Friday, September 28, 2012

Above All Else, Experiment!

Recently over on Magick of Thought I was involved in a discussion of magical shielding methods. In response to a question from a commenter about my personal shielding practices, I wrote the following:

The short answer is that I don’t. Working shielded makes your magick less effective in terms of influencing material events. Even if you put up a shield that’s perfectly permeable to your own magical workings, which takes some skill, it still takes some of your energy/power/strength/whatever you want to call it just to maintain the shield. If the overall probability shift you can produce is P(Total), then for a shielded ritual your maximum effect can’t be greater than P(Total) – P(Shield). If your shield isn’t perfectly permeable, then you’re looking at R(Shield), resistance produced by the shield. So then your maximum effect becomes P(Total) – P(Shield) – R(Shield).

Yesterday Taylor Ellwood put up a post on Magical Experiments in response to my comments. One of the interesting things I noted about it is that even though he disagrees with them, he discusses working with a technique he calls the "Sphere of Art" that sounds remarkably similar to what I call an operant field in the context of my own work.

Now when this technique is used it does serve to create a very specific space/time that excludes anything not brought into it by the practitioner. However the beauty of it is that you can bring into it exactly what you need to work with, be it an entity, possibility or something else. Additionally, what is also significant is that when you wrap up the magical working, and return that space/time to regular space/time, you merge it with and embody it into reality, making a seamless transition where there is no resistance to the possibility being manifested.

For reference, compare that to this, particularly the description of the operant field at the bottom of the article. I talk about it in the context of the ceremonial forms that I generally use, but it sounds like the Sphere of Art is probably the same sort of thing created with different methods.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Africa's "Resurrectionists"

Back in the early days of European medical science obtaining cadavers for dissection was illegal. As medical schools began to realize that working on human rather than animal bodies was essential to education and research, a new criminal profession emerged - that of the so-called resurrectionist. The term did not describe the practice of bringing the dead back to life, but rather that of professional grave-robbing. Resurrectionists would keep an eye out for newly dug graves, secretly exhume the bodies, and sell them to medical schools and researchers. Today in Africa a similar profession has emerged, but the resurrectionists there do not work for scientists. Instead, the body parts they procure are sold to traditional magical practitioners for use in spells. Five people were recently arrested in Cameroon attempting to deliver a human head to a buyer in Yaounde.

Authorities in Cameroon have arrested five people suspected of trafficking in body parts after they were discovered at a checkpoint carrying a severed human head, state radio and wildlife conservationists said on Tuesday.

Body parts of humans and rare animals are prized by some in central Africa for their supposed supernatural powers, and used in occult ceremonies.
Traffickers often get human remains from grave-robbers, but a recent spate of killings has also been linked to the gruesome trade.

Cameroon's state-owned broadcaster CRTV said the suspects had been transporting the body parts in a bag along with elephant meat from Djoum, a small town about 280 km (170 miles)south of the capital Yaounde, when they were stopped at a checkpoint.

Those arrested told the authorities that they had been promised 10 million CFA francs in exchange for the head. As it was in Europe, the African trade in body parts appears to be profitable enough that an effective crackdown will likely prove quite difficult. The original resurrectionists were not stopped by increased law enforcement, though many cities did enact measures intended to shut them down. Instead, the development of legal methods for medical schools and universities to obtain bodies rendered the grave-robbing trade obsolete. Its hard to see how something similar could work in places like Cameroon, as I can't imagine very many people wanting to donate their bodies to sorcery rather than science.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Does "Intuitive" Mean "Esotericist?"

It's pretty obvious to just about everyone that esotericists are by their nature relatively uncommon. The study of magick has never been a subject pursued by the majority of people, and even before the rise of scientific materialism it remained in the hands of a small group of intellectuals who generally had ties to or were themselves members of the aristocracy. Some of the reasons for this are obvious - Renaissance peasants, for example, spent so much time and effort working the land that little was left over for the pursuit of any scholarly discipline, and in fact the Renaissance itself was mostly a movement confined to the upper eschelons of society. However, it also is true that throughout history the percentage of spiritual technologists, including practitioners of everything from shamanism to what today is called "high magick," has remained both small and relatively constant.

