Thursday, December 29, 2011

Priest Fight

Every year between December 25th and the Orthodox celebration of Christmas in the first week of January priests clean the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to have built on the site of Jesus' birth. This year, though, peace and understanding appear to be in short supply, as Palestinian police were forced to storm the church in order to break up a fight between Greek and Armenian Orthodox priests who had been working on cleaning the church.

Several dozen Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests were cleaning the interior of the church Wednesday morning when, according to witnesses, two of them began fighting. The fight quickly escalated, and soon, 50 to 60 priests were exchanging blows with broomsticks.

Bethlehem police were sent in to quell the fighting, Palestinian police Maj. Ahed Hasayen said. "This is an internal problem related to the Nativity church only. The Palestinian police had to interfere to stop the clashes as soon as possible to avoid devastating consequences," he said.

According to tour guide Ghassen Tos, the fight, while intense, was short in duration. “This did not last for long as soon as the Palestinian police interfered and succeeded to halt the clashes immediately,” he said. There were no reports of any serious injuries.

It's unclear from the report what the priests were fighting about. Cleaning house is one of those activities, though, that has a lot of potential for bringing out anger. This is not the first such fight, either - in 2007 priests from the same denominations were involved in a similar altercation. Maybe these two groups should take turns at the necessary cleaning tasks instead of trying to work together in the future.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Easter, Everybody!

This is the time of year when we celebrate the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, the occasion of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Oh, wait...

As it turns out Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci recently made this same error in his holiday message to the Vatican, confusing Christmas and Easter. The mistake was quickly corrected on the Prime Minister's web site, but my guess is that the Vatican was not amused.

In his festive statement, which was distributed by his office, he said that Easter is the most important holiday in the Catholic world. He went on to congratulate the official Vatican and all Catholics on the occasion of the resurrection of Christ, rather than his birth.

The prime minister went on to say that he hoped the Easter festivities would bring the Kosovan Catholics 'more warmth, hope and success' as well as 'progress in society, harmony and peace'. When officials in the prime minister's office noticed the error a second statement appeared on Thaci's official website, offering glad tidings over the festive period.

One thing I will say is that Thaci is a Muslim like the majority of Kosovars, and for anyone who doesn't celebrate Christian holidays this is an easy mistake to make. While Easter is officially the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, celebrations for Christmas around the world tend to be much more elaborate. This disparity has a lot to do with the push by American department stores in the 1920's to massively increase the significance of gift-giving so as to boost their sales. Finding a commercial tie-in for Easter has proven a lot more difficult - I mean, how many eggs can one person really buy?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Korean Weather Mourns Kim Jong-il

According to news dispatches from the world's only necrocracy, North Korea, the death of the nation's supreme leader Kim Jong-Il was mourned not only by his people, but by weather systems across the country. The weather events that reportedly were caused by his passing a week and a half ago included cracking ice, a snowstorm, and an "illustrious sunrise."

The state-controlled "news agency" claims that ice ruptured with an "unprecedented loud crack" at Chon Lake on Mount Paektu on Saturday morning. Mount Paektu was the site of a military camp used by Kim Jong-il's father. It is also where the country claims Jong-il was born. (However, historians maintain Jong-il was actually born in Siberia in 1942, where his father was in hiding away from Japanese troops.)

And the so-called miracles apparently aren't limited to cracking ice. The KCNA reports that a huge snowstorm followed the ice capade, which itself immediately was followed by an illustrious sunrise which lit up the words carved into the mountainside, "Mt Paektu, holy mountain of revolution. Kim Jong il."

North Korea's unique political system is a synthesis of Stalinism and Confucian ancestor-worship. When Kim Jong-il's father Kim Il-sung passed away the elder Kim was designated as the nation's "Eternal President." Kim Jong-il, meanwhile, assumed the title of "Supreme Leader." Whether the younger Kim will retain this title in death as "Eternal Supreme Leader" remains unclear, but whatever the case, the weather in North Korea appears to be none too happy about the whole affair.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Georgia Mayan Ruins a Hoax

Yesterday Raw Story and a number of other web sites passed along a report that a ruined Mayan city had been discovered in northern Georgia. This story made its way across the Internet, spread in part by how implausible it seemed. The Mayans, whose civilization covered the Yucatan peninsula and other portions of Mexico and Central America, were not thought to have settled anywhere in the continental United States. So either this was an incredible, groundbreaking archaeological discovery or an outright fraud. Sadly for those of us who would like to be able to visit a Mayan site that's closer than Mexico, it proved to be the latter.

According to the report, picked up from a fly-by-night Web pub called the Examiner, a small group of archeologists led by University of Georgia scholar Mark Williams discovered the 1,100-year-old city “on the southeast side of Brasstown Bald in the Nacoochee Valley.” Only, the report “is not true,” according to Williams, reached by email. “I have been driven crazy by this.”

The original story was written by one Richard Thornton — who claims that “like most Georgia and South Carolina Creeks, I carry a trace of Maya DNA,” and that his ancestors came to North America fleeing “volcanic eruptions, wars, and drought” — and it has certainly caught fire across the Twitter/blogosphere thanks to the general obsession with the 2012 Mayan prophecies. (Even the venerable Washington Post interrupted its regularly-scheduled news rapportage to alert readers that “a second brick found at a Mayan ruin also contained the Dec. 21, 2012, date.”)

So just like the 2012 nonsense, this "discovery" turned out to be entirely made up. The archaeologist who supposedly led the team who found ruins at the site was never even there and various other "facts" included in the report are similarly invented. As I've mentioned before, what clinched it for me on the 2012 hysteria is that the Mayans didn't "disappear" at all. They still live in the Yucatan and Central America and many of them practice their traditional religious beliefs. Whenever they get asked about their calendar and the supposed end of the world by New Agers, the answer is always the same - the doomsday scenario has nothing to do with the Mayan culture or religion. If the real Mayans don't even believe it, why should anyone else?

UPDATE: While it's possible that there are ancient Native American ruins at the Brasstown Bald site, they almost certainly are not Mayan. The Mississippians are known to have constructed settlements in northern Georgia, and while they built cities somewhat similar to those found in Mexico and Central America there is no known historical connection between their culture and that of the Mayans.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Anti-Witchcraft Squad Proves Deadly Again

Back in September I covered the story of a Sudanese man who was executed in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of practicing sorcery. The man's arrest and conviction were due to the efforts of Saudi Arabia's "anti-witchcraft squad" known as the Mutawa'een. Now this oppressive organization has proved deadly once more, with the execution earlier this month of a woman arrested in 2009 on similar charges.

The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. Our correspondent said she was arrested in April 2009.

But the human rights group Amnesty International, which has campaigned for Saudis previously sentenced to death on sorcery charges, said it had never heard of her case until now, he adds.

A Sudanese man was executed in September on similar charges, despite calls led by Amnesty for his release. In 2007, an Egyptian national was beheaded for allegedly casting spells to try to separate a married couple.

What continues to strike me as both tragic and ridiculous about cases like these is that even if these executed individuals were frauds, elevating their actions to capital offenses is practically the definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" that the Founding Fathers sought to ban in the United States Bill of Rights all the way back in 1789. Despite worldwide outrage from organizations like Amnesty International the Saudi anti-witchcraft squad shows no signs of easing up their investigations, which is bad news for anyone seeking to practice esoteric spirituality within their jurisdiction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When Jesus Tanned?

