The Joy of Hex – Part Two -Witchcraft

From prehistoric times some form of ‘witchcraft’ has existed, but then, unlike now, the casting of spells was more to do with the art of healing than any association with devilry. Most ‘witches’ were herbalists, wise women, or, ‘cunning folk’, who were adept at making potions to cure a range of illnesses. Often providing charms and offerings alongside incantations to protect livestock from predators by using these ‘blessings’ to keep them safe.

The belief in the power of magic has existed since mankind created social settlements where large numbers of people lived and worked. Fearing the forces of nature, inevitably, someone would try to make the unknown less scary by using rituals and spells to ward off evil spirits, whether natural or supernatural. Cave drawings often show people dancing wearing animal costumes alongside images of a ‘witch’ as seen in the photograph below.

Once, such ‘magical’ folk were revered, but as time went on people became wary of these magicians that could seemingly perform supernatural feats. From the 7th century, attitudes changed and terms such as ‘black magic’ spread fear into the hearts of god-fearing folk. With Christianity taking over from paganism as the main religion, it wasn’t long before the church found such powerful shaman a threat. Witch hunts in the name of God became a way to frighten people into turning against their own to preserve the status quo and get rid of annoying, possibly subversive women and men in the community. These poor people didn’t stand a chance against the prejudices and hatred from fanatics who turned communities against someone who was not quite like everyone else. So began the long centuries of demonising the innocent.

During medieval times being accused of witchcraft was a death sentence. Anyone who had a black cat, a mole, some kind of physical tick or blemish, and could conjure up an effective poultice for a wound or boil, would be suspected of being in league with the devil. The caricature of the old hag with a broomstick became the norm.  Wise women in a village were the subject of scorn and accused of evil deeds.

 In the UK, The Witch Finder General, Matthew Hopkins, made it his life’s work to seek out and destroy those accused of witchcraft. Through gruesome torture, he and his allies gained forced confessions from terrified men and women who would often be accused of the crime by friends or family. From the 15th to the 16h century over 100,000 people were hanged or burned at the stake for being witches.

This fear of sorcery lasted well into the eighteenth century when the cruel and unjust system of identifying a witch was abolished, courtesy of – The Enlightenment. A period in history which advocated the use of reason over superstition, and in 1736 the laws against witchcraft were repealed.

Witches and warlocks exist to this day but are no longer seen as dangerous. Often known as Wiccans, these people regard themselves as spiritual folk following pagan beliefs, incorporating mystical sorcery such as divination, herbalism and, Tarot reading. Casting spells not to summon demons or ghouls but to help find a true love, get promoted at work, or simply to engage more with nature and the universe.

You can read more about Wiccan magic in this article:

 https://wiccanspells.info/wiccan-pagan-articles/different-types-magick/

The idea of possessing supernatural powers is deep-rooted within our psyche. Whether it comes from a religious source or from the belief in our own need to connect with natural forces, magic and the casting of spells will never go away. Now, we accept it as part of our everyday world, whether it is reading our astrological predictions or buying Himalayan Salt Lamps, we need to believe that we are more than the sum of our parts, and can control the elements to do our bidding. Does it work? It might. The power is in the belief that it will.

Go to this blog to find out how to cast spells for good luck here:

Since it is Halloween, I thought I’d post an extract from one of my ghostly horror short stories – Daub – it’s in my anthology Glimmer, which just happens to be on offer for only 99c! You can purchase a copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H89AN1M

From Daub:

Isabelle fell back onto her ankles and covered her mouth with her hands. She heard a muffled sobbing come from the place where she had seen the child squatting the night before, and shuffled away. She looked at the wall. The yellowing plaster moved in and out like sickly lungs and Isabelle saw a small mouth appear. It opened and closed as if trying to suck in air and said, ‘When can I come out?’

‘What? Who’s speaking?’

‘It’s me mama, Roland. Can I come out now, it’s too hot and I can’t breathe. Mama? Mama, where are you? Mama!’ The child’s voice became hysterical and it shrieked the last, ‘Mama’ so loud that Isabelle thought her eardrums would bleed. She felt something tickle her wrist, looked down and saw the imprints of five small fingers on her skin.

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If you want to know more about my work, visit my website: 

or my Amazon page: 

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The Joy of Hex

Part one: The Power of Words

Today and tomorrow I will be publishing some witchy-type posts especially for Halloween.

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Ever since mankind created language, words have been used to manipulate, enlighten and confuse. So it is little wonder that words should also prove to be powerful weapons in the form of spells, hexes and incantations. Even prayers and hymns have special supernatural powers as they are a way to grab the attention of a god, or gods. Most religions encourage these invocations to create a sense of spiritualisation and ceremony that help the devotee contact their inner soul becoming closer to nature, God, and themselves.