I came across this article the other day talking about the differences between what are called Sensing and Intuitive types on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, a personality test that has been widely used for many years in both business and academia. While the article is written in an informal style and intended for an audience of musicians rather than psychologists, I studied the MMPI pretty extensively back in college and its basic facts are correct. Intuitive types are substantially rarer than Sensing types, and while "Intuitive" in this sense has to do with a style of processing information rather than anything paranormal like psychic intuitions, many of the personality traits exhibited by Intuitives are quite similar to those that I commonly observe in other magical practitioners.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Astrology on Wall Street

It's well known among investors and financial analysts alike that predicting financial markets is extremely difficult and it's pretty much mathematically impossible for anyone to get it right all of the time. I suppose, then, it's no surprise to see traders looking for any advantage they can get, even if it comes from a paranormal source. Apparently, thousands of traders are now relying on astrology to help them make investment decisions.

According to MarketPlace, reports Wall Street and Tech, “at least 3,000 traders are currently paying $237 each year to subscribe to financial astrologer Karen Starich’s newsletter, while a couple thousand more subscribe to Arch Crawford’s astrology-based financial forecasts.”

This is the first report I've seen that includes the actual numbers, but I will say that I've heard rumors going back decades that many major Wall Street figures at the very least take astrology into account alongside conventional analysis. My guess is that the practice would not endure unless there was something to it, no matter what the skeptics say. What that something is, though, is open to debate. As a magician, I believe that esoteric relationships exist between the planets and various archetypal concepts and forces. However, as a scientist, I also am familiar with research suggesting that while such a relationship may exist, it is small enough that it does not fully explain our fascination with the subject.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mullet Cult Convicted

The trial of Sam Mullet and fifteen of his Bergholz Clan followers ended yesterday with convictions for all of them on federal hate crime charges. This goes to show that even if your name is Mullet you'll still get in a lot of trouble if you order people to go around cutting hair, and arguing that you were just following the hair-cutting orders of a guy named Mullet won't help you either.

Sam Mullet Sr. and the 15 followers were found guilty of conspiracy to violate federal hate-crime law in connection with what authorities said were the religiously motivated attacks on several fellow Amish people last year. The verdicts were read in U.S. District Court in Cleveland following several days of jury deliberation and a trial that began in late August, a U.S. attorney's office said.

Prosecutors said the 15 followers, at Mullet's instruction, shaved the beards and cut the hair of Amish people who had left his group over various religious disagreements. Five attacks happened in four Ohio counties between September and November 2011, authorities said. To the Amish, a beard is a significant symbol of faith and manhood, and the way Amish women wear their hair also is a symbol of faith, authorities said.

When interviewed back in November, Mullet was smug about the charges against him, questioning whether beard-cutting could even be considered a crime. Well, the answer is that in this case it can under hate crime laws, because hair and beards have great religious significance to the Amish. Reuters reports that Mullet and his followers face a minimum sentence of 210 months, so it sounds like they will have many years of bad prison haircuts ahead of them.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Creationists Hate Feathers

Well, at least if those feathers happen to be attached to a dinosaur. Back when I was a kid dinosaurs were thought of as large lizards - in fact, "terrible lizard" is the etymology of the word - but then science happened. The most recent research shows not only were dinosaurs the direct ancestors of modern birds, they were also the first creatures to develop feathers. Modern renderings of dinosaurs like the image above emphasize both the existence of feathers and a birdlike appearance, and are believed to be much closer to what the "terrible lizards" really looked like. Creationists, though, take exception to this, insisting that the older idea of what dinosaurs looked like is in fact correct and that their newly discovered birdlike appearance is part of an evil plot by secular humanists to undermine true believers. Why any scientist would bother with such a thing, I suppose, remains one of those mysteries of faith.

