Thursday, December 31, 2009

Arcana Now Available!

Just in time for New Year's Eve, my novel Arcana is now available from Pendraig Publishing! The cover image hasn't shown up on Amazon yet, but the book is in stock and available for orders. Just click on the image to check it out.

If you enjoy modern-day occult fiction and like my writing I hope that you will consider picking up a copy. Just think, if I could make a living as a professional writer I'd have a lot more time for blogging!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Yule to All

Here's wishing all my readers a happy Yule season as we wind down 2009 and look forward to a better 2010. In Minnesota we got a foot or so of snow yesterday, so looking out the window it's beautiful - just like those old traditional postcards.

Minnesota Winter Scene

Now if only getting our cars out of the snowdrifts so the plows can get through were easier...

Happy Holidays to all, and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jonathon the Impaler Back in Jail

I know, I know. I shouldn't be posting this stuff and giving the guy more free publicity. It's just that from a blogger's perspective his antics are so incredibly ridiculous that he's hard to ignore.

For those of you who haven't heard of "Jonathon the Impaler," he is a former professional wrestler and self-styled "Satanic vampire" who ran for President in 2004 and 2008. His bid garnered few votes. In response to one of my previous articles about him, reader Robert-Joseph summed up his campaign thus:

IMO his presidential bid wasn't hurt so much by his Satanic beliefs or claims of being a vampire, but rather by the fact that the man has an IQ slightly beneath that of a mentally retarded monkey. I read his stuff. He's a dumb ass. I know a lot of politicians aren't known for their intelligence, but Jonathon made the group of ex-wrestlers and actors and lawyers that weren't good enough to practice law look like the greatest scientific and philosophic minds of our time. Seriously.

I've also heard from people who've dealt with him that the guy is a douche.

Now I'll admit that I've withheld judgment and overall been pretty charitable to Sharkey in response to his previous brushes with the law. I know that the police sometimes railroad people into pleading guilty to crimes, and I know that claiming to be a "Satanic vampire" doesn't help your chances if you're ever accused of wrongdoing. But this latest story suggests that Robert-Joseph's assessment of the guy is pretty much spot-on.

A man who claims to be the leader of a group of vampires has pleaded guilty to charges that he threatened to torture and kill an Indianapolis judge and his family.

Forty-five-year-old Rocky Flash, also known as Jonathon Sharkey, was sentenced in a Marion County court on Wednesday to more than two years in jail.

Prosecutors say the man threatened to beat, torture, impale, dismember and decapitate Judge David Certo, who is presiding over another case involving Flash.

There you go - a comprehensive and supremely brilliant legal strategy. If a judge is presiding over a case involving you, threaten to impale them! Yeah, that'll work!

The Associated Press also followed up on Sharkey's claims to be the leader of a whole "nation" of vampires, and discovered that not only was the phone number for this mighty nation disconnected, but that they also were unable to afford private counsel for their "King."

Flash claims to be the leader of a group called "Vampyre Nation." A call to a phone number listed on the group's blog got a recording saying the call could not go through.

The Associated Press called Flash's public defender for comment after hours, but the office was closed and didn't have an answering machine.

On the other hand, the Vampyre Nation has a free blog so we know that they must be deadly serious! Unfortunately the blog doesn't list followers, so I can't tell whether or not his nation is bigger than mine. I have a hunch that it might not be, which would make it a sad nation indeed.

Comedy gold, people...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More From the Paranormal Research Files

As many of you probably remember I picked up an EMF detector back in October with the intent of testing it out in a ritual context. Folks have been asking about it recently, so I think another update on my progress is in order even though I haven't gotten as far on the project at this point as I would have liked.

As it turns out I've been unexpectedly busy this fall so I haven't had a chance to test the detector in the context of a full ritual yet. It's been a good kind of busy - among other things, I wasn't expecting that Arcana would be coming out so soon, seeing as I only submitted it to Pendraig in August and up until that point my experience with publishers was that they took their own sweet time to get just about anything done. One of the things I have done, though, is familiarize myself with how the detector works and do a full sweep of my temple, tools, and implements to see if there's any immediate correllation between EMF and objects that are consecrated and have been used in ritual work.

My house is over 120 years old and has wiring from a number of different periods. The state of electrical wiring is important to keep in mind when doing any sort of sweep for paranormal activity because that's the main normal source of EMF that you're likely to find. Older wiring tends to give off a higher EMF than modern shielded conduit, and in fact some researchers have suggested that this alone could explain many hauntings in older homes. High EMF can produce feelings of paranoia and disorientation, which are common symptoms of hauntings as well.

