Sunday, August 28, 2016

Everybody's Got Demons But Me

So yes, it's another one of these.

Fundamentalist Evangelicals have to be some of the most paranoid people in the world. Recently, Colorado pastor and talk radio host Kevin Swanson explained that basically everyone, including Steven Spielberg, Lady Gaga, Charles Darwin, and Aristotle (!) were under the control of either demons or the devil himself.

I know that figures in the entertainment industry get this all the time, and that Darwin is basically an Evangelical punching bag, but Aristotle? I don't think he even believed in "the devil" because, you know, he lived in ancient Greece before Christianity even existed.

Swanson took a rather hard line on the issue, declaring at one point that Steven Spielberg and Lady Gaga, along with Charles Darwin, Aristotle, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, all are or have been “possessed by Satan” or “under the sway of the devil.” Swanson reminded his audience that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,” meaning that “we’re not fundamentally up against Steven Spielberg, Lady Gaga or Charles Darwin, we’re up against their ideas”—and those ideas are of the devil.

“Now, Charles Darwin, Lady Gaga and Steven Spielberg are under the control of the Evil One,” he explained. “1 John 5:19 says the whole world is under the sway of the Evil One, under the sway of the devil, the devil has absolute control over them. Now, again, these are the presuppositions that are not taken on by those who want to dally with the world’s ideas. They don’t see that Aristotle is under the sway of the Evil One, under the absolute control of this very powerful, malignant force called the devil, and they don’t see that Steven Spielberg and Lady Gaga and Charles Darwin are under the absolute sway, the control, the force and the power of the devil himself. So therefore they absorb any of the ideas that may come their way through these means.”

The modern fundamentalist movement only dates back to about the middle of the Nineteenth Century. If you ever were looking for proof, this is it. Aristotle influenced the philosophy and theology of the Christian church for more than a thousand years. Thomas Aquinas based much of his work on Aristotlean methods. I realize that many Evangelicals have it in for the Roman Catholics, but for the longest time Roman Catholicism was Western European Christianity.

Also, Creationists make the argument from first causes all the time in their tirades against evolution, first proposed by - you guessed it - Aristotle and adapted by Aquinas into the form that we generally hear it today. Seriously, does Swanson have any idea what he's talking about? Let's just say that signs point to "no."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Magick as a Fashion Statement

Stupid fashion trends come and go all the time. Sometimes they're not even trends, but rather one reporter's idea of things that are becoming more popular based on his or her limited personal experience. According to this article from Salon, a new trend that the article dubs "mysticore" is starting to emerge. Essentially, it apparently consists of something that I have expressed contempt for on multiple occasions - the appropriation of elements from real magick as fashion statements.

Stores specializing in metaphysical sundries (think ritual candles, blended oils, sacred herbs) like Spellbound Sky and House of Intuition in Los Angeles, while not brand-new, are suddenly crowded. In Brooklyn, Witches of Bushwick has evolved from a venue on the underground party circuit to a social collective that celebrates witchcraft as a feminist art and collaborates with fashion companies like Chromat. Of course, for those who prefer whipping up potions at home, several new witch- and occult-themed subscription boxes deliver the magical arts to the doorstep.

Not just witches are enjoying a cultural renaissance, though. All manner of magic is in the air, as the New Age movement’s lighter granola-and-Zen fare has given way to the practice of a more modern mysticism, where conversations about conjuring, personal shamans and powerful potions can be intense as they are ubiquitous. While social media and feminism have brought witchcraft to the fore, the new kaleidoscopic array of spell casting, ritual observing (from pagan holidays to full moons) and crystal charging draws from traditional mysticism, magic and paganism. Served buffet style to an eager audience of open-minded converts, it’s shining a white light on everything from fashion and health to politics.