New research performed in Italy suggests that the discolorations on the Shroud of Turin could have been produced by ultraviolet light. By exposing pieces of linen to bursts of light in the ultraviolet spectrum, researchers have been able to replicate many of the same characteristics observed in the fibers of the mysterious Shroud.

Italian researchers at the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development say they believe the image was created by an ultraviolet "flash of light." However, if that theory is true, it remains a mystery as to exactly how that technology could have been implemented at the time of the Shroud's creation. While the technology is readily available in present day, it was far beyond the means of anyone around pre-20th Century.

The Turin Shroud is said to be the burial cloth of Jesus, but has long been believed to be a fake, created during medieval times. It is currently kept in a climate-controlled case in Turin cathedral. Scientists at the Italian agency have reportedly spent years attempting to recreate the Shroud's imagery. 'The results show a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can colour a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin,' the scientists said.

One of the reasons I've always been skeptical of the idea that the Shroud of Turin was in fact the burial cloth of Jesus is a problem of geometry. Let's say that you take a mannekin and lay it down on a slab, then cover the face with some sort of paint. If you then lay a cloth over the body to take an impression the image you get looks nothing like what's found on the Shroud. Because the cloth falls around the head when it covers the mannekin's face the image made by the paint will come out much wider than the original. As you can see from the image above, however, the face on the Shroud shows no signs of this sort of distortion.

While the ultraviolet light idea is intriguing, this geometric problem would mean that not only would Jesus have to have emitted ultraviolet light, but prior to that happening the cloth would have to have been lifted some distance from the body so that the resulting image would turn out like that from a camera. I heard an interesting theory years ago that the Shroud may have been an early attempt to produce a photograph using medieval technology. If a cloth is treated with chemicals and exposed to sunlight passing through a lens or even a small aperture for a long enough period of time the ultraviolet rays will discolor portions of the cloth and create a photograph-like image. It seems to me that these new ultraviolet findings could provide evidence that some similar method was indeed involved.

UPDATE: Morgan has more, offering up his own hypothesis that the Shroud is in fact the burial shroud of Frater RC, whose alleged time of death lines up with the carbon dating performed in 1988. Maybe he's onto something there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One More Stonehenge Mystery Solved

Stonehenge, England's most famous megalithic structure, has inspired occultists and paranormal investigators for centuries. Archaeologists working at the site have finally solved one of the monument's enduring puzzles - where the rocks used by the ancient builders originally came from. This site has finally been identified as Craig Rhos-y-felin in South Wales, more than a hundred miles from the Stonehenge site.

Over the past nine months, the researchers compared mineral content and textural relationships of the rhyolite debitage stones found at Stonehenge and were finally able to pinpoint the location to within several meters of their source. Ninety-nine percent of the samples could be matched to the rocks found at Craig Rhos-y-felin, which differ from all others found in south Wales.

Further research should help the researchers eventually understand how the rocks made the long journey to Stonehenge sometime between 3000 and 1600 BC. "Many have asked the question over the years, how the stones got from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge," said Dr. Richard Bevins, National Museum Wales. "Thanks to geological research, we now have a specific source for the rhyolite stones from which to work and an opportunity for archaeologists to answer the question that has been widely debated."

A hundred miles is a long way to move such immense rocks, but from what I've seen a number of ideas have been proposed that would have been plausible using the technology of the time. All of them would have involved an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of the builders, but if we are to assume that Stonehenge was a very important if not central religious site expending such effort upon it would not necessarily be unexpected. A site like Stonehenge is one more reminder that even though the ancients had access to less technology than we have today, they were just as intelligent and inventive as modern people in terms of working with what they had.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shop Augoeides for the Holidays!

As all of you probably noticed awhile back, I've completely given up on the Google ads. Frankly, I'm continually amazed that banner advertising is something companies are willing to pay for. I've never purchased anything off a banner ad myself and don't know anyone else who has either. On top of that, the ads that used to run across the top of my blog page attracted so few clicks that they were essentially worthless and at the same time mildly annoying. So now I've come up with a new way to generate a small amount of income for this site without costing my readers anything in terms of time or money. I originally set up an Amazon Associates store to capture commissions off my books, but quickly realized that it would work for any other product Amazon carries as well. Call it the Augoeides Store.

So here's the deal. If you still have holiday gifts to buy and are planning on ordering them from Amazon anyway, you can support this website at the same time. Clicking on my store link above will take you to the Amazon home page, just as if you had typed amazon.com into your browser. The difference is that every purchase you make will send a small commission my way. You can also just click on the link and bookmark it for later use. Ordering through my store instead of the Amazon homepage costs you nothing, as Amazon would otherwise just keep those commissions while charging you the same price. So if you're already planning on making some Amazon purchases and don't have your own associates store, please consider taking advantage of mine and helping to support my writing.

Thanks much, and happy holiday shopping!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Enochian Synchronicities

Back in the late 1990's there was something of a shift in the approach taken to Enochian magick. Up until that time most practitioners had pretty much accepted the Golden Dawn approach as published by Israel Regardie and articulated by Gerald Schueler, who had at that time written several introductory books on the system. One of the big points of contention when working with the Golden Dawn system was the elaborate pronunciation system believed to have been developed by Wynn Wescott. This pronunciation system linked the Angelic language to Hebrew by inserting Hebrew vowel sounds into difficult-to-pronounce clusters of consonants. In the late 1990's, though, a number of authors came to the conclusion that the best pronunciation system was that recorded by John Dee himself during his scrying sessions with Edward Kelley. Today Dee's pronunciation is used by most of the practitioners I know, which is quite different from the situation a decade or so ago. There is still some disagreement regarding how to read Dee's notations for particular words, but the insertion of Hebrew vowels is for the most part a complete non-starter.

Over the past few years it seems like another shift is on its way. The rise in popularity of grimoire magick has renewed interest in studying Enochian magick as a grimoire-based or at least grimoire-influenced style of magick. The Golden Dawn system relied on an elaborate series of Qabalistic associations to link Enochian into the order's version of the Tree of Life, and in fact there are still quite a few magicians who have found that dialect of the system useful. On the other hand, it seems like these days more and more people are working "old school" and many of the recent books on the system reflect this approach. These include Aaron Leitch's The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, Stephen Skinner's Practical Angel Magic of John Dee's Enochian Tables, and of course my own Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy, which includes modern ritual forms but still preserves the original structure of the system for those who would rather work with it that way. In addition, one of the first books published based on the original approach, Geoffrey James' The Enochian Evocation of Dr. John Dee is still in print. It was first published in 1983, so it seems to have predated the recent trend by almost thirty years.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wingnuts Outraged Normal Muslims Exist

I'm usually not a big fan of using the term "wingnut" to describe people who hold extremely conservative political beliefs. I'm not a conservative myself, but I can nonetheless see that all too often the term is used as a smear that communicates little real information besides vehement disagreement with its target. However, the group behind this latest controversy really worked hard to earn the name. It's not just that they're very conservative, but also that they're at the same time unbelievably stupid, ignorant, or both.

So here's the story. The Learning Channel recently began running a series called "All-American Muslim" about Muslim families living in the United States. The biggest takeaway from the series is that just like American Christians, American Muslims are actually pretty normal. This simple fact completely incensed a conservative group called the Florida Family Association, which went on to successfully lobby many companies including the Lowe's Hardware chain into pulling their ads from the show. The basis of the complaint appears to be that since Muslims are terrorists, none of the people on the show are real Muslims. The stupid, it burns.

