Thursday, December 31, 2009

Arcana Now Available!

Just in time for New Year's Eve, my novel Arcana is now available from Pendraig Publishing! The cover image hasn't shown up on Amazon yet, but the book is in stock and available for orders. Just click on the image to check it out.

If you enjoy modern-day occult fiction and like my writing I hope that you will consider picking up a copy. Just think, if I could make a living as a professional writer I'd have a lot more time for blogging!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Yule to All

Here's wishing all my readers a happy Yule season as we wind down 2009 and look forward to a better 2010. In Minnesota we got a foot or so of snow yesterday, so looking out the window it's beautiful - just like those old traditional postcards.

Minnesota Winter Scene

Now if only getting our cars out of the snowdrifts so the plows can get through were easier...

Happy Holidays to all, and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jonathon the Impaler Back in Jail

I know, I know. I shouldn't be posting this stuff and giving the guy more free publicity. It's just that from a blogger's perspective his antics are so incredibly ridiculous that he's hard to ignore.

For those of you who haven't heard of "Jonathon the Impaler," he is a former professional wrestler and self-styled "Satanic vampire" who ran for President in 2004 and 2008. His bid garnered few votes. In response to one of my previous articles about him, reader Robert-Joseph summed up his campaign thus:

IMO his presidential bid wasn't hurt so much by his Satanic beliefs or claims of being a vampire, but rather by the fact that the man has an IQ slightly beneath that of a mentally retarded monkey. I read his stuff. He's a dumb ass. I know a lot of politicians aren't known for their intelligence, but Jonathon made the group of ex-wrestlers and actors and lawyers that weren't good enough to practice law look like the greatest scientific and philosophic minds of our time. Seriously.

I've also heard from people who've dealt with him that the guy is a douche.

Now I'll admit that I've withheld judgment and overall been pretty charitable to Sharkey in response to his previous brushes with the law. I know that the police sometimes railroad people into pleading guilty to crimes, and I know that claiming to be a "Satanic vampire" doesn't help your chances if you're ever accused of wrongdoing. But this latest story suggests that Robert-Joseph's assessment of the guy is pretty much spot-on.

A man who claims to be the leader of a group of vampires has pleaded guilty to charges that he threatened to torture and kill an Indianapolis judge and his family.

Forty-five-year-old Rocky Flash, also known as Jonathon Sharkey, was sentenced in a Marion County court on Wednesday to more than two years in jail.

Prosecutors say the man threatened to beat, torture, impale, dismember and decapitate Judge David Certo, who is presiding over another case involving Flash.

There you go - a comprehensive and supremely brilliant legal strategy. If a judge is presiding over a case involving you, threaten to impale them! Yeah, that'll work!

The Associated Press also followed up on Sharkey's claims to be the leader of a whole "nation" of vampires, and discovered that not only was the phone number for this mighty nation disconnected, but that they also were unable to afford private counsel for their "King."

Flash claims to be the leader of a group called "Vampyre Nation." A call to a phone number listed on the group's blog got a recording saying the call could not go through.

The Associated Press called Flash's public defender for comment after hours, but the office was closed and didn't have an answering machine.

On the other hand, the Vampyre Nation has a free blog so we know that they must be deadly serious! Unfortunately the blog doesn't list followers, so I can't tell whether or not his nation is bigger than mine. I have a hunch that it might not be, which would make it a sad nation indeed.

Comedy gold, people...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More From the Paranormal Research Files

As many of you probably remember I picked up an EMF detector back in October with the intent of testing it out in a ritual context. Folks have been asking about it recently, so I think another update on my progress is in order even though I haven't gotten as far on the project at this point as I would have liked.

As it turns out I've been unexpectedly busy this fall so I haven't had a chance to test the detector in the context of a full ritual yet. It's been a good kind of busy - among other things, I wasn't expecting that Arcana would be coming out so soon, seeing as I only submitted it to Pendraig in August and up until that point my experience with publishers was that they took their own sweet time to get just about anything done. One of the things I have done, though, is familiarize myself with how the detector works and do a full sweep of my temple, tools, and implements to see if there's any immediate correllation between EMF and objects that are consecrated and have been used in ritual work.

My house is over 120 years old and has wiring from a number of different periods. The state of electrical wiring is important to keep in mind when doing any sort of sweep for paranormal activity because that's the main normal source of EMF that you're likely to find. Older wiring tends to give off a higher EMF than modern shielded conduit, and in fact some researchers have suggested that this alone could explain many hauntings in older homes. High EMF can produce feelings of paranoia and disorientation, which are common symptoms of hauntings as well.

There are a couple of things that I found out right away. AC adapters give off really high EMF, so if you're doing a sweep of a room and have one of those big boxy plugs in one of the outlets you will need to unnplug it. With the detector in high sensitivity mode an adapter can produce an EMF spike up to three feet or so from the actual plug. Another thing to watch out for is stereos, particularly analog volume controls. Those put off high EMF as well, and like a lot of magicians I have a stereo in my temple for playing music during rituals.

Once you've turned off or unplugged any devices that might be producing EMF the next thing you need to work out is the house wiring. If you have a ceiling fan, turn that off if it is in your temple or in the room below it. Motors in ceiling fans put off a lot of EMF and it can come up through the floor if the fan is in the room below where you're sweeping. The other thing you will want to do is turn on and off lights that are in the room or are connected to wires that run through the floor, ceiling, or walls. Also be aware of electrical devices, even those without adapter plugs. An electrical device can cause the wires leading to the outlet to throw high EMF if the device is on, especially if the wiring is old.

As far as possible magical sources of EMF go I so far have yet to find any, but as I mentioned I have not tried doing a ritual with the detector yet. Whatever I'm sensing when I pick up an object and find that it feels magical or consecrated is not EMF - I found no EMF spikes at all that appear to be related to that particular sensation. One of the things that will produce some EMF is an item with a magnet incorporated into it, but only if the probe and magnet are close and moving in relation to each other. A magnet that's sitting still doesn't produce much of an EMF spike when you just hold the probe up to it.

One of the things I did find that initially looked promising was a high EMF spike right on top of one of my altars. That particular altar gets used a lot so I wondered if it might have built up some sort of measurable charge from years of ritual work. Unfortunately, though, I was able to debunk the spike. It turned out to be related to one of the lights on the floor below and it was only coincidental that the spike showed up where the altar was. I was able to show that the spike was always present with the light on and never present with the light off, so this is clearly a case of old wiring at work. It wasn't immediately obvious, though - the light hangs from a spot that is off to the side of the temple, but the EMF it produces shows up over the altar which is more centrally located.

So I'll keep you all posted when I finally get a chance to do a series of tests with real rituals as opposed to just sweeping rooms and items to get baseline readings. I'm looking forward to getting that done and seeing if there's any notable relationship between magical work and EMF spikes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yet Another Fake Magician

As I've mentioned before, while I generally find that the "skeptic movement" consists mostly of closed-minded debunkers I still believe that they sometimes perform the valuable service of exposing frauds who use claims of magical powers to cheat their clients out of large sums of money. Like this individual, who has been charged with "pretending to practice witchcraft" under Canadian law.

Vishwantee Persaud allegedly defrauded a Toronto lawyer of tens of thousands of dollars by telling him she was the embodiment of the spirit of his deceased sister, come back to help him in business. Ms. Persaud now faces charges under a rarely used section of the criminal code for pretending to practice witchcraft.

“She said she came from a long line of witches and could do tarot-card readings,” says Detective Constable Corey Jones, who investigated the case. “It was through this that she cemented [the lawyer's] trust,” setting the stage for the fraud to follow, which, according to Det. Constable Jones, included claiming fictitious expenses such as law-school tuition and cancer treatments.

While it's easy to see how a law like this one could be used to persecute legitimate professional sorcerers, a reading of the facts of the case shows that Persaud is anything but. She appears to be a garden variety confidence artist who engaged in a number of fraudulent activities above and beyond her claims of paranormal powers.

The lawyer met Ms. Persaud, who claimed to be in law school, in early 2009 and started to mentor her. According to Det. Constable Jones, he probably gave Ms. Persaud more than $100,000 over the year.

Det. Constable Jones says the scheme came to a head when Ms. Persaud said they were going to make money hosting and providing security for certain celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival. “That's where everything fell apart because of course no Hollywood celebrities showed up,” he says.

