Friday, December 19, 2014

A Sea Monster in New Zealand?

Google Earth has provided us with views of the world that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. The combination of sattelite photography and mapping software means that there are now few places that can't be viewed over the Internet. Cryptozoologists have made extensive use of the software in their search for unknown sea creatures, such as the Loch Ness Monster. Recently a strange shadow was captured in the ocean near New Zealand, which some observers believe might be a sea monster.

Engineer Pita Witehira, who first spotted the dark mass using Google Earth, told the Daily Mail that he doesn't think it's a boat because there's no white wake. Other people think it's a floating tree trunk.

It isn't the first cryptozoological sighting in the region. In 2013, witnesses snapped a picture of a strange shape off the coast of Australia's Magnetic Island.

First off, it's not a tree trunk and it's not a whale. If you compare the shadow to objects on the shore it clearly is too large to be either of those. It also doesn't look anything like a boat. Not only is there no wake, but the shape is all wrong as well. A large American or Russian nuclear submarine would be big enough to cast such a shadow if it was running close to the surface, but the problem there is that the shadow would be straight rather than curved at one end.

So all things considered, it's probably just a glitch in the Google Earth software. But if it's not, there's something very weird going on in the ocean off New Zealand.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Satanic" Murder Trial Underway

The case sounds like something out of a horror movie. Two high school students murdered a young woman they both knew so that one of the perpetrators could "sell his soul to the devil." Or at least that's the scenario Houston prosecutors are pushing in the killing of 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes. Opening arguments in the trial of Jose Reyes began last week for the crime, which took place last February. Victor Alas, who also is alleged to have taken part in the slaying, will face trial at a later date.

Reyes is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes earlier this year with another teenage boy in a bid to sell their souls to the devil.

"Whether or not the devil was involved, what happened in that apartment was sadistic and inhumane," Assistant Harris County District Attorney John Jordan told jurors. "He said he had no regrets."

Jordan told jurors Cervantes and two other teens went to a vacant apartment to have sex after a late night of alcohol and marijuana at a friend's apartment.

In horrific and grisly detail, Jordan said the scene descended from consensual sex to a brutal beating with the heavy porcelain lid of a toilet tank.

From the crime scene reports there's plenty of evidence that Reyes and Alas killed Cervantes, so it's pretty clear to me that Reyes is guilty and should be convicted. What gives me pause about the report is that the occult angle is coming from the prosecution, and seems based on pretty flimsy evidence. For whatever reason, prosecutors love to bring up anything involving "Satanism" and will go so far as to coerce such details from suspects during interrogations.

The prosecutor's chief piece of occult evidence seems to be an upside-down cross carved into Cervantes' body. But that sounds more like something from an album cover than rather than from a real ritual. In fact, there is no occult technique for "selling your soul to the devil," at least none I've ever come across. Some of the techniques from the Solomonic grimoires involve pacts with spirits, but the details of such pacts differ substantially from this particular urban legend.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Satanic Temple Now Two for Two

The Satanic Temple's proposal for a holiday display at the state capital was recently approved in Florida, but the group is not stopping there. This week, their proposal for a holiday display in Michigan was also accepted. Michigan has yet to approve a proposal for a nativity scene, so if things remain as they are now the state capital may find itself with a Satanic display but no corresponding Christian one.

Michigan considered a nativity scene for the state capitol this holiday season. Instead, they got the snake from the Garden of Eden sitting in front of a pentagram, offering a book representing “knowledge” as a gift.

A local chapter of the Satanic Temple — a group best known for testing the limits of the intersection of free speech and religious expression, and not for actually worshiping Satan — announced this week that its proposal for a small holiday display was approved by the state. It’s the second such display from a local chapter of the group to gain approval this year.

I expect it's unlikely that no Michigan Christian group will submit a proposal for a nativity scene, but if they don't I'm of the opinion that this is exactly how the whole holiday display process should work. Any religious group that applies with a reasonable proposal should be able to put up a display, with "reasonable" having no relation to the religion practiced by the group. As with many things in life, sometimes what matters is showing up.

As activists for the separation of church and state, The Satanic Temple is continuing to do a great job. As I see it, it's a lot more interesting to watch the interplay of these competing displays than it is to be met with the same old thing every year.

