Monday, March 30, 2009

Holy Soda

I drink a lot of soda, so if there was a magical ritual I could perform to imbue it with magical energy that would speed my spiritual progress I would be all for it. The truth is that since water holds a magical charge just about any drink can be magically empowered by tracing a sigil over it while visualizing your desired goal, and soda should behave the same way in a ritual. Apparently one Norwegian Church thinks so too - thanks to recent freezing temperatures the Church's water taps were not working, so the priest substituted lemon soda for water in a baptismal ritual.

Priest Paal Dale, from the town of Stord, about 150 miles west of the capital Oslo, improvised during a recent cold-spell by dabbing the fizzy drink on the baby, daily newspaper Vaart Land said on Tuesday.

So does it work? From a magical perspective the situation is unfortunately rather muddled.

The Christian Church teaches that infant baptism is necessary to wash away original sin, but in my opinion the Augustinian doctrine of original sin is rooted in a mistranslation rather than any sort of genuine theological principle. In the Gospels, the Greek word metanoia was translated into the Latin paenitentia, the root of the usual English translation, "repentence." However, in Greek metanoia carries with it none of the connotations related to the redress of past wrongs that are associated with both the English term and its Latin root. To Augustine reading the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Gospels, it must have seemed clear that in order for one to "repent" some past wrong must already be present. Hence the doctrine of original sin, which is supposedly supported by the text of Genesis and yet is not found in Judaism.

At this point metanoia could probably be used in English with no real loss of meaning. We already have words like "paranoia" which have a similar structure and "meta" has moved from online forums into the general vernacular. "Meta" means above or beyond and "noia" is derived from nuos, mind. The word doesn't mean anything related to wrongdoing at all, but instead refers to awakened or expanded consciousness that changes your perspective on the world. When someone tells you "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" what they really should be saying is something like "awaken, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Returning to the original language puts a rather different spin on Christian spirituality, one centered on consciousness rather than bad behavior.

Furthermore, spiritual awakening is not something anyone else can do for you. Baptising an adult and baptising an infant are two completely different things, because in effect with an adult baptism whatever spiritual awakening that may occur is triggered by the participant's reaction to the ritual, not the ritual itself. For an infant unaware of his or her surroundings this is simply not possible and therefore the argument that there is any benefit to baptizing babies is not supported by a magical understanding of the universe. In Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica a child must be 11 years old before he or she can go through a baptismal ceremony, and in my opinion that is as it should be. Baptism has a different theological meaning in EGC than it does in Christianity, but I am of the opionion that in order to benefit from either form of the ritual one must be old enough to be aware of what is going on.

This leaves me with the conclusion that the baptism by soda could not have possibly worked in terms of creating any sort of spiritual benefit for the child, but to be fair the same would be true if water was used. For an adult baptism it would be harder to say whether the soda would be more or less efficacious.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Evolution: The REAL Story

Thanks to the Internet, we have many more opportunities to be appalled with our fellow human beings than our poor disconnected ancestors of twenty years ago could possibly imagine. I doubt that people are any worse overall than they were back then, and in fact a good argument can be made that at least to a degree digital networking has helped bring people around the world together. However, the reason that we see so much more unbelievable ignorance these days is that if someone says something truly idiotic those comments will live on for all time as an unending running joke, an example that just about anyone can pull up to support the statement, "Hey, at least I'm not as dumb as that guy!"

The following message was sent in e-mail to several of the bloggers over at Pandagon because apparently they were unaware of the "real story" of evolution. Apparently I'm ignorant as well - I always thought that evolution was a well-documented scientific theory that describes how genetic mutations allow populations of organisms to adapt and over time differentiate into different species in response to environmental conditions. But according to this guy it actually begins with the Adam and Eve story from Genesis and degenerates into hot monkey sex. No, not between Adam and Eve, between people and actual monkeys. It's either a new religion or insanity at a level that is rarely witnessed.

I made a halfhearted attempt to quote and comment on this particular piece of craziness paragraph by paragraph but there's just too much of it for me to ever finish in a short period of time. Factual errors, theological errors, scientific errors... I mean, where would I even start? Besides, the commenters at Pandagon did a much better job of skewering this steaming pile of nonsense than I ever could. Just read it, and be content with the knowledge that no matter how stupid you may be there's somebody out there who's even dumber.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Witch Hunting in Gambia

I find the possibility of government regulation of magical practices disturbing enough, but last week in Gambia the world saw what happens when government forces team up with self-proclaimed witch hunters - massive persecution on a scale that is extreme even for Africa.

