Monday, May 30, 2016

A Simple Pathworking Induction

Back when I put up my original post describing a simple pathworking ritual, one of the points I made was that my magical working group does pathworking in a more freeform style than many other groups, in that we do not make use of elaborate prewritten guided meditations explaining what we should or should not be seeing as we explore the paths.

While we do not use any sort of guided imagery once we have entered the paths, we do employ a shorter guided meditation that we use as a preliminary induction to get the process started. We find that using the induction makes it go smoother and produce a more complete sense of immersion, rather than jumping right in as my pathworking ritual post implies. So this induction text goes at the beginning of step 5 in the pathworking ritual template, after all the ceremonial forms are in place.

The original version of this induction was based on this meditation from the Copenhagen Qabalah website, which is a fantastic resource for studying hermetic qabalah and the various attributions of the sephiroth and paths. If you do pathworking I highly recommend checking it out. As you will see, some of the same verbiage remains in our version along with the same general idea, but over the years it has changed substantially as we have worked with it.

The induction that we currently are using reads as follows. While it might useful to do some sort of recorded version, I never have gotten around to making one and generally one of us just reads it. When working alone, you can either read it to yourself, or listen to a recording of yourself reading it if you are so inclined, prior to exploring the chosen path.

Sit or lie comfortably. Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. Feel it flowing in and out of your body at its own natural rhythm. Relax your abdomen and allow it to expand as you breathe in, and contract as you breathe out. Feel the breath flowing, allowing it to sink into your abdomen and deepen at its own pace.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Satanic Mormons?

Every couple of years, fundamentalist Christians attempt to revive the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980's. I've written a number of articles on this topic, but apparently the folks pushing this nonsense don't read them. Either that, or they consider me some sort of disinformation agent. Regardless of my what motivations might be, though, my criticism of the entire notion is based on real brain science that wasn't understood thirty years ago.

Today's example is this article from Charisma magazine, a fundamentalist publication that seems to produce more than its share of this sort of weirdness. The subject of the article is a woman named Beth, an "ex-witch" who claims she was subjected to Satanic Ritual Abuse by the Mormon church she grew up in.

In the last nine months, ex-witch Beth says the Holy Spirit used inner healing to uncover deeply repressed memories from her childhood, including ritual satanic abuse in the Mormon church.

"As I started to follow the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit, I started to understand (my childhood)," Beth says in a recent video blog. "At the Mormon church, I was a victim of satanic rituals."

While the revelation may shock some, Beth says the abuse is not limited to the Mormon church.

"Satan is evil and divisive and very tricky, so as long as it looks good and light, then he can find a way to sneak in there and work his evil ... ," Beth says. "It happens in places we would least expect."

As a point, I was corrected by a reader a while back that real Mormons don't call their church the "Mormon Church." They call it the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS Church for short. If Beth really refers to it by the former name, it makes me question if she grew up in the church at all. But I'll assume she's sincere, because individuals reporting Satanic Ritual Abuse generally are. They just erroneously believe that their "recovered memories" are reliable.

First off, what needs to understood about the whole concept here is that there is no such thing as a "deeply repressed" accurate memory. To understand why this is, I direct you to this article. The headline is slightly misleading, as the brain does process information for some definitions of "process information." However, the key point still stands - the human brain does not have much in common with a digital computer, especially as far as memories are concerned.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

God Wants Trump

At least, that's what evangelist John Hagee told his followers last week. Hagee has been featured here on Augoeides before, when his "blood moon" apocalypse prophecy totally fizzled back in September. One wonders if he's at it again, hoping that electing Donald Trump president will finally bring on a real apocalypse as opposed to a totally made up one.

As I'm not a Trump supporter, here's hoping that Hagee's endorsement of Trump's campaign is about as effective as his endorsement of that "blood moon" business - that is, not at all - and the campaign likewise fizzles out on election day.

On yesterday's "Hagee Hotline," Pastor John Hagee urged Christians to get out and vote and made it abundantly clear that he'll be casting his vote for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in November.

After mangling Dietrich Bonhoeffer's famous "not to speak is to speak" quote and falsely attributing it to Martin Niemöller, Hagee informed his viewing audience that "God will not hold us harmless" and so they have an obligation to vote.

"I'm going to vote for the candidate that's going to make the U.S. military great again," he said. "I'm going to vote for the party that is going to solve the immigration problem, not the one that has created the immigration problem. I'm going to support the party that brings jobs back from China ... I'm not going to vote for the party that has betrayed Israel for the past seven years."

"If you can read a newspaper, you know who I'm talking about," Hagee said. "No candidate is perfect, but I want you to go vote and may God give us a leader who has the courage to put America first and stand up for we the people."

The interesting thing about Trump is that, while Christian, he's not much of a religious conservative. Ted Cruz was an actual Christian Reconstructionist, and Trump defeated him easily for the Republican nomination. Not only that, in the primary more than half of evangelicals backed Trump over the guy who theoretically was their ideal candidate.