Dinosaurs are unlikely symbols of religious fundamentalism. The first dinosaurs evolved about 230 million years ago, and, with the exception of birds, perished about 66 million years ago. Archaic humans didn’t originate until 60 million years later, so it’s not surprising that Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and kin aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Of course, Ham and like-minded literalists would beg to differ. Non-avian dinosaurs were created on Day 6 of creation week 6,000 years ago, with birds being brought into existence on Day 5 (which is out of order with the fossil record). Creationists also fervently believe that Behemoth and Leviathan of the Old Testament were actually dinosaurs, all scientific and historical evidence to the contrary. I’ve never seen creationists propose that we lived in a Dinotopia per se, but a saddle-bearing dinosaur at the Creation Museum is meant not as a fanciful kiddy ride but as a historical reconstruction.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Communion on the Moon

Here's an interesting story I came across from the Apollo space program. Did you know that before walking on the moon Buzz Aldrin performed a brief eucharist ritual? Neither did I. The story was kept quiet up for years because NASA was concerned that it would be seen as associating Christianity with the space program, a massive government-funded enterprise, in violation of the separation of church and state. Apparently concerns had been raised after a bible verse was read over the radio from space during one of the earlier flights about the possibility of "preaching from the moon," though why anyone would want to do such a thing remains a mystery to me. Aldrin, to his credit, handled the situation perfectly - he asked for a moment of silence and performed his ritual without comment. And even though I'm not a Christian myself, hearing that a spiritual ritual was performed on the moon is actually pretty cool.

Before Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out of the lunar module on July 20, 1969, Aldrin unstowed a small plastic container of wine and some bread. He had brought them to the moon from Webster Presbyterian church near Houston, where he was an elder. Aldrin had received permission from the Presbyterian church’s general assembly to administer it to himself. In his book Magnificent Desolation he shares the message he then radioed to Nasa: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

He then ate and drank the elements. The surreal ceremony is described in an article by Aldrin in a 1970 copy of Guideposts magazine: “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”

It should be noted that at least one Thelemite also performed invocations in connection with the space program. Jack Parsons, whose work on solid rocket fuels led to the boosters that launched the space shuttle, used to recite Aleister Crowley's Hymn to Pan prior to every launch. Many of the commenters on Raw Story seem annoyed that any sort of religious ritual would be associated with the space program, but to expect that a religious person should not engage in any sort of spiritual action prior to something as momentous as walking on the moon seems kind of ridiculous. Maybe not everyone would perform a communion ritual, but my guess is that most would at least make some sort of silent prayer directed at whatever their concept of the divine happened to be. It's part of the basic nature of spiritual practitioners, and to eschew that in the interests of politics seems pretty misguided.

Monday, September 17, 2012

MTV Plans Occult Reality Show

Reality television is considered by many to be the scourge of popular culture. It's easy to see why these shows are made - they're cheaper than paying scriptwriters and despite their overall awfulness they get high ratings because an enormous audience will apparently waste hours and hours of their lives watching a virtual train wreck in action. Exposure to these shows has not dampened their popularity, and as a matter of fact seems to have increased it if the network programming guides are any indication. Their quality has at the same time dropped considerably. The original Survivor, thought to have kicked off the reality television craze, was actually extremely well done, in part because at the time nobody knew how the format would work and the producers pulled out all the stops to make sure it was good. These days, though, it seems as if all producers have to do is plop a camera in front of something unusual or bizarre and the audience will just keep on watching. And to most people, occultism perfectly fits the definition of both "unusual" and "bizarre."

That brings us to today's article. I grew up in a distant past called the 1980's in which MTV - Music Television - played music videos. One might think of that as a no-brainer, except that since the 1990's the network has played anything but. MTV has announced that they are seeking occult practitioners for a new reality series that I can only imagine will be terrible to an epic degree. One does not need any sort of paranormal ability to note that the signs are particularly bad.