Around a thousand suspected witches were rounded up, drugged, and forced to confess to practicing witchcraft. Amnesty International believes that most of the victims were released after less than a week, but the crackdown by the Gambian government does not appear to be over. It remains to be seen how many more people will be hunted down and arrested.

Most victims were held for three to five days and all are believed to have been released, Amnesty spokeswoman Eliane Drakopoulos told The Associated Press. But many have been terrorized by the campaign and fear it could spread, she said.

The dictatorial regime of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh initiated the mass arrests not for any public safety reason or even because of unrest but because he believed that witches had attacked his family.

Authorities began inviting "witch doctors," who combat witches, to come from nearby Guinea soon after the death earlier this year of the president's aunt. Jammeh "reportedly believes that witchcraft was used in her death," the London-based rights group said.

Apparently in Gambia a "witch doctor" is not a magician but a witch hunter. Whatever they call themselves, their tactics are reminiscent of the Inquisitions of Europe during the Middle Ages.

Since then, "witch doctors" — accompanied by police, soldiers, intelligence agents and Jammeh's personal guards — have forcibly taken about 1,000 alleged witches from their villages and spirited them to secret locations, Amnesty said. About 300 of them were taken to Jammeh's personal farm in his native Kanilai, east of the capital, the group said.

Oddly enough, Jammeh is apparently some sort of a magician himself, though of course when you're the one in power the authorities don't come knocking on your door to arrest you.

In 2007, Jammeh declared he had discovered a cure for AIDS and began treating patients inside the presidential palace, using herbs and incantations.

Amnesty International has called for a stop to the persecutions and continues to work toward bringing those responsible to justice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blaming Satan

Some strands of Christianity seem to talk about the devil more often than they talk about God or Jesus. According to the beliefs of some of these churches, Satan is always lurking in the bushes and taking a personal interest in tempting believers into sin. While the official theology of even these Christian churches gives lip service to the idea that God and Jesus are far more powerful than the devil, there is little explanation for what is in practice a theology more similar to Manicheanism, the idea that the universe is caught in a battle between a good deity and his evil counterpart who is his equal and opposite.

This thoroughly un-Christian worldview also supports pretty questionable deflections of blame by those caught acting improperly. "The devil made me do it" is a cliche that is at least a century old and yet there are still individuals out there who invoke it rather than taking responsibility for their actions. A woman in Washington State was recently charged with stealing $73,000 from the church where she worked as an administrative assistant, but she insisted that Satan was to blame for her actions.

Papers filed with a theft charge Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court say the 62-year-old Arlington woman told detectives "Satan had a big part in the theft."

The Everett Herald reported the woman was accused of forging the pastor's signature on 80 checks from the Arlington Free Methodist church. She was fired in February 2008.

Actually, unless this woman was possessed by a demon and vomiting pea soup while she was writing out those forged checks the devil had nothing to do with it. Even if the devil exists and bears any resemblance to the caricature that is often bandied about by Christian preachers, the idea that he would take an active interest in the life of one individual person for the sole purpose of prompting her to steal some money from a church is pretty laughable. As if a theft like this would rise to the sort of cosmic or at least global significance that might draw the attention of the ultimate evil.

The saddest thing about this story is that the religious angle obscures what might very well be the real tragedy of the situation.

She told detectives she used the money to cover household expenses because she couldn't stand the thought of losing her home.

$73,000 is a lot of money for household expenses, so maybe this is just another excuse. If she really needed that much money in order to keep her house, however, it seems to me that the real devils are the mortgage brokers who pushed her into taking out such a large loan and the employers who have resisted paying living wages in this country for years. Maybe that's who Christian "spiritual warriors" should really be out there rebuking.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Need Rain?

If you happen to be in India and need rain, the people of the state of Assam know exactly the thing to do - hold a wedding celebration for two frogs!

The frogs were joined in matrimony in a traditional ceremony in Hengrabari, in the northwestern Indian state of Assam. It wasn't the result of an amphibian romance, however, and neither of the frogs turned into a prince after being kissed.

Instead, it was an attempt to end the dry spell that has hit most parts of Assam over the past months, which has led to severe water shortages.

Because rain is so important to agriculture many of the magical practices of ancient cultures have to do with controlling the weather, especially rainfall. Rain dances were practiced in North America and it is believed that the association of blood with rain inspired the practice of human sacrifice in Central America. One of the largest mass graves ever found at a Central American site dates to a period in which a 50-year draught hit the region, and some scholars have hypothesized that the escalating sacrifices were an attempt to raise enough magical energy to bring rain after years of failing crops.

The tradition in India is not nearly so extreme.

