Monday, December 31, 2012

Zodiacal and Elemental Hours

One of the most basic magical techniques is the tuning of one's working space to match the influence or spirit being conjured. As I discuss in Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy, modern magicians often accomplish this by relying on the Greater Rituals of the Pentagram and Hexagram or similar ceremonial forms, but during the Renaissance a system of hours was used that was believed to follow the natural flow of spiritual currents in the universe. As a modern magician my general practice is to use both, which seems to augment the effectiveness of my rites quite nicely.

The most well-known aspect of this system is that of the planetary days and hours based on the Chaldean Order, which breaks each 24-hour period from sunrise to sunrise into twelve day and twelve night hours. These hours vary in length depending on the season, with night hours longer during the winter and day hours longer during the summer. The system works quite well for planetary magick - the hour was generally considered to be more important than the day, so when timing an operation for a particular day the most auspicious time could be selected. However, it would be convenient to extend this system for work with the signs of the Zodiac and classical elements along authentic Renaissance grounds. From my introductory studies of traditional astrology I believe that I may have worked out just such a method.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ancient Israelite Temple Discovered

Those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible often fail to realize how long many of the stories it contains survived as oral tradition before being written down. The text of the Torah is believed to have been compiled following the Babylonian Captivity which ended in 538 BCE, but includes many accounts dated much earlier. These include the stories of David and Solomon, regarding which little hard evidence exists. Many experts have argued that at the very least the power and wealth of Israel during this "Golden Age" was exaggerated, as such a prominent nation should have left behind more traces of its influence.

Now a new archaeological discovery made in Israel may help to settle this debate. The site at Tel Motza, west of Jerusalem, was once home to a temple that dates back to what are believed to be the early years of King David's reign.

According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the finds -- which include 2,750-year-old pottery figurines of men and horses -- provide rare evidence of a ritual cult at the beginning of the period of the monarchy.

“The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judea at the time of the First Temple,” excavation directors Anna Eirikh, Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz told The Times of Israel.

The Jerusalem Post noted the rarity of the find, given that "around the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah, Judaism abolished many ritual sites" so the Temple in Jerusalem could concentrate its symbolic power.

This consolidation of power may prove an absolute boon to researchers hoping to unearth details regarding Israelite religious practices that went on centuries before the Captivity. One of the problems with excavations in places such as Jerusalem is that the city is quite small and within it most sites have been built up and torn down multiple times over the course of the last three millennia. In comparison, the Tel Motza site was abandoned and as a result is better preserved. It will be interesting to see if the data that can be gleaned from it matches the Biblical accounts, or if it reflects something entirely different.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

God's Gender

When it comes to religion, people are willing to fight over the most ridiculous things. Today's story is from last Friday, just before the holidays. German Family Minister Kristina Schroeder has been criticized by members of her own political party over comments made in a magazine interview, stating that she thought it was "fine" to use the neuter "das" as the article for God. Like most European languages but unlike English, German associates genders with nouns. Based on those genders, the word "the" can be rendered three different ways - masculine (der), feminine (die), or neuter (das). Gott, the German word for God, is traditionally treated as masculine, much as "He" is the traditional pronoun for God in English.

Family Minister Kristina Schroeder made the comments when asked in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit how she explained to her young daughter the use of the masculine form for God. "The article is not important," she responded, adding that it was fine to use "das" instead of the traditional "der" when referring to God.

The remarks were immediately denounced by members of Schroeder's own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). "This intellectualised nonsense leaves me speechless," Christine Haderthauer, Bavarian social minister, told top-selling daily Bild. Stefan Mueller, a CSU lawmaker, said he was "bewildered" by Schroeder's "inappropriate" comments.

Here's what I find bizarre about this whole dispute - the idea that a monotheistic God would have a fixed gender at all. Human sexes have to do with sexual reproduction, which is more effective than asexual reproduction at maintaining diversity across a gene pool. God as a spiritual being should have no genes and therefore no reason to engage in sexual reproduction. Furthermore, as monotheists believe in a single deity, even if one were to grant God the characteristic of gender, there would be no other deities with whom to reproduce. In fact, as I see it the entire point of a monotheism is a concept of divinity that should in theory encompass and transcend all genders, so if Schroeder wants to use "das" as her article for God I don't see anything wrong with it. She was simply stating her own preference in the interview, not insisting that everyone else follow suit.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Crisis-Free Maya Apocalypse Spreads Across the Globe

I've been wanting to use a variation on that headline ever since Yahoo News used it in the context of a "crisis-free millennium" all the way back in the year 2000. In a way, this post is pretty much just my excuse to do so, as it is now 12-21-2012 on the other side of the world and everything still exists. No galactic alignment or asteroid impact has wiped out life on Earth. There haven't even been any Mayan sky gods descending in vast battle cruisers intent on wiping out our species - you know, because the ancient Mayans had access to battle cruisers. What are you, clueless? That's how they built all those pyramids, with alien assistance!

Seriously, though, here we sit as yet another over-hyped but failed apocalypse unfolds. Seeing as nobody in his or her right mind wants the world to end, what are we to make of this? I know what I believe - doomers are stupid. Poor critical thinking skills combined with extreme ignorance is about all that can account for the hoopla these ridiculous "prophecies" keep generating. I use the scare quotes there because the "Maya Apocalypse" is not a prophecy at all; the Mayans never made it. Like many non-Western cultures, the concept of time in the Mayan religion is circular, cycles within cycles. There are no "end times" like those mentioned in Christianity, metaphorical or otherwise.

Tonight my magical working group celebrates the 2012 Winter Solstice, and here's wishing you all a happy one. Tomorrow we'll wake up and the world will still be around. How do I know? Because I understand statistics. You would think that more people would take a cue from the indisputable fact that every single doomsday prophecy has always fallen flat and realize that this means apocalyptic claims simply make no sense without some pretty extraordinary evidence. But too many of them still don't.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Meet the Thunderbird

One of the less well-known North American cryptids is the thunderbird, described as a bird larger than any currently known species strong enough to lift and possibly carry off a small child. Stories about thunderbirds attempting to lift children are generally regarded as tall tales, since as far as anyone knows none of these reported attempts have ever been successful and it's hard to imagine a known species of bird could be such a powerful flyer. Birds are built light, which is why they can fly in the first place.

