Thursday, December 29, 2011

Priest Fight

Every year between December 25th and the Orthodox celebration of Christmas in the first week of January priests clean the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to have built on the site of Jesus' birth. This year, though, peace and understanding appear to be in short supply, as Palestinian police were forced to storm the church in order to break up a fight between Greek and Armenian Orthodox priests who had been working on cleaning the church.

Several dozen Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests were cleaning the interior of the church Wednesday morning when, according to witnesses, two of them began fighting. The fight quickly escalated, and soon, 50 to 60 priests were exchanging blows with broomsticks.

Bethlehem police were sent in to quell the fighting, Palestinian police Maj. Ahed Hasayen said. "This is an internal problem related to the Nativity church only. The Palestinian police had to interfere to stop the clashes as soon as possible to avoid devastating consequences," he said.

According to tour guide Ghassen Tos, the fight, while intense, was short in duration. “This did not last for long as soon as the Palestinian police interfered and succeeded to halt the clashes immediately,” he said. There were no reports of any serious injuries.

It's unclear from the report what the priests were fighting about. Cleaning house is one of those activities, though, that has a lot of potential for bringing out anger. This is not the first such fight, either - in 2007 priests from the same denominations were involved in a similar altercation. Maybe these two groups should take turns at the necessary cleaning tasks instead of trying to work together in the future.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Easter, Everybody!

This is the time of year when we celebrate the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, the occasion of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Oh, wait...

As it turns out Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci recently made this same error in his holiday message to the Vatican, confusing Christmas and Easter. The mistake was quickly corrected on the Prime Minister's web site, but my guess is that the Vatican was not amused.

In his festive statement, which was distributed by his office, he said that Easter is the most important holiday in the Catholic world. He went on to congratulate the official Vatican and all Catholics on the occasion of the resurrection of Christ, rather than his birth.

The prime minister went on to say that he hoped the Easter festivities would bring the Kosovan Catholics 'more warmth, hope and success' as well as 'progress in society, harmony and peace'. When officials in the prime minister's office noticed the error a second statement appeared on Thaci's official website, offering glad tidings over the festive period.

One thing I will say is that Thaci is a Muslim like the majority of Kosovars, and for anyone who doesn't celebrate Christian holidays this is an easy mistake to make. While Easter is officially the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, celebrations for Christmas around the world tend to be much more elaborate. This disparity has a lot to do with the push by American department stores in the 1920's to massively increase the significance of gift-giving so as to boost their sales. Finding a commercial tie-in for Easter has proven a lot more difficult - I mean, how many eggs can one person really buy?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Korean Weather Mourns Kim Jong-il

According to news dispatches from the world's only necrocracy, North Korea, the death of the nation's supreme leader Kim Jong-Il was mourned not only by his people, but by weather systems across the country. The weather events that reportedly were caused by his passing a week and a half ago included cracking ice, a snowstorm, and an "illustrious sunrise."

The state-controlled "news agency" claims that ice ruptured with an "unprecedented loud crack" at Chon Lake on Mount Paektu on Saturday morning. Mount Paektu was the site of a military camp used by Kim Jong-il's father. It is also where the country claims Jong-il was born. (However, historians maintain Jong-il was actually born in Siberia in 1942, where his father was in hiding away from Japanese troops.)

And the so-called miracles apparently aren't limited to cracking ice. The KCNA reports that a huge snowstorm followed the ice capade, which itself immediately was followed by an illustrious sunrise which lit up the words carved into the mountainside, "Mt Paektu, holy mountain of revolution. Kim Jong il."