' It's a traditional belief that when a frog marriage is performed, the Barun Devata [the rain-god] is pleased and the rain comes,' former councillor Bijoy Das told The Hindu newspaper.

The wedding of the frogs - male Barun (meaning wind) and female Bijuli (meaning thunder) - was accompanied by all the traditions of Assamese weddings, including songs and gifts presented to the bride.

In my own experience, weather-working is not all that difficult except that to some extent you have to work with what you have available. If there's no moisture in the air the best magician in the world can't make it rain, because as far as I know nobody has yet figured out how to reliably materialize physical substances out of nothing. The probability gradient involved in violating the conservation of mass principle is so steep that I suspect it may actually be impossible.

So what a weather-worker has to do is to first shift the weather patterns over the area he or she wants to affect so that moisture will be present. This can take several days depending on where upper atmospheric air currents are moving and so forth, but it is necessary. Once the conditions are in place you can go ahead and shape the atmosphere into a storm by visualizing how you want the air currents and moisture to flow together.

This usually works for me, but unfortunately the technique is intuitive enough that it is hard to explain. I just open an operant field, visualize what I want, and close it down using only the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. I can do it without the field, too, but it won't work as well. It's easier to cast for a clear day than for rain because it takes less of a shift to send clouds away than it does to summon them, and as a result friends often call upon me to summon clear days for their outdoor events.

So far my track record on weather working is quite good, though I've mostly conjured for clear skies and only tried to summon rain a couple of times. We'll have to wait and see how these frog newlyweds do for the people of Assam.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Christ is in the Pleats

The latest manifestation of Christ has appeared in the pleats of a seat cushion. Last week parishioners at a Roman Catholic church on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean noticed an image that appeared to be the face of Jesus in the folds of the cushion, prompting widespread celebration of the image as a sign from God.

Church officials limited access to the Jesus-Misericordieux church in eastern Saint-Andre's Cambuston district to a few minutes per visitor as traffic in the area ground to a halt.

Believers and curious onlookers pulled out cameras to take pictures of the cushion attached to the priest's chair.

Antoinette, an 82-year-old parishioner, said the face was a "divine phenomenon" as tears welled up her eyes.

"This church is a holy site," added Lise-May, another worshipper.

So many vistors arrived at the church from all across the island to view the cushion and take photographs of the face that the church put up four large tents on Sunday to accomodate everyone who wished to attend Mass.

A group of about 30 parishioners who had joined a Christian ceremony ahead of the Easter holiday had been the first to notice the particular setting of the cushion.

"This is not a miracle, it's a sign of God," said parish priest Daniel Gavard.

I'm not sure what the technical distiction is between a "miracle" and a "sign" according to the Roman Catholic Church, but I can say that as a magician I would love to investigate an actual paranormal image of Jesus. Unfortunately these phenomena are the most commonly reported "signs" simply because the folds of a cushion or clusters of clouds or even the burns on a slice of toast are random enough that every so often a pattern will emerge that suggests a certain image. Once an interpretation for such an image is suggested, human perception tends to work in such a way that you see what you expect to see.

I wonder how long it will be before the local excitement dies down and the cushion winds up on eBay. Given the past history of such items, it could probably raise a lot of money for the church.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yoga in Schools

An article from today's Saint Paul Pioneer Press discusses a new program to teach kids yoga as part of their regular physical education curriculum. Teachers report that in addition to providing good exercise, yoga also seems to help keep kids calmer and more focused in their regular studies.

"Each year, it's getting bigger and bigger," said Cheryl Crawford, a trainer for YogaKids International, an Indiana-based company specializing in yoga programs for children.

Crawford helped develop YogaKids Tools for Schools in 2005, which shows teachers how to incorporate yoga into kindergarten-through-fifth-grade curriculum. Since then, she has trained more than 600 educators nationwide.

"Kids are stressed," Crawford said. "Teachers see that this works."

Teachers using her program, and others like it, show flashcards with yoga poses to their students, who then go into the moves. They also teach how to breathe in a pose.

While what is being taught here is nothing like the sort of yoga that is used in magical practices and is instead based on the "exercise yoga" that is taught pretty much exclusively for physical fitness, it still sounds strikes me as a good idea. It's certainly a big improvement over some the awful stuff I had to do in gym class as a kid. When you're not that physically fit and a nerd to boot, trust me, dodgeball can really make you hate life and most of your fellow classmates. I would have much rather learned yoga, and apparently the kids involved in the program agree.

"They say they're feeling less stress," said Flaminio, a former Minneapolis schools social worker. "The attendances have changed because the kids don't want to miss yoga day."

