Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Magical Terrorism in Nigeria

Back in December I came across a new twist on the Nigerian 419 scam in the form of an e-mail threatening to curse the recipient unless he or she paid off the sender right away. I predicted that it was unlikely to work on Americans, and sure enough I haven't seen any examples in my own inbox since I posted that story despite having a rather public e-mail address. If the curse 419 scam worked, it almost certainly would have become as common as the regular 419, in which the recipient is offered a cut of some enormous amount of money in exchange for helping the sender transfer it out of the country illegally. I get those all the time.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone hit upon the idea of magical terrorism. A group of women in Nigeria are threatening to curse the men of the country if the government refuses to release Ralph Uwazuruike, a separatist leader who has been held on charges of treason for the last two years. Unfortunately for us researchers, the women did not specify what sort of curse they were going to cast, making any scientific analysis of its effectiveness pretty much impossible - though of course this a good public relations tactic because it allows the casters to claim credit for any sort of disaster or misfortune that occurs following their casting.

So will the Nigerian government comply? That remains to be seen - and if leaders refuse we can start watching the Nigerian news to see what sort of magick these folks can conjure up.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Final Harry Potter Story

...in more ways than one. Over the weekend the final book in the Harry Potter series was released to the predictable media frenzy. I also feel like I've written enough about people confusing paganism, ceremonial and ritual magick, and stage magic with the magical effects found in the Potter universe, so I don't plan on revisiting it again unless something I come across a particularly heinous example.

Christopher Penczak, a noted Wiccan author, published an article last week addressing some of the same issues that I've brought up but in more detail.

The Spiritual Wisdom of Harry Potter?

It makes for an interesting read, and it's nice to see something reasonably accurate published. My only issue with the Penczak piece is that he seems to be generalizing Wiccan magical principles across the whole of magical spirituality. Magick itself is a technology while Wicca is a religion that incorporates many magical elements, and in some ways "raw magick" is more similar to the Potter version than how it is presented in the Wiccan system.

But that still doesn't mean yelling AVADA KEDAVRA and waving a wand around does much of anything besides make you look silly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Magic Is Not Magick - Get This Right!

Is there anything left in the world that doesn't get dragged into the Harry Potter narrative by the mainstream media? I've complained about Christians, I've complained about Pagans, and now I have to complain about stage magicians - but seeing as the conflation seems to be universal I'm starting to suspect much of the confusion has to do with news agencies rather than the sources themselves.

Master of magic comes up with own Hogwarts

The "master of magic" in question is a top Indian stage magician, and actually the idea of a school teaching traditional Indian stage magic sounds really cool - but it has nothing to do with the magic that exists in the Harry Potter universe. That is, this school will teach "magic" rather than "magick," to use Crowley's terminology. The magic of Harry Potter is more properly "magick," though to be fair the distinction is not widely used in mainstream culture.

It would be really nice to see news agencies get this right. I suppose they figure they'll get more hits on an article if it mentions a huge pop phenomenon like Harry Potter whether or not the story is actually related.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Workshop for Psychic Vampires

Back when I spent more time with folks from the general Pagan community I heard a lot of talk about "psychic vampires." Usually the person to whom the term was being applied was not a skilled energy worker but was instead simply unbelievably boring, self-absorbed, and needy for attention. However, it is possible for an energy worker to draw on the chi of another individual, and an enterprising "magickal society" that follows Michelle Belanger's Psychic Vampire Codex have put together a workshop to teach people how to do it.

Sympathetic Vampire: Feeding On A Summer Evening

Actually, there's nothing special about being an "energy vampire" if you know something about working with chi. Here's how to try it out at a party sometime if you're bored.

  1. Find someone whose energy you want to drain.

  2. Get your own chi flowing using the microcosmic orbit. If you don't know how to do this, read up on it and practice before you try to drain anyone because if you can't work with your own chi you won't be able to drain anyone else's.

  3. Once your own orbit is established, visualize a stream of energy about the size and shape of a rope connecting you to your target.

  4. Visualize yourself pulling on the rope. As it moves toward you, visualize the target's energy coming along with it and being absorbed into your own energy field.
    Often the target will quickly become sleepy or less energetic, and you should feel more energized and enlivened.
You can also use the same trick on an area, but the visualization is more complex. Essentially, you visualize ropes stretching out in all directions and pulling on them simultaneously. Basically, this what the Psychic Vampire Codex teaches, but my version has a lot fewer words and is less flowery (for example, the book uses "tendril" instead of "rope").

There are some ethical issues with using this technique because it can negatively affect the target's overall health, and it also is not usually a good idea to try it on another magical practitioner without their consent. Many energy workers have defenses against this technique and as a result it can backfire and wind up draining you instead. With consent, of course, exchanging energy can be a lot of fun.

In reality, most serious magicians don't usually go around vampirizing people. Energy draining does make for a good sleep spell if you find yourself with a need for one, but chi is so plentiful in the universe that bothering to drain it from others is not terribly useful. If you don't believe me, here's another thing to try that will increase your energy level without "draining" from anyone.

  1. Get your microcosmic orbit going, like before.

  2. Place your attention at the top of your head and visualize the crown chakra opening.

  3. Do the same with the root chakra, located at the perineum.

  4. As you breathe in, visualize bright, airy, and volatile Heaven energy pouring into your body from the top of your head and running all the way down to the root chakra.