North Korea's unique political system is a synthesis of Stalinism and Confucian ancestor-worship. When Kim Jong-il's father Kim Il-sung passed away the elder Kim was designated as the nation's "Eternal President." Kim Jong-il, meanwhile, assumed the title of "Supreme Leader." Whether the younger Kim will retain this title in death as "Eternal Supreme Leader" remains unclear, but whatever the case, the weather in North Korea appears to be none too happy about the whole affair.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Georgia Mayan Ruins a Hoax

Yesterday Raw Story and a number of other web sites passed along a report that a ruined Mayan city had been discovered in northern Georgia. This story made its way across the Internet, spread in part by how implausible it seemed. The Mayans, whose civilization covered the Yucatan peninsula and other portions of Mexico and Central America, were not thought to have settled anywhere in the continental United States. So either this was an incredible, groundbreaking archaeological discovery or an outright fraud. Sadly for those of us who would like to be able to visit a Mayan site that's closer than Mexico, it proved to be the latter.

According to the report, picked up from a fly-by-night Web pub called the Examiner, a small group of archeologists led by University of Georgia scholar Mark Williams discovered the 1,100-year-old city “on the southeast side of Brasstown Bald in the Nacoochee Valley.” Only, the report “is not true,” according to Williams, reached by email. “I have been driven crazy by this.”

The original story was written by one Richard Thornton — who claims that “like most Georgia and South Carolina Creeks, I carry a trace of Maya DNA,” and that his ancestors came to North America fleeing “volcanic eruptions, wars, and drought” — and it has certainly caught fire across the Twitter/blogosphere thanks to the general obsession with the 2012 Mayan prophecies. (Even the venerable Washington Post interrupted its regularly-scheduled news rapportage to alert readers that “a second brick found at a Mayan ruin also contained the Dec. 21, 2012, date.”)

So just like the 2012 nonsense, this "discovery" turned out to be entirely made up. The archaeologist who supposedly led the team who found ruins at the site was never even there and various other "facts" included in the report are similarly invented. As I've mentioned before, what clinched it for me on the 2012 hysteria is that the Mayans didn't "disappear" at all. They still live in the Yucatan and Central America and many of them practice their traditional religious beliefs. Whenever they get asked about their calendar and the supposed end of the world by New Agers, the answer is always the same - the doomsday scenario has nothing to do with the Mayan culture or religion. If the real Mayans don't even believe it, why should anyone else?

UPDATE: While it's possible that there are ancient Native American ruins at the Brasstown Bald site, they almost certainly are not Mayan. The Mississippians are known to have constructed settlements in northern Georgia, and while they built cities somewhat similar to those found in Mexico and Central America there is no known historical connection between their culture and that of the Mayans.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Anti-Witchcraft Squad Proves Deadly Again

Back in September I covered the story of a Sudanese man who was executed in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of practicing sorcery. The man's arrest and conviction were due to the efforts of Saudi Arabia's "anti-witchcraft squad" known as the Mutawa'een. Now this oppressive organization has proved deadly once more, with the execution earlier this month of a woman arrested in 2009 on similar charges.

The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. Our correspondent said she was arrested in April 2009.

But the human rights group Amnesty International, which has campaigned for Saudis previously sentenced to death on sorcery charges, said it had never heard of her case until now, he adds.

A Sudanese man was executed in September on similar charges, despite calls led by Amnesty for his release. In 2007, an Egyptian national was beheaded for allegedly casting spells to try to separate a married couple.

What continues to strike me as both tragic and ridiculous about cases like these is that even if these executed individuals were frauds, elevating their actions to capital offenses is practically the definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" that the Founding Fathers sought to ban in the United States Bill of Rights all the way back in 1789. Despite worldwide outrage from organizations like Amnesty International the Saudi anti-witchcraft squad shows no signs of easing up their investigations, which is bad news for anyone seeking to practice esoteric spirituality within their jurisdiction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When Jesus Tanned?

New research performed in Italy suggests that the discolorations on the Shroud of Turin could have been produced by ultraviolet light. By exposing pieces of linen to bursts of light in the ultraviolet spectrum, researchers have been able to replicate many of the same characteristics observed in the fibers of the mysterious Shroud.

Italian researchers at the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development say they believe the image was created by an ultraviolet "flash of light." However, if that theory is true, it remains a mystery as to exactly how that technology could have been implemented at the time of the Shroud's creation. While the technology is readily available in present day, it was far beyond the means of anyone around pre-20th Century.

