Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Apocalypse This Weekend!

Secular doomsday conspiracies and the Christian Apocalypse are apparently two great tastes that taste great together - at least according to David Meade. Meade has put together his own timeline for the Biblical Apocalypse and connected it with the hypothetical (that is, made up) Nibiru cataclysm, which doomsday nuts have been claiming is due to destroy the world or at least human civilization any minute now for the last several decades.

He has tied the disaster to a number of Biblical prophecies and passages, including Revelation 12:1. This passage reads: “A great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. And being with child, she cried out in her travail and was in anguish of delivery."

Mr Meade claims the “sign in the sky” refers to the stunning eclipse experienced last month. He explained: “The great sign of The Woman as described in revelation 12:1-2 forms and lasts for only a few hours. According to computer generated astronomical models, this sign has never before occurred in human history. It will occur once on September 23, 2017. It will never occur again. When it occurs, it places the Earth immediately before the time of the Sixth Seal of Revelation. During this time frame on September 23, 2017, the moon appears under the feet of the Constellation Virgo. The Sun appears to precisely clothe Virgo.”

Theorists also claim natural disaster signal the approach of Planet X, as the huge planetary body would interfere with the Earth. They say the high number of serious hurricanes to have hit the Caribbean so early in the season, plus the large number of earthquakes striking across the globe, prove disaster is near. However, the scientific community has dismissed claims Nibiru is a legitimate concern, claiming it is merely a result of overactive imaginations.

So yes, this weekend, September 23rd 2017, is the end of the world. You know, if you believe in anything like that. The problem with the Nibiru idea is that if a planet-sized object were really close enough to Earth to influence hurricanes and earthquakes, we would be able to see it in the sky with our naked eyes quite easily. Astronomers track objects all over the solar system all the time, and they're not about to miss anything the size of a whole planet.

As for the Biblical angle, haven't we see enough of this nonsense already? The whole Millerite notion that we can "time the Apocalypse" has been discredited so many times that I've almost stopped making fun of it - you know, almost. Way too many assumptions go into the Millerite model for it to possibly be considered Biblical literalism, and while it offers a bunch of possible testable claims, none of them have ever turned out to be correct. I think it's about time we gave some serious thought to junking the whole thing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Chockmah

This article is Part Sixteen of a series. Part One can be found here, Part Two can be found here, Part Three can be found here, Part Four can be found here, Part Five can be found here, Part Six can be found here, Part Seven can be found here, Part Eight can be found here, Part Nine can be found here, Part Ten can be found here, Part Eleven can be found here, Part Twelve can be found here, Part Thirteen can be found here, Part Fourteen can be found here, and Part Fifteen can be found here.

Initiation into the sephira of Chockmah is the sixteenth step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Kircher Tree of Life, the second sephira is attributed to the zodiac as a whole, and the corresponding vision is "The Vision of God Face-to-Face." The word Chockmah means Wisdom, which alludes to active engagement with the universe at a cosmic level. It is the active counterpart of Binah, Understanding, which alludes to receptive comprehension of the universe at a cosmic level.

The sephiroth have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings. This allows you to integrate magical principles and forces into your life more quickly and effectively.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Only "Counterfeit Christians" Support Religious Freedom

For many years now, the United States Air Force has been infested with fundamentalist Christians. For whatever reason, this particular branch of the service has acted like a magnet for evangelicals who join the military. I don't necessarily want to deny them the opportunity to associate with people who share their beliefs, but at the same time this concentration is making the Air Force downright inhospitable to people with different beliefs, even different strains of Christianity. Recently, an Air Force Chaplain called out "counterfeit Christians" who are committing the terrible sin of upholding the Constitution.

A U.S. Air Force chaplain who ministers to thousands of men and women at an Ohio base is asserting that Christians in the U.S. Armed Forces “serve Satan” and are “grossly in error” if they support service members' right to practice other faiths.

In an article posted on BarbWire.com three days ago, Captain Sonny Hernandez, an Air Force Reserve chaplain for the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, criticized Christian service members who rely on the Constitution “and not Christ.”

He wrote: “Counterfeit Christians in the Armed forces will appeal to the Constitution, and not Christ, and they have no local church home—which means they have no accountability for their souls (Heb. 13:17). This is why so many professing Christian service members will say: We ‘support everyone’s right’ to practice their faith regardless if they worship a god different from ours because the Constitution protects this right.”

Hernandez continued: “Christian service members who openly profess and support the rights of Muslims, Buddhists, and all other anti-Christian worldviews to practice their religions—because the language in the Constitution permits—are grossly in error, and deceived.”

I would have a lot less ire for fundamentalist Christians if they could just mind their own damn business. It is entirely possible to follow the Christian faith and at the same time support the rights of others to practice their own religious traditions. "Sharing the good news" really shouldn't mean little more than shitting all over people who disagree with you, but within many of these conservative Christian communities that's exactly how they interpret it.

