Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worst. Bigfoot. Ever.

The right way to do a Bigfoot hoax has been known for a long time. Find a gorilla suit, put it on, and run around in the woods. Eventually you'll be spotted and filmed, and then online "experts" will go back and forth over whether or not you're for real. For extra credit, let some friends know where you'll be doing your gorilla act so they can "capture" you on film, seemingly by accident. This latest footage, though, is the worst attempt I've ever seen.

A woman named Samantha captured the footage during a recent walking trip through Downriver Park in Spokane, Washington - but admitted she did not notice the ape-like beast at the time.

In the clip, which has been uploaded to YouTube, what appears to be a big, hairy creature can be seen lumbering through the forest in the distance.

It is impossible to tell exactly what the video shows, but Samantha is convinced it is Bigfoot.

She told US news website KXLY: 'Someone asked me in the comments section if I believed in Bigfoot before the video.

'I have never given it much thought, but now I'm not so sure. Seems real enough to me.'

If you watch the video you'll quickly realize that the hoaxer dispensed with the gorilla suit entirely. The image appears to be that of a person dressed in a black hooded jacket and black pants. It looks nothing like an ape or a gorilla or anything that's even furry, and is in fact so bad that I wonder if it's even an intentional hoax. Maybe these hikers just filmed somebody playing a game of paintball or capture-the-flag.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Monastery Shut Down After Hosting Exotic Dancer Turned Nun

One of the classic stories in Christianity is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The story is generally interpreted as meaning those who return to the Christian fold after leaving to pursue less spiritual goals should be richly welcomed, even more so than those who never question their faith.

Sister Anna Nobili, an Italian nun, worked as an exotic dancer before deciding that she would rather devote her life to God and now applies her skills to a form of Christian modern dance. One would think that the Prodigal Son story would be practically tailor-made for her unusual background, but the Roman Catholic Church apparently thinks otherwise. A monastery that recently hosted Sister Nobili was shut down because the Church deemed it to have "lapsed in its discipline."

Around 20 Cistercian monks will be transferred to other monasteries around the country after their lifestyles were deemed 'not in keeping' with Church doctrine.

In 2009, former exotic dancer and striptease artist Anna Nobili performed some religious moves for an audience of cardinals and bishops, twirling around a wooden crucifix.

The self-described 'ballerina for God', 38, became a nun after being 'reborn' by her new-found faith in God, basing her choreography on Bible tales. Video footage of her doing her thing in front of an altar was a YouTube hit, funnily enough.

'The decision to investigate the monastery was launched after reports were received of what was going on there - we need to remember this is a holy shrine containing relics of Christ,' Vatican officials told the Daily Mail.

'It was evident that the order had lapsed in its discipline and an Apostolic visitation was arranged, which resulted in the decision to close the monastery which was approved by Pope Benedict.'

Friday, May 27, 2011

Forgotten Pyramids Seen From Space

For years fringe archaeologists have put forth the contention that advanced technology brought to Earth by aliens helped to build the pyramids of Egypt. So far no concrete evidence has emerged that space technology was involved in their construction, but based on data from a new satellite survey space technology has recently played a role in the discovery of as many as seventeen pyramids that up until now had been lost to history.

Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt. More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings.

Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings, including two suspected pyramids.

The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak.

She says she was amazed at how much she and her team has found.

"We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the "Aha!" moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we'd found and I couldn't believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt.

"To excavate a pyramid is the dream of every archaeologist," she said.

The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 700km above the earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pin-point objects less than 1m in diameter on the earth's surface.

The survey was made possible by the construction techniques of the ancient Egyptians, who built their structures out of mud brick and stone. Since these materials are denser than the surrounding sand and soil they can be detected by infrared imaging, even from space. The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun was such a significant event in Egyptology because the tomb was essentially intact due to its obscure location in the Valley of the Kings. I'm looking forward to finding out whether or not any of these newly revealed pyramids might prove to be similarly undisturbed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hitler's Talking Dogs

A number of books and documentaries have been produced exploring Nazi fringe science experiments conducted during the Second World War. But so far none of them have touched upon this latest story, that Hitler aimed to create a race of educated dogs that could talk and read to assist with the war effort.

Adolf Hitler apparently felt man's best friend could be the Allies' worst enemy with a little bit of help, so a special 'dog school' was set up by the Germans where gifted mutts could hone their talents.

