Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Remembering Jack Parsons, Rocket Scientist

Many people outside of Thelema have never heard of Jack Parsons. He was a member of Agape Lodge from 1941 until his death in 1952, which at the time was one of the few functioning OTO bodies in the world. Outside of his occult interests, though, Parsons was also an actual rocket scientist, and a good one at that. He was instrumental in the founding of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (sometimes joking dubbed "Jack Parsons Laboratory" at the time) and an expert on solid fuel rocket propellants still used in JATO units, missiles, and space shuttle boosters.

Wired has an article up today about Parsons and his mysterious absence from much of NASA's official history. The article speculates that despite Parsons' importance to the American space program, his practice of Thelemic occultism was considered far out of the mainstream and thus his contributions were downplayed. His life seems to have been considered something of an embarrassment to the powers that be, even though it was likely his interest in uncovering the mysteries of the universe that led him to make key scientific breakthroughs in the first place.

Parsons' legacy as an engineer and chemist has been somewhat overshadowed by his interest in the occult and, and has led to what some critics describe as a rewriting of the history books. "He's lived in the footnotes since his death. He's a forgotten figure," says biographer George Pendle, author of Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parson (Jack's full name). Pendle did an "archeological dig" into Parsons' life after finding a mention of him in a science book. "The more I dug, the more bizarre and extreme the story seemed."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Censoring Alternative Religions

As I mentioned back when David Cameron first proposed filtering "esoteric web sites" in the UK, Internet filtering is pretty much always a disaster. Companies have been trying to create working algorithms since the early 1990's, with at least one company back then even going so far as to have employees manually categorize web pages. Even their filtering software failed to distinguish objectionable content from informative pages, and when faced with pattern recognition that a human being can't do correctly, a computer is going to fail every time.

Nonetheless, companies are still creating filtering software products and hoping that customers will be too ignorant to realize that what they're selling is essentially snake oil. Recently a Missouri library was sued over the "Netsweeper" software that it used to filter Internet content. In addition to legitimately objectionable material, it blocked references to Wicca, Native American spirituality, astrology, and other alternative religion sites.

The ACLU sued last year on behalf of Salem resident Anaka Hunter. Salem is a largely Christian community of 5,000 residents in the Missouri Ozarks. Hunter was researching death and death rituals in minority religions in an effort to get more in touch with her Native American roots through spirituality, the ACLU said.

The library’s filtering software blocked access to sites about Wicca, a pagan religion that worships nature and involves witchcraft. Hunter was also unable to access sites about Native American religions. The suit said the library’s Netsweeper software blocked sites such as the official webpage of the Wiccan church; the Wikipedia entry for Wicca; Astrology.com; and the Encyclopedia on Death and Dying, which contains discussions on death and death rituals for several cultures and religions.

Sensibly, the judge ruled that the filtering software was out of line and could not be used as long as it censored alternative religious content. It should be clear that spirituality is not obscenity, whether or not it's part of a mainstream religious denomination, and libraries have a compelling public interest to provide information about it. But companies know that their filters don't distinguish sites well, so they generally default to blocking everything even marginally related to categories defined as restricted. Libraries need to be especially cautious when working with filters, to make sure that legitimate information sources are always available to their patrons.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Defensive Occultism by Robert Rubin

Back in January Robert Rubin sent me a copy of his book, Defensive Occultism, to review. I read through the book when I received it, but only now have gotten around to writing up my review. My impression is that it is an excellent introduction to magical self-defense, especially for those who know little about the magical arts. Experienced practitioners will likely know much of the material, but everybody starts somewhere - and any experienced practitioner who doesn't know much of it probably should.

Robert Rubin is an occult investigator from the Philippines. As he describes it in the book, an occult investigator is kind of like a cross between a paranormal investigator and the ceremonial magick equivalent of an exorcist. When confronted with an individual who claims to be under psychic or magical attack, he investigates the situation and attempts to devise a solution that will resolve the problem.

It should first be noted that the book is mostly targeted to what I imagine would be Rubin's clientele - individuals who may have never given much thought to the existence of magick or paranormal phenomena, but find themselves confronting a problem that they can't explain. So it includes a fair amount of the sort of introductory material found in other beginning magick books regarding the reality of magick, and assurances that encountering paranormal phenomena does not imply mental illness.