MTV put out a national casting call at Reality Wanted™ online on Sept. 10, 2012 seeking occult enthusiasts for their “True Life” television series. The casting call calls for anyone who practices Wicca, Satanism, alchemy, astrology, ESP or other mystical sciences” or those who feel they can “tap into unseen spiritual forces.” Those who are interested in the study of “the Kabbalah or Esoteric Christianity” are also invited to participate; the show is presently seeking males and females ages 17-29 who take their occult practices seriously, regardless of societal views. The casting call will remain open for a one year period and closes on Sept. 10, 2013.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creationists Lose It, Big Time

Young Earth creationists are just about the easiest target for mockery on the planet. The idea that the universe was created just as it is now sometime within the last 10,000 years is completely contradictory to a stack of scientific evidence that grows higher every year. However, according to surveys a substantial percentage of Americans do in fact believe it to be true. Many of these folks are the same Christians who whine about being an oppressed minority, even though they belong to the largest religion in the United States by far. Their particular complaints generally relate to their conviction that the very existence of contradictory ideas threatens their own apparently unbelievably fragile faith.

Contradictory ideas can be found anywhere - you know, because not everyone in the world agrees with creationism. These dire threats can come from other religions, scientific theories, and even tongue-in-cheek advertisements. Like this one. Soda maker Dr. Pepper recently ran the ad shown above, which satirizes the concept of evolution as being catalyzed by their product. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with how evolution works in the real world. But the mere mention of the word was enough - creationists online completely lost it and commenced an even more epic version of their usual whining.

Ever since, on the JESUS IS NOT A PEPPER side, commenters have been weighing in to register their fury, declaring “this photo is in very poor taste and certainly not something I want to identify with!!!” and “I didn’t come from no ape the great creator made me GOD!!!!!!!” Because God loves exclamation points like he despises abiogenesis. And several people have declared “No more DP for me” because of the apparent anti-world-in-seven-days stance. “Let me believe in a God that created me,” writes one poster. “I’ll let you believe that you came from a rock.” Reminder: We’re talking about an ad in which a caveman discovers Dr. Pepper.

The controversy has also spawned some hilarious responses in the atheism subreddit, from Peppers who know that “EVERYTHING AROUND YOU IS EVIDENCE OF DR PEPPER OPEN YOUR EYES” and ask “Do you think all 23 delicious flavors can come together like that by chance?” It’s all very entertaining — if you don’t think too hard about the fact that it’s 2012 and we’re still arguing about evolution in this country. And how it pertains to soft drinks.

In fact, I should point out that the Dr. Pepper advertisement in no way contradicts creationism's close cousin, intelligent design. After all, somebody had to have put the soda there in the first place for the caveman to find, right? I think we can all agree that it must have been God.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Not So Uncertain After All?

This has turned out to be a good week for science posts. One of the ideas that I keep coming back to is that for a true "consciousness measure" to be constructed, we need to get a better handle on the relationship between quantum-level interactions and the brain. One of the biggest engineering challenges to overcome there is dealing with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that only so much information can be obtained when measuring a particle. The position of the particle and its momentum seem to have an inverse relationship - the more you determine about one, the less you can determine about the other. Back in June I discussed a possible method being explored by quantum physicists that might allow more accurate measurement of quantum states, and this week a group of Canadian scientists announced that may have discovered another. By using so-called "weak measurements," the latter group was able to measure the state of photons while inducing considerably less disturbance than that produced by more conventional techniques.

The researchers, a team led by Lee Rozema and Aephraim Steinberg, experimentally observed a clear-cut violation of Heisenberg's measurement-disturbance relationship. They did this by applying what they called a "weak measurement" to define a quantum system before and after it interacted with their measurement tools — not enough to disturb it, but enough to get a basic sense of a photon's orientation.