Skeptics generally brush off reports of attempted abductions and note that it is easy to mistake the size of a flying bird in the air. They suggest that thunderbird sightings are simply sightings of large known raptor species that for whatever reason, possibly optical illusions, appear to be larger than their actual size. North America is home to a number of such large species such as several varieties of eagles and condors. In this case, it appears that the skeptics are right.

This video shows an actual "thunderbird attack" captured in Montreal that conforms to most reports, in which a large bird successfully lifts but is unable to carry off a child. Furthermore, the responsible bird can clearly be identified - it's a golden eagle, a common large North American raptor. While it seems remarkable that a bird weighing perhaps ten pounds could possibly be strong enough to lift a child, here it is. Golden eagles grow larger than the bird shown here as well, with potential wingspans of more than seven and a half feet.

The ability to lift prey heavier than their own body weight is a huge evolutionary advantage for eagles. Their normal hunting tactics consist of surveying prey from the air and then swooping down to grab it with their powerful talons. While a human child is larger than the bird's usual prey, clearly they're not above making an occasional attempt if the opportunity presents itself. So this is a classic case of a cryptid legend springing from the actions of a real animal - and a well-recognized one at that.

UPDATE: So it turns out that video is a fake, created by an animation studio in Montreal that has now taken credit for it. Still, I remain convinced that eagles are the best explanation for the stories behind thunderbird attacks, and that the event fabricated in the video is plausible as rendered. A child would be too heavy for an eagle to carry for much of a distance, but it's not impossible that one might decide to try.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christian Oppression Turns Deadly?

No, this is not an article about the real oppression Christians experience in some parts of the world where they are in the minority and discriminated against by members of another majority faith. This is an article about the imaginary oppression that certain Christians claim to experience right here in the United States, and how some of them believe that in response to said oppression God's only recourse is to act like an unbelievable asshole.

Meet Bryan Fischer. Fisher is a right-wing evangelist known for his firm embrace of the Poor Oppressed Christian mindset. In response to the recent Connecticut school shooting, he explained without a trace of irony that his Christian God decided to let a bunch of kids die because schools no longer hold public prayers that favor Christianity over all other religions. Fischer explains:

In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked God's word out of ours schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of our schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted. I am a gentlemen.

In other words, Poor Oppressed Christian Fischer apparently also follows a Poor Oppressed God - a butthurt deity with the power to lift a finger and save lives, but who willfully decides not to simply out of spite. While the problem of evil has been debated for centuries by Christian theologians, I've never heard a more appropriate description of a Demiurge in my entire life. Maybe those first millennium Gnostics were onto something after all. Here's a God who demands special treatment, and if he doesn't get it a bunch of children are going to die.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Investigating an Iowa Haunted House

Here's a ghost story from the neighboring state of Iowa. Over the past few months six student athletes living together in a house in Iowa City began noticing strange occurances. One student claims that the channel on his television set appeared to change on its own. Another saw a shadowy figure that resembled a young girl. The students also heard strange noises, and apparently small objects and pieces of furniture seemed to move on their own in the middle of the night. The furnished attic room of the house seemed to make occupants feel depressed and unmotivated.

Aside from the apparition, frankly a lot of that just sounds like college to me. When a group of people live together, it's not always possible to keep track of who moved what, especially if everyone is on erratic schedules. Television channels can change on their own, sometimes triggered by random electromagnetic signals. There's no mention of how old the house's wiring is, but high EMF could produce small electrical effects at the same time as provoking depression in sensitive individuals. Still, the students contacted a local paranormal investigation team who came and swept the house for anything unusual.

All four members of the paranormal group entered the house with their equipment to see if they could confirm or deny the presence of a spirit, or spirits, in the house. The tools they brought included thermometers, infrared cameras, voice recorders, dowsing rods, and equipment to detect electromagnetic fields.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vigilance Is Just Another Word for Paranoia

I used to joke that if I ever became so super-rich that I had no idea what to spend my money on, I would devote my resources to making the world more fun. I would pay people to put on costumes and go fight crime because a world filled with superheroes is more interesting than one without them. I would put enormous advertising budgets behind concepts so dubious that all they provoke from reasonable folks is nervous laughter, and then see if the mass media picks them up and treats them as legitimate. I would run bizarre political ads of the sort that Stephen Colbert's Super PAC ran during the Republican primaries. And maybe, just maybe, I would erect a giant monument on a Georgia hilltop with my own version of the Ten Commandments rendered in eight different languages - because what sort of weirdo would ever think of doing that? Oh, wait...

Made of Pyramid blue granite, the Georgia Guidestones are meant to withstand the test of time and to communicate knowledge on several levels: philosophically, politically, astronomically, etc. It consists of four major stone blocks, which contain ten guides for living in eight languages: English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. A shorter message is inscribed at the top of the structure in four ancient languages’ scripts: Babylonian, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is important to note that those last four ancient languages are of a great importance in the teachings of occult mystery schools, such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians, organizations I will discuss later.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Russia's Resident Aliens

For years the UFO community has been trying to obtain confirmation from the United States government that space aliens have visited Earth. So far all they've been able to uncover with Freedom of Information Act requests are designs for saucer-shaped aircraft that may or may not have been developed and more than anyone really wants to know about top secret weather balloon experiments. However, based on the latest statement from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev it sounds like they might have better luck in the former Soviet Union. Last Friday the Prime Minister and former President confirmed not only the existence of alien encounters, but that some of those aliens still live among us.

"Along with the briefcase with nuclear codes, the president of the country is given a special 'top secret' folder. This folder in its entirety contains information about aliens who visited our planet," Medvedev answered playfully.

"Along with this, you are given a report of the absolutely secret special service that exercises control over aliens on the territory of our country ... More detailed information on this topic you can get from a well-known movie called 'Men In Black' ... I will not tell you how many of them are among us because it may cause panic," he says.

Naturally the mainstream media claims Medvedev was joking, but let's face it - if the world really has been infiltrated by, say, shape-shifting reptilians mysteriously perceptible to only David Icke, that's exactly what they would want us to think. Maybe the only real inaccuracy in the Men in Black film is that the secret alien refuge on Earth is not Manhattan, but rather located somewhere in Russia. Really, when you think about it, that makes more sense - parts of Siberia are easily remote enough that nobody's going to be around to observe the landing craft.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How Silent Monks Sing

So it's the holidays, and you happen to belong to an order of monks and have taken a vow of silence. You'd like to be able to sing some classic holiday hymns like the Hallelujah Chorus - but how? Here's a creative solution that was originally performed in 2006 at Winter Park High School in Florida. While the video is years old, it has just recently been making the rounds on the Internet. It's also really funny.

