Archive for the Book Review Category

Thorsson’s Big Book of Runes & Rune Magic for #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 12, 2020 by Occult Detective
rune-cover

I’ve been reading Edred Thorsson for something akin to thirty-five years. My first introduction to his writing came by way of Weiser’s 1984 publication of Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic.

With The Big Book of Runes and Rune Magic, we find what is essentially an amalgamation of the author’s previous works under one roof, so to speak.

I have found Thorsson (Stephen Flowers) to be a competent writer, knowledgeable and persistent in his worldview.

I have not always agreed with him and his interpretations. The simple truth of the matter is, so very little is known about Norse culture, so little has survived. While Gods remain, the ways in which they were worshiped, how their magic was practiced, is lost to the mysteries of time.

As such, when investigating the runes and Norse culture it is always wise to do so with the foreknowledge that there is no true “authority”.

viking-runes

Thorsson approaches the subject with an almost split personality. On one hand he’s an academic forthright in his pursuit of the truth, plumbing historical records with an anthropologist’s thirst. On the other, Thorsson is an erstwhile explorer, experimenting with the bits we’ve collected and trying to make practical sense of it, not as a reenactment but as a way to move it forward while honoring what has gone before.

It’s a tricky business, and I’m not always onboard, but his scholarship is such that I am compelled to take notice, to take from it that which rings true.

I find this edition from Red Wheel/Weiser to be comprehensive, which is its crowning feature. They were able to collect a broad selection of Thorsson’s scholarship and put it all in one place, which is both handy and makes for a more complete journey.

You can pick up Edred Thorsson’s The Big Book of Runes and Rune Magic wherever books are sold, or you might pick it up directly from Red Wheel/Weiser to help ensure books like these keep coming our way.

Thoughts on Lost Teachings of the Runes by Ingrid Kincaid / #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 7, 2020 by Occult Detective

Lost Teachings of the Runes is an unexpected adventure into the hidden meanings and profound lessons held in these simple markings that are the signatures of ancient beings.

kincaid runes

Lost Teachings of the Runes invites the reader to journey to the realms of past and future that exist hidden beyond the horizon and beneath our feet. Using an engaging blend of stories, meditations, and ancestral knowing, author Ingrid Kincaid explores Northern Mysteries from the center of the Wheel of Life. Kincaid demonstrates ways the Wheel can be used to connect ancient wisdom with modern life, and offers tools and teachings that may be used on a daily basis to enable readers to reclaim their personal power. Lost Teachings of the Runes presents a life-affirming, death-honoring approach that returns the runes to a place of balance, to light and dark, to order and chaos, and to the roots and branches of the world tree.

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I was quite surprised by Lost Teachings. I was expecting this to be another modern examination of the runes with that New Age slant you so often get these days, but instead a discovered a very vibrant and thoughtful poetic journey that mirrored for me how the runes are alive and a visceral part of religious experience.

I felt very connected to the author’s word, in a way that’s difficult to explain, and I think it’s because they speak on many levels, the most important being to that deeper, primordial essence that connects us to our Northern European forebearers.

There is true magic of the north within these pages. You will feel them echo in your bones. She writes, as the book closes, “Sometimes all that needs to change are the meanings we attach to the stories we tell.” Very insightful and true.

Lost Teachings of the Runes is a journey. I am reminded of the guided meditations I used to take part in back in the late 80s, when the world was still fresh to me and I had so many questions (and yet thought I had all the answers). Lost Teachings led me to that long ago place and connected it with an even greater expanse, back to my ancestors, and made me feel at peace.

These words came to me just as I needed them.

I obviously recommend this book to all seekers of knowledge and understanding. One need not be a practitioner of a northern faith to gain insight and benefit from the lessons here.

You can find Lost Teachings of the Runes: Northern Mysteries and the Wheel of Life by Ingrid Kincaid wherever books are sold, though I recommend one purchase directly from Weiser Books. The more money that finds its way into the publisher’s pocket ensures many more books from them in the future.

#Norsevember Comics!

