Monday, August 31, 2009

Maybe Psychics Get Rich After All

One of the most common criticisms of alleged psychic powers is that if you really can see the future you should be rich. While the argument includes some inaccurate assumptions about how precognition really works, the central point is still somewhat valid - anyone who can perceive the future in enough detail should be able to use that ability to make money. Even beyond obvious things like lottery numbers, a genuine precognitive should be able to read the future behavior of markets and economies and act accordingly. If insider traders can make millions based on having a pretty good idea of what a stock is going to do a day in advance, just think of how well an effective precognitive could do.

The Washington Post has an article up today about Shari Arison, one of the richest women in the Middle East. What makes Arison more interesting than your run-of-the-mill oligarch is that she does in fact claim to have the power to see the future.

But the biggest jolt comes from the woman in the executive chair: Arison -- billionaire ($2.7 by Forbes's most recent estimate), perhaps the richest woman in the Middle East, a major force in Israeli philanthropy -- claims that she can see the future.

This is much bigger than a parlor trick. In her new book published this summer in Israel, the 51-year-old Miami native says she felt the Indonesian tsunami sweeping over the land two months before it happened and sensed Hurricane Katrina pummeling New Orleans. In an interview, Arison says she also "saw the writing on the wall" before the global economic crash.

Such psychic powers would certainly be useful to any high-rolling business executive. In fact, if you really had the ability to look into the future far enough to see the results of any business deal it seems unlikely that you would ever fail. Much of Arison's wealth was inherited so it's hard to see how her alleged powers could have influenced her overall station in life, but it is true that she has done very well for herself, substantially better than many of her economic peers.

Still, one wonders how much of this is really rationalization after the fact. We don't have any evidence that would allow us to determine how effective Arison's predictions are since she has never publicized them. It certainly would have been nice of her to notify somebody about the Indonesian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina or the recent economic crisis.

Reading about Arison's extrasensory perception makes you ache for a heads-up, maybe a blog entry or a tweet or a phone call to Brownie or Greenspan or somebody who might have helped.

The honest truth, though, is that without a solid track record she probably wouldn't have been believed anyway. Psychics, even rich ones, are not taken seriously by the powers that be in our society, and it's understandable that Arison hasn't come forward with her claims before now. However, according to her recent book this reticence regarding announcing her predictions may be changing soon. If she indeed starts making her predictions public it will become possible to get some idea of whether or not her powers really work or if she is simply a good guesser.

Arison explains that she has finally dropped the fear that has held her back from doing more about what she has perceived. Armed with the insight gained through work with Florida-based psychiatrist Brian Weiss, a proponent of regression therapy and the exploration of (take your pick) deep memories or past lives, she says she is ready to go public with her visions and bring together her spiritual and business goals.

As a magical researcher I'll be on the lookout for any of Arison's predictions that are announced in the media ahead of time and are testable. If they turn out to be accurate, maybe the skeptics are right and psychics really do wind up rich - at least if they have enough working capital to start with.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Door-to-Door Atheists

Seeing as my last article was a real downer, I figured it was about time to post something a little sillier and came across this video over the weekend.

An independent filmmaker, tired of being bothered by door-to-door Mormon missionaries, decided to turn the tables on them. He and a friend dressed up as "atheist missionaries" and went door-to-door in Salt Lake City, the headquarters of the Mormon church, preaching the beliefs of atheism - or, I suppose, the lack thereof. The results are pretty much what you would expect. Even the Mormons, who themselves spend a year or two as young adults going door-to-door, don't much like it.

From a spiritual technology standpoint I've wondered for years about churches that try to recruit by going door-to-door. It amazes me that anything so generally annoying to most people would be even marginally effective at bringing in new members. But I suppose it's a little like spam e-mail - even though I've never met anyone who will admit to responding to ads for penis enlargers or letters from Nigerian princes looking to launder illegal funds, the scammers wouldn't keep doing it if there was really no money to be made there.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Human Sacrifice in Uganda

Here's one of those stories that seems too ridiculously lurid to be true, but apparently police investigators have turned up a more evidence than one might expect for an outright hoax or another incident of hysteria-fueled persecutions. Apparently authorities in Uganda have identified a cult originating in West Africa that is practicing human sacrifice.

