Monthly Archives: December 2013

Giveaway Time!

Munchen is now on Twitter — you can follow us at @MunchenMN. (We’re used to being followed by the pitter-pat of tiny feet, so it won’t creep us out too much.)

So to celebrate (and because we’ve had the Dark Crystal on the brain lately), we’ve got an early Christmas present for all of you Dark Crystal fans out there:

If we can get to 100 followers by Friday, December 20, we’ll give away a free critique of your Dark Crystal Author Quest contest entry (10,000 words max).

Our critique will include:

  • A one-page editorial letter
  • Suggestions on plot, character, setting, and pacing;
  • Light copy editing

And, since the deadline is coming up fast, we’ll get it back to you by Monday, December 23.

Just follow us on Twitter and retweet this tweet:

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 10.40.05 PM

(It’s easy to find – it’s been too cold to tweet much.)

If we get to 100 followers by 9 pm EST on Friday, we’ll pick a winner. If you want to be considered for the drawing, just tweet “please consider me for the drawing” at us — and then get off the Internet and get to work on your story.


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Filed under Miscellaneous

Mesmerism, Phrenology and Spiritualism: A Guide to 19th Century Psychology

We have a therapist character in the Munchen show. His name is Dr. Runnels and he practices decidedly… outdated therapy methods.

In fact, he is a mesmerist.

Mesmerism was a method of psychological and physical healing developed by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a Viennese doctor. Only Mesmer didn’t call his technique mesmerism. He called it animal magnetism. Which had nothing to do with our present understanding of that term meaning “sex appeal.”

No, to Mesmer, animal magnetism referred to an invisible fluid that circulated through the universe and in and out of people. Disturbances in the fluid’s flow led to physical and psychological unrest.

To restore proper flow, Mesmer would have patients sit across from him, their knees touching his. He’d move his hands over parts of their bodies, including such sensitive regions as the diaphragm, in sessions that sometimes lasted hours. (Unsurprisingly, this led to at least one scandal: He was accused of having sexual relations with a young female patient he was treating for blindness.)


The goal of Mesmer’s sessions was to produce a “crisis” — a physical convulsion believed to lead to an emotional or physical breakthrough. In this way, it harkens back to the practice of exorcism, which Mesmer had studied early in his life. At the end of a session, to relax the patient, Mesmer would play a little tune the glass armonica — a fascinating instrument about which I’ll blog later.

Mesmerism produced a trance-like state in the patient, but it was different from hypnosis in that the sessions were mostly non-verbal. Still, it is understood as a precursor to contemporary hypnosis in that it lured patients into precognitive states. It also has clear connections to such practices as reiki and energy healing, which are now experiencing a boom in popularity in the West.

A commission including Benjamin Franklin studied mesmerism and animal magnetism for several years. The commission debunked the techniques as being based on nothing more than the power of suggestion. But mesmerism remained popular until the tail-end of the 19th century, when Sigmund Freud’s “talking cure” (aka psychoanalysis) revolutionized treatment of the emotionally disturbed.

The tail-end of the 19th century, by the way, was the real watershed moment in modern psychology because it’s when Sigmund Freud developed his revolutionary “talking cure” (aka psychoanalysis), from which derive most current non-medical forms of psychological treatment.

All this got me thinking about other pre-Freudian psychological belief systems. Here’s are three others. Are we missing any? Let us know in the comments!

Phrenology. Famous from the scads of illustrations available in antique shops, phrenology alleged that the shape of human skulls reflected the shape of people’s brains — and therefore revealed their personalities. There was no associated therapy (haha, skull reshapers), but it was wildly popular as a means of gaining self-insight. Some people even consulted phrenologists about the compatibility of prospective spouses or employees. (Bonus: The device in the video below was made in Wisconsin — not too far from Munchen!)