This may be the most prevalent, hidden-in-plain sight trend that you couldn’t quite put a finger on since “normcore.” Last fall the folks at trend-forecasting firm K-Hole — which coined the term “normcore” — looked into the cultural crystal ball to release a paper dubbed “A Report on Doubt.” Normcore, that infinitely hashtag-able trend that tapped into a “post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness,” stood against style clich├ęs and aggressive street-style peacocking — it promised freedom through assimilation. After an endless stream of articles about how wearing dad jeans was indeed the ultimate hipster power move, time had come for the cultural pendulum to swing. K-Hole’s new prediction was that logic and “sameness” were becoming relics and people were about to head into the mystic.

As a point, I'm not even sure that "normcore" was a real fashion trend. I mean, how is "not bothering" fashion? It's highly possible that the firm coining the term was simply tracking the decline of fashion's relevance to the culture as a whole. So they identified that more people had stopped caring. To me, that just sounds like people wising up to the fact that going to a lot of trouble to look a certain way is basically bullshit. If you look relatively ordinary, you usually will have a lot more opportunities for success in your life.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Do Aliens Live Here?

The short answer is that we have no idea. But the more intriguing answer is that they could - and we might even be able get there with the right kind of spacecraft. Astronomers have recently announced the discovery of a rocky planet in orbit around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. What's more, this planet lies in the star's habitable zone, with expected surface temperatures that would allow liquid water to be present.

So if aliens have visited Earth, is this their home world? Statistically it's a good guess, since unlike in science fiction television and movies, interstellar travel is incredibly difficult and consumes vast amounts of energy. From a purely statistical standpoint, we can assume that it's far more likely for visiting aliens to come from another system close by. Of course, whether or not they've visited at all is still debated.

Researchers have long looked to Alpha Centauri for study. Now, they want us to go there.

Programs like Mission Centaur intend to design and build a space mission with a small telescope to point at the star system. It would look for exoplanets by imaging or other techniques that could find more of them around these three stars.

Given how long it took us to confirm Proxima b and the fact that the researchers encountered a puzzling extra signal in some of their data and models, it's entirely possible that there are more planets to be found.

It is also the target of the Starshot project, which aims to create and send ultra-fast light-driven nanocraft that would reach the system 20 years after launch and beam home images. This is on the list of Breakthrough initiatives, an effort whose board includes Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ignorance is not a Virtue

A couple days ago, The Independent reported that an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect based in New York has banned women from attending universities. The justification for the ban is that university education is somehow dangerous for women, which really appears to be just as dumb as it sounds.

The strict Satmar sect issued the decree, seen by The Independent, warning that university education for women is “dangerous”. Written in Yiddish, the decree warns: “It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah.

“We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.

"We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.” The decree was issued from the sect’s base in New York and will apply to followers of the faith group around the world.

There's a line in Liber Librae, a text that first showed up in the original Golden Dawn order and was later adapted by Aleister Crowley and published in The Equinox. It goes like this:

The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and willfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Joshua Harris is the Devil

Yeah, I know, that headline is totally hyperbolic; I don't believe that anybody is literally the Devil and never have. But hear me out.

Joshua Harris is the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a bestselling book that popularized Christian "purity culture" in the 1990s. Harris' book rejected the concept of dating entirely in favor of the outdated concept of "courtship," and recommended that couples not even kiss (!) before marriage. The book was very popular with overprotective Christian parents, and many Evangelical children were raised with its warped approach to sexuality.

Slate recently published an article about Harris, and how he is in the process of rethinking the impact of his book. He solicits comments regarding the book on his website, and is grappling with statements from many individuals who feel that they were irrevocably harmed by growing up with the worldview it espouses.

Harris was 21 years old when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He was a virgin who had been home-schooled his whole life—an unusual profile for the author of a book proposing “a new attitude toward romance and relationships,” as the subtitle put it. He married at 23 and later served as the pastor of an evangelical megachurch in Maryland for more than a decade.

Over the years he wrote more books about dating and marriage, including Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Nineteen years after I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he is the father of three kids—two of them teenagers—and he is pursuing formal education for the first time in his life. And these days, he’s having very mixed feelings about the book that turned him into a Christian celebrity.