UPDATE: As I expected, a Michigan Christian group has stepped up and will be putting up a nativity scene tomorrow morning. The Satanic Temple's display will join it on Sunday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Pharaoh Rises

After more than three thousand years, the Pharaoh has risen again. Specifically, archaeologists have completed the restoration of a statue of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III that came down in an earthquake thousands of years ago. The completed statue was recently erected and unveiled near the city of Luxor, and is now the largest standing statue of its type in all of Egypt. It is the result of more than a year of work, as it required careful reassembly like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

The statue, which came crumbling down during an earthquake in 1,200 BC, was reassembled at the northern gate of the pharaoh's funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile. The effigy is located directly beside an existing statue of the pharaoh which was unveiled last March. The restored statue measures 43 feet (12.9 meters) high and weighs 110 tonnes.

"These are up to now the highest standing effigies of an Egyptian king in striding attitude," noted German-Armenian archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian in an AFP article.

Last November, archaeologists began the restoration, which required the meticulous assembly of 89 large pieces and numerous small fragments. The completed effigy shows the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, and like the twin statute, it's holding a papyrus roll in each hand inscribed with the pharaoh's name. It also features a belt with a falcon-head handle, which is fastened with a clasp bearing the names of the king.

Amenhotep III ruled during a period of peace and great prosperity for the ancient Egyptian civilization. Accordingly, more surviving statues have been found depicting him than any other Pharaoh. He was succeeded by Akhenaton, who is credited with establishing the world's first monotheistic religion, a cult that venerated the Aton or solar disk. However, Akhenaton's successor, the world-famous "boy king" Tutankhamun, returned Egypt to the worship of the old gods.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Comselh Ananael Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram

This ritual has been in development for a long time by our magical working group, Comselh Ananael. Back in 2008 when we had only used it for a couple of years I posted the changes we made to the keyword analysis and corresponding signs. We have continued to test it out since then for all manner of practical operations, and according to those tests it does seem to work better than the original, particularly when employing the operant field method to open and close magical fields. Generally speaking, at this point when I write about using the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, it's this version that I'm talking about.

Back in September we put on our Libra Elixir Ritual as an equinox rite for our local Twin Cities OTO body, Leaping Laughter Lodge. As this was the version of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram that we employed, I put together the following write-up to hand out to those present explaining its symbolism and structure. I invite you to try it out for yourself and see how it works. I'm not at the point yet where I'm ready to conclude that it works better than the original for all or even a majority of practitioners, but I will say that so far everyone I know of who's tried it out have found that it produces superior results. If you do try it out and feel like sharing I would be very interested in hearing about your experiences, even if you find that for you it doesn't work very well.

I. The Keyword Analysis: The primary issue with the use of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram for Thelemic operations is its reification of the life-death-rebirth formula of Osiris in the Keyword Analysis and the Signs of LVX. We set out to develop a new Keyword Analysis that would more closely embody the Horus formula of life and growth. We started with this version written by Benjamin Rowe, from his Ritual of the Heptagram:

(Make the sign of Osiris Risen. Recite:)
I, R, N, I
Yod, Resh, Nun, Yod

Isis, Horus, Set, Thoth
The linking of the Earth with the Stars!
Isis - Nature, the Fullness of Earth!
Horus - Warrior, the Triumph of Sol!
Set - Apostate, Seed of Rebellion!
Thoth - Perfection, Uniting them all!

We built upon Rowe’s concept considerably, to yield our revised keyword analysis:

I, R, N, I
Yod, Resh, Nun, Yod

Isis - Nature, the Fullness of Earth!
Horus - Volition, the Triumph of Sol!
Set - Guardian, Lord of the Threshold!
Tahuti - Perfection, Uniting Them All!
Isis, Horus, Set, Tahuti

(Sign of Sol) ABRAHADABRA!

(Sign of Isis) Isis in Fullness,
(Sign of Horus) Horus Triumphant,
(Sign of Set) Set the Liminal,
(Sign of Tahuti) Tahuti, Neter-Neteru.
Isis, Horus, Set, Tahuti

(Sign of Integration) MAKASHANaH!
The linking of Earth with the Stars!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

No Tax Incentives for Ark Encounter

Back in August I covered the latest attempt by Answers in Genesis to fund their "Ark Encounter" theme park based around a life-sized model of Noah's Ark. After failing to raise enough money by selling junk bonds and soliciting donations to obtain a set of tax breaks from the state of Kentucky, Answers in Genesis applied for a second set of tax breaks that they looked likely to receive. Unfortunately for them, job postings on their web site specified that only fundamentalist Christians need apply.