Lowe's pulled the advertising after groups including the Florida Family Association complained to the company. In its letter, the family group wrote that the show was not portraying Muslim Americans realistically. The letter also stated: "Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show."

The idea that all Muslims are inherently terrorists, which is what this letter clearly implies, is so dumb that it barely merits a response. However, the success of the Florida Family Association's campaign unfortunately demands one. Nobody is denying that Muslim terrorists exist, but there is a huge difference between liberal American Muslims and followers of the Taliban or Al Qaida. Furthermore, as with most religions Muslim extremists represent a small but admittedly determined minority. I might as well declare that all Christians share the beliefs of Hutaree, which would be equally ridiculous.

Friday, December 9, 2011

This Guy Has to be a Magician

Remember my attempts back in June to identify the precise nature of the dead weasel spell unleashed in Hoquiam, Washington over the summer? In the comments Rob did come up with some possible ideas, but at the time nobody really knew whether this was some sort of magical operation or just a very strange one. However, more recent evidence suggests that the weasel-unleasher is a magician after all. He was just acquitted of wrongdoing in connection with the weasel assault.

A jury acquitted a Hoquiam man who was accused of breaking into a home and throwing a dead mink at another man during a confrontation that made weasel headlines across the country.

Defense lawyer Chris Crew said Monday the Grays Harbor County jury found 33-year-old Jobie J. Watkins of Hoquiam not guilty of burglary.

Crew said witnesses provided inconsistent accounts and the "prosecution failed to prove a link to the mink."

It's not a mink, it's a martin, dammit! And now I punch the author of this article. What I find incredible is that a jury could possibly think that anyone would just make the story up. It's way too weird, which suggested it being a spell in the first place. But a magician could probably pull it off using a really powerful spell for obtaining legal victories. If you have access to decent collection of grimoires, you can find a lot of those all across the Western Esoteric Tradition.

I've never seen a necromantic version, but that doesn't mean one doesn't exist. I wonder what sort of dead animal you would use. Liber 777 lists elephant and spider for Libra, which rules legal proceedings. The former is completely impractical unless you could work with a piece of ivory rather than an entire body, but the latter is quite easy to obtain almost anywhere. On the other hand, neither mink, martin, nor weasel appear anywhere in the 777 animals column, so Watkins is probably using a totally different set of attributions.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Did Tiger Woods Finally Get That Sorcerer?

Golfer Tiger Woods first showed up on my spiritual technology radar back in 2009, when I came across the bizarre announcement that the "First Church of Tiger Woods" was disbanding in the wake of his personal scandals. I commented at the time that perhaps Tiger's "worshippers" were giving him a paranormal advantage at golf, citing a study that found other elite golfers inexplicably did not perform as well as usual when playing against him. From a statistical standpoint, this is precisely the sort of effect a spell would be likely to have, and I commented that with the spell broken we would have to see how well the "greatest golfer in the world" could play without it. I was at least partially joking at the time, but given the last two years my words seem oddly prescient. Tiger failed to win a single tournament during that time, falling from being the world's top rated golfer to a much more pedestrian #52. This week, though, he finally pulled off a win at the Chevron World Challenge.

The former world No. 1 won the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday at sun-drenched Sherwood Country Club, his first victory in 749 days. Woods, who vaults from No. 52 to No. 21 in the world rankings with the win, knocked in birdie putts of 15 and 6 feet on the final two holes to defeat Zach Johnson by one shot. When the last putt disappeared, Woods said he can't remember what he was thinking — "I think I was just screaming something," he said — and he emphatically punched the air and broke out into a huge smile.

It was his fifth victory in the tournament that benefits his foundation, his first since 2007, and 83rd win worldwide. He finished with a 3-under-par 69 to wind up at 10-under 278. Johnson came home with a 71. Paul Casey finished solo third at 5 under.

Since the spring following the disbanding of his "church" I've been recommending that Tiger hire himself a professional sorcerer to get his paranormal advantage back. Does this recent win finally mean that he might have taken my advice, or come to the same realization on his own? The Chevron World Challenge is not a major tournament, but it did include some very good players, so it seems to me that makes for a solid "maybe." It remains to be seen how well he does at larger tournaments now that his losing streak is officially broken. If he starts racking up the wins like he did years ago, I'll be pretty confident that he's found a way to get the magick back - literally.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy Reviewed

Morgan has a post up today about coming across four transparently phony Amazon reviews for a book that just came out. Whether or not this is a bot or somebody switching accounts is hard to say without looking at the book in question which is not named, but either way it's a pretty obvious attempt to game the Amazon review system. Here's a tip to any would-be bot programmers or review spoofers - it's really easy to check your other reviews, and that's hard to fake. If every review of a particular book is posted on the same day, and each of those four reviewers has only ever reviewed the exact same two items anyone with half a brain is going to be able to figure out that something is up with a couple of well-placed clicks and a modicum of critical thinking skills.

Let me also reassure you all that the book in question is not my new Enochian book, Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy. So far it's garnered two reviews, one from Michael Cecchetelli at The Lion's Den and another on Amazon from Christopher Feldman, better known online as Enochian magician Christeos Pir. I've summarized those two positive reviews here at my author website, with links to the originals. So far the book has been well-received, by real magicians rather than bots or clones, and while the temptation is always there to post a bunch of glowing phonies I would rather that my readers get the real scoop from actual people. If you're interested in grimoire magick, Enochian magick, or both and haven't done so already, click here to check out Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy. Real practitioners agree with me that you will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Isn't That Convenient?

Hardly anyone likes paying taxes. That basic truism has fueled much conservative sentiment here in the United States for decades, and our country is hardly an exception. Recently the African nation of Swaziland ruled that pastors and religious organizations will not be exempt from taxation. This prompted religious leader Bheki Thwala to post a convenient reason on Facebook for pastors to refuse paying taxes - because the money would be used for witchcraft rituals!

In a controversial post on social network site Facebook, Thwala posted "Why should we be taxed, when the money is to be used for witchcraft in the name of culture?"

At the time of going to press yesterday afternoon, Thwala already had 72 comments.

Interviewed after his church service yesterday, the leader of the Sword and Spirit Ministries alleged that it was a known fact that witches were hired to perform certain rituals at cultural events which, however, he did not specify.

"All I am saying is I do not want my money to pay witches in the name of culture," said Thwala.

He alleged that when the country was busy with certain traditional ceremonies, tinyanga were then fetched and were paid to perform certain rituals.

On Facebook Thwala added that he would continue to pay tax, as long as he was not working against what he existed for. "Culture and witchcraft are two different things," he said.

Thwala is right that culture and witchcraft are two different things, and I would have to know more about the ceremonies in question before I could decide whether or not they constitute magical operations. My best guess, though, is that they do not, since most celebratory rituals are not performed in order to produce any sort of change in accordance with a statement of intent. For a ritual to be considered magick such a goal is essential, though the change desired may involve personal consciousness, material circumstances, or both.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Scientific Demonstration of Contagion Links

A couple of weeks ago some discussion arose in the comments section of my Hexing on Facebook post surrounding the different kinds of magical links. There are two basic kinds of magical links, generally referred to as Contagion and Similarity. A contagion link is formed between two things that have directly interacted with each other and a similarity link is formed between two things that resemble each other or share a particular property. For some time now my working hypothesis for contagion links is that they are mediated by the known scientific principle of quantum entanglement.