Posted in Book Review on November 5, 2020 by Occult Detective

Yesterday was comic book day and I picked up a slew of new books, including, apropos of #Norsevember, the second issue of the P. Craig Russell (and friends) adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and issue 9 (Legacy # 735) of the latest take on Marvel’s Thor.

Both were solid entertainment, with compelling art and good storytelling.

Donny Cates’ run on Thor has breathed new life into the character, and while I’ve been quite critical of Marvel’s mishandling of their properties these past couple of decades, Cates has taken what Marvel has offered and made something special so far. Not an easy task considering the mess the studio has allowed to fester, largely due to editorial mismanagement from the top down.

Or maybe I’m just growing long of tooth…

I quite enjoyed Gaiman’s retelling of Norse Mythology, and Russell and Company are doing a beautiful adaptation that is representative of Russell’s long history of magically illustrated works, such as his adaptation of the Ring Cycle.

All of this got me to thinking of comics that I have enjoyed over the years that have addressed Norse Myth & Culture. There have been plenty in recent years, such as Brian Wood’s Northlanders and Sword Daughter, or Cullen Bunn’s Helheim. Walt Simonson’s Ragnarok has been a lot of fun (and an interesting take, to be sure).

There have been terrific European series, like the classic Thorgal, or Hammerfall, which I absolutely adored.

But then you have The Ring of the Nibelungs, adapted by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane for DC, and by P. Craig Russell for Dark Horse. Both are simply amazing.

Of course, The Mighty Thor deserves accolades beyond measure. Easily in my Top 10 favorite mainstream comics, with illustrations by the likes of Kirby, Buscema, and Simonson, Thor was a huge part of my childhood. Yes, it’s nowhere near historically accurate, but is was a catalyst in my youth, to be sure.

Though, probably the very first comic that made me aware of Norse Culture was Prince Valiant, which I read in the Sunday Comics religiously beginning in the early seventies. Again, what it lacked in historical accuracy was tempered by Hal Foster’s unbridled imagination. It certainly fueled mine.

These a just a few of the titles that spring to mind, there are many more to be sure. That’s the thing about Norse heritage — it is rich, noble, imaginative, and colorful… and tailor-made for adaptation in comics.

Revisiting Beyond the North Wind: The Fall and Rise of the Mystic North by Christopher McIntosh / #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 4, 2020 by Occult Detective
north wind

I first heard the Call of the North when I was 8 years old.

I was raised in a Church of Christ, a faith born of the American Restoration Movement given life in the frontier during the late 1770s, but it never spoke to me. I never considered myself “Christian” though I did enjoy bible classes and singing. Ours was an a cappella / total immersive baptism / right-leaning congregation.

As a child, I came across a reference to the conversion of the Celts and Norse, often by the sword, and I came to realize that my ancestors had their faith taken from them. I knew my family was predominately English, Scots, and Irish so I looked into their histories as best I could, using encyclopedias and other reference books available in both my school and public library. I read of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, of the Germanic tribes, and of the raiders from the North.

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All of that led me to The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum, with illustrations by Willy Pogany. These were the tales of my ancestors’ gods. It was to these mythical beings that my forefathers prayed to. I was, in a word, captivated, and I pledged myself to Odin, then and there, placing Thor and Sif in the role of God and Goddess akin to the books on witchcraft I had been studying as well.

So, when I read Christopher McIntosh’s introduction in Beyond the North Wind: The Fall and Rise of the Mystic North and his recounting of C.S. Lewis’ “Come to Balder” moment, I knew that I had been blessed with a similar calling. It was that same ‘Call of the North‘ that I answered as a small child. I had a feeling this book that I was now reading, with its call backs to my own childhood, was to be something special.

I was not wrong on that accord.

While it does have its faults, Christopher McIntosh has delivered a wonderful treatise on the stirring of the Northern Spirit, delving into the ancient mysteries and showing their influence on modern culture.

It is not lost on me that in the midst of a very vocal minority seeking to redefine itself through identity politics, shame culture, and newthink activism, and an equally bankrupt minority obsessing on the false tenants of white supremacy, you have a resurgence of the Norse Current that sings of a deeper truth and meaning to those with ears to hear it.