One advantage of a program like this is that if later in life kids decide that they want to explore the more mystical side of the discipline the muscle memory for the various poses will already be present. The spiritual discipline of yoga is a lot easier to learn if you already can do the postures without too much trouble, because it makes it easier to concentrate on doing proper pranayama and cultivating the appropriate mystical states of consciousness that accompany a genuine practice.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Icelandic Elves

You might think that widespread belief in nature spirits of various sorts is confined to the same third-world societies that persecute witches and engage in various other superstitions that don't even make sense to trained magicians, but you would be wrong. An article today from Slate discusses the Icelandic belief in elves or "hidden people" (huldufólk in Icelandic). These beings are apparently similar to the Fey of continental Europe and the British Isles, and according to the article 54% of Icelanders refuse to deny their existence outright and 8% are certain that they exist. 3% of the population even claim to have encountered these beings personally.

The huldufólk are thought to live in another dimension, invisible to most. They build their homes inside rocks and on craggy hillsides, and they seem to favor lava formations. The port town of Hafnarfjördur, near Reykjavík, is thought to have a particularly large settlement of elves—as well as other mystical beings like dwarves (who also fit under the broad category of huldufólk). According to local clairvoyants, the huldufólk royal family lives at the base of a cliff in that town.

Not only do many Icelanders believe that these beings exist, they are also said to make trouble for land development and other public works projects that proceed without their approval. Mediums are often employed by construction firms to contact the huldufólk and secure their consent before moving forward with projects. Many believe that failure to do so can be dangerous, and even when all these steps are taken approval is not automatically granted.

When Icelanders try to build roads or settlements through elf dwellings, the elves are said to go bonkers—causing equipment failures and other problems. In the early 1970s, for example, contractors trying to move a large rock to make way for a highway near Reykjavík hired a clairvoyant, Zophanías Pétursson, after experiencing several minor mishaps. Pétursson detected the presence of elves and claimed to obtain a waiver from the supernatural creatures so that work could progress. But the elves weren't finished: A bulldozer operator who had helped move the stone fractured a water pipe that fed into a fish farm, killing thousands of trout hatchlings.

I've never encountered the Fey myself, though I've talked to a number of other magicians over the years who claim to have contacted them in isolated undeveloped spaces like the parks that line the banks of the Mississippi River here in the Twin Cities. Along the river valley there is a lot of green space even running right past both downtowns, so if such spirits can be found in cities at all Minneapolis and St. Paul strike me as pretty good places to look. Despite my years of magical practice I've always found clairvoyance difficult, so maybe it's more a lack of talent on my part than their absence that has prevented me from seeing or experiencing them over the years.

Like magick, nature spirits have been part of the human experience for many thousands of years, and only in the last century or so has much of the modern world rejected the idea that they could still haunt our streams and forests. Maybe in places like Iceland their presence is simply too tangible to be ignored and their numbers too great to be easily dismissed, even by those who might otherwise consider themselves unbelievers. Certainly any force, magical or otherwise, that has shown itself capable of causing real damage should be taken into account by those who find themselves in opposition to it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

African Witchcraft Does Have a "Bright Side"

I know what you're thinking - most of my stories about African witchcraft range from ridiculous to downright horrifying. Farm animals accused of crimes. Riots breaking out at soccer matches. Neighbors killed by angry mobs. Albinos murdered for their body parts. And the list goes on. However, in the Kenyan city of Mombasa witchcraft finally appears to have done some good.

Kenya's recent election resulted in charges of voter fraud that prompted widespread violence and looting across the country. However, rumors began to circulate in Mombasa that witch doctors had been employed by business owners to punish thieves, and as a result many of the looters sought to return their stolen goods.

In what turned out to be a somewhat comical sideshow amidst the mayhem of post election violence, Mombasa residents started returning goods they had looted from shops for fear of being witched. Most of the 'looters' were returning the goods at night to hide their embarrassment.

Television footage then showed fearful, if not shameful, looters and their accomplices returning beds, sofa sets, planks of timber and other items after rumours that victims had deployed witch doctors to punish the thieves started circulating.

Police officials confirmed the report, saying witchcraft had facilitated their business of tracking down crooks. But welcoming the move, police did not arrest anyone who had willingly returned the stolen goods but gave an ultimatum to all others to follow suit.

So is this just a case of superstition motivating people to do the right thing, or something more tangible that could actually harm a would-be thief?

Residents of this coastal city in Kenya are believed to have a strong belief in the power of witchcraft and say witch doctors have supernatural powers to invoke or revoke evil spirits.