So Hagee is not alone in his support. This sort of lobbying is pretty ridiculous, though. Hagee can't say "Donald Trump" without losing his organization's tax exempt status, but literally everybody knows exactly who he's talking about as he practically quotes Trump's campaign slogans. And the idea that God is in favor of of a "great military" and opposed to immigration seems kind of silly if you actually read the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus.

The comments about Israel are kind of ironic too, given the actual political situation and the evangelical worldview. First off, the United States has continued to provide aid to Israel over the last seven years even during a massive recession, so how that constitutes "betrayal" eludes me. And second, the only reason evangelicals like Hagee have any interest in supporting Israel is so that it can be blown up during the apocalypse. That's some qualified support right there.

Based on my understanding of the Christian religion, it seems to me that if God were to pick a candidate it sure wouldn't be Donald Trump. But then, they do say that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Still No Aliens!

With the exception of television programs like Ancient Aliens, which I'm convinced many people watch simply to see how weird that Centauri guy can be, the hypothesis that space aliens were involved in the building of ancient monuments is on the decline. The whole idea is kind of insulting to ancient people, who from a biological standpoint were no less intelligent than we are today. They had a different knowledge base with respect to technology, but that's about it.

Not only that, some portions of that knowledge base have still not been worked out by modern scientists. It's not because there's anything mysterious about it, but rather because those solutions were arrived at in such a different cultural context. For years nobody knew how the Egyptians got their saws to run so fast without melting, until a clever engineer figured out that you could fix that problem by running the saw through water. We now use a modern version of the same technology to cut stone, and it works better than our previous methods.

Along those same lines, archaeologists are now claiming to have solved the mystery of how the gigantic stones used to build Stonehenge were transported long distances. They discovered that by loading the stones onto a simple sledge constructed out of logs, and then running the sledge over other logs laid out on the ground, the stones were much easier to move than the group expected.

In fact the one tonne stone whizzed along the make-shift silver birch track when pulled by just 10 people, moving at around 10 feet every five seconds – which works out faster than one mile per hour if pulled continually, rather than in the short bursts of the experiment.

The Preseli stones from Stonehenge are approximately double the weight as the experimental block, but it is possible that one huge stone could have been brought by a group of just 20 people. The community living in the area during the Neolithic would have numbered several thousand so the absence of just a few dozen people was unlikely to cause any hardship.

Doctoral student Barney Harris, who conducted the trial in Gordon Square, London, a stone’s throw from UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, said he was surprised that so few people had been required to move the block. “We were expecting to need at least 15 people to move the stone so to find we could do it with 10 was quite interesting,” said Mr Harris.

Experts have proposed for years that the stones may have been dragged along tracks made from timbers, but even then the friction would have been high enough to require more people than seemed feasible. But the addition of the sledge reduces the friction a lot, and according to this experiment allows the stones to be moved by reasonably-sized groups of people.

I imagine it's kind of like that science museum demo where you take a crushed car weighing almost two tons and put it on a compressed air lift that elevates it a tiny fraction of an inch off the ground. Even though the car weighs almost as much as the stones used to build Stonehenge, one person can push it pretty easily once the friction is no longer an issue.

The sledge doesn't work nearly that well, but apparently it works well enough that alien help is probably off the table for good. That's a positive thing, because we do ourselves no favors when we assume ancient people were any less intelligent than we are today. Clearly they were smart enough to work with the resources they had and get the job done.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Field Ritual

Here's another ritual from our Leaping Laughter Lodge ritual workshop. The initial idea was to create a single ritual that could stand in for the four fields that I propose in my operant field model of magick. The way I've done these for years is to use combinations of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, or of the Star Ruby and Star Sapphire. But we wondered if we might be able to get the same effect with something a bit shorter and more concise.

The field created by this ritual is not necessarily identical with that represented by the traditional magick circle design shown above, but I am convinced that it is intended to represent a similar idea, as I outlined in my article on Goetic Circles and Operant Fields. Notably the pentagrams (microcosmic) are placed outside the circle, while the hexagrams (macrocosmic) are placed within it. This inversion of microcosm and macrocosm is central to the magical field concept as outlined in the operant model.

Laid out step by step, the Field Ritual just looks like a mash-up of the LRP and LRH. But there are a lot of different ways to combine those rituals, and we experimented with many of them. Most just don't work very well. Some of the things we tried to add didn't work in practice and have been removed, and the importance of the additions have been established by sustained experimentation. This one creates a field that feels just as strong as the LRP followed by the LRH, whereas none of the others quite did.

So the ritual starts just like the LRP in Aleister Crowley's Liber O, all the way up to "For about me flames the pentagram." Then you make the Sign of Osiris Risen with the keyword IAO, and from there you trace the four Lesser Hexagrams with the keyword ARARITA and the Sign of Rending the Veil. Finally, you extend your arms in the form of a cross once more, make the final declaration, and then make the Sign of Closing the Veil with a final repetition of the keyword ARARITA. Then, like the LRP, it concludes with the Qabalistic Cross.