Physiognomy. Similar to phrenology, this was the idea that face shapes revealed personality traits. It dates back as far as Chaucer, who calls it “fisnamy” in The Canterbury Tales. It experienced a brief revival of attention a few years back, when several studies found that people could identify the faces of gay men in randomly selected photographs. Here’s a decidedly Midwestern-flavored talk show about physiognomy, even though it’s from the Bay Area:

Spiritualism. Perhaps the defining proto-pscyhotherapy of the late 19th century was spiritualism, in which the living communicated with the dead. It’s still popular today, as evidenced by the Lily Dale community of spirit mediums in western New York and the popularity of such traveling psychics as John Holland.

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Filed under Supernatural and Weird Fiction, Welcome to Munchen, World Building, Writing Craft

When Single Shines the Triple Sun, or, Stay Tuned! Major Dark Crystal Stuff Coming Next Week

Any Dark Crystal fans out there?

By now, you’ve surely watched the Restored Original Cut that was posted on Mental Floss last week. You haven’t? Stop what you’re doing and watch:

Justin and I watched this more or less immediately (#nerdalert). This weekend we’re going to sit down and formally discuss it, and next week, we’ll post a transcript of our geekish gabfest. Want to participate? Drop us a line in the comments!

(Oh, and by the way, is anyone else participating in the Dark Crystal Author Quest? Submissions are due December 31, so get off the Internet and get to work!)


Filed under Movies, World Building

St. Lucia and the Festival of Lights

Munchen, Minnesota might not be a real city, but we’ve had a totally great and never, ever nerve-wracking time making it as realistic as possible. Like many places in the Upper Midwest, Munchen was settled by German and Scandinavian immigrants, who brought along their Old World holiday traditions. The Christmas season is a huge deal in Munchen. And while we can’t tell you yet what happens, rest assured, something really big happens at the St. Lucia Festival.

When is St. Lucia’s Day?

St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated in Sweden on December 13. Although she was an Italian saint (who got her eyes poked out by Roman soldiers, btw), the Scandinavians seem to love St. Lucia because she brings along the one thing they’re in short supply of during the winter: light. Which is why it’s often called the Festival of Lights.

How do you celebrate St. Lucia’s Day?

By dressing up little girls in white robes and putting flaming ivy crowns on their sweet little heads, of course. (Er, I will let this informative video speak for itself.)

[WARNING: the Sankta Lucia song is a powerful earworm.]

You also eat and drink. The traditional foods of St. Lucia’s Day include lussekatter, or saffron buns shaped like cats (with raisins for eyes!) and glögg (try this recipe for Lord Commander Mormont’s Spiced Wine from the Inn at the Crossroads, the official food blog of Game of Thrones).

Where can I celebrate St. Lucia’s Day in the United States?

Besides Munchen, there are a few places you can celebrate the Festival of Lights:

Located in the Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville, which has been a Swedish enclave since before the Great Fire of 1871, the Swedish American Museum hosts a St. Lucia’s Day procession every December 13.

For nearly 40 years, the Bemidji, MN chapter of the American Swedish Institute has held a St. Lucia’s Day festival that concludes with (what else) a smorgasbord.

And on the east coast, the Swedish Women’s Educational Association holds an annual Swedish Yuletide (sadly, the date has passed for this year).

Have you ever attended at St. Lucia’s Day procession? Or better yet, have you ever been in a St. Lucia’s Day procession? Let us know!


Filed under Folklore, Holiday Traditions, Scandinavians, Weird Midwest

Playing Buffy: The BtVS Board Game

*Warning: The following review may induce nostalgia and an urge to trawl ebay for overpriced vintage board games.

As a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I was thrilled when a friend told me recently that there is a board game based on the show. Crazily enough, it’s called Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game.


The game is long out of print, having first been produced in 2000. Copies now sell on ebay for upwards of $50.

My friend was fortunate enough to find his copy at a thrift store in upstate New York a few years ago. Kindly, he brought it over to my house last weekend for Scary Game Night.

