Friday, July 31, 2009

Your Own Haunted House

I've previously mentioned that I've always wanted to own a haunted house. Well, this would be my chance if I were rich, and if any of you happen to be millionaires looking to move to the Twin Cities it might be yours.

The Griggs Mansion, 476 Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, is currently on the market. This mansion is considered by many investigators to be the most haunted house in Minnesota. The building was used as an art school from 1939 to 1964 and was once owned by Carl Weschke of Llewellyn Publishing, who I suspect purchased it because of its spooky reputation.

While a lot of "supernatural activity" seems to be centered around the 4th floor, many parts of the house have been visited by entities as well. Six or seven entities have been felt, heard, made their existence known by various means and have actually been seen throughout the years. The mansion's spiritual occupants are a young maid, a gardener, a child apparition, a thin man in a black suit, a teenager, Amy, and a Civil War general, perhaps Chauncey Griggs himself. The 7th sighting could've been any of the male apparitions, because only the head of an unclear, male apparition appeared.

In addition to the apparitions all sorts of paranormal activity apparently goes on in the house.

Many unexplained, but typical incidents common in haunted houses have been reported, though no specific entity has been found to be responsible for the noises, annoying behavior that makes the living uncomfortable or befuddled. Windows that had been firmly closed, even nailed shut, have been found open in the morning. Footfalls have been heard traveling up and down the staircases. Shadowy presences have been seen. Unsuspecting students who rented the apartments, have been shaken awake, to find an undistinguished apparition head floating above their beds. Doors open and close by themselves. "Rasping coughs" have been heard coming from empty rooms. Light bulbs suddenly shatter, paper bags have been known to jump off the shelves, and jump across the floor. People in the mansion have felt presences walk by them. Some of the presences happen to appreciate art. While working in the art studio room, with the skylight on the top floor, students had felt presences peering over their shoulder to get a good look at their drawings in progress, perhaps studying with interest the student's efforts.

Unfortunately for me, the old movie trope of being able to buy an amazing house incredibly cheaply because of paranormal activity doesn't happen in the real world. The asking price for the place is 1.8 million dollars, well outside my housing budget. Here's the real estate listing - check it out while it's still available and take a look at the interior photos. The place is just beautiful, and for me ghosts would be a real bonus. The area even has some personal significance - my wife and I were married at 490 Summit, right next door.

I guess I need to work harder on those lottery spells...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts on "Psychic Attack"

SoulJournings has an interview up with Jason Miller of Strategic Sorcery in which Jason discusses his views on psychic and magical attacks. Jason and I have disagreed on this topic a number of times in the past, both here and over at his blog. He believes that effective magical attacks are relatively common, whereas I'm of the opinion that a person claiming to be under such attack is much more likely to be mentally ill than under some magician's curse. Some of that disagreement is undoubtedly due to differences in our experiences. Just about every person who has ever approached me for help with a psychic attack situation has turned out to have serious psychological problems. From the interview it sounds like Jason, on the other hand, has run across a lot of people who he believes are dealing with genuine magical attacks.

Throughout the last 20 years, even before I started officially doing magick professionally, people always seemed to find me when they needed this kind of help. Even other Witches and Magicians, with more years of practice behind them, have looked for help because when the situation came up, they were not prepared for it.

As an aside, it really surprises me that anyone with years of experience practicing magick wouldn't be able to do an effective banishing ritual, but I guess the question here is whether these people had years of practice or years of study. Just knowing how to do something won't necessarily solve a problem if you have little or no experience applying that knowledge. There are methods you can use to cast a curse that can't be easily banished, but most practitioners I've run across aren't familiar with them so I doubt that they are widely used. The LBRP/LBRH combination will shut down most curses, and anything that can survive a banishing field like that can still be stopped by a decent Saturn or Mars evocation. Those two planets can be used for cursing, but they can also shut curses down because they are the "rulers" of that class of phenomena.

Though it is true that many people who seek help with psychic attack are either bringing their problems on themselves or just having a normal run of bad luck, it is also true that some practitioners, especially those with training in Western systems like Wicca or Ceremonial Magic, tend to dismiss any claim at psychic attack out of hand. This is because, in an attempt to make Witchcraft and magick more palatable to the general public, the books all reiterate how safe it all is and how no real Witch or Magician would ever do harmful magick because of the Wiccan Rede or Karma or something like that.