This solution wouldn't work for hymns with less repetitive lyrics, but for the Hallelujah Chorus it's perfect. It's also interesting to see all the words spelled out - I had previously thought that the line "And Lord of Lords" was "And Lord Our God" because that's how it sounds to me in most recordings, but in fact that's not the case. At any rate, all silent monks out there should take note - you too can sing! Sometimes there's nothing more fun than hacking the system.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hitting the Social Media

It's been a while since I've updated the social media links for my books. My Facebook author page goes all the way back to shortly after the release of Arcana in 2009. However, seeing as I appear to have two distinct audiences for fiction and non-fiction books I've added two more pages, one for my Guild series of novels and another for my series of Enochian books. I only have one book out in each series so far, but that will be changing soon. Here are the new Facebook links:
I also have created pages for Arcana and Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy on Google+ for those who prefer that platform to Facebook.

Go ahead and 'like' whichever series you happen to be interested in if you primarily use Facebook, add the corresponding Google+ pages to your circles if you primarily use Google+, or do both. That way you can stay in the loop on upcoming publication announcements and so forth.

Arcana generated little buzz back when it was first published, but it's a fun story that includes a lot of real magical elements like Enochian incantations and modern ceremonial forms rendered in more detail than what you usually find in urban fantasy novels. If you enjoy occult fiction, and especially if you find yourself rolling your eyes at the unrealistic magical concepts that most of those books present, I invite you to check it out. In addition to the print edition, you can order it for Kindle from Amazon or in multiple eBook formats from SmashWords.

Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy has gotten good reviews around the blogosphere, which I have compiled here. The ceremonial methods it includes are suitable for both modern and traditional grimoire practitioners, and present a vision of Enochian magick that has room for modern elements but remains true to the content of Dee and Kelley's original system. If you're interested in working with the only portion of the Enochian system that Dee ever assembled into a usable grimoire, it's a must-have - the only book in print that focuses exclusively on the Heptarchia Mystica. In addition to the print editions, you can also order it in multiple eBook formats from SmashWords.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

North Korea Unearths Unicorn Lair

North Korea or Bust!

Yes, it's true. North Korean scientists have located an actual unicorn lair. At least, that is, according to the North Korean press, famous for promoting stories such as how the North Korean weather mourned the recent death of leader Kim Jong-Il. Apparently, in the mythological history of the world's only necrocracy, the unicorn lair plays an important role.

Jo Hui Sung, director of the Institute, told KCNA: "Korea's history books deal with the unicorn, considered to be ridden by King Tongmyong, and its lair.

The Sogyong (Pyongyang) chapter of the old book 'Koryo History' (geographical book), said: Ulmil Pavilion is on the top of Mt. Kumsu, with Yongmyong Temple, one of Pyongyang's eight scenic spots, beneath it. The temple served as a relief palace for King Tongmyong, in which there is the lair of his unicorn.

The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom.

Most experts think that stories about unicorn horns originated with the narwhal, a whale with a single horn that grows from the middle of its forehead. The thing is, a narwhal on top of a mountain makes absolutely no sense, so that can't be it. One wonders - if the unicorn lair turns out to be real, will the creature finally shower the North Korean people with rainbows? The way things have been going there for the last several decades they sure could use some.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Studying Traditional Astrology

A note about the "Magick Monday" plan - there won't necessarily be a Monday post every week, but the idea is that if there is one it will be related to actual magick rather than weird news, cryptozoology, religion, or what have you. Enjoy!

Over the weekend I joined a local discussion group that is studying traditional astrology. Traditional in this context means up to around the eighteenth century or so, when the modern ideas that most of us are more familiar with began to take hold. I first attended a talk on this older form of astrology back in 2010 and one of the key concepts from traditional electional methods, the Mubtazz or Victor of the chart, was incorporated into a series of zodiacal workings performed by my magical working group from 2010-2011. Those workings proved quite effective for accomplishing both mystical and practical goals, and also provided me with much of the data I gathered on EMF and evocation.

For those of you who are used to working with modern astrology, the traditional version has some key differences. The most basic is in the overall approach. Modern astrology operates from the perspective that for the most part your chart represents your mind and is therefore largely psychological. Traditional astrology, on the other hand, looks at the chart as a collection of macrocosmic forces that act upon you in addition to the components of your mind. In effect, it focuses much more strongly on macrocosmic events than its modern counterpart. This allows the traditional form to be approached in a more empirical manner, in which specific predictions can be tested against real-world events. In this way its approach is more similar to that taken by Vedic astrology, though there are many technical differences between the two systems.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bigfoot DNA Sequenced?

For years, bigfoot hunters have been gathering samples of biological material that they believe come from the elusive creature. Ever since the advent of DNA testing technology, cryptozoologists have also been claiming that they're about to sequence DNA from the samples and prove that the Sasquatch is a real animal - and then are never heard from in the media again. Finally, Texas veterinarian Melba Ketchum claims to have done it, and that her results prove the Sasquatch is an ape/human hybrid.

Ketchum's team consists of experts in genetics, forensics, imaging and pathology. The researcher said she believes that over the past five years, the team has successfully found three Sasquatch nuclear genomes -- an organism's hereditary code -- leading them to suggest that the animal is real and a human hybrid.

Ketchum's study showed that part of the DNA her team sequenced revealed an unknown primate species, she said, which suggests that Bigfoot is a real creature that resulted from this primate "crossing with female Homo sapiens."

"They're not any of the large apes -- they branch off as a separate lineage," Ketchum said. "My personal theory is that it probably branched off and evolved in parallel with the rest of the primate lineage."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pat Robertson Actually Makes Sense

Here's a "man bites dog" story - 700 Club evangelist Pat Robertson giving a reasonable answer to a question about creationism. As recently as 2007, Robertson promoted the Creation Museum, which puts forth the idea that since the Earth is thousands rather than billions of years old humans and dinosaurs must have been alive at the same time in the not so distant past. But when questioned recently by a viewer, he gave a completely scientifically accurate answer. That has to be a first.