Then, by establishing measurement deltas, and then applying stronger, more disruptive measurements, the team was able to determine that they were not disturbing the quantum system to the degree that the uncertainty principle predicted. And in fact, the disturbances were half of what would normally be expected.

Although this new method still cannot measure quantum effects with absolute certainty, it demonstrates that the uncertainty principle is not as much of a hard limit as it was previously thought to be. Based in part on the uncertainty principle, Roger Penrose wrote in The Emperor's New Mind that we may never be able to uncover the relationship between the brain and the quantum realm. Now it seems that measuring those interactions is starting to look more a difficult engineering problem than an unbreakable physical law, and while we have a long way to go from measuring single photons to tracking quantum events within a living brain, this new research suggests a possible path forward where once there was none.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Yes, Acupuncture Does Work

A little over two weeks ago I responded to an article by skeptic Harriet Hall that misrepresented the current state of research on the effectiveness of acupuncture to what I considered an appalling degree. As it turns out, Hall picked a bad time to launch her tirade - because the latest meta-analysis of acupuncture research, published two days ago in the Archives of Internal Medicine, conclusively shows that acupuncture does in fact work for chronic pain. Notably, this latest study also found a clear difference between traditional acupuncture in which needles are inserted at specific, defined points versus so-called "sham acupuncture," in which needles are inserted at random points in the same general area.

After re-analyzing data from 29 high-quality clinical trials dating back to the 1990s, researchers have concluded that the pain relief derived from acupuncture is partly real, in that it can't be ascribed entirely to the placebo effect.

The trials, which included roughly 18,000 people with chronic pain stemming from arthritis, headaches, or back and neck problems, all compared genuine acupuncture with one of two alternatives: treatment as usual, or "sham" acupuncture -- a counterfeit (i.e. placebo) version of the treatment in which needles are inserted unsystematically.

Pain relief of 50% or more on a 100-point scale -- pain that drops from a 60 to a 30, say -- is a commonly used standard of effectiveness in pain research. By this measure, the study found, the effectiveness rates for real acupunture, sham acupuncture, and treatment as usual are 50%, 43%, and 30%, respectively.

While an argument can be made that some of the benefits of acupuncture are due to the placebo effect - and, as in most medical trials, some of them almost certainly are - a difference of seven percentage points is nonetheless quite significant. Some clinical antidepressants, for example, show less improvement than this versus placebo and nonetheless are fully accepted by the scientific establishment. The problem skeptics have with acupuncture seems to be that nobody has figured out exactly how it works, but it should also be noted that biochemists have yet to work out the exact mechanism behind many antidepressant drugs as well. Either said skeptics just don't have their facts straight, or they're deliberately confusing them to push what I would have to call an anti-science agenda. The whole point of the scientific method is that you don't get to pick and choose only those studies that confirm your personal biases.

Those of us who think that technology may finally be getting to the point where we can empirically verify magical results have to be ready for this. Being a real skeptic means withholding judgment until the data is in and following it wherever it leads, whether it confirms your beliefs or not. Skeptics like Hall, though, seem to think that it means slapping down any scientific result that looks weird, no matter how well the experiment that obtained it was constructed and performed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Higgs Boson Discovery Upheld

Peer review is vital to the proper application of the scientific method. Even the most impressive-looking set of data is always subjected to criticism and analysis by other scientists in the field, to see if any mistakes might have been made during its collection. In July, I posted an article on the probable discovery of the Higgs Boson, the quantum particle that was hypothesized in the 1960's as a possible mechanism by which elementary particles acquire mass. After subsequent peer review, the discovery now stands. The Higgs Boson is for real.

Two articles by the teams at CERN, about 30 pages each, include 19 pages of single-spaced text with roughly 6,000 names of researchers who peer-reviewed the results of the experiments, making the discovery of the elusive God particle valid.

The papers conclude there is a one-in-300-million chance that the Higgs does not exist, thereby validating the theory on why elementary particles have mass.