The Nazi canine recruits were trained to speak and tap out signals using their paws, with one reportedly able to say 'Mein Fuhrer' when asked to identify the Nazi dictator himself.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the school, named the Tier-Sprechschule, was set up in the 1930s and ran throughout the war period.

Nazi scientists also conducted experiments on human-canine telepathy, shown above, predating the work of Rupert Sheldrake by decades. Dog lover Adolf Hitler supposedly believed that canines were nearly as intelligent as humans and with the proper training could augment the power of his armies substantially.

When reports like this surface I'm always left wondering what else was going on in those Nazi research labs that has yet to be uncovered. Could any of it really be more ridiculous than this?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Possessed" Teen Stabs Mother

Ghosts have apparently been out for vengeance lately, this time in England. At her trial Lorraine Mbulawa, who stabbed her mother five times while in some sort of trance, claimed that she acted under the influence of her grandmother's ghost.

Mbulawa, who was 18 at the time, was cleared of attempted murder at her trial at Leicester Crown Court earlier this year but convicted of unlawful wounding. Psychiatrists said she was not mad and the jury agreed that she knew what she was doing. However, the A-level student, who was born in Zimbabwe, escaped with a 12-month suspended prison sentence and was ordered to do 120 hours of unpaid work.

Passing sentence on Monday, Mr Justice Keith said he accepted the defendant had strong beliefs in witchcraft and thought she was possessed by the spirit of her dead grandmother at the time of the attack in May 2009. He told Leeds Crown Court: ‘She believed spirits can enter the body and make you do things that otherwise you would not have done.’

The ghost reportedly told the girl that her mother was responsible for the death of her father, which prompted the attack.

Mrs Mbulawa said her husband collapsed and died suddenly in 2000 and she moved to the UK with her daughter two years later.

In her evidence Mbulawa told the court: ‘My grandmother said my mother was responsible for the death of my father and I had to do the honourable thing to my father by killing my mother.’ A policewoman who arrived at the house said Mbulawa was sitting on the stairs in a trance-like state, crying, shaking and hyper-ventilating, while her mother, who was bleeding heavily, was trying to comfort her.

There are some people who can get up and walk around while dreaming, and I think that's more likely in this case than anything paranormal. The article also doesn't mention whether or not Mbulawa was taking any of the new sleeping pills that can sometimes trigger such incidents at the time of the attack. Maybe the easiest way to prevent anything like this from happening again would be to put away the Ambien rather than calling in an exorcist.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

...Apparently Nothing

"Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a Rapture out of this hat!"
"Again? That trick never works!"

This weekend's failed Rapture was a learning experience for many, but evidently not for Harold Camping. On his latest radio broadcast he insisted that his original end-of-the-world prediction for October 21st was still on, even though his prophecied Rapture never happened.

During a sometimes rambling, 90-minute discourse that included a question-and-answer session with reporters, Camping said he felt bad that Saturday had come and gone without the Rapture he had felt so certain would take place.

Reflecting on scripture afterward, Camping said it "dawned" on him that a "merciful and compassionate God" would spare humanity from "hell on Earth for five months" by compressing the physical apocalypse into a shorter time frame.

But he insisted that October 21 has always been the end-point of his own End Times chronology, or at least, his latest chronology.

I was wondering in the back of my mind whether Camping would respond to the weekend's events by "discovering" that the Rapture is not at all Biblical (because it isn't), meaning he could still push his October date even without a Rapture to go with it. But I guess this professional evangelist doesn't know his scripture as well as I do (!), since he's doubling down on the date for a completely non-scriptural reason. God's so compassionate that he'll spare people five months of torment but then he's going to turn around and chuck a bunch of them into Hell for all eternity? Explain.

At least I'll get another party out of the deal.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Great Disappointment 2011: What Have We Learned?

As everyone has heard by now the predicted Rapture came and went without so much as a whimper. The massive earthquake that was supposed to herald the faithful being taken up into Heaven never struck, and the closest thing to unusual geological activity on May 21st was the eruption of Iceland's Grimsvoetn volcano, pictured above. Yesterday Jason Miller offered a prayer for those who waited for the Rapture accompanied by a photo of what has to be one of the Best Billboards Ever, and let me declare right now that I'm totally on board with making fun of the 2012 doomsayers when their apocalypse rolls around as well. I'm an equal opportunity offender, after all.

