Monday, September 27, 2010

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram

This article is a rough transcript of the presentation Michele Monstserrat and I wrote and presented at Twin Cities Pagan Pride 2010 this last Saturday. The presentation was well-received and I hope that those who attended now have a deeper understanding of this basic ceremonial ritual.

Various forms of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram have been used for more than a century by Western magicians. The LRP in its current form was most likely written by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, the original Chief Adept of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This magical order and its teachings have had a profound effect on the entire Western Mystery Tradition thanks to the publication of certain of its rituals, first by Aleister Crowley in The Equinox and later by Israel Regardie in The Golden Dawn.

It most likely found its way into Wicca and Neopaganism by way of Gerald Gardner, who in addition to founding Gardnerian Wicca was also an initiate of Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis and who carried on an extensive correspondence with Crowley in the 1940's when he was putting together the original Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

Today this ritual is found in most introductory books on Western ceremonial magick and is taught in the various Golden Dawn and Thelemic magical orders. The banishing form of this ritual is generally used to initiate ceremonial rituals and as part of circle casting for Wiccan and Neopagan rites.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Parting the Red Sea

One of the points that I make all the time is that when magical spells influence the physical world they generally act through some sort of physical medium. In other words, you can usually look at the set of circumstances leading up to the manifestation of a particular magical goal and identify what the physical mechanism was. Those circumstances often prove to be collections of unlikely occurrences that surround the goals of the spell, but they nonetheless generally conform to accepted laws of physical reality. This is true of miracles as well - after all, a miracle is simply a magical operation that results in some sort of dramatic success.

One of the most famous miracles in Biblical history is the parting of the Red Sea, said to have been performed by Moses during the exodus from Egypt. I've noted elsewhere that one of the dangers of relying on Biblical history is that the Torah was most likely only written down around 538 BCE following the Babylonian Captivity, and thus had to summarize nearly a thousand years of oral tradition. The accuracy of such a summary is always going to be hit or miss - for example, historical evidence suggests that the Jews were never slaves in Egypt. And while there is a brief notation in the written Egyptian histories referring to a group of people who left to settle in the lands further east around the time given for the exodus, there is no mention of pursuit by Pharaoh's armies or any significant unrest that accompanied this group's departure. Still, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that an event as dramatic as the parting of a sea might have seemed so incredible that it would be hard to forget.

Scientists have now worked out a model that offers a possible mechanism for the crossing detailed in the book of Exodus. It relies, first of all, on correcting a simple translation error in the story. The Hebrew that is rendered into English as "Red Sea" in some translations of the Bible in fact means "sea of reeds," and most experts believe that it refers to an area further north toward the Mediterranean Sea that includes part of the Nile delta. This is a region of marshy lakes and lagoons much shallower than the Red Sea proper. The mechanism is a phenomenon called wind setdown, that has been proposed as a possible explanation since the nineteenth century. This fits the text well - the description in Exodus claims that the water was driven back by a "mighty east wind" that blew throughout the night.

Computer simulations, part of a larger study on how winds affect water, show wind could push water back at a point where a river bent to merge with a coastal lagoon, the team at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder said.

"The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus," Carl Drews of NCAR, who led the study, said in a statement.

"The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that's in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in."

Religious texts differ a little in the tale, but all describe Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt ahead of a pharaoh's armies around 3,000 years ago. The Red Sea parts to let Moses and his followers pass safely, then crashes back onto the pursuers, drowning them.

Drews and colleagues are studying how Pacific Ocean typhoons can drive storm surges and other effects of strong and sustained winds on deep water.

His team pinpointed a possible site south of the Mediterranean Sea for the legendary crossing, and modeled different land formations that could have existed then and perhaps led to the accounts of the sea appearing to part.

The model requires a U-shaped formation of the Nile River and a shallow lagoon along the shoreline. It shows that a wind of 63 miles per hour, blowing steadily for 12 hours, could have pushed back waters 6 feet deep.

"This land bridge is 3-4 km (2 to 2.5 miles) long and 5 km (3 miles) wide, and it remains open for 4 hours," they wrote in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

"People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts," Drews said. "What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws."

And, I would point out, a basis in magick theory, since the land bridge formed at the precise moment that it was needed. This implies that Moses may very well have been a weather worker who conjured the wind in order to make the crossing. 63 miles per hour is indeed a mighty east wind, and summoning it out of a clear sky still would have been just about impossible. But there's an additional key point in the story:

And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness [to them], but it gave light by night [to these]: so that the one came not near the other all the night. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go [back] by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry [land], and the waters were divided.