This combined ritual has two main speed advantages. First, it omits the unwieldy Keyword Analysis, instead using IAO/Osiris Risen and the sign of Rending the Veil to signify the transpersonal realm. Second, it eliminates all of the repetition aside from the Qabalistic Cross at the beginning and very end of the rite. By changing the invoking/banishing orientation of the pentagrams and hexagrams, you can use this ritual to create all four fields defined by the operant model.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

So Did I Win? Already?

Not a sample, folks. This is the only post for the entire month!

Back in February I discovered that Watcher of the Dawn, a website previously dedicated to snarking on the various Golden Dawn orders, seemed as if it were trying to become the new Augoeides, putting up a whole bunch of posts about various news stories that touched on the paranormal - you know, just like I do! I was coming off a very slow January, in which I started a new job and had only had time to put up four posts, so I wondered if they might be trying to take advantage of the slack.

By the end of February I had the posting frequency back to where it was, and added more actual magick commentary to up my game a bit. Watcher out-posted me in February and March, but then April came around. Watchers put up one post. For this month they haven't put up any. Meanwhile I put up sixteen in April and this one will make it fourteen for May. So, I guess, it looks like I won without much of a fight. I'm still here and posting. Watcher seems to have mostly given up, and returned to snarking on initiatory groups if the April post is any indication.

So what happened? When you look up the site on Google, the tagline for Watcher says "the world's first New Age tabloid." I beg to disagree. Augoeides has been a New Age tabloid since 2007 at the latest, which was nine years ago. World's first? Try Johnny-come-lately. When I dug into what was going on with Watcher, it sounded like somebody had decided to try and monetize it in some fashion - which is weird, because I didn't see ads or anything on the site. I don't know how they were expecting that to work.

Now to be fair, ads don't work. Back in the day when I was still experimenting, I tried putting some Google ads up on Augoeides. It was a long time ago, so unless you are a longtime reader you probably never saw them. Google had a ten dollar threshold before they would send you any payments, and it took me two years to get above $9. Then Google changed the program and I never got paid, so they essentially stole my $9. That's why you'll never see any more ads from those clowns around here.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Demonic Possession" Strikes Peruvian School

This last week up to eighty children were affected by an outbreak of "demonic possession" at a Peruvian school. The children suffered from seizures, exhibited bizarre behavior, and reported visions of a "man in black" who was trying to kill them. In addition to the possession explanation, the outbreak has been blamed on spirits haunting the school and the favorite non-explanation of skeptics, "mass hysteria."

Elsa de Pizango, a concerned mother whose daughter has experienced some of the symptoms, said: 'She fainted in school. They didn't say anything at the hospital. She just fainted. She keeps on spitting froth from her mouth.'

Describing her experience, a pupil not named in local media, said: 'It's disturbing for me to think about it. It's as if someone kept on chasing me from behind.

'It was a tall man all dressed in black and with a big beard and it felt like he was trying to strangle me.

'My friends say I was screaming desperately, but I don't remember much.'

Another schoolgirl said she had trouble breathing and was desperately holding her neck as if someone was strangling her. According to her friends, she kept screaming: 'Take it out.'

Another anonymous girl, aged 13, told local media: 'Several children from different classrooms fainted at the same time. I got nauseous and started vomiting. I heard voices. A man in black chased me and wanted to touch me.'

Franklin Steiner, a parapsychologist who investigates paranormal and psychic phenomena - said: 'It is known that years ago there were many victims of terrorism here. When this school was built, some say bones and dead bodies were found.'

Locals believe this is a case of demonic interference, saying some children must have played games that invoke demons such as using a Ouija board.

Now as I've said before, "mass hysteria" is a bullshit explanation. It's what skeptics rely on when they can't easily explain away something that seems paranormal, and there are no experiments whatsoever that demonstrate how it works. There's actually more scientific evidence for psychic powers and ghosts, because there's no scientific evidence for "mass hysteria" or any model that explains how it's supposed to work.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

One Million Moms is Good for Business

For a while now here on Augoeides I've covered the antics of self-proclaimed "media watchdog" One Million Moms, which I have alternately characterized as "Nowhere Near a Million Not Necessarily Moms" and, more accurately, "A Couple of Thousand Crazy People." The group's pathetic attempts at media censorship border on self-parody, as if somebody called a brainstorming session to generate the most trivial possible things to be offended over.

Even sadder, assuming the group is indeed serious and not some sort of satirical joke, is that according to this article from Slate, their actions actually help to drum up business for the companies and products they criticize. So much business, in fact, that it makes me wonder if the whole thing might be a false front supported by the very companies and organizations that the group tries to boycott.

By now, this is a familiar template: 1. Brand implicitly endorses a mainstream progressive cause. 2. Small band of monsters reacts predictably. 3. Right-thinking Americans rush to embrace and defend the brand.