“Look, I know that people will probably try to lynch me when I say this, but Bishop [James] Ussher wasn’t inspired by the Lord when he said that it all took 6,000 years,” the TV preacher explained. “It just didn’t. You go back in time, you’ve got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things and you’ve got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas.”

“They’re out there,” he continued. “So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don’t try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That’s not the Bible. If you fight science, you’re going to lose your children, and I believe in telling it the way it was.”

Seventeenth-centurey Archbishop James Ussher famously dated the creation to 4004 BCE based on the chronology of the Bible. This date is still accepted by some young-Earth creationists. These same creationists also claim that radiocarbon dating is inaccurate because in the past the oxygen level in the atmosphere was higher (it was, based on bubbles found in amber, but (A) that was millions of years ago and (B) oxygen levels have no effect on radioactive decay). At the same time, many Christian denominations accept the real age of the Earth. Up until now, I just didn't think that Robertson's was one of them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ancient Vampire on the Prowl in Serbia

Eastern Europe is home to the original vampire myth that inspired John Polidori and Bram Stoker. While the modern vampire fiction canon has incorporated a number of foreign elements, such as the incredible speed that was first described in the works of Anne Rice, mentioning Transylvania still evokes the vampire in the popular imagination. Bram Stoker's Dracula is the most famous vampire of all time, having been featured in countless films, and in real life the legend lives on in that part of the world. Recently, villagers in the Serbian town of Zarozje fear that a local vampire named Sava Savanovic may resume his attacks after lying dormant for several centuries.

Legend has it he would kill and drink the blood of the peasants who came to grind their grain at his watermill on the Rogańćica river. A local family bought the building in the 1950s and re-opened it as a profitable tourist attraction. But they were so terrified by what may be lurking within that they refused to go near it — even to perform repairs. Recent trouble began when the old mill collapsed due to decades of neglect.

Now that the mill lies in a pile of rotted wood, everyone is terrified. Particularly since mayor Miodrag Vujetic told Orange UK there had been numerous reports of "strange growls, neither animal nor human" coming from the mill, along with sightings of a "dark tall individual" standing next to the mill in the "dead of night." "People are worried, everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people. We are all frightened," Vujetic said.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Demons are Trying to Turn You Gay

You know, like Stephen Colbert's baby carrots. According to Christian author Contessa Adams demons are coming for your sexual orientation. These foul creatures launch their attacks in the form of nightmares and erotic dreams and apparently have some sort of vested interest in turning people gay. So far nobody has come up with an adequate explanation of what cultivating gayness does for demons, even in an occult or magical sense, but many Christians like Adams are convinced that they are at it nonetheless. This belief is at the root of a number of harmful practices, such as performing exorcisms on gay people in hopes of turning them straight. The idea that maybe these nightmares and erotic dreams are just nightmares and erotic dreams never really seems to be considered plausible among these folks, though attributing them to supernatural forces strikes them as completely reasonable.

These spiritual rapists, as Adams describes them in her book, Consequences, often prey on people by performing sexual acts through nightmares and erotic dreams. Some people become so dependent upon these demonic experiences that they actually look forward to them. "Anybody that has been attacked by them will tell you ... they're worried [that] they could not find that pleasure with mortal people," says Adams, who claims she was once possessed by sexual demons.

The two most identifiable sexual demons are the incubus, which is a male sexual demon that traditionally assaults women, and the succubus, which is a female sexual demon that assaults men. Sometimes they also lure people into homosexual behavior. Adams notes that one evangelist, whose name she would not divulge, was so troubled by the sexual pleasure the succubus gave her that she even contemplated suicide. Adams says the succubus spirit that used to attack her confused her so much that she contemplated becoming a lesbian.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rare Witch-Hunting Manual Uncovered

The most famous witch-hunting manual used by secular courts during Europe's "witch craze" was the Malleus Maleficarum, or "Hammer of the Witches." It outlined various ideas about witchcraft drawn from the popular culture of the day and detailed the general procedure used for witchcraft prosecutions. However, the Malleus, published in 1487, was not the only such book in use, but rather the most widely disseminated and thus the most well-known today. It drew on more obscure works such as Johannes Nider's Formicanus published fifty years earlier, and despite its fearsome reputation in fact rejected some of the most fanciful and ridiculous claims regarding the activity of witches.

Recently a more lurid and detailed witch-hunting manual was found in the University of Alberta library. This book was published twenty years before the Malleus in 1465 and is extremely rare, with only three other copies known. Its claims are also considerably more far-fetched. It includes descriptions of the supposed powers possessed by witches such as flying on broomsticks and conjuring lightning along with a comprehensive guide to extracting confessions from them under torture. Andrew Gow, the medieval history professor who discovered the book, admitted that he finds its contents so distasteful that he does not even like to come near it.

Entitled, Invectives Against the Sect of Waldensians — a name for a Christian sect that was confused with witches in 15th-century France — the manuscript is thought to have been written around 1465 by a monk in what is now France’s Burgundy region, possibly for England’s King Edward IV, said Gow. It is exceedingly rare — one of only four copies known to exist — and is thought to be one of the founding texts in the modern conception of witchcraft.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Angolan Catholic Church Calls for Witchcraft Ban

On the list of things for which I am thankful, one entry that keeps coming up year after year is that I don't live in Africa. In Angola, the Roman Catholic Church is calling for a new law banning "witchcraft" - that is, traditional spiritual practices. Witchcraft laws vary throughout Africa, with some countries banning related practices and others banning the witchcraft accusations that can lead to lynching at the hands of angry mobs. Perhaps the Church is worried about the accused, who usually bear the brunt of this violence. However, it seems to me that if they were genuinely concerned about innocent lives they would be calling for a ban on accusations. Such laws, while not perfect, have helped reduce violence against accused witches in other African nations. Instead, it sounds like the Church's real goal is to preserve what remains of its spiritual authority.

The Roman Catholic Church in Angola on Wednesday demanded new laws to outlaw witchcraft, claiming the practice had reached "chronic" proportions. "It is affecting more and more followers, it destroys family ties and affects relations among people," said Francisco Viti, the archbishop of the central city of Huambo.