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Certain words have become magical, imbibed with a power that if spoken or written down, can be used as a charm to ward off evil, or cause an adversary to come to harm. The most familiar of these is Abracadabra. Although known as a stage magicians phrase, the word dates back to Roman times and is thought to come from the Hebrew words for the Father, son and Holy Spirit – ‘ab, ben, ruach hakodesh’. Which some say is derived from, Abraxas. This word has special powers as according to Greek numerology, it adds up to 365 which is the number of days in a year.

These words become even more potent if written or said repeatedly. As in the case of Abracadabra, when it is in a pyramid shape and used as a Medicinal charm:

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When mankind began to write words, such magical incantations could now be stored and used at the discretion of the owner. The earliest ‘spell’ comes from ancient Mesopotamia etched onto cuneiform clay tablets found in the city of Uruk somewhere between the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

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Books of magic spells have been around since ancient times and have been used not only for religious purposes but also for science. Alchemists used magic to find The Philosopher’s Stone and turn base metal into gold. Witch doctors and wise women, used words to help heal the sick, and don’t forget early scientists had numerous books for predicting the future through astrology.

In Ancient Egypt, magic and spells were a part of everyday life. The symbolic use of words was very important. Used for protection, to summon gods and demons, and to help loved ones live a happy afterlife. These words are often found etched onto tombs, pillars, and even embalming shrouds, showing just how important magical words were to these superstitious people.

Ancient Egyptian priests used many magic books such as The Book of the Dead, to help those who have died pass on to the next life. The most potent of all was The Book of Dreams. This book allowed people, through incantations, to fall into a dream-like state to travel through time, space, and even to the realm of the dead.

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Papyri Graecae Magicae, or The Greek Magical Papyri is the name for scrolls from Graeco-Roman Egypt, that contain magical spells, formulae, hymns, and rituals dating as far back as the 100s BC to the 400s AD. For use by travelling magicians, scholars and medical practitioners, these ‘books’ have detailed descriptions on how to cast spells, invoke spirts, demons, and even how to create love charms.

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A similar Jewish papyri dating back to ancient Egyptian times, seems to be rooted in performing religious ceremonies to interact with spirits in order gain advantage over another. Names are also important in Jewish magical traditions. In the creation of man, God summons life after a series of ‘speech acts’. Mentioning one of God’s many names can be a powerful tool to finding love or as with Joshua, demolishing the walls of Jericho.

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Later, more textbooks on magic came into existence, such as The Grimoire, or Spell books, which are still used today.

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These books give precise instructions on how to cast a spell and how to create magical amulets and talisman. You can read more about them in this article: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/apr/08/history

So for authors, using spells as part of their story, is a natural choice when writing in genres such as fantasy and magic realism. The power of such words evokes a sense of otherworldliness and spirituality that helps a reader to become wholly engaged in what they are reading.

Books, therefore, are magic!

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If you want to learn more about my work, visit my website:

www.oddlybooks.com 

or my Amazon page where all books in my Sci-fi/dystopian series – The Song of Forgetfulness – are on offer for only 99c each!!

https://www.amazon.com/Nicola-McDonagh/e/B00D4NAH0S/

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Watch out for part two – Witches and Witchcraft

The Inventor of Crime Scene Photography

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In my last post I talked about my Historical Crime Fiction novel and in particular, a pioneer in crime photography, Alphonse Bertillon. You can view it here:

https://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2018/09/05/the-man-behind-the-mug-shot/

Today I continue the story on how this man influenced the advance in Forensic Science.

Not only did Alphonse Bertillon invent the Mug Shot, but a variety of ways to interpret how a crime happened. From simple burglaries, to murder, he came up with methods of measuring the amount of force used in break-ins, known as the Dynamometer. He was also responsible for using ballistics and materials to preserve footprints as clues to how a crime was committed.

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Bertillon was quite a celebrity and even appeared in a few Sherlock Holmes stories, most notably, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, when the following dialogue between Dr James Mortimer and Holmes.

“I came to you, Mr. Holmes, because I recognized that I am myself an unpractical man and because I am suddenly confronted with a most serious and extraordinary problem. Recognizing, as I do, that you are the second highest expert in Europe–”

“Indeed, sir! May I inquire who has the honour to be the first?” asked Holmes with some asperity.

“To the man of precisely scientific mind the work of Monsieur Bertillon must always appeal strongly.”