Police are investigating a religious cult of predominantly wealthy people linked to human sacrifice in the country.

The Observer has learnt that Police earlier this year, acting on a tip-off, sanctioned an investigation into claims that some wealthy people in the country are responsible for the spiralling acts of child human sacrifice in the country.

The Acting Commissioner of the Police Investigations Department, Moses Binoga, told The Observer in an interview last Thursday at CID headquarters in Kibuli that the Police are taking these allegations seriously.

Since the start of the year, his department has gathered information on this cult whose activities are mainly concentrated in Kampala. He says the cult originated from West Africa.

These latest charges come right on the heels of a series of trials related to a criminal gang operating between neighboring Kenya and Burundi. Members of the gang were convicted of killing albinos for their body parts and selling them unscrupulous folk magicians who used them in traditional African witchcraft rituals.

The cult appears to have connections to Nigeria, where a number of groups claiming to practice "black magic" have recently been involved in a variety of crimes, prompting a crackdown by law enforcement.

Authorities in West Africa have in the recent past fought running battles with cult members. On August 6, cult members shot and killed a policeman in Nigeria who was considered a threat to the cult’s activities in Adigbe area.

In the same country, 13 students were killed in clashes between cults calling themselves the Black Axe and the Black Eye, all said to be practising black magic. Some of their activities include killing, rape, extortion and theft.

Nigeria Police also clashed with the Boko Haram cult, killing 700 people and arresting hundreds of members of the group.

It sounds like the mass arrests in Nigeria have forced cult members to relocate to the city of Kampala in Uganda, perhaps hoping to go unnoticed there. However, one of the reasons human sacrifice is comparatively rare is that even in a country with lax law enforcement it's hard to keep it secret for very long. When people go missing their relatives usually start asking questions, and one big arrest can break the whole scheme wide open.

In December 2008, the arrest of businessman Godfrey Kato Kajubi in connection with the kidnap and ritual killing of 12-year-old Joseph Kasirye, brought to light many other cases totalling 318 in 2008 – up from 230 in 2006.

Kajubi is accused of buying the head of the boy for witchcraft to boost his wealth. Soon after Kajubi’s arrest, another man, Abbas Mugerwa, was arrested in Masajja after he beheaded his twins.

Mugerwa told The Observer that a rich man had asked him for his twins in exchange for Shs 50million, a deal Mugerwa agreed to; prompting him to behead the three-year olds.

In Nakibizi, Mukono District, one Emmanuel Kironde, a toddler, was found dead with his neck and wrists missing. The toddler had gone missing from his grand mother’s home, Namwandu Wamala, in Njeru Town Council.

Police arrested Moses Kimbowa, a witchdoctor and his accomplices Muzamiru Mukalazi and Anthony Ssendikadiwa. Kimbowa confessed to killing four people.

In addition to the shocking nature of the crimes themselves, what makes the whole situation even worse (if that's possible) is that this sort of magick doesn't necessarily even work particularly well for many sorts of spells. It is possible to raise magical energy by killing living things and killing a human being releases more energy than killing an animal, but at least according to the energetic models found in both the Western and Asian esoteric traditions substantially more usable power can be summoned by a magician who knows how to work with the energy of his or her subtle body. According to Qigong, all living animals have a certain amount of spiritual energy running along what is called the central channel. This is a flow of energy that unites Heaven and Earth Qi, which in the Western ceremonial system corresponds to Active and Passive Spirit. It's like the poles on a battery, where electrons flow between the cathode and anode. When an animal is killed in the context of a magical ritual the energy that is in the central channel at the moment of death is liberated and can be directed into a magical spell.

A number of traditions make use of animal sacrifices under specific delineated circumstances, as the spiritual energy liberated at the moment of death behaves kind of like a static charge. It can produce a momentary powerful surge of energy, but is of limited use for sustained magical work unless you have a continuous supply of living creatures to sacrifice. On the other hand, a magician who knows how to draw energy from his or her own central channel has a practically unlimited source of energy available, much like the current traveling across the electrical grid, and should rarely need to "boost" this current by sacrificing anything, let alone a child. When sacrificial methods are used in votive traditions there are other considerations involved such as the power of the specific spirit or deity to whom the sacrifice is offered, but in my experience there are plenty of powerful spirits that can be called upon to get a job done without requiring any sort of blood sacrifice.

