ocean diet produced notable rises in their fertility rate. Serious students of ancient South America as well as hard-core mummy fans should be delighted—all others should rent the series of Karloff films. CS

Publisher: Smithsonian Institution
Hardback: 176 pages