Sometimes the backlash comes from stray jackasses on social media, other times from organizations such as the conservative media watchdog organization One Million Moms, whose recent efforts have included protesting Campbell’s Soup and Chobani ads for featuring gay couples. No matter how the fracas plays out, everybody wins in the end: The trolls get attention, responders get the warm and fuzzy pleasure of combating hate, and the brand comes out looking like a crusader for justice.

When racists objected to a charming 2013 Cheerios ad featuring a mixed-race family, the brand closed the comment section on YouTube because some reactions were so ugly. But the hubbub was unquestionably a boost for the brand. A marketing firm that analyzed the campaign’s performance online found that overall online exposure to Cheerios rose 77 percent in the wake of the backlash, and that Cheerios trounced rivals like Wheaties and Rice Krispies in views on YouTube, social media, and elsewhere online. They ended up producing a Super Bowl ad featuring the same actors, which prompted a whole new round of positive press.

I will say that this sort of worked on me. The only reason I watched the Lucifer television series was because these chuckleheads protested it, and as I'm a sucker for over-the-top paranormal shows I wound up enjoying it. I stream television without commercials on Netflix and Hulu so I can't say that their actions with regard to brands or commercials have had much effect on me, but from the statistics presented in the article it sure seems like they have an effect on the population at large.

I imagine that in reality the members of One Million Moms are probably sincere and just deeply, deeply stupid rather than the group being some sort of marketing plot. But they are literally so terrible at what they claim to be trying to do that they are increasing both the popularity and the profitability of everything they protest. Good job, morons!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Religious Experiences in the Brain

An Israeli epilepsy patient recently had a sudden religious experience. This is not necessarily uncommon, but the difference this time is that he was hooked up to an EEG machine at the moment he experienced what he interpreted as the presence of God. While a number of studies have been done tracking brain activity in meditators, such practice is much more deliberate and controlled. Sudden experiences are unpredictable, which makes them hard to investigate.

According to the authors, Israeli researchers Arzy and Schurr, the man was 46 years old. He was Jewish, but he had never been especially religious. His supernatural experience occurred in hospital where he was undergoing tests to help treat his right temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), a condition which he had suffered from for forty years. As part of the testing procedure, the patient stopped taking his anticonvulsant medication. Here’s how the authors describe what happened:

"While lying in bed, the patient abruptly “froze” and stared at the ceiling for several minutes, stating later that he felt that God was approaching him. He then started chanting prayers quietly, looked for his Kippa and put it on his head, chanting the prayers more excessively. Then, abruptly, he yelled “And you are Adonai (name of the Hebrew God) the Lord!”, stating later that god had revealed to him, ordering him to bring redemption to the people of Israel.

The patient then stood up, detached the EEG electrodes from his skin, and went around the department trying to convince people to follow him, stating that “God has sent me to you”. When further questioned, he said that he does not have a concrete plan, but he is sure that God is going to instruct him what he and his followers should do on their way to redemption."

What makes this so interesting is that the patient was undergoing online EEG recording at the time of his unexpected messianic moment – right up until he ripped the electrodes off. Arzy and Schurr were therefore able to examine the neural correlates of the behaviour. It turns out that there was an increase in activity in the low-gamma band (30–40 Hz) localized to the left prefrontal cortex, which occurred during the onset of the ineffable event.

There have been a number of studies over the last twenty years showing that advanced meditators can induce gamm brainwave activity via their practices. But many of those studies were done back in the 1990's, when EEG technology was less sophisticated. As such, they were only able to track aggregate rather than localized activity. Studies done over the course of the last decade generally include that information, but up until now I don't know of any case where a patient had a sudden religious experience while being monitored.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Iceland's Elves Totally Exist

At least, that's the opinion of Icelandic anthropologist Magnus Skarphedinsson, who has spent much of his adult life collecting witness accounts of the creatures. Belief in the existence of elves is widespread in Iceland, where construction projects routinely are modified so as not to disturb them or the places they call home. Many people living in Iceland also claim to have seen and interacted with them, up to and including accounts of elf sex.

Construction sites have been moved so as not to disturb the elves, and fishermen have refused to put out to sea because of their warnings: here in Iceland, these creatures are a part of everyday life. But honestly, do they really exist?

Anthropologist Magnus Skarphedinsson has spent decades collecting witness accounts, and he’s convinced the answer is yes. He now passes on his knowledge to curious crowds as the headmaster of Reykjavik’s Elf School. “There is no doubt that they exist!” exclaims the stout 60-year-old as he addresses his “students”, for the most part tourists fascinated by Icelanders’ belief in elves.

What exactly is an elf? A well-intentioned being, smaller than a person, who lives outdoors and normally does not talk. They are not to be confused with Iceland’s “hidden people”, who resemble humans and almost all of whom speak Icelandic. To convince sceptics that this is not just a myth, Skarphedinsson relays two “witness accounts”, spinning the tales as an accomplished storyteller.