The Turin Shroud is said to be the burial cloth of Jesus, but has long been believed to be a fake, created during medieval times. It is currently kept in a climate-controlled case in Turin cathedral. Scientists at the Italian agency have reportedly spent years attempting to recreate the Shroud's imagery. 'The results show a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can colour a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin,' the scientists said.

One of the reasons I've always been skeptical of the idea that the Shroud of Turin was in fact the burial cloth of Jesus is a problem of geometry. Let's say that you take a mannekin and lay it down on a slab, then cover the face with some sort of paint. If you then lay a cloth over the body to take an impression the image you get looks nothing like what's found on the Shroud. Because the cloth falls around the head when it covers the mannekin's face the image made by the paint will come out much wider than the original. As you can see from the image above, however, the face on the Shroud shows no signs of this sort of distortion.

While the ultraviolet light idea is intriguing, this geometric problem would mean that not only would Jesus have to have emitted ultraviolet light, but prior to that happening the cloth would have to have been lifted some distance from the body so that the resulting image would turn out like that from a camera. I heard an interesting theory years ago that the Shroud may have been an early attempt to produce a photograph using medieval technology. If a cloth is treated with chemicals and exposed to sunlight passing through a lens or even a small aperture for a long enough period of time the ultraviolet rays will discolor portions of the cloth and create a photograph-like image. It seems to me that these new ultraviolet findings could provide evidence that some similar method was indeed involved.

UPDATE: Morgan has more, offering up his own hypothesis that the Shroud is in fact the burial shroud of Frater RC, whose alleged time of death lines up with the carbon dating performed in 1988. Maybe he's onto something there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One More Stonehenge Mystery Solved

Stonehenge, England's most famous megalithic structure, has inspired occultists and paranormal investigators for centuries. Archaeologists working at the site have finally solved one of the monument's enduring puzzles - where the rocks used by the ancient builders originally came from. This site has finally been identified as Craig Rhos-y-felin in South Wales, more than a hundred miles from the Stonehenge site.

Over the past nine months, the researchers compared mineral content and textural relationships of the rhyolite debitage stones found at Stonehenge and were finally able to pinpoint the location to within several meters of their source. Ninety-nine percent of the samples could be matched to the rocks found at Craig Rhos-y-felin, which differ from all others found in south Wales.

Further research should help the researchers eventually understand how the rocks made the long journey to Stonehenge sometime between 3000 and 1600 BC. "Many have asked the question over the years, how the stones got from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge," said Dr. Richard Bevins, National Museum Wales. "Thanks to geological research, we now have a specific source for the rhyolite stones from which to work and an opportunity for archaeologists to answer the question that has been widely debated."

A hundred miles is a long way to move such immense rocks, but from what I've seen a number of ideas have been proposed that would have been plausible using the technology of the time. All of them would have involved an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of the builders, but if we are to assume that Stonehenge was a very important if not central religious site expending such effort upon it would not necessarily be unexpected. A site like Stonehenge is one more reminder that even though the ancients had access to less technology than we have today, they were just as intelligent and inventive as modern people in terms of working with what they had.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shop Augoeides for the Holidays!

As all of you probably noticed awhile back, I've completely given up on the Google ads. Frankly, I'm continually amazed that banner advertising is something companies are willing to pay for. I've never purchased anything off a banner ad myself and don't know anyone else who has either. On top of that, the ads that used to run across the top of my blog page attracted so few clicks that they were essentially worthless and at the same time mildly annoying. So now I've come up with a new way to generate a small amount of income for this site without costing my readers anything in terms of time or money. I originally set up an Amazon Associates store to capture commissions off my books, but quickly realized that it would work for any other product Amazon carries as well. Call it the Augoeides Store.

