Thursday, June 30, 2011

CONvergence Weekend 2011

I've been posting at a pretty good clip so far this month, but over the holiday weekend I'll be at CONvergence, the Twin Cities' largest fantasy and science fiction convention. I've been attending since the beginning, and even though I'm in no way, shape, or form a bestselling author it's still a good feeling to have gotten to the point where I can talk about my own work in addition to how much I like the work of others.

CONvergence is an annual convention for fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy in all media, held each July. We are a 4-day event with more than 4,500 attendees, and the premiere event of our kind in the upper mid-west.

We offer everything you expect and more from a major science fiction convention, delivered with that unique CONvergence style. You can read about all the things there are to do at CONvergence in the ACTIVITIES section at left, as well as amenities like ConSuite and the CoF2E2 Free Coffee Shop in the HOSPITALITY section.

This year's convention theme is TOMORROW THROUGH THE PAST, a celebration of yesterday's visions of tomorrow, and you can expect that theme to run through many of the panels, parties and costumes to be found at CONvergence this year.

While I enjoy the convention and would go regardless, this is also one of those cases in which an author's work is never done. I'll be promoting my novel, selling signed copies, and letting folks who are interested in the subject know about my new Enochian book that will be coming out later this year. You know, the things that in theory a publisher would do but won't unless (A) they're a huge company and (B) you're already on the New York Times Bestseller list. That's something you need to keep in mind if you're thinking about trying your hand at professional writing - don't quit your day job, especially if it's a good one. Even mid-level authors with solid but not enormous fanbases have trouble living off their earnings.

Along those lines, I recently came across this article, which while ostensively a humor piece is also quite accurate as far as my experiences as an author go. Enjoy, and I'll be back with more postings sometime next week.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ahmadinejad Calls For Iranian Witchcraft Study

Since this spring a power struggle has been going on in Iran between president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As an "Islamic republic," the structure of Iran's government is such that the power of the elected president is substantially limited and much executive authority rests with the nation's spiritual leader, Khamenei. The split between the two seems surprising, given that Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election that was reputedly wrought with irregularities. But back in May several Ahmadinejad associates were arrested and charged with using magick to further his political career.

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds".

If any of the accused were really invoking the Djinn, I'm curious how common copies of the Picatrix are in Iran. As far as I know that's the principle grimoire used for such work, though there may be other Persian or Arabic texts with which I and other Western magicians would be unfamiliar. Ahmadinejad has responded to the charges leveled by Khamenei's Guardian Council by calling for a public study on Iranian witchcraft.

One of the Council's favorite tactics is to accuse Ahmadinejad's allies of practicing black magic and witchcraft. Ahmadinejad has responded by backing a public study of these practices in Iran, apparently in the belief that this will implicate some Islamic conservatives, or at least provide more exposure of the fiscal corruption so common in the families of senior clergy.

While I recognize that backing the study has strong political ramifications for Ahmadinejad's career, I hope this is more than a stunt and will lead to some genuine research. At least according to folklore, there is a long tradition of magick in the Middle East that remains largely hidden and I would love to take a look at an objective academic analysis of its inner workings. It also makes me wonder - does Iran's Guardian Council use magick for its own ends? If so, how far back does it go? Magical assistance would certainly help to explain some of the events surrounding the 1978 Iranian revolution.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More Christian Cluelessness

I continue to be amazed at how many self-proclaimed Christians don't seem to understand that minding one's own business is a civic virtue. It's disappointing to say the least, because the fact is that the vast majority of Christians in the world do get it and the ones that don't give the others a bad name. It also doesn't help that it's the bad apples who yell the loudest, so they tend to get the most press. There's the guy who decided that stealing a sign from an occult shop and leading police on a dangerous car chase through town was somehow God's will. There's the store manager who was apparently incapable of explaining that his store didn't carry Harry Potter toys without accusing anybody who wanted to buy them of "teaching children evil." And then there are these folks who are apparently bent on harrassing a woman who runs a witchcraft shop in Devon, England.

Nikki Kitchen, who practises witchcraft and runs White Trinity Witch in Plymouth, said Pro-Christian leaflets were pushed through the door.

Anonymous handwritten notes have also been delivered to the shop.

Ms Kitchen previously had to stop running a stall in Plymouth's indoor market because of abusive comments.

Ms Kitchen said: "Churchgoers think we're the spawn of Satan.

"It's been quite harsh and heavy but you've got to laugh it off."

While Kitchen has a point that a few leaflets and letters aren't the end of the world, it does make me wonder how severe the harrassment was that forced her to stop running her stall. Beyond that it's really the cluelessness that gets me about these pampleteers. I genuinely think this guy has no comprehension that there's anything wrong or offensive or incoherent about his comments.

Dr Theodore Danson-Smith who runs a company which distributes leaflets like Ms Kitchen received, told BBC Radio Devon: "We don't sell any hate mail whatsoever.

"It's not hate mail, it's telling the way of salvation.

"Any witchcraft shop is working for Satan not for God."

He said he did not know which Christian group had posted the leaflets, which are entitled "The Beast" and written in comic book form, through Mrs Kitchen's door.