Part of me wonders if this cult has anything to do with someone who read the chapter on "The Bloody Sacrifice" in Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice and misunderstood it, thinking it to be a literal description of a magical practice. However, similar sacrificial methods have been part of African magick for a very long time so I'm sure that stories of the original traditional practices inspired Crowley's innuendos rather than the other way around. Also, the charges are horrifying enough that they may contain some moral panic elements and not be entirely true, like what went on here in the United States with the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare of the late 1980's and early 1990's. As the investigation is pending only time will tell, and here's hoping that justice will be served.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Archives Coming Soon

I've been having a busy summer and haven't been blogging as much as usual, but more content is on the way. As some of you know, I was blogging for a couple of years before I moved the site over to blogspot from the dedicated Scoop server that ran the original version. Running a dedicated server was easy to do at the time because back then I was a partner in a local ISP and could just keep the server hooked up at our office location without paying any expensive co-location fees. The ISP eventually folded, I moved the blog here, and the server went into storage, which brings us to today.

Back in March I took advantage of the Internet archives to load some of my older articles onto the site. As I mentioned then, though, I was only able to load in the shorter posts. Anything with a "cut" between the introduction and the story body could not be fully retrieved because of how Google's automated spiders read the pages from web sites into the archive. Soon I will be getting access to the articles from the original server and will be adding those as well, so this site will finally span my entire blogging "career" such as it is.

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer, and I'll be making another announcement once the rest of my archived articles have been added to the site.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Happens in America, Too

According to this story from Washington state it sounds like America has its own version of the "magic powder" scam that apparently was quite successful in the United Arab Emirates until it was recently shut down by police. Only over here there's no pretense of doubling the bank notes, no powder, and no counterfeit money. The scamsters just get ahold of the cash and take off.

Police said a mysterious woman known as Senora Monica offered to spiritually "cleanse" money for at least seven Hispanic families, but it was the families who got cleaned out. The woman vanished with $140,000.

This certainly is a lot simpler than switching the cash for fake bills covered in flour or whatever - just take the money and run. It also is more tailored to a Western audience. In American society the perception is that a strong dividing line exists between the physical and the spiritual, so most Americans would likely just laugh at a con artist who claimed to be able to double cash with a magick spell. On the other hand, as long as the supposed spell operates on a strictly spiritual basis by "cleansing" the money rather than doubling the physical bills it seems that the scam is much more readily accepted.

In truth, the division between matter and spirit is not as sharp as most Americans believe it to be nor as blurry as it is seen in older and more traditional societies. Some distinction exists but the divide is not absolute. Rather, it depends upon the precise nature of the spell. Doubling a physical stack of bills is quite difficult simply because of the probabilities involved in countering the law of conservation of mass and I would expect any magician to be skeptical of such a claim. On the other hand, the law of entropy is more flexible and in many cases magick can produce paranormal effects similar to those observed in hauntings simply by concentrating energy that would otherwise be diffused throughout the magical working space, or manipulate probability so that favorable events surround just about any object including a bank note.

The victims told police they met Senora Monica at a swap meet or heard her advertisements on Spanish-language radio. She advertised that she could help with anything from palm reading to infertility.

The families turned over their money for "cleansing" and were supposed to get it back Sunday night at the woman's storefront. She never showed, and police say much of the information on the business license for the store is false.

It's really too bad when people claiming to work magick for hire turn out to be scammers, both here and overseas. The news coverage makes the magical arts seem more like some sort of hustle than a legitimate field of study simply because if everything went according to plan and the victims got their money back instead of having it stolen there would be no story. That's part of the reason that I have mixed feelings about the skeptic movement, as I've mentioned in the past. Sure, many of them are closed-minded jerks with the spiritual awareness of a toaster, but one of the valuable services they perform is discrediting fake practitioners like this woman.