One thing I will thank Harold Camping for is that it gave me a great party theme. Since my birthday is May 18th I was probably going to have a party this weekend anyway and Saturday was the most logical day, but the fact that it coincided with Camping's Rapture made it extra fun. I also think that we got more people over with the Rapture theme than we would have otherwise, including several friends I hadn't seen in a long time. So it worked out well for me, though I'm imagining that the Rapture believers are considerably less happy with the weekend's events. The thing is, as I've mentioned before the Rapture is fundamentally a silly idea, wasn't part of Christian belief until the 19th century, and likely is based at least in part on the mistranslation of "spirit" as "air" in the New Testament because Greek, like Hebrew, apparently uses the same word for both.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Today is the Day!

This is it, folks. The Rapture is on! You know, unless it isn't.

Harold Camping's latest doomsday prophecy has spawned a media frenzy unlike anything I've seen since the heady days of Y2K. Of course, as a programmer I knew back then that since applications are always designed to fail in the safe state the odds were practically nil that, say, car computers were going to send people hurtling down the freeway with no ability to stop, or that avionic computers were going to drop planes out of the sky, all because they couldn't recognize the date. In fact, on New Years Eve of 1999 I deliberately left my old unpatched Windows 95 machine running all night and checked it in the morning. It was fine, still running as usual, and it even displayed the correct date when I brought up the calendar. So much for the software apocalypse, and I'll never forget the headline that came up on Yahoo News that evening - "Crisis-Free Millennium Spreads Across the Globe."

As I mentioned previously, Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world before, the last time in 1994. Salon has an article up from Thursday by Steve Kornacki describing how he was taken in by Camping's original prediction as a 13-year-old boy. When the last day finally came, he describes how he spent it, along with the eventual realization that the Rapture just wasn't happening.

Sept. 5 -- the day before that particular end of the world -- was a Monday, Labor Day. I was due to start my sophomore year of high school later that week,. On the outside, I seemed calm enough. On the inside, I was petrified. I had long ago perfected this balancing act. That night, as I watched the clock down to midnight with mounting anxiety, I sat down in the living room and turned on Monday Night Football, the 49ers and the Raiders. Somehow, the noise from the crowd gave me comfort. I thought of telling my mother everything -- that I was worried, that I'd been worried for two years -- and that I just wanted to say goodbye to her in case. Instead, I stayed put.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not This Again!

It would seem that the Vatican's 2009 endorsement of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was all for naught, at least if you're trying to find Harry Potter legos at the wrong chain of stores in England. One woman who had the audacity to ask a store manager if they carried the toys found herself accused of "teaching her child evil."

Devout Christian Gary Grant owns the chain of Entertainer shops and says he has never sold merchandise from the films in any of his shops, fearing that he may be responsible for attracting children to the occult.

Customer Jennifer Gledhill was shocked when she turned up at the new store in Wakefield with her eight-year-old son Thomas, claiming she was told the shop didn't stock Harry Potter Lego because it didn't believe in teaching children evil.

Mrs Gledhill, 40, from Wakefield, said: 'I asked the store manager for help in finding the new Harry Potter Lego and he said "Look, we're a Christian company, we don't believe in teaching children evil".

The problem here isn't that a Christian store owner doesn't believe in stocking particular toys. As a businessman it is of course his right to decide what lines of toys he wants to carry. The problem is, instead of just telling Gledhill that his store didn't have the toys or even politely explaining that they weren't consistent with the owner's beliefs, the manager couldn't resist the urge to indulge in the usual judgmental schtick. That makes him look rude and stupid rather than principled, and from a media perspective reflects badly upon his entire faith.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

CDC Issues Zombie Apocalypse Guide

Do the Centers for Disease Control know something the rest of us don't? With only two days to go before Harold Camping's Rapture, the CDC has posted a guide to surviving a zombie apocalypse. Perhaps there's a clue in the Book of Revelation, in which we are told that when Jesus returns the dead will rise from their graves. Now I realize no theologian has ever predicted that the dead who rise will do so as brain-gobbling rotting monsters, but then the CDC has a pretty substantial research budget that most churches lack.

'There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for,' reads the post. 'Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That's right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e.

'You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.'

An 'emergency kit' is the one thing everyone should have in their house, apparently, 'including things like water, food and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp (or, in the event of a natural disaster, it will buy you some time until you are able to make your way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored)'.

The kit should also be stocked with medications, duct tape, a battery-powered radio, clothes, copies of important documents and first-aid supplies, take note.