It's hard to say how true the accounts listed in the article are, though if they are accurate they sound like something weird is going on in Iceland. Whether or not elves are the cause is unclear - the various insights about fishing in a couple of the accounts could be a manifestation of psychic vision, and the various problems encountered during the construction project that wound up blamed on elves could have been simple bad luck.

My guess is that the elves are not necessarily physical, but spirits of some sort indigenous to the land that people with psychic awareness can perceive and which have some limited ability to influence the physical world. That still doesn't really explain how one would go about having sex with them, though. If I'm ever in Iceland, this is one thing I want to check out. Because if elves do exist anywhere, it's probably there, and if they are indeed paranormal creatures I would like to meet one.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Oregon Ritual for Bernie Sanders

So yesterday, as I was writing up my post on Hillary Clinton and UFOs, it occurred to me that I had posted articles on every major presidential candidate still in the race except for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. But throughout the campaign, I had not come across anything about the Sanders campaign that really fell into my any of my usual paranormal topics.

Witches tried to hex Donald Trump. A guy tried to exorcise Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush pals around with vampires. Hillary Clinton is interested in UFOs. And so forth. But today a reader alerted me to this article, which allows me to round out my coverage of the election. Apparently last night a group in Oregon organized a magical working to help the Sanders campaign.

This is a real Bernie Sanders campaign event description:

"Clearly you're feeling the Bern. Maybe you're a Wiccan? Pagan? Goddess worshiper? Heathen? Druid? Spiritual but not religious? Secular Jew? Spiritually open minded? Unafiliated? Athiest [sic] who likes ritual? Other? And you would like to engage with a community of like minded individuals to raise the energy of the Bernie Sanders vibration to a higher frequency and ultimately change the world for our children, grandchildren, and all future generations. I hear you!

Please meet me at Woodstock Park (in the open area near SE 47th and Steele) for a Ritual for Bernie. We will be focusing our energy in manifesting our intentions for the most positive, most beneficial, most heartful outcome to the upcoming primary and national election cycle.

Please bring a donation of canned goods for the Oregon Food Bank and a beverage and/or snack to share after the event. Please also wear your Bernie gear!

I look forward to sharing space and making magick with you!"

You can attend this real event tonight at Woodstock Park. Nineteen people have already RSVPed. I... question the efficacy of energy work as a tool for influencing the outcome of an election—especially if you skip ACTUALLY VOTING, which I consider to be a sacred ritual.

The author of the article's skeptical tone is noted, but I will say that she makes one good point. If you cast a spell, you need to take the mundane actions necessary to support the outcome. So if you cast a spell for a political candidate, you should make sure you also go out and vote for said candidate. Personally I always vote, though not necessarily for either of the two major parties.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hillary Clinton on UFOs

Since becoming First Lady in 1993, Hillary Clinton has been subject to constant scrutiny by her political opponents. Despite this, it is still not widely known that the former Secretary of State is quite interested in UFO phenomena. She does not necessarily believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft, but at the same time she advocates releasing as much information as possible about sightings in order to provide possible explanations for them.

Mrs. Clinton has vowed that barring any threats to national security, she would open up government files on the subject, a shift from President Obama, who typically dismisses the topic as a joke. Her position has elated U.F.O. enthusiasts, who have declared Mrs. Clinton the first “E.T. candidate.”

“Hillary has embraced this issue with an absolutely unprecedented level of interest in American politics,” said Joseph G. Buchman, who has spent decades calling for government transparency about extraterrestrials.

Mrs. Clinton, a cautious candidate who often bemoans being the subject of Republican conspiracy theories, has shown surprising ease plunging into the discussion of the possibility of extraterrestrial beings.

She has said in recent interviews that as president she would release information about Area 51, the remote Air Force base in Nevada believed by some to be a secret hub where the government stores classified information about aliens and U.F.O.s.

In a radio interview last month, she said, “I want to open the files as much as we can.” Asked if she believed in U.F.O.s, Mrs. Clinton said: “I don’t know. I want to see what the information shows.” But she added, “There’s enough stories out there that I don’t think everybody is just sitting in their kitchen making them up.”

While I disagree with Clinton on a number of issues, I do think her comments here show a healthy attitude towards phenomena that can't be complete nonsense. While I think that normal explanations exist for the vast majority of UFO sightings, I disagree strongly with the capital-S Skeptic position that asserts people are just lying about anything that can't be easily explained away.

As I've mentioned before, "mass hysteria" is a completely bogus explanation for basically anything. Nobody understands how it works any better than they understand alleged paranormal processes like ESP, and there aren't any serious experiments supporting it as a legitimate mechanism by which a bunch of people can, say, share a hallucination.

It may very well be that opening the UFO files will provide more normal explanations, such as military test flights that happened long enough ago that public knowledge of them will not compromise national security. I personally think that's going to turn out to be the explanation for most of the sightings that happened during the cold war.

