Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Operant Equation

This is an expanded comment that I posted on Magick for the Real World. Realizing that I had never actually posted it anywhere else, I figured I should probably put it up here as well.

One of the things that I have been working on over the years in my own magical research is some sort of basic model that can help you figure out how likely a given magical effect will be based on elements of the working intended to produce it. As I've mentioned before, magick at its most basic is the ability to shift probabilities and increase the likelihood of specific events deemed desirable by the caster.

I started off with Peter Carroll's equations published in Liber Kaos and went from there, but there are number of differences between Carroll's worldview and mine. The primary difference is that Carroll is coming at magick from a sort of "Freudian" perspective, that there is some unconscious part of your mind that works magick for you by responding to symbolic information. I don't believe that, and the most recent research in neuroscience supports my position.

I call my version of the equation the Operant Equation, and the version I am using now has proved to be the most successful as far as predicting which operations will succeed and which are likely to fail. It is written thus:

C = G * L * E * (1 - A) * (1 - R)

As in Carroll's equations, all of these variables range from 0 to 1. C, the result, is the Casting Value, an overall measure of how perfectly the spell was performed.

G is Gnosis, the degree to which consciousness expands and shifts. L is the the quality of the Link to the target of the spell, either by similarity, contagion, or both. These are essentially the same as in Carroll's equations.

E is the Energetic State of the subtle body, which is related to phenomena such as Chi or Qi and also energetic physiological changes such as have been observed in Tibetan and Indian yogis and Chinese Qigong practitioners. Carroll ignores this, but it's really important.

Carroll defines A as "Awareness," in that he believes a magical operation has to be forgotten in order to work. That's honestly pretty silly in my experience, but the A that you really need to watch out for is Attachment. If you are too caught up in whether or not a spell will succeed it won't. I'm of the opinion that the "forgetting" trick is how Carroll gets around attachment in his own work, but I don't find that method very optimal.

Finally, R is Resistance to the outcome of the spell. Carroll and I see this term differently, primarily because Carroll bases his work on the Freudian "subconscious mind" model that is currently in the process of being completely debunked by neuroscientists. He believes that there is a "psychic censor" located somewhere in the mind that is biased against working magick and which naturally creates R if it is not bypassed. I don't believe that, but I do believe that R is created by ambivalence about the spell you are casting. For example, a lack of belief in your magical abilities can create R, as can the belief that you are somehow doing something you shouldn't.

Once you have C for a specific operation, you then multiply it by S, Magical Strength. This value is different for everyone and is based on a combination of natural ability and sustained daily magical practice. S is a number ranging from 1 to at least 100 or so that determines the biggest probability shift an individual magician can accomplish. A value of 1 means that the person in question has no real magical ability at all in that they cannot affect probabilities. A strength of 100 means that the magician can overcome odds of 100 to 1 against if the casting is perfect. C * S yields M, the Magical Effect.

To determine the likelihood of a given magical action succeeding, add P, the natural Probability of the event you are trying to cause, to M, the Magical Effect. If the odds of something happening are 1000 to 1 against and your M is 100, the result would be 1000 to 100 against or 10 to 1 against. Your spell may not succeed, but your odds of success are greatly increased.

In a group working, calculate M for each member of the group and add those values together for the total shift, keeping in mind that usually Gnosis drops a bit in group workings simply because some attention is required to coordinate the various participants. So the overall thing looks like this, with Pm representing the actual likelihood of the event occuring and the sum compiled for all individuals involved in the operation:

Pm = P + sum (S * G * L * E * (1 - A) * (1 - R))

It gets a little complex, but magick involves a lot of factors. Some of the above terms, such as Gnosis, can be broken down into other terms but are simplified here to make the equation more comprehensible.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More Benefits of Meditation

Over the last few years more and more research has been done on both the cognitive and biological effects of meditation. Here are the results of several of these studies showing specific benefits of the practice.