One of the remaining questions surrounding this idea was whether entanglement can be scaled up to macroscopic objects or if the effect is limited to subatomic particles. If the latter were found to be true, that would essentially disprove the entanglement hypothesis, since the main objects magicians use links to affect are macroscopic in nature. However, according to this recent experiment entanglement can be scaled up, so the hypothesis remains intact. Physicists at the University of Oxford have apparently succeeded in entangling two macroscopic-scale diamonds at room temperature.

"I think it's an important step into a new regime of thinking about quantum phenomena," physicist Ian Walmsley of England's University of Oxford said."That is, in this regime of the bigger world, room temperatures, ambient conditions. Although the phenomenon was expected to exist, actually being able to observe it in such a system we think is quite exciting."

Another study recently used quantum entanglement to teleport bits of light from one place to another. And other researchers have succeeded in entangling macroscopic objects before, but they have generally been under special circumstances, prepared in special ways, and cooled to cryogenic temperatures. In the new achievement, the diamonds were large and not prepared in any special way, the researchers said.

"It's big enough you can see it," Walmsley told LiveScience of the diamonds."They're sitting on the table, out in plain view. The laboratory isn't particularly cold or particularly hot, it's just your everyday room."

It's worth noting that since diamonds essentially consist of a single gigantic carbon molecule they're among the easiest objects to test for this phenomenon. But there's no reason to think that the effect is limited to such objects, especially given the long tradition in the magical arts of influencing people and things this way.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Teen Exorcist Squad!

I missed this story when it came out back in August, but it's just too good to pass up. Evangelist Bob Larson of Spiritual Freedom Churches International runs a school for exorcists, where students are taught to break curses and cast out demons. After discovering that his own 16-year-old daughter Brynne, pictured on the far right, was a gifted exorcist he went on to train four other teenage girls with similar talents, and claims them to be particularly effective at the art of overcoming demonic possession. So I suppose the teen exorcist squad is kind of like what Charlie's Angels would be if Charlie was a total douchebag.

The Vatican’s chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, has revealed that he alone has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession. So if the forces of darkness start getting the upper hand, who should you call? Evangelist Reverend Bob Larson of Spiritual Freedom Churches International - and his remarkable school for exorcists.

‘Think of it more of an exorcist franchise,’ Rev Larson tells MailOnline exclusively. ‘The Church just can’t keep up with demand. But I have 100 teams of trained exorcists working all over the world, and outbreaks of demonic possession are getting out of control. ‘Our phone lines are ringing constantly - we receive up to 1,000 individual requests monthly, and we travel to countries like Africa, Ukraine, England and even Australia.’

But while his teams include exorcists aged up to 70, one group of his protégées are causing waves in the religious community. They are teenage girls. Savannah Scherkenback, 19, and her sister Tess, 16, are Rev Larson’s latest graduates from his school for exorcists. ‘We have found that our female, teenage exorcists are particularly effective at curing the possessed,’ says Rev Larson, whose daughter Brynne is a supernaturally talented exorcist.

So why do I say douchebag, you ask? I've written on exorcism before and believe it to be a legitimate ritual practice, and there's no reason to think that these girls couldn't be genuinely good at it. The trouble is Larson himself.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Scientology Cruise That Never Ends

The Church of Scientology's Sea Org has got to be one of the oddest ideas out there among new religious movements. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church, served in the US Navy and decided that his new religion needed a Navy of its own. The result was the Sea Org, an organization within the Church with military-inspired uniforms and some sort of ill-defined mission that requires its members to spend their time sailing the oceans on ships owned by the Church. The Sea Org has a reputation for strict discipline and cultish behavior, but the latest accusation against the organization made by a woman named Valeska Paris goes far beyond that. Paris claims that she was essentially kept as a prisoner on board the Scientology ship "Freewinds" for twelve years.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC News) Lateline program, Paris claims that Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige sent her to the ship when she was 18 in order to prevent her family from pulling her out of the organization.

"I was basically hauled in and told that my mum had attacked the church and that I needed to disconnect from her because she was suppressive," she said. "He decided the ship, and I found out two hours before my plane left, I was woken up in the morning and I was sent to the ship for 'two weeks.' "

Paris was born into a Scientology family, but her mother quit the group after her husband committed suicide, blaming Scientology for coercing him out of a self-made personal fortune of more than a million dollars.

Instead of the promised two week stay, Paris found herself unable to leave the ship without an official Scientology escort and was often forced into hard labor on the lower levels of the ship for stretches as long as two full days. "It's hot, it's extremely loud, it's smelly, it's not nice. I was sent down there at first for 48 hours straight on almost no sleep and I had to work by myself," she said.

With just about any other organization these charges would be hard to believe, but unfortunately Scientology has cultivated a reputation that at the very least makes them seem plausible. It's not just the Church's history of odd controlling actions and extravagant fees, but also the apparent mentality within the group that it is under attack and surrounded by enemies. The constant lawsuit threats the Church makes over trivial offenses don't help either, like years ago when it threatened to sue "the Internet" over the existence of Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology on the grounds that "Scientology" was trademarked. In response, the administrators of the offending newsgroup changed its name to alt.butthead.religion.sue.sue.sue. Yeah, Scientology came out of that one looking great - NOT! If Paris' account turns out to be true, it sounds like the organization's reputation will likely suffer a lot more.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mental Illness and Human Sacrifice

Normally these two terms are rarely mentioned in the same breath, but in the comments on yesterday's article RO posted a link to this story from Virginia, South Africa. Back in April, Chane van Heerden and Maartens van der Merwe lured a young man to a cemetery and killed him as a human sacrifice in some sort of occult ritual. They then dismembered the body and buried most of it, keeping the victim's eyes, ears, and facial skin. Where mental illness enters the picture is that Van der Merwe was diagnosed as schizophrenic as a teen and while Van Heerden was never officially identified as mentally ill, at her trial social worker Marilise Vergottini testified that the young woman's behavior had been odd throughout much of her life.

Vergottini said Van Heerden displayed strange behaviour, even as a young girl.

When her mother told her that dolls come alive at night, Van Heerden blindfolded her own dolls and bound them with shoe laces, said Vergottini.

Van Heerden's meeting with her co-accused Van der Merwe led to a disastrous partnership.

"They together [in a relationship] are a disaster. It created a platform for their behaviour," Vergottini said.

Van der Merwe was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 14.

Vergottini said when Van Heerden and Van der Merwe met, they discovered they both had fantasies that were not normal to the rest of the world.

The couple watched the television series Dexter, in which a serial killer is the hero, reading it as condonation for their own activities.

One of the old urban legends floating around the occult community here in America is that magicians who are careless or practice improperly run the risk of developing mental illness. I put up a post on this topic back in 2007 and the reason I say urban legend is that I've become more and more convinced over the years that it simply is not true.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Moral Panic, Anyone?

The case of the West Memphis Three may have happened nineteen years ago, but as this latest bizarre story shows the the media is still going completely crazy over any crime that appears to involve occultism. According to initial reports, two young women got together with a man they met over the Internet, then tortured and stabbed him to death in a Satanic sexual ritual. No, wait, actually there was no murder, the supposed "ritual" involved no occult or Satanic components, the stabbing was apparently consensual cutting that got out of hand, and the man is not pressing charges. Wow. That went from "batshit insane" to "poorly executed BDSM scene without safewords" in about two seconds. But of course the news media outlets prefer the former fabricated account.