But you never know - maybe the government really does have a secret hangar somewhere filled with alien spacecraft, and if it does I would like to know all about that as well.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tutankhamun's Secret Chambers

The debate over the possible presence of additional chambers in the tomb of Tutankhamun is continuing, as a second set of radar scans of the north and west walls failed to confirm the results of initial scans that seemed to show the presence of "voids" behind the two walls. Since nobody wants to cut through either wall unless they are absolutely sure something is behind them, Egyptologists are unsure how to proceed.

Last fall, a thermographic scan of the north wall revealed anomalies that seemed to correspond to the features in question, and a physical examination of the tomb was also encouraging. From the beginning, most Egyptologists were skeptical of the idea that Nefertiti in particular might be buried there, but they became more receptive to the possibility of additional chambers last November, when a radar scan seemed to detect the presence of voids behind the north and west walls.

Those scans were conducted by Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, who claimed that his equipment also sensed metallic and organic objects within those voids. Afterwards, Mamdouh Eldamaty, the minister of antiquities at the time, announced at a press conference that he was “90 percent positive” that another chamber lies behind the north wall.

In March, a second team of radar technicians, organized by National Geographic, conducted a follow-up scan to see if Watanabe’s results could be replicated. But they failed to locate the same features, as Zahi Hawass, the former minister of antiquities and one of Egypt’s most prominent scholars, noted during the weekend conference. “If there is any masonry or partition wall, the radar signal should show an image,” he said. “We don’t have this, which means there is nothing there.”

Science has to be thorough. The first positive result could have been an error, or perhaps there was a problem with the second scan. What it means is that before anybody excavates those walls, more scans and tests will be necessary. So it probably will be a while before we find out if Tut's tomb hides the entrance to Nefertiti's burial chamber, or if there are additional rooms to explore, or if the walls really are the full extent of the tomb and nothing lies beyond them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Not a Lost Maya City After All

Over the last couple of days, the story of how a Canadian teenager allegedly located a lost Mayan city has been all over the Internet. The teenager, William Gadoury, presented the hypothesis that Mayan cities were placed according to the shape of constellations. Scientists from the Canadian space agency decided to test it out, pointing an imaging satellite at one of the predicted locations. Pictures from the satellite seemed to show evidence of man-made structures.

It makes for a great story, but as this article in Wired points out, the results are not nearly as impressive as they seem for several reasons. Not only is the site reasonably close to other known Mayan ruins, but the square image may not even show the remnants of a city. For example, it could easily be an abandoned field originally cleared in the shape of a square far more recently than the height of Mayan civilization.

Satellite imagery can be a powerful tool for studying the ancient world. “Space archaeologists” like Sarah Parcak want to use readily available data like this to lower the barriers to entry in science, and a teenager finding a long-lost city would be a pretty stunning proof of concept. But that isn’t what the images show. The square in the CSA’s satellite images is probably an abandoned field, and another spot may be a small dry lake or clearing in the jungle, says archaeologist Ivan Šprajc. Gizmodo, in its updated story, has noted the same about the square structure.

Moreover, experts are skeptical of the claim that the Maya built their cities according to constellations. They did indeed have constellations, but there is no complete canonical list of them, so the theory is hard to test. “Maya constellations that we know of, with the exception of Scorpio, bear no relation to those we find on modern star maps,” says Anthony Aveni, a founder of the field of archaeoastronomy. What seem like bizarre locations for cities can be explained by other factors, like access to swamp mud for their terraces.

And no matter what your star map tells you, chances are good you’ll hit upon a settlement in that area. “The Maya area was so densely occupied in Classic Maya times that many years ago a well known archaeologist, Ed Kurjack, told me that the area looked much like the Ohio Valley, denuded of trees and full of towns that were fairly close to one another,” wrote Susan Milbrath, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, in an email. “So at any given point you would be likely to find an archaeological site.” The archaeologist Richard Hansen pointed out that the location appears to be very close to that of the ancient Mayan city of Uxul, which has been under excavation since 2009—not exactly a long-lost city.

As an esotericist, the biggest red flag for me with the entire idea is that the Maya almost certainly would have had a completely different set of constellations than those originating in the Middle East. There's no reason whatsoever to think that Mayan cities would be laid out according to Western constellations. Maybe if we had a definitive list of Mayan constellations we could make a connection, but that information was most likely destroyed during the Spanish conquest and no longer exists.

Beyond that, even using the Maya constellations, if the area was as densely settled as Kurjack claims, then basically any predictive model would be reasonably likely to find something. To do a real scientific evaluation of this hypothesis, you would have to compare the "constellation" model to one that picks points in the area at random and then see if there's any statistical difference between them. If there isn't, the hypothesis should be considered disproved.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Psychic Mail Fraud Shut Down

A long-running phony psychic operation that swindled its customers out of nearly two hundred million dollars was recently shut down by federal authorities. The company operated through the mail, sending fake seemingly personalized messages to millions of people. The letters claimed that a psychic had personally seen that the individual targeted would come into a large sum of money so long as he or she purchased products from the scammers.