Meditation can alter your DNA. Seriously. Meditation elicits a series of physiological changes that researchers call the "relaxation response," and these changes affect various genes related to the body's stress response. In turn, shutting off certain of these genes can lead to improvements in all sorts of medical conditions that are mostly genetic in nature, from hypertension to rheumatoid arthritis.

Meditation can help treat depression. I know from personal experience that this is also true of magical practices in general in addition to meditation. A psychiatrist has published a new book in which he contends that meditative practice can help to manage depression without the use of antidepressant drugs, and he reports solid results from his own 35 years of medical practice.

Meditation slows the progression of AIDS. Researchers don't understand how this works yet, but there is a clear effect that shows up after only a few weeks of meditative practice and it is hypothesized to be linked to changes in the immune system.

As Aleister Crowley wrote in Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae, "by doing certain things certain results follow." There are plenty of subjective reasons for magical and meditative practices, but as the research continues it seems that we are finding plenty of objective ones as well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Secret Name of God

Rabbi Mark Sameth contends that YHVH, the Tetragrammaton, should actually be read in reverse and that when pronounced in that way sounds like the Hebrew words for "he" and "she" put together. Sameth's interpretation is that the nature of God is both male and female, and that this fact is encoded into the sacred name of deity. From the article:

God thus becomes a dual-gendered deity, bringing together all the male and female energy in the universe, the yin and the yang that have divided the sexes from Adam and Eve to Homer and Marge.

"This is the kind of God I believe in, the kind of God that makes sense to me, in a language that speaks very, very deeply to human aspirations and striving," Sameth said. "How could God be male and not female?"

Thelemites already believe that deity includes both male and female characteristics (Nuit and Hadit) but Sameth's hypothesis could prove a revolutionary idea in Judaism and by extension Christianity and Islam. As Aleister Crowley wrote:

When you have proved that God is merely a name for the sex instinct, it appears to me not far to the perception that the sex instinct is God. (Equinox III:1, 280)

Personally, I have no problem taking the contention that far, but we'll have to see whether or not mainstream Judaism is ready to make the leap.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Albino Killings in Tanzania

Usually witchcraft hysteria is based on a bunch of made-up allegations centered on individuals who are harmless but have accumulated enemies within their communities. Rather than the accusations accurately reflecting any action on the part of the accused "witch," they serve as a convenient excuse for the community to attack those that they simply dislike. However, every so often magical practitioners really do commit heinous crimes. In Tanzania, there is a folk belief that the body parts of albinos have special magical powers. This belief is so strong that Tanzanian albinos are being killed and their body parts apparently taken for magical rituals.

The story first came out in April after 19 albinos were killed during the preceding year. Despite actions ordered by the Tanzanian government, however, a more recent undercover investigation by the BBC found that the killings are still going on and I can find no evidence online that any arrests have been made or that the Tanzanian police have managed to conduct an effective investigation. The Tanzanian President has ordered a census of all albinos in the country to make protecting them easier for law enforcement, though some now suspect elements of the Tanzanian police could be involved in the killings.

Various systems of folk magick use human body parts, but I don't really see why the body parts of albinos would be more powerful than those of people who have melanin in their skin. Does melanin inhibit the flow of magical energy or something? I'm sure there are a lot of African spiritual practitioners who would take serious issue with that statement. It seems more likely to me that it's all just superstition that arose because albinos look different. After all, I'm guessing that even if these spells work really well nobody has ever tried to do any double-blind studies on the effectiveness of normal versus albino body parts.

Some Seriously Bad Magick

A North Carolina couple have been charged with kidnapping, rape and assault in connection with their involvement in a supposed Satanic cult. I'm flashing back on the late 1980's when "Satanic Ritual Abuse" first appeared. People initially took it seriously, but it later turned out that most of the allegations of abuse had been fabricated by therapists who used hypnosis to create false memories. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case here.

What does strike me as strange about the case is the "Satanic cult" angle. No "cult" organization is named by the investigators. Neither the husband nor the wife appear to have been members of the Church of Satan or Temple of Set, the only two organizations of any size that to my way of thinking could be considered "Satanic" in the usual vernacular. In fact, the only statement in the article related to Satanism is this:

Prosecutors said a man and a woman met [the husband] through a shared interest in Satan worship, but the pair never consented to physical abuse.

