Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Zombie George Washington?

Here's a bizarre story from the early days of modern science. George Washington is best remembered as the hero of the American Revolutionary War who became the first President of the United States. But according to a new book by Holly Tucker called Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution he nearly became our nation's first zombie following his death in 1799 at the age of 67.

But Washington's body was not buried immediately after his death. The president may not have feared death, but he did fear being buried alive. Before he died, he commanded his secretary, Tobias Lear, to make sure that he would not be entombed less than three days after he died. In accordance with Washington's wishes, his body was put on ice until it could be moved to the family vault.

That's where the story gets a little strange. The morning after Washington died, his step-granddaughter Elizabeth Law arrived with a family friend, William Thornton. History best remembers Thornton as the architect who created the original design for the Capitol building, but he was also a trained physician, having studied at the University of Edinburgh. Although he did not practice medicine for much of his life, Thornton always had a keen interest in the workings of the human body, and he suggested a novel method for resurrecting the fallen warrior. Thornton told Washington's wife Martha that he wanted to thaw Washington's body by the fire and have it rubbed vigorously with blankets. Then he planned to perform a tracheotomy so he could insert a bellows into Washington's throat and pump his lungs full of air, and finally to give Washington an infusion of lamb's blood. Friends and family declined Thornton's mad scientist offer, not because they thought his solution impossible, but because they felt the nation's first president should rest in peace.

"A little strange" seems a mild description under the circumstances. If these were really the sorts of ideas floating around the medical community at the time, it would seem that the novel Frankenstein, published in 1818, was more firmly rooted in the scientific ideas of the day than is often recognized. It certainly is true that Luigi Galvani's discoveries in the 1780's and 1790's regarding the effects of electricity on dissected animals suggested to the popular imagination that resurrection of the dead might not be a far-off scientific achievement.

But the real question horror fans want answered is a simple one - if Washington had been successfully reanimated, would he have developed a taste for human brains?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ghost in the Window

Demolition supervisor Robert Johnson got a surprise when reviewing photographs he took of a building that he had just demolished in the English city of Kendal. In one of the photographs, he saw a figure standing in one of the windows. Furthermore, the apparition was identified as that of the deceased previous owner by her son, David Grimshaw.

The 59-year-old was stunned and added: ‘I’m totally convinced – no one else looks like that. She had glasses and big earrings and she used to wear a dress with a bow at the front.’

While some may think the ghost is just a mere reflection, Mr Grimshaw remained convinced. He said: ‘She used to stand in that room for hours on the phone – it was the guesthouse reception and she took bookings from there.

‘She would have been horrified if she had known the house was being demolished because it was beautiful, so maybe that is why she’s turned up.’

The demolition team had felt an eerie chill at Meadowbank House. Worker Stuart Shan said: ‘The day before we took the photo, I noticed the chandelier swinging on its own.’

In my opinion the figure's precise features are hard to make out, so Grimshaw's identification may be due to the mosaic effect. However, it is pretty clear to me that this is the image of a woman, and you can see what looks like a necklace and an earring on the side of the woman's head that is visible.

This is one of the better ghost photographs that I've seen. It does not look like a reflection to me, but rather like a person standing inside the building. In fact, it's so good my immediate thought is that it's just a picture of somebody inside the building who wasn't supposed to be there. But if the demolition crew thoroughly checked the interior and nobody was there, it may be that something paranormal was indeed happening at the site.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I've long been of the opinion that the ritual of infant baptism as practiced by many mainstream Christian denominations is essentially pointless from a spiritual and magical perspective. My reasoning? If we assume that the Christian concept of salvation is based on spiritual realization, we must also take into account the basic truth that nobody else can do spiritual work for us. The problem with infant baptism is quite simply that while participating in a religious ritual led by another person can help speed one's spiritual progress, an infant really has no idea what is going on. Some babies just cry through the whole thing and find the water used unpleasant, which seems to me as about as far from a genuine spiritual awakening as I can imagine.