Yet it is his ground breaking use of photography at crime scenes that is his lasting legacy to present day methodology employed by detectives in solving crimes.

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His use of taking a picture from above, was unique to crime procedures. Previously, an artist would draw the scene from their eye line, sketching the things that came in their limited range, but Bertillon gave the world a ‘god’s eye view’ showing the scene accurately and in more detail. Greatly improving the police’s chance of solving the case.

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He even used a special laboratory to take the Mug Shots, practice his precise methods and to process the ensuing prints.

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To view the actual photographs, Bertillon took of crime scenes, please go to my Pinterest page.

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/nikkimcdonagh56/arty-stuff-my-stories-including-glimmer-and-crow-b/

However, when Bertillon’s CSI photographs became known, they were thought of as unsavoury, even ghoulish since they showed the victim’s dead body. Yet these images gave detectives the necessary information to help them discover important clues such as body position, cause of death, wound entry, footprints, murder weapons, blood spattering and so on, that could easily be missed from an initial survey of the scene.

It is thanks to Alphonse Bertillon, that CSI has progressed from somewhat dubious facial measurements, to accurate fingerprinting, and his meticulous way of photographing a crime scene is still used today.

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Here is another small snippet from the first draft, I shall call The Leo Katz Mysteries for want of a better title:

Chapter Three

I confess to being somewhat squeamish. As a child I could not even bear to squash a fly. Miriam had no such qualms and would race about my bedchamber with a rolled up newspaper swatting anything that buzzed. ‘Nasty things that eat dung. You must kill them before they lay eggs in your ears.’

I believed her and before falling asleep would probe my lugs for signs of infestation. I am not sure how I would have reacted if I had discovered an emerging bluebottle in my cochlea. Perhaps something akin to the way I retched on witnessing Klaus probe the severed nasal cavity of Ira Weiss.

‘Stay with us, Leopold. I need your expertise on imaging. Are you going to faint?’

I gulped hard and backed away from my tripod. ‘No, not at all. It’s the smell of the body mingled with the chemicals you use, it is overwhelming.’

‘Perhaps Herr, I mean, Leopold, would care for some fresh air? It is an acquired scent. Shall I escort you to the corridor?’ Lucy wiped her hands on a towel that hung from a nail in the wall next to the half glassed door of the mortuary.

‘Thank you, but I will continue. I must endeavour to overcome my reticence at observing the dead.’

‘Ha! There’s my fellow. Solid and dependable. Well, compose yourself, my little friend and come closer. I need a shot of the entry wounds.’

With shaking hands I lifted my tripod and placed it close to Ira’s pale body. Lucy wiped the last remaining spots of blood from his chest, and joined Klaus by the cart laden with sharp knives and a variety of different sized saws. She did not flinch from the sight of the poor man’s shredded face. Leaning close to observe the raggedness of his wounds, she said, ‘Was he disfigured before or after death?’

My next post will continue the findings I have unearthed during the research for my new book. Watch out for Madame d’Ora!

For more information about my books, please visit my website:

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http://www.oddlybooks.com/

The Man Behind the Mug Shot

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Inspiration comes at strange times on occasions. It hit me quite by chance when I was cleaning the cat litter tray. Why not write a crime thriller set in Victorian times about a photographer who has to find out who has been committing a series of murders? Wow, I thought, no one has done that before, or at least, I’ve never heard of a book quite like that.

Next I needed to set it somewhere. Vienna. Why not? After all it was the place for art and music at that time. After a bit of research, I unearthed some very interesting information about the politics of the time and how it adversely affected the Jewish population of the city. A plot was forming. The protagonist is a photographer that gets caught up in a series of brutal murders of Jewish activists in 1899 and has to solve the case via the use of photographs.

Whilst researching the history of criminal photography for the book, as yet untitled, I came upon the name, Alphonse Bertillon.  A nineteenth century French forensic documentarian.

It is thanks to this man we have access to the recording and storing of the physical details of a criminal. Before his efforts, offenders were hard to keep track of. They could give false names and addresses, so finding those who recommitted a misdemeanour, was often impossible.

Enter Bertillon.

Bertillon,_Alphonse,_fiche_anthropométrique_recto-verso-1As a records clerk at the Prefecture of Police in Paris 1879, Bertillon became irked by the chaotic way they kept criminal data. He worked on a better system to store and classify offenders to make it easier for someone to find them if they re-offended. Using his interest in anthropometry, the scientific study of the proportions and measurements of the human body, he developed a recording system for detailing the size and shape of a criminal’s distinguishing facial features.