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McIntosh is a talented author, able to succinctly get his point across with both a dramatic flair and an erudite cadence. He speaks of the past with reverence, but in such a way that pulls it from that distant memory to make it seem present and alive.

There’s a bit of Graham Hancock in his musings, which I enjoy, though without the thoroughness and alternate-archaeological whimsy Hancock is known for.

The greatest weakness of Beyond the North Wind is that it seems to only just scratch the surface. I wanted more meat, but as an appetizer, it was a nourishing dish. The references to current pop culture trends was interesting, though unfulfilling. Where McIntosh really makes an impact is in his contemplations on Hyperborea and the Runes.

Beyond the North Wind is a book equally valid for learned scholars and those just embarking on their journey. It is a book I highly recommend.

Available now in a bookstore near you, Beyond the North Wind: The Fall and Rise of the Mystic North by Christopher R. McIntosh is a worthy read that will be well at home in your personal library.

My thoughts on Odin by Diana L. Paxson / #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 3, 2020 by Occult Detective

odin

“I told you I would tell you my names. This is what they call me. I’m called Glad-of-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-Eyed. I am called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and I am the Hooded One. I am All-Father, and I am Gondlir Wand-Bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory; my wolves are Freki and Geri; my horse is the gallows.”

— Neil Gaiman, American Gods

…I really like the faux-parchment cover with the rich chocolate coloured lettering. The iconic cover image itself is bold and traditional, though the ravens seem out-of-synch with the classic depiction of Odin astride Sleipnir.

The interior is clean and neat, with solid font choices throughout. A little too varied for my tastes, but nothing overtly inappropriate (which is something you find far too often these days with the advancements in desktop printing).

I like the interior illustrations, which evoke an old world, woodcut feel, lending an air of authenticity to the overall work.

The layout and design are not perfect*, but neither is it distracting. It’s an attractive enough book, but it’s the content that matters most, especially considering the subject matter.

As stated previously, I have a tremendous respect for Diana Paxson. She has such a lyrical quality to her writing and she is as knowledgeable and honest as one can hope to discover. Her words mean a lot to me and she does not disappoint here.

You can feel her forthright devotion on every page, and let’s face it, the Allfather is a complex character, not easy to dissect and codify. Paxson’s examination of Odin in all his guises is as comprehensive as you’re apt to find. Her scholarship is sound and she blends her erudition with an intuitive insight that further unlocks the mystery that surrounds Old One-Eye.

For those new to Odin and the gods of Northern Europe, this is a tremendous introduction. It straddles the fine line between what is known from historical sources with the modern evolution of Odinic worship.

In that regard, there will be points of contention with many within the greater Odinist community. I foresee many of my more folkish leaning peers to find some of her thoughts contrary to their own.

That’s okay. If it opens a meaningful and respectful dialogue, more’s the better. Odin wears many and contradictory hats. This book is an opportunity to bring Odin into the hearts and minds of the masses, and Diana Paxson is an honorable spokesperson for those who walk the northern path. She is a natural storyteller, through and through, and she writes with a clear sense of purpose and conviction.

This is an important work and one I am proud to recommend to those new to the Old Ways of our Northern European ancestors, but I also think there is plenty to be learned by those of us with many years on this path already.

Diana Paxson presents a dazzling and uncompromising portrait of the Hooded One. She brings Geirölnir to life on the page, not as a religious icon, but as a living, vibrant deity that is actively among us.

Odin: Ecstasy, Runes, & Norse Magic by Diana L. Paxson is available wherever books are sold, but I recommend without hesitation that one should buy directly from Red Wheel/Weiser. Why fill the coffers of middle men, when you can show your appreciation at the source, thus allowing them greater profit.

*There is one unfortunate typo that I must address. On page 275, the name of the band is Garmarna, not Gramarna.

My thoughts on The Wanderer’s Hávamál #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 2, 2020 by Occult Detective

From the good folks at Spells & SpaceshipsNorsevember is a reading event in which we talk about, recommend, read and review Norse inspired books! Use the hashtag #Norsevember so others taking part can find your posts easier and we can include and retweet your stuff for the event!