  5. As you breathe out, imagine dark, heavy Earth energy rising from the root chakra to the crown.

  6. Once you have this integrated with the orbit, visualize your own energy field becoming stronger and stronger as you continue breathing.
What you will find is that you can draw an almost unlimited amount of energy in this way just from the natural chi flow of the universe itself, far more than you would ever be able to drain from a person or even a large event. But don't just take my word for it - try it out and see for yourself.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Wiccan Reality Show

Starting tonight, a new reality show called "Living the Wiccan Life" will be shown on the website Magick.tv. The show will consist of 10 to 12 minute episodes shown approximately once per week and is produced by the now famous online Witch School.

Witch School Reality Show Airs

Hopefully this program will broaden awareness of alternative spirituality and help to counter some of the negative press that is put out by conservative Christians. However, along those lines I do find it kind of disappointing that the PR release tries to equate the school with Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books and movies. Anyone who is familiar with the Potter series should realize that if this isn't mainstream media spin, it's a blatant attempt to cash in on a mostly unrelated pop culture phenomenon.

I've posted a couple of articles complaining about how Christians don't do their homework and try to claim that the Harry Potter series teaches children the Wiccan religion. It in fact does no such thing, and it's kind of sad to see the same sloppy thinking from the other side of the debate. In the Harry Potter universe, magic is a neutral technology with no religious component. Many Wiccans do practice magick, but so do some esoteric Christians. It's unclear whether Harry himself is religious at all - there are few references in the stories to any of his specific beliefs, and he certainly is not a Wiccan. Can you imagine what the "Threefold Law" would do to the Potter universe?

A real "magick school" like Hogwarts would teach spellcasting techniques without any sort of religious framework. The closest that I've seen to this online is probably Oberon Zell's Gray School of Wizardry which claims to teach the magical arts as a technology rather than a religion.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Occult Composition in Classical Music

It's not just heavy metal musicians who incorporate occult and magical themes into their music. Esoteric elements can also be found in some classical music. Gustav Holst's The Planets is quite popular with ritual magicians and I have used it myself as background music for certain magical operations, and while Holst was not an occultist he did make use of basic astrological archetypes to shape the various elements of his orchestral suite. More explicit occult references can also be found in modern classical pieces, such as the work of composer John Zorn.

From Silence To Sorcery

Zorn's latest album includes three tracks, Goetia, Gris-Gris, and Shibboleth based on magical themes. I should maybe see about picking up a copy of this album since I'm kind of curious if the Goetia track is good music for, well, Goetia. Zorn's previous albums also have interesting titles - Magick (Tzadik, 2004), Rituals (Tzadik, 2005) and Mysterium (Tzadik, 2005). I'm visualizing a bunch of folks in formal dress standing in a concert hall holding aloft lit cigarette lighters and making the "Sign of the Devil." If I ever wind up seeing Zorn's classical work in concert, I'll totally have to do that.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Vampire Peacock Menace

According to an unnamed source in New York City, crafty vampires are now assuming peacock form and inspiring a new breed of vampire hunter. Recently, a vigilant search of the Staten Island Burger King uncovered the hiding place of one of these unholy monsters atop a car in the parking lot. The fearless vampire peacock hunter then moved in for the kill.

Man attacks 'vampire' peacock

The bird had been sitting on top of a car in a Burger King car park in Staten Island, New York. It was being fed bread by the restaurants employees when it was attacked. Onlookers watched in horror as the man grabbed the bird by the neck, hurled it onto the ground and started stamping on it. When asked what he was doing the man replied: “I’m killing a vampire!” Employees called police, but the man ran when he saw them.

Mysteriously, the vampire peacocks eat bread like normal peacocks instead of drinking the blood of the innocent and have no problem with sunlight, also just like normal peacocks. In fact, were it not for the supernatural senses of the peacock vampire hunter it would be easy to conclude that these "vampires" are in fact no different in any way from the normal peacocks whose shapes they cunningly assume.

Unfortunately for garlic-free loaves of bread everywhere, this particular vampire was put down in the usual way following the attack rather than stabbed with a stake through the heart. So it will be back.

"Trevor! I pine for you!"

Here's Another Case to Watch

Scientific Illuminists everywhere, here's a great research opportunity. In the African nation of Malawi traditional witchcraft is believed to be alive and well, and is taken seriously enough that practicing the magical arts is illegal. For a long time I have had a passing interest in African folk magick and have been curious how well it really works. Part of the problem with evaluating this is that even though legal trials and proceedings happen they are always after the fact and therefore scientifically meaningless. If a person happens to die mysteriously, there's nothing "paranormal" about speaking up and claiming that your magical powers were the cause - although you might wind up lynched by an angry mob.

One of the most basic concepts in science is the idea of falsifiability. For a hypothesis to be tested it is necessary to set up an experiment in which success and failure are possible and clearly defined. This makes any sort of evaluation of after-the-fact cases very difficult. What you really need is a case in which a magician claims that he or she will make something relatively unlikely happen, and then watch the future unfold to see if that event actually occurs. With most traditional systems of folk magick, such evaluation is difficult because the practice is fairly secretive and practitioners rarely explain what they are going to do ahead of time.

This story from last week is an exception, and as a result bears watching. A traditional witchcraft practitioner convicted for "pretending witchcraft" has claimed that he will use his magical powers to kill those who acted as witnesses in his trial, and that he will still be able to do this from prison.

Convicted Wizard Threatens to Kill Witnesses

So is it "pretending" if it really works? Anyone feeling like an enterprising paranormal researcher who has more free time than I do should take note of this case and keep track of the witnesses who helped convict this particular individual. If they die sooner than expected, that may mean that traditional African witchcraft is suitable for further study. Personally, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if this turned out to be for real. Magical practices are part of the human experience and are found everywhere, among all cultures and ethnic groups, and mere superstitious nonsense does not impart much of a survival advantage.