In fact, he points out, this kind of offence could lead to a simple charge of fraud, which carries longer jail terms and stiffer fines. As it stands, a conviction of pretending to practise witchcraft carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

The article also mentions the unusual history of this particular law banning the fraudulent practice of witchcraft. The Canadian law dates back to 1892 and was specifically tailored to target confidence artists. Notably, the practice of any form of witchcraft, pretend or not, was illegal in Britain until 1954, so Canada seems to have been well ahead of the curve there.

“It's a historical quirk,” says Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Some sections of the Canadian criminal code reflect offences that were more prevalent centuries ago. When the code was enacted in 1892, witchcraft per se was no longer a punishable offence, he says, but lawmakers wanted to ensure witchcraft wasn't used as a cover for fraud.

Section 365 states that any one who fraudulently pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, or enchantment or who “undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes … is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

“It's not really about occult activity,” Prof. Young says. “It's about defrauding people.”

Persaud is scheduled to appear in court on December 24th to answer the charges. It's good to see fraudulent magicians like her answering for their crimes, because situations like this reflect badly on all magical practitioners.

So remember that if you ever find yourself practicing magick in Canada you should make sure that you're doing it for real. If you're just pretending you could find yourself in trouble with the law.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger Woods Cult Disbands

In another installment from the "I really hope this is a joke because if it isn't these people are unbelievably stupid" file that began with my piece on "Cullenism," the "First Church of Tiger Woods" has disbanded. No, seriously - up until a few days ago there really was a "First Church of Tiger Woods," at least on the web.

I suppose I can see a few golf fans getting together and deciding that it would be funny to put up a web site dedicated to their favorite player and call it a "Church" in a tongue-in-cheek sort of tone, but recent events have made me wonder if the individual who put the site up might actually be serious. Could anybody out there possibly be dumb enough to worship a guy who hits a ball with a stick, even a guy who does it really well?

John Ziegler, the pastor of the "First Church of Tiger Woods" -- -- has announced in a statement on the blog that the organization is being dissolved because of the golfer's "personal sins."

The church, whose home page has now been rechristened "The Damnation of Tiger Woods,"was launched by radio host Ziegler in 1996 to "celebrate the emergence of the 'true messiah.'"

However the lurid revelations that have swirled around Woods since last week have left Ziegler so disenchanted that he is now ending his church, which has its own "Prayer for Tiger" and "Ten Tiger Commandments."

"After several days of evaluation, I have decided to disband the First Church of Tiger Woods," Ziegler wrote.

"Tiger is clearly no longer deserving of being seen as a role model or a hero and he has needlessly squandered his unique potential to be a positive force in our country and the world.

And let me add that the only thing this "messiah" ever saved was the sport of golf, which was starting to slip into relative obscurity in the 1990s. As I personally can't stand golf, I have a hard time seeing that as anything noble or worthwhile.

From a practical magical perspective this gives us a perfect situation for empirical research. If these people have really been praying for Tiger Woods all this time, could those prayers have been improving his golf game to paranormal levels? A public announcement like this gives us a clean before and after delineation for our experimental and control samples and golfing statistics are meticulously kept. So we'll be able to see if Woods continues to play as well over the course of the next couple of years without magical support and back up whatever conclusion emerges with hard data.

As evidence of a possible paranormal influence, take a look at this paper by Jennifer Brown of UC Berkeley. Her data shows that other elite golfers play worse when playing in tournaments with Woods. While Brown puts forth a psychological explanation for the phenomenon, this is also exactly the sort of data you would expect to see surrounding a player who is receiving magical assistance. If somebody casts a spell on you with the intent of enabling you to win some sort of game or contest, not only will you generally do better but your opponents will also do worse than usual.

Now what I'd like to see is an expose from inside the cult. Did they engage in bizarre golf-related practices? Cast circles with five-irons (cause five is the pentagram, of course)? Subject caddies to obscure initiation rituals? Bind servitors into golf balls to ensure better play? Or maybe they just sat around a candlelit room staring at a velvet painting of Woods chanting golfing terms assembled into mantras.

Somebody out there must have the story. If you do, feel free to post it here!

UPDATE: According to Slate, the number of paramours linked to Tiger Woods has now reached eleven. Add Tiger and his wife to that number and you get thirteen - a coven! I can't believe that nobody has pointed that out until now, but I suppose that makes it my scoop!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Arcana Update

As most of you have probably noticed November has come and gone and I have yet to announce the availability of my novel, Arcana.

The novel is not available yet but I've been told that it is just running a bit behind schedule and will be out in time for the holidays. That's good, because like many self-absorbed writers I plan on giving copies out as holiday gifts to various folks. I'm also talking with one of the owners about doing a promotional event with Magus Books here in Minneapolis, but of course the book needs to be out before doing anything like that makes much sense. I expect to see it become available within the next couple of weeks and I'll be sure to let you all know as soon as it's available for orders.

Interestingly enough, I found out about halfway through the month that November is National Novel Writing Month and I've coincidentally been working on a sequel. So far I'm only up to 50,000 words or so of the first draft, but that's pretty good for a month's work. Arcana is a little over 100,000 words and it took me a year to finish the first draft. The published version is the third revision, which also took me about a year to get done. So it seems that I'm getting faster and more disciplined about my writing, which bodes well for putting together future published works.

UPDATE: Pendraig announced on December 14th that Arcana is at the printers and should be available shortly. Can you tell I'm excited? Stay tuned for an announcement and a link for orders coming real soon now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Energy" as Magical Terminology

There are a lot of folks on the Internet who have various issues with the use of "energy" as a term to describe the degree to which magical rituals influence the exterior world. Believe it or not, even some "energy model" practitioners realize that this particular usage is problematic - it's just that so far, I haven't seen anyone come up with another term that's much better.

Magick could really benefit from some sort of standardized terminology, and I have no problem ditching "energy" as soon as something better comes along. What would be best would be a term that has no equivalent in physics, since one of the main problems with the use of "energy" is that it already has a specific scientific definition. "Psychic energy" or "magical energy" is something completely different from the energy of a particle, heat source, or object in motion. The trouble is that most of the words that people try to use instead also have scientific definitions. "Force" doesn't work because that's Mass times Acceleration. "Power" doesn't work because that's Work divided by Time. And the list goes on.

As a prime example of semantic confusion resulting from the use of "energy," witness the confusion produced by my article on the Arizona sweat lodge deaths. When I wrote the line "energy is more tangible than thought" I was talking about the inherent difficulties involved in thinking away an overabundance of infrared-spectrum photons, but sure enough a couple of readers read "energy" in the "psychic energy" sense, and chastized me for making a statement about the tangibility of such phenomena. I'm still not sure if that was my fault for being unclear or the fault of too many Internet commentators throwing "energy" around to describe almost anything paranormal.

Some people use terms like qi or mana to denote what magicians are trying to describe, but I personally would rather not bring in terms from other languages if I can help it because those terms have their own cultural contexts and may just introduce more confusion. Similarly, I would rather not be stuck making up completely new terms because that risks the creation of an artificial jargon-based language that nobody outside the community of magical practitioners will understand. So in my opinion we seem to be left with "energy," inaccurate though it may be.

If English had a word that described "degree of probability shift" that's what I would go with. I try to talk about probability shifts when I can rather than power or force or energy simply because that's the most accurate description of what magical rituals do - they alter the likelihood of specific outcomes in conformity with the will of the magician. Maybe we could work on adapting a term like "shift" - it refers to change in general and has no formal physics definition. However, it doesn't really work as an adjective. Would you replace "powerful" or "energetic" with "shifty?" Again, more connotative confusion.

So if anybody has a better set of terminology suggestions I'm willing to hear them. Maybe if we work together on this we can come up with a standard set of terms that will allow us to discuss different models of magick on a level playing field without resorting to arguing over definitions.

UPDATE: Rufus Opus weighs in on why he finds "energy" such a bothersome term for describing magical phenomena. He brings up one point that I hadn't considered, which is that many people interpret "energy" as implying that there's something that you "use up" when you work magick. I don't read the term that way, but I can see how somebody could.

Patrick Dunn, author of Postmodern Magic, also has an article up on the topic. He's been active in the comments here as well, and proposes "information" as a replacement for the colloquial usage of "energy" as he describes in his book. I can see some cases in which that could work, but as Jason Miller points out in the comments it's awkward for discussing aspects of "energy work" practices like Qigong.

UPDATE #2: After some discussion in the comments, it seems to me that even within the metaphysical realm "energy" is being used to describe two completely different things. That being the case, it's no wonder that some people use the term so sloppily.