Note also that there's no mention of stockpiling gold or survival seeds. And the absence of shotguns, perfect for making the head shots that in the movies are the only way zombies can be killed, is a telling omission. Maybe when the undead are raised by Jesus head shots can't stop them either.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thoughts on "Spiritually Transmitted Diseases"

I came across this article yesterday and found that it had the interesting premise of treating various problems that can arise during spiritual practice as "diseases" or afflictions. Mariana Caplan, the author, is a psychotherapist and as I've mentioned before the whole Freudian-inspired unconscious mind hypothesis does not hold up to neuroscientific experimentation. So as you might expect there are several places where I would use different terminology, and some where I outright disagree with her contentions. On the other hand, it's good to see these issues being discussed at all in the mainstream media.

It is a jungle out there, and it is no less true about spiritual life than any other aspect of life. Do we really think that just because someone has been meditating for five years, or doing 10 years of yoga practice, that they will be any less neurotic than the next person? At best, perhaps they will be a little bit more aware of it. A little bit.

"Neurotic" is the first of Caplan's loaded psychoanalytic terms, but if she means what I think she means I disagree right off the bat. I would certainly hope that anyone doing sustained spiritual practices for that long would be substantially more realized than someone who hadn't. If not what's the point of bothering? If after five or ten years of doing the work you're not much better off than before I posit that either you're not doing the work as seriously as you should or you're doing it wrong. I'm not trying to say that spiritual practitioners are going to be perfect or anything like that, but generally speaking one's practices should produce noticeable life improvements over time and if they don't it indicates a problem.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Book on Irish Witchcraft Commissioned

Ireland has long been associated with shamrocks and leprechauns, but a new book by University lecturer Andrew Sneddon aims to explore both the folk magick practices and witchcraft persecutions of the Emerald Isle in a new book.

He teaches the only history course in Ireland dedicated to the study of the great European witch-hunts between 1500 and 1800 and has been commissioned by Palgrave MacMillan to write the first academic book on Irish witchcraft, called Witchcraft And Magic In Ireland, 1586-1946.

The book, due for publication in early 2013, will contain insight into charms, witchcraft, and demonic possession in Ireland up to the 20th century.

As the idea of witchcraft has become prominent in popular culture, Dr. Sneddon's university course on Irish witchcraft has become more and more popular.

Dr Sneddon told the Belfast Telegraph that people are becoming increasingly fascinated by witchcraft.

“It’s the unknown. It’s the mysterious. It’s like ghost stories,” he said.

“Witchcraft is everywhere, in films and books and plays.

“Every year my course increases in popularity and our exchange students seem to particularly like it. It used to be viewed as superstition, but in the last 50 years academics, film-makers and authors are much more interested.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Roots of the "Salem Tradition"

I was looking through my comments today, and lo and behold, eyeliner-abuser and "World's Most Famous Warlock" Christian Day himself has made an appearance!

Now I sometimes go back and forth on whether or not I should be bashing fellow magical practitioners, no matter how ridiculous their wardrobes and makeup happen to be. There are a couple of reasons for this, most importantly that there are so few people in the magical community that infighting can prove especially problematic. As an example of this, I think of the Thelemic community, which throughout the 1980's and into the 1990's flamed itself over who the "real OTO" was instead of getting together and doing anything productive.

So I was gratified to see this comment from Christian:

What boggles my mind is that you're still talking about all this weeks and weeks after this dropped out of the news cycle. I just love that I can inspire you. I wish I could say the same about you, but all this prattle has done is made me want to talk about me more. :)

Apparently he likes all the publicity, and I know I like all the LOLs. So now my mind is at ease.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13th Unlucky For Blogger

Well, technically it started on Thursday the 12th, but as Blogger was down more than half of today and so far three of my posts haven't been restored I'm going to ascribe it to the old superstition anyway. Now, it so happens that as a software developer I'm incredibly paranoid about relying on cloud computing and back up my posts to text files so the articles can't be lost, but at this point I'm still not sure whether I'll need to repost them. They disappeared, then reappeared briefly, and are now gone again.

So is there any evidence that unlucky things happen on Friday the 13th, aside from the far too many sequels that have been made about a certain hockey-mask-wearing machete-wielding maniac? According to this Slate article at least one study has tentatively concluded yes, though as usual with anything paranormal the sample size is too small and there are a number of other variables that could be in play besides the date.