Angola does not have laws against witchcraft, leaving communities to deal with the issue as they see fit. Suspected witches have been lynched. "There is a legal vacuum with regards to witchcraft, which does not constitute a crime -- yet the consequences are killings, violence, libel and slander," said Jose Manuel Imbamba a Church spokesman. "This is a chronic problem in Angola, but nobody has the courage to confront it," he added.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

British Bigfoot Spotted in Kent

Not really Bigfoot, and not really Kent

One of the arguments for the existence of the Yeti and Sasquatch is that southeast Asia has produced some fossil remains of a creature named Gigantopithecus Blacki, a very large apelike creature that could fit the description of the enigmatic "abominable snowman." More controversially, part of a fossilized skull was found in California that some primatologists believe may have come from Gigantopithecus or a close relative. Given the "land bridge" that connected Asia and the Americas during the last ice age, it is at least plausible that this large ape could have found its way to the Pacific Northwest.

The main problem with this hypothesis, grounded as it is in the fossil record, is that the last remains of Gigantopithecus date back around a hundred thousand years ago. For the creature to have survived up to the present day a population would have to have lived for a very long time without producing any verifiable remains. Another blow to the hypothesis is the discovery that the "Yeti" relics of Asia are generally the remains of the Himalayan Black Bear, which does in fact walk upright more often than other bear species and can be mistaken for an ape at long distances. Some investigators have hypothesized that the North American Bigfoot might likewise be a kind of bear, which would imply some of the most famous evidence for the creature such as the Patterson film must have been faked. The Patterson Bigfoot might be a special effect, but it clearly is not a bear.

At any rate, none of this is really relevant to today's story because it concerns a Bigfoot sighting in England, a country that has no large fossil apes and in which wild bears have been extinct for many centuries. So what's left? Presumably it's either a guy in a suit or the real thing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Real Illuminati Exposed!

I've decided to try running a new feature here on Augoeides - "Magick Mondays." While I comment on a lot of weird news articles, I'm hoping to get back to writing more original pieces on various topics related to occultism in theory, practice, and history. Last Monday I posted an article on Qabalistic Ritual Construction, and this week I'm writing about the reality behind the dreaded Illuminati Order of Christian conspiracy theorists.

The mysterious secret society known as the Illuminati haunts the dreams of many a fundamentalist fanatic. According to Christian conspiracy theorists, the Illuminati are behind virtually every powerful group and celebrity in all of Western civilization and are busy at work promulgating the agenda of Satan against the true children of God - that is, the aforementioned Christian conspiracy theorists. The Illuminati are obviously involved in anything related to occultism, and my guess is there are readers of this blog out there who consider me one of their agents.

A while back I addressed this in a tongue-in-cheek manner, demanding my millions of dollars from the Illuminati for whom I supposedly work. I figured if I was doing the job, I should get paid for it. And, if the conspiracy theorists are right, the Illuminati are incredibly rich and powerful. They certainly should be able to afford to subsidize my writing and blogging - you know, like the aristocratic patrons of old. That post led to this clever practical joke that I'm fairly certain was pulled by one or more of the members of my magical working group - though none of them have ever fessed up, which I will say is a testament to their power to keep silence.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New Evidence for the Sundaland Hypothesis

Back in March, Gordon posted an article discussing, among other things, the Sundaland hypothesis. The idea is this - many cultures have stories that seem to indicate the existence of some older civilization that was swallowed up by the ocean, with Plato's tale of Atlantis being the most famous in Western folklore. New Agers have taken the idea and run with it, some imagining a mythical Atlantis complete with all the science fiction technology one could imagine that nevertheless found itself powerless to deal with widespread flooding. I will point out to anyone who finds this concept believable that much of the Netherlands is below sea level and the people who live there have been managing ocean levels for centuries, even before the existence of early industrial let alone modern technology.

Still, the essential idea of a sophisticated ancient civilization that sank into the ocean is not completely ridiculous, just the science fiction bits. At the end of the last ice age, the glaciers that covered much of Europe and the Americas melted, resulting in the ocean rising hundreds of feet in a relatively short time. Enter Sundaland, part of the area that we now call Indonesia. Today it consists of a series of disconnected island, but the seas around those islands are relatively shallow and would have been fertile dry land during the last ice age - a perfect place for a sophisticated civilization to arise. According to the Sundaland hypothesis, this civilization was the world's oldest, and when the sea levels rose its inhabitants migrated to the Indus Valley and rebuilt there. As evidence, proponents of the hypothesis have noted that in the Indus Valley it seemed that civilization came into being quickly and all at once, implying that the people who settled there may have migrated from elsewhere.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When Priests Attack

When Jesus told his disciples to love their neighbors I'm pretty sure he was talking about the diametric opposite of this. Last weekend two elderly Australian priests living in the same building complex got into a fight over a parking space. In a scene one would usually expect to see in B-movie involving demonic possession or something, the altercation ended with one of them biting off the other's ear.

Father Thomas Byrne, 80, battled 81-year-old Father Thomas Joseph Smith in their building complex yesterday in Perth, Australia, police say. After the fight, Byrne told Smith to pick something up off the ground; only when he got home did Smith realize it was his ear. So he wrapped it in a towel and rushed to a hospital for surgery.

When the two showed up in court, Byrne was sporting a black eye and Smith his newly reattached ear. A judge charged Byrne with grievous bodily harm and imposed tough bail restrictions: no going within 30 feet of Father Smith, no threatening him, and no communicating in any way.

I suppose it's a good thing that Byrne was polite enough to remind his adversary to take his severed ear with him. Perhaps he has his spiritual practice to thank for this, as I imagine it would be difficult for most people to act with even marginal grace after a fit of ear-biting anger. At the same time, wouldn't it have been infinitely better still if he hadn't bitten it off in the first place?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Satan's Toaster

This old video from the Today Show has been making the rounds on the social networks over the last couple of days, but it's just too good not to post here. In a segment on supermarket tabloids, we meet a woman who had sex with aliens, a man who was rescued from drowning by his ventriloquist's dummy, and a woman who claimed her toaster was possessed by the devil. It's important to keep in mind regarding the latter story that this aired in the mid-eighties when a substantial group of people actually believed that objects like household appliances could be possessed and that the devil was lurking everywhere, and this belief is part of what fueled the bogus "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare.