So here's the deal. If you still have holiday gifts to buy and are planning on ordering them from Amazon anyway, you can support this website at the same time. Clicking on my store link above will take you to the Amazon home page, just as if you had typed into your browser. The difference is that every purchase you make will send a small commission my way. You can also just click on the link and bookmark it for later use. Ordering through my store instead of the Amazon homepage costs you nothing, as Amazon would otherwise just keep those commissions while charging you the same price. So if you're already planning on making some Amazon purchases and don't have your own associates store, please consider taking advantage of mine and helping to support my writing.

Thanks much, and happy holiday shopping!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Enochian Synchronicities

Back in the late 1990's there was something of a shift in the approach taken to Enochian magick. Up until that time most practitioners had pretty much accepted the Golden Dawn approach as published by Israel Regardie and articulated by Gerald Schueler, who had at that time written several introductory books on the system. One of the big points of contention when working with the Golden Dawn system was the elaborate pronunciation system believed to have been developed by Wynn Wescott. This pronunciation system linked the Angelic language to Hebrew by inserting Hebrew vowel sounds into difficult-to-pronounce clusters of consonants. In the late 1990's, though, a number of authors came to the conclusion that the best pronunciation system was that recorded by John Dee himself during his scrying sessions with Edward Kelley. Today Dee's pronunciation is used by most of the practitioners I know, which is quite different from the situation a decade or so ago. There is still some disagreement regarding how to read Dee's notations for particular words, but the insertion of Hebrew vowels is for the most part a complete non-starter.

Over the past few years it seems like another shift is on its way. The rise in popularity of grimoire magick has renewed interest in studying Enochian magick as a grimoire-based or at least grimoire-influenced style of magick. The Golden Dawn system relied on an elaborate series of Qabalistic associations to link Enochian into the order's version of the Tree of Life, and in fact there are still quite a few magicians who have found that dialect of the system useful. On the other hand, it seems like these days more and more people are working "old school" and many of the recent books on the system reflect this approach. These include Aaron Leitch's The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, Stephen Skinner's Practical Angel Magic of John Dee's Enochian Tables, and of course my own Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy, which includes modern ritual forms but still preserves the original structure of the system for those who would rather work with it that way. In addition, one of the first books published based on the original approach, Geoffrey James' The Enochian Evocation of Dr. John Dee is still in print. It was first published in 1983, so it seems to have predated the recent trend by almost thirty years.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wingnuts Outraged Normal Muslims Exist

I'm usually not a big fan of using the term "wingnut" to describe people who hold extremely conservative political beliefs. I'm not a conservative myself, but I can nonetheless see that all too often the term is used as a smear that communicates little real information besides vehement disagreement with its target. However, the group behind this latest controversy really worked hard to earn the name. It's not just that they're very conservative, but also that they're at the same time unbelievably stupid, ignorant, or both.

So here's the story. The Learning Channel recently began running a series called "All-American Muslim" about Muslim families living in the United States. The biggest takeaway from the series is that just like American Christians, American Muslims are actually pretty normal. This simple fact completely incensed a conservative group called the Florida Family Association, which went on to successfully lobby many companies including the Lowe's Hardware chain into pulling their ads from the show. The basis of the complaint appears to be that since Muslims are terrorists, none of the people on the show are real Muslims. The stupid, it burns.

Lowe's pulled the advertising after groups including the Florida Family Association complained to the company. In its letter, the family group wrote that the show was not portraying Muslim Americans realistically. The letter also stated: "Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show."

The idea that all Muslims are inherently terrorists, which is what this letter clearly implies, is so dumb that it barely merits a response. However, the success of the Florida Family Association's campaign unfortunately demands one. Nobody is denying that Muslim terrorists exist, but there is a huge difference between liberal American Muslims and followers of the Taliban or Al Qaida. Furthermore, as with most religions Muslim extremists represent a small but admittedly determined minority. I might as well declare that all Christians share the beliefs of Hutaree, which would be equally ridiculous.