There are a couple of things that I found out right away. AC adapters give off really high EMF, so if you're doing a sweep of a room and have one of those big boxy plugs in one of the outlets you will need to unnplug it. With the detector in high sensitivity mode an adapter can produce an EMF spike up to three feet or so from the actual plug. Another thing to watch out for is stereos, particularly analog volume controls. Those put off high EMF as well, and like a lot of magicians I have a stereo in my temple for playing music during rituals.

Once you've turned off or unplugged any devices that might be producing EMF the next thing you need to work out is the house wiring. If you have a ceiling fan, turn that off if it is in your temple or in the room below it. Motors in ceiling fans put off a lot of EMF and it can come up through the floor if the fan is in the room below where you're sweeping. The other thing you will want to do is turn on and off lights that are in the room or are connected to wires that run through the floor, ceiling, or walls. Also be aware of electrical devices, even those without adapter plugs. An electrical device can cause the wires leading to the outlet to throw high EMF if the device is on, especially if the wiring is old.

As far as possible magical sources of EMF go I so far have yet to find any, but as I mentioned I have not tried doing a ritual with the detector yet. Whatever I'm sensing when I pick up an object and find that it feels magical or consecrated is not EMF - I found no EMF spikes at all that appear to be related to that particular sensation. One of the things that will produce some EMF is an item with a magnet incorporated into it, but only if the probe and magnet are close and moving in relation to each other. A magnet that's sitting still doesn't produce much of an EMF spike when you just hold the probe up to it.

One of the things I did find that initially looked promising was a high EMF spike right on top of one of my altars. That particular altar gets used a lot so I wondered if it might have built up some sort of measurable charge from years of ritual work. Unfortunately, though, I was able to debunk the spike. It turned out to be related to one of the lights on the floor below and it was only coincidental that the spike showed up where the altar was. I was able to show that the spike was always present with the light on and never present with the light off, so this is clearly a case of old wiring at work. It wasn't immediately obvious, though - the light hangs from a spot that is off to the side of the temple, but the EMF it produces shows up over the altar which is more centrally located.

So I'll keep you all posted when I finally get a chance to do a series of tests with real rituals as opposed to just sweeping rooms and items to get baseline readings. I'm looking forward to getting that done and seeing if there's any notable relationship between magical work and EMF spikes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yet Another Fake Magician

As I've mentioned before, while I generally find that the "skeptic movement" consists mostly of closed-minded debunkers I still believe that they sometimes perform the valuable service of exposing frauds who use claims of magical powers to cheat their clients out of large sums of money. Like this individual, who has been charged with "pretending to practice witchcraft" under Canadian law.

Vishwantee Persaud allegedly defrauded a Toronto lawyer of tens of thousands of dollars by telling him she was the embodiment of the spirit of his deceased sister, come back to help him in business. Ms. Persaud now faces charges under a rarely used section of the criminal code for pretending to practice witchcraft.

“She said she came from a long line of witches and could do tarot-card readings,” says Detective Constable Corey Jones, who investigated the case. “It was through this that she cemented [the lawyer's] trust,” setting the stage for the fraud to follow, which, according to Det. Constable Jones, included claiming fictitious expenses such as law-school tuition and cancer treatments.

While it's easy to see how a law like this one could be used to persecute legitimate professional sorcerers, a reading of the facts of the case shows that Persaud is anything but. She appears to be a garden variety confidence artist who engaged in a number of fraudulent activities above and beyond her claims of paranormal powers.

The lawyer met Ms. Persaud, who claimed to be in law school, in early 2009 and started to mentor her. According to Det. Constable Jones, he probably gave Ms. Persaud more than $100,000 over the year.

Det. Constable Jones says the scheme came to a head when Ms. Persaud said they were going to make money hosting and providing security for certain celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival. “That's where everything fell apart because of course no Hollywood celebrities showed up,” he says.

In fact, he points out, this kind of offence could lead to a simple charge of fraud, which carries longer jail terms and stiffer fines. As it stands, a conviction of pretending to practise witchcraft carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

The article also mentions the unusual history of this particular law banning the fraudulent practice of witchcraft. The Canadian law dates back to 1892 and was specifically tailored to target confidence artists. Notably, the practice of any form of witchcraft, pretend or not, was illegal in Britain until 1954, so Canada seems to have been well ahead of the curve there.

“It's a historical quirk,” says Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Some sections of the Canadian criminal code reflect offences that were more prevalent centuries ago. When the code was enacted in 1892, witchcraft per se was no longer a punishable offence, he says, but lawmakers wanted to ensure witchcraft wasn't used as a cover for fraud.

Section 365 states that any one who fraudulently pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, or enchantment or who “undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes … is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

“It's not really about occult activity,” Prof. Young says. “It's about defrauding people.”