Personally, I used to love the Weekly World News back before it went online-only. I didn't believe much of it, but that wasn't the point. It was the so-called news source that gave us Bat Boy, conservative columnist Ed Anger (possibly a predecessor to Stephen Colbert, and to my knowledge the writer who coined the phrase "pig-biting mad"), Elvis Presley sightings, and more fortean accounts of monsters, aliens, and so forth than one could ever want. It also reported many sightings of the devil, such as stories accompanied by images of devil faces photoshopped over thunderstorms and debris clouds from natural disasters. As you might expect, image manipulation technology was an absolute boon to the tabloid industry, and the Weekly World News in particular.

The three stories covered in the video are all quite weird, but as you might expect the only one that includes any sort of demonstration or evidence - Satan's toaster - is obviously a hoax. The piece of toast reading "Satan Lives" has clearly had the letters cut into it rather than burned during the toasting process. The toaster does shoot up a two foot flame, which is pretty impressive, but if you watch the video you can see the woman push the toaster away from her the moment she gets the toast in - you know, like she had some idea of what was about to happen. Finally, the last line, "it makes good toast," sounds way too much like a punchline to a bad joke and pretty much lets anybody who's paying attention in on the gag.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Qabalistic Ritual Construction

While Augoeides has only been around since 2006, I've had an esoteric web site of some sort online since the late 1990's. Many of the items were simply links to rituals I liked and so forth, but a few were original articles on various magical subjects. I've gotten a few questions via e-mail recently regarding the use of Aleister Crowley's Liber 777 for the construction of rituals such as the various planetary rites I have posted on this blog. My old site was the home of the following article, and I'm reposting it here because the only way to link to it prior to now was to dig into the Internet Archives. Building rituals using Liber 777 is not nearly as complex as it seems at first when you pick up the book and flip through the tables. It is my hope that this article will lay out the process in more explicit detail and dispel some of that confusion.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Proof of Precognition?

One of the advantages of quantum consciousness models is that so far they seem to be just about the only thing that explains some of the weirdness researchers have discovered with respect to the mind and how it appears to interact with the world. A recent example of this can be found in a study by a group of researchers at Northwestern University, who seem to have discovered a rudimentary form of precognition that they have termed "presentiment."

The Northwestern University researchers analyzed the results of 26 studies published between 1978 and 2010 to look into whether humans have the ability to predict future important events without any clues as to what might happen, said Julia Mossbridge, lead author of the study and research associate in the Visual Perception, Cognition and Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern.

Her example is that a person playing a video game at work while wearing headphones can’t hear when his or her boss is coming, but they may be able to anticipate it.

“But our analysis suggests that if you were tuned into your body, you might be able to detect these anticipatory changes between two and 10 seconds beforehand and close your video game,” Mossbridge. “You might even have a chance to open that spreadsheet you were supposed to be working on. And if you were lucky, you could do all this before your boss entered the room.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Demons Hate This Film

Up until a year or two ago I used to find a lot of my weird news stories on the British news site Metro. More recently, though, the paranormal items have practically vanished from the weird news section and been replaced with animal stories and coverage of oddities like the world's largest ball of string. Imagine my surprise, then, to come across this gem - a film afflicted by demonic possession. Producer Bil Bungay is convinced that an "evil presence" affected screenings of his movie When the Lights Went Out, and organized a mass exorcism to combat it.

Two screenings of the chiller at London’s Soho Screening Rooms have been hit by blackouts, leading Mr Bungay to conclude the film was suffering ‘the effects of a demonic possession’.

He decided on a mass exorcism, with the help of 100 men and women of the cloth – who happen to be his friends.

The film is based on an alleged haunting that took place in a Yorkshire council house that was home to director Pat Holden’s aunt, Jean Pritchard in the early 1970s. Mr Bungay said: ‘It was one thing to put the first power failure down to a bit of bad luck.

‘But to move cinemas and have exactly the same thing happen 20 minutes into the movie when the evil presence is first felt, was beyond coincidence, and has caused much concern for the production.’

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So the Ayahuasca Was Right

The day before the United States presidential election a group of Peruvian shamanic practitioners (note: not "shamans" - the term is culture-specific to northern Asia) issued their prediction for the race. Following a ritual that involved the consumption of the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca and coca leaves, they concluded that President Obama would be re-elected - and he was.

Members of the group placed flower petals on photos of the candidates that were also swept over with tobacco smoke. The shamans chewed coca leaves, a traditional ceremonial and medicinal plant since Inca times that helps fight altitude sickness.

And the crew took some swigs of ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew used widely among Amazon basin indigenous people. At least one thing was clear, they said: Obama should defeat Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday.

It seems that the Mormon prayers supporting Governor Romney fell short in the end. However, a pretty good case can be made that they did something. In early October it looked like the Republican nominee was on the verge of being put away for good, but a fortuitous set of events coinciding with the prayer initiative gave his campaign new life.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Physics and the Elder Gods

Back when I was in college a group of folks calling themselves the "Campus Crusade for C'thulhu" was going around telling people that rather than voting for the lesser of two evils, they should vote for the greatest of all possible evils. They may still be around someplace, though I haven't heard from them in awhile. Here in the United States it's election day, so I want to remind my American readers to get out and vote. Even if it's for the greatest of all possible evils - or, for that matter, Aleister Crowley.

In the meantime, here's an amusing article regarding the aforementioned greatest of all possible evils. It's a serious-sounding scientific treatment of the "non-Euclidean geometry" that H. P. Lovecraft associated with Elder Gods such as C'thulhu in his stories, and it's brilliant. Here's a sample from the abstract:

In 1928, the late Francis Wayland Thurston published a scandalous manuscript in purport of warning the world of a global conspiracy of occultists. Among the documents he gathered to support his thesis was the personal account of a sailor by the name of Gustaf Johansen, describing an encounter with an extraordinary island. Johansen’s descriptions of his adventures upon the island are fantastic, and are often considered the most enigmatic (and therefore the highlight) of Thurston’s collection of documents.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What the Maya Officially Believe About 2012

I've already mentioned a number of times on this blog that actual Mayans think the whole "2012 apocalypse" being promulgated by the New Age community is ridiculous and has nothing to do with their beliefs. Now there's finally an official announcement to that effect.

Maya alliance spokesman Felipe Gomez has issued a statement to the media explaining how his people interpret the new calendar cycle that begins on December 21 of this year. The statement was issued in response to Westerners attempting to turn a profit off these far-out doomsday predictions in the form of books, films, songs, and even an expensive "doomsday" bike tour.