If somebody comes to me with a claim of psychic attack, I do have a tendancy to dismiss it - but not because I believe in the Wiccan Rede or the bizarre Western notion of how Karma works. I also couldn't care less whether or not magick seems "palatable to the general public." Rather, I think it's a simple matter of mathematics. In my experience only a small percentage of the population has the requisite combination of aptitude and training for producing effective macrocosmic magical effects, and while most of those magicians will cast a curse on someone from time to time it isn't what they spend the majority of their time doing. On the other side of the equation, about one person in four in our society has some form of mental illness. These numbers suggest that while there are a lot of people with psychological problems, far fewer will have actually been targeted with curses performed by effective macrocosmic magicians. However, Jason follows the comments above with a good point that I had not really considered.

The truth is that most magickal attacks do not emanate from other people, but from spirits or nature or places that are reacting to how our human lifestyle (air pollution, damming rivers, dumping trash, country music, etc.) infringes onto their space. The primary role of the shaman was to address these imbalances, and even today, this is a huge part of medicine in traditional cultures.

My image of a psychic attack is one individual or group using some sort of magick against another, and perhaps this is a bit shortsighted of me. I tend to separate out curses cast by individuals or groups from what Jason calls a "crossed condition," which is caused by exposure to certain sorts of environmental magical energy rather than the result of an targeted attack. Jason groups them together on the grounds that from a practical standpoint they are addressed in much the same way, so perhaps part of our disagreement over this is just terminology. Most magicians including myself have at times found themselves in situations where something environmental seems to be disturbing their spiritual energy, though I will say that I have yet to come across one of those that survives my usual daily practice regimen. Also, as far as I can tell magicians who keep up a solid, regular practice seem to be less susceptible to them.

That said, attacks from other Magicians and Witches do happen more often than most people are willing to admit. Anyone that stocks a lot of material used in Hoodoo, for instance, will find that cursing materials are a big seller.

I don't deny that there are a lot of people out there trying to curse other people, but what I dispute is how effective those people really are. Casting a spell with a targeted, measurable macrocosmic effect is not easy. If it were the effectiveness of magick would be an undisputed scientific fact. Part of the reason that spells are so difficult to test empirically is that so few people can perform them in such a way that they produce noticeable, tangible results. An effective curse consists of a lot more than hitting up the local occult store for some Anna Riva war water and splashing it on somebody's doorstep. The power comes from the magician, the materials just help to focus the effect.

Often, however, people that have been cursed or suspect that they have been cursed will have someone in mind as the attacker. They either know that they have ticked off someone that knows magick and is not morally opposed to using it for justice or revenge (largely a matter of perspective), or they know someone that might seek a professional’s services in doing the same.

One of the things that makes me most skeptical about any claim of psychic attack is when the purported victim has no idea why they have been cursed or who might have done it. I would go so far as to say that I think anybody who is under a curse cast by a magician (as opposed to a crossed condition or other environmental effect) is going to know what they did to provoke it and who they did it to. That's because cursing is not generally done casually or on a whim by practitioners experienced enough to get tangible results. This is also true of individuals who hire magicians to cast curses for them - I have a hard time imagining somebody paying a practitioner a lot of money to cast a curse "just for the heck of it."

Thankfully, the treatment for imaginary attack and real attack is the same. Just do the cleansing and protection; It wont hurt. If people keep coming back again and again because they are claiming that they are constantly under attack, then there is a good chance that they are imagining it or creating the situation for drama.

See, the latter is what I keep running into whenever I get approached by somebody who's supposedly "under attack." In those situations, psychiatric drugs generally work better than counter-curses. It's always possible that in reality I'm the one with the unusual set of experiences and genuine attacks are much more common than I currently believe, but so far I haven't seen much evidence of it in my daily life. It would be interesting to try and put together some sort of a study to resolve the question, if such a thing is even possible given all the variables that would have to be taken into account.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Naked Rain Magick

Back in March I posted an article commenting on an unusual traditional Indian magical operation that is said to bring rain, the frog marriage. The belief is that holding a marriage ceremony for two frogs is a highly effective magical method of weather control because it is pleasing to the god of rain, Barun Devata.

