Saturday, June 19, 2010

Anubis in Denver

Anubis has come to Denver. As part of the traveling exhibit of the treasures of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun at the Denver Art Museum an enormous statue of the Egyptian god has been erected at the Denver International Airport.

While the statue is impressive, some controversy has erupted over whether or not the airport really needs a likeness of the god responsible for carrying souls into the afterlife, especially given that many people hate flying because they are afraid of the sort of air disasters that might require Anubis' involvement. Others are of the opinion that to have a god associated with death and funerals welcoming visitors to the city is simply in poor taste.

The Egyptian god Anubis was constructed earlier this month at the airport to welcome the new King Tut Exhibit, which opens June 29 at the Denver Art Museum.

In early Egyptian history, Anubis was a god of the dead and a god of funerals.

This has created controversy among some residents and has a few of them, like Millie Lieberman of Denver, asking why this would be the piece that welcomes people to the city.

"The black on it represents the decaying body. To me it's a very sick and poor representation of what we're all about here in Denver," Lieberman said.

My guess is that Anubis was selected when the exhibit was first put together because the treasures of the Pharaoh were intended to follow him into the afterlife, making the psychopomp Anubis a pretty good choice as herald of the exhibit in terms of Egyptian theology. Anubis did not cause people to die, but when they did his job was to conduct their souls into the next world. But modern people see "god of death" and fail to understand the nuances of the Egyptian pantheon - or just ignore it altogether.

The Denver Art Museum stands behind its piece and says that is not what it is supposed to represent.

"There's absolutely a literal interpretation of what that figure represented in ancient Egypt. It's definitely not what its intended representation is in 2010. It's just a piece of art to celebrate the King Tut Exhibit to the museum," said Andrea Folton, director of communication at the Denver Art Museum, said.

One wonders what Anubis thinks about being referred to as "just a piece of art." As a magician I know that spiritual beings have an existence above and beyond the aesthetics of any particular culture, and while the naysayers do not understand what Anubis really represents his supporters should be careful not to dismiss the thousands of years of tradition and belief surrounding the Egyptian faith.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

God's Been Busy

Lightning has been associated with the Almighty from time immemorial. The flow of Mezla down the Tree of Life from Kether to Malkuth is called the lightning flash. Some anthropologists believe that the deity from which the Judeo-Christian God evolved was originally some sort of storm god. And it seems likely to me that the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel was probably created to explain the common-sense observation that if you build a tower in the middle of a desert it will be struck by lightning as soon as the next storm rolls in. Given all that, it may very well be that humanity's greatest invention in terms of thwarting God's will was in fact the lightning rod.

Over the last two weeks God seems to have been throwing his thunderbolts around more than usual. The first casualty was a young Tennessee woman who was tragically killed by lightning as her boyfriend was about to propose to her.

A young Tennessee woman was struck and killed by lightning on one of her favorite North Carolina mountain trails only moments before her boyfriend was about to propose to her, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports.

Richard Butler, 30, said he and Bethany Lott, 25, both from Knoxville, had ignored the rain and kept heading up Max Patch Bald, a spot that Bethany had longed to show him.

In his pocket, he had his own surprise -- an engagement ring.

There seems to be no reasonable explanation for her death, unless one subscribes to the Gnostic idea of the Demiurge - a God who simply is not that fond of human beings. I mean, I don't find the contention that had they married these two would have spawned the Antichrist or something even marginally credible. In fact, taken along with the next two stories one is left to wonder what the Lord's intentions might really be.

God's next target was a BP oil tanker in the Gulf of Mexico that was in the process of siphoning oil from the leaking Deepwater Horizon well.

A drill ship resumed siphoning off oil gushing from a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday after a bolt of lightning struck the vessel and ignited a fire that halted containment efforts, the company said.

BP PLC spokesman Bill Salvin told The Associated Press that the drill ship called the Discoverer Enterprise resumed processing oil Tuesday afternoon, about five hours after the fire caused an emergency shutdown. Engineers on the ship have been siphoning about 630,000 gallons of oil a day through a cap on top of the well.

He said there was no damage reported to the containment cap, and the Coast Guard approved BP restarting the system.

While God's anger with BP over the catastrophic spill is understandable, couldn't he have picked a better target for his anger than one of the ships working to prevent further damage to the Gulf? Like, say, the BP or MSS executives who approved cutting corners on safety equipment that might have prevented the disaster in the first place? Maybe they were too well-protected by lightning rods, but it still seems counterproductive to halt the cleanup effort if God is indeed angered by the spill.

God's final target seems the least explicable, at least on the surface - a 62-foot statue of Jesus in Ohio.