Doomsday and catastrophic predictions related to the Mayan calendar, which hits a symbolic turning point on Dec. 21, 2012, aren't new. They already permeate pop culture through films, songs and hundreds of books. But as the new year approaches, interest has spiked. A Reuters survey in May found that one in 10 people believe that the Mayan calendar could signify the end of the world in 2012, and 15 percent of people believe the world will end in their lifetime. Web sites and message boards promoting the "Mayan doomsday" date have proliferated, and at least one company is selling $5,300 tickets for a 28-day "La Ruta Maya" bike tour that will begin in Costa Rica and end on Dec. 21 in Belize.

Gomez said the Dec. 21 "doomsday" is actually the beginning of a new time cycle on the Mayan calendar and "means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature," according to the AFP.

Gomez's told the AFP that his group is organizing what it sees as more respectful and sacred events to mark the turn of the new Mayan calendar in five cities. He suggested that the government instead support these gatherings, the AFP reported.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The World's Happiest Man?

Brainwaves are at best an indirect measure of consciousness, but that fact alone does not render them useless for assessing an individual's degree of realization. Back in 1999 neuroscientist James Austin reviewed the existing studies on advanced meditators and concluded in Zen and the Brain that the intensity of brainwaves in the gamma range seemed to correlate closely with the reported quality of spiritual experiences. Brainwaves are a measure of the overall firing rate of neurons as recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG). Researchers classify these waves into six frequency categories. Delta has a frequency of up to 4 Hz, Theta from 4-8 Hz, Alpha and Mu from 8-13 Hz, Beta from 13-30 Hz, and Gamma 30 Hz and above. The latter, therefore, represent the highest frequency waves that EEG scans have found.

Researchers have now announced that during deep meditation the brain of Matthieu Ricard, a colleague of the Dalai Lama, appears to produce the highest level of gamma waves ever measured. This prompted popular media outlets to announce that Ricard had been identified as "the world's happiest man," which is perhaps a bit of a stretch given the subjectivity happiness. Based on the previous research, though, a solid case can be made that at the very least he is one of the most realized. The EEG may not be a genuine consciousness measure, but it certainly provides a great deal of insight into the states of consciousness reached during meditation and other similar practices.

The brain scans of Matthieu Ricard, a renowned Buddhist thinker, show that his gray matter emits a quantity of gamma waves "never reported before in the neuroscience literature" when he meditates on compassion, a scientist says. Gamma waves are associated with memory, learning, attention, and consciousness.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Model for Quantum Consciousness

I first read Sir Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind back when I was in college working on my psychology degree. In the book Penrose reviewed much of the current research surrounding consciousness and concluded that the most reasonable explanation for the bulk of the data was to envision consciousness as a coherent phenomenon related to quantum interactions within the brain. At the time of publication, 1989, he concluded that these quantum effects were possibly unknowable, which would seriously impede any effort to construct a fully conscious form of artificial intelligence.

However, since 1989 incredible strides have been made in terms of mapping brain activity. More recently Penrose and others who support his ideas believe they may have found the point of interaction between neurons and the quantum realm, in the form of tiny structures called microtubules. With the recent fuss over Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven, near-death experiences are once more in the news. On a recent television documentary, Penrose colleague Dr. Stuart Hameroff commented on how the quantum microtubule idea could model and explain such experiences.

According to this idea, consciousness is a program for a quantum computer in the brain which can persist in the universe even after death, explaining the perceptions of those who have near-death experiences.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is Hurricane Sandy Coming for the Gays?

As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, evangelist John McTernan knows exactly who to blame for the massive storm. It's coming for the gays. Huffington Post reports that in a blog post, McTernan recently linked the storm to President Obama's announcement of support for same-sex marriage - and, course, those icky gay people in general, just because. This sort of pronouncement is nothing new for right-wing evangelicals, who have blamed everything from Hurricane Katrina to the 9/11 attacks on the supposed limitless God-enraging power of gays.

In a wordy and occasionally rambling blog on his website, chaplain John McTernan seems to link Hurricane Sandy (and a number of other recent weather-related trends and natural disasters) on LGBT people and President Barack Obama's recent backing of marriage equality. While most of McTernan's wrath is directed at Obama, he has some choice words for GOP candidate Mitt Romney, too.

"God is systematically destroying America," McTernan writes. "Just look at what has happened this year."

Calling Sandy "the most powerful hurricane on record" (it's not) that "could do catastrophic damage to the entire Northeast," McTernan adds, "Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood (he's not) which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!"

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Trouble With Orbs

Anybody who's watched Ghost Hunters should be well aware of Jason and Grant's stance on orbs, mysterious lights that appear in photographs and which some investigators believe are proof of paranormal activity. The Ghost Hunters are skeptical about these phenomena, and for good reason. There are many natural explanations for orb phenomena and only when all of those are eliminated can such a light be described as paranormal. Camera issues tend to be the top explanation for orbs, followed by dust or lint in the air that can reflect light. As an example, take a look at the photograph above. You can click on it to enlarge. The picture was taken by Amy Voight, a photographer for the Toledo Blade, at the Mansion View Inn during a night-long paranormal investigation of the purportedly haunted site. The photograph was the only piece of evidence collected during the investigation that showed anything unusual.

Amy set up a tripod and set her camera for a minute-long exposure so it could soak in all available light. And that's when our night proved most interesting. There was nothing on the staircase, yet after the first shot the image on the camera's digital screen showed a blob of white light in the middle of the staircase.

Amy shot the staircase again and the unexplainable bright blur was still there. I marched up the stairs and stood just to the right of where the illuminated glob was, as we'd seen on her camera screen. There was nothing on the stairs. No light reflection from a nearby light fixture or from outside the facing window. It was simply dark carpeting on the stairs. I put my foot down where the glow was and Amy took another photo which shows the light fading away. In the two subsequent photos with me standing in the same spot on the stairs, the light is gone. These photos were all taken roughly a minute apart.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Glimmerings of Transpersonal Realization

About a month ago Aeon Magazine published this article by science fiction writer Ken MacLeod. In the article, MacLeod describes several experiences that to him seem inexplicable, but which are quite familiar to practicing magicians. We work with these states of consciousness all the time, or least we should if we are being diligent in our practices. MacLeod's accounts are rendered in a matter-of-fact way without the hype of the overly religious or the immediate dismissal of the professional skeptic, and as such they provide good examples of how these experiences feel from a relatively objective perspective - or, at least as objective as is possible when relating inner states of consciousness.