Hey, I recognize that! It's a Jack Chick tract, and you can see it for yourself here. And as far as Danson-Smith comments go, what more can I add? "Oh, it's not hate mail. All we're saying is that these people are evil and need to be stopped." Nice. As a matter of fact, that's pretty much the definition of hate mail, moron. While I know that neither this guy nor the tract pushers are about to take a clue from me, I'll offer one anyway. When Jesus instructed his followers to spread the "Good News" he was not telling them to initiate campaigns of harrassment against anyone who didn't share their beliefs.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Worst Psychic Ever Has Competition

As I've noted previously, bad psychics abound. Some such individuals are confidence artists, while others may be dangerously delusional. In the Texas case an inept psychic called in a police tip that led to a full-scale search of a property on which she claimed many dismembered bodies were buried. Then last week, a "message from God" prompted another would-be psychic to tell an airport worker in Dayton, Ohio that there was a bomb on board a flight en route to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC. This led to the grounding of all flights at Reagan National while the TSA investigated. As you can probably guess from my headline, nothing dangerous or even out of the ordinary was found.

No explosives were found aboard the jet that flew from Dayton International Airport to Reagan, but the threat shut down the airport near Washington for about 20 minutes, the FBI said.

The woman approached a US Airways ticket agent in Dayton about midday Sunday, said Terrence Slaybaugh, director of the Dayton International Airport.

"She communicated to the agent that there was a bomb on board and that people were in danger and they needed to turn the plane around — that people were going to be killed," Slaybaugh told The Associated Press on Monday.

The 54-year-old woman from Shelbyville, Ky., was immediately taken into custody, he said.

She later told police she had received the message about the bomb from God, Slaybaugh said. That explanation was first reported by the Dayton Daily News on Monday.

The woman, whose name was not released, remained at a mental health facility Monday, FBI officials said. She has a history of mental health problems, Slaybaugh said.

All things considered I'm guessing that the Texas psychic is likely still the winner as far as overall badness goes, since the two separate searches in that case probably cost more in terms of time and manpower than a twenty minute grounding, even at a large airport like Reagan National. In addition, she gets some extra points for falsely accusing an innocent family of mass murder. Still, the Ohio psychic can always try again with an even more fanciful prediction, and I'm guessing that once she's out of the unnamed mental health facility she probably will.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Return of Noah's Ark

For centuries explorers have search the area around Mount Ararat in Turkey looking for signs of Noah's Ark, which according to the Bible came to rest on the mountain after the waters receded from the great flood. In recent times various odd artifacts have been found in the region that might have once been part of a ship, but the vast majority of them have turned out to be either hoaxes or not nearly old enough to have come from the Ark. Now Johan Huibers has decided he will wait no longer. Prompted by dreams of a flood, he has spent the last three years building a seaworthy replica of the massive boat.

A doomsday dream about massive flooding prompted Dutch man Johan Huibers to build a huge Noah's Ark, which he plans to float down London's River Thames ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Johan, the head of a construction company in the town of Dordrecht in the western Netherlands, started work on the 100-yard long, four-storey tall ship three years ago after a night-time vision that came to him some 20 years ago.

'I dreamed that a part of Holland was flooded,' the 60-year-old explained to NBC's Today Show in the US. 'The next day, I get the idea to build an ark.'

True to the Book of Genesis' tale of Noah, 'Johan's Ark' features life-size replicas of animals - including pairs of faux giraffes, zebras, cows and donkeys, and an elephant that cost $11,000. There are also live chickens on board.

Currently sitting in a shipyard, the vessel - which Johan insists is seaworthy - is 300 cubits in length, 30 cubits high and 50 cubits wide. Cubits are the ancient measure denoting an arm’s length, elbow to fingertip - or approximately 18 inches.

Pictures of the new Ark, shown above, look quite impressive and demonstrate that not only has Huibers done a great job in following the instructions from the Book of Genesis, but also that those Biblical instructions appear to produce a real ship. My only question for Huibers concerns the dream from more than twenty years ago that led to his interest in building the Ark. Holland is below sea level. Isn't some part of the country always flooding?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

James Arthur Ray Guilty in Sweat Lodge Deaths

Back in March James Arthur Ray, a New Age guru who teaches a New Thought methodology similar to "The Secret," went on trial for the 2009 deaths of three students during a sweat lodge ceremony he conducted in Sedona, Arizona. Last Wednesday the jury returned its verdict, finding Ray guilty on three counts of negligent homicide.

Prosecutors argued that the lodge, made of willow trees and branches and covered with tarpaulins and blankets, was heated to a perilously high temperature, causing the participants to suffer dehydration and heatstroke. They also said Ray didn't monitor the temperature inside the lodge or the well-being of participants and was indifferent to those clearly having trouble.

Ray's lawyers countered that what happened was a tragic accident, not a crime. They asked witnesses who were in the sweat lodge whether they signed a release form warning them of the dangers. All replied that they signed, but some said they didn't read the form.

Ray's attorneys also suggested that exposure to an unknown toxin in the lodge -- perhaps a pesticide, rat poison or something in the type of wood used to heat the rocks -- could have caused the deaths.