How could I not take part in this? I’ve been assigned a longship, which I’ve entitled Alba Gu Brath, and I’m ready to set sail. Now… let’s get to raiding.

My first stop is The Wanderer’s Havamal, newly translated by Old Norse Specialist and youtube phenom, Dr. Jackson Crawford.

From the Amazon description: The Wanderer’s Hávamál features Jackson Crawford’s complete, carefully revised English translation of the Old Norse poem Hávamál, newly annotated for this volume, together with facing original Old Norse text sourced directly from the Codex Regius manuscript.

Rounding out the volume are Crawford’s classic Cowboy Hávamál and translations of other related texts central to understanding the character, wisdom, and mysteries of Óðinn (Odin). Portable and reader-friendly, it makes an ideal companion for both lovers of Old Norse mythology and those new to the wisdom of this central Eddic poem wherever they may find themselves.

Hávamál, or ‘Words of the High One’, is certainly the most important work contained in the Poetic Edda. It represents a glimpse into the cultural mores of an ancient people whose way of life is largely lost to the annals of time.

Jackson Crawford has delivered a fresh translation that breathes new life into these matters of Norse ethics and ettiquette.

Let’s take a look. Here is the first stanza of Gestaþáttr:

Gattir allar,
aþr gangi fram,
vm scoðaz scyli,
vm scygnaz scyli;
þviat ouist er at vita,
hvar ovinir sitia
a fleti fyr

The Bellows translation of the first stanza reads:

Within the gates before a man shall go,
(Full warily let him watch,)
Full long let him look about him;
For little he knows where a foe may lurk,
And sit in the seats within.

Now, let’s compare that to Crawford:

At every doorway
before you enter,
you should look around,
you should take a good look around —
for you never know
where your enemies
might be seated within.

I believe that Crawford has delivered the definitive translation of the Hávamál, not only because of his linguistic skillset, but because of his understanding of poetry. The Norse were talented wordsmiths and Crawford admirably maintains the integrity of the verse throughout.

I am no linguist, but I do appreciate the rhythm of words and I find that The Wanderer’s Hávamál, which is marked with erudite commentary, is infused with the purest essence of the Northmens’ intent.

As for the book itself, Hackett has done the work proud. I purchased the hardcover edition, and the craftsmanship and design is flawless. It immediately became one of my most treasured books and I recommend it without question.

Review: Hasan-i-Sabah by James Wasserman

Posted in Book Review on October 6, 2020 by Occult Detective

As a companion to Wasserman’s The Templars and the Assassins, Hasan-i-Sabah: Assassin Master seeks to reveal the man behind the myth of one of the most influential and mysterious sects in the secret history of the world. Following up the brilliant work found in the preceding volume, Hasan-i-Sabah does not disappoint.

While the mysteries of the Assassins have long been thought to be lost, thanks in large part to the Mongol invasions, Wasserman has combed through what remains and painted for us a picture in which Hasan-i-Sabah played a crucial role in the development of European culture due to his influence over the Knights Templar.

Now, there lies some heady stuff, and the reader is asked to make some leaps of faith, but none too egregious. Wasserman backs up his conjecture with solid reasoning, and with compelling research and intuitive deductions, the evidence is overwhelming and voluminous.

The unfolding history is like a wave of misplaced knowledge finding its proper course, but more importantly, the author is able to illustrate the man himself, bringing Hasan-i-Sabah to life in a way in which the mythological figure has never been revealed before.

As always, Ibis has done a wonderful job with the physical product, with perfect binding and interior graphic design. The only souring point is the cover art itself, which I find out of character for a book from such a prestigious house. The resolution seems poor, and the contrast is flat. It just doesn’t pop, and that’s a shame. The dust jacket distracts from an otherwise masterful edition.

I came to this book with some foreknowledge, having been near obsessed by the Knights Templar since grade school. I leave it with a far deeper understanding and a sense of satisfaction that so many pieces of the puzzle have been assembled without weakening the deeper and more personal mysteries that exist.

This is an important work, and if you have the slightest interest in the history of the Middle East and of Europe, then this book is one that you should spend some considerable time with.