While at the apartment building, police were approached by Rebecca Chandler, 22, who stated, “I think you are here looking for me.” Chandler told cops that she had engaged in sexual relations with the Arizona man “and that the cutting was consensual but that it got quickly out of hand.”

Chandler claimed that her roommate--whom she identified only as “Scarlett”--was “the one who did the majority of the cutting” during the incident. Chandler, police reported, “also made reference to ‘Scarlett’ possibly being involved in satanic or occult activities.”

Chandler was placed in custody at the scene. During a subsequent search of the apartment, investigators seized copies of "The Necromantic Ritual Book” and "The Werewolf’s Guide to Life,” a humor book. The former book promises to enable a reader to “share consiousness with the Angel of Death.” Paperwork seized from the home was described by police as the “7 Pentacles” of planets. Additionally, a black folder was described as an “Intro to Sigilborne Spirtits,” an apparent reference to “The Sigil-Born,” metaphysical entities that are “occultic practitioners” of necromancy, the purported ability to contact the dead.

As an aside, in the Thoth Tarot the Seven of Disks is titled "Failure," which in this case seems about right.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Celebrities Prove Illuminati Are Real

Remember my exchange with the Illuminati? I have yet to get any of my friends to admit to writing the mysterious letter that showed up on my front door after that post, but let's just say I have strong suspicions and we'll leave it at that. The whole concept of a real Illuminati as envisioned by conspiracy theorists is fundamentally ridiculous, and even sillier is the notion that various celebrities are secretly doing their bidding by embedding subliminal messages in their music. Back when theories about secret messages in music were first making the rounds, psychologists tested whether it was feasible to transmit information that way and concluded it doesn't work at all. You would think that if the Illuminati were so wise and powerful they would choose a functional method of brainwashing. At any rate, last week Slate put up an article about these pop-music conspiracy theories which makes for some entertaining reading.

Welcome to the world of pop-music trutherism, a bustling, grassroots exposé industry in which Eminem is one of many performers called out by anonymous instigators for Illuminist sympathies. The best conspiracy theories go all the way to the top, and this one goes all the way to the top of the charts. Jay-Z? An “Illuminati puppet.” Lady Gaga? An “Illuminati whore.” Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, Rihanna—Illuminati agents all. (Michael Jackson and 2Pac, it turns out, were victims of Illuminati-ordered assassination.) The Illuminati investigation unfolds sloppily but vigorously across countless sites, from YouTube to Twitter to fan discussion boards to dedicated shops like VigilantCitizen.com. The trained eye can spot Illuminati sartorial choices, like goat-themed jewelry and T-shirts, worn in ostensible tribute to Baphomet, a horned pagan deity who intrigued Aleister Crowley. There is Illuminati semaphore, such as framing one’s eye with the palms tipped together in a pyramid shape or otherwise isolating an eye to evoke the “all-seeing eye” on the back of a dollar bill, an image with Masonic origins. There are Illuminati lyrics, like Eminem’s mention of a “New World Order” on “Lose Yourself” or the references he and Jay-Z have made, separately, to a mysterious, powerful figure they call the “Rain Man” (the theorists are apparently unfamiliar with Dustin Hoffman’s IMDb page).

Don't get me wrong, I know there's a real global elite controlling much of the world's economy - Forbes Magazine publishes a list of the top 400 American members every year. It's also conceivable that a significant percentage of them have used magick to help build up their wealth, since becoming that rich without inheriting it requires incredible luck and that's one of the things magick is especially good at. But why would they bother with something as pointless as engineering pop-music messages when they can spend their money lobbying against financial regulation and get a lot more bang for their buck? I highly doubt that they care much about the content of popular music as long as it sells, and the idea of a unified conspiracy is belied by the fact that many of the super-rich can't stand each other and often work at cross purposes.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Mullet Cult Arrests

The Amish Beard Wars saga continues! On Wednesday, the FBI and Ohio police launched a raid against Sam Mullet's Bergholz Clan compound, arresting seven members of the sect including Mullet himself and three of his sons. The seven face federal hate crime charges in connection with hair and beard-cutting attacks on other Amish women and men, allegedly ordered by Mullet and carried out by members of his group.

Seven men were in custody and expected to be arraigned Wednesday. They include Mullet and sons Johnny, Lester and Daniel, Tobin said.

All of the men were sleeping when the FBI and local police showed up at their homes before dawn Wednesday, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said. Three men initially refused to come out of their rooms, but all seven were arrested without incident, he said.

Authorities were planning to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon to explain why they charged the men with hate crimes, Tobin said.

The attacks came amid long-simmering tension between Mullet's group, which he established in 1995, and Amish bishops. Arlene Miller, the wife of one victim, said several bishops hadn't condoned Mullet's decision to excommunicate several members who previously left his community, saying there was no spiritual justification for his action.

I'll say it one more time. The guy's name is Mullet, and his followers go around cutting hair. As Morgan noted on the original thread, you really can't make this stuff up. I'll add that hate crime laws draw a lot of criticism, but this is precisely the sort of situation for which they exist. In a previous interview, Mullet implied that from a legal standpoint cutting hair was no big deal, when as an Amish bishop he knew full well how important hair and beards are to members of his faith. Hate crime statutes allow these sorts of religious attacks to be prosecuted based on their significance to the victims, not just on how serious they might seem to members of society at large with different beliefs.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ghost Sex

Of all the things I'm thankful for this holiday season, one of them has to be the recent discovery that in the afterlife ghosts can still get it on. At least, that is, according to Diana Carlisle, an Ohio woman who claims that her grand-daughter took a photograph of two spirits frolicking in her living room. The photograph in question is shown above with the circle around the supposed ghosts added by Metro, and you can click to enlarge it.

'It looked like... like ghosts having sex,' she told the Fox affiliate TV channel in Cleveland. 'You can see the lady's high-heeled shoes.'

Ms Carlisle claims the phantoms have been having a scream of a time for a while but she was unable to document it until her four-year-old grand-daughter took this picture. The snap supposedly shows the outline of a shoulder and arm, which are above a white ghostly figure.

If true, these spooky shenanigans will be a landmark in the study of paranormal activity, with experts previously unaware that spirit sex was possible. Investigator David Jones told the Huffington Post it was highly unlikely that ghosts were engaged in intercourse, but did admit he was curious about the house.

One of the most intriguing things about this and other ghost photographs is that they rarely look much like what eyewitnesses report seeing. I have to admit, my first thought when examining the Carlisle photo was not one of amazement at being exposed to ghost porn. Like most spirit photographs, it just looks like a blurry mist or vapor. While skeptics contend this is the result of the mosaic effect, in which our brains fill in whatever we expect to see, most ghost photographs are so much less detailed than the corresponding eyewitness reports that I wonder if some other mechanism might be at work.