While baptism does serve a social function, it seems to me that people could get their socialization in clubs or organizations that are not religious in nature. This strikes me as a better state of affairs on the grounds that it would ensure that human politics and spiritual realization do not become conflated with each other. I'll add that this is not limited to churches, and the same point could be made about many magical orders and societies. There's a reason that when Aleister Crowley first put together his plan for A.'.A.'. he forbade socialization among its members. He had seen firsthand what political struggle had done to the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and had played a significant part in it himself acting as Mathers' representative in London during the "revolt of the Adepts."

Several new websites are now offering "de-baptism" certificates for those who wish to formally leave their Christian Churches. While requesting a certificate from a website is at least as pointless as an infant baptism ritual from a spiritual perspective, its political significance cannot be overlooked.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Demons in the Bahamas

The islands of the Bahamas in the Caribbean Sea have a fascinating paranormal history. In the early 1900's psychic Edgar Cayce predicted that evidence for the existence of the continent of Atlantis would be found in 1968 or 1969 near the island of Bimini. It so happens that in 1968 an unusual formation was discovered off the coast of the island, usually referred to today as the Bimini Road. This formation consists of a line of flat rectangular stone blocks that suggest the possibility of human origin. However, a number of geologists have also pointed out that similar stone structures can occur naturally, as the stone of which the road is composed tends to fracture along flat and rectangular lines giving the appearance of an ancient pavement.

According to this latest story from the region, ancient Atlanteans are not the only paranormal forces that may be loose in the Bahamas. According to Bishop Neil Ellis of Mount Tabor Full Gospel Baptist Church three demonic spirits are also plaguing the islands. In a recent speech Ellis described these demons and their evil intentions.

"Sexual immorality," he told the large crowd, "is the oldest of the three. It's been assigned (to The Bahamas) since the early 1800s. "It has taken root in the lives and psyche of Bahamians." The demon's task - sexual immorality - he said was designed to "keep God's plan for you, from you, destabilise the Bahamian family" and "replace God with himself (the demon)".

He said that the demon of sexual immorality was evident in our society when one saw the high level of "promiscuity going on". Fornication and adultery, he said, are "literally glamorised". Speaking of the "sweetheart syndrome" - one of the three sub-assignments under the main assignment of the sexual immorality demon - "has striven and now become accepted as our normal way of life". As for homosexuality and incest, it was "rampant and ragged in the Bahamas", he said.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On Visible Manifestations

After a busy couple of weeks I'm looking back over some of the topics that have come up on the blogosphere during this last month. One of these is the discussion of visible manifestations during evocations. The discussion was started off by an article from Frater Ashen, which was followed by two others from MC and one from RO. The general consensus is that visible manifestations of spirits do occur in the course of the work, and usually people who say otherwise have little experience with working grimoire magick. I would agree with this, which may seem a bit surprising at first in the context of my published work. On page 112 of Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy you will find the following:

The determination of a ritual’s success or failure should depend on only one factor – whether or not the objective of the operation is achieved. It should not make any difference whether or not you see the spirit, whether or not you hear unexplained sounds, or even whether on not your spell focus explodes as you complete the conjuration. Such things are side phenomena unrelated to the operation at hand, and obsession with them can lead to a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the magical arts.

To clarify this a bit, with the Enochian angels you generally have to use some sort of scrying device like a mirror or crystal in order to see them. This lines up perfectly with the the history of the system, as this is how John Dee and Edward Kelley originally communicated with the angels and I assume this method would not have been necessary had the visible manifestations associated with those angels been more strongly perceptible. Furthermore, I would not necessarily characterize an interest in evoking spirits to visible manifestation as "obsession." While such manifestations are rare when working with Enochian angels, I also know from experience that they do occur when working with other grimoire systems.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Witchcraft Beliefs and Cultural Paranoia

I've often commented that I'm glad to be living in the United States instead of Africa, particularly those countries where belief in witchcraft and magical practices is widespread. As a practicing magician I put a lot more stock in the effectiveness of magick than most Americans do, but at the same time it's clear to me that in societies where most people share those beliefs the results can lead to witchcraft accusations and vigilante actions against completely innocent individuals. Because the effects of magick are subtle it can be hard to tell who might or might not be using it, so a sort of cultural paranoia can arise surrounding such practices. This recent article from Kenya advises readers on what to look for in order to spot people who might be using magick in the office, and is a perfect example of the sort of thinking this paranoia engenders.