The game is mostly delightful to play. Like Buffy the TV show, it takes hard-core geek culture conceits (mythology, role-playing, mock battles) and humanizes them, makes them accessible to the masses. That’s also what we hope to do with our show.

In fact, Buffy the game is a kind of lite version of Arkham Horror — the cooperative fantasy role-playing game based on the universe of H.P. Lovecraft.

Much as I love Arkham, it is not for the faint-hearted. There are more than a dozen possible good-guy roles, many monsters, and a Byzantine system of rules that requires a 40-page instruction book to explain.

Buffy’s much simpler. It has exactly four good guy roles: Buffy, Willow, Xander and Oz. (Here they are with Giles, the librarian, who in the game is a “helper.”)


As in Arkham, these players collaborate to defeat a Big Bad — in Buffy’s case, one of the villains from the first four seasons of the show. If you win, Sunnydale stays safe for another season. If you lose, the Hellmouth gapes open and All Becomes Darkness.

Of course, many devoted Buffy fans from around the Internet have devised “expansion” scenarios evoking the show’s later seasons or specific episodes. Here is a site that even gives you additional pawns to print out.

I played Oz, who’s pretty much useless unless he’s in werewolf mode. Then he’s Awesome and gets to kill every evil thing in sight.

Gameplay does a remarkable job of mimicking the action on the show itself. There are fights, yes, but players must also go around doing “research” in the school library and at the house of Buffy’s “watcher,” Giles. They get help from secondary characters like Joyce, Cordelia and Anya. There’s even an Angel character who flips from evil to good at a moment’s notice.

My one complaint is that unlike in Arkham, one of the players must play the Big Bad. This undermines the convivial, “we’re all in this together” spirit the game might otherwise have — because one person around the table is at odds with everyone else.

Still, the chance to travel back to Sunnydale is well worth a Nerd Night — if you can find a copy without breaking the bank.

Anyone else heard of this game or — haha — want to sell me their copy cheap?

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Filed under Supernatural and Weird Fiction, World Building

Krampus in America: 5 Places to Meet the Christmas Devil

By now if you are a grumpy American who hates happiness, joy, and Christmas, you’ve heard of Krampus.

Wait! I haven’t. But I do hate all those things. Tell me more.

Krampus is the shaggy-haired. horned sidekick of St. Nicholas, who whacks bad children with this bundle of sticks, throws them into a bucket and takes them to…I’m not sure where exactly Krampus takes them to, and as long as it’s not my house, I really don’t want to know.

When does Krampus come calling?

December 5th is Krampusnacht, the night St. Nicholas and his pal parade through town scaring the bejeezus out of children. While a tradition in the Alpine countries, Krampus is relatively new to the United States. But he’s gaining popularity, which cheers my black little heart.

I have some rotten kids I need to shuffle off on someone. Where can I meet Krampus?

Here’s a not-totally-comprehensive list of krampuslaufen in the United States:

The third annual Krampuslauf Philadelphia encourages revelers to dress up like other terrifying pagan figures such as the Yule Lads. Here’s a bit from last year’s lauf (although I don’t think any of these kids look properly terrorized):

There were a few more screamers at last year’s Krampus Night in Bloomington, Indiana:

Then again, I don’t see any children at The PDX Krampusnacht Ball. Maybe in Portland, Krampus throws hipsters in his basket and takes them back to their crappy Midwest hometowns.

Speaking of which: you can also eat Breakfast with Krampus in Rochester, New York. I’ve long suspected that Krampus takes all those rotten kids to the Rust Belt, so this doesn’t really surprise me. You’re invited to bring an unwrapped toy for needy children, but “if it’s crap, Krampus is going to harrass you and drag you straight to hell.”

Last but not least, Krampus Los Angeles goes large: there are multiple events throughout the city during the month of December. Also: don’t miss The Truth About Krampus by Krampusfest LA director Al Ridenour on Atlas Obscura.

Any Krampus events near you? Let us know in the comments!

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Filed under Folklore