That being said, as with the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism the first and in some ways the most important step for an occult investigator is to verify that an actual attack is taking place. Rubin correctly notes that many people who believe they are under psychic or magical attack are actually suffering from psychological problems or mental illness and would be better treated by a therapist or psychiatrist. When this is the case, clients are referred to the proper medical authorities.

In my experience, inclusion of this step tends to be one of the main differences between fraudulent practitioners and real ones. Every few months I see another story about a purported psychic who took advantage of a mentally ill client, telling them that their suspicions of being under a curse were absolutely correct and that the only way the curse could be lifted was by paying the psychic large sums of money or other valuables.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The War on Easter

It's been a little while since I went off on the Poor Oppressed Christians, but religious holidays always seem to bring out the worst in them. In response to an Easter display in Chicago's Daley Plaza, a group of atheists have hung banners advocating for the separation of church and state. Naturally, the Poor Oppressed Christians are outraged that anyone could be expressing a different set of beliefs than their own, because to them difference of opinion constitutes a war. As usual, they can count on the collaboration of Fox News, which is the only major network that gives much time to this sort of breathless silliness.

Two eight-foot banners featuring Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams promoting the secular views of our founding fathers. One banner reads "In reason we trust", the other will say "Keep state and religion separate." The exhibit, aimed at countering the Jesus in Daley Plaza displaying a display that is going on today or going up today, it's been going on for eight years there in Chicago, it'll feature a nineteen foot tall cross and a 10-foot tall image of the resurrected Jesus. Has Easter evolved into an occasion to demean religious beliefs and Christianity?

Of course, in the mind of any reasonable person there's a huge distinction between demeaning and disagreeing - but not in Poor Oppressed Christian land. This is exactly the same debate going on in Oklahoma and other places about public resources promoting particular beliefs. It's simple - if I have a right to put up a display supporting my beliefs, so does anyone else. Easter often falls during the Thelemic Holy Season, and I can only imagine how hard these idiots would squeal and whine if I were to post a banner honoring Aleister Crowley and Thelema from March 20 to April 10.

One of these days I'm going to put a post up here about real Christian persecution, not this imaginary crap. There are other countries in the world where conversion to Christianity is punishable by death. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Poor Oppressed Christians somehow manage to be under dire existential threat from "bad manners." It's about time their pleas for special privileges be met with the ridicule that they deserve by every major media outlet, including Fox News.

Oh, and the image doesn't have much to do with this story, I just thought it was funny. I addressed the truth about Easter eggs here on Augoeides back in 2012 if anybody needs a refresher. Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nessie Spotted By Satellite?

For some time now I've been putting forth the hypothesis that if the Loch Ness Monster exists it most likely is a very large sturgeon. Recently an anomaly was spotted in the loch by amateur monster hunters using satellite photos. It's hard to say, though, whether the image is some sort of photographic artifact or an actual picture of a creature swimming just below the surface.

The location was just south of Dores, were beamed from Apple's satellite map app and could only be viewed on some iPads and iPhones.

The hunters Peter Thain from Northumberland and Andy Dixon County Durham, were amazed by their find.

Mr Dixon said yesterday: 'It was purely by accident that I came across the image. I was trawling through satellite transmissions of different parts of the country and I thought I would try Loch Ness.

'I could see something big under the water and I saved it to my phone. My first thought was that it was the monster and I contacted Gary Campbell of the Official Loch Ness Monster Club.

I was a believer in Nessie even before this but I had never been. Now I am so excited, I can't wait to get up north and pay a visit - with a camera of course.

'Unfortunately I have not seen anything since but I will keep looking.'

The outline of the object in the loch does closely resemble a sturgeon viewed from above. However, the one problem with that hypothesis is that the object is about fifty feet long. The largest sturgeon ever caught was about half that size. There is only one known fish species that is thought to grow that large, the whale shark, which is a filter-feeder native to tropical oceans. Such a fish could not survive in the cold fresh water of Loch Ness, even though it would have a similar outline.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Poveglia Island For Sale

If you happen to have millions of dollars just sitting around and are in the market for your own private reputedly haunted island, today is your lucky day. The Italian government recently announced that Poveglia, a small island in the Venetian lagoon, is up for sale. According to local folklore, the island is said to be one of the world's most haunted places, and thus this is the perfect setup for a new horror film. Think about it - a developer buys the island and puts up luxury condominiums. Once the new tenants move in, the angry spirits of the island take their revenge and kill every last one of them in imaginative ways except for the main protagonist, who narrowly escapes at the very end. It's a perfect blockbuster!