Friday, December 9, 2011

This Guy Has to be a Magician

Remember my attempts back in June to identify the precise nature of the dead weasel spell unleashed in Hoquiam, Washington over the summer? In the comments Rob did come up with some possible ideas, but at the time nobody really knew whether this was some sort of magical operation or just a very strange one. However, more recent evidence suggests that the weasel-unleasher is a magician after all. He was just acquitted of wrongdoing in connection with the weasel assault.

A jury acquitted a Hoquiam man who was accused of breaking into a home and throwing a dead mink at another man during a confrontation that made weasel headlines across the country.

Defense lawyer Chris Crew said Monday the Grays Harbor County jury found 33-year-old Jobie J. Watkins of Hoquiam not guilty of burglary.

Crew said witnesses provided inconsistent accounts and the "prosecution failed to prove a link to the mink."

It's not a mink, it's a martin, dammit! And now I punch the author of this article. What I find incredible is that a jury could possibly think that anyone would just make the story up. It's way too weird, which suggested it being a spell in the first place. But a magician could probably pull it off using a really powerful spell for obtaining legal victories. If you have access to decent collection of grimoires, you can find a lot of those all across the Western Esoteric Tradition.

I've never seen a necromantic version, but that doesn't mean one doesn't exist. I wonder what sort of dead animal you would use. Liber 777 lists elephant and spider for Libra, which rules legal proceedings. The former is completely impractical unless you could work with a piece of ivory rather than an entire body, but the latter is quite easy to obtain almost anywhere. On the other hand, neither mink, martin, nor weasel appear anywhere in the 777 animals column, so Watkins is probably using a totally different set of attributions.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Did Tiger Woods Finally Get That Sorcerer?

Golfer Tiger Woods first showed up on my spiritual technology radar back in 2009, when I came across the bizarre announcement that the "First Church of Tiger Woods" was disbanding in the wake of his personal scandals. I commented at the time that perhaps Tiger's "worshippers" were giving him a paranormal advantage at golf, citing a study that found other elite golfers inexplicably did not perform as well as usual when playing against him. From a statistical standpoint, this is precisely the sort of effect a spell would be likely to have, and I commented that with the spell broken we would have to see how well the "greatest golfer in the world" could play without it. I was at least partially joking at the time, but given the last two years my words seem oddly prescient. Tiger failed to win a single tournament during that time, falling from being the world's top rated golfer to a much more pedestrian #52. This week, though, he finally pulled off a win at the Chevron World Challenge.

The former world No. 1 won the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday at sun-drenched Sherwood Country Club, his first victory in 749 days. Woods, who vaults from No. 52 to No. 21 in the world rankings with the win, knocked in birdie putts of 15 and 6 feet on the final two holes to defeat Zach Johnson by one shot. When the last putt disappeared, Woods said he can't remember what he was thinking — "I think I was just screaming something," he said — and he emphatically punched the air and broke out into a huge smile.

It was his fifth victory in the tournament that benefits his foundation, his first since 2007, and 83rd win worldwide. He finished with a 3-under-par 69 to wind up at 10-under 278. Johnson came home with a 71. Paul Casey finished solo third at 5 under.

Since the spring following the disbanding of his "church" I've been recommending that Tiger hire himself a professional sorcerer to get his paranormal advantage back. Does this recent win finally mean that he might have taken my advice, or come to the same realization on his own? The Chevron World Challenge is not a major tournament, but it did include some very good players, so it seems to me that makes for a solid "maybe." It remains to be seen how well he does at larger tournaments now that his losing streak is officially broken. If he starts racking up the wins like he did years ago, I'll be pretty confident that he's found a way to get the magick back - literally.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy Reviewed

Morgan has a post up today about coming across four transparently phony Amazon reviews for a book that just came out. Whether or not this is a bot or somebody switching accounts is hard to say without looking at the book in question which is not named, but either way it's a pretty obvious attempt to game the Amazon review system. Here's a tip to any would-be bot programmers or review spoofers - it's really easy to check your other reviews, and that's hard to fake. If every review of a particular book is posted on the same day, and each of those four reviewers has only ever reviewed the exact same two items anyone with half a brain is going to be able to figure out that something is up with a couple of well-placed clicks and a modicum of critical thinking skills.