Some of the looters were reported not to either urinate or pass stool, while others' stomachs swell to death.

I've seen too many things as a practicing magician to completely discount these reports, though some of them were probably exaggerated as they circulated by word of mouth. I know that if somebody stole from me spirits would be on the case pretty quickly and I'll bet that the thief would suffer some pretty painful consequences if my property wasn't returned or replaced.

In the long term fear is a bad strategy for law enforcement. People should ideally be motivated to do the right thing because they see the value of a functioning society and economy. However, in the short term sometimes fear is all you can count on, especially after the fact. As one Kenyan police officer commented,

"Whether ghosts exist or not, our work has been made easy ... I wish there were ghosts all over the country."

Apparently African witchcraft does have a bright side, at least for the law-abiding.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How Do "Psychics" Do It?

Stories like this one never cease to amaze me. On the one hand, there's this belief in the magical community that spiritual services should always be free, and on the other there are "psychic advisors" out there raking in tons of cash. Such is this case involving a lawsuit between Charles Silviera of Long Island and Ava Miller, who served as his psychic advisor.

Silveira claims that he met 32-year-old Ava T. Miller online in 2007, on the web site of a psychic service. After several months of 'consultations' on the site, the suit says, Miller asked for his phone number, telling him that he had a 'spiritual problem' that needed work.

The work it apparently needed involved paying Miller $170,000 so that she could buy large quantities of gold. According to the lawsuit, other important things that Silveira needed to pay for included the house for Miller, bonus payments for getting supplies, and over $15,000 for a trip to a 'spiritually significant location' in Florida.

I totally get that Miller is a fraud and that this man deserves to get his money back, but what is so amazing about the case is that, apparently, if Miller's advice were genuine this is what it would have been worth. The house in question cost $700,000 and with the other expenses added on top of that the total is around a million dollars. Is this really the price that magical services should command on the open market?

There are plenty of genuine magicians in the world like myself. How is it that all of the money being funneled into spiritual services is going to these jokers? I guess it really is true that a good salesperson can market anything and a bad one can have trouble selling the best product in the world. It's a shame, because fakers give us all a bad name with their ridiculous confidence games.

Just to be clear, if anyone out there happens to have a million dollars sitting around and wants some magical help from a real magician I would be happy to oblige. When I cast spells they usually work, and better still I don't pocket money that's supposed to go for supplies and expenses.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Aaron Leitch on Angelic Pronunciation

I consider Aaron Leitch's Secrets of the Magical Grimoires to be an excellent piece of work on Medieval and Renaissance ceremonial magick. It covers most of the major grimoires and gives good instructions for working with them, and while Leitch seems to be coming at the material from the same perspective as Joseph Lisiewski, he is less dogmatic about it and I think that he does a better job of explaining the reasoning behind his perspective. While I disagree with the idea that the old grimoires are "better" in some way than modern magical techniques because they represent a living tradition of esotericism up until those dated around the Renaissance, from a scholarly perspective his material appears to be essentially correct regarding the usage of such magical texts.

What bothers me a bit about some of Leitch's articles is that while his scholarship is generally solid I sometimes find his writing to be a bit smug and self-aggrandizing. I read an article awhile back that he put together on the Abramelin squares that insisted "for the first time" he had discovered the correct organization of the squares, more correct even than the most recent edition of Abramelin that corrected many mistakes from the original Mathers translation. I don't know very much about the formal Abramelin system so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even though his comments set off a couple of warning flags. A lot of smart people have looked at this material over many years, and the way the article was worded seemed to vaguely imply that clearly none of them were as smart as the great Aaron Leitch who finally managed to decode what they could not. I am exaggerating somewhat for effect, but I still found that the implication detracted from the article.

Seeing as I wasn't going to go delving into my own texts and spend a lot of time working out how correct Leitch's Abramelin squares were, I decided to reserve judgment until he published something on a subject that I do know a lot about and have studied for many years. That opportunity recently presented itself, as Leitch has published a new article on the Internet regarding the pronunciation of John Dee's Angelic language that is slated to be published as part of a new Enochian book that he is writing for Llewellyn. Sure enough, the smugness was back. For example:

As a result, many scholars and occultists have ignored or misinterpreted Dee's notations. (I once read a theory that the notes were actually alternate spellings for the primary words!) Each individual or group that has adopted the Angelical Callings into their magickal systems has developed their own specialized methods of pronunciation. Perhaps the most famous example is the Order of the Golden Dawn, which applied Hebrew rules for vowel-sounds whenever the words contained groupings of consonants. Since then, others have attempted to create pronunciation keys closer to what Dee may have intended (see Laycock's Complete Enochian Dictionary and Christeos Pir's An Essay on Enochian Pronunciation), but these scholars have also passed over Dee's phonetic notations in silence.