A possibility I've considered is that what a person experiences when encountering a ghost might be in part a sort of psychic projection, in which non-physical details are perceived along with the physical aspects of the manifestation. The latter could therefore be photographed, while the former could not. Of course, if I'm wrong and this is simply a case of mosaic in action, the next question that needs to be asked is why Diana Carlisle would expect to see ghosts having sex in her living room. So either explanation could make for an interesting story.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Witch-Hunter" Charged With Murder

When I covered the political death spell story last week I noted that traditional healer Jimmy Motsi's denials of being a witchcraft practitioner likely could prove important to his future well-being given that he lives in Zimbabwe, a country with a long history of witchcraft persecutions. As if to bolster my argument, the next day this story, also from Zimbabwe, showed up on the newswires. It seems that Dankeny Mpofu, a self-proclaimed "witch hunter," is being put on trial along with Thethela Ben Tshuma, who hired the hunter to kill his brother - who he suspected of casting spells against him.

Charges against them are that on September 25, 2008, Mpofu approached Tshuma who was not feeling well and told him that he was a witch-hunter and that his illness was being caused by his elder brother, Mqatshelwa Tshuma.

Mpofu offered to allegedly kill Tshuma’s brother on his behalf in return for payment with a beast. Tshuma allegedly agreed to have his brother killed and promised to pay Mpofu the beast as soon as the job was done.

He allegedly led Mpofu to his brother Mqatshelwa. On arrival they found Tshuma seated outside his house and Mpofu who was armed with a hammer allegedly struck him twice on the head and he died on the spot.

To cover up for the offence the two allegedly carried his body and hung it in the kitchen to appear as if he had committed suicide. However, the offence came to light a few days later when a dog was seen in the village carrying a human arm.

Can I just say one more time that I'm really glad I don't live in Zimbabwe? There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biggest one is that being a magick blogger and esoteric author would in effect put a huge target on my back. I will say that it's good to see the authorities prosecuting this case because there are still a lot of African witchcraft killings that never even lead to arrests, let alone trials, but the unfortunate victim here is still dead whether or not his killers wind up convicted. Was he a magical practitioner? The truth is that I have no idea, and I don't think Tshuma knew either. If this case turns out to be like most of these witchcraft killings, he just got sick and was looking for someone to blame.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tears of Stone?

I like to tell people I don't believe in anything supernatural, but I have a strong belief in the paranormal. To my way of thinking this position is largely axiomatic, in that I figure if something exists at all it's part of the natural world, whether it's material, spiritual, or some combination of the two. Here's a case that might be an extremely rare medical condition or might be the result of some process that touches on both the spiritual and material realms. Either way I see it as paranormal - that is, a phenomenon that lies outside the bounds of everyday experience. Doctors in India are examining the case of a young girl who appears to "cry stones" from her eyes.

Physicians in India have been left shocked after discovering seven-year-old Kura Nitya cries stones from her eyes.

According to a local newspaper, Kura has been excreting stones from her right eye for the last two weeks but doctors are not sure what is causing the phenomenon.

On average the young girl weeps between 12 to 25 stones a day. Nitya says she doesn't feel any pain but her right eye swells before the stones drop out.

Her grandfather Gopal Reddy says he first noticed the strange happenings in October. 'Initially, we thought it was some divine power and prayed to God for this phenomenon to stop,' he told the Star online.

The girl's parents have seen several different specialists but none have had an answer.

Ophthalmologist Dr Kalyan Chakaravarthy said Nitya was healthy and he could find no reason as to why she was weeping stones.

The stones are currently being tested in order to determine their composition. The most logical medical explanation is that they're calcified material of some sort, since calcium compounds are usually the hardest materials found in the body. If they're composed of actual stone, though, something far weirder must be going on, since the human body normally doesn't produce such substances.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Groping Ghost

Doris Birch of Kent, UK has been dealing with an unusual and disturbing paranormal manifestation haunting her apartment over the past four months - a groping ghost. While it's not unheard of for ghosts to touch living people during the course of traditional hauntings, according to reports they rarely are as determined to do so as this one seems to be.

'It's like an octopus,' she told This Is Kent of the spirit. 'It started four months ago. I was lying in bed when I felt this creepy pair of hands.

'I kicked frantically and it went away. Next time it came I hurled the duvet on to the floor!

'But the ghost keeps coming back. I've tried sleeping without the duvet. But it started shaking my mattress.

'I even threw the mattress off the bed and bought a new one but it has made no difference.'

Doris, who accepts many people 'are going to think I am mad', emphasised that, despite living alone, she is 'not lonely' and feels she may need to 'call in the Ghostbusters': 'I told the vicar and he said it is a lost spirit.

'What I want to know is, why has it got lost in my flat?'

Perhaps the octopus reference hints at something more sinister than a mere ghost, such as one of the Lovecraftian Deep Ones trying to push through into our reality from an alternative universe. Or maybe this particular spirit just finds the afterlife boring and is looking for some action. In my experience earthbound spirits aren't exactly the brightest bulbs, so to speak, in that they usually are those spirits that can't figure out how to move on properly.

For most hauntings a good set of banishing rituals will probably do the trick, provided that they extend into the macrocosmic realm. Sometimes pentagram rituals don't do that on their own, so I generally also recommend banishing by hexagram to really clear out a space. As long as you catch the ghost within the field when it goes up, the spirit should be sent on to wherever it belongs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Alien in the Fridge

The White House may have no evidence of alien contact, but for a woman in Russia the proof has been right there for the last two years - in her refrigerator. The woman, Marta Yegorovnam, claims that an alien spaceship crashed on her property two years ago, and that when she went to investigate she found the extraterrestrial pilot had not survived the landing.

Ms Yegorovnam then lovingly wrapped the creature in plastic and shoved it in the fridge, not uttering a word to anyone.

The remains have apparently been examined by the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, although this has not been confirmed.

Paranormal writer Michael Cohen said the ‘possibility that this might be a genuine alien should not be discounted’.

But astronomer Dr Ian Griffin told Metro: ‘If aliens were smart enough to travel vast distances between the stars, they’re probably smart enough to avoid being stored in a fridge for two years.’

The creature in the photograph does look pretty weird, although there have been many hoaxed alien bodies over the years and this one falls well within the limits of basic special effects. We'll have to wait and see if Russian scientists do indeed get a chance to run tests on the body, or if it mysteriously disappears before any such investigation can take place.

One thing that strikes me as odd is that the body looks to be in pretty good shape for a creature that died two years ago, even allowing for the effects of refrigeration. My other thought is that Reptilians are supposed to be taller.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Couple Charged With Political Death Spell

Zimbabwe is one of the many African nations in which the existence of magick is not only accepted but considered a part of regular life. This extends into the political sphere, as is illustrated by this case of a couple alleged to have hired Jimmy Motsi, well-known as a traditional healer, to cast a death spell on five rivals within the country's ruling Zanu PF party. According to the charges Zvenyika Machokoto, a party official, and his wife believed that these individuals stood in the way of their political careers.

In his evidence, Motsi said he was approached by Machokoto at his rural home in Mt Darwin and was driven to Dorowa where the ritual ceremony was to be held.

On the actual date when he wanted to kill the five, Motsi prepared bottled water and asked Machokoto to call out the names of the five saying the exact fate he wished on them.

On the recorded transcript, Machokoto is heard mentioning the names of the five saying they were a stumbling block in his political career.

Motsi said the five were supposed to die through an accident or any other mysterious sudden death.

At the same time as he made these allegations, Motsi insisted that he was not in fact a traditional healer and that he had omitted some key elements of the ritual. This claim isn't all that surprising, since being known as a malevolent spellcaster in countries like Zimbabwe can prompt accusations of witchcraft and sometimes even lynching by angry mobs.