The first of these is whatever is being increased by "energy work" - qi or prana or whatever you want to call it. Those words translate literally as "breath" and the "energy" that they describe is indeed worked with using various breathing exercises, although the two words have additional connotations in Chinese and Sanskrit that are not present in English. This usage of "energy" does correspond to energy in physics to a degree, in that increased oxygen in the lungs and increased firing in the central nervous system do relate directly to energetic chemical processes like the ATP cycle and so forth.

The second is the practical effectiveness of a magical ritual measured as a probability shift. This one is much more of a stretch, in that it's not clear that such shifts are related in any way to energy as it is understood in physics. Whether you model it as will acting upon the universe to produce an outcome or as consciousness selecting a particular potential reality something is going on, but it's something that's radically different from how energy works in thermodynamics.

Usually when I'm talking with someone who's being careful to make a distiction between the two what I hear is "energy" used for the first case and "power" used for the second. As in "we raised a lot of energy (usage 1) and the resulting ritual turned out to be really powerful (usage 2)." Thinking that usage over I'm warming up to "power" a bit more even though it is again pulling physics terminology into a metaphysical context.

I'll wrap this up by noting that with terms of this sort the key is to understand them in context without concretizing them. In other words, if you want to call qi energy, make sure that you don't make the mistake of assuming that once you do so you can safely assume that qi shares all kinds of properties with the energy of thermodynamics. Those are the kinds of assumptions that lead to serious errors in understanding how magick works in the real world.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Slapping Down "Prayer Warriors"

Rufus Opus has an article up today with some great suggestions on spirits to summon in order to work against "Prayer Warriors" - that is, Christian extremist magicians. If you haven't read it yet, you should check it out. It's a follow-up to this article in which Rufus discusses the "Prayer Warriors" who are likely working on behalf of evangelical politicians who support the dominionist movement.

I've blogged about this issue in the past as well. In the course of discussing that article I was accused by a couple of readers of discounting the power of this sort of magick simply because I believe that magicians of most esoteric traditions are on average individually more effective because we have a better idea of how our magick works and as a result are more able to optimize our techniques. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that these "Prayer Warriors" usually work in much larger groups than ritual magicians generally do, and as a result are still a force to be reckoned with. Preferably with spells.

To Rufus' list of spirits for workings of this sort I would add the Enochian Seniors. The Golden Dawn attributed the Seniors to the planets, but if you go back to the original Dee material their function is to govern "knowledge and judgment in human affairs." I've had a fair amount of success influencing the political landscape with those particular entities and highly recommend their use. Even if you work Golden Dawn-style Enochian rather than Dee-style like I do, I would expect that the Seniors should nonetheless be able to act effectively in fulfilling their original offices.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Gap Promotes Witchcraft?

Here I always thought that The Gap was nothing more than a retailer of dull conventional clothes. Imagine my surprise to hear that they've been accused of promoting evil witchcraft! Now I'd love to support a clothing chain that genuinely promoted magick and the occult, so this might be enough to prompt me to shop there, you know, if there were any truth to it.

In yet another case from the "Not Christian Enough" file, a group called the American Family Association (AFA) has decided that a Gap holiday ad that dares to mention "Solstice" as a winter holiday along with Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza apparently goes too far and justifies a boycott of the store. I would certainly characterize the lyrics from the commercial as insipid, but finding them truly offensive on any other grounds strikes me as over-the-top:

Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.

"Wanukkah?" Really?

While the copywriter responsible for this abuse of both the English and Hebrew languages should probably be chastised on the grounds of simple illiteracy, I don't understand why it's such a big deal to acknowledge that Christianity isn't the only religious tradition that celebrates a winter holiday. That is, unless one happens to be a histrionic idiot. From AFA's action alert:

Did you notice it? Gap compares Christmas to the pagan holiday called “Solstice.” Solstice is celebrated by Wiccans who practice witchcraft!

The horror! And yes, the bolded text is as it appears in AFA's original article.

In addition to objecting to the lyrics because OMG WITCHCRAFT!!!, apparently AFA has also decided that noting multiple holidays happen around the same time of year is identical to comparing those holidays with one another. This is just plain silly. If I were state that Passover and Easter are both celebrated in the spring, do you really think that any reasonable person would accuse me of comparing the two holidays? I've said nothing about either aside from noting the season during which they are celebrated.

Kind of like the Bible burners, whoever is running AFA seems to have gotten it into their heads that anything deviating from their very strict interpretation of the Christian religion has to be stamped out or at least boycotted on the grounds of... well... actually I have no idea what they're hoping to accomplish. Fortunately most Christians are not this ridiculous and don't find the very existence of non-Christian holidays to be some sort of affront to their beliefs.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Albino Killings Return

Here's some terrible news out of the African nations of Tanzania and Burundi. Last June Tanzanian authorities arrested a gang that was engaged in the murder of albinos in order to sell their body parts to unscrupulous witch doctors for use in magical ceremonies. The gang members went on to be convicted and were recently executed.

At the time of the arrests I expressed my hope that with the killers brought to justice this wave of murders would be over, and indeed, the killings did stop over the summer. Unfortunately, this fall they seem to have started back up again.

"It has been a crisis for over two years, 56 albinos have lost their lives as a result of killings done by hunters," Matthias Schmale, IFRC Under Secretary General for Development, told journalists at the report launch.

"The report demonstrates ... that thousands of albino lives in these two countries ... are literally put on hold."

There are 7,000 registered albinos in Tanzania and 1,000 in Burundi, although officials believe actual numbers are higher. According to the IFRC, these albinos are unable to live normal lives due to the threat of murder.

The attacks kicked off in 2007, and quickly spread across Tanzania - where the majority of the murders have occurred - and into Burundi.

A lull this summer led to hopes that the attacks were over, but in late October, hunters beheaded 10-year-old albino boy Gasper Elikana in front of his family in Tanzania, then made off with his leg.

It seems that the market for albino body parts is lucrative enough that a new batch of criminals has stepped up to take the place of the previous gang.

Tanzanian police estimate that a complete set of albino body parts - including all four limbs, genitals, ears, nose and tongue - are worth as much as 75 thousand dollars to witch doctors, who use them to concoct potions believed to bring wealth and good luck.

According to Isaac Mwaura, national coordinator for the albinism society in neighbouring Kenya, a combination of globalization-induced greed and old African superstitions is to blame for the killings, which he believes are well-planned and organized.

"Witch doctors commission people to look for these body parts," he said. "The gangs were organized, had certain targets and certain motivation."

I'm still trying to figure out why body parts lacking melanin are so valuable to practitioners of this particular school of traditional magick. It sounds to me like one of those superstitions based on scarcity that is widely believed despite never having been subjected to sufficient empirical tests.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Twilight Cult?

Disclaimer: I found this discussion over on LiveJournal without any external links documenting the existence of a "Twilight Cult." However, the whole idea is so ridiculous that even if it's all made up it's still amusing.

I'm seriously hoping that this is a joke. Because if it isn't, "Cullenism" has to be just about the stupidest thing ever. It's one thing to be a fan of a particular author's work, but another to go completely nuts and decide that the works of an author you admire are TOTALLY REAL. That sort of delusion can lead to some seriously messed up situations in no time flat. Just ask Mercedes Lackey. On the other hand, if it is a joke, it's pretty darn funny.

I've had little trouble avoiding the Twilight books because my oldest daughter is still too young to be interested in teen fiction, but I did wind up seeing the first movie because one of my neighbors has a teenaged daughter who's a fan of the series. I liked the cinematography of the film, which did a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest, but otherwise found the characters totally flat and the story lacking where it wasn't cliche. The only real innovation to the vampire genre that Stephanie Meyer seems to have managed to make is that her vampires sparkle in the daylight rather than burst into flames or die in some other manner - and honestly that just strikes me as dumb.

Anyway, according this LiveJournal article there are now Twilight fans who have started their own cult, Cullenism, in which they offer prayers to both Meyer and her fictional vampire, Edward Cullen.

The people who make up prayers to Edward Cullen, the ones who basically worship the whole God-damn series and Meyer herself. Some may be joking, but I am convinced that there is a sizable portion who takes worship of the series pretty seriously. Now, I'm not knowledgable of the Mormon church and their beliefs, etc...but I am aware that Meyer is a fairly strict Mormon. Is anyone in her church concerned that she has basically spawned a cult? Does anyone in her church care that there are people who turn prayers to God into prayers to Edward and Meyer?

Well, Mormonism does teach that:

as God's children, mankind may, through the merits and mercy accorded all through the Atonement of Christ, become like God the Father. As Paul taught the Romans, "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."[7] Eternity will be spent in a process of eternal progression becoming more like the Father (God).