As parts of India are currently facing one of the worst droughts in eighty years, there have been more of these frog marriages performed all over the country wherever rain is needed. However, in the eastern state of Bihar more drastic measures appear to be required.

Farmers in the eastern Indian state of Bihar have asked their unmarried daughters to plough parched fields naked, in a bid to embarrass the weather gods to bring some badly needed monsoon rain.

Witnesses said the naked girls in Bihar state ploughed the fields and chanted ancient hymns after sunset to invoke the gods.

Nudity is very strong taboo in Indian society, and many magical schools make use of the breaking of taboos in order to increase the power of magical operations. My guess is that this practice likely has a similar origins, or at least exploits similar processes of human psychology to help impose the will of the community upon the natural world. The practice may not have even been designed with this mechanism in mind, but rather something that was found to work over time and adopted as a magical method.

'They believe their acts would get the weather gods badly embarrassed, who in turn would ensure bumper crops by sending rains,' Upendra Kumar, a village council official, said from Bihar's remote Banke Bazaar town.

'This is the most trusted social custom in the area and the villagers have vowed to continue this practice until it rains very heavily.'

According to this explanation the success of the method depends upon how easily embarrassed rain gods happen to be. I could see the practice working regardless if the rain gods were simply pleased to see young naked women plowing fields, but under those circumstances I would also be concerned that if the rain gods think they can get a free show by withholding rain they might just do it year after year.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Burundi Albino Killers Convicted

I recently covered the arrests of five suspected albino killers in Tanzania. The suspects were accused of killing albinos in order to sell their body parts to witch doctors and traditional healers. The article I quoted mentioned that similar trials had started in May in neighboring Burundi. Authorities believe that the murders were the work of a single criminal organization that operated and coordinated its actions across the border that separates the two countries.

The Burundi trials have now been concluded, resulting in eight convictions.

A court in Burundi on Thursday sentenced one person to life in prison and handed seven others jail terms over the murders of albinos, who have been targeted in connection with witchcraft.

In addition to the individual sentenced to life in prison for murder, the seven other individuals were sentenced for other crimes related to their involvement in the organization.

On Thursday, three people were sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempted murder, while one was given seven years for complicity, said Nahamasabo.

Two others were jailed for two years and another to a year, the judge said.

This should send a message to authorities in Tanzania, and hopefully the trials there will end with convictions as well. With the arrests in Tanzania and Burundi it appears as if the black market for albino body parts has mostly collapsed and there have been no new attacks in several months. Let's hope that it stays that way.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So Now the Vatican Likes Harry Potter?

While I disagreed with the arguments put forth by the Roman Catholic Church when it issued the recent ban on Reiki, at least from the standpoint of univalent Christianity they made some sense. If you believe that the use of your own deity's spiritual power is automatically good when applied according to doctrine while any other use of spiritual power is automatically evil, it follows logically that you would be opposed to any magical practice that is not part of your own spiritual tradition.

For years the Roman Catholic Church has come out against the Harry Potter books and movies on similar grounds. Because the books and films portray the use of magick and magick is considered evil by the Church this is to be expected, although a lot of people over the years have pointed out that since Harry Potter is a work of fiction it is not exactly teaching anyone the magical arts. I mean, I would love to be able to levitate something just by flicking a wand and intoning "wingardium leviosa" - but of course it doesn't work that way.

Strangely enough, the Catholic Church appears to have finally seen reason in its review of the latest Harry Potter film. Contrary to all of the Church's previous statements, a positive review of the film was recently published in the official Vatican newspaper. So what changed? Here's what the review had to say:

"There is a clear line of demarcation between good and evil and [the film] makes clear that good is right. One understands as well that sometimes this requires hard work and sacrifice," the newspaper judged.

The broadsheet paper also praised the film's clear message that "the search for immortality epitomised by Lord Voldemort" was wrong. It even approved of the film's treatment of adolescent romance amid the halls and corridors of Hogwart's, saying that it achieved the "correct balance" and made the teenage stars more credible.

Aside from the comments on adolescent romance I don't see how any reviewer could have missed these points upon viewing the first film, let alone the sixth. Was Voldemort not "evil enough" for the Vatican in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?

Let's see - he killed Harry's parents, murdered unicorns and drank their blood, tried to steal the sorcerer's stone twice, and tried to kill Harry multiple times (or at least ordered Professor Quirrell to do so). That seems pretty evil to me. And seeing as Voldemort killed the unicorns and tried to steal the sorcerer's stone in order to obtain immortality, hasn't the message that trying to obtain immortality as Voldemort does is wrong been there the whole time?

As recently as last year, the same Vatican newspaper condemned the Potter books.

The newspaper wrote: "Despite the values that we come across in the narration, at the base of this story, witchcraft is proposed as a positive ideal.

"The characterisation of common men who do not know magic as 'Muggles' who know nothing other than bad and wicked things is a truly diabolical attitude."

The newspaper called the teenage boy wizard "the wrong kind of hero", comparing the books unfavourably with two other British children's classics, the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

I'm left rather confused here, to tell the truth. While I'm of the opinion that the original condemnation of the books and films was pretty silly, the Roman Catholic Church is usually pretty consistent in its positions. Could it be that the previous denunciations were simply based on the presence of buzzwords like "witchcraft" in the story and only now someone actually sat down and watched one of the films?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Roman Catholic Church Bans Reiki

This actually happened back in March, but I only heard about it this weekend. The Roman Catholic Church has published an evaluation of Reiki, a form of Japanese energy work used for healing, and declared it to be incompatible with Christian belief.

According to a USCCB press release, the guidelines describe Reiki as a healing technique “invented in Japan in the late 1800s by Mikao Usui, who was studying Buddhist texts.”

It characterizes Reiki therapy as teaching that illness is caused by “some kind of disruption or imbalance in one’s ‘life energy.’”

A Reiki practitioner is believed to be able to effect healing by placing his or her hands in certain positions on a patient’s body to “facilitate the flow of Reiki, the ‘universal life energy,’ from the Reiki practitioner to the patient.”

“Reiki lacks scientific credibility,” the U.S. bishops’ guidelines state, adding that scientific and medical communities have not accepted it as “an effective therapy.”

“Reputable scientific studies attesting to the efficacy of Reiki are lacking, as is a plausible scientific explanation as to how it could possibly be efficacious,” the bishops’ guidelines add.

Reiki has many of the same problems as ceremonial magick in terms of being subject to scientific evaluation. The practitioner is such an important variable that repeatable experiments are difficult to set up and most of the healing effect is based on probability shifts. So in order to really do a good scientific study you need an enormous sample set to determine whether or not the practice is working.

Studies like this have been done with acupuncture, but they have taken many years to do. I remember some of those going on it the late 1980's when I was in college. One of my classes was on psychoneuroimmunology, and some of what it covered included attempts by neuroscientists to figure out what acupuncture was and how it worked. The most recent studies have shown a significant difference between subjects treated with needles and those who received no treatment, but there is little difference between groups in terms of whether or not the needles are placed in the "appropriate" locations for specific illnesses. Even after all these years, accupuncture looks like it's doing something, but scientists still aren't quite sure what.

Even though such a study of Reiki would be similarly difficult, it's kind of interesting seeing this scientific criticism coming from the Catholic Church. To be fair, the Catholics come out in favor of mainstream science at least as much as other churches do if not moreso, as in the debate over creationism in which the Roman Catholic Church sided with the scientific community even though it was originally a Catholic who came up with the 6000-year-old Earth model that modern creationists support. But doesn't the Catholic Church also teach that you can be healed by prayer? What makes Reiki different?

Examining descriptions of Reiki as a “spiritual” kind of healing, the guidelines say there is a radical difference between Reiki therapy and healing by divine power.

“For Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior, while the essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a technique that is passed down from the 'Reiki Master' to the pupil, a technique that once mastered will reliably produce the anticipated results.”

Shorter Catholic Church:

(1) Magick is okay as long as it's our magick, but otherwise it's bad.
(2) If magick works you shouldn't use it.

As a magician neither of those arguments makes very much sense to me. As far as (1) goes, many religious systems try to monopolize the magick use of their followers according to what they believe is the only "correct" or "authorized" system and the Roman Catholic Church has a particularly long history of doing just that going back over a thousand years. However, the universality of magical practices across different spiritual traditions would seem to imply that regardless of what any particular groups says, there are a lot of ways to make magick work.