It turns out there is one reputable study that has tried to assess whether or not luck actually does go bad on Friday the 13th. (I'm not sure which is more surprising: that someone actually spent time researching this or that I could find only one such study. This is, after all, a world that has studied even how chewing gum distributes saliva around the mouth.) The 1993 study, published in the British Medical Journal, compared hospital admissions for traffic accidents on a Friday the 13th with those on a Friday the 6th in a community outside London. Despite a lower highway traffic volume on the 13th than on the 6th, admissions for traffic accident victims increased 52 percent on the 13th. "Friday the 13th is unlucky for some," the authors concluded. "Staying at home is recommended." How you escape the bad luck at home they didn't explain.

At any rate, remember when I said in my last site update that I wasn't moving Augoeides to Wordpress? This outage has me reconsidering, except that I would still have to move about 500 articles over and that's a serious pain. If anyone knows a good way to do it automatically feel free to let me know in comments, but otherwise I'm not going to just abandon everything I've posted here and start over even though I'm none too happy with Google's service at the moment.

UPDATE (3:50 PM): The Witchcraft Heights post showed up at 3:10 PM. As of 3:50 PM I've officially given up and reposted the last two missing articles. Since neither had any comments I figured there was no point in waiting any longer.

Platform of Skulls Unearthed in India

Christian Day's magical skull "Robert" has been a source of much amusement around the blogosphere ever since his group of "warlock-craft" practitioners posted their awful binding ritual on YouTube. But all laughter aside, skulls do play an important role in many systems of magick from around the world. An apparent example of this was recently discovered at an archaeological site in India. There many skulls were found intentionally buried close together forming what appears to be some sort of platform, which suggests they were placed that way for use in some sort of magical ceremony.

Prof. R M Shadaksharaiah of the department of history and archaeology in Karnatak University told `The Times of India' on Tuesday that irrespective of the carbon-14 tests determining the period of the burial of skulls, the reason for such arranged burial was witchcraft.

He pointed out that the lower jaw and the rib cage were missing. "Skulls were placed systematically, just like tiles on a floor. The manner in which they were kept clearly suggests it to be a platform of skulls made purposefully for performing some black magic or ritual," he said.

I'm not familiar with the various Indian systems of magick appropriate to the period in which the skull platform was constructed, but I imagine that casting a spell while standing upon it would have been suitably impressive. In fact, that reminds me of this hilarious article by Lionel Snell on "Over-The-Top-Occultism" or OTTO.

When the 70's occultist says "there's no point in using a silver censer when a coffee tin serves just as well", the OTTO initiate replies "there's no point in using a coffee tin when a 800 year old human skull looted from the ruins of a Mexican temple serves just as well."

Words to live by, those.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Magnetic Personality

If recent reports from Croatia can be believed, X-Men's Magneto may have some competition in about twenty years or so. Six-year-old Ivan Stoiljkovic seems to have the ability to magnetize his body to the extent that he can stick metal objects to his skin, including some that are relatively heavy.

When he takes off his shirt the youngster is able to stick metallic objects such as spoons, mobile phones and even frying pans to his body.

In total, his family says, he can carry up to 25kg of metal stuck to his torso.

The Soviets did some research on body magnetization back in the 1970's and considered it a paranormal power, but I've never heard of anyone who could do it with objects much heavier than a spoon or fork. Most skeptics believe that those cases involved people with oilier than usual skin that became slightly sticky when in contact with metal, but cooking pans are probably too heavy for that explanation to be plausible in this case. Ivan also is said to have some sort of psychic healing ability, though whether or not it's related to his "magnetism" is not clear.

According to his family Ivan has also used his 'healing' hands to alleviate his grandfather's stomach pains and take away the pain of a neighbour who hurt his leg in a tractor accident.

Ivo, Ivan's grandfather, said when his grandson laid his hands on his stomach they became extremely hot and the pain simply went away.

If that wasn't enough, Ivan, it is also claimed, is much stronger than other children his age and is able to easily carry bags of cement as heavy as 50lbs.

In Qigong someone with especially high levels of Qi might be able to do all of these things, so maybe that's what's going on here. I would love to see Ivan under a brain scanner while he's using his abilities - that is, if they wouldn't mess up the magnetic resonance.

No New Name for "Witchcraft Heights"

It would seem that Salem, Massachusetts' Witchcraft Heights Elementary School won't be getting a new name. As I mentioned back in March, School Committee member James Fleming had proposed renaming the school after former City Councilor Leonard O'Leary who passed away in 2007.