“The names of the five were being called as a way of placing them in the bottle. They were supposed to die from that ritual had it not that I omitted some of the important elements of the ritual,” said Motsi.

“I am not a traditional healer or a wizard, but I know that with the powers invested in me I would be able to kill all of them though I realised it was not proper.

Even Moses caused death of the Egyptians while Elijah caused serious droughts and what would you call that?” Motsi said.

Personally I say magick is magick regardless of the deities or entities that you call upon, and plenty of grimoire magicians conjure spirits by calling upon the Christian God. But this distinction may prove important for Motsi's future well-being, as most people in Africa and for that matter elsewhere tend to see Christianity and witchcraft as opposing forces.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Meditation App

A while back I posted on an iPhone app developed by the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland for people interested in joining the priesthood. Now meditators have gotten in on the game with a new app for both Android and iPhone intended to get more people meditating. Called "Buddhify," the app provides basic meditation instructions and is being marketed by emphasizing the stress-reducing aspects of the practice.

The Buddhify app introduces users to restful mindfulness meditation practices by allowing them to select from 32 audio tracks to hear instruction from either a male or female voice.

Although its name makes reference to Buddhism, a religion in which meditation plays a key role, the app is intended for use by anybody interested in mental wellbeing.

"The only prerequisite is having a mind," Rohan Gunatillake said. "Its origins are in the Buddhist tradition, but it's totally independent. It's a way of training your attention in such a way that it develops positive qualities in your mind."

The app also has a two-player mode allowing friends to meditate together.

Even though the app makes few references to spiritual realization, if it succeeds at getting more people to meditate those results should follow for at least a subset of them. The dashboard shown above looks a little hokey, but if that means more people see meditation as accessible and take up the practice I'm nonetheless all for it.

One of these days I should see about developing my own set of apps devoted to magical practices. I can imagine, for example, an "Evoker" app that would bring up the appropriate conjurations for spirits and so forth as you reach each phase of an evocation ritual. I could implement it by putting together some kind of standard ritual notation that would allow you to import a specific text file for the ritual you want to perform, and in fact the ritual template I include in Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy would be a good place to start as far as the structure goes. It wouldn't have that big a market, but I can immediately see how useful it could be for serious practicing magicians.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hexing on Facebook

The chairman of Malaysia's Islamic Medicine Association recently warned people not to post their pictures online at social media sites like Facebook, because those photographs could allow unscrupulous magicians to cast spells upon them.

Users of social media sites should not post their pictures online as they could be used for witchcraft, said Kelantan Darussyifa' Islamic Medicine Association chairman Zaki Ya.

He said that djin (spirits) are able to “connect” with humans through the Internet, including Facebook, Sinar Harian reported.

While this is technically accurate whenever photos are involved, in my experience there aren't that many capable magicians out there casting spells on random Facebook users. Even if there were, digital photographs are pretty weak as magical links go. A regular photograph that has captured waves of light bouncing off a subject can act as both a similarity link and a contagion link, while a digital photograph has to operate on similarity alone because there's no direct connection when the image consists of pure information.

“Once, I treated someone who became delirious because a spell had been cast on him while he was surfing the Internet,” said Zaki.

“A few days ago, I received an SMS from a father asking me to help his son who refused to go to school.

“The father suspected that his son had been influenced by a djin over the Internet,” he said when met at the USM Traditional Islamic Medicine Clinic in Penang.

He said the boy would create a fuss every time his parents forbade him from using the Internet and would even threaten to kill himself.

See, to me this last case doesn't sound like possession or anything remotely similar. It sounds like the kid is just a brat, and the fact is that children are perfectly capable of behaving badly even when they're not being attacked by spirits. My three-year-old sometimes throws tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants, but I expect her to grow out of it soon. If this boy is using the Internet I'm guessing that he's substantially older and never did.

UPDATE: Jack has more on digital links, and how you can go about blocking or shielding yourself from them. Jason has a related post up as well.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Book on Neuroscience and Free Will

In my previous post on Neuroscience and Evil I noted that the general perspective among neuroscientists these days seems to be the epiphenomenon model, in which consciousness is viewed as the experience related to having a bunch of neurons firing in particular patterns rather than the manifestation of choices or free will. While this remains the majority position, not all neuroscientists agree. One of these dissenters is Michael S. Gazzaniga of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Gazzaniga wrote the excellent Nature's Mind back in 1994, one of the books that influenced my model of how magick works, and now has a new book coming out called Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain that argues against the epiphenomenon model and in favor of the existence of genuine free human will. Today Salon has an interview up with the author.

Gazzaniga uses a lifetime of experience in neuroscientific research to argue that free will is alive and well. Instead of reducing free will to the sum of its neurological parts, he argues that it’s time for neuroscience to consider free will as a scientific fact in its own right. Through fascinating examples in chaos theory, physics, philosophy and, of course, neuroscience, Gazzaniga makes this interesting claim: Just as you cannot explain traffic patterns by studying car parts, neuroscience must abandon its tendency to reduce macro-level phenomena like free will to micro-level explanations. Along the way he provides fascinating and understandable information from brain evolution to studies involving infants and patients with severed brain hemispheres (split-brain patients). The final chapters of the book consider neuroscience as it implicates social responsibility, justice and how we treat criminal offense.

Anyone wondering about the validity of the epiphenomenon model should go ahead and read the whole interview. I'm glad to see this conversation taking place, because the fact is that even though I think neuroscientists have done a fairly good job demonstrating that our behavior is more deterministic than we generally think it is, at the same time there's plenty of evidence that human beings are something other than automatons suffering from the delusion of self and that the choices we make are fundamentally meaningful. The car parts versus traffic analogy there is one of the best metaphors I've ever seen of making the distiction between neurons and consciousness clear, and I can't agree with it more strongly. Consciousness exists in its own right and arises from the interaction of neurons, just as traffic exists and arises from the activity of many car parts all working together.

This sounds like a really great book, and I'll have to pick up a copy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Daughter of God

Salon has an interesting review up today of a book about a British woman named Mabel Barltrop and the religion that she founded in 1919, the Panacea Society. Even though I'm fairly knowledgeable on new religious movements of the last century, this organization is one that I had never previously read about. The group has survived until the present day, though there are only a couple of living members left still dwelling at its communal headquarters.

In February 1919, a small group of middle-class English women received a life-changing revelation. What they learned, Jane Shaw explains in “Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers” (Yale), was that Mabel Barltrop, a 53-year-old former mental patient living in the town of Bedford, was the incarnation of God. Mabel, whose late husband had been a priest in the Church of England, announced a new Christian theology, in which the Trinity was replaced by a foursome: God the Father and God the Mother, Jesus the Son and Mabel (or, as her followers began to call her, Octavia) the Daughter. She had come to conquer death and was guaranteed never to die. She had healing powers so strong that if she breathed on water or a piece of linen, it was transformed into a cure for any bodily ailment.

Octavia’s followers named themselves the Panacea Society, and they advertised her cures widely. Some 70 people came to live near her in communal housing in Bedford, and thousands more around the world wrote in to ask for a piece of the sacred linen. Over the years, Shaw writes, Mabel announced many refinements of her doctrine. She was forbidden to go more than 77 steps from her house; her garden, in Bedford, was the location of the original Garden of Eden; her late husband had been the incarnation of Christ; the souls of the departed were not dead but had flown to the planet Uranus to bide their time until they returned.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Witchcraft in Israel?