One could perhaps argue that prayers offered up to Stephanie Meyer are all part of her personal process of deification, but I'm nonetheless pretty sure that such practices bear no resemblance to what any of the Mormon church fathers intended.

Some chaos magicians insist that you can make magick work by invoking fictional entities like the deities of H.P. Lovecraft's C'thulhu mythos, or, I suppose, Stephanie Meyer's characters, but in my own work I've found that there is a big difference between fictional entities and the spirits of the Western Esoteric Tradition. If you're working with your own internal magical power it is true that you can use just about any vaguely archetypal character to shape it, but when I work with spirits from the tradition the probability shift that my rituals produce is usually significantly higher. That suggests to me that the spirits of the tradition have some sort of external reality to them that fictional entities do not.

Meanwhile, I'm snickering to myself imagining what sort of practices following the teachings of Cullenism would entail. Would it be something like a fluffy-bunny version of the system laid out in The Psychic Vampire Codex where you drain psychic energy to increase your powers but only from animals (because, for those lucky enough to have avoided the whole thing so far, in the Twilight series the "good" vampires only drink the blood of animals)? Maybe you would sparkle when your psychic energy level gets high enough and that would give you cool sparkly-vampire powers that mysteriously resemble the effects of glitter makeup. Or something equally ridiculous.

Friday, November 13, 2009

God Slaps Down Bible Burning

This is way too funny.

Remember the North Carolina church that planned a book burning at which they would burn copies of Bible translations deemed "Satanic?" It turns out that when the day finally came God had other ideas.

To be sure, they planned to burn heavy metal music and smutty movies. But they also had country, gospel, and Christian contemporary music and videos about Jesus in their crosshairs. Most shockingly, they said that they would burn all non-King James versions of the Bible -- aka "Satan's bibles."

They also announced a long list of "Satan's popular books written by heretics" which would be burned. And to top it all off, they offered "fried chicken, and all the sides."

But when the big day came around, a combination of rain, protesters, and a state law against burning paper all conspired against them.

Sure, part of the problem was a state law banning the burning of paper. Sure, part of the problem was that more protesters showed up than the church's entire congregation of 14 people. But the bottom line is that even if neither of those things had been a factor you still can't hold a book burning when it's raining. Maybe the church should have realized from the start that Christians shouldn't be burning Bibles. I mean, it seems obvious to me, but I suppose in their eyes I'm an evil devil worshipper so my opinion doesn't count.

Nonetheless, the church released a statement desperately spinning the outcome of the event.

We wanted to say that the Book Burning was a great success[.] We wanted to thank all the Bible doubters who prayed for rain with us. All the protestors and media got wet; we were inside where it was nice and dry[.] We are not glad people got wet, we are glad that His Word was honored. Some have written praising God that he intervened and stopped the Book Burning because of the rain, protestors, and state laws about burning paper.

Wow, it's not just me...

Nothing was stopped. Our goal was to destroy garbage as noted below, and we did just that. We didn't care how it was destroyed; only that it was destroyed. These same people must have never heard about "Paper, Rock, & Scissors." Scissors cut paper, and paper tears real easy. We destroyed everything as planned. Praise God! God answered every prayer that everyone prayed, but they don't like the answer.

Translation: we didn't get to burn anything, so our book burning was a great success. You've got to love the cognitive dissonance.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November News Roundup

When I signed the contract for Arcana I had no idea that the plan was to release the book so soon. This month I've been busier than expected working on a promotional plan and making sure the folks at Pendraig have everything they need. As a result I haven't have much time for blogging, so here's a paranormal news roundup for the first half of November featuring stories from all over the world.

This first one is not necessarily paranormal, but it's an interesting historical tidbit nonetheless. The remains of a Persian army of 50,000 that disappeared in 525 BC may have been found in the western Egyptian desert.

Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert have raised hopes of finally finding the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.

The disappearance of the army was reported by the Greek historian Herodotus, and this discovery represents the first piece of archaeological evidence that has been found supporting his account.

According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.

After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an "oasis," which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.

"A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote Herodotus.

From the story I'm left wondering if this army was destroyed by magick. The Egyptian priesthood was feared in ancient times for its purported magical powers, so much so that those powers even make an appearance in the Book of Exodus. I've never lived in any place where summoning a sandstorm was practical, but I can call up thunderstorms when the season is right. I'm thinking that if I lived in Egypt a sandstorm wouldn't be much more difficult.

News out of India suggests that the Hindu deity Lord Jagannath may have returned to earth - as a sea turtle.

The turtle is protected in India and anyone found keeping one without permission can be jailed for a year or more and fined.

But adamant villagers have refused to give up the reptile, saying the turtle bears holy symbols on its back and is an incarnation of Lord Jagannath, a popular Hindu deity.

"Lord Jagannath has visited our village in the form of a turtle. We will not allow anybody to take the turtle away," said Ramesh Mishra, a priest of the temple.

Jesus, on the other hand, appears content to stick with a truck belonging to Jim Stevens of Johnson City, Tennessee.

Stevens, of Jonesborough, said nearly every morning, an image that looks to him like the face of Jesus Christ has appeared in the condensation on the driver's side window of his Isuzu truck. A Johnson City Press photo of the truck showed a facial image.

Stevens said when he first saw the image, he figured it would evaporate and not return. But it kept reappearing for two weeks now.

Is it just me, or is it simply ridiculous to tell authorities that God told you to steal a car? A Dodge Charger, no less.

Police said a 36-year-old man was collared by a security guard at Freedom Dodge before he could get inside the showroom. WLEX-TV reported the man told the guard that God wanted him to steal a Dodge Charger.

When police arrived, the suspect initially told them his name was "Seven."

Bad news for Bolivian Catholics - the church has banned the use of human skulls during special Mass celebrations.

The Bolivian Episcopal Conference on Friday asked the overwhelmingly Catholic nation to cast aside the "growing" trend of seeking protection from bad luck by making offerings of coca, cigars or drinks to human crania.

As much of the world celebrates Halloween and Mexico prepares for its Day of the Dead, Bolivian bishops had another festival on their minds, the Day of Skulls, which falls on November 8.

Known locally as Natitas, the festival, which is believed to be pre-Colombian, sees families adorn skulls, sometimes those of relatives, with flowers, hats, candles and other decoration.

A British student has received a scholarship for studying paranormal phenomena. Personally I think this is a great idea. Paranormal research has never been taken very seriously and it's nice to see a parapsychology foundation funding the education of researchers.

Callum Cooper, 21, of Northampton University, was given £1,800 from New York's Parapsychology Foundation to investigate phenomena like haunted sites, and even text messages from the dead.

He won out over international competition for the Eileen J. Garrett prize, which is intended to help students find possible scientific proof for uncanny happenings.

Finally, the soccer magick continues. It's getting to the point where it's practically commonplace.

Zolani Mkiva, chairman of the Makhonya Royal Trust, a grouping responsible for co-ordinating cultural activities, said the tournament, the first to be held in Africa, needed to be blessed in true "African style."

"We must have a cultural ceremony of some sort, where we are going to slaughter a beast (cow)," said Mkiva.

"We sacrifice the cow for this great achievement and we call on our ancestors to bless, to grace, to ensure that all goes well. It's all about calling for the divinity to prevail for a fantastic atmosphere."

South Africa is set to host the World Cup -- the world's most watched sports spectacle -- in less than eight months, with the tournament expected to attract about 500,000 foreign tourists.

Mkiva said the Trust has sent letters to the chief executive and chairman of the World Cup Local Organizing Committee (LOC), proposing traditional ceremonies to be performed at each of the 10 stadiums that are going to be used for the event.

That's all for now and I hope everyone is having a great month. There's still no exact release date for Arcana, but once I have one you'll be the first to know.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Arcana Release Date

My novel Arcana has been announced for November 2009. That's right, this month!

As we're already almost one week into November I'm guessing it will be toward the end of the month or possibly early December, but that still means the book should be out before the holidays. I wrote the first version of this particular novel twenty years ago as a sophomore in college and I'm very happy and excited to finally see it in print. Despite the delay, I'm also glad that the version being published now is the most recent rewrite rather than the original, because the current version is vastly improved in just about every possible way.

In addition to announcing the release date, I would also like to thank the folks at Pendraig Publishing for being so prompt and responsive regarding my work. I once submitted a book to Red Wheel/Weiser and they basically sat on it for two and a half years before finally rejecting it. Needless to say, I was not amused and I'll think twice about submitting anything to them ever again. On the other hand, I submitted Arcana to Pendraig in August, got the contract at the beginning of October, and the book is almost ready to go to the printers a little over a month later.