The Witchcraft Heights Elementary School will keep its name after School Committee member James Fleming withdrew his proposal to rename the school after former City Councilor Leonard O'Leary.

Instead, the ball fields at the school will be named in O'Leary's honor and a photo of O'Leary, who represented Ward 4 for 25 years until his death in 2007, will be placed in the school's lobby.

The School Committee unanimously approved Fleming's revised proposal at its meeting on Monday night.

Fleming had originally requested renaming the school building after O'Leary, a champion of public education, because it is located in O'Leary's ward.

Fleming also said the name "Witchcraft" might be misconstrued.

As I also pointed out in my March article, Fleming is apparently an idiot because it sounds like he believed that unless the name was changed people were going to think the school was Harry Potter's Hogwarts or something.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A "Celestial Summit Meeting"

During this month five of the seven ancient planets, excluding only the Sun and Saturn, will be involved in an unusual series of astrological conjunctions. Conjunctions are generally considered positive aspects and both benefics are involved, so hopefully the rest of the month will be characterized by good fortune and generally beneficial outcomes. This series of aspects starts today.

During this month of May, four bright planets will engage in a fascinating dance with each other in the morning sky.

Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will be involved in a series of conjunctions, joined at the end of the month by a very thin, waning crescent moon. We could even refer to this as a "celestial summit meeting," or more precisely, a series of summit meetings during May 2011.

In magical terms Mercury corresponds to the sphere of Hod, splendor, the realm of mental activity. Venus corresponds to the sphere of Netzach, victory, the realm of passionate emotions, and is also referred to in astrology as the lesser benefic. Mars represents the sphere of Geburah, severity, the realm of will and power, and is also referred to in astrology as the lesser malefic due to its harsh nature. Jupiter corresponds to the sphere of Chesed, mercy, the realm of universal love and fortune, and is also referred to in astrology as the greater benefic.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

India Has the Right Idea

One of the problems with witchcraft persecutions in many parts of the world is that the accusations themselves are not illegal. Authorities usually have to wait until violence is instigated against accused witches before they can arrest and charge anyone. A new bill in India is set to change that. In addition to criminalizing violence against accused witches, it institutes criminal penalties for the accusers as well.

According to the bill, whoever accuses or defames a woman by calling her Dayan or Dakan or Dakin, Chudail or Bhootni or Bhootdi or Chilavan or Opri or Ranndkadi or any other name or symbol suggesting her to be a witch, and accuses a woman of performing witchcraft or her performing any puja, use of mantra, tantra etc. aimed at harming any person; shall be punishable with imprisonment up to a term of three years with minimum fine of Rs 1,000 which may increased to Rs 5,000.

Furthermore, whoever, in the name of performing witchcraft or her being possessed one', uses criminal force against a woman and/or instigates or provokes others in doing so with intent to harm and/or to displace her from the house, place or the property, lawfully occupied or owned by her or to coerce her to leave the area of which she is a rightful resident or a visitor, shall be punishable with imprisonment of a term which may extend to seven years and with fine which may extend to Rs 20,000.

Besides, whoever intimidates a woman, calling her a witch and accuses her of practising witchcraft, to the extent that the woman is forced to commit suicide shall be punishable with imprisonment of a term of five years which may extend to 10 years with minimum fine of Rs 25,000 which may extend to Rs 50,000.

This is an idea that needs to catch on anywhere that accused witches are still being executed by angry mobs, since clearly those accusations put lives in danger. Here's hoping that the bill passes and helps put a stop to this nonsense.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Not Jesus Enough

About a month ago Rob posted a very long article presenting his take on the laws, rules, and rights of magick. I'm planning on eventually writing a detailed response, but one of the points he makes refers to the "Law of Repeatable Achievements" and includes the following example:

For instance if we assume that the resurrection of Christ were true, that would mean that it is possible for a person to resurrect themselves from the dead. The fact that Christ managed to achieve that accomplishment proves that it is achievable. Furthermore Christ’s resurrection can not be a one-time event. Well it could be if he’s the only person who ever resurrects himself, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The resurrection was not something that could only occur once at one specific time during the entire history of the universe. The resurrection is a repeatable action.

I basically agree with this as I consider Jesus an advanced mystic and magician rather than the uniquely created Son of God, meaning that his level of realization could in theory be achieved by another spiritual practitioner. The only caveat regarding the resurrection is that we don't know for sure if Jesus really rose from the dead. A number of scholars think that aspect of the Jesus story was adopted from other "dying and reborn god" myths such as those of Mithras and Dionysus.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Are You Rapture-Ready?