I don't have my Laycock handy at the moment, but here's an excerpt from Christeos Pir's essay on Enochian pronunciation.

Where Dee has separated a word into its syllables (eg, Im ua mar), I have hyphenated it so as to more easily discern between word divisions and syllable divisions (Im-ua-mar). Where he has shown stress by using an accent, I have used boldface (q-a-an). In a number of places his marginalia give more than one version of a word, usually in order to clarify its pronunciation; other times he has occasionally written an example for the same purpose -- these I have placed in footnotes.

I have no idea how this essay could possibly be construed as passing over Dee's phonetic notations "in silence." Pir refers to them explicitly! Either Leitch didn't read Pir's essay as closely as he thought he did, or he was hoping that his readers wouldn't actually check.

Furthermore, while whoever put forth the "alternative spelling" idea was clearly ignorant of the original material, the implication that nobody has paid much attention to Dee's phonetic notes is profoundly incorrect. The authors who have done so include Geoffrey James in 1983's Enochian Evocation, Lon Milo DuQuette in 1997's Angels, Demons, and Gods of the New Millenium and of course 2008's Enochian Vision Magick, David Griffin in 1999's The Ritual Magic Manual, and the list goes on. In fact, this leads me to wonder if by "others" Leitch really just means Gerald Schueler and possibly Pat Zalewski - I don't recall whether or not Zalewski mentioned Dee's phonetic notes in Golden Dawn Enochian Magic, but to be fair Zalewski was writing specifically about the Golden Dawn Enochian system.

At any rate, Leitch's interpretation of Dee’s pronunciation notes is reasonably good aside from a couple of problems. The most significant of these is that there is very little evidence supporting his contention that Angelic letters are ever pronounced by just saying the name of the English letter as a full syllable. This idea was first proposed by Leo Vinci in his Gmicalzoma Enochian dictionary and it has never made very much sense to me. For example, in the First Key Leitch contends that DS should be pronounced “dee-es” rather than the more natural “des” or “das” and that CA should be pronounced “see-ay” rather than the obvious “kah.” He also contends that NAZPSAD be pronounced “nays-pee-sad” rather than the obvious “nahz-psad” on the grounds that P and S don’t combine, so you should just say “pee” for the middle syllable of the word. Not only is this a bad solution, the "problem" with PS is in fact no big deal. The word can be pronounced as written quite easily once you are familiar with how it is said.

To digress for a moment, one of the problems that English speakers commonly run into with Angelic is that they decide two sounds don't go together on the grounds that they contain a combination of consonants that are not found in English. In many cases the combinations are only difficult to pronounce because the speaker doesn't have the right sort of muscle memory to speak it easily rather than for any physical reason involving the structure of the mouth and tongue. As with any foreign language, this problem can be resolved through practice. Take VORSG as an example. The RSG is hard to say when you first try it - the word tends to come out in two syllables as "VOR-SAG." But imagine putting a K on the end of the word instead of a G, ending the word on a combination of sounds that are more commonly found in English - VORSK. This is actually no harder to say than VORSG, it just is more familiar. Try alternating the two words and you'll see what I mean. The NAZPSAD example is similar - PS in English commonly is turned into just an S as in Psalm, but it can also be pronounced as written with a some practice.

Getting back to Leitch's lexicon, there are several other examples that I find highly questionable. He contends that VORSG be pronounced “vorzh” even though the final G is clearly present in Dee’s pronunciation notes, that POAMAL should be pronounced “poh-mal” rather than “poh-ah-mal” even though both the O and A appear in Dee’s pronunciation notes, and that CICLE should be pronounced “sii-kayl” rather than “kee-kleh” based on the usage of LE in several other unrelated Angelic words. This idea starts to drift into the same territory as Geoffrey James’ attempts to “correct” the Angelic Keys by resolving what he saw as inconsistencies in the language, when we as non-native speakers don’t necessarily know which sounds should be consistent with each other. Imagine if somebody decided to go through the English language and correct the inconsistencies between different pronunciations of “ough” – through, enough, bough, thorough, and so forth. Who’s to say that Angelic is any more regular?