The idea of a pesticide or poison being involved in these deaths is a novel theory, but anyone who has studied forensics knows that when a person is poisoned there's almost always some trace left behind. Rat poison in particular is easy to detect by forensic methods, as it's a readily available household chemical that is nonetheless strong enough to be used as a murder weapon. Pesiticides tend to build up in the body as well, so it's hard to imagine how any of those could kill and then drop to undetectable levels by the time the bodies were autopsied.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thoughts on Rob's Rights of Magick

The third section of Rob's article on the laws, rules, and rights of magick deals with what he calls "rights," which he defines as a special subset of magical rules. Generally speaking, like the rules discussed in the previous section these are treated as functional rather than ethical. That is, they are largely defined in terms of what can or can't be done rather than what's right or wrong in any abstract sense.

Rights are kind of like rules, in fact I’d classify them as a specific type of rule. First off magical rights, like civil rights or any other kind of right, is something that you are granted by virtue of existing. Sometimes you may have to meet some other criteria, such as being incarnate in this world or being the first spirit to possess the body you’re currently residing in, but for the most part these rights are fairly easy to obtain. Unlike civil rights though these rights are not granted by some higher government authority, they can’t be taken away by that higher authority, and you don’t have to go to court to defend them.

As a Thelemite I follow Aleister Crowley's Liber OZ in terms of what I consider to be my rights as an individual. While OZ articulates these rights in a manner that imply nearly total freedom, there are several caveats that must be kept in mind. First of all, nothing in the text should be taken to imply freedom from the consquences of one's actions. Second of all, the panoply of rights detailed in OZ apply to everyone, not just me, in a universal fashion.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoughts on Rob's Rules of Magick

The second section of Rob's article on the laws, rules, and right of magick deals with what he calls "magical rules," which he treats as similar to laws except that they are neither as strong nor as universal. As I noted yesterday in the first article of this series, the "laws" of magick tend to be probabilistic rather than deterministic, so another way to think about these two classifications might be as "strong rules" versus "weak rules" or something similar.

Rule of Spatial Distance

The Rule of Spatial Distance states that despite appearances, ‘every point in the universe is right next to every other point’. Right away there are some obvious problems with this rule.

First off this rule contradicts the Law of Attraction. The Law of Attraction tells us that different things are in different locations, and that the location a thing inhabits is based on its qualities and the other things it is attracted to.

Secondly the rule contradicts what we know of physics. We know that location is a real thing. We know that spatial distances are real and they exist, and they have a very real effect on us. We don’t have to worry about accidentally walking into the sun, because it’s not going to happen.

A better way to state this rule might be as follows: magical links do not depend on spatial distance, at least at any scale with which we are familiar. It might be that there is some sort of distance limitation that could preclude, say, psychic contact with alien magicians on a world orbiting a distant star, but in practice a link's power is independent of any distance that I've been able to observe. So in a magical sense linked objects are "close together" regardless of where they are in space.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thoughts on Rob's Laws of Magick

A while back Rob put up a post on the laws, rules, and rights of magick. As his article is 33 pages in PDF format a commentary on the entire thing is going to be lengthier than I would like, so I'm going to break it up into three parts. This first one consists of my comments on Rob's first section, the Laws of Magick. I also recently posted another article dealing with the types of magical links, which is a more detailed treatment of the Laws of Opposites, Contagion, and Similarity.

The Law of Attraction

The law of attraction is stated as “like attracts like”, and sometimes with the corollary “and dissimilar things repel,” which, as we’ll discuss, is redundant.

This law is the basis of New Thought and was recently repackaged and popularized as "The Secret." Rob brings up several excellent points about the Law of Attraction that I haven't seen elsewhere. He notes two key nuances which help to explain why this law does not work as well as many of its adherents claim - that "like attracts like" doesn't mean "like attracts same" and that it is not necessarily correct to think that the more similarities two things share the stronger their attraction will be. These nuances make a lot of sense and reflect a more sophisticated understanding of the law than one usually finds in popular expositions of it.

There's another point regarding the Law of Attraction, and in fact most other magical laws, that needs to be added here. Magical laws are statistical, not deterministic. In other words, similar things are more likely to attract each other than dissimilar things, but that doesn't mean dissimilar things will never be attracted to each other. Furthermore, in my experience some magicians have the ability to produce stronger probability shifts than others. This does not seem to be related to the content of their thoughts but rather some physical, neurological, and/or bioenergetic factor.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Zombies Strike Unprepared Leicester

This is exactly what I warned them about. Last week the English city of Leicester admitted in response to a Freedom of Information request that it had no plan in place for dealing with a zombie outbreak. As if to mock the town's lack of preparation, over the weekend a horde of the undead abominations converged upon the city's civic offices.

Robert Ainsley, the self-described 'concerned citizen' who submitted the aforementioned letter to Leicester council, had stated simply: 'Having watched several films it is clear that preparation for such an event is poor and one that councils throughout the kingdom must prepare for.

'Can you please let us know what provisions you have in place in the event of a zombie invasion?'

Representatives for the authority replied to him with an admission that they have no specific references to the living dead in their emergency plans, though they noted that the inquiry had made them chuckle.

As news of the correspondence spread across Facebook and the social networking sphere in general, James Dixon took it upon himself to organise Saturday's 'invasion'.