We're coming down to the final stretch, folks! As I mentioned back in January, radio evangelist Harold Camping has predicted that the Apocalypse will begin on May 21st - two weeks from today. At that time the Rapture will take place, during which all good Christians will mysteriously be taken up into Heaven. The world will then end in October months before the much-vaunted 2012 even has a chance to get rolling.

This week Camping's followers arrived in Washington, DC to proclaim the "awesome news" that the world is ending. They keep using that word, but I don't think it means what they think it means.

The unexpected and potentially rotten news that the world will end on May 21 rolled into the District on Thursday morning, plastered on a caravan of five recreational vehicles that parked near the Washington Monument.

“Have you heard the awesome news?” the side of the RVs asked, in big bold letters. “The End of the World is Almost Here!”

As if the message weren’t scary enough, the dozen or so occupants of the RVs — vanguard of a national campaign funded by a fundamentalist Christian radio network and fueled by bus ads and Internet buzz — wore highlighter-bright yellow shirts that said “Earthquake So Mighty, So Great.” They offered pedestrians handouts saying there was “ marvelous proof” that “Holy God will bring judgment day on May 21, 2011.”

The Rapture, they warned, is upon us.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Austrian Deacon's Supermarket Ministry

Following the lead of banks that have been opening branches in grocery stores over the course of the last decade, an Austrian deacon is touring the western province of the country offering free spiritual counseling to shoppers at local markets.

Deacon Willi Holzhammer is touring the Alpine province of Tyrol each Saturday and setting up his service for shoppers.

The retired computer specialist already runs a page on social networking site Facebook where followers can "Ask Willi" for advice.

"Personal encounters are just another step," Holzhammer said in a press release from Catholic news agency Kathpress.

His supermarket service will run for five weeks and be held at different towns in the western province.

So social media is apparently only the first step. Then religious services will be moving on from Facebook to your local the grocery store. While I can see where shoppers who might otherwise have trouble making it church would appreciate a service like this and I wish Deacon Holzhammer well, I have to say that it does kind of undermine one's sense of religious awe to be receiving spiritual wisdom and insight right next to the checkout line.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Worst. Ritual. Ever.

Salem, Massachusetts is an odd place. The town is famous because a bunch of innocent people were mistaken for witches and executed there in 1692. So its fame derives from the killing of fake witches, not the presence of real ones. If you were looking for a town in which you might find the genuine article based solely on history, Salem wouldn't be it. Despite this, the city has transformed itself into perhaps the largest witchcraft-themed tourist trap on the entire planet over the last several decades.

Judging from the recent events surrounding the hexing of Charlie Sheen, it's clear to me that despite the executions all those years ago plenty of the town's fake witches never left. In fact, they appear to have founded their own fake tradition, in which effective spell-casting takes a back seat to looking spooky, wandering around in Renaissance Festival attire, and dredging up all the free tabloid press coverage and tourist dollars they can muster.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Two-Headed Tortoise New Psychic Star

Still mourning the death of Paul the psychic octopus? Desperate for paranormal visions of who will win upcoming ice hockey matches? It turns out that the solution to both of these issues is simpler than anyone would have imagined - just find yourself a two-headed tortoise!

Magdalena, an African spurred tortoise from the Slovakian town of Zilina, was born with two heads following a genetic defect.

She will try to repeat the success of prediction supremo Paul who managed to guess the outcome of eight different World Cup football games last year.

Instead of football the double-headed animal will be picking winning teams in a number of ice hockey matches for the 75th world tournament.

The little tortoise's first attempt at predicting winners turned out to be correct and her owner Roma Gresak is hopeful she will be carry on her success.

She makes her predictions by moving around a small model of an ice hockey rink.

Reptiles like tortoises aren't nearly as intelligent as octopi, so something other than smarts is most likely going on here. But in the context of recent discussion in the magical blogosphere about the role of the nervous system in producing magical and psychic phenomena, apparently Magdalena provides some evidence that two brains really are better than one - at least if you happen to be a tortoise.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Witch Blood?"

One of the concepts that has endured in the magical tradition for a long time is that enhanced magical aptitude can be inherited. This inheritance is often refered to as "witch blood" or something similar. Coming from a "family tradition" is a mark of distinction in some parts of the magical community, but at the same time the idea is strongly opposed in the New Age traditions inspired by the New Thought movement. Those traditions teach that anyone can get magical effects at the same level if they can learn to think about their lives and the universe in the proper way. According to their model inheritance and genetics don't enter into the picture at all.