Some of Leitch's other choices are more a matter of taste and there is little scholarly justification either for or against them, though they can result in words sounding rather different. In my own Enochian work I standardize my vowel pronunciations to mostly short sounds, while Leitch seems to prefer long vowel sounds and uses them extensively. I standardize phonetic C to a K sound while Leitch likes it better as an S sound. I usually standardize G to a hard sound, while Leitch likes soft G's and uses them more commonly. And so on. Choices like these can go in more than one direction and change the sound of the language accordingly, but I will say that none of them result in anything as divergent or, honestly, just plain weird as the Golden Dawn pronunciation system. There are plenty of magicians out there who claim to get good results with the Golden Dawn pronunciation, and using anything that is closer to the original material should make those results even better.

For all of my criticisms, Leitch remains a decent scholar and is smart enough not to claim that his method is the "one true pronunciation." He is also to be commended for adding another published work asserting the primacy of John Dee's actual notations regarding the pronunciation of the language that he and Edward Kelley discovered in their actions with spirits, which strikes me as the only common-sense position one can take regarding the Angelic language. I would far rather run into magicians who treat Leitch's system as the gospel truth than Golden Dawners who insist that I need to insert a bunch of useless Hebrew vowels into my conjurations. There is at least some real scholarly justification for the former.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Russia to Regulate Magick?

I've mentioned before that one of my concerns about conclusively demonstrating the practical effectiveness of magick is that it wouldn't be long before the government decided there was a need to regulate it. Such a move is now underway in the Russian Federation.

The draft bill would set up an expert council to grant licenses to healers, psychics, wizards and sorcerers, and applicants who were found not to have supernatural powers could be charged with fraud, the daily said.

Honestly, as regulations go this one doesn't sound all that bad. Fraudulent practitioners are a genuine problem in the magick-using community, but it's nice to see that the bill doesn't automatically treat anyone who practices magick as a faker. My main concern would be the composition of the "expert board" and the biases of those who serve on it, since often someone trained in a particular school of magick will have a low opinion of one or more rival schools.

It should also go without saying that any such regulation should only apply to commercial practitioners. If someone does a healing spell as a favor to a friend, for example, they shouldn't be opening themselves up to criminal charges if the spell fails. Russia unfortunately has a history of persecuting people for their spiritual beliefs over the course of the last century, and any regulation of magick should take great care to steer clear of doing so again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

From the Archives...

Perceptive readers will note that my blog posts now mysteriously begin in April of 2007 rather than November of the same year. I actually have been blogging longer than I've been here on blogspot, but the old Scoop site developed some problems and needed to be taken down in 2007. Now I have finally started the task of poring through the Internet archives and pulling down some of my older articles. The old blog was at from 2006 to 2007, and the links from 1999 and 2000 are somebody else's who had the domain before me. Unfortunately I can't re-register it and link it here because it was grabbed by domain squatters when it expired, and I'm not about to pay those parasites for the privilege of using it again.

One of the problems with Scoop is that it uses an "above the cut/below the cut" model for articles, which is normally not a problem except that when a site is archived the "below to cut" portion is not picked up. As a result, a number of my longer articles are not retrievable and what I was able to restore consists mostly of shorter pieces like brief comments on news articles and so forth. If you're interested in some of my earlier blog articles, go ahead and take a look the articles that are now dated from April 2007 to July 2007 on this site. I plan on to restoring more old articles in the future, but for now I hope that you find this collection amusing and informative.

UPDATE: I was able to retrieve more articles dating back as far as December 2006 from the archive. As far as I can tell, there are no more complete articles there for me to transfer. There are a number of articles still in the archive that I did not bring over on the grounds that only the introductory paragraph or paragraphs were retrievable. I've also updated the site template based a bit more on the look of the old site, the main noticeable changes being the background and header colors.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Countering a Curse

I've received a couple of e-mails this week from people who were concerned about curses and negative magical influences. Generally speaking, when people send you questions about magick they tend to fall into four categories:

(1) How do I curse somebody who has wronged me?
(2) How do I cast a love spell?
(3) How do I cast a money spell?
(4) How do I counteract a curse that I think I might be under?

Seeing as I've already addressed the first three of these on this blog, I figure that addressing (4) should probably be next on the list.

The first thing that you need to realize about curses is that trained ritual magicians don't generally run around casting curses left and right. Most of us take curses very seriously and use them quite sparingly. I can only think of a handful of times over the course of more than 25 years of practice that I have resorted to such measures, and I would go so far as to say that if you find yourself under full magical attack by a genuinely skilled practitioner the odds are that you already know what you did to provoke it. In such a case you probably are best off trying to make amends with your attacker and come to some sort of truce, since a determined magical attacker can make your life quite difficult and the kind of advice I can give you about basic ritual techniques will only be helpful up to a point. But since there just aren't that many trained ritual magicians to begin with, such situations are extremely rare and most people will likely never encounter one.