It saw 'a small gathering for friends' expand as dozens of 'zombies' gathered at Leicester's clock tower and shuffled half a mile from there to the civic offices.

The undead then pressed themselves up against the HQ as passer-by Chris Porter filmed the event before uploading the results to YouTube.

Fortunately this was only a prank and the zombification in question was neither contagious nor permanent. But it serves as a warning to all who dare to dismiss the zombie threat portrayed in popular films as mere fiction.

Jason Miller posted recently asking whether or not his next book should be on "zombie sorcery," citing the recent popularity of the walking dead. Personally, while I appreciate the groundbreaking horror films of George Romero, the director and screenwriter most responsible for the modern zombie mythos, I have to admit that for the most part I don't really get the appeal. Maybe zombies really are the new werewolves - I never understood the appeal of those either.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cursed Lawyer Reincarnated as Stray Dog

At least, that's the inexplicable claim made by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish court in Jerusalem, which is reported to have sentenced the dog to death by stoning for disrupting the court's proceedings.

The four-legged criminal came to the attention of the Monetary Affairs Court in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, when it wandered in off the street.

After 'terrorising' judges and plaintiffs it then refused to leave the court - sparking a bizarre theory that it was the reincarnation of a lawyer who had insulted the court 20 years previously.

During the lawyer's tirade, the court became so enraged it cursed him so he would come back in another life as a dog.

I was under the impression that in the Western monotheistic religions reincarnation was not generally considered a possibility after death except in a few unusual cases and even then always as another human. While Buddhism and Hinduism teach that people can be reborn as animals, I wasn't aware that any of the existing sects of Judaism held the same belief. It seems I was wrong.

Canines are considered impure by traditional Judaism, but with the curse supposedly coming back to haunt the court the only punishment seen fit was for local children to stone the creature to death.

Local website Ynet reported that 'Let the Animals Live', an animal welfare organisation, had filed a complaint with the police against the head of the court, Rabbi Avraham Dov Levin.

However, he denies the sentence was ordered.

Either way, the lucky pooch got away with it (whatever 'it' was) - he evaded capture and continues to roam free.

I suppose we'll have to wait and see if anyone spots the dog chasing an ambulance to find out whether or not it used to be a disreputable lawyer.

UPDATE: This story is apparently a hoax. So I guess that means I was right after all to find it odd that this purported Jewish sect believed people could be reincarnated as animals. I've never seen that in any of the Kabbalistic material I've studied, even those that include reincarnation. Anyway, I've added the "humor" tag because hoax or not, it still is funny.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tiger Woods Never Did Get That Sorcerer

I remain convinced that the world of professional sports still fails to appreciate the power of practical magick, at least here in the United States. At soccer matches, especially in Africa, stories keep showing up about players making attempts to use magick against their opponents or predict the outcome of matches. The world of American sports, though, seems pretty much oblivious to all this aside from the well-known fact that professional athletes can be quite superstitious about things that in reality have little magical bearing on their performance.

The reason that magick has so much potential in the sporting world is simple - there is no such thing as a bad professional athlete. The number of people who can compete at that level is so tiny that anyone who can do it at all is going to be unbelievably good compared to just about anyone on the planet besides another professional player. The old saying goes that football is game of inches, but so is every other sport and the gap between success and failure is incredibly narrow. The manipulation of probabilities is tailor-made for such a situation, and exploiting that power can create the tiny, invisible edge that makes a good player great. Like Tiger Woods. Or at least the athlete that Tiger Woods used to be.

Watching Tiger was a fantasy. What would it be like to be so talented and successful and handsome and rich? What would it be like to have such a beautiful wife, to be so good that your bad shots go in, to be cracking up at jokes an hour before your tee time in the final round of a U.S. Open you're bound to win? And, short of being Tiger Woods his own self, what would it be like to be an insider to all of that? We could only guess.

All that seems like a long time ago. Tiger Woods is not playing in the U.S. Open this week. Do you care?

Awhile back I wrote about the "First Church of Tiger Woods," which disbanded following the news of Woods' extramarital affairs. After his loss at the 2010 Masters I made a prediction - large numbers of people praying for Tiger were previously giving him a paranormal advantage that he exploited to become the top golfer in the world, and without those prayers his performance had declined and would continue to do so. That prediction has proved correct, but nonetheless at the time I never would have guessed that following the collapse of his "Church" Woods would never win another major tournament.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Badass Lasers?

Some days it seems like every single Hollywood movie presents magick as a power that first and foremost lets you emit beams of laser light from your fingertips. So far I've never met an occultist who could accomplish that particular feat using spells or any other magical technique. However, two Harvard scientists, Malte Gather and Seok-Hyun Yun, have recently managed to get one step closer to doing it using the power of advanced bioengineering.

For the experiment in question, Gather and Yun engineered cells from a human kidney to produce a molecule called green fluorescent protein. GFP is the compound that allows certain species of jellyfish to naturally glow under water (a process called "bioluminescence"). The Harvard researchers triggered the fluorescent phenomenon in GFP-engineered cells by shooting low-energy pulses of blue light at them. And, by positioning the cells between two microscopic mirrors, they were able to harness the resulting light, "amplifying the emission from the GFP to a coherent green beam." A laser beam.