The fact is that members of the United States Military swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and that same Constitution states clearly that our government cannot support one religious belief over another - a point that Hernandez doesn't even dispute in his comments here. So he's telling his congregation that actually, they shouldn't support the Constitution and instead support his religion. Because what, the Constitution is just "sort of a guideline?"

Can you imagine how this would go if Hernandez was, say, a Muslim? He'd be fired right away if he said that everybody serving in the Air Force had to submit to Allah and deny Christians the right to practice. That's really the same as what he's saying here, and in a world where all religions had equal standing he should be fired for it as well. If he isn't, let's just say that this is what Christian privilege looks like and leave it at that.

And can we all agree that having people who believe in a literal apocalypse and don't necessarily see it as a bad thing in charge of America's nuclear arsenal just might be sub-optimal? That's a real danger, and let me point out that despite it, I still support the rights of fundamentalist Christians in the Air Force to believe whatever they want. They just need to be willing to accept that everybody else has those rights, too.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Satanic Temple Versus Abortion Restrictions

The Missouri case brought by The Satanic Temple challenging two abortion restrictions in the state has been working its way through the court system since 2015. On Monday, arguments before a state court finally began in the case. The case really should be a slam dunk according to the constitution, especially with regards to the requirement that anyone seeking an abortion consider a bunch of made-up propaganda supplied by conservative Christian groups. A legal argument could possibly be made for a waiting period in general, but if that period is intended to force those seeking abortion to "consider" the religious beliefs of a particular denomination, that also represents a clear-cut violation of church and state separation.

Missouri’s recent stroke of good fortune in the reproductive rights realm may have to do with intervention from the fiery underworld. On Monday, the Satanic Temple argued in a Missouri court that the state’s abortion restrictions violate worshippers’ rights to free religious practice. The organization is challenging two Missouri laws: one that requires patients to look at unscientific anti-abortion propaganda and another that forces them to wait 72 hours between their initial consultations and a second appointments for their abortions. Satanic Temple members argue that their religion prizes rational, independent thought and that forcing Satanists to read anti-abortion pamphlets and “consider a religious proposition with which they do not agree” during the 72-hour waiting period constitutes a violation of their beliefs.

The Satanic challenge to the laws began in 2015, when a pregnant Satanist from rural Missouri identified as “Mary” tried to use a religious waiver to exempt herself from the state’s many requirements designed to prevent women from going forward with abortions. Mary said she had the $800 she needed to get the abortion, but to get to the clinic in St. Louis for two separate appointments, she needed to save up for gas money, a hotel, and child care. As a Satanist, Mary said, she believes her body is “inviolable”—thus, a mandatory waiting period with no medical justification that hampers her bodily autonomy inflicts a “substantial burden” on her “sincerely held religious beliefs,” as does the law that requires she be informed that “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.” The temple filed both state and federal lawsuits challenging the restrictions; a judge tossed out the federal case in 2016 because Mary was no longer pregnant.

Regardless of whether or not you approve of abortion, it seems to me that the whole idea of having to sit through a bunch of propaganda that has been repeatedly debunked by actual science (that is, lies) is laughable. Or at least it should be. It's the kind of nonsense that you would expect to find in a totalitarian dictatorship like the world of George Orwell's 1984, not the United States. Informing people of the real risks of abortion before they have one is reasonable. Informing them of imaginary ones? Not so much. And as for the waiting period restrictions, those become more onerous as the number of abortion providers in a state declines, especially for people who live in rural areas far from large cities where most clinics are located.

So far most of The Satanic Temple's legal victories have been largely symbolic, like over whether religious monuments get displayed in particular places, or whether members of minority religions get to offer prayers at public functions. But if they win this one, the ruling will make a big difference in peoples' lives. And it seems to me that it falls right in line with the push for "religious freedom" that the evangelicals are always on about. If you have different beliefs about abortion than conservative Christians do, the law should respect that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Voynich Manuscript Solution Isn't

Last week a researcher named Nicholas Gibbs claimed to have finally deciphered the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, a text from the Renaissance that has defied translation for centuries. Gibbs' "solution" garnered a lot of attention, but then experts on the manuscript weighed in. Gibbs' basic idea is not necessarily wrong, but it also isn't that original. The text does look like a bunch of abbreviated Latin, especially when compared with other texts of the period - but the abbreviations aren't standard, so they could mean just about anything.

As soon as Gibbs' article hit the Internet, news about it spread rapidly through social media (we covered it at Ars too), arousing the skepticism of cipher geeks and scholars alike. As Harvard's Houghton Library curator of early modern books John Overholt put it on Twitter, "We're not buying this Voynich thing, right?" Medievalist Kate Wiles, an editor at History Today, replied, "I've yet to see a medievalist who does. Personally I object to his interpretation of abbreviations."

The weirdly-illustrated 15th century book has been the subject of speculation and conspiracy theories since its discovery in 1912. In his article, Gibbs claimed that he'd figured out the Voynich Manuscript was a women's health manual whose odd script was actually just a bunch of Latin abbreviations. He provided two lines of translation from the text to "prove" his point.

