Friday, May 22, 2015

It's Demons, All The Way Down!

It's been a little while since we heard from Pat Robertson, now well on his way to getting his own tag here on Augoeides. This week, though, another of his bizarre claims surfaced. During a recent installment of his 700 Club television program, the evangelist seemed to claim that eating disorders were a form of demonic possession. I'm sure that will come as a big surprise to all those who were successfully treated for such disorders without even once resorting to exorcisms.

Today, “The 700 Club” aired a report on a rehab facility for people with eating disorders, which got Pat Robertson to thinking about someone he knew who had had an eating disorder as well as Karen Carpenter, the singer who died after suffering from anorexia.

Robertson agreed that those with eating disorders need “a whole rehab program,” but added that such disorders could also “be treated as a demonic possession thing. This can be treated as a demonic possession thing,” he said, “it is like a demon and it needs to be rebuked and cast out.”

To be fair to Robertson, the argument could be made that he was saying an eating disorder was "like a demon" rather than an actual demon. The thing is, though, Robertson seems to believe that all sorts of things are caused by literal demons. For example, if he's really talking about something psychological, why would he contend that demons can be attached to thrift store clothes? That doesn't sound very psychological.

He does correctly point out that regular rehab programs are needed in addition to spiritual help, but I still think it's pretty ridiculous to support the mindset that literal demons cause or exacerbate all of our problems. And understand, I'm a magician, I work with spirits, and I'm convinced that they can cause problems for people under some circumstances.

But far more often than not, normal causes are at fault - which is precisely why spiritual influences are called "paranormal." If they were ubiquitous or commonplace, they would just be considered part of normal life.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Misunderstanding Mystery Traditions

Apparently the debate over "astral initiations" is back on. This is largely an issue within the Golden Dawn tradition, and it's mostly due to the actions of one person, Robert Zink, who heads up the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. This group pioneered the concept of astral or long-distance initiation years ago amidst a lot of criticism, and I personally count myself among the skeptics. The tradition in which I am a chartered initiator, Ordo Templi Orientis, does no such thing. Our initiations must be conducted in person, and there's a good reason for that. As descendents of Masonry, both Ordo Templi Orientis and the Golden Dawn are fundamentally mystery traditions in addition to being magical orders.

Peregrin Wildoak has written up a critique of astral initiation, based on the idea that an initiation should be done in person because it grounds the result of the operation in Malkuth, the physical plane. Magical orders are generally small, and for many people travel can be difficult, so if a system by which candidates could be initiated at a distance could be developed it would be quite convenient for many people who don't live near a chartered body. But even though healing rituals can be conducted at a distance, they don't work as well as when the patient is physically present - and besides, an initiation is a fundamentally different type of operation.

There is an argument that if absent healing works, so should astral initiation. However, absent healing works by the healer changing the higher subtle selves of the patient. These changes then hopefully manifest down into the physical. Sort of a trickle-down approach to healing, and we all know how well that has worked in the economic sphere, eh? :)

Anyway, even if absent healing works better than trickle-down economics and actually does cause physical health benefits, we simply cannot apply the same logic to the traditional Golden Dawn initiations, which were designed to be conducted simultaneously on all planes: physical, etheric, astral, mental and (hopefully) spiritual. We can look at this from two angles. Firstly, the Golden Dawn initiations stem from the broader lodge tradition which has always required physical initiations. The structure of the initiations themselves work with the physical in many ways, from blindfolding, binding, moving, touching, placing etc the candidate. Secondly, the initiative process takes into account the divinity of the initiate on all planes, recognising the body as sacred, whole and inviolable.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's Just Stretching, Dumbasses!

The Christian hatred of non-sectarian yoga continues to baffle me. Raw Story has an article up today that tells the story of Mike Persi, a man who was wheelchair-bound for many years as the result of an accident.

A member of Mikes congregation, John Taylor, heard about a case where a man regained his ability to walk after intense yoga therapy. John connected Mike with Mitch Menik, a Christian yoga instructor, and after a similar course of treatment Mike was in fact able to walk. However, his church found itself divided over whether his recovery was a miracle or whether it actually came from the devil.

No, really! These folks are trying to figure out whether or not physical therapy is evil. Back in the real world, Mike's recovery was neither a miracle nor dark sorcery; it was his body's natural response to exercises designed to strengthen muscles and improve joint flexibility. The fact that those exercises happened to employ a particular set of poses should be a non-issue, at least to anyone with a modicum of critical thinking skills.