Beyond the immediate "wow" factor at play, bio-lasers have myriad potential benefits, according to Gather and Yun. For one: Researchers could learn far more about the composition of living cells by lighting them, organically, from the inside out. Additionally, while normal lasers typically degenerate over time, these engineered cells could continually manufacture the GFP molecule, in effect becoming "self-healing lasers." And -- venturing even further into the realm traditionally reserved for science fiction -- bio-lasers could play a major role in allowing people to control electronics with their brains. (Gather calls this a "direct human-to-machine interface.")

Maybe most promising, however: the Harvard physicists say that the technology could be used to help destroy cancer. While lasers are already used in certain treatments to battle malignant tumors, the ability to aggressively and precisely target cancerous cells from deep within the affected body tissue -- using bio-lasers -- would represent a major breakthrough in oncology.

None of this, by the way, means you're any closer to shooting laser beams from your eyes.

The thing is, that last statement is where the article gets it wrong. Now that we know how to engineer kidney cells to produce laser-emitting proteins, there's no reason that we couldn't do the same thing with cells in the eye. And while tiny individual eye cells each producing its own laser light is a far cry from the sort of comic book eye lasers that can be used as effective weapons, you have to admit such weapons are at least not quite as far off as they were before this breakthrough.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Harold Camping Recovering From Stroke

False Rapture prophet Harold Camping reportly suffered a stroke last Thursday after his regular Family Radio broadcast and is now recovering at a California hospital. In my most recent article on Camping I accused him of being a confidence artist, and while I have enough compassion to wish him a quick recovery it doesn't change my assessment of his ministry or his methods. With his false predictions he exploited the beliefs of his followers in order to raise millions of dollars, more than he could ever have spent on advertising, and hoodwinked the most devout into working as unpaid press agents for his organization.

The Christian Post spoke with Camping's wife Shirley on Sunday who confirmed the radio evangelist is recovering well and that the stroke was a minor one. She refused to provide any other details about his condition.

When The Christian Post visited Camping’s home in Alameda, Calif., Sunday, a woman claiming to be Camping’s wife, Shirley, answered the door but never revealed her face.

Asked about Camping’s condition, the presumed Mrs. Camping reported to CP, “He is doing very well – not a serious stroke at all!”

Mrs. Camping didn’t reveal which hospital her husband was admitted to. But asked if he was still in the hospital, she responded, “The hospital doesn’t allow people in. So, I can’t tell you. Alright?”

She also said she has “no idea” when Camping would be released from the hospital, commenting “that’s too soon.”

Some have speculated that the stroke may have been divine retribution for the infamous false Rapture prophecy, but the fact is that Camping is 89 years old and minor strokes are relatively common in men his age. His wife strikes me as unusually evasive, but then I'm sure that donating millions of dollars to the Family Radio Ministry and watching the prophecy fail has probably inspired a lot of hard feelings among members of his audience. That's not even taking into account his most devoted listeners who walked away from their regular lives and spent so much time and energy spreading the word, all for nothing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Casting Off the Clown Shoes

I recently commented on an article discussing the possibility that the City Council of Salem, Massachusetts may consider imposing new regulations limiting the number of psychic and witchcraft-related businesses. A commenter on Facebook pointed out in response that there was no real legislation on the table and what the article was reporting on was just talk and rumors. At the same time, though, there seems to be a growing movement in Salem pushing the idea that the town should be something more than a place where Halloween tourists go to see hucksters doing their best impressions of cartoon witches.

Tourism officials and business owners hope their unwitchly emphasis on other museums, sunset cruises, exceptional architecture and a rich maritime history will encourage visitors to spend more time and money in Salem.

"We estimate that tourists coming in for a day are spending about $90 per person and those tourists coming overnight are spending over $210 per person," said Kate Fox, head of the agency promoting tourism that also coordinated the latest rebranding. She said Salem sees an estimated million visitors a year.

"Tourism in Salem is a more than $99 million industry a year and when you look at all the businesses it affects, it's our largest industry in Salem, so it's very important, it's a huge piece of our economic development picture," Fox said. She said Salem has not set a target for greater tourism revenue.

This is not the first time Salem has tried to remake its image. In 2004, Salem businesses could not agree whether the new brand should lead with witchcraft or maritime history, and the process collapsed in the planning stages. In 1925, the Salem Evening News pushed for The Witch City to rebrand in an article that proposed promoting its flourishing tanneries (Blubber Hollow), shoe factories (City of Shoes) and textile industries (Where We Make Your Sheets).

Here's wishing them all the best in this new endeavor. Salem's architecture and historical sites are amazing and more people should see them. When I last visited, though, I made a point of checking out the occult stores and found them strictly second-rate. For all the witchcraft hype the town gets, the fact is that we have better shops here in Minneapolis even though there aren't nearly as many of them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cue The Theme From Highlander

For the six or so people who may have been wondering whether or not the rumors are true, Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey is out of jail and running for President in 2012!