It always has struck me that working magick should be no different than any other human ability - that is, there's a component that's genetic along with a component that's environmental. Professional athletes, for example, have to possess a great deal of natural talent to be able to perform at an elite level and generally come from families sharing some of that talent. At the same time, if they want to be able to put it to good use they need to work hard developing it as they are growing up. And even once they make it to the professional level, without constant training and exercise their performance will suffer and their talent will effectively go to waste. Just about every other skill a person can develop works much the same way.

The "witch blood" idea, however, suggests a genetic link that is much stronger than that found in athletics or really any other field of endeavor. Among some proponents the condition is treated as either/or much as in the Harry Potter universe you are either a wizard or a "muggle" with no awareness of or power to work magick, though it's hard to say whether the idea comes from fantasy writers like J.K. Rowling or from some legitimate spiritual tradition. While it's important to keep in mind that over the span of human history only a small percentage of people have ever been magicians - a tribe of 30 to 50 people, for example would probably only have one shaman or medicine man - this should not be taken to imply that everyone else in such a tribe would have had no magical gifts at all. Rather, it seems more likely to me that the magick-worker was simply the most talented member of the group while the others possessed varying lesser degrees of aptitude.

Monday, May 2, 2011

New Research on Gamma Brainwaves and Perception

I found this article yesterday over on Flight of Hermes, and it simply is awesome. It summarizes several scientific studies relating gamma brainwaves (the highest frequency, ranging from 30 to 200hz) to how the brain processes and perceives information. As it is written in academic language I'm guessing it's a little confusing to anyone without a background in experimental psychology or neuroscience, so I'm going to go ahead and offer a "translation" and relate it back to my earlier post on Information and Energy. As I discuss in that article, I believe that these high-frequency brainwaves are an important part of not just how we perceive information, but also how we can perform effective magical operations.

In the last two decades advances in neuroscience and the use of electroencephalography (EEG), and magnetoencephalographic (MEG) techniques have solidified the observation that brain regions communicate by synchronizing the firing of neurons. The rhythmic input that is produced in the extracellular field potential results in brain oscillations represented by delta (0–4 Hz), theta (4–8 Hz), alpha (8–12 Hz), beta (12–30, Hz) and gamma (30–200 Hz) frequencies respectively. Previously thought to be a byproduct of waking, sleeping, and dreaming states, research in the past two decades has uncovered the possibility of these frequencies (especially those in the gamma range) representing a more causal roles in normal cognitive processes including memory, attention, perceptual binding and the experience of consciousness. Experimental data shows that gamma oscillations become highly correlated during different perceptual tasks amongst long-range neural networks which may lead to the creation of a unified field of perception.

"Extracellular field potential" means the magnetic field that is produced by the combined activity of neural cells in the brain. This is how an EEG works, by measuring fluctuations in this field through electrodes connected to the scalp. "Unified field of perception" refers to our experience of the world as a whole. When we interact with an object our mind somehow arranges our sensory inputs so that what we experience is a sort of internal model of that object as a whole. "Perceptual binding" is the name given to the process by which the brain combines the various inputs together to create this model. The term "long-range neural networks" refers to areas of the brain that are not directly adjacent to one another but nonetheless communicate back and forth.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy May Day 2011!

One of the things I love about living in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis is the annual May Day Parade organized by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. Every year Twin Cities artists design and build puppets, floats, and costumes according to a different theme and march down Bloomington Avenue through South Minneapolis. The parade ends in Powderhorn Park right up the street from my house, where a ceremony is performed welcoming the return of the Sun, which is rowed across Powderhorn Lake from the island to the main stage area. The parade has been going on every year since 1975 and draws approximately 35,000 people. There aren't a lot of neighborhoods in the country that have anything quite that Pagan going on from year-to-year, let alone for such a huge and relatively mainstream crowd.

The parade always happens on the first Sunday in May after weeks of preparation, this year falling today on the 1st. That's the earliest in the season that it can ever happen and we've had a colder-than-usual spring, so it was no surprise that today was a pretty cold day for a parade. Some years, generally when the parade falls later, the weather can be quite warm, almost summer-like. But regardless of the temperature the parade goes on and crowds show up to see it. We have an open house every year for the parade since we live so close to the park, and our house provided some needed respite from the cold.