A federal judge has approved a consent decree that bans Montreal’s Infogest Direct Marketing, Hong Kong’s Destiny Research Center Ltd and six individuals from using the U.S. mail system to send ads, promotional materials and solicitations on behalf of alleged psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants.

In a scheme dating to 2000, the defendants were accused of sending seemingly personalized form letters in which French psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin predicted great wealth, such as winning the lottery, for people who bought products and services to ensure their good fortune came to pass.

One such letter touted how Duval and Guerin shared “clear visions” that recipients would come into “massive sums of money on games of chance,” so long as they paid $50 for a “mysterious talisman” and a copy of “My Invaluable Guide to My New Life.”

Authorities said people who bought products or services would be “bombarded” with additional solicitations. More than 56 million pieces of mail were sent in the past decade, they added.

One of the interesting points about this case is that this is the exact same method used by many "Prosperity Gospel" evangelists, as John Oliver uncovered in his epic takedown of the movement. If federal authorities want to crack down further on similar scammers, it should go after some of those ministries.

It's completely legal to tell someone that if they donate money, they will be seen more favorably by God and/or will be rewarded in the afterlife. There's no way to prove or disprove either of those claims. But when an evangelist tells you that when you donate money you'll get back a lot more money, the whole thing becomes a scam.

Ministers who do that should not be able to hide behind "religious freedom" laws to keep their operations going as they enrich themselves at their followers' expense.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Revival of the Old Magick Doesn't Worry Me

Seven years ago, skeptic Phil Plait wrote an article for Discover magazine essentially arguing that paranormal investigation television programs would lead to angry mobs burning people alive. It's a ridiculous argument that has no grounding in reality, and I called it out as such back then in my response.

Capital-S Skeptics do this weird sort of splitting in their thought processes. They tend to assume that if you can do anything at all paranormal, it should follow that you can do anything they can possibly imagine by the same means. So the fact that you can't, say, levitate a building proves that you could never have possibly had a flash of psychic insight.

Plait's argument was built on the same fallacy. His idea seemed to be that if people had even one thought that he considered irrational, that was the exact same thing as said people being hopelessly insane. By this logic, anyone who likes Ghost Hunters wouldn't think twice about murdering the person standing next to them the moment they start feeling vaguely uncomfortable, because after all said person might be hexing them.

And just as a point, over the last seven years the popularity of paranormal investigation shows has exploded. They're everywhere - and still no witch-burnings!

So back in April, my fellow grimoire author Aaron Leitch posted an article on the Llewellyn magick blog stating his "worries" about the "revival of the old magick." I agree with Leitch's main point that it's great to live in the United States rather than parts of, say, Africa or India or Papau New Guinea where the fear of magick is widespread, and have been stating so for many years on this blog.

However, I disagree with the implied assertion that somehow, the "revival of the old magick" has any real chance of turning modern-day America into the sort of place where angry mobs routinely go around murdering practitioners. That's just silly. It's not as silly as Plait's "paranormal investigation shows will make us start burning people at the stake" argument, but it is essentially a contention of the same sort.

I try to make the point, over and over again, that anyone who doesn't understand statistics doesn't understand magick. I would go so far as to say such people don't understand life, period. The bottom line that statistically speaking, there are hardly any magical practitioners here in the United States. Even if our numbers doubled or tripled or quadrupled, we would remain little more than a drop in the bucket.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Restraining Order against God?

An Israeli man has petitioned the court for a restraining order against God. The petitioner claimed that the reason for the restraining order was that, for the last three years, The Almighty has treated him poorly. In other words, it sounds like the man has had a run of bad luck that he can't blame on anyone else. Therefore, God must be persecuting him.

A protocol of the hearing noted that God did not turn up for the session, although it did not specify how the court determined the Omnipresent was not in fact there, as opposed to merely exercising the right to remain silent.

The petitioner, who was not named in the report, noted that he had tried to obtain the restraining order from police for the past three years but that police had merely sent a patrol car to his home on 10 occasions.

He argued that over a three-year period God, had exhibited a seriously negative attitude toward him, although details of just what divine mischief he had borne the brunt of were not mentioned in the report.

Presiding Judge Ahsan Canaan denied the request, which he said was ludicrous, asserting the applicant needed help not from the court but rather from other sources.

Given the theological assumptions of monotheistic religion, how such a restraining order might work would be anyone's guess. God is supposed to be everywhere, all at once, and a restraining order normally works on the assumption that it is possible for the individual named to not come within 100 yards or so of the petitioner. With God, that would be off the table.

Furthermore, what a restraining order basically means that if said individual does come within that 100 yards, they will be subject to arrest. How could police possibly arrest God? What would they do, put him in a special omnipotence-proof cell? Whether or not such a thing can even exist was a pressing subject of Medieval philosophical debate.