Lightning and a subsequent fireball Monday night destroyed a 62-foot-tall "King of Kings" statue of Jesus with arms stretched toward the skies, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

The only thing visible this morning is the charred frame of the plastic foam and fiberglass statue, the newspaper says, citing police in Monroe, Ohio.

"It burned to the ground. The whole statue is gone," said Kim Peace, a police dispatcher.

It could be that this is simply a case of God enforcing the real Second Commandment - the one most Christian denominations pretend doesn't exist by splitting "Thou Shalt Not Covet" into two separate commandments. That commandment prohibits the making of graven images of anything in Heaven or on earth, and the Ohio statue probably qualifies.

Maybe the lesson here for anyone wanting to build a sculpture of Jesus is to use better materials than fiberglass. I'm guessing that the enormous statue of Jesus that overlooks Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is struck by lighting all the time, but since it's made of stone and concrete it has survived for almost a century.

Granted, this is probably all a big coincidence. Natural disasters happen, and I don't really believe that God - especially the Christian God - is behind all of them. Nevertheless, three strikes in two weeks is pretty unusual and might imply that some sort of spiritual or magical process could be influencing the odds in some way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Smoking Vulture Brains?

The World Cup means it's time for more soccer magick.

I've heard stories about people taking various drugs in order to access psychic powers, but this is the oddest one yet. World Cup gamblers in South Africa have taken to smoking vulture brains, which they believe give them the power to see into the future.

Gamblers seeking to beat the bookies are smoking dried vulture brains, believing it will give them the power to predict match results, it has been claimed.

As the brains in question are those of the endangered cape vulture, conservationists are alarmed rather than amused by the rise of this practice.

Conservationists believe the growth of ‘muti’ magic in South Africa ahead of the World Cup has seen a surge in poaching of Cape vultures, already at risk from lack of food and poisoning.

‘The harvesting of the bird’s heads by followers of muti magic is an additional threat these birds can’t endure,’ said Mark Anderson, of BirdLife South Africa.

Steve McKean, from KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, who has been studying the decline of vultures due to muti magic, said: 'Our research suggests that killing of vultures for so-called "traditional" use could render the Cape vulture extinct in some parts of South Africa within half a century.

I'm thinking that this would be pretty easy to test if one had access to enough vulture brains to go around. All you really need to do is compare the betting results of "smokers" versus "non-smokers" and see if there's any statistical difference. Unfortunately gamblers tend to be a superstitious lot, and if a practice seems to work for them once they will usually repeat it regardless of the overall effect on the odds.

Much of muti magic seems to be based on the scarcity of the materials used. Albino body parts seem to be prized by unscrupulous practitioners simply because albinism is a rare condition and few such parts are available. Similarly, the cape vulture is endangered and as a result its brains are going be hard to come by. One wonders how much of the muti tradition is rooted in the "just world" assumption that anything hard to find is intrinsically more valuable and how much of it is based on empirical testing and observation by practitioners over many generations.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mobile Phone Company Suspends "Number of Death"

Back when it was still in print I was a big fan of the Weekly World News for its sheer ridiculousness. One of the headlines that I'll never forget was something to the effect of "50 People Sat in 'Chair of Death' - And They All Died!" My immediate response was, "Well of course, if you wait long enough!" I'm pretty sure that by the time any chair has been in a museum for awhile everyone who sat in it will have passed away.

In a similar but (only slightly) more sinister story, a mobile phone company in Bulgaria has suspended the phone number 0888 888 888 after all three people who were assigned the number died under violent or mysterious circumstances.

The first owner of the rather special number was Vladimir Grashnov - the former CEO of the Bulgarian mobile phone company, Mobitel, which issued the number. Grashnov died of cancer in 2001, aged just 48.

Despite a spotless business record there were persistent rumours that his cancer had been caused by a business rival using radioactive poisoning.

0888 888 888 then passed on to Bulgarian mafia boss Konstantin Dimitrov.

Dimitrov was gunned down in 2003 at the age of 31 by a lone assassin in the Netherlands while he was dining with a model. He apparently had the mobile with him when he died.

The unlucky phone number then passed to crooked estate agent Konstantin Dishliev - who had secretly been running a massive cocaine trafficking operation, before he too was gunned down, outside an Indian restaurant in Bulgaria's capital Sofia in 2005.

It seems to me that this is probably a coincidence and not a particularly unlikely one. Some people do get cancer in their late forties and it's not like mafia bosses or drug smugglers live particularly risk-free lives. But even though they won't confirm the suspension, it sounds like Mobitel is not taking any chances.

Mobitel are reported to have suspended the number for good. Callers now just get a recorded message saying the phone is 'outside network coverage.'

However, a Mobitel spokesman wouldn't confirm the suspension, saying only: 'We have no comment to make. We won't discuss individual numbers.'

After all, Mercury's number is 8 and Mercury is the psychopomp. So I suppose you can never really be sure.