One wonders if someone in America might come up with a version of the scam that incorporates the counterfeit money angle from the UAE method. You take the money, pretend to cleanse it, and then replace about half of it with counterfeit bills. When the money is in a box or a suitcase or whatever nobody is going to go through it checking every bill. Of course, that does depend on the con artists being able to get their hands on decent counterfeit American money which has become more difficult with the new designs, watermarks, threads, and so forth. If you ever do decide to go and have your money cleansed in some way it is at least an angle to watch out for.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No, Not Just Ceremonialists

Awhile back we got into a discussion about how widely used effective magick really is. In the course of that discussion a number of readers got the idea that I was implying only people who use magick the way I do are actually using magick, which couldn't be further from the truth. Lots of people from many different religious traditions use magick, whether they refer to it as prayer or spellwork. I stand by the position I took in that discussion, that while the majority of people may attempt to make use of magick in some form only a small subset of that group can do so in a particularly effective manner.

Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings this time, let me be clear that in no way do I think that this "effective" subgroup is composed only of ceremonialists or pagans. I've met plenty of witches and ceremonialists who cast lousy spells, and I've also met esoteric Christians who really can work wonders with heartfelt prayer. The following two news stories show the diversity of magical practice around the world, and only time will tell if these attempts to make use of magical methods will prove effective.

This first story from Switzerland has an interesting history. In the seventeenth century the longest glacier in Europe caused a lake to flood into the villages of Fieschertal and Fiesch. The inhabitants of those two towns made a formal vow that they would pray against the glacier's expansion.

In 1678, the inhabitants of the Alpine villages of Fieschertal and Fiesch made a formal vow to live virtuously and to pray against the growth of the Aletsch glacier, Europe's longest, which had caused a lake to flood into their homes.

To reinforce their prayers, they started holding an annual procession in 1862, when the glacier reached its longest during the mini-Ice Age Europe suffered in the mid-19th century.

However, in the modern age of climate change those prayers appear to be working too well. Swiss glaciers have shrunk at the rate of 12% over the last decade, and the villagers are seeking an audience with the Pope so that they can receive his approval to change their vow so that they can instead pray against the glacier's retreat.

But the villages now want to seek permission from Pope Benedict to change their vow as the glacier is melting fast due to climate change and have requested an audience with him.

"The residents of Fiesch and Fischertal hope that this will happen in September or October and are optimistic that the Holy Father will decide in their favor as he has repeatedly spoken out about climate change," they said in a statement.

Roman Catholics use all sorts of magical practices, many involving veneration of specific saints. However, the top-down structure of the church in which everything needs to be approved by the hierarchy has always struck me as inflexible and impractical. Fortunately you don't have to go through a process like this every time you call upon a saint for help or guidance.

This second story from Israel involves a group of Kabbalistic rabbis determined to stop the swine flu epidemic by combining ancient magical methods with modern technology. In ancient times they would have walked around the city, but this time they decided to fly over it.

The rabbis prayed and blew seven times into ceremonial ram's horns known as shofars as they flew over Israel on Monday, the Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported.

"The aim of this operation is to stop this epidemic so that people don't die any more. Following our prayers, we are certain the danger is now over," Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri told the paper.

Israel has recorded five deaths from swine flu, while about 2,000 people are infected by the (A)H1N1 virus.

Traditional Jewish Kabbalah tends to be a secretive school that doesn't make it into the news very often, so it's interesting to hear about them taking action along these lines. While swine flu hasn't proved to be a particularly dangerous epidemic statistically speaking, let's hope that there will be no more deaths. This provides us with a good benchmark to evalute the magical power resulting from this ritual. If there are indeed no more deaths from swine flu in Jerusalem that will be a strong testament to the effectiveness of these practitioners and their magical school. So we'll be watching.

Both of these stories highlight the use of magick in Christianity and Judaism, though probably neither group involved would define their actions as such. Whether or not these operations succeed they still shed some light on the fact that magick is an integral part of human religious history across many traditions, and that it's not just ceremonialists who are out there practicing the art.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Trouble With Magical Ingredients

In many traditions ingredients that are rare or hard to come by are highly prized for their magical powers. Whether or not scarcity has anything to do with genuine magical efficacy, the biggest problem with such ingredients is that there is generally a limited supply. That means that as soon as too many people get it into their heads that an ingredient has magical power it can simply disappear.