This sounds to me like the "cult" was essentially limited to the four people involved in the case, but of course it's more sensational from the point of view of the media to imply that some sort of larger group was involved. Since this is a statement from the prosecution, not the victims themselves, it's also hard to say whether "magical" and "Satanic" are being confused. This wouldn't be the first time law enforcement has done that.

According to the husband's web site he is "a devout student of magick." Well, if this is his idea of a magical ritual, he's not devout enough.

[the husband] shackled his victims to beds, kept them in dog cages and starved them inside his Albany Street home, prosecutors said. He was charged with beating the man with a cane and a cord and with raping the woman.

Where to begin... no statement of intent, no ritual forms, tools consisting of a cane and an electrical cord? I seriously want to know who this idiot studied with so I can avoid their other students. Or is he just a BDSM enthusiast who thinks talking about magick makes him "edgy?"

Because that's really what this case sounds like - a BDSM situation gone very, very bad. I have no problem with safe, sane, and consensual BDSM, but if the victims were pushed past agreed-upon boundaries the charges are more than justified. I just don't see where Satanism or magick figures into it, aside from helping the media sell more newspapers.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What a Curse Can Do

One of the misconceptions about magick commonly promulgated by Hollywood films is that magick involves some kind of supernatural force or energy that usually is represented by lightning or something similar that shoots from the magician's hand or from some sort of tool like a wand. It's kind of like Dungeons and Dragons - you cast a spell, get a big light show, and then roll a bunch of dice for damage.

In real life magick works by apparently natural processes, but the job still gets done. As an example, here's what happened to someone who may have been the target of a curse. It's possible that this individual is lying rather than admitting to having some sort of mental illness, but under the right circumstances the Saturn evocation that I have posted here could prompt something similar.

The key is that you never specify the means by which a spell should work. If you want to injure someone, do you really care if they get struck down by a bolt of lightning or set themselves on fire? You shouldn't - magick is about results.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Everybody Can Meditate

This is an edited post of mine from another discussion list. In response to a comment on meditation one of the other people on the list commented that he couldn't meditate because his mind was too active. I've run into a few friends who say the same thing, but the fact is that the "taming of the mind" is a result of sustained meditation practice, not the practice itself. There are people for whom meditation won't work as well, but most people will get some positive results and anyone can do the actual practice.

"Clearing your mind" is not how you meditate. The idea that you turn your mind into some sort of a blank slate devoid of any thoughts or content when you sit down on a cushion is something that I've seen in fiction a number of times, but the only spiritual tradition I know of that has ever taught it that way is Aum Shinrikyo. They were a small new religious movement in Japan that went on to launch a nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway, which I think is pretty clear evidence that they were doing it wrong. And even in their system the "blank mind" was viewed as the end goal of the process, not the beginning.

According to the Buddhist teachings that I've studied (Tibetan Vajrayana and Zen), basic sitting meditation is done like this:

(1) Find a comfortable place to sit with your spine straight and eyes softly open.

Keeping the spine straight is common to all the schools of Buddhism and Hinduism. You can meditate lying down, in my experience, but you tend to get sleepy and that can interfere with the effect. You can also sit up in a chair if the cross-legged sitting posture is uncomfortable.

Eyes open versus eyes closed is one of the differences between Buddhist and Hindu meditation techniques. The Buddhists do it eyes open, which is how I learned it. Again, one of the advantages of eyes open is that it helps keep you from getting sleepy. There's also a study quoted in James Austin's Zen and the Brain that seems to indicate closed-eye meditators reach the meditative state more quickly but have more difficulty integrating the meditative state of mind into their daily lives.

As far as looking at specific things goes, Zen teaches that you should be looking at a blank white wall. Tibetan Vajrayana teaches that you can also meditate on specific deities while looking at certain images of them - that's what they use the thangkas with the different deity images for.