So if you're looking for gifts this holiday season and have a friend who enjoys occult fiction, please consider picking up a copy of Arcana. I'll be posting a link to the book once it can be ordered online.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Just In Time For Halloween

Every year on Halloween conservative Christians publish their views on the danger of celebrating what they consider a Satanic holiday. Their basic argument is pretty straightforward - Halloween is a pagan holiday that was never co-opted by Christianity the way Christmas and Easter were, and the univalence of Christian theology means that anyone following a religion that is not Christian such as paganism is worshiping devils and demons.

While I and billions of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims all over the world disagree with that perspective, Christians who adhere to it are entitled to their beliefs. Every once in awhile, though, one of them puts forth something that's so over-the-top it makes me wonder what sort of world they imagine themselves to be living in.

An example is this article by Kimberly Daniels. It starts out with the basic argument laid out above, like most articles of its type.

The word "holiday" means "holy day." But there is nothing holy about Halloween. The root word of Halloween is "hallow," which means "holy, consecrated and set apart for service." If this holiday is hallowed, whose service is it set apart for? The answer to that question is very easy—Lucifer's!

However, it quickly begins to drift away from a mainstream theological perspective.

Lucifer is a part of the demonic godhead. Remember, everything God has, the devil has a counterfeit. Halloween is a counterfeit holy day that is dedicated to celebrating the demonic trinity of : the Luciferian Spirit (the false father); the Antichrist Spirit (the false holy spirit); and the Spirit of Belial (the false son).

This is essentially Manicheanism, the root of the Albigensian Heresy that was stamped out during the Middle Ages. It actually originated in Zoroastrianism, which according to Christian theology is just as demonic as any other non-Christian religion.

This next bit made me laugh out loud.

During this period demons are assigned against those who participate in the rituals and festivities. These demons are automatically drawn to the fetishes that open doors for them to come into the lives of human beings. For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.

I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.

I've heard of seasonal employment during the Christmas season, but if this is really going on us magicians must be missing out on all those jobs praying over candy assembly lines during the Halloween season. Does anybody know what they pay? I wouldn't mind picking up some extra cash every fall. Or maybe the author has no idea what she's talking about.

Gathering around bonfires is a common practice in pagan worship. As I remember, the bonfires that I attended during homecoming week when I was in high school were always in the fall. I am amazed at how we ignorantly participate in pagan, occult rituals.

Because never in history have Christians gathered around bonfires, I suppose. The "purity" argument that is put forth by denominations like the Jehovah's Witnesses has never made any sense to me - for example, you can't celebrate birthdays because at some point in history pagans did it too.

The word "occult" means "secret." The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes. These activities include:

* Sex with demons
* Orgies between animals and humans
* Animal and human sacrifices
* Sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood
* Rape and molestation of adults, children and babies
* Revel nights
* Conjuring of demons and casting of spells
* Release of "time-released" curses against the innocent and the ignorant.

Another abomination that goes on behind the scenes of Halloween is necromancy, or communication with the dead. Séances and contacting spirit guides are very popular on Halloween, so there is a lot of darkness lurking in the air.

I will grant that I've cast spells on Halloween and communicated with spirits. As for the rest, though, I would love to know where all of this is supposed to be going on. As with the accounts of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" from the early nineties, if any significant number of people were engaging in acts like child sacrifice there would be this little thing called "evidence" that would show up.

If Christians believe that it is sinful to celebrate what they consider a pagan holiday, as I said in the introduction they are welcome to that belief and probably shouldn't celebrate Halloween. On the other hand, it's pretty ridiculous to assert that anyone who does celebrate it must be engaging in or at least supporting depraved criminal activities that any reasonable person would condemn.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"The Secret" Proves Deadly

By now most of you have probably already read about the case of two people who died during a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona, Arizona at the beginning of this month. Police have announced that they will be investigating the deaths as homicides and are inquiring into whether or not the sponsor of the event, self-help author James Arthur Ray, had any idea of what he was doing in putting together the sweat lodge ceremony.

A search warrant was executed Wednesday at the James Ray International offices in Carlsbad, California, the sheriff said. Authorities were attempting to determine whether documents exist on how to construct sweat lodges and on their proper use, as well as documents showing whether participants were advised of the risks of sweat lodges either before or during the program.

One of the things that I did not realize when I first heard the story is that James Arthur Ray is one of the more prominant individuals teaching the spiritual method that Rhonda Byrne wrote about in "The Secret," a modern interpretation of the New Thought Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that has recently been embraced as part of New Age theology. New Thought postulates that the universe is made of thought, and as a result you attract positive situations to yourself by thinking positive thoughts and attract negative situations to yourself by thinking negative thoughts. Physics never even enters into the equation.

I've criticized "The Secret" a number of times on this blog, and this case is a perfect example of everything that's wrong with it - what negative thoughts was Ray thinking that killed two of his students and has landed him in the middle of a murder investigation? If the model of the universe proposed by "The Secret" is correct he must have drawn this experience to himself and clearly should not be teaching others because he has not even mastered his own mind. On the other hand, if the postulates that make up "The Secret" are wrong Ray shouldn't be teaching either because the subject matter is bunk.

I'll say it one more time in the hopes of moving my comments further up in the search engine listings. "The Secret" is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of magick. Reality isn't made of thought, reality is made of energy. Thought is less substantial than energy. There's a reason that it's easier to light a fire with a lighter than it is with a thought, even for experienced magical practitioners. That doesn't mean thought is useless for manipulating the physical world, but rather that it is limited in its effectiveness.

My friend Frater Barrabbas posted an article on his blog earlier this month about practical magick. I'll repeat an excerpt from my comment on that article here because it explains the basic truth that "The Secret" completely glosses over.

The laws of probability make the role of mundane action in practical magical operations abundantly clear. To use the lottery example at the beginning of the article, it is possible for a lottery spell to be successful even if the magician doesn't buy a ticket - he or she could, say, happen upon a winning ticket lying on the sidewalk while out for a stroll. It's just that such a thing is very unlikely, much more so than picking a jackpot winning number. If your magical powers are such that you can produce a probability shift of 100 to 1 against or even 1000 to 1 against there's really no point in bothering unless you shift the odds into a more reasonable range by buying a ticket. Similarly, you can do a spell for a better job and there's a possibility that you will just happen to be out at a party or something one evening and meet the right person, but again your odds are a lot better if you send out resumes and go through the usual job-hunting steps in addition to casting a spell.

The key to understanding this is that magick is not all-powerful, despite the fallacious arguments of skeptics that imply if you can do anything paranormal it automatically implies that you can do everything paranormal. In my experience, there is a limit to the probability shift that any given magician can produce and the key to successful practical magick is to take enough mundane actions that your goal falls within that probability range.

The positive visualization advocated by "The Secret" can be useful, but many of the teachers who talk about the method treat it as all-powerful. The idea that any bad circumstance you experience must have been drawn to you by your own negative thinking is a wonderful exercise in victim-blaming that I encourage James Arthur Ray and others to clarify, especially in light of the "circumstances" that Ray apparently "drew to himself" in conducting this deadly sweat lodge ceremony.

My guess is that in this case "The Secret" will prove to be the root of negligence on the part of Ray and his staff. After all, if the universe is made of thought and ruled by good intentions as long as none of the people working on the sweat lodge ceremony wanted anyone to be killed nobody would be, even if serious errors were made in the lodge's construction. Unfortunately for the victims the universe is made of energy, heat is energy, and energy is a lot more tangible than thought.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, in this article I'm using the term "energy" to mean tangible, physical energy - in this particular case heat. I'm not talking about "psychic energy" or "magical energy," which I agree are terms that get thrown around pretty freely among magicians and often don't correspond to anything physical. I think the last sentence makes that pretty clear, but at least a couple of readers seem to have gotten the impression that I was saying "thought is less substantial than psychic energy." Obviously, that's a meaningless statement without some way to physically quantify "psychic energy."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So I Have This Novel...

Yes, you read that right.

My novel Arcana was recently picked up by Pendraig Publishing. No word yet on the release date, but the book was just listed today on the Pendraig web site along with a brief summary of the story:

Balzador was once a mighty Demon, but after opposing his master Coronzon he found himself exiled on Earth inhabiting a human body. Only one way remains for him to return home - binding together the world's magick and joining in a war against the Archons, sworn enemies of the Demons, that would upset the cosmic balance of power. Standing in his way is the Guild, a magical order founded during the European Renaissance that holds the secrets of practical magick he desperately needs to complete his task.