This is exactly the sort of process we should have as magicians for evaluating our models and results. The only problem is that pesky issue of measuring states of consciousness in an objective fashion. We finally were able to gaze into the quantum world through the use of enormous particle accelerators like CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which was used to take the measurements demonstrating the existence of the Higgs. The pace at which consciousness research is currently progressing is encouraging, and the discoveries we've made about the brain since I earned my psychology degree back in 1991 are staggering. I'm hoping that means a viable "consciousness measure" is just on the horizon.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Atheist Heretics?

Most organized religions consider atheism heretical. That's nothing new, but this is. The burgeoning atheist movement has apparently now developed its first schism. Given all the arguments by atheists over the years to the effect that their lack of belief in no way constitutes a religion, the irony is almost comical. The idea that one could somehow not believe in God the wrong way? Absolutely priceless. It just goes to show that while atheism is not a religion in the typical sense, it does constitute a metaphysical belief structure - its metaphysics are just based on the formal interpretation of the scientific method. Also, religious beliefs or not, humans are fundamentally tribal creatures. Our concept of "tribe" can include more individuals than that of our great ape cousins because our brains are more complex, but the essential impulse has millions of years of evolution behind it.

The cause of this freethinking furore? A new movement called Atheism+. According to its website, “Atheism+ is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime.”

A+ was born when Freethought blogger Jen McCreight (the mind behind Boobquake) made a passionate call for a “third wave” of atheism, one that extends atheist activism into progressive politics and calls for a part of the movement to be one where women can exist free from the harassment that has plagued women publicly involved in the atheist movement.

The founders of Atheism+ say clearly that “divisiveness” is not their aim, but looking through the blogs and voluminous comments in the two weeks since A+ was mooted, trenches have been dug, beliefs stated, positions staked out and abuse thrown. A dissenting tweeter is “full of shit”, while, according to one supporter, daring to disagree with Atheism+’s definition of progressive issues and not picking their side makes you an “asshole and a douchebag”.

Remember Jen McCreight? She's mighty. Her "boobquake" nearly devastated Taiwan, even though she insisted she had nothing to do with the earthquake that struck just off the coast on the appointed day. And despite my snarking above, Atheism+ is at least in part a response to a number of situations that have arisen over the last two years or so in the atheist community highlighting a profoundly problematic attitude toward women who are involved in the movement. While a politically conservative atheist might disagree on some politically progressive issues, it seems to me that "douchebag" is a pretty good description of anyone looking to entrench that particular attitude rather than address it. But then, I'm a sorcerer. It's not like the atheists on either side are about to take me or my opinions very seriously.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Navajo Nation X-Files

I recently came across this article from Huffington Post that went up a couple weeks back. Apparently Navajo Nation rangers John Dover and Stan Milford encountered more than their share of paranormal cases on the Navajo Indian reservation that straddles the border between Arizona and Utah over the course of their careers. While Dover notes that these investigations made up less than one percent of their total workload, that's still a lot compared to what most law enforcement agencies are willing to deal with. So the question arises - are there really more paranormal events happening on the reservation, or were Dover and Milford just less dismissive of paranormal reports than investigators elsewhere in the country?

Dover and his partner Stan Milford say they have rolled on reports of the usual paranormal suspects, such as ghosts, Bigfoot and UFOs, and they have also investigated sightings of creatures of Navajo lore, such as Skinwalkers who are believed to be witches that have learned to shape shift into animals.

Even though some may scoff at these reports, Dover says, "When you go into it as an investigator, you can't have your mind made up about anything. What you're looking for is evidence, and as the evidence collects you let the evidence speak for itself." He says they look for witness testimony to line up with the physical evidence, but they are careful not to immediately assume the witness is right or wrong. He also says that often a lot of these paranormal cases turn out to be very strong and if they were criminal cases the evidence would be enough to put someone in jail.