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These facial descriptions, classified the shapes, size and breadth of the nose, eyes, ears and other facial features, which he called, “Portrait Parle”. Although the coded lexicon he Invented to use alongside his method was too difficult to use and later abandoned.

However, his idea of “Portrait Parle” lead to his definitive method of identification and recording of a suspect/criminal in the shape of the Mug Shot.

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For the first time a criminal could be photographed alongside his or her name both front and side view. Therefore, their identity could be accurately logged ready for use if they re-offended.

Bertillon’s index card system along with the photograph of the lawbreaker, identified re-offenders better than any other system before his invention, and as we know, the Mug Shot, is still used today, alongside fingerprints, to keep detailed records of criminals ready for use if needed.

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Next time, I’ll be discussing Bertillon’s influence on what we know today as Crime Scene Photography.

Here is a little taster from my book. Please bear in mind that this is just a first draft you will be reading. 

‘Oy, oy, where do you think you’re going?’

An officer broke free of the policeman chain and put his hands on my shoulders. I brushed them away and stood firm. ‘I am expected. Katz.’ I held up my case, shouting above the raised voices, ‘I’m to take images of the crime.’

‘Ah, that stuff. What do you need to do that for? The case is solved. She murdered him in cold blood. Ghoulish is what I call that.’ He pointed at my camera. ‘Some say it takes the soul from the body and the dead can’t go to heaven.’ I shook my head and sighed. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t expect a Jewboy to believe. Your lot haven’t got any souls anyway.’

Aaron stiffened and blurted out, ‘Hey, that’s not true. Take it back.’

‘Or what? Bloodsucker?’

I grabbed Aaron before he lunged towards the policeman. He relaxed a little and hung his head. ‘Do not become aggrieved at this Gentleman’s outburst. They are just words. Nothing more.’ He gulped and raised his chin.

‘Ya. Gift of the gab your lot and no mistake. Go on, get going, join your Yiddish pals.’ He spat at our feet when we shuffled past him towards the murder victim.

It was indeed a gruesome sight. I turned to Aaron. ‘You must go now. This is not a fitting thing for a boy to witness. Go home and be with your mother.’

If you would like to know more about my books, please go to my website:4632622310_242x254

www.oddlybooks.com

No, you can’t come in.

The past few days the wonderful British weather has been quite variable. From horrendous downpours causing flooding, to beautiful sunny days that lift your spirits. Flowers and blossoms have bloomed and birds are singing loudly. Nest building is well under way and my cats are watching eagerly for signs of baby birds.

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Our hens are enjoying the fine weather, lying on the grass and soaking up the rays.

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Whilst other birds have been pecking at my bedroom window trying to get in. I presume they think my cluttered space is ideal for building a nest and raising chicks. After all it’s safer than outside, isn’t it?

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Not really, birds. You see, five cats live in the house, and, although I keep the door closed, it is opened regularly and well, a cat is fast. So no, you can’t come in, long-tailed tits, sorry.

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Bye!

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I guess they heard me because after I took these photographs, they flew away.

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Such pretty birds.

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I hope you love nature as much as I do. Thanks for reading.

Cleo Dalby and the Curse of the Chaos Mummies

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Today I thought I would post a snippet from my middle grade Ancient Egyptian-themed book Cleo Dalby and the Curse of the Chaos Mummies. It’s full of good and evil gods and goddesses, nasty beasts and a battle of life and death to save the world – of course. I plan to send it to some publishers. I am still in the editing stage so any feedback would be noted, and very welcome.

A brief synopsis:

Feisty twelve-year-old Cleo Dalby and her archaeologist mother, find the remains of Imhotep and Hor in the Red pyramid, Dashur, only to discover that not only are the mummies cursed but Cleo is too – with the soul of Seth the god of chaos. When the mummies are stolen by the master criminal Erica Van Clutch, the curse is unleashed along with Seth, who wants to destroy the world. It is up to Cleo and her friends to journey to Duat, ancient Egypt’s afterlife, to find the Book of the Dead to summon Ma-at the goddess of order so that she can destroy Seth.

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 Excerpt from Chapter One – We Are Not Alone

Darkness pushed against Cleo Dalby’s arms and legs as she struggled to make her way through the narrow chamber of the pyramid. Hands outstretched before her, she slid her feet forward, straining to hear something, anything. But every sound, even the skid-slap of her sandals on the stone floor, became lost in the gloom. On Cleo walked, deeper into the world of corpses.

A sigh drifted towards her. It seemed to gather a friend as it neared, and soon the sad laments of two disembodied voices surrounded her. The whispering drifted in and out of her ears like tired moths trapped inside a lampshade.