However, this isn't sitting well with people who actually read medieval Latin. Medieval Academy of America director Lisa Fagin Davis told The Atlantic's Sarah Zhang, "They’re not grammatically correct. It doesn’t result in Latin that makes sense." She added, "Frankly I’m a little surprised the TLS published it...If they had simply sent to it to the Beinecke Library, they would have rebutted it in a heartbeat." The Beinecke Library at Yale is where the Voynich Manuscript is currently kept. Davis noted that a big part of Gibbs' claim rests on the idea that the Voynich Manuscript once had an index that would provide a key to the abbreviations. Unfortunately, he has no evidence for such an index, other than the fact that the book does have a few missing pages.

The idea that the book is a medical treatise on women's health, however, might turn out to be correct. But that wasn't Gibbs' discovery. Many scholars and amateur sleuths had already reached that conclusion, using the same evidence that Gibbs did. Essentially, Gibbs rolled together a bunch of already-existing scholarship and did a highly speculative translation, without even consulting the librarians at the institute where the book resides.

A couple of points here. The complete failure to decipher the manuscript points to it being a code rather than a cipher. A cipher is a translation that is performed letter by letter, while a code is translated word by word. It is known in cryptography circles that without some sort of reference or code book, it is basically mathematically impossible to crack all but the simplest codes. So something like Gibbs' "abbreviated Latin" might be in play here, but we don't know what the code reference might have been. It could have been an index of some kind, though the manuscript only has a few missing pages. It might also be an entirely separate text that so far has not been found.

But basically, all of this is old news. All Gibbs really did was assemble a bunch of research put together by other people and call it a "solution," when in fact it's no such thing. Looking at the text and saying "this is a code" is not exactly a difficult conclusion to reach. You can say "the code book was in the index," but nobody knows if there even was one. The missing pages could be something else entirely. The diagrams do suggest a treatise on women's health, but again, this isn't Gibbs discovery either. It has also been noted previously by other researchers.

Gibbs' day job is as a television writer, so it has been suggested that his work may be associated with some sort of upcoming television series - maybe one of those highly speculative "documentaries" that air on cable networks like the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see on that one.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Binah

This article is Part Fifteen of a series. Part One can be found here, Part Two can be found here, Part Three can be found here, Part Four can be found here, Part Five can be found here, Part Six can be found here, Part Seven can be found here, Part Eight can be found here, Part Nine can be found here, Part Ten can be found here, Part Eleven can be found here, Part Twelve can be found here, Part Thirteen can be found here, and Part Fourteen can be found here.

Initiation into the sephira of Binah is the fifteenth step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Kircher Tree of Life, the third sephira is attributed to Saturn, and the corresponding visions are "The Vision of Sorrow" and "The Vision of Wonder." The word Binah means Understanding, which alludes to comprehension of the fundamental nature of the universe at a cosmic level.

The sephira have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings. This allows you to integrate magical principles and forces into your life more quickly and effectively.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Christian Wizard Battles Hurricane Irma


The thing that I never really understood about Christians who are down on working magick is that a lot of them work magick all the time. Now I sort of understand that Christianity's oversimplified model of the spirit world means that working with "demons" - that is, chthonic spirits - would be considered bad. But a lot of Christian magicians work with angels and the like, or just call on Jesus directly.

Here's a case in point - evangelist Kat Kerr working magick against Hurricane Irma.

For some reason, Christian “Prophetess” Kat Kerr thinks she can stop Hurricane Irma by “taking authority over it” and using her scepter to crush the weather. Because Jesus.

"...I make a ruling that storm will leave this area, will leave the coast. I will not tolerate its presence anywhere on the coast of Florida. And I’m commanding it to leave and get back out in the ocean. At the same time, it’ll dissipate. So I command the millibars in that hurricane, you RISE right now. You keep rising, and rising, and rising till the storm will be downgraded, downgraded, downgraded..."

She should’ve at least used a lightsaber. It would’ve accomplished the same thing and been more colorful.

This video was posted Monday, and since then Irma has intensified. It also is headed straight for Florida. So clearly, this spell didn't work. Now I don't mean to knock Christians who practice magick - there are plenty of them out there, they just usually call it "prayer." But if they're praying for some particular outcome, rather than simply as a devotional practice, what they're doing is magick. And they should own that.

As for Kerr, I wonder how many donations she's raised based on her alleged spiritual powers. My guess is those folks all got ripped off, because clearly she's not a very good magician. A good magician should have gotten some sort of an effect that was unusual or at least a little hard to explain. But Irma so far has followed the meteorological predictions perfectly.

I suppose it remains to be seen if anything strange happens, but the hurricane has almost reached Florida. Given the nature of her charge, Kerr is running out of time. And so is Jesus, seeing as he's who she's calling on to get it done.