Mike had been wheelchair bound for over three decades, ever since an accident at age 27 left him unable to walk or to speak without stuttering. The odds were long against Mike getting back on his feet. But one week later, an acquaintance who didn’t know about the prayer sent John’s wife a video in which a man with similar injuries regained his ability to walk through intensive yoga therapy. John took it as a sign. So did Mike. So did born-again Christian yoga instructor, Mitch Menik, who even offered to take Mike into his own home during a course of intensive treatment.

When Mike took his first wobbly but unassisted steps, all involved were thrilled and thanked God for a miracle that to their minds was modeled on the ministry of Jesus. But not everyone in Mike and John’s Abundant Living Las Vegas congregation felt the same. When friends set up a GoFundMe page to help Mitch cover income lost during the time he was working with Mike, most parishioners refused to contribute. And when Abundant Living’s pastor blessed the therapy, members (and money) poured out of the church. Many biblical literalists, and charismatic or Pentecostal Christians in particular, are deeply suspicious of yoga, which they see less as a healing or wellness practice and more as a seductive point of entry into the Hindu religion.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stone the Witch!

Esther Horton looks absolutely nothing like this

What is it with the state of Florida? Some of the weirdest stories ever come from there, like this one. A St. Augustine woman named Esther Horton was putting her son in a car seat when she was attacked by her neighbor with a rock. When police arrested the neighbor, she claimed that Horton was a witch and was casting spells against her. It's not clear why the neighbor believed this, or what Horton did that looked "witchy."

A Florida woman who was six months pregnant was attacked by a neighbor with a large rock because she thought she was performing witchcraft. Esther Horton was in her driveway, putting her four-year-old son in a car seat when Annie Olomua came running towards her, screamed an obscenity and threw the rock at her head. Luckily, Horton ducked and it only hit her in the arm.

Horton’s husband was able to restrain Olomua until police arrived, who then arrested the woman for aggravated battery. According to ActionNewsJax, Olomua claimed her neighbors were using witchcraft against her and her family over recent months, but there’s no mention of why exactly Olomua had these suspicions. Was the neighborhood overrun by goths? Did she spy on someone’s extensive crystal collection?

Or maybe Horton wore a lot of black, or a lot of eyeliner. After all, eyeliner abuse is a sure sign of trafficking with the Devil, right? It gets debated back and forth on the Internet how common magical attacks really are, and personally I believe they are relatively rare. Mental illness, on the other hand, afflicts something like one person in four, and I strongly suspect that's what's going on here. According to the local news report, police are evaluating the neighbor to determine whether some sort of mental health evaluation is in order. I expect that it will be.

The other takeaway from this story is that if you believe yourself to be under magical attack, it's much smarter to do something like a good uncrossing ritual than it is to attack random neighbors with rocks. You'd think that would be self-evident, but as this story shows, that may not be the case for everyone.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Could Nessie Be An Otter?

A while back I put forth the hypothesis that the Loch Ness Monster could actually be a large sturgeon. Now another expert has come forth claiming that, in fact, people who think they are seeing the monster may actually just be spotting otters. It is true that swimming otters can look like that "humps" that are often attributed to otters, and I was rather surprised at the photograph above, which shows an otter swimming in such a way that it presents the illusion of a head plus two humps. The first hump is formed by the back, and the second by the tail being held in just the right position.

The image was taken by Dr Jonathan Wills, off Lerwick in Shetland, and is of a female otter known locally as Dratsie. Her head, back and tail form three very distinctive humps which, at a distance could be mistaken for a much larger creature.

Dr Wills says the image taken this week proves the beast said to prowl the depths of Loch Ness, hundreds of miles away, is more likely a 4ft otter than a monster. But despite Nessie experts admitting some sightings can be put down to a case of mistaken identity, they continue to insist Loch Ness is home to an unrecorded creature.

Dr Wills, owner of Seabirds-and-Seals boat trips, took the photo while skippering near the north end of Bressay island. He said: ‘We know there are otters in Loch Ness. You can understand why some people believe in the Loch Ness monster when you see three distant humps like this in the water.’

It is well known that people have a hard time judging the sizes of distant objects in the water. Otters may only be four feet long, but that's not exactly small. Furthermore, if two or more swim in a line they could easily be far enough apart that they would look like the humps of some sort of enormous animal. Otters are playful and they do chase each other, both in and out of the water.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Were The Masonic Police Up To?