MacLeod groups his experiences into two categories, both of which I would describe as forms of transpersonal realization. The first type is a sense of presence that he has encountered twice, both times when in close contact with nature. The first of these instances happened when he was a child exploring a wild area near his home on the Isle of Lewis.

On at least one, maybe more, of these adventures I became intensely aware of something that rang from the silence, sunlight, solitude, and rock. I can only describe it as a sense of some enormous presence. It was everywhere, like the shimmer of the heat in the air. Maybe I was frightened at first but that passed, and it became something that was just there, like the light.

Not surprisingly for a son of the manse, I had not even the most childish spirituality. I believed what I was told, but as far I was concerned it was all facts about some reality of which I had no personal experience, like Australia. It just didn’t occur to me to attribute this feeling of presence to God, or to any other supernatural agency.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Questioning Eben Alexander

Two weeks ago I put up a post discussing the claims of Dr. Eben Alexander III, a prominent neurosurgeon who has written a new book describing a near-death experience that occurred while he was in a coma. His book, called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife, is rapidly rising on the bestseller lists, but its actual content raises some new questions about the accuracy of his account.

While the experiences Alexander describes contain many features common to near-death experiences reported all over the world, they are cast in explicit, sectarian terms specific to Christianity and seem to contain an extraordinary level of detail. Some of this may be due to the duration of his coma - he was unconscious without measurable brain function for a full week, whereas most near-death experiences only last minutes. However, a careful reading of the book reveals another possible explanation - not only was he not the skeptic he claimed to be prior to his coma, he may very well have conflated his memory of the experience with other events from his life both before and after his illness. Slate's Daniel Engber explains:

For starters, Alexander says it took him "months to come to terms with what happened," as if he'd had to reconstruct the ultra-real experience after his recovery. One might timidly suggest that the story is confabulated—that is to say, his wounded brain filled in the gaps in time with a holy flight of fancy. (Perhaps his experience of "flying" came from memories of skydiving while a student at University of North Carolina?) It also seems at least half-plausible that Alexander's dreamy chit-chat with Jehovah happened in his head, as he was emerging from his coma, and during a time in which the author says he suffered from what's called "ICU psychosis." In the book—which I've had the great displeasure of perusing—he describes waking up to "a strange and exhausting paranoid universe" in which "Internet messages" showed up wherever he looked, and a "grinding, monotonous, anti-melodious chanting" filled his head. "Some of the dreams I had during this period were stunningly and frighteningly vivid," he says.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fear the Free Yoga Classes!

For the past month the school district in Encinatas, California has been offering free yoga classes to students. In order to comply with federal guidelines regarding the promotion of religion in schools, the classes do not include any eastern religious content and consist of the same sort of stretching and breathing exercises that you would find in a totally secular exercise class at your local YMCA (Note: the 'C' there does in fact stand for "Christian"). Furthermore, the classes are elective so no students are forced to participate. None of that is good enough for a group of paranoid Christian parents, who fear that the complete absence of eastern religious teachings in the classes somehow constitutes indoctrination into Hinduism. An e-mail sent by these parents on October 12th to Superintendent Tim Baird threatened legal action if the classes were not stopped.

The district has removed any religious content from the twice-weekly classes, Baird said.

"I think that they really would like to think that, but I don't think that, in actuality, it has been done," said Mary Eady, who removed her son from the classes. "There's really a lot of unease among a lot of parents."

The superintendent said only a few parents have pulled their children from the yoga classes and he did not expect district trustees to cancel the program. "Our goal is that kids get a really healthy workout, that they get a chance to relax and reduce stress and yoga's perfect for that," Baird said.

"Yoga is a worldwide exercise regime utilized by people of many different faiths," he said. "Yoga is part of our mainstream culture."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trademarking Religious Expression?

New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow is a controversial figure in the National Football League. This is not due to his ability on the field, as Tebow is a decent but not amazing player. Rather, it is because of his highly public Christian beliefs. While most football players are Christian, just like most Americans, Tewbow is incredibly over-the-top about it. Last season with the Denver Broncos he took to kneeling down and praying after successful plays, which sports commentators began describing as "Tebowing." Debate raged over whether Tebow was merely an especially devout Christian or in fact a grandstanding narcissist, and now Tebow himself appears to have answered that question - by trying to trademark his own name as a term for prayer.

A management and consulting firm representing New York Jets back-up quarterback and evangelical sports icon Tim Tebow has moved one step closer to holding the trademark "Tebowing" for use on things as widespread as clothing, pencil sharpeners and holiday ornaments.

Tebow has long been very public about his Christian faith. In college, he sported Bible verses on his eye black, which the NCAA went on to ban after his graduation. Tebow invoked God frequently at news conferences and wrote at length about his faith and growing up the son of evangelical missionaries the Philippines in an autobiography.

"Tebowing" became part of the American lexicon when Tebow, then a second year player for the Denver Broncos, was photographed bowing in prayer in the end zone on one knee, helmeted head bowed a top a clenched fist. It quickly became an Internet meme.

Friday, October 19, 2012

This is Your Brain on Prayer

Huffington Post has an article up today that discusses active areas of the brain during prayer. I'm a big fan of this sort of research, because I think if we are ever going to understand religious or spiritual experiences we need to have a good idea of what the brain is doing when those experiences are going on. According to the study, brain scans of religious people engaged in prayer show higher levels of activity in both the prefrontal cortex and the language processing center than do baseline control scans.

Note that this should not be taken to imply that I embrace the so-called "epiphenomenon" model that treats consciousness as a sort of side effect of brain activity, but rather that I believe consciousness and the brain are tightly integrated and interact in a strongly related fashion. Since directly measuring consciousness is not yet possible, we need to examine the side of the equation that can be directly observed in order to get greater insight into what is going on with the system as a whole.

The red part indicates greater activity, and in this case, increased activity is observed in the frontal lobes and the language area of the brain. This is the part of the brain that activates during conversation, and Dr. Newberg believes that for the brain, praying to God in the Judeo-Christian tradition is similar to talking to people. "When we study Buddhist meditation where they are visualizing something, we might expect to see a change or increased activity in the visual part of the brain," Dr. Newberg said.

While observing atheists meditating or "contemplating God," Dr. Newberg did not observe any of the brain activity in the frontal lobe that he observed in religious people.