That "pillar of cloud" sounds just like a thunderstorm, and I can tell you from my own experience that summoning a high wind out of a thunderstorm is well within the power of a decent weather worker - like, say, me. And it wouldn't surprise me to find that a number of people reading this blog could do it as well. You read that right - one of the most famous miracles in history might very well be something that a decent percentage of skilled magicians could accomplish.

I guess now I need to get started on raising the dead.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror edited by Tim Lieder

Even though I write fiction, these days I read a lot less of it than I used to. But this story collection caught my attention (really, how could it not with a title like that?) and I was willing to make an exception. I found my time well-spent and I think that this collection represents just the sort of fiction readers of this blog will enjoy.

This particular anthology is a collection of horror stories based on stories found in the Bible, and it's as entertaining as it sounds. You don't need to know the stories on which they are based to enjoy these tales, but if you're someone like me who has read the Bible cover-to-cover it's even more fun to look at the original stories and in most cases see just how few modifications were required to make them fit soundly into the horror genre.

It begins with the story of Ruth told from the point of view of a vengeful demon and ends with a Jesus-as-vampire tale, an idea that I honestly thought had been completely done to death (so to speak) until I encountered the author's fresh and original take on it. In between you will find Daniel cast as a prophet for a modern multinational corporation, a retelling of the story of Jonah inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and much more.

All in all, this is a great anthology for those interested in the esoteric and horror fans alike.

Want to buy your own copy of She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror edited by Tim Lieder? Order from my Books and Media page and you can help support Augoeides.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Devil in the Bathroom

Normally people report the face of Jesus showing up in odd places - chicken feathers, drainpipes, and even Google maps - but the latest mysterious image, found in a bathroom in Budapest, proved much more sinister. It appeared to be the face of the Devil!

Husband Laszlo, 52, had renovated the room at great expense, fitting it with a heavenly new bath, shower and tiles – but it’s made life hell.

Forty-seven-year-old Mrs Csrefko spotted the terrifying horned image after her first shower.

She told The Sun: "I was naked coming out of the shower and I could suddenly see his eyes staring into me. I just screamed and ran."

Well, I suppose it is a part of the conventional folklore that the Devil makes women run around naked. Seriously, though, the image strikes me as a classic mosaic situation. Once the brain notices a specific pattern in a random field of shapes and colors it will seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Laszlo added: "We can't clean it off and it wasn't there when we put the tiles up. It just appeared overnight and nothing can move it.

"The room is always ice cold no matter how high we turn the heating up and we've just stopped using it because it's too spooky.

"We wash in the sink downstairs now."

It is possible that if the room wasn't extra cold before the renovation and also if the cold is not due to all the walls being tiled - which does happen even in the absence of paranormal forces - the Csrefko family might have something going on besides hysterical overreaction. In one of the few Goetic evocations that I've done I will say that I saw something kind of similar. The thing is, I highly doubt what I saw could have been photographed because there was clearly some sort of psychological and/or spiritual component involved.

We had the triangle hung on a wall covered in textured plaster, and I swear that when we finished the conjurations a vague image kind of like a face seemed to form inside it. The face lasted throughout the ritual and then disappeared when we closed down the temple. Skeptic that I generally am about such things (believe it or not) I spent awhile afterwards playing around with the triangle and lighting to see if I could get the face to appear again, but was unable to reproduce it no matter what I did.

It looks like getting rid of the image is a job too big for Flash – the Hungarian couple are summoning an exorcist to flush the evil spirits from their lavatory tiling.

What I would find extremely interesting about this case is whether or not the "face" can still be photographed after the exorcism. If it actually disappears I will grant that something paranormal is going on here - though I highly doubt the real Devil would bother haunting some poor couple's bathroom. It's more likely that this is a spirit bothered by the renovation trying to scare them, and even more likely that the image is nothing paranormal at all.

UPDATE: Not only does the Devil also appear in fire, as one might expect, but mysteriously he also looks exactly like Disco Stu from "The Simpsons!" Aren't mosaics fun?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Family Ghost Hunting

As a parent of two young children my first reaction to anything described as a "family activity" is that it will likely bore me out of my skull. Not only do children find things that are simple and repetitive a lot more interesting than adults do, but it also seems like a lot of entertainment for children suffers from a distinct lack of quality control. It's as though some performers figure that since kids aren't that discerning they don't necessarily even need to put on a decent show.

However, one family in England gives me hope that things won't always be this way. They and their teen daughter have taken up a hobby that's right up my alley - ghost hunting!