The trouble started back in the late 19th century when Poveglia served as a checkpoint for ships going to Venice. After a pair of ships carrying plague victims arrived in 1793, the island was sealed off and turned into a quarantine zone for people with infectious diseases, a role it served for over a century. It goes without saying that many of these people died on the island during this time, leading to the widespread belief that Poveglia is haunted. It didn't help when the place was converted into a hospital for the mentally ill in 1922. Rumor has it, the hospital was home to a number of crude lobotomies, performed by a doctor who'd been driven mad by the ghosts. He later flung himself off the bell tower.

These days, Poveglia's pretty quiet. Still owned by the Italian government, it's been abandoned for the past 50 years, though ghost hunters like to make the pilgrimage whenever they can. One American TV presenter even says he was briefly possessed while visiting the island. The Italian government is now offering a 99-year lease to whomever's brave enough to take it over. No price information is available yet—but they think it would make a great destination hotel.

I'll never forget the unintentionally hilarious episode of "Ghost Adventures" that was shot on the island. I'm sure that the poor family they brought over there was pretty frightened at the end of the night, but the whole thing was so over the top - to the point that the host of the show had to remind them that "laughter is not appropriate" when one of them giggled at his initial histrionics about how terrible the place was. The thing is, his tirade was so hokey that I was laughing too. I don't recall the family encountering much in the way of paranormal activity either, they just managed to repeatedly scare themselves bumbling around the place in the dark. So are there any real ghosts there? As usual, it's hard to say. But if the island gets developed many more people will likely have an opportunity to find out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The New Age BS Generator

Have you ever wondered where manufacturers of New Age products come up with the gibberish that passes for deep and meaningful statements to members of their target audience? If so, look no further. This webpage cleverly automates the process of generating New Age copy, and the results don't appear to differ much from the real thing. It's not a Markov chain; as far as I can tell the underlying logic is more like a set of Mad Libs mixed with randomly selected sentence fragments. So it holds together just like real promo text does, and it can be adapted to any product or service with a few small modifications.

As an example, let's say that I was looking to convince New Agers that they needed to buy my books on Enochian magick. That would be pretty smart of me if I could pull it off, because as far as I can tell Enochian magicians number in perhaps the thousands but New Agers are legion. And hey, I do talk about working with angels. New Agers love angels! Here's the text that the generator came up with, modified a little to refer to my Enochian books. The bold text is what I inserted, the rest is automatically generated.

The goal of electromagnetic resonance is to plant the seeds of synchronicity rather than discontinuity.

This is the path of Enochian Magick revealed by Angels.

This life is nothing short of a condensing quantum leap of interstellar presence. We exist as ultra-sentient particles. Consciousness consists of molecular structures of quantum energy. “Quantum” means an evolving of the non-dual.

We are at a crossroads of growth and turbulence. We are in the midst of an endless unfolding of potentiality that will align us with the solar system itself. Our conversations with other entities have led to a deepening of pseudo-self-aware consciousness.

Traveller, look within and awaken yourself. If you have never experienced this ozmosis devoid of self, it can be difficult to self-actualize. It can be difficult to know where to begin.

The Mastering Enochian Magick series will show you the way.

Flow is a constant. Divinity is the healing of intuition, and of us. Nothing is impossible. As you heal, you will enter into infinite health that transcends understanding. Without growth, one cannot grow. You must take a stand against illusion. Pain is born in the gap where empathy has been excluded.

Delusion is the antithesis of truth. We can no longer afford to live with pain. You may be ruled by materialism without realizing it. Do not let it confront the growth of your path.

Buy the Mastering Enochian Magick series by Scott Michael Stenwick today!

Pretty good, right? Clearly, I'll be a New Age success in no time flat! I expect my sales will go stratospheric any moment now...

A suggestion for enhancing the generator might be to automate this process further by accepting the name of a product or company up front and then integrating it into the text, like I did with the subject and title of my book. It shouldn't be that hard to program, as it seems like most of the work should already be done and the name could just be inserted into certain of the "noun" positions. Better still, set it up so the information can be passed as parameters in the URL and return the text, so it can be seamlessly added into any web page.