In my comments last week on attempts to revive the "Satanic panic" and other conspiracies, when people go to great lengths to do something their motivations usually make sense. Part of the reason that the Satanism scare of the 1980's and 1990's was so unconvincing is that the allegations would have required everyone involved to be expending a great deal of effort for basically nothing. The practices ascribed to those folks had little to do with real occultism, and a lot to do with made-up nonsense from the Malleus Maleficarum. That is, they were things that competent occultists would never bother with, because there's no evidence that they work or even that they were ever applied by anyone in a coherent manner.

But sometimes the actions of a handful of crazy people can fly in the face of that principle. And as more information comes to light about California's phony "Masonic Police," the more it's starting to look like the people involved might fall into that category. Nothing they did makes any sense - did they really think that they were going to be accepted as a legitimate police agency? And if so, what did they hope to accomplish? They weren't police officers themselves, and it's not even clear what they intended to police. I'd say Masonry based on the group's name, but if that's true why would they bother trying to set themselves up to work with other law enforcement agencies?

While the lore surrounding Freemasonry is deep and full of conspiracy theories, experts say that there have never been any rumors of a police force existing within it. “I can’t imagine there is anything of the sort,” said Steve Bolluck, a professor of history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and the author of Revolutionary Brotherhood, a history of early Free Masons in America. “It’s really bizarre. Badges, ID cards, weapons, uniforms…"

Prior to their arrests, none of the three had had run-ins with the law in Los Angeles, other than a drunk driving conviction for Kiel in 2007. In late January, the trio began sending letters to heads of local law enforcement agencies in southern California, announcing that Henry had been elected as Chief of the MFPD. Soon after, Kiel began follow-up calls to those agencies, identifying himself as “chief deputy director” of the department and requesting meetings to offer information on how the agencies could potentially work together.

So I want to know if I'm missing something, or if there really was some sort of endgame these folks were working towards. I suppose it could have something to do with with generating notoriety, as they probably could have guessed something that weird would get a lot of exposure on the Internet. But is that really all it was? Or were they really too dumb and/or deluded to realize that they would outed as fakes the minute they talked to real police agencies? On the one hand, human stupidity is far more powerful than most smart people realize. But on the other, I still feel like something is missing from the story. Maybe those details will emerge when these folks go to trial. At the very least, it will be interesting to hear what they put forth as a defense, and maybe that will fill in what look like holes in the story to any rational, reasonable person.

I'll be following the story as it continues to unfold, and I'll keep you all posted as I find out more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Dead Milkmen Versus Roy Moore

While this isn't exactly a big or particularly important news story, I'm posting it because I happen to be a huge Dead Milkmen fan. The band broke up in 1995, reunited in 2008, and is currently touring. Their satirical songs are brilliantly hilarious, and in recent comments made at a show in Alabama they mocked "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore with a very Augoeides-like pronouncement.

The conservative judge was previously removed from the same position for refusing to move a Ten Commandments monument from a government building, and he has recently attempted to dodge federal law ordering the state to allow same-sex marriages to proceed.

“Now Judge Roy Moore, he doesn’t like gays, but he sure does like Ten Commandment displays,” sang frontman Rodney Linderman. “But there’s one thing Judge Roy don’t know: The 11th commandment is, ‘Don’t be an asshole.’”

Well, it's not, but it sure should be. In the ongoing debate between believers and non-believers, and between members of majority and minority religions, this is really the main principle that all sides should follow. There's nothing wrong with questioning religion or questioning atheism, or criticizing aspects of particular beliefs, so long as you refrain from being a dick. That's really all there is to it.

The trouble is that particularly with extreme fundamentalists like Moore, it's pretty difficult to evangelize without being dickish - basically, the point you have to make is that you're right and whoever you're engaging is at best wrong and at worst unspeakably evil. "New Atheists" may come off as jerks a lot of the time, but much of what they're really doing is just turning that tactic on its head to emphasize how annoying it is.

Moore is particularly obnoxious because he's a Poor Oppressed Christian with actual political power - he currently serves as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And like the rest of his Poor Oppressed brethren, he seems to lack the cognitive capacity to distinguish between exercising his own religious rights and preventing others from doing the same. None of his religion's alleged opponents want to prevent him from exercising his faith, they just want equal space to live as they see fit.

As often seems to be the case, the world would be a much better place if everyone, especially fundamentalists of every stripe, could follow a principle even more basic than the Dead Milkmen's eleventh commandment - "Mind your own business!"