(2) Direct some of your attention to your breath as you breathe evenly and deeply.
(3) As thoughts arise in your mind, simply observe them and let them follow their natural course.
(4) When you notice your attention leaving your breath, bring it back.
(5) Do this for about twenty minutes. Then you're done.

I'm convinced that anyone can do this. You only need to keep some of your attention on your breath, not all of it. It doesn't matter how many thoughts arise in your mind or how quickly they appear as long as some of your attention remains on your breath. As far as technical advice goes, sitting lotus is great but cross-legged works if you aren't that flexible, and you should set a timer for your twenty minutes so you aren't constantly checking the clock.

So how do you know whether or not you're successfully meditating? One of my Vajrayana teachers summed it up this way: Are you doing your daily meditation practice? If the answer is yes, you're being successful.If the answer is no, you are not. It sounds flippant but the changes in thinking that meditation can produce take time to develop. Practically, what you do is keep at it for a sustained period of time (say, a month or two) and see if it produces benefits in your life.

I'm not necessarily advocating anyone taking up meditation, but I will say that I've found it to be a useful technique and there a number of benefits of the practice above and beyond expanded awareness. Too many Western people seem to dismiss the idea as something they just can't do for one reason or another and that's not correct. If you want to meditate, believe me, you can.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Russian Resurrectionist Convicted

In Russia, a man who claims to be able to resurrect the dead has been convicted of fraud. You don't say. But wait! Did anyone actually test his abilities? I mean, they still have Lenin's body, right?

Raising the dead using magick is awfully difficult and I've never seen or heard of anyone who could actually do it. It might be possible within a few minutes of physical death, and I suppose some of the best EMT's might be directing their wills in such a way that reviving patients happens more easily, but even an hour after death the body is damaged enough that there's really no way to make it live again. That's why nobody has ever managed to build a "Frankenstein's Monster" despite our advanced scientific understanding of biology.

I know that fraudsters like this is why groups like CSICOP perform a valuable function, but I also think that professional skeptics throw out a lot of data if it even looks mildly weird. I'll reiterate a point I've made on many occasions - most paranormal professionals are fakes. It's tough working magick reliably enough for it to pay the bills on its own, and by the time you are good enough that you might be able to function as a honest professional magician or psychic there are a lot of other easier things you can do to make yourself wealthy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Academic Lecture on Cattle Magick

I've often joked about the old folklore belief that a magician could put a "bad word" on their neighbor's cow, presumably using some sort of spell rather than spray paint and a thesaurus. Later this month a lecture by Dr. Karen Cullen at UHI, an educational institution located in Inverness, Scotland, will explore these beliefs and discuss their historical significance.

The lecture is amusingly entitled "Charmed Cows and Contentious Neighbors" and it is part of a continuing positive trend in academia involving the scholarly study of esoteric beliefs, from mysticism to folk magick. For practicing magicians these studies can be a wellspring of new (or more properly old) practical ideas, and from the standpoint of history folk beliefs have not been taken very seriously by historians until relatively recently despite their influence within societies and cultures.

I don't really need a collection of cattle-related spells, but if I lived in Scotland I would still be interested in attending. You never know, someday I might find myself in a bizarre situation that would require me to hex a heifer.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Convergence 2008!

Over the long weekend I attended Convergence, Minnesota's largest science fiction and fantasy convention.

This was the tenth anniversary of the convention and the programming was extended to include Thursday evening in addition to the usual Friday and Saturday evening events, and it worked out really well. In previous years, the convention has always seemed to end too soon but with an additional night it was just about right. There's some talk of doing it next year, though the official dates are July 3-5, and hopefully they'll be able to pull it off.

One of these days I should see about getting a panel going on real ritual magick for the convention. They already cover a number of speculative science fiction topics like FTL stardrives so I think some real esotericism could fit right in.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

More Witchcraft Hysteria

This time in South Africa. And there are people who wonder why practicing magicians aren't all gung-ho about scientifically proving the existence of magick to nonbelievers.

As with the previous article, at least we can be thankful that nobody was killed.