The only real danger that most people will ever run into as far as negative magick goes is from untrained individuals with high natural magical aptitude. Like any other human ability, magical aptitude follows a normal distribution throughout all human populations. In ancient times approximately one person in 30 or so had the level of aptitude required to become a spirit worker of some sort, so there are a lot more talented people in the world than there are trained magicians. Magical aptitude is the talent that allows thoughts to influence the material world. When this aptitude is untrained, it means that things you dwell on or think about a lot have a greater probability of coming to pass than those of individuals without similar aptitude. Such people usually aren't aware of what their thoughts are setting in motion, but they can nonetheless create manifestations that resemble a low-grade curse.

For example, here's a more realistic situation that might result in magical energy affecting you in a negative way. Let's say that you have a work colleague who resents you in some way - maybe you got the promotion they wanted, or got a date with someone who won't give them the time of day, or landed a high-profile assignment or project that will favor your career over theirs. It might be normal for this colleague to feel anger toward you, but if he or she happens to have a lot of natural talent these thoughts and feelings may start to manifest and unlucky things might start happening to you. It's not that your co-worker is deliberately magically attacking you, and in fact he or she is probably completely unaware of magick and how it works. Still, you should deal with the situation in order to prevent those negative projections from harming you or those close to you, or just to get your luck back.

Another more realistic danger is that if you have high magical aptitude there are circumstances in which you may in effect curse yourself. Part of magical training consists of learning how to turn one's aptitude on and off so that every chance thought doesn't necessarily have an increased likelihood of manifestation. This is a good thing. When I was younger I was a real worrier, and let me tell you being a worrier with magical aptitude is no fun at all. I had unbelievably bad luck in just about everything I tried because the very things I worried about became more likely just because I was worrying about them. I had to spend a number years on a disciplined magical path before I was able to reliably use that same ability to improve my life. Anyone who finds themselves in this position can benefit from ideas like "the power of positive thinking" or "the secret" but in the end New Thought is no substitute for genuine magick and in my experience it is not nearly as effective.

So what to do? The first step should be banishing, which will often clear up inadvertant magical effects created by you or anyone else. This is where you use the banishing field, a banishing pentagram ritual followed by a banishing hexagram ritual. You can use the LBRP/LIRH, the Star Ruby/Star Sapphire, or any other similar combination of rituals that you normally use in your daily practice. The key is that both the pentagram and hexagram rituals need to be cast using the banishing form, with the hexagram ritual following the pentagram ritual. This should calm your mind, dismiss any unwanted thoughtforms, and also stop any magical effects that are centered on you, such as a simple curse. I usually recommend that you try it once and see if the curse appears to be broken. If it is not, try doing this combination of rituals at least once every day for a week. During this time, do no additional magical work.

This banishing series should neutralize the curse, whatever it is. If it doesn't, you may want to consider whether you are under a curse at all and if what you are perceiving as a magical attack could be your own imagination or simply a string of unlucky events. People do trick themselves sometimes, and the reason I mention this is that I have never come across a genuine curse that a banishing field couldn't break. There are workarounds that can prevent the banishing field from working properly, but if you're up against somebody who knows them and are yourself an unskilled magician you probably are in trouble. You can try evoking Saturn to counter the curse, since Saturn rules over curses and thus can be used to counter as well as create them. The ritual template for this is similar to my cursing template, except that your statement of intent should be to destroy anything that is cursing you and to protect you from any and all future curses.

Of course, the best way to avoid being cursed at all is to take up a daily magical practice. Practicing magicians are the "hard targets" of the spiritual world and for the most part are immune to the kind of inadvertant negative influences that can be unleashed by bad feelings, even those of the magically gifted. Furthermore, the unfolding of awareness that is facilitated by these practices helps to eliminate self-defeating thoughts and conditioning patterns and teaches you how to direct your mind to more productive ends. Finally, if you ever find yourself faced with a magical attack from someone who knows what he or she is doing, a solid and disciplined practice is the best foundation for an effective counterattack. But you know what? The more you practice, the less conflict you generally find in your life. It just seems to work that way.

To wrap this up I'm going to do something that I hardly ever do - recommend a book that I haven't actually read all the way through. The book is Jason Miller's Protection and Reversal Magick. I'm recommending it because the excerpts that I have read of it are quite good and because I've been reading Jason's blog, Strategic Sorcery, for some time now. I have found him to be a knowledgeable and pragmatic practitioner, and if his book displays the same qualities that I have seen in his online articles I'm confident that you will find its recommendations worth applying.