Persaud is scheduled to appear in court on December 24th to answer the charges. It's good to see fraudulent magicians like her answering for their crimes, because situations like this reflect badly on all magical practitioners.

So remember that if you ever find yourself practicing magick in Canada you should make sure that you're doing it for real. If you're just pretending you could find yourself in trouble with the law.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger Woods Cult Disbands

In another installment from the "I really hope this is a joke because if it isn't these people are unbelievably stupid" file that began with my piece on "Cullenism," the "First Church of Tiger Woods" has disbanded. No, seriously - up until a few days ago there really was a "First Church of Tiger Woods," at least on the web.

I suppose I can see a few golf fans getting together and deciding that it would be funny to put up a web site dedicated to their favorite player and call it a "Church" in a tongue-in-cheek sort of tone, but recent events have made me wonder if the individual who put the site up might actually be serious. Could anybody out there possibly be dumb enough to worship a guy who hits a ball with a stick, even a guy who does it really well?

John Ziegler, the pastor of the "First Church of Tiger Woods" -- -- has announced in a statement on the blog that the organization is being dissolved because of the golfer's "personal sins."

The church, whose home page has now been rechristened "The Damnation of Tiger Woods,"was launched by radio host Ziegler in 1996 to "celebrate the emergence of the 'true messiah.'"

However the lurid revelations that have swirled around Woods since last week have left Ziegler so disenchanted that he is now ending his church, which has its own "Prayer for Tiger" and "Ten Tiger Commandments."

"After several days of evaluation, I have decided to disband the First Church of Tiger Woods," Ziegler wrote.

"Tiger is clearly no longer deserving of being seen as a role model or a hero and he has needlessly squandered his unique potential to be a positive force in our country and the world.

And let me add that the only thing this "messiah" ever saved was the sport of golf, which was starting to slip into relative obscurity in the 1990s. As I personally can't stand golf, I have a hard time seeing that as anything noble or worthwhile.

From a practical magical perspective this gives us a perfect situation for empirical research. If these people have really been praying for Tiger Woods all this time, could those prayers have been improving his golf game to paranormal levels? A public announcement like this gives us a clean before and after delineation for our experimental and control samples and golfing statistics are meticulously kept. So we'll be able to see if Woods continues to play as well over the course of the next couple of years without magical support and back up whatever conclusion emerges with hard data.

As evidence of a possible paranormal influence, take a look at this paper by Jennifer Brown of UC Berkeley. Her data shows that other elite golfers play worse when playing in tournaments with Woods. While Brown puts forth a psychological explanation for the phenomenon, this is also exactly the sort of data you would expect to see surrounding a player who is receiving magical assistance. If somebody casts a spell on you with the intent of enabling you to win some sort of game or contest, not only will you generally do better but your opponents will also do worse than usual.

Now what I'd like to see is an expose from inside the cult. Did they engage in bizarre golf-related practices? Cast circles with five-irons (cause five is the pentagram, of course)? Subject caddies to obscure initiation rituals? Bind servitors into golf balls to ensure better play? Or maybe they just sat around a candlelit room staring at a velvet painting of Woods chanting golfing terms assembled into mantras.

Somebody out there must have the story. If you do, feel free to post it here!

UPDATE: According to Slate, the number of paramours linked to Tiger Woods has now reached eleven. Add Tiger and his wife to that number and you get thirteen - a coven! I can't believe that nobody has pointed that out until now, but I suppose that makes it my scoop!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Arcana Update

As most of you have probably noticed November has come and gone and I have yet to announce the availability of my novel, Arcana.

The novel is not available yet but I've been told that it is just running a bit behind schedule and will be out in time for the holidays. That's good, because like many self-absorbed writers I plan on giving copies out as holiday gifts to various folks. I'm also talking with one of the owners about doing a promotional event with Magus Books here in Minneapolis, but of course the book needs to be out before doing anything like that makes much sense. I expect to see it become available within the next couple of weeks and I'll be sure to let you all know as soon as it's available for orders.

Interestingly enough, I found out about halfway through the month that November is National Novel Writing Month and I've coincidentally been working on a sequel. So far I'm only up to 50,000 words or so of the first draft, but that's pretty good for a month's work. Arcana is a little over 100,000 words and it took me a year to finish the first draft. The published version is the third revision, which also took me about a year to get done. So it seems that I'm getting faster and more disciplined about my writing, which bodes well for putting together future published works.