Do their moods change inconsistently without reason, sometimes friendly, other times incredibly hostile? Do they fall asleep on their desks, looking dazed, as the boss waits for that time-barred assignment?

Do you have workmates who carry the same bag everyday, mostly yellow or brown in colour even if it is dirty and torn and belongs in the dustbin? And why has this other one been wearing the same green coat for the last ten years, or that greyish old sweater the whole year, whether it is hot or cold?

Do they reject a hug or handshake all the time?

Do they refuse to take office tea and always remove their shoes and walk around the office bare foot? Do they visit the toilet more than three times a day? Do they sneeze whenever the boss summons a colleague to his or her office? What about the male colleagues who never wear socks?

It could be a coincidence, but chances are one or all these people have been visiting a witchdoctor and the witchdoctor has given them strict instructions on what to do to survive at the office.

Instructions may include the colours to wear to work to please or confuse bosses and what to put under his or her carpet to earn promotions, office trips and excessive per diem at the expense of others.

See the pattern? In effect, anything even marginally unusual or out of the ordinary in terms of one's office behavior can constitute "proof" of witchcraft-related activities. This includes financial trouble of whatever sort, since maybe the person in question is just not doing well enough to replace his or her coat or bag with a new one. Even if many people here in the states think I'm crazy to believe in, let alone practice magick, I'll take that over my co-workers scrutinizing my every quirk for evidence of magical manipulation any day.

Friday, January 6, 2012

More on Mississippians and Mayans

In the update to my post on the dubious Georgia Mayan Ruins story, I noted that there very well could be an ancient Native American city at the Brasstown Bald site, but that it was most likely built by the Mississippian culture rather than the Mayans. The Mississippians are known to have settled in the Mississippi River valley and throughout the southeastern United States, and they were builders like the Mayans despite being a distinct and separate culture. A recent archaeological dig near St. Louis, Missouri, has now shed more light on the ancient settlement of Cahokia. The site was once thought to be a seasonal encampment, but these most recent findings have shown it to be the largest Mississippian city ever discovered.

Cahokia, which is near Collinsville in Illinois, was initially believed to be just a 'seasonal encampment'. But experts now think it was a location of much more significance.

Mr Lawler wrote: 'A millennium ago, this strategic spot along the Mississippi River was an affluent neighbourhood of Native Americans, set amid the largest concentration of people and monumental architecture north of what is now Mexico.

'Back then, hundreds of well-thatched rectangular houses, carefully aligned along the cardinal directions, stood here, overshadowed by dozens of enormous earthen mounds flanked by large ceremonial plazas.

'Cahokia proper was the only pre-Columbian city north of the Rio Grande, and it was large even by European and Mesoamerican standards of the day, drawing immigrants from hundreds of kilometres around to live, work, and participate in mass ceremonies.'

It's also important to note, as you can see in the artist's rendering above (click for higher resolution), that Mississippian cities and Mayan cities have a number of architectural elements in common, such as pyramids, plazas, and so forth. The Mississippian culture flourished from around 700 to 1400 CE, so the timing also lines up with the dating from the site in Georgia. Therefore, even though the Brasstown Bald ruins are unlikely Mayan it may be that the site conceals another large Mississippian settlement similar to Cahokia.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kopimism Church Recognized in Sweden

Is file-sharing a religious act? According to the Church of Kopimism, a new religion recently recognized in Sweden, the answer to that question can be yes. Kopimism considers file-sharing to be central to its beliefs and practices, which raises some interesting questions from the standpoint of international copyright law.

Kopimism gained recognition as a religion just before Christmas after applying three times to the Swedish government agency Kammarkollegiet. Not only is file-sharing considered its central sacrament, the CTRL+C and CTRL+V shortcuts for copying and pasting are viewed as sacred symbols.

The group is run by Isak Gerson, a 19-year-old student of philosophy, who is now the spiritual leader of Kopimi, the people who follow the tenets of this new religion, which does not explicitly support illegal file-sharing, but the general free exchange of information. There are likely millions of unknowing adherents of Kopimism throughout the world.