After a terrible magical accident the Guild is divided and distracted. Guild initiate Michael Niemand and A.'.A.'. initiate Samantha Davis must unite the members of their respective magical orders against Balzador's machinations if any of them hope to survive. Complicating their task further, the government magick office has taken an interest in the Demon and the Guild and seeks to use both for its own purposes. As Balzador's plans unfold, the two magicians struggle to stop the binding spell and find a way to destroy the immortal Demon. But will their efforts prove too late?

It's not a technical treatise on ritual magick, but it is a fun adventure story with a lot of magical elements. I've also slipped in bits and pieces of the operant magical model so that everything in the story lines up with my hypotheses on the nature of real magick, though as a work of fiction there is of course some exaggeration of magical powers for dramatic effect.

So I'm about to become a published author, and it only took me twenty years or so. I'm hoping that most of my regular readers will be interested in checking the book out once it's released.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not Christian Enough

According to an article posted over on Raw Story, a Baptist church in North Carolina will be hosting a book burning of works that they deem "Satanic." While this is certainly not the first time a conservative Christian church has burned books, what makes this event noteworthy is that rather than published magical texts or copies of Harry Potter novels the books slated to be burned include the Bible and works of less conservative but nonetheless prominent Christians who have been deemed "heretics" by the church.

Church leaders deem Good News for Modern Man, the Evidence Bible, the New International Version Bible, the Green Bible and the Message Bible, as well as at least seven other versions of the Bible as "Satan's Bibles," according to the website. Attendees will also set fire to "Satan's popular books" such as the work of "heretics" including the Pope, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Rick Warren.

"I believe the King James version is God's preserved, inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God," Pastor Marc Grizzard told a local news station of his 14-member parish.

There is a belief among a some conservative Christian congregations that the King James Bible is the only accurate English translation of scripture, which is a belief that is remarkable in its ignorance to anyone who has studied the Bible in the original language. The King James was translated from the Latin vulgate, itself a rather inaccurate translation of the Hebrew and Greek found in the original text, and as a result is full of errors that the more modern translations have tried to correct. These modern translations have sometimes provoked controversy but I've never heard of a church going to far as to burn them.

Fortunately the nuttiness of this congregation doesn't seem to be widespread. Our local Twin Cities OTO body has more than 14 members, and Christianity is a much more mainstream spiritual system than Thelema. In fact, one wonders if this group might be drifiting into cult territory given its extreme beliefs and miniscule numbers. It reminds me of how Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to partake in any celebration or holiday that was ever celebrated at some point in history by pagans, which is, well, all of them. My question is how strong can this group's beliefs possibly be if they're afraid that the wrong Bible translation will give them heretic cooties?

Grizzard's parish website explains that the Bible is the "final authority concerning all matters of faith and practice," for Amazing Grace Baptist Church. In the Parish doctrinal statement, Grizzard expounds that "the Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning, and all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the preacher."

Which is just plain funny, given that the King James contains a number of translation errors that fly in the face of "grammatical-historical meaning." I guess by "historical" what they really mean is the seventeenth century rather than the period in which the texts were actually written. And if indeed all issues of interpretation and meaning are being determined by this particular preacher with no room for discussion or disagreement among the congregation that just makes the group sound even more cultish to me.

The event also seeks to destroy "Satan's music" which includes every genre from country,rap and rock to "soft and easy" and "Southern Gospel" and" contemporary Christian."

Granted, in my opinion most "contemporary Christian" music is not particularly good because it would be mainstream if anyone outside the evangelical community wanted to listen to it, but it honestly amazes me that any Christian would have a problem with Gospel music. Generally speaking, Gospel tunes are songs that for the most part simply praise God and Jesus rather than advocate any specific theological position that could be attacked as "heretical."

In the end this group appears to be so obsessed with being the right kind of Christians that any religious practice or interpretation that differs from theirs, even trivially, is wrong enough that it must be destroyed. That's not a healthy attitude for Christians to have, or for that matter anyone else.

UPDATE: If the members of this church think the New International Version Bible is evil, this will likely make their heads explode. It's an illustrated version of the Book of Genesis by underground comic artist Robert Crumb, who true to form includes all of the explicit parts - and in the text of Genesis there are a lot of them. It would be pretty amusing to send all 14 members of this church copies of it and get their reactions.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Political Magick in Australia?

Are dark magicians at work influencing the Federal Parliament of Australia? Pastor Daniel Nalliah thinks so, and is organizing what he calls a "prayer offensive" to combat these unnamed sorcerers. That is, he's casting a counterspell - as I've mentioned numerous times on this blog, any prayer directed toward a specific goal is exactly the same thing as casting a magical spell. What evidence does Nalliah have? Why, the discovery of a "black mass altar!"

The discovery of a "black mass altar" at Mount Ainslie in Canberra by a group of school students had inspired him to organise a prayer gathering at the area on Saturday.

"The type of altar discovered on Mount Ainslie pointed to a black mass and the work of dark forces wanting to cast spells on Australia and federal parliament," Mr Nalliah said.

"These days people don't think the devil is real but we have seen the bad effects of the spiritual being known as Satan and we believe there is a spiritual fight over the nation of Australia being fought in the heavens."

Asked what evidence of Satan there was in parliament, Mr Nalliah said: "The number of politicians who have serious marriage problems."

I would be interested to see what the divorce rate is for politicians compared to the general population in Australia. Something like half of all marriages end in divorce and I suspect being married to a politician is especially stressful, so I'm guessing that the rate would have to become pretty outrageous before it crossed into paranormal territory. I also find it pretty amusing how Nalliah leaps from the discovery of an altar to the apparently obvious conclusion (to him) that it was being used to cast spells on Parliament. Actually, the most popular spells tend to be for love, money, or revenge rather than the passage of some particular bill or referendum, so my guess is that if this altar was in fact set up by a working magician and not a bunch of kids fooling around those are the most likely spells that would have been cast.

This whole altar incident brings to mind a story I heard years ago. Back in the mid-1990's I did some work with a small magical group here in the Twin Cities for about a year or so. One of the members had a pretty remarkable imagination, to the point where just about any story he told had to be taken with a grain (or maybe a bucket) of salt. He once told me a story about being out in one of the parks down by the Mississippi River after dark and coming upon a "Satanic Altar." He destroyed the altar by smashing it to bits, but as he did so a black hand reached up out of the altar and tried to grab him. He got away from the apparition, but not before it managed to grab his hand. He then proceeded to show off a cut on his hand as "proof" that he had been attacked by a Satanic entity.

While I've seen enough weird things over the years that I've been practicing magick to know that such a story is not absolutely impossible, there are a number of factors that make me doubt its veracity. One of the current members of my magical working group was there that night, and he tells me that while he felt some sort of hostile presence, he did not see any apparitions or other measurable paranormal activity and the whole incident with the altar supposedly happened while the person who claimed to have experienced it was off in the woods by himself. Furthermore, since many of the pagan groups in town do public rituals in that particular park, the altar was much more likely to have been put there by a pagan than by a Satanist. Finally, the "black hand" is pretty over-the-top and I've never seen anything quite like it when working a ritual.

My guess is that what really happened is that for some reason the atmosphere in the park felt weird that night. It might have been a spiritual presence, but it also might not even have been paranormal - high-tension power lines run through the park and if the load was high that night the electromagnetic field might have been perceptible. My friend probably did find some sort of altar, freaked out, smashed it, and in the process cut his hand - he said that he destroyed the altar by smashing it with a walking stick, which would make a hand injury well within the realm of possibility. Maybe he even saw a shadow that looked like a hand and then put the whole thing together into a gripping yarn. I'm serious, in the old days this guy would have probably been a bard or something. He really could tell a good story.

So where am I going with this? Well, one of the things that I think magicians need to cultivate is a skeptical attitude toward claims of this sort. It's counter-productive to dismiss them out of hand like the hardcore skeptics do, but at the same time blindly accepting them as true is also problematic. Daniel Nalliah has clearly not learned his lesson here - he jumps from a fact (an altar was found) to an essentially unrelated conclusion (spells are being cast on Parliament). This the same logical fallacy that Scott Adams epitomized in one of his Dilbert books as "My car won't start. I'm certain that the spark plugs have been stolen by rogue clowns." I mean, it's possible, but is it likely?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Even More Soccer Magick

So has the World Cup soccer scene become more involved with magick in recent years, or has it always been that way and tabloid media outlets are finally catching on? That's the first question raised by the latest tale of magick-for-hire from the footballing world.

Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo is at the centre of a sordid battle between sorcerers with one trying to ruin him on behalf of a spurned lover and another to save him, reports said Wednesday.

"A rich foreign woman who was betrayed" has paid a Spaniard nicknamed Pepe to "end Ronaldo's career," Correio da Manha daily said.

Ronaldo, who is often photographed with a beautiful young woman on his arm, is currently carrying an ankle injury, and the sorcerer Pepe is claiming credit for it.

Pepe was pictured holding a black wax doll and a photo of the Real Madrid forward with his name scrawled across it.

Ronaldo's ankle injury is not believed to be serious, but as it apparently happened after the curse was cast this magician might have some real ability. Complicating the situation further, a friend of the football star has apparently hired a second magician to keep him safe from harm.

The daily 24 Horas, which carried the same story, said another "fetisher" called Fernando Nogueira, known as the "sorcerer Fafe" was contacted on Tuesday by "someone very close" to Ronaldo "to counter the black magic of this so-called Spanish sorcerer."

Fafe, while casting doubt on the powers of his rival, told the paper he had "burnt candles next to a photo of Ronaldo to put an end to what is being done, if it is true."

So do we have an actual magical war on our hands that is getting some media coverage? I will say that I'm curious to see what the outcome will be. Any real magician should be able to state his or her intentions publicly and then watch as the intended events come to pass. Any claims made after the fact are immediately suspect without an accurate and verifiable record of the original spell, its statement of intent, and when it was cast.

Today's revelation accuses socialite Paris Hilton of hiring Pepe to cast the curse. Of course, she's one of those people that the tabloids have accused of just about everything else as well.

The witchcraft expert has revealed that he was hired by a woman who was “deceived” by the Portuguese man-o’-sex. Given his penchant for ladies of ill repute, this piece of information doesn’t exactly round things down, but Pepe also describes his client as “very famous, rich and not European”. Therefore, the Spanish press infer that the prime suspect is Paris Hilton, who has publicly admitted that Ronaldo was “too gay” for her.

Pepe says he charged €15,000 to inflict C-Ron’s recent injury via a voodoo doll, but he will charge a lot more to “finish his career”. The sorcerer says he has already cast a spell to end the winger’s playing days, and he would not break it even if “Ronaldo’s crying mother knelt before him.”

Could this get any more ridiculous? Given the nature of tabloids, I suppose that's a question I shouldn't be asking. I mean, so far nobody is claiming that Bat Boy is involved...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paranormal Research Update

As of yesterday the EMF detector is ordered and on its way. Amidst all the other stuff that I'm working on in my seemingly non-existent free time I'm looking forward to getting the device set up so I can test my evocations for electromagmetic field variations. My plan is to try out a series of different evocation methods and see which ones, if any, result in spirits that are capable of spiking the electromagnetic field inside the triangle and/or Sigillum Dei Aemeth. It opens up a lot of possibilities for research and hopefully I can inspire others to try it out themselves - the larger the sample size, the more accurate the research. Out of curiosity, I wrote about using an EMF detector in conjunction with magical rituals last month and a few folks seemed interested. Has anybody tried it out yet?

Also, last weekend was Pagan Pride here in the Twin Cities. My wife had a table there selling books and she wound up speaking with someone from a local paranormal research group. She was relaying some of my ideas about using magick in conjunction with paranormal investigation methods and it sounds like the group might be interested in trying some of it out. I'll keep you all posted and let you know if anything pans out, and if so what the results turn out to be. I have a number of ideas that I would like to test out, ranging from evaluating the effectiveness of clearing out haunted places using banishing rituals to facilitating spirit manifestations using ceremonial evocation techniques.

If the banishing rituals in particular work the way that I hope they will, it will give paranormal investigators one more tool to help homeowners who just want to get rid of hauntings. It's something of a given in the paranormal field that blessing a house doesn't work very well, and even if it does work the effects are temporary. On the other hand, I have a magician friend who claims to have cleared out a haunted house using ceremonial methods and apparently the ghost went away and never came back after one ritual. I'm planning on doing more rigorous testing because I know that data is not the plural of anecdote, but if the story is generally accurate it at least sounds like a promising area for further investigation.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

One More News Roundup

Here are a few more stories from the last week. I'll be back with more original magick articles soon, but for now, enjoy!

At a recent speech in Prague a spider seems to have taken a liking to the Pope. Spiders bother a lot of people, but the Pope took it in stride and barely reacted. Clearly he's been keeping up on his meditation.

A large arachnid appeared on the pope's white robes as he addressed politicians and diplomats in Prague on Saturday afternoon. The pope didn't seem to notice at first — but journalists following the speech on a large screen flinched as the spider inched toward Benedict's neck.

It disappeared from view for a moment, but then could be seen crawling up the right side of the 82-year-old pontiff's face.

When it reached his ear, Benedict gave it a swat. But it didn't go away — it reappeared on the pope's left shoulder and scampered down his robe.

If you're looking for paranormal activity in Britain, paranormal researcher Lionel Fanthorpe has assembled the perfect guide to places with weird activity of various sorts, from ghosts to UFO's. His website can be found here.

These facts emerge in a study by paranormal researcher and priest Lionel Fanthorpe, who has identified the spookiest places in Britain over the past 25 years. Big cats, the ghost of Dick Turpin and aliens all crop up in his research based on unexplained incidents reported to the police and leading paranormal organisations.

Apparently in Connecticut the psychic trade has gotten violent - or maybe not. A psychic who reported being attacked by rivals has been charged by police with lying about the attack. It sounds like they need a good psychic to get to the bottom of what really happened. Oh, wait...

A Connecticut psychic who said she was assaulted in an attack she believed was arranged by rival psychics has been charged with lying about the incident. Greenwich police arrested 35-year-old Janet Lee of Norwalk on Saturday on charges including falsely reporting an incident.

Lee, who promotes herself the "foremost psychic in New England," called police on July 11 to report that a man had beaten her outside her Greenwich office. She said she believed rival psychics in town who had left her threatening phone messages were responsible, but she did not know their names.

In his new book former Bush speechwriter Mark Latimer has alleged that the Bush administration opposed giving J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the grounds that the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft.

Latimer writes that administration officials objected to giving author J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom because her writing “encouraged witchcraft” (p. 201):

"This was the same sort of narrow thinking that led people in the White House to actually object to giving the author J.K. Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged withcraft."

While I was never a fan of the Bush administration and find the hand-wringing over Harry Potter ridiculous, I'm nonetheless left wondering if this is what really happened or if it's just another piece of insider gossip. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who have contributed to:

1) the security or national interests of the United States, 2) world peace, or 3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Given that description, I find it hard to imagine how J.K. Rowling would qualify with or without the "witchcraft" angle. Her main claim to fame is that she's sold a lot of books, and after all I don't see anyone proposing a Presidental Medal of Freedom for Dan Brown even though The Da Vinci Code outsold all of the Harry Potter novels.

I plan on getting back to regular blogging soon and for that matter getting the archives uploaded. There's no new publishing news this week, but I'll keep you all posted on that as well as soon as I know more.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Busy Busy Busy

And here I thought I would have more time to update the blog now that fall is here! So much for that idea.

The good news is that I'm in the process of working out publishing deals for both Operant Magick, my textbook on ritual magick that I've mentioned here before, and Arcana, a fictional novel about magicians. Unfortunately that plus working full time means I have less time to update the blog that I would ideally like. I'm also working on getting the archive stories put together and posted, and hopefully I'll have time to get some of that done soon. In the meantime, here are some recent news stories that touch on religion, spirituality, and in one case just plain Fortean weirdness. Enjoy!

Nepal suffers a goat shortage just days before a major religious festival honoring the Hindi goddess Durga.

"Kathmandu city faces a shortage of goats during the festival, which always brings a high demand for goat meat," Bijaya Thapa, deputy general manager at the Nepal Food Corporation, told AFP.

"We are bringing goats in to ease the supply and to control dramatic price hikes."

Goats and other animals are traditionally slaughtered during the 15-day festival, which begins on September 19, to appease the Hindu goddess of power, Durga.

Officials have been tasked with persuading farmers to sell their livestock in rural areas, where the government has posted adverts calling on people to sell their goats.

Thapa said the price of the animals had risen by around 25 percent in the capital as the festival approached, and the government was hoping to bring in around 6,000 of them.

Here's a question for anyone who might happen to know - how do I go about starting my own banana sex cult?

A cult leader in Papua New Guinea fled naked into the jungle after being confronted by police over allegations that he'd forced followers to have sex in public, with the promise that it would boost the banana harvest.