UPDATE: Pendraig announced on December 14th that Arcana is at the printers and should be available shortly. Can you tell I'm excited? Stay tuned for an announcement and a link for orders coming real soon now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Energy" as Magical Terminology

There are a lot of folks on the Internet who have various issues with the use of "energy" as a term to describe the degree to which magical rituals influence the exterior world. Believe it or not, even some "energy model" practitioners realize that this particular usage is problematic - it's just that so far, I haven't seen anyone come up with another term that's much better.

Magick could really benefit from some sort of standardized terminology, and I have no problem ditching "energy" as soon as something better comes along. What would be best would be a term that has no equivalent in physics, since one of the main problems with the use of "energy" is that it already has a specific scientific definition. "Psychic energy" or "magical energy" is something completely different from the energy of a particle, heat source, or object in motion. The trouble is that most of the words that people try to use instead also have scientific definitions. "Force" doesn't work because that's Mass times Acceleration. "Power" doesn't work because that's Work divided by Time. And the list goes on.

As a prime example of semantic confusion resulting from the use of "energy," witness the confusion produced by my article on the Arizona sweat lodge deaths. When I wrote the line "energy is more tangible than thought" I was talking about the inherent difficulties involved in thinking away an overabundance of infrared-spectrum photons, but sure enough a couple of readers read "energy" in the "psychic energy" sense, and chastized me for making a statement about the tangibility of such phenomena. I'm still not sure if that was my fault for being unclear or the fault of too many Internet commentators throwing "energy" around to describe almost anything paranormal.

Some people use terms like qi or mana to denote what magicians are trying to describe, but I personally would rather not bring in terms from other languages if I can help it because those terms have their own cultural contexts and may just introduce more confusion. Similarly, I would rather not be stuck making up completely new terms because that risks the creation of an artificial jargon-based language that nobody outside the community of magical practitioners will understand. So in my opinion we seem to be left with "energy," inaccurate though it may be.

If English had a word that described "degree of probability shift" that's what I would go with. I try to talk about probability shifts when I can rather than power or force or energy simply because that's the most accurate description of what magical rituals do - they alter the likelihood of specific outcomes in conformity with the will of the magician. Maybe we could work on adapting a term like "shift" - it refers to change in general and has no formal physics definition. However, it doesn't really work as an adjective. Would you replace "powerful" or "energetic" with "shifty?" Again, more connotative confusion.

So if anybody has a better set of terminology suggestions I'm willing to hear them. Maybe if we work together on this we can come up with a standard set of terms that will allow us to discuss different models of magick on a level playing field without resorting to arguing over definitions.

UPDATE: Rufus Opus weighs in on why he finds "energy" such a bothersome term for describing magical phenomena. He brings up one point that I hadn't considered, which is that many people interpret "energy" as implying that there's something that you "use up" when you work magick. I don't read the term that way, but I can see how somebody could.

Patrick Dunn, author of Postmodern Magic, also has an article up on the topic. He's been active in the comments here as well, and proposes "information" as a replacement for the colloquial usage of "energy" as he describes in his book. I can see some cases in which that could work, but as Jason Miller points out in the comments it's awkward for discussing aspects of "energy work" practices like Qigong.

UPDATE #2: After some discussion in the comments, it seems to me that even within the metaphysical realm "energy" is being used to describe two completely different things. That being the case, it's no wonder that some people use the term so sloppily.

The first of these is whatever is being increased by "energy work" - qi or prana or whatever you want to call it. Those words translate literally as "breath" and the "energy" that they describe is indeed worked with using various breathing exercises, although the two words have additional connotations in Chinese and Sanskrit that are not present in English. This usage of "energy" does correspond to energy in physics to a degree, in that increased oxygen in the lungs and increased firing in the central nervous system do relate directly to energetic chemical processes like the ATP cycle and so forth.

The second is the practical effectiveness of a magical ritual measured as a probability shift. This one is much more of a stretch, in that it's not clear that such shifts are related in any way to energy as it is understood in physics. Whether you model it as will acting upon the universe to produce an outcome or as consciousness selecting a particular potential reality something is going on, but it's something that's radically different from how energy works in thermodynamics.

Usually when I'm talking with someone who's being careful to make a distiction between the two what I hear is "energy" used for the first case and "power" used for the second. As in "we raised a lot of energy (usage 1) and the resulting ritual turned out to be really powerful (usage 2)." Thinking that usage over I'm warming up to "power" a bit more even though it is again pulling physics terminology into a metaphysical context.

I'll wrap this up by noting that with terms of this sort the key is to understand them in context without concretizing them. In other words, if you want to call qi energy, make sure that you don't make the mistake of assuming that once you do so you can safely assume that qi shares all kinds of properties with the energy of thermodynamics. Those are the kinds of assumptions that lead to serious errors in understanding how magick works in the real world.