Sharkey has been a perennial political candidate for much of the last decade, running for President in 2004 and 2008 and also for Governor of my home state of Minnesota in 2006. Previously the founder of the Vampires, Witches, and Pagans Party, the self-proclaimed Satanist, former professional wrestler and Jeb Bush associate, and reigning King of the Vampyre Nation has filed the necessary paperwork with the FEC to compete in the 2012 Republican Presidential primary. While a number of analysts have pointed out that many Republicans are unsatisfied with the current "top tier" of candidates, Sharkey's third-party runs have never attracted many votes so it's hard to see how he expects to win now.

So far I haven't seen an official website for Sharkey's 2012 campaign. His 2008 blogger site is still up but his 2004 campaign page is apparently no longer available. That's too bad, because the 2004 site was one of the most amusing political web destinations ever. The home page showed a picture of him in full vampire regalia along with the huge tagline "Behold Your Next President." And if that wasn't enough, the page would start playing the theme from Highlander as soon as it loaded, which usually prompted giggles rather than whatever emotion Sharkey was trying for. He had more special theme music for all of his subpages, adding to the site's over-the-top ambience that seemed to encapsulate both gothic angst and Renfair douchery.

One thing I will say is that the plan Sharkey outlined on his 2004 campaign website to send out small teams of "death dealers" after terrorists is remarkably similar to the recent Navy Seal mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. So the strategy apparently gets results even without Sharkey's "death dealer" music or trademark impaling stakes. With so many details of the mission classified I suppose we can't be sure whether or not anyone involved was charged with carrying theme music into battle, but I do know that the Navy Seals and for that matter all the branches of the United States Military take a dim view of impalement.

Sharkey did not compete in last night's Republican Presidential Debate in New Hampshire, so at this point it's hard to get a sense of how he stacks up against the other candidates. But the word "silly" is what immediately comes to mind.

Monday, June 13, 2011

England Unprepared For Zombie Apocalypse

When the United States Centers for Disease Control published their plan for handling a zombie apocalypse, others around the world started to think. Were their nations as prepared as the United States? This is an important, even critical question. If we are to assume that a zombie outbreak would be a worldwide phenomenon, it should go without saying that the first people to get their brains eaten will be the low-hanging fruit - that is, citizens of countries that dismiss or even mock the possible dangers right up to the end. If this report from the English city of Leicester is typical for the rest of the nation one of those countries could be the United Kingdom.

The correspondence from a worried member of the public basically outlined how lacking the city's provisions are for dealing with a zombie attack: 'Having watched several films, it is clear that preparation for such an event is poor and one that councils throughout the kingdom must prepare for.'

Signed 'Concerned Citizen', the letter continued: 'Please provide any information you may have.'

'We've had a few wacky ones before but this one did make us laugh,' Lynn Wyeth, head of information governance, told the BBC of the letter.

'To you it might seem frivolous and a waste of time... but to different people it actually means something,' she added of the information request.

'Everybody has their own interests and their own reasons for asking these questions.'

Although she granted she's unaware of specific references to zombie invasions in the council's existing emergency plans, Ms Wyeth said some elements of them could be applied if a 28 Days Later-type situation were indeed to arise.

To put it bluntly, in the face of a real zombie apocalypse it would rapidly become clear that people like Ms. Wyeth are contributing to the problem. While mass zombification is statistically unlikely, the consequences of it occurring are so extremely dire that preparations should be made. The English may feel that their island nation is protected on the grounds that since zombies don't breathe they also don't float and can't swim, but this ignores the possibility that the agent responsible for the conversion could become airborne and thus easily sweep across the Channel.

Here's calling on the British government to assemble a plan for dealing with a zombie apocalypse as the Centers for Disease Control have already done here in the States. The lives they save could very well be their own.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

God Needs a Patent

From the works of Saint Anselm to those of Thomas Aquinas religious scholars have expended a great deal of effort over the centuries trying to produce a convincing proof of the existence of God. At the same time, those of us who pursue gnostic forms of spirituality seek our own sort of proof, in the form of direct experience of the divine. Up until now, though, nobody has done so through the US Patent Office. That's what makes Chris Roller so special. You see, Chris Roller is God. Not only that, he is seeking a patent establishing his identity in a legal context, and wants the right to prevent others from making money through the use of "godly powers."

Mr Roller argues he should be the only person on the planet entitled to make money from his omnipotence – but the authorities think he is a very naughty boy rather than the Messiah.

‘Chris Roller wants exclusive rights to the ethical use and financial gain in the use of godly powers on planet Earth,’ wrote the 43-year-old former US Navy nuclear engineer in his application.

‘The commission I require could range from 0-100 per cent of product price, depending on the product’s value and use.’

Since God is supposed to be the King of Kings, I suppose this claim gives the concept of "royalties" whole new meaning.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anybody Recognize This Spell?

In the magical community necromancy usually gets a bum rap. I'm not talking about spells to conjure up the spirits of those who have passed on and converse with them, but rather the sort of necromancy that involves casting spells with dead things. Like weasels, as in this story from Hoquiam, Washington.

Police say a man was carrying a dead weasel when he burst into a Hoquiam apartment and assaulted a man.

The victim asked, "Why are you carrying a weasel?" Police said the attacker said, "It's not a weasel, it's a marten," then punched him in the nose and fled.

The attacker was apparently looking for his girlfriend and had gone to her former boyfriend's apartment Monday night where the victim was a guest.

KXRO reports he left the carcass behind.

Police later found the suspect arguing with his girlfriend at another location and arrested the 33-year-old Hoquiam man after a fight.

He said he had found the marten dead near Hoquiam, but police don't know why he carried it with him.

A marten is a member of the weasel family.

I realize that police reports can be incomplete, but I figure there can't be too many spells that make use of a deceased marten. It's a dead giveaway, so to speak. And the punching might be a ritual gesture or it might be superfluous. I'm thinking that this could be of the same family as the dreaded mutilated raccoon spell, which was unleashed at least once during the Salem witch wars of 2007. If you happen to know what this spell might be or what the caster was trying to accomplish go ahead and leave it in the comments.

And no, "prove to the world what a dumbass he is" doesn't provide me with any new insights. I already thought of that one.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Drunken Werewolf Terrorizes Campground

When Ohio deputies were called in to deal with a disturbance at a local campground they had no idea that they were about to come face to face with a vicious but completely passed-out lycanthrope with a penchant for way too much vodka. It may be that you can only kill werewolves with silver, but apparently getting them totally sloshed doesn't constitute much of a challenge.

According to an arrest report filed on the incident, Thomas Stroup, 20, of Sheffield Township, was taken into custody on May 29, 2011, around 12:30 a.m. at the Timber Ridge Campground.

Ohio Lorain County Sheriffs deputies had received a call of a man acting angrily and becoming violent with campers and animals. When deputies arrived at the scene, according to the report, they found Stroup passed out in a trailer. Deputies say Stroup smelled of alcohol and when he was eventually were able to wake him up, he began growling at them.

Stroup was placed under arrest for underage consumption and told authorities that he had blacked out from drinking too much vodka that evening.

According to the report Stroup went on to say that ever since he was scratched by a wolf in Germany he blacks out when the moon comes out and goes on the attack.

It should be noted that the deputies did not actually observe Stroup's paranormal shapeshifting, but keep in mind that May 29th was nearly a New Moon. The next Full Moon doesn't happen for another week, so the authorities will probably need to keep him in jail until then if they want to, say, film his transformation for posting on YouTube. He'd have to give his permission for that, of course, but I'm thinking they could always convince him to sign a release by bribing him with more vodka.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Worst Psychic Ever?

It's hard to say who the worst psychic of all time might be. After all, from cold readers to fraudulent mediums to tabloid prognosticators there have been a lot of bad ones. But a self-proclaimed Texas psychic who recently phoned in a completely bogus tip to police in Liberty County has to be in the running. The woman called with the claim that dismembered bodies could be found on a particular property, but when deputies investigated they found no evidence of any crime - even after returning for a second search on the "psychic's" urgings.

Liberty County Sheriff's Capt. Rex Evans said there was no evidence of foul play at the home.

Liberty County Judge Craig McNair told reporters at the scene about 8:15 p.m. that tips had come in Monday night and Tuesday morning from a supposed psychic of dismembered bodies on the property.

McNair said an initial visit on Monday by Liberty County sheriff's deputies found nothing amiss, but the psychic called back and said the deputies looked in the wrong place. McNair said deputies returned later Tuesday and detected a foul odor.

Evans said investigators had "found some circumstances that have raised some questions" and a search warrant was requested. Texas Rangers arrived before 9 p.m. CT Tuesday with a warrant.

After the search, Evans said that some information provided by the anonymous female tipster about the property was very specific and accurate. He said authorities would attempt to find the tipster and question her.

How a psychic can be good enough to come up with very specific details about a home but then fail to notice the absence of something as obvious as dismembered bodies is completely beyond me. My guess is that the tipster isn't psychic at all, but rather someone who knows the family and is holding some sort of grudge against them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oregon Faith Healers Convicted

I do a fair amount of healing magick and, if I do say so myself, I'm pretty good at it. I recently wrote about my latest success in that area, which is turning out to be one of the most effective healings I've ever done. So I know that spiritual methods can work to heal physical ailments, but when those methods are treated as a replacement for conventional medicine you can wind up with a life-threatening situation very quickly. Yesterday an Oregon couple who believed in the power of faith healing was convicted of felony criminal mistreatment for refusing to provide their young daughter with medical care.

Timothy and Rebecca Wyland's daughter Alayna, born in December 2009, developed an abnormal growth of blood vessels that covered her left eye and threatened her vision. Now 1 1/2 years old, she has improved under state-ordered medical care. She remains in state custody but lives with her parents.

The Wylands belong to the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City congregation that relies on faith healing. Rather than taking their daughter to a doctor, they relied on prayer, anointing with oil and laying on of hands.

The couple testified during a juvenile court custody hearing last July that they wouldn't have willingly taken Alayna to a doctor because it would violate their religious beliefs. Jurors heard a recording of that hearing.