In Africa, India, and Saudi Arabia it is fairly common for courts to hear witchcraft-related cases, but it's important to keep in mind that such trials can also happen in (supposedly) more developed countries. A Rabbinical court in Haifa, Israel recently levied a fine against a woman for practicing witchcraft as part of a divorce hearing.

The court reduced the value of the woman's ketubah, the amount her husband must pay her in the event of divorce, by half -- or about $25,000. However, the wife was acquitted of refusing to cook for her husband -- the least the court could do since her husband had committed adultery.

The wife denied her husband's charge that she practiced witchcraft, but she failed a polygraph test, leading the court to determine that she in fact had been practicing witchcraft.

Death is the punishment for witchcraft in the Torah, but the rabbis found a source that instead allowed them to mete out the financial penalty.

It seems to me that since a polygraph essentially measures anxiety it's exactly the wrong tool to employ in the middle of a bitter domestic dispute like this one. I have no idea whether or not the woman in question is a magician of some sort, but I will say that in a situation like this some anxiety is to be expected. This is especially so with a witchcraft charge, given that a conviction could mean facing the death penalty.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

White House Denies Extraterrestrial Contact

On Monday the White House Office of Science and Technology issued a statement denying any knowledge of extraterrestrial contact. They also denied that this non-existent evidence was being hidden by some sort of government cover-up operation as alleged by many in the UFO community. Of course, if the politicians were all Reptilian aliens whose agenda depended upon discrediting anyone who suspects their presence, that's exactly what they would say.

"The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race," Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy reported on the WhiteHouse.gov website."In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye."

The petition calling on the government to disclose any knowledge of or communication with extraterrestrial beings was signed by 5,387 people, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race.

“Hundreds of military and government agency witnesses have come forward with testimony confirming this extraterrestrial presence,” the second petition states. “Opinion polls now indicate more than 50 percent of the American people believe there is an extraterrestrial presence and more than 80 percent believe the government is not telling the truth about this phenomenon. The people have a right to know. The people can handle the truth.”

Apparently not, at least according to those who are still insisting that extraterrestrials secretly control our planet. But really, those beliefs are pretty far-fetched. Jack recently put up a post describing his problems with the "ancient alien" hypothesis and I agree with most of his conclusions. Modern people often assume that because we have more technology at our disposal we have to be a lot more intelligent than the ancients, when given how slowly evolution works it's much more likely that within the span of recorded history people have always been about as smart as they are now. They just had a different knowledge base to work with and a different set of priorities.

Anyone who contends that human beings could not have built the various monolithic structures throughout the world is completely ignorant of the fact that ancient cultures would have had their own genuises who figured out how to get the necessary tasks done. The same is true of the modern world, in that extremely wealthy people and gigantic corporations are plenty capable of dominating the planet without any help from beyond the stars. There's no reason whatsoever to imagine that the global elite would have to consist of evil shapeshifting space aliens in order for them to act like a bunch of douchebags.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Flame Strike?

This is an older story, from September, but an intriguing one nonetheless. A man who died last December is believed to be Ireland's first victim of spontaneous human combustion. This is problematic, as most experts who have investigated the phenomenon are of the opinion that spontaneous human combustion does not exist and is quite simply impossible.

But an Irish coroner declared just that this week as the cause of death for 76-year-old Michael Faherty, who died in December 2010. The BBC reports that the finding is the first reported case of spontaneous human combustion in Ireland’s history.

Forensic experts originally attributed the blaze that killed Faherty to a fire in the fireplace of the sitting room where his body was found. But after a closer investigation, the coroner ruled otherwise. “The fire had been confined to the sitting room,” the BBC reports. “The only damage was to the body, which was totally burnt, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath him.” No accelerant was found nor any signs of foul play.

Coroner Kieran McLoughlin explains: "This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation."

Clearly this coroner has never played Dungeons and Dragons. The most telling clue is that damage was found on the ceiling above the body and also on the floor below it. That means only one thing to anyone who's ever played a Cleric character with access to fifth level spells - Flame Strike! Someone in Ireland must have mastered it, and I totally want to know how it's done. Because Flame Strike is awesome!

If anyone overseas has a line on this mystery conjurer, please let me know in comments. This is one opportunity that I don't want to let slip away.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mapping the Luck Plane

In my previous article on the luckiest city in America I commented that if some sort of pattern could be derived from the "luck ratings" of the 100 cities evaluated by Men's Health magazine, we might be able to get some sort of a handle on how magick interacts with geography in the United States. After running the numbers on the magazine's city ratings, the map shown here (click to enlarge) is the result, with The light blue points representing lucky cities and the purple points representing unlucky cities. Cities marked in green are neutral, and cities not included in the study are shown in gray.

Once I mapped out the points, I went ahead and connected them using a simple heuristic - that one set of lines connect the lucky cities to each other, a second set connects the unlucky cities to each other, and the lines do not cross. There are few outliers - Providence, RI is lucky but just far enough west that you can't draw a line to it from New York City without passing through unlucky Bridgeport, CT. Unlucky Stockton, CA is surrounded by lucky cities on all sides. And while according to the heuristic Denver, CO connects into the West Coast grid, it is a considerable distance from the other cities in the grid and might be an outlier instead. Also, the cities in Alaska and Hawaii are really too far away to be included in either of the continental grids.

Looking at the map, a pattern does become clear. Most of the West Coast is lucky. In the east a lucky swath runs from the area around Baltimore and Philadelphia between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. Once it reaches Kansas, the swath turns due south until it passes through Texas and Louisiana, reaching Houston and Baton Rouge. My original working hypothesis was that magical forces related to particular elements should follow the physical movement of the element in question. So Earth would move along fault lines, Water would move along rivers, and Air would move along with atmospheric currents. But with the way that the map looks, this analysis seems too simplistic. The lucky eastern swath sort of follows the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, but it runs north of the Ohio and west of the Mississippi, and cities on the river such as Memphis, TN and Little Rock, Ak, are distinctly unlucky.

Friday, November 4, 2011

More on the Mullet Cult

As I commented in my Amish Beard Wars post, I find it way more hilarious than I probably should that there's an Amish leader out there named Sam Mullet whose followers go around cutting hair and beards. It's as if growing up with that name draws you to bad haircuts or something. CNN has a new article up with some further information about Mullet's Amish sect that calls itself the Bergholz Clan, and the closer you look at it the more cultish it appears to be. You should read the whole thing, but some highlights are quoted below.

The CNN article features testimony from a former member, Aden Troyer, who was once married to Mullet's daughter Wilma but left the group in response to what he describes as cultish behavior on the part of its leader.

They say Mullet has created rules and punishments for breaking those rules that Amish folks had never heard of before.

The Amish typically resolve disputes within their community without the interference of law enforcement. But they say Mullet takes this to a whole new level.

"The way he's been treating and talking to people, he is not an Amish guy," Troyer said. "He is not your typical peaceful, loving Amish person."

Troyer said he eventually realized what he was getting caught up in and moved away from Mullet's compound, along with his two daughters.

There's a problem: Wilma did not. Three years after their marriage in 2004, the couple divorced, and Troyer received full custody of the girls.