“We, the dead, quietly rest, hands on chest, faces tilted up to catch a ray of sunlight.”

“But this far below the ground, there is only blackness and the weight of stone.”

“We, the dead, no longer know who we are. Memories fade and melt into our hollow skulls.”

“We, the dead, sometimes whisper to each other.”

“Husks of words from dried up lips that stick to the cold walls, waiting for the living to listen.”

Cleo touched the limestone with her fingertips.

“We, the dead, can feel a presence.”

A breath of ancient brushed past her cheek. She shivered and rubbed her naked arms. The chill slapped onto her legs and spread upwards leaving pimples of stiff-haired unease on her sunburnt flesh. She gulped. “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Cleo.”

“Is it she?”

“The chosen one?”

“Listen to our warning, child, or torments and madness will shadow your every move.”

“Leave, before evil takes your soul.”

The voices ceased.

There was a smell of rot so strong, she nearly vomited. “What the frog?” The stink disappeared. Cleo shook the torch gripped in her hand. “Stupid froggin’ thing. Work.” She patted it against her palm. “Work.” Something touched her shoulder and Cleo jumped.

“There you are. I thought I’d lost you.”

“Mum, don’t creep up on me like that.”

“I can’t very well do anything else, can I? It’s darker than a black hole in here.”

“I know. I can’t see a froggin’ thing.”

“What do you expect? We are half way down a pyramid. And don’t say, ‘froggin’ I know what it means.”

A sound like the noise from a beehive buzzed inside her head. She put her fingers into her ears and wiggled them until it ceased. “Are you sure we’re the only ones here?”

“Apart from the mummies? Yes.”

“I thought I heard someone say something.” Cleo reached behind her and grabbed her mother’s hand as a gasp swept across their faces. “What was that?”

“I don’t know, I can’t see anything.”

“Sorry, it’s my fault the torch won’t work. I didn’t change the batteries. Although, Mum, if you’d brought wind-up ones we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”

A throaty groan billowed past their open mouths.

“Ah! That horrible sound again.” Cleo swivelled round, buried her head into her mother’s chest and waited for the hideous moaning to go away. The gurgling, growling continued despite the comforting warmth from her mother’s body.

“Why won’t it stop?”

“It has.”

“No, it hasn’t. Can’t you hear it?”

“It’s my stomach.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I’m hungry, we missed breakfast because you slept in.”

“Sorry,” Cleo said and felt her eyes begin to sting.

“Don’t sniffle. Come on, we can’t let some stale air frighten us away. That’s what they want.”

“That’s what who want?” Cleo pulled away from her mother’s tight grip.

“The architects who built the pyramids were clever. They used all sorts of booby traps to scare looters away. All this noise and freezing wind is a just a ploy to put us off the scent. Come on, let’s carry on.” Mrs Dalby tugged at Cleo’s sleeve.

“Okay, but can you light a match at least? I really can’t see where I’m going.”

“There aren’t many left. In the rush to get here I didn’t pack everything.”

“Some holiday this is.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Cleo brushed her curly brown hair behind her ears and sighed. “It’s not really a proper holiday ‘cause you were already here as a specialist advisor on that American dig thing.”

“You mean the unearthing of King Senebkay in the ancient city of Abydos.  True, technically I am working, but we are, you know, spending time together.”

“Like a proper family.”

“Yes, except…”

“Dad’s not here.”

“No, he isn’t.” There was a wobble in Mrs Dalby’s voice and Cleo quickly changed the subject.

“Good job Curator Blench gave you that tip off about this pyramid. Now we can finish the job you and Dad started.”

There was a long pause.

“Right then, shall we carry on?”

“’Suppose so. Mum, this is our first expedition together.”

“Yes, it is. Are you okay with that?”

“Yeah, I think it’s awesome.”

“Good. Anyway, we should save the candles since we don’t have many. We’re going to need all the light we can when we find the hidden chamber. So, for now, you’ll just have to put your hands out and feel your way like me.”

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You can lean more about my work here: www.oddlybooks.com

Thanks for reading.

National Pet Day

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Today is #NationalPetDay on Twitter. What better way to celebrate the friendship and love they give us by posting some pictures of my cats and chickens.

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rasky posing

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I don’t think I could live without a cat in my life. They are wonderful creatures that only trust you when you deserve it. If you truly love a cat it will reciprocate and be your friend forever.

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Always respect a cat’s privacy

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Mess with a cat and be prepared to face the consequences.

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Ignore a cat at your peril.

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Happy Nation Pet Day everyone.

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