When I asked Dover if the Navajo people generally believe in things such as UFOs, he says he doesn't like the term "belief", because it is akin to saying you believe something without evidence. "In these cases people have seen enough [UFOs], [UFOs] that have landed, [UFOs] that have flown over, so often that it is just a fact of life." Dover and Milford have had enough UFO cases that they have often sought the help of the Arizona chapter of the Mutual UFO Network, the largest civilian UFO investigation organization in the U.S.

Robert Anton Wilson once famously wrote that he of course believed in unidentified flying objects because he encountered many unidentified non-flying objects (UNFOs) in the course of his daily routine. That's probably true for most of us. Having visited northern Arizona and driven through the reservation, I can tell you that it's a spooky part of the country, especially at night. The spiritual energy of the desert is totally unlike that where I live in Minnesota, mostly Fire (Hot and Dry) instead of mostly Water (Cool and Moist). I don't know that I would classify it as "more" or "less," since the two qualities are difficult to compare, but it is profoundly different.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

So Those Witch Camps Never Actually Closed

I suppose, all things considered, it really was too good to be true. About a year ago I posted an article about "witch camps" in the African nation of Ghana, and what at the time sounded like a solid, definitive statement from the government that they would be shut down soon. Unfortunately, this never happened and the camps are still in operation.

More than 800 women are living in various “witch camps” in Ghana, after being accused of practicing witchcraft. ActionAid Ghana country director Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse said the charges are made usually with no proof or trial. Her group is working to make life in the camps better for the women with the hope of changing attitudes, so the women can return safely to their home villages.

“We started working with these women on empowering them as seeing themselves as people who have rights and people who can demand rights,” said Kwateng-Kluvitse. Now the group has turned to capacity building to help the women reach out to their communities and “enable these women to be able to go home safely.”

As the article notes, part of the problem is that once someone is accused of witchcraft in many African nations, they can face violent "retaliation" for their supposed crimes, which usually don't even exist. So even if the government decided to close the camps tomorrow, many of these women would still never be able to return home to the villages in which they were originally accused. Public opinion surrounding witchcraft and its alleged practitioners is still an enormous problem in many African nations, and hopefully the ActionAid organization can make some progress towards resolving it. Even so, they have a long way to go.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What Manifesting Looks Like

Over the years the magical blogosphere has slowly been developing what I would describe as its own distinct style of magick. The techniques involved are not limited to any one school or symbol set, but taken together they represent a coherent approach to the work with a somewhat different emphasis from what has come before. In my opinion much of this emphasis comes from a mature understanding of the relationship between magical operations and probability. Whereas many writers of the past treat magick as a fundamentally mysterious and tempermental force, most "blogosphere" magicians operate from the perspective that (A) there is a limit to the degree of probability shift that a magical operation can produce, and (B) the best way to obtain magical success is to perform the necessary mundane steps toward your goal that will place its likelihood within that range. Sure, you can go through older sources like the works of Aleister Crowley and figure those principles out, and the chaos magick approach is based on a similar attitude with regard to probability. But these days, probably the most straightforward published work explaining this approach is longtime blogger Jason Miller's The Sorcerer's Secrets.

Frater Barrabbas recently posted an article explaining his motivations for practicing magick, beginning with his longing for miraculous powers during his teen years and culminating in the deeper realizations that inform his practice today. The sweep of his narrative strikes me as an excellent example of how we should answer the question of magical motivations regardless of our perspective on the work. We practice magick because it makes our lives better. "Better" is by its very nature subjective, and highly dependent upon where we are in our lives. A bored teenager might find that even a fanciful and inaccurate idea of what magick is and how it works serves to enrich his or her inner life, while a more experienced practitioner might seek to expand his or her consciousness, increase the likelihood of particular beneficial material events, or more than likely both. But when your magick diminishes your life or causes suffering, it's not a badge of honor or a sign of courage or whatever the just-world hypothesis might want you to believe. It means that you're doing something wrong.