I find (2) even more incomprehensible - it sounds as if the Roman Catholic Church is implying that you shouldn't make use of any magical practice that works well. I suppose this may just be an extension of (1) in that functional magick that doesn't fit the Catholic paradigm could undermine their monopoly on the "proper" use of magical powers.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fiji Masons Arrested for Sorcery

There are certain parts of the world where it's a lot more difficult to be a Mason than it is in the United States. One of the things you learn when you get involved with Masonry is the extent to which the founding fathers tried to build our nation on Masonic ideals. In the early days of the United States Masonry took on many of the functions that had been performed by state churches in Europe, such as the consecration of buildings and other public works projects. Many other countries don't have this sort of history, however, and in some of those places being a Mason can get you into trouble with both your neighbors and the local authorities.

Apparently, one of those places is the island nation of Fiji, where 14 members of a Masonic Lodge were recently arrested on suspicion of practicing sorcery.

A New Zealand man spent a "wretched" night in a Fiji jail after police raided his Freemasons meeting when frightened residents suspected witchcraft, according to the New Zealand Herald.

The man, who did not wish to be identified, blamed "dopey village people" for the raid on the island of Denerau in which 14 members of the Freemasons Lodge of Lautoka were herded into police cars and jailed for the night.

Police also seized lodge paraphernalia, including wands, compasses and a skull.

The man told the Herald that Tuesday night's meeting was "interrupted by a banging on the door and there were these village people and the police demanding to be let in".

One of the hazards of being involved in a tradition with elements that are kept secret is that people outside the group are left to wonder what you are up to and why you have to keep your activity secret. I once knew someone who got involved in Masonry and after finding out what we actually did went around trying to find out how he could get involved in the "secret higher degree rituals" that he was convinced had to be going on. He eventually wound up quitting the fraternity because it wasn't nearly as exciting as those Jack Chick pamphlets implied. I think that since I and a number of my friends were members of the lodge and also practiced magick, he was of the opinion that there had to be more explicit magical work going on there. That was what the local police were thinking as well.

Police director of operations Waisea Tabakau told Legend FM News in Fiji that the group were being investigated for "allegedly practicing sorcery", the Fiji Village website reported.

The 14 Masons were released the next day by order of the Prime Minister, but nonetheless had to spend the night in in a Fiji jail, which sounds other than fun. It just goes to show that superstition can be a powerful and dangerous motivator, though in this case the Masons escaped criminal charges and further injury. Many people accused of sorcery or witchcraft in that part of the world have not been so lucky.

Naturally, I think the story would be a lot more interesting if it turned out that they actually were practicing sorcery. Many of the elements of the Masonic initiation rituals have practical magical applications and when done properly I find those initiations to be quite magical, though they are more works of illumination than works of sorcery. If somebody really was out there practicing Masonic sorcery, I would be very interested in finding out what exactly they did and how well it worked.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

So Genies Use Cell Phones?

In Bangladesh genies are the latest craze - genies who apparently use cell phones. Police there in the district of Gobindaganj have arrested 24 con artists in the last three months who contacted victims by cell phone, claiming to be powerful genies in order to cheat them out of as much money as possible under the threat of magical attack.

"It has become an epidemic here," said Farhad bin Imrul Kayes, police chief of Gobindaganj district.

"In the last three months alone we have arrested 24 of these so-called 'kings of genies', some of whom have even become rich in just a year," he told AFP.

The scammers would gather personal information about their victims beforehand, call them and speak "in a tone similar to Arabic," Kayes said.

Claiming to be genies who had descended from the sky, they would tell people to send money to a specific location, threatening a family tragedy if they disobeyed.

This scam sounds a lot like a spam e-mail I got years back - originating in Nigeria, of course - from a supposedly powerful magician demanding that I send money or else I would face a terrible curse. I sent no money and nothing noticeably bad happened to me, so if any curse was even cast in my direction it must have been a pretty ineffective one. I saw the same e-mail one more time and then it disappeared for good, so I'm guessing that nobody made any money off of it. Usually the e-mails that make con artists money keep coming and only go away when you add them to your spam filter.

Conducting this similar scam over the phone in a country like Bangladesh where belief in magick is common is most likely a lot more lucrative, at least in part because nothing says you have an effective magical link to your target like an e-mail addressed to "undisclosed recipients." Furthermore, the use of illicitly obtained personal information certainly adds to the scam's effectiveness, because the target is left wondering how the con artist could possibly have such information without some sort of magical power. Phony psychics commonly use this same trick and it can be very impressive even when dealing with someone who is on their guard.