Let me also reassure you all that the book in question is not my new Enochian book, Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy. So far it's garnered two reviews, one from Michael Cecchetelli at The Lion's Den and another on Amazon from Christopher Feldman, better known online as Enochian magician Christeos Pir. I've summarized those two positive reviews here at my author website, with links to the originals. So far the book has been well-received, by real magicians rather than bots or clones, and while the temptation is always there to post a bunch of glowing phonies I would rather that my readers get the real scoop from actual people. If you're interested in grimoire magick, Enochian magick, or both and haven't done so already, click here to check out Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy. Real practitioners agree with me that you will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Isn't That Convenient?

Hardly anyone likes paying taxes. That basic truism has fueled much conservative sentiment here in the United States for decades, and our country is hardly an exception. Recently the African nation of Swaziland ruled that pastors and religious organizations will not be exempt from taxation. This prompted religious leader Bheki Thwala to post a convenient reason on Facebook for pastors to refuse paying taxes - because the money would be used for witchcraft rituals!

In a controversial post on social network site Facebook, Thwala posted "Why should we be taxed, when the money is to be used for witchcraft in the name of culture?"

At the time of going to press yesterday afternoon, Thwala already had 72 comments.

Interviewed after his church service yesterday, the leader of the Sword and Spirit Ministries alleged that it was a known fact that witches were hired to perform certain rituals at cultural events which, however, he did not specify.

"All I am saying is I do not want my money to pay witches in the name of culture," said Thwala.

He alleged that when the country was busy with certain traditional ceremonies, tinyanga were then fetched and were paid to perform certain rituals.

On Facebook Thwala added that he would continue to pay tax, as long as he was not working against what he existed for. "Culture and witchcraft are two different things," he said.

Thwala is right that culture and witchcraft are two different things, and I would have to know more about the ceremonies in question before I could decide whether or not they constitute magical operations. My best guess, though, is that they do not, since most celebratory rituals are not performed in order to produce any sort of change in accordance with a statement of intent. For a ritual to be considered magick such a goal is essential, though the change desired may involve personal consciousness, material circumstances, or both.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Scientific Demonstration of Contagion Links

A couple of weeks ago some discussion arose in the comments section of my Hexing on Facebook post surrounding the different kinds of magical links. There are two basic kinds of magical links, generally referred to as Contagion and Similarity. A contagion link is formed between two things that have directly interacted with each other and a similarity link is formed between two things that resemble each other or share a particular property. For some time now my working hypothesis for contagion links is that they are mediated by the known scientific principle of quantum entanglement.

One of the remaining questions surrounding this idea was whether entanglement can be scaled up to macroscopic objects or if the effect is limited to subatomic particles. If the latter were found to be true, that would essentially disprove the entanglement hypothesis, since the main objects magicians use links to affect are macroscopic in nature. However, according to this recent experiment entanglement can be scaled up, so the hypothesis remains intact. Physicists at the University of Oxford have apparently succeeded in entangling two macroscopic-scale diamonds at room temperature.

"I think it's an important step into a new regime of thinking about quantum phenomena," physicist Ian Walmsley of England's University of Oxford said."That is, in this regime of the bigger world, room temperatures, ambient conditions. Although the phenomenon was expected to exist, actually being able to observe it in such a system we think is quite exciting."

Another study recently used quantum entanglement to teleport bits of light from one place to another. And other researchers have succeeded in entangling macroscopic objects before, but they have generally been under special circumstances, prepared in special ways, and cooled to cryogenic temperatures. In the new achievement, the diamonds were large and not prepared in any special way, the researchers said.

"It's big enough you can see it," Walmsley told LiveScience of the diamonds."They're sitting on the table, out in plain view. The laboratory isn't particularly cold or particularly hot, it's just your everyday room."

It's worth noting that since diamonds essentially consist of a single gigantic carbon molecule they're among the easiest objects to test for this phenomenon. But there's no reason to think that the effect is limited to such objects, especially given the long tradition in the magical arts of influencing people and things this way.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Teen Exorcist Squad!