The man, identified as Thomas Peli, told his followers that the banana harvest would increase every time they had sex in public, according to the Parpua New Guinea Post-Courier - and he reinforced his demands for public fornication with threats of violence.

Maybe this next story means there's somebody in Cameroon who can finally teach me how to cast a lightning bolt!

A lightning bolt that struck a school, killing five children has been blamed on witchcraft by a traditional ruler in northwest Cameroon.

State radio said that 58 other children went into shock after the lightning bolt hit the small village school on Tuesday. A teacher said the bolt hit at the beginning of the school day.

The Virgin Mary has apparently visited Samoa. Unfortunately for believers, it's very possible for normal weathering and thermal effects to create images that vaguely resemble the traditional representation of the Virgin Mary, but since no picture accompanies the story I'll reserve judgment for now.

The image caused by weathering on the outside of the six-storey office building in the capital Apia has been the focus of prayer vigils on Monday and Tuesday night.

Although the image has not been officially recognised by the South Pacific nation's Catholic Church, which especially reveres the mother of Jesus Christ, a church spokesman said it represented an important message.

"This is something people should look deeply into," said Father Spatz Silva, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archbishop.

Forteans want to know: what the hell is this thing?

A slimy, glob-like creature dubbed Gollum has terrified children after it slithered out of a lake and clambered over the rocks towards them.

The young teenagers were playing by the waterfront in a Panama lake near Cerro Azul when the bald beast emerged from a cave behind a waterfall. They started screaming as it shuffled out "as if to attack them".

Locals told Panama news the monster was like "Gollum from Lord of the Rings".

Experts believe that the strange animal could be some sort of sloth, but whether it's a bizarre mutation, a new species, or even the result of some sort of magical experimentation is hard to determine without further investigation.

Finally, Salon has an amusing write-up today listing many of the failed predictions regarding the time and date of the Apocalypse that have been made over the last several centuries. I had heard of most of these previously, such those made by the Millerites, but there are also a few more recent ones on the list that I wasn't aware of.

In a poll from earlier this decade, 17 percent said they expected the world to end in their lifetime. Perhaps that's why, even though Jesus may have admonished that no man knows the day and hour, so many people can't resist making a pseudo-educated guess about the day and hour.

One of the more popular theories making the rounds lately has centered on the Mayan calendar, which runs out in 2012. You get the drift -- don't make any plans for 2013. The New Agey claptrap is popular enough that it inspired Roland Emmerich's upcoming apocalypse-porn blockbuster "2012," due in multiplexes everywhere this November.

With a hat tip to the citizens of New Jersey, Roland Emmerich and the ancient Mayans, we present this honor roll of doomsday panics and false messiahs -- a whole lot of past predictions that didn't pan out, and a few more current revelations that are looking iffy. This is the way the world doesn't end. No bang, lots of whimpers.

I find linking 2012 with the end of the world especially silly. We have very little information about Mayan religion and magick and what we do have doesn't address why they drew out their calendar in such a way that it ends in that particular year. There are no Mayan prophecies, predictions, or anything else associated with 2012 - it just happens to be when their calendar runs out. We can probably blame much of the current hysteria on the Spanish conquistadors who decided that it would be a smart move to burn the vast majority of Mayan codices, some of which might have explained why the calendar was set up the way it was. In my opinion it is this very lack of information that fuels most of the New Age speculation about the Mayan calendar and civilization.

I suppose if the world really does end in 2012 I'll owe somebody an apology for my skepticism, but then if we're all dead I'm guessing the whole question will be academic.

UPDATE: There's this idea that the entire Mayan civilization disappeared, but that's not true. There are still plenty of Maya in parts of the Yucatan peninsula to this day, and according to them there's no apocalypse on its way. If that doesn't settle the question I don't know what will.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your Own Dan Brown Bestseller

Author Dan Brown unveiled his latest novel, The Lost Symbol, this week. The novel is a sequel to The Da Vinci Code and continues the adventures of Robert Langdon, the "professor of symbology" featured in both the aforementioned book and Angels and Demons. Have you ever wished that you could write your own Dan Brown bestseller? Well, now you can, thanks to modern technology. Slate introduces the Dan Brown Sequel Generator! Just select your city and a nefarious group up to no good and the computer does the rest. It's too bad that it only writes plot summaries, not full novels, since one well-received book of this sort can make an entire writing career, just like The Da Vinci Code did for Dan Brown. I've heard that prior to the media frenzy surrounding that particular novel none of Brown's books had sold more then ten thousand copies, but as we all know that one bestseller changed everything for him. His older books have now sold in the millions as well and Angels and Demons was made into a film. With its pre-Da Vinci sales numbers that never would have happened.

Years ago students at M.I.T. developed a romance novel generator, but I haven't heard anything about that particular technology in many years and am left wondering what became of it. Especially with today's more advanced computers it should be possible to build a much more complex program that could produce something akin to a Dan Brown novel. It's not as if the computer's fact base needs to be all that accurate - Slate also points out that there's no such thing as a "professor of symbology" and that the new novel set in Washington DC gets a lot of things wrong about the city. To be fair to Brown I did enjoy both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons for what they were, so it might be a bit of challenge to program a computer with the necessary language skills to build suspense and keep the story moving along at a brisk pace. As a writer I know there's a lot of nuance involved that very well might still test the limits of artificial intelligence, and as a software developer that strikes me as pretty compelling problem to solve.

By the way, is it just me or does the cover of The Lost Symbol look suspiciously similar to the cover of Rhonda Byrne's The Secret? If the resemblance isn't coincidental, maybe it's a teaser for Brown's next novel in which followers of The Secret and that What the Bleep? movie kidnap a famous quantum physicist and threaten to banish one fundamental particle from reality by the power of concentrated attention each hour unless the National Academy of Sciences issues a proclamation declaring that all objects in the universe are constructed from thought rather than matter. In the climactic scene, Robert Langdon could defeat the cultists by demonstrating that positive thinking can't stop a bullet fired at the group's leader and then taking advantage of the ensuing confusion to escape with the physicist and Marlee Matlin. Matlin could even play herself in the inevitable film, and maybe we could give Byrne and that "messages in water" guy bit parts.

Hey, that sounds like a winner to me! Now where's my royalty check?

UPDATE: I finally came across a review of The Lost Symbol that summarizes the plot, and it sounds like the teaser is for this novel, not the next one. The plot actually does have to with "water memory" and that What the Bleep? nonsense, except with Freemasons. So much for my great idea - but maybe they can still get Marlee Matlin to be in the movie.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Research Idea: The EMF Meter

I've been watching a lot of Ghost Hunters lately and one of the paranormal investigation tools that I find fascinating is the EMF meter. The theory in paranormal research is that the presence of a spirit can be measured by this device, and if an EMF spike is detected in the course of an investigation that has no physical source such as unshielded electrical wiring it can be taken as evidence of the possible presence of a spirit. Paranormal investigators even have a type of EMF detector called a K-II meter that can sometimes be used successfully to communicate with spirits at a haunted location.

One of the issues that we discussed on this blog awhile back is the way in which many traditional evocation practitioners look for some sort of objective evidence of the spirit's presence rather than relying on subjective mechanisms such as intuition or a psychic sense of its manifestation. I'm in agreement that some sort of objective measurement would be useful even though my psychic sense is generally pretty good, but I also am not interested in the spirits I summon burning up the energy that could otherwise be put into manifesting my magical intent on silly parlor tricks like moving objects or making noises.

It seems to me that using an EMF detector in conjunction with a magical ritual might be a happy medium between these two perspectives. So long as you can verify that your temple is free of electrical interference and spirits really do produce small electromagnetic fields, an EMF detector should be able to sense the presence of a spirit when it manifests without the spirit expending any additional energy. This model seems perfect - it is inexpensive and unlike the EMF detectors generally used by ghost hunters it has an external probe connected to the detector that could be placed within the triangle or on top of the Sigillum Dei Aemeth.

If this method turns out to work to detect summoned spirits it opens up a number of new avenues for paranormal research. In particular, the next test I would try is to see if the strength of the electromagnetic field corellates to the probability shift produced by the ritual. If I can show some sort of relationship between the two, it would give the aspiring magician the ability to predict the effectiveness of a spell as it is cast and would also constitute a pretty significant breakthrough in terms of understanding the nature of conjured spirits and how they work.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm going to pick up one of these detectors soon and try it out and I'll keep you all posted on how it goes. In the meantime, has anybody else out there tried this or something similar? If so, did it work?