Hasan-i-Sabah: Assassin Master by James Wasserman is available wherever books are sold, and I encourage you to make it a part of your collection.

My thoughts on Lon Milo DuQuette’s Allow Me to Introduce: An Insider’s Guide to the Occult

Posted in Book Review, Magick on February 4, 2020 by Occult Detective

allow me to introduceIt has been my utmost pleasure to immerse myself in Allow Me to Introduce: An Insider’s Guide to the Occult, the latest from Lon Milo DuQuette and Weiser Books. I enjoyed it so much, I read it twice before coming here to share it with you.

Released on the 1st of February, I received the book a few weeks beforehand, but life got in the way from me diving right in, and more’s the pity.

There’s a short but insightful Foreword by Brandy Williams (author of Practical Magic for Beginners) and an equally short Preface by the author.

What follows is a collection of Introductions Lon Milo DuQuette has written for dozens of books over the years, each and every one a treasure.

babalonDuQuette has one of those voices that is both comforting and erudite, while being filled with compassion, wisdom, and humor. He is self-depreciating in the most charming way, and DuQuette has the ability to make you feel that he is speaking to you alone, that you’re old friends, even as he is shining an illuminating light on the Western Mystery Traditions. It’s a gift that few have… probably because DuQuette is hogging all the best bits of it.

While I have read many of these Introductions before, there is nothing stale about them. And having them all collected together, in one place, is well worth the duplication, even if you possessed every book he’s been the harbinger of.

As for the book itself: I love the cover from a graphic design standpoint. The colors, fonts, and graphics are all brilliant. Inside you’ll find a comfortable typeface, easy on the eyes, which is becoming increasingly important to me.

There are a few typos. Nothing egregious, but they still pulled me out of my immersion. It happens, especially with dropped words. Spell-check doesn’t catch those. Believe me. I know all too well.

Look. It’s only February. Is this the best book you’re going to pick up this year? Probably. It’s worth every penny of the $19.95 cover price (and then some). If this book is not already on your bookshelf, it damn well should be.

Allow Me to Introduce: An Insider’s Guide to the Occult by Lon Milo DuQuette is available wherever books are sold, but as always, I recommend buying directly from the publisher (HERE) if you can. It helps to keep the publisher afloat and puts the most money in the author’s pocket. Always a good thing on both accounts.

Thoughts on A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations, and Mysteries of the Northern Traditions by Galina Krasskova

Posted in Book Review, Magick on December 16, 2019 by Occult Detective

I received a complimentary copy of A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations, and Mysteries of the Northern Traditions by Galina Krasskova from publisher Weiser Books.

Here’s how it’s described online, none of which I take issue with:

heathenryAn accessible yet in-depth guide to this increasingly popular pre-Christian religious tradition of Northern Europe

Heathenry, is one of the fastest growing polytheistic religious movements in the United States today. This book explores the cosmology, values, ethics, and rituals practiced by modern heathens.

In A Modern Guide to Heathenry readers will have the opportunity to explore the sacred stories of the various heathen gods like Odin, Frigga, Freya, and Thor and will be granted a look into the devotional practices of modern votaries. Blóts, the most common devotional rites, are examined in rich detail with examples given for personal use. Additionally, readers are introduced to the concept of wyrd, or fate, so integral to the heathen worldview.

Unlike many books on heathenry, this one is not denomination-specific, nor does it seek to overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon or Norse terminology. For Pagans who wish to learn more about the Norse deities or those who are new to heathenry or who are simply interested in learning about this unique religion, A Modern Guide to Heathenry is the perfect introduction. Those who wish to deepen their own devotional practice will find this book helpful in their own work as well.

Now my thoughts:

I reviewed this book when it was originally published as Exploring the Northern Tradition back nearly a decade ago. I did not give it very high marks. Including UPG material in what I felt should have hewn to a more scholarly approach was one of my perceived transgressions, and I was not (and am not) overly fond of the author’s personal brand of heathenry. This colored my views, to be sure.