On the island of Cyprus legend has it that dust from the tomb of Saint Agapitikos, whose name means "lover," is a particularly effective ingredient when concocting love potions. Unfortunately, so many people have bought into the legend over the years that a quarter of the tomb has disappeared.

Dust from the grave in the courtyard of the church in the village of Arodes in Paphos district has been used for centuries by the lovelorn, who are supposed to slip it into the drink of their objet d'amour.

But in recent years so many have been filching shards of stone that a quarter of the tomb has disappeared.

Mayor of Arodes Matthaios Stefanou is unclear whether Cypriots' love lives are becoming more troubled.

"A lot of people have said it works," he said. "In the last few years I don't know what's come over people, but they are flocking to the tomb for the stuff.

"Just the other day locals saw some people visiting the tomb, and they were there for a very long time, in the end they walked off with a huge chunk of stone, maybe even half a kilo of it!"

It sounds to me like would-be spellcasters have moved on to making talismans, which would explain the transition from dust to bits of stone. The antiquities department on Cyprus is working to prevent further damage to the tomb, which probably will mean tighter security around the tomb itself.

"You're very welcome to come and see the tomb, but please don't go taking any of it with you now," Stefanou said.

Aspiring lovers may soon be stuck with switching back to courtyard dust, though that doesn't necessarily mean potions are will be making a comeback. Dust can be placed in a small pouch and enchanted just like a piece of stone into an effective talisman, so perhaps some will go that route.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


This weekend I will be attending NOTOCON VII, the seventh biannual national Ordo Templi Orientis convention, in Seattle. I've attended the six previous conventions as well, and say what you want about the OTO, they do know how to throw a great party. The speakers and presenters they manage to line up are also interesting and thought-provoking, so unlike some other conventions I've been know to attend I actually try to make it to most of them rather than spend the whole weekend just hitting parties and chatting with people. It's nice to get a chance to socialize with brothers and sisters from around the country and there are some folks who I really only get to see at these conventions every other year.

I'm looking forward to a great weekend. Here's wishing all of you the same!

UPDATE: I'm back and a good time was had by all. I always enjoy opportunities to connect with my brothers and sisters, and this time I picked up some interesting information about John Dee's Sigillum Dei Aemeth - one of the presenters made the case that some of the names that appear on the standard image were derived incorrectly. While I'm often skeptical about different ways of reworking Enochian, doing a new set of derivations based on the original text looks promising. I'll keep you posted on that when I finally get around to working with it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Not This Trick Again!

We've recently been discussing spells using magical powders, but this takes it to a whole new level - that is, it would if it really worked.

Remember these guys? The confidence artists in Dubai who were arrested for claiming to be able to double any amount of money using magick? In the United Arab Emirates, this appears to be the scam that will not die, this time in the city of Abu Dhabi.

Two men were arrested in Abu Dhabi for swindling a large number of people with claims they possessed "magic powder" that doubled bank notes, a local newspaper reported on Sunday.

The men would show their victims what they said were the supernatural powers of the powder, which if sprinkled over a banknotes in a bag, would double the amount, The National cited the interior ministry as saying.

I'll say it one more time - if you really have magick powder that does this, why not just start with a low denomination bank note and double it every day? You'll wind up with billions at your disposal without the need to con anyone out of anything. I suppose the explanation could be that the money could only be doubled once, but still, the very existence of the con makes its premise dubious.

After the victims handed over a large number of notes, the "magicians" would swap the money with fake notes covered with the powder, which lab tests showed consisted of flour and washing powder, the paper reported.

"A massive number of people, not some, lost to them," said Colonel Maktoum al-Sharifi, the director of the Criminal and Investigative Directorate, without saying how much money the men had swindled.

The two men were caught in an Abu Dhabi hotel after they played the trick on an undercover policeman posing as a potential customer, the paper added.

Like spam e-mails, I suppose people are going to keep this up as long as there's money to be made and individuals who can be taken in by the con. I will say that it's a pretty ingenious method to get counterfeit currency into circulation - I'm guessing that nobody will want to admit they got the fake notes from a sorcerer if they're caught passing them.