So yes, the idea is fundamentally silly, even if you accept all the tenets of monotheism as totally, literally true. Although I will say that if Job could have just taken out a restraining order, that book would be a whole lot shorter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ted Cruz Exorcized

Back in February, Ted Cruz was accosted by a man who claimed that the Texas senator was possessed by a demon and needed an exorcism. Then, just last week, former Speaker of the House John Boehner described Cruz as "Lucifer in the flesh." Boehner was (most likely) speaking metaphorically, but Satanists still condemned his remarks, claiming that comparing Cruz to Lucifer was insulting to Lucifer.

Whether or not Cruz really needed that exorcism, last night in Indiana he was exorcized from the race for the Republican presidential nomination. After a big loss to Donald Trump, who still seems to be totally-not-hexed, the Texas senator suspended his campaign for the nomination. Barring something completely unexpected, Cruz' exit from the race means that Trump will be the Republican nominee.

Now just in case the Texas senator does find himself in need of an actual exorcism, last week a reporter from The Washington Post contacted practicing exorcist and Teen Exorcist Squad leader Bob Larson to find out how he would go about doing it.

"I would treat him no differently than I would treat anyone else," Larson said. (He intimated that he'd dealt with political leaders — including some I'd be familiar with — but he declined to name names.)

When presented with someone who friends or family think may be possessed, Larson first ensures that the person has seen a therapist or doctor — tried, in other words, to eliminate all potential medical and psychological causes for the person's behavior.

If all of that has occurred, he then tries to figure out why the person might have been possessed. "People don't just become possessed because they have a bad hair day," he said. "They become possessed because something evil has happened either transgenerationally or in their life." The next round of questions centers on what type of evil acts the possessed person has committed or have had committed to them, and how the person had dealt with those issues, if at all.

Next? "Once you know there was the right of an evil spirit to enter," Larson said, "then the question is whether they are the true host of a spirit or just somehow tormented. And to do that, you demand to speak to the spirit and call the spirit forth. And it either comes or it doesn't."

What really surprised me about Cruz' performance in the Republican primaries is that, to my knowledge, he was the first openly Christian Reconstructionist candidate to seek public office, and he was rejected by a substantial percentage of evangelical Christians. Many of them went for Trump, a Presbyterian who for the most part is not even running as a religious conservative.

Maybe it's just because Cruz is so darn unlikeable and clearly uncomfortable acting like a normal human being, but it could also imply that even the "evangelical" block of Christianity is not nearly as politically monolithic as some of their public statements make them sound. It seems that there are quite a few of them out there who are perfectly happy to reject Theocracy as a form of government, even if such a government would mean rule by their religion.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pope Lick Monster Hunt Turns Deadly

The various weird cryptids that show up in different parts of the country boggle the mind. It seems like just about everywhere, there are stories of bizarre creatures that hide out in remote places. Some of these creatures are said to be shy, and others are said to be malevolent, even deadly.

Kentucky's Pope Lick Monster is one of the few cryptids out there with what appears to be an actual body count. The monster is "part-man, part-goat, and part-sheep" and gets its name from the Pope Lick Trestle, a railroad trestle bridge under which it is supposed to live.

According to folklore, the monster uses some sort of paranormal power to lure its victims onto the trestle bridge, where they are then struck by oncoming trains. The bridge itself is shown in the image above, and as you can see it is very long, very high, and has no handrails or safety features of any kind.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. Last week a young woman was tragically killed when she and her boyfriend ventured out onto the bridge. When a train came, the boyfriend was able to survive by hanging off the side of the bridge, but the woman slipped and fell from the trestle.

"It’s just so sad - a very pretty young girl who had her life in front of her," deputy coroner Jack Arnold said. "It's just so preventable." In her purse, investigators found a work badge that indicated she had worked as a surgical assistant.

There were no signs the couple had been drinking or abusing drugs, but toxicology tests on the victim are pending, he said. Homicide detectives with the Louisville Metro Police Department are investigating, but on Sunday spokeswoman Alicia Smiley said, "There's nothing to indicate foul play."

The train engineer told officials his speed was 32 mph when he saw the couple, sounded the horn and tried to brake, Arnold said. Investigators will review the train's video footage, he said.

The victim and her boyfriend were in town for a paranormal investigation tour, and the boyfriend told police that the couple had gone out onto the bridge in search of the legendary monster. But they encountered a train instead.

The Pope Lick Trestle is so long that there's no way to get off the bridge once you hear a train coming, and there's nowhere on the bridge to stand as it goes by. Basically, all you can do is hang off the side and hope you don't slip - which I imagine is quite difficult, as I'm sure the train shakes the trestle quite hard as it passes.

This, I expect, is the origin of the myth. People are going to explore structures like this; it's only human nature. That makes tragedies like this one practically inevitable. And for those families who lose loved ones, maybe it's easier to have something to blame, even if that something is "part-man, part-goat, and part-sheep."