While this might sound like something akin to the idea of the Jedi religion, it could have a monumental effect on the legality of various laws against illegal file-sharing, as internet cuts and website blocks could be seen as religious persecution, a violation of a fundamental human right.

I think most people recognize that the founding of Kopimism is analogous to what L. Ron Hubbard did with the Church of Scientology when he founded a religion in order to keep the Food and Drug Administration from going after dianetics - a clever hack to the system rather than an expression of spiritual belief. Still, it is true that the tenets of Kopimism sound a lot like the old "hacker ethic" which has been around since the beginning of the computer age and is essentially a coherent philosophy in its own right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Church of Ice

Back in August I covered the inflatable church created at the behest of a creative Russian missionary who was having trouble getting permission to build a permanent house of worship. A century ago villagers from the German town of Mitterfirmiansreut ran into a similar problem and came up with their own unique solution - they built their church out of snow and ice. Ever since that time, the building of a snow church every winter has become a local tradition.

The snow church is part of a long-tradition in Mitterfirmiansreut dating back more than 100 years. The ritual harks back to when town authorities denied a formal request from residents to open their own traditional house of worship. So the petitioners decided instead to erect a church out of nothing but snow and ice.

"It was meant as an act of provocation," Catholic Church Dean Kajetan Steinbeisser told ABC News. "Believers from the village got together and built a snow church because they didn't have a church here."

The ice sculpture reportedly cost more than $200,000 to create and was delayed for several weeks by unseasonably warm weather. Thousands of visitors are expected to visit the mini-cathedral before it begins to melt away.

The interior of the church, shown above, is quite beautiful and looks like an excellent ritual space - that is, so long as the participants can handle the cold. Like the United States, Germany is having a warm winter season, so if you're in the area and interested in visiting the snow church you may want to do so as soon as you can. There's no telling when the weather might turn warm enough to start damaging the structure.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Egely Wheel

Over the weekend an old friend of my neighbor's dropped by and brought with him a rather curious instrument called an Egely Wheel. This device consists of a wheel mounted on a very low-friction pivot so that it can spin freely along and a sensor that monitors the spin rate. Supposedly the wheel can measure the flow of Qi, spinning faster in response to its presence. As most of you already know, I've been interested in the intersection between magical practices and technology for some time, such as the integration of EMF detectors into evocation rituals.

Although some of the basics of the phenomenon are not yet fully understood, extensive control experiments have proven that the rotation of the wheel during measurements is not driven by heat, convection, or electromagnetic energy. The inventor, Dr. George Egely, a Hungarian physicist PhD formerly with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is an expert in the field of energy transfer processes. After thousands of sessions with over 1500 test subjects, he found that those with the highest levels of "Life Energy" could make the wheel turn faster. Internal electronics measure the speed of rotation, and the state of the art flashing, colored LED display lights up your score, from 0 to 400 (the "average" range is near 100).

The first challenge with the Egely Wheel is to isolate it from anything in the environment that might affect it. The wheel is very sensitive so it moves a little on its own just sitting there. You also need to pay attention to air currents in the room, since even breathing on the wheel will make it spin wildly. I did find that I was eventually able to get it to spin fairly quickly, and this is key - it would only spin that way when I held my mind a particular way. Not my hands or my breath, but my mind. I found that particular detail rather intriguing.

Of course, the skeptic in me is now trying to work out what exactly is making the wheel move. I read some Chinese studies years ago suggesting that an important component of medical Qigong is the emission of infrasonic waves from the hands that impart physical energy to the patient in a particular way, and that more experienced Qigong masters seemed to be able to emit much stronger waves. If this research is accurate such waves would certainly be strong enough to move the extremely sensitive wheel. We also set up the EMF detector alongside the wheel for a bit to see if there was any correlation between the two, and were unable to find any.

The Egely Wheel is a rather expensive device for just playing around with, but since I now know someone who has one of these I'm going to see about integrating it into an evocation ritual to see if the wheel spins in the presence of a spirit. As always, I'll keep you all up to date on my findings. Has anyone else ever worked with one of these devices? I would be interested in hearing any accounts that readers are willing to share.