Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beware the Thrift Store Demons!

Television evangelist Pat Robertson has been on a roll lately. Fresh off proclaiming that Islam is not a religion, he recently warned a viewer asking about thrift store purchases to watch out for demons that might be bound to secondhand items.

A concerned viewer wrote to Pat Robertson for advice on demons and thrift stores:

“I buy a lot of clothes and other items at Goodwill and other secondhand shops. Recently my mom told me that I need to pray over the items, bind familiar spirits, and bless the items before I bring them into the house. Is my mother correct? Can demons attach themselves to material items?”

Robertson’s answer?

”Can demonic spirits attach themselves to inanimate objects? The answer is yes. But I don’t think every sweater you get from Goodwill has demons in it. In a sense your mother is just being super cautious, so hey — it isn’t gonna hurt you any to rebuke any spirits that might attach themselves to those clothes.”

Robertson is technically correct that spirits can be attached to material items. We magicians call them talismans, for example, and there's no reason the sort of spell you use to create one couldn't be cast on a sweater or something. However, the real problem with his risk assessment is a complete lack of understanding about how the process actually works.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bad Wizard

Stupid criminals and the paranormal only occasionally overlap, but when they do the result is often especially hilarious. An Iranian man wanted to rob a bank, so he paid a wizard for spells to make him invisible. Arriving at said bank, he quickly discovered that the spells did not work as advertised.

The man explained to the court that he had paid five million rials (just under £290) to a wizard imposter, who in return gave him a set of spells to tie to his arm. The fake sorcerer explained to him that the spells would make him invisible, and that he could then rob banks all he wanted.

The man’s ill-fated attempt to rob the bank started to go wrong after he entered the bank and started randomly snatching money from the hands of customers, before they decided to act quickly and overpower the ill-fated thief.

Now anybody who knows anything about magick will tell you that this is not going to work. The "invisibility spells" that you can find in the old grimoires and so forth don't actually make you transparent, but rather shift the attention of people around you so that you can go about your business unnoticed. They won't fool a security camera and they certainly won't allow you to grab cash out of somebody's hand with impunity.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Moving a Haunted House

One commonality in ghost accounts is that renovating a property often affects a haunting. In some cases a renovation will eliminate phenomena and in others it can dramatically increase them. Various explanations have been offered for these observations, from the replacement of old wiring eliminating electromagnetic fields that can cause people to feel "presences" to sentient spirits angered by changes to their former home. This story from Iowa may put such explanations to the test. The house in question is not merely being remodeled, but picked up and moved to a new site five miles away.

Weak ