Thursday, July 21, 2011

"The Jaws of the Wolf"

Somebody should turn this story into a new television pilot.

When witchcraft strikes, never fear. The Anti-Witchcraft Squad of Saudi Arabia is on the case! Bonus points for centering the show around an older traditional Muslim agent paired up with a hip, impulsive youngster that he can't stand but who nevertheless manages to save the day over and over again. Because of all cop shows ever. Here's the pitch:

When the severed head of a wolf wrapped in women's lingerie turned up near the city of Tabouk in northern Saudi Arabia this week, authorities knew they had another case of witchcraft on their hands, a capital offence in the ultra-conservative desert kingdom.

Agents of the country’s Anti-Witchcraft Unit were quickly dispatched and set about trying to break the spell that used the beast’s head.

Wow, that sounds like a tough case. Hard to film, too, since I'm not sure you can even show women's lingerie on TV in Saudi Arabia. A severed wolf's head, on the other hand, is no problem. As an aside, what's with all the spells involving dead things lately, like weasels and goats? Could this be the start of some sort of pattern?

In the case of the wolf's head, the Anti-Witchcraft Unit in Tabouk was able to break the spell. The Saudi daily Okaz reported on Monday that the unknown family that had fallen victim to the spell had been "liberated from the jaws of the wolf.”

Whew! That's a relief. Clearly the magick of the Anti-Witchcraft Squad is mighty! But that raises a question - doesn't Islam ban magick? So where is the squad finding its sorcerers? Given the legal climate in Saudi Arabia I can't blame anyone for wanting to keep a low profile, but if counter-spells are being set in motion somebody must be casting them.

All joking aside, the disturbing part of this story is that a modern government has set up an agency specifically charged with persecuting magicians. Odds are a lot of the folks the squad rounds up won't be guilty of anything but having unusual spiritual beliefs, and since "witchcraft" is a capital crime in Saudi Arabia those beliefs could get them killed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

German Pastafarian Seeks Recognition

Back in 2005 the Kansas State Board of Education issued a decision allowing schools to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. In response, an Oregon man named Bobby Henderson published an open letter on his website describing his belief in a creator deity called the Flying Spaghetti Monster and demanding that this alternate and hilarious creation myth be taught in Kansas schools. Henderson called this new religion "Pastafarianism" and just like that an Internet phenomenon was born.

According to Henderson, since the intelligent design movement uses ambiguous references to a designer, any conceivable entity may fulfill that role, including a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Henderson explained, "I don't have a problem with religion. What I have a problem with is religion posing as science. If there is a god and he's intelligent, then I would guess he has a sense of humor."

The purported beliefs of Pastafarianism generally parody concepts advanced by creationists, such as the insistance that while the Flying Spaghetti Monster is undetectable using any sort of scientific measurements he nonetheless manipulates the world and everthing in it by means of his "noodly appendages." While most people who describe themselves as Pastafarians also consider themselves atheists, it should be noted that this is true of many members of the Church of Satan as well.

When it came time for German Pastafarian Niko Alm to take his driving license photo he decided to make a statement. He discovered that headgear was legally permitted in official photos for religious reasons and proceeded to send in pictures of himself wearing a pasta strainer on his head.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Phony Psychics

It should be old news to anyone reading this site on a regular basis that telephone psychics are some of the biggest fakes around. Performing a real psychic reading over the phone for someone you know well is difficult enough, but for complete strangers paying by the minute? Forget it.

Just in case anyone is still on the fence about the possibility that a commercial phone psychic is likely to be for real, this article posted over the weekend at Salon should be required reading. As it turns out, "psychic hotlines" don't even cast around looking for psychics, but rather for actors to play them on the phone.

"Phone actors wanted. Work from home. Make your own hours."

Could it be true? Or was this some sort of telemarketing scheme? I called the number. A friendly man assured me that this was completely legit.

"You've heard of the Psychic Friends Network, haven't you?" he asked. "This is just like that."

Yes, I had seen the commercials. My brothers and I mocked the company's spokeswoman Dionne Warwick. When we were little kids, our parents took us to one of her performances at a Lake Tahoe hotel. She sang a few songs, coughed and asked for water. It was a short show, and my parents were disappointed they had wasted money on it.

"The thing is, I'm not sure that I'm psychic," I confessed. There were times I suspected things were going to happen before they did. But did knowing my family was going to throw me a surprise party for my 15th birthday count as mystic instinct?

"That's OK," he said. "We'll give you everything you need for the job."

And just like that, the author was on her way to being hired.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Another Spell to Identify

So here's another round of "is it a spell or isn't it?" Involving, appropriately enough, more dead things. Whether this is some sort of sacrifice or flat-out necromancy, though, I'm not really sure. Last week several headless animals were found outside a jail in Tampa, Florida. Authorities believe that the killing may have been part of some sort of magical ritual, perhaps connected in some way with Santeria.

A white cardboard box was left outside the entrance that contained two roosters, a dove, a goat, and two baby chicks: each of the animals were dead and headless. The beheaded animals have left some in Tampa to question whether they were part of a ritualistic witchcraft killing. It wouldn’t be the first for the Tampa Bay area that seems to have an annual sprout of headless animals leaving many to wonder if the perpetrators are connected to Santeria.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Officer Detective Larry McKinnon spoke with ABC Action News and spoke about the ritualistic nature of the find, “It was a disturbing discovery, and we feel like it’s some sort of ritualistic killing. Someone was clearly sending a message to someone inside the jail.” Detective McKinnon also commented on another gruesome discovery made by the Tampa Police department just one week prior to the box of beheaded animals: A cows tongue pierced with approximately 100 nails.

Detective McKinnon stated, “A cows tongue with nails in it has been identified as a message sent to somebody to ‘Keep your mouth shut.”

So the big question is whether this is simply intended as some sort of warning issued to some individual currently incarcerated, or if it's part of a real magical ritual intended to produce some practical result. As in many of these cases, both/and is probably also a reasonable answer.

Is this something that anyone recognizes, or for that matter might have performed in the past? I haven't read up on Santeria in a number of years and I don't think any of the rituals I studied were all that similar to this one. My understanding is that animals killed in Santeria rituals serve as offerings rather than some sort of magical link to a target. Of course, since I'm not intiated into that tradition and have only read a couple of books there's a lot that I don't know about it. There's also some overlap between Santeria, Voudon, and Hoodoo in terms of ritual technology, so I'm thinking a practitioner from one of those traditions could be the caster as well.

And just as a point to whoever wrote the news article, Santeria is not "witchcraft." Just sayin'!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bristol Issues Zombie Attack Guide

Apparently all of England is not as unprepared for a zombie invasion as Leicester, which was confronted with an outbreak of the undead only a week after admitting there was no plan in place for handling one. The city council of Bristol has released a guide that includes the explanation of a coded zombie alert system and instructions for residents on how the walking dead can be safely killed. Bristol is thus leading the way for the entire United Kingdom on this issue.

The document shows the best way to kill those bothersome reanimated corpses. It outlines a four-stage alert system following an invasion and says codewords will be used to provide secret instructions to the public.

The brief also includes details of how people can equip themselves with weapons, such as stun guns and protective suits.

Bristol city council has set out the advice in response to a Freedom of Information request.

In its ‘Contingency Plan For Handling Zombie Outbreaks in Bristol’, it says the moment to get really worried is when infections hit 30 per cent – or ‘zombie pandemic level’.

This is when you’ll need to kill a zombie correctly, and the public is reminded to fully disconnect the brain-stem from the body through blunt force or full head removal.

But it might be best just to head for a council building, where somebody might know what to do.

Some of this information is actually useful, even to a fan of horror films like myself. For example, I had no idea that zombies would be susceptible to stun guns. I guess there must still be some sort of electromagnetism still running through their nervous systems that can be disrupted as opposed to phlogiston or industrial radiation or spirits or any of the other possible explantions offered by popular media. I will say that even if I had one, though, I'd be worried about getting close enough to use it for fear of infection.

As I've mentioned previously, the risk of mass zombification is low, but nonetheless it's good to have a plan. You know, just in case.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Codex Calixtinus is Missing

What an odd thing to steal. The Codex Calixtinus, a guide to the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage dating back to the twelfth century, is missing from the safety deposit box at a Spanish cathedral in which it normally resides.

The manuscript is a collection of sermons and liturgical texts and served as a guide for the historical Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which dates back to the Middle Ages.

The elaborately illustrated document disappeared from a safe deposit box in the cathedral last week.

Its suspected theft, only reported to police Wednesday, is considered a major loss for Spain's cultural and religious heritage.

Santiago Cathedral is the reputed burial place of Saint James the Greater, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ who according to legend arrived in Spain to preach Christianity.

The Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage is also known as the Way of Saint James and has been undertaken by Christians for more than a thousand years. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the manuscript was kept prior to its disappearance, is its final destination.

The Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims arrived in Santiago annually. Since then however the route has attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Unique art or spiritual objects like the Codex are rarely stolen simply because they cannot be sold on the open market despite their theoretical value, and even if a collector could purchase such an item in a private sale he or she could never display it because it would be immediately recognized. There are very few wealthy collectors in the world who are willing to buy things that they can never show off or sell to anyone else. Given that the Codex was removed from a safe deposit box leaving no signs of forced entry, the logical conclusion would be that this was some sort of inside job. Who would want to steal the text, though, remains a mystery.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nottinghamshire Paranormal Activity

Let me tell you, I wish that the American Freedom of Information Act worked like the British one does. In the United Kingdom you apparently can now request information from all levels of government and they'll provide it, no matter how silly the request may seem. Freedom of Information requests revealed a few weeks back that the English city of Leicester was unprepared for a zombie attack, and earlier this spring shed light on paranormal activity in the Welsh county of Powys. A similar request was recently filed in Nottinghamshire, revealing police reports of paranormal activity there over the course of the last six years.

The force revealed there were 46 reports of witchcraft, three UFO sightings and 34 incidents involving ghosts.

Ch Insp Ted Antill said there were calls where officers did attend the scene of "ghost sightings".

He confirmed the UFO sightings were "exclusively" Chinese lanterns.

Paul Stevenson, from Haunted Magazine based in Sutton-in-Ashfield, submitted the Freedom of Information request to the police which led to the disclosure of the figures.

He said he was "very surprised" by the amount the police had received.

Ch Insp Antill said there are calls which at first appear to be "serious incidents", like intruders in the property, but turn out "to be of the ghost nature."

I guess that means the real UFO's are landing in Powys county, though ghosts and witches appear to be active everywhere. Maybe Wales just has better landing sites or something.

The problem with doing research like this in the United States is not that the information is considered secret but rather that it's so decentralized. Years ago my mother was involved with the Neighborhood Watch in her area and received a list of all the police reports that were filed there each month, so they do give it out. I read through a few of the lists back then and don't remember anything about ghosts or UFO's, but I do recall the reported theft of thirty Koosh balls and the men suspiciously dressed as Catholic priests who turned out to in fact be Catholic priests and I'm sure there are paranormal reports from time to time. What I wouldn't give for access to a searchable database that covered the whole metro area!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vast Temple Treasure Unearthed in India

One of the classic powers attributed to grimoire spirits is the ability to find lost or hidden treasure. In the modern age this is naturally a more difficult power to take advantage of, as most of the world's valuables can now be kept track of unlike in the medieval period in which such items were much more commonly misplaced. Still, treasures likely do remain in archaeological sites around the world that have yet to be found. Recent excavations in India have uncovered a series of vaults beneath an ancient temple in which an astonishing cache of precious metals and jewels dating back to the sixteenth century was stored.

Onlookers and devotees thronged the shrine in the bustling center of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of India's southern Kerala state, as officials said treasure worth more than $20 billion had been found -- more than India's education budget.

Sacks filled with diamonds were piled next to tonnes of gold coins and jewelry, media reported, in the vaults of the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, the royal chapel of the former rulers of Travancore, now part of Kerala state.

"The current market value of the articles found so far by the committee members would be roughly 900 billion rupees ($20.2 billion)," one temple official who was not authorized to speak to the media told Reuters.

It is not uncommon for temples in India to amass wealth, though if the reports are accurate the Kerala find is one of the largest in history. Seekers commonly make substantial donations to temples or spiritual gurus, which can add up to astronomical sums. In addition, gurus who become known worldwide can multiply their earnings many times.