I missed this story when it came out back in August, but it's just too good to pass up. Evangelist Bob Larson of Spiritual Freedom Churches International runs a school for exorcists, where students are taught to break curses and cast out demons. After discovering that his own 16-year-old daughter Brynne, pictured on the far right, was a gifted exorcist he went on to train four other teenage girls with similar talents, and claims them to be particularly effective at the art of overcoming demonic possession. So I suppose the teen exorcist squad is kind of like what Charlie's Angels would be if Charlie was a total douchebag.

The Vatican’s chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, has revealed that he alone has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession. So if the forces of darkness start getting the upper hand, who should you call? Evangelist Reverend Bob Larson of Spiritual Freedom Churches International - and his remarkable school for exorcists.

‘Think of it more of an exorcist franchise,’ Rev Larson tells MailOnline exclusively. ‘The Church just can’t keep up with demand. But I have 100 teams of trained exorcists working all over the world, and outbreaks of demonic possession are getting out of control. ‘Our phone lines are ringing constantly - we receive up to 1,000 individual requests monthly, and we travel to countries like Africa, Ukraine, England and even Australia.’

But while his teams include exorcists aged up to 70, one group of his protégées are causing waves in the religious community. They are teenage girls. Savannah Scherkenback, 19, and her sister Tess, 16, are Rev Larson’s latest graduates from his school for exorcists. ‘We have found that our female, teenage exorcists are particularly effective at curing the possessed,’ says Rev Larson, whose daughter Brynne is a supernaturally talented exorcist.

So why do I say douchebag, you ask? I've written on exorcism before and believe it to be a legitimate ritual practice, and there's no reason to think that these girls couldn't be genuinely good at it. The trouble is Larson himself.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Scientology Cruise That Never Ends

The Church of Scientology's Sea Org has got to be one of the oddest ideas out there among new religious movements. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church, served in the US Navy and decided that his new religion needed a Navy of its own. The result was the Sea Org, an organization within the Church with military-inspired uniforms and some sort of ill-defined mission that requires its members to spend their time sailing the oceans on ships owned by the Church. The Sea Org has a reputation for strict discipline and cultish behavior, but the latest accusation against the organization made by a woman named Valeska Paris goes far beyond that. Paris claims that she was essentially kept as a prisoner on board the Scientology ship "Freewinds" for twelve years.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC News) Lateline program, Paris claims that Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige sent her to the ship when she was 18 in order to prevent her family from pulling her out of the organization.

"I was basically hauled in and told that my mum had attacked the church and that I needed to disconnect from her because she was suppressive," she said. "He decided the ship, and I found out two hours before my plane left, I was woken up in the morning and I was sent to the ship for 'two weeks.' "

Paris was born into a Scientology family, but her mother quit the group after her husband committed suicide, blaming Scientology for coercing him out of a self-made personal fortune of more than a million dollars.

Instead of the promised two week stay, Paris found herself unable to leave the ship without an official Scientology escort and was often forced into hard labor on the lower levels of the ship for stretches as long as two full days. "It's hot, it's extremely loud, it's smelly, it's not nice. I was sent down there at first for 48 hours straight on almost no sleep and I had to work by myself," she said.

With just about any other organization these charges would be hard to believe, but unfortunately Scientology has cultivated a reputation that at the very least makes them seem plausible. It's not just the Church's history of odd controlling actions and extravagant fees, but also the apparent mentality within the group that it is under attack and surrounded by enemies. The constant lawsuit threats the Church makes over trivial offenses don't help either, like years ago when it threatened to sue "the Internet" over the existence of Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology on the grounds that "Scientology" was trademarked. In response, the administrators of the offending newsgroup changed its name to alt.butthead.religion.sue.sue.sue. Yeah, Scientology came out of that one looking great - NOT! If Paris' account turns out to be true, it sounds like the organization's reputation will likely suffer a lot more.