This kind of either/or irrationality has to end. If you believe in spiritual healing, that's cool. Use it. But if there's ever a time to apply the strategic sorcery method - that is, making sure you take every possible mundane step in addition to doing the spiritual work - healing your children is it. Taking mundane steps doesn't render spiritual methods useless. Rather, doing so means that you're committed to achieving success by improving the odds as much as you can.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Australian UFO Files Mysteriously Missing

Everybody who knows anything about UFO's knows that a vast government conspiracy exists to maintain their secrecy. As was subversively revealed to mass audiences by Dan Aykroyd's character in the film Sneakers:

So the first meeting between President Eisenhower and the alien visitor happened in 1954. Ike said, "Sure, we'll give you all the cow lips you want, just give us your technology." And that was when the cattle mutilations started up.

Those are among the many secrets we're not being told by the people in power. The United States Government is hiding alien bodies from the Roswell Incident. It's building its own vehicles based on flying saucer technology at Area 51 - or was, until the place was exposed by a Discovery Channel documentary. It's covering up ongoing abductions, experiments, and probings by the enigmatic Grays. And every other government in the world has its own files detailing sightings, reports, and investigations of these bizarre phenomena, some of which undoubtedly point to the inescapable conclusion that space aliens are indeed among us.

That is, except for Australia.

As it turns out, the Australian military seems to have misplaced its records of UFO investigations dating back many years.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Magical Links

Mike from Magick Of Thought was asking me some questions about the different kinds of magical links on one of the older threads. In light of that discussion, this seems like as good a time as any to go over the different kinds of magical links and how they work. Magical links let magicians to cast spells on people, places, or objects without needing to be in direct contact with them.

Magical links follow Sir James Frasier's two primary laws of magick, generally refered to as the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion. In The Golden Bough Frasier writes:

“If we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: that like produces like, or that the effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.”

The first principle, the Law of Similarity, states that when any two objects share a particular property that property can allow one to influence the other. The more properties the two objects have in common, the stronger the link. The stongest similarity link is going to be a current image of the target, such as a recent photograph. The second principle, the Law of Contagion, states that once any two objects have come into contact one can be used to influence the other. The closer the contact, the stronger the link. The strongest contagion link is going to be created by something that not only came into contact with the target but which was once part of it, such as hair, blood, fingernail clippings, and so forth.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Success With Planetary Magick

Remember my article on the series of astrological conjunctions that would be happening last month? In it I recommended that magicians take advantage of those aspects in order to augment any spells they were planning on casting involving Jupiter, Mercury, or Venus, and on May 10th I did so as well with a planetary healing ritual for a friend who has been experiencing chronic health problems over the course of the last year. For those of you who don't do a lot of healing magick, chronic health conditions are usually the worst to cast against. In many cases what you wind up with is a sort of magical "holding action" that temporarily alleviates some of the symptoms and then fades over the course of the next few days. You can sometimes hold symptoms at bay longer by casting over and over again, but the root condition generally remains unresolved.

In Liber 777 "miracles of healing" are associated with the path of Mercury. With all of the Mercury aspects that were going to be occuring between the 11th and the end of the month I figured that this would be one of the best possible times to perform a healing ritual. I'd also been working with the planetary magick schema that I presented at Paganicon back in March over the last couple of months, so a Mercury rite dovetailed nicely with my ongoing practice. The basic structure that I used is essentially the one outlined in that article, with a couple of additions intended to facilitate taking advantage of the upcoming conjunction.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Too Many Witches?

Fresh off deciding against renaming Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, the City Council of Salem, Massachusetts is considering moving to limit the number of psychic and witchcraft-oriented businesses that may operate within the town. The Council voted to relax previously existing restrictions in 2007, which probably accelerated Salem's transformation from a charming seaside community into one big witchcraft-themed tourist trap. Incidentally, as I've noted before this transformation is completely at odds with the historical record, which shows no real witches were ever executed during the famous witch trials and and that little evidence exists connecting the city to real witchcraft of any sort prior to the modern era.

Salem psychic Barbara Szafranski is in favor of new regulations, noting that inexperienced and untrained people looking to call themselves psychics have popped up all over town since the old rules were changed.

“It’s like little ants running all over the place, trying to get a buck,” said Szafranski, 75, who quit her job as an accountant in 1991 to open Angelica of the Angels, a store that sells angel figurines and crystals, and provides psychic readings.

She says she has lost business since the licensing change.

“Many of them are not trained,” she said of her rivals. “They don’t understand that when you do a reading you hold a person’s life in your hands.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Apocalypse Con

When Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21st I reported on it as though he was at least sincere. After all, he'd stuck with his ministry for many years despite setbacks including a previous failed Judgment Day prophecy back in 1994, and Dispensationalists are often quite secure in their beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Also, even though Camping admitted pulling in big donations he claimed that he was spending most of the money on advertising - and there was a lot of advertising, all over the country, which must have been pretty expensive.

Nonetheless, as it's coming to light just how much money Camping was able to raise with his false prophecy it's looking more and more likely that his apocalyptic predictions could simply be an elaborate confidence game. Even with a large advertising budget the millions flowing into his radio ministry were far more than would have been needed for the blitz of billboards and vans leading up to the appointed day. And while Family Radio is officially a nonprofit, there are a lot of accounting tricks that you can use to enrich yourself even when working for such an organization. For example, I haven't seen anyone reporting on what Camping's official salary is. Nonprofits are allowed to pay their employees as much as they want without any of that money counting as "profit."