That said, giving it a fresh read, in a slightly revised edition, I am more accepting of the material, less protective, I suppose you could say.

The fact is, heathenry continues to evolve and grow. I accept that my own heathen beliefs are in the minority and I’m okay with that. All I can do is live my life and speak my words. Each man and woman will find their own path and the gods can take take care of themselves.

The simple truth is, there is value in this book, if you are new to heathenry. It is a fine introduction to modern perspectives on an ancient faith that is still clawing its way back to relevancy.

I can see in this book shadows of my faith, like reflections on a pool of water at night. I trust that those shadows are enough to call people to the gods, if their hearts and minds are open.

A great emphasis on ancestral worship is greatly appreciated as I see it as the most important aspect of the faith.

If you are unfamiliar with heathenry, then I recommend this book to you. Here, the door is opened, just a crack, for you to glimpse the faith in all its glory. This book can be a stepping stone for you, out an across still, moonlit waters, where the gods lurk in the shadowy recesses, calling you home.

My thoughts on Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult (New and Expanded Edition)

Posted in Book Review, Magick on December 5, 2019 by Occult Detective

ualevendaIn June of 1979, Peter Levenda flew to Chile―then under martial law―to investigate claims that a mysterious colony and torture center in the Andes Mountains held a key to the relationship between Nazi ideology and its post-war survival on the one hand, and occult ideas and practices on the other. He was detained there briefly and released with a warning: “You are not welcome in this country.” The people who warned him were not Chileans but Germans, not government officials but agents of the assassination network Operation Condor. They were also Nazis, providing a sanctuary for men like Josef Mengele, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, and Otto Skorzeny. In other words: ODESSA.

Published in 1995, Unholy Alliance was the first book in English on the subject of Nazi occultism to be based on the captured Nazi archives themselves, as well as on the author’s personal investigations and interviews, often conducted under dangerous conditions. The book attracted the attention of historians and journalists the world over and has been translated into six languages. A later edition boasts the famous foreword by Norman Mailer.

How did occultism come to play such an important role in the development of Nazi political ideology? What influence did such German and Austrian occult leaders as Lanz von Liebenfels and Guido von List have over the fledgling Nazi party? What was the Thule Gesellschaft, and who was its creator, Baron von Sebottendorf? Did the Nazi high command really believe in occultism? In astrology? In magic and reincarnation?

This is a new and expanded edition of the original text, with much additional information on the rise of extremist groups in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the United States and the esoteric beliefs that are at their foundations. It is the first book in a trilogy that includes Ratline and The Hitler Legacy. This is where it all began.

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I remember picking this book up in the mid-90s shortly after it was released. I was working at Waldenbooks at the time, seasonal help at Christmas. I’d been tasked with opening boxes in the back storeroom and as soon as I laid eyes on the Avon cover it went straight to the stock shelves where employees kept the stack of things they wanted to buy with their company discount. I took it home with me after my shift and read it straight through the night.

So, here we are, nearly twenty five years later, and I’ve just read the “New and Expanded Edition”. Firstly, Ibis Press continues to impress with their production and design skills. They put together beautiful books and Unholy Alliance is no exception.

As for the book itself, I’m not sure any of the added material is overly warranted, but it doesn’t detract from the original text. It is still a fascinating deep-dive into occult conspiracies and the Reich’s maddening obsessions.

I’ve always been rather fond of Levenda’s writing. For one, he’s a smart guy and one helluva researcher, and it often seems like there’s so much information bouncing around inside his head he has a hard time staying focused. It reminds me of nearly every occult study group I’ve belonged to. There’s always that one guy, too smart for his own good, talking a mile a minute, trying to get all of his thoughts out there.

You’re also never really sure when he’s pulling your leg a bit.

I used to recommend Unholy Alliance unconditionally and I am more than happy to do so again. It’s a subject entirely engrossing and Levenda leaves no stone unturned. I’ve read his complete trilogy now and they are all compelling reads that I endorse fully.

Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult (New and Expanded Edition) by Peter Levenda is available wherever books are sold. Here’s the link to the evil empire wherein it can be purchased with grace and ease, and possibly delivered from the sky by drones.

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