“Part of the reason this has been so hard for me is that I have so much of my identity tied up in these books. It’s what I’m known for,” Harris told me recently from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he moved his family last year to enroll in a graduate program at evangelical Regent College. “It’s like, well, crap, is the biggest thing I’ve done in my life this really huge mistake?”

So it took him this long to realize that a 21-year-old with little social or dating experience might have gotten something wrong about relationships? Seriously, that should be a no-brainer. Based on his acceptance of the purity culture interpretation of scripture, he doesn't even seem to have known his Bible particularly well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Breaking Rocks for Good Fortune

While there are not very many ceremonial magicians out there, folk magick is another thing entirely. Many people of all sorts of different religious traditions perform simple rituals during the course of their daily lives that certainly fit the description of magick. Last week, Huffington Post covered the Bolivian Catholic practice of breaking rocks in order to obtain good fortune and prosperity.

The rite is performed to call for the blessing of the Virgin of Urkupina. Legend has it that Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd girl to instruct her to take rocks from this dried river that miraculously turned into silver when she reached home.

On Tuesday, pilgrims struck rocks to try to improve their fortunes. When a rock is easily split, their wish will be soon fulfilled. If believers have more difficulty striking and splitting the rock, it will take more time.

“You can ask for a house, a car, all your wishes are fulfilled,” said believer Ricardo Tarqui. “I broke the rock with a second blow and in a third attempt. I have been able to buy a house and also a car.”

I realize that believers don't think about it this way, but from a technical perspective this practice is the same thing as a magical spell. It's not even slightly ambiguous, like prayer that is performed for purely devotional rather than practical reasons. Adherents engage in a specific activity associated with a particular spiritual entity in order to obtain specific advantages and possessions in the material world.

As for whether or not it works, I have no idea. Data is not the plural of anecdote. At the same time, all the elements are present for there to be a real paranormal effect going on, and my guess is that at least some practitioners do indeed benefit.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Angels of the Zodiac Presentation

This is a rough transcript of my presentation on the Angels of the Zodiac that I gave at Leaping Laughter Lodge in Minneapolis this last Saturday. A longer and more detailed treatment of this material can be found in the new limited edition anthology Liber Spirituum, currently available from Azoth Press.

Most of the attention of the Western magical tradition seems to be directed at the systems of the elements and planets. To some extent this has to do with how most schools and teachers structure the magical path. First, students learn to work with the elements during their “Outer Order” work, and then work with the planets to perform “Inner Order” operations. The signs of the Zodiac are attributed to the second sephira, Chockmah, and therefore from a sephirothic perspective represent a higher level system than the previous two.

However, in addition to this sephira, Liber 777 attributes the signs of the Zodiac to twelve of the twenty-two paths on the Tree of Life, and these attributions are used for practical Zodiacal magick. These operations are performed in a similar manner to the planetary work, and involve conjuring the appropriate angel by the appropriate divine name. In this form the signs represent forces of the natural world, and it is not necessary to have attained realization of Chockmah in order to work with them.

The terms “Angel” and “Demon” are thrown around a lot by organized Christianity, and they are generally defined in a simplistic manner. Angels are good, and Demons are evil. Obviously, though, this is little more than a value judgment than a technical distinction. In the real world, spirits may be classified as Celestial or Cthonic, according to their particular natures. Celestial spirits are attributed to sky and the stars, while Chthonic spirits are attributed to the earth and the underworld.

According to Christian dogma, Celestial spirits are good spirits called angels and work for God, and Chthonic spirits are evil spirits called Demons and work for Satan. The real spirit world is far less organized; you cannot determine how a spirit will be disposed towards you as a magician based solely on its sphere of influence. While it is true that in general, Cthonic spirits tend to be more hostile and Celestial spirits tend to be friendlier, the various spirits have individual personalities just like humans do. So there are plenty of hostile Celestials and friendly Cthonics.