On those grounds, the state of Kentucky has denied the park's application, since recipients of state tax breaks are not allowed to hire in a discriminatory fashion. Tourism Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart informed the group of the decision, and explained that without the park's discriminatory hiring policies the application likely would have been accepted, as the state otherwise supported the project. He also noted that Answers in Genesis had pledged to the state that they would not discriminate, and then put up job postings to that effect anyway.

Stewart explains that their application will not go forward because the state will not grant incentives to a company that openly intends to discriminate in hiring based on religion, saying it is a violation of the state constitution for these incentives to be used to advance religion. He detailed how Ark Encounter representatives had previously promised not to discriminate in hiring several times, but recently they have stated they have every right to do so, saying, “The Commonwealth’s position hasn’t changed. The applicant’s position has changed.”

Stewart cited AiG CEO Ken Ham’s Nov. 19 fundraising letter that accused the Beshear administration of religious persecution and reaffirmed their desire to discriminate in hiring based on religion. He also cited other statements throughout the year from AiG officials claiming the purpose of the park is to evangelize and indoctrinate its visitors.

“Certainly, Ark Encounter has every right to change the nature of the project from a tourism attraction to a ministry,” wrote Stewart. “However, state tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion. The use of state incentives in this way violates the Separation of Church and State provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”

So Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis will have to go ahead and build their ark using their own money, which given the religious nature of the organization is as it should be. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the entitlement of these folks, in that they apparently went ahead and lied to state officials in order to secure funding and expected it not to be a problem. Here I was thinking that Christians were supposed to be honest, but clearly Ham's brand of fundamentalism teaches that lying is fine and good so long as in your opinion you're doing it to serve God.

That just goes to show what a toxic version of the Christian faith Answers in Genesis is preaching. It's Poor Oppressed Christianity through and through, and deserves to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Russian Orthodox Church Versus Sauron

No battle between the Dark Lord Sauron and the Russian Orthodox Church can be found in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien - not even in the Silmarillion. But that has not stopped the church from being angered by a Moscow property company's plan to place a replica of the Eye of Sauron as seen in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films on top of one of their skyscrapers. The Eye is a publicity stunt intended to coincide with the release of Jackson's final Hobbit movie. But the church fears that the replica will have evil powers.

A property company plans to raise what resembles a giant glowing eye on the 21st floor of a skyscraper this week to celebrate the release of the final part of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Hobbit.

In The Hobbit and also in Tolkien’s subsequent trilogy, Lord of the Rings, the Eye of Sauron is a giant flaming eye controlled by the “dark lord” Sauron, which allows him to watch anyone who puts on the fateful, power-giving ring at the novels’ center.

The installation is planned as a 1 metre (3.3 foot) sphere on top of a 21 storey building, with a light show projected from behind to create a 3-D effect, said Polina Murova, a spokeswoman for the property company behind the stunt.

But for the Russian Orthodox Church, the evil eye is no fiction. “This is a demonic symbol,” the Russian Orthodox Church’s head of public affairs, Vsevolod Chaplin, told Govorit Moskva radio station.

“Such a symbol of the triumph of evil is rising up over the city, becoming practically the highest object in the city. Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad. Just don’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”

Let's break this down a bit. Tolkien's works are incredibly detailed and based on a back story as complex as any real-world mythology, but the bottom line is that they are fiction. There's no such thing as Sauron; he's a character from a series of books adapted into movies. As such, the idea that an image associated with a fictional evil character will create real-world evil is quite simply ridiculous. The Eye may be demonic in the context of Tolkien's invented mythology, but otherwise not so much.

More than anything else, this reminds me of fundamentalists who wanted the Harry Potter books banned because they were afraid kids would learn and practice the spells in them. You know, the completely fictional spells that any occultist would tell you do absolutely nothing. If the church wants to do battle against evil, it seems to me that there are enough real problems in the world that fictional ones should not be worth their time.

UPDATE: On the evening of December 10th it was announced that the property company has decided to forego the stunt due to pressure from the church and city leaders. It's really sad to see such nonsense taken seriously. At the same time, though, it may be that with the unexpected controversy the stunt would not have had the desired effect and been counterproductive to the company's image.