Still, it leaves me wondering why the first thing a genie would do after descending from the sky would be to pick up a cell phone and start hitting random people up for cash. Aren't they supposed to be able to create gold or find hidden treasures or something? More to the point, wouldn't you think that it would be easier for a real larcenous genie to just appear in a puff of smoke and run off with your wallet rather than going through the hassle of making a phone call?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Italy is for Sorcerers

Here's another story from last week that slipped through the cracks. Apparently Italy is the place to be if you're trying to find work as a sorcerer, astrologer, or spiritual healer.

Nearly 18 percent of the Italian population -- 11 million people -- trusts self-styled sorcerers and healers, a consumer watchdog said in a report Monday.

The group Telefono Antiplagio found more than 16,000 cases of people being scammed by sorcerers and healers since 1994. There are 155,000 sorcerers and healers active in Italy.

Every day, 33,000 people see sorcerers or astrologers in Italy, the study found.

While 16,000 sounds like a big number from how it is framed in the article, what surprises me is how low it is. If 33,000 people see sorcerers every day that works out to about 174,652,500 visits over the last 14 1/2 years if we assume that the rate of visits remains constant. If there have only been 16,000 complaints, that means that less than .01% of all visits spark complaints.

Normal people do slightly better than that when trying to influence quantum diodes with their minds based on research done by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) project, and according to skeptics those results are not statistically significant. Nonetheless, I won't be surprised if I see them throwing this statistic around as proof of how fraudulent Italian magicians are.

It's also interesting to find out that the sorcery trade is pretty much the same wherever you go.

The top reason for seeing a sorcerer is to soothe a broken heart (46 percent), followed by health problems (25 percent), violence (22 percent) and trouble at work (seven percent).

These are also the sorts of things people usually are interested in when they e-mail me asking how to cast a specific kind of spell. Maybe if I lived in Italy there would be enough of those questions that I could justify making a business of it and quit my day job.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And Then They Came for the Astrologers...

With summer here I've been busier than usual and haven't been blogging as much. This story is from two weeks ago but still interesting enough to comment upon.

Things are currently going well for the government of Sri Lanka after its victory over the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group that has spent the last forty years fighting for an independent homeland for members of the Tamil ethnic minority. But according to Chandrasiri Bandara, an astrologer working for a pro-opposition newspaper, a planetary aspect beginning on October 8th of this year will create difficulties for the ruling regime. The Sri Lankan government responded to this prediction by arresting Bandara.

Chandrasiri Bandara, who writes an astrology column for a pro-opposition weekly, was taken in on Thursday, police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara said.

"The CID (Criminal Investigations Department) is questioning the astrologer," Gunasekara said Friday, adding that they wanted to find out the "basis" for the prediction.

Well, let's take a look. While I'm guessing that Sri Lankan astrologers use the Vedic rather than the Western system so you need to adjust by about 22 degrees to determine the signs that planets fall into, all the aspects between planets are figured the same way as in the Western system. The main thing I see on the chart is that on October 8th Saturn goes into conjunction with Mercury in - I believe - Virgo according to the Vedic system.

The astrologer had predicted that a planetary change on October 8 will be inauspicious for parliament and the government may not be able to arrest rising living costs -- a prediction already made by private economists.

Since Mercury represents commerce and Saturn is the major malefic, this could be what Bandara was referring to in the prediction. Virgo is the sign most closely related to "reaping the harvest" and as a result it doesn't seem completely off the wall to suppose that such a conjuction could be inauspicious for macroeconomic policies. Mercury is a fast-moving planet, though, so the conjuction won't last for very long and an alternate interpretation might be some sort of short-term economic problem that will be overcome in the space of a couple of weeks.

The opposition United National Party condemned Bandara's arrest and accused the government of heading towards a dictatorship.

"The crime which Chandrasiri Bandara committed was publishing an astrological column which was adverse to the government," UNP general secretary, Tissa Attanayake, said.

Sri Lankan politicians take astrology seriously and most have their own personal seers who decide the auspicious times to launch any new programme or work.

Indeed, it's a bad sign when they come for the astrologers.