While most opt for a day trip to the countryside or beach, parents Wendy and Gary and teenage daughter Nikki prefer to explore the tunnels of a Victorian coastal fort.

"We have never been down there and not heard something," said hairdresser Mrs. Canham.

"It’s everything from tapping, cold spots and strange light orbs, which we’re told are spirits."

Armed with a torch and digital cameras, the family from Stanford-le-Hope in Essex have taken shots they say show spirits floating around their head and torchlights inexplicably bending. The Canhams caught the bug two years ago when 16-year-old Nikki’s parents were invited to Coalhouse Fort in Tilbury with her school drama class for Halloween.

"While we were there, I heard a lot of strange noises," said Mrs. Canham, 37. "I heard dragging, scraping and tapping and my hands kept going cold for no reason."

Unfortunately for the Canhams the photo accompanying the article that they claim shows "orbs" is nothing paranormal. It's either the camera flash or a flashlight reflecting off the door in front of them onto dirty spots on the lens or possibly dust - but I still give them points for trying. There are only a handful of ghost photos out there that look like they might be anything paranormal, and even very active groups like TAPS (of Ghost Hunters fame) rarely capture anything resembling an entity or even a genuine orb on film or video.

Since then, they have spent about £2,000 on entrance and guide fees.

So it is expensive, but it sure beats sitting around watching puppets, cartoons, or dorks dressed up as animals or fictional characters.

Nikki admitted friends think her hobby is a little weird but she cannot wait to turn 18 so she can go to more haunted buildings.

"I’d love to go hunting somewhere like Hampton Court," said Nikki. "I want to find the most haunted place and spend the night there."

That sounds like a lot of fun to me too. My oldest daughter is still young enough that she finds the Ghost Hunters TV series a little scary, but I expect she'll grow out of that in a couple of years. Maybe once that happens we can organize our own paranormal family excursions.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Oklahoma Satanists to Exorcise God

Most people think of Oklahoma as part of the Bible Belt, but on October 21st a Satanic church plans to hold an "exorcism of God" at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. No, really!

The Church of the IV Majesties is inviting members and the public to view the ritual, in hopes of erasing a lot of the unfounded fears many have about Satanism.

"We don't kill animals, we don't kill children," James Hale, the church's Lord High Master, told

"We just decided that being right here in the middle of the Bible Belt, it wasn't a good idea to keep the secrecy you see in the traditional Satanist churches," he said. "Because secrecy breeds fear. And we're not looking to scare anyone."

In my opinion running around and calling yourself a "Satanist" when you're a LaVey Satanist and thus pretty much an atheist who likes being spooky doesn't serve much of a function aside from shocking people. So if you then turn around and say you're not trying to scare anyone that seems pretty self-defeating.

Citing concerns for privacy and safety, Hale declined to say how many members the church has besides the seven members who are named on the church's state listing as a tax exempt religious organization, a designation they were awarded this spring.

Those seven members will take the stage Oct. 21 for the ritual, which Hale described as an exorcism to extract the gods of what he called the "right handed path" or traditional religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

"It's a parody of the Catholic rite of exorcism. It's just a blasphemy ritual," Hale said.

As an occultist you would never see me getting involved with an event like this. If the ritual is really just a big parody, why bother? I have plenty of other things to do with my life besides joke rituals. I suppose this could make sense as a piece of performance art, which may be what they are going for, but I've never seen the point of such things. I want my rituals to work, not just make people laugh, and they do. I'm left wondering if someone who sees magical rituals as nothing more than performance art has any magical power at all.

Hale, who co-wrote the exorcism and has attended similar private ceremonies, said he's welcoming of anyone who wants to watch, as long as they aren't there to stir up trouble based on their own misconceptions.

"We get a lot of sacrifice garbage," he said of the public's perception. "Satanism is not, does not and has not involved sacrifice."

Hale, the son of an all-faith Christian minister, has been a practicing Satanist for more than 30 years. Though there are varying threads in Satansim, including some who believe in spirits, all modern Satanists believe in one god -- themselves, he said.

"Satanism is pretty much your own god. I am my own god," Hale said. "We don't worship anyone but ourselves."

Is it just me, or is it totally cliche that Hale is a minister's kid? Unlike a lot of occultists, I never had any bad experiences with Christianity growing up aside from thinking that for me a lot of their theology didn't make much sense. But it seems like there's this whole subset of occultists who seem to get interested in magick because they want to shock their parents or people in general who follow their parents' faith.

Now, if Hale has really come up with a ritual form that can exorcise gods I'd be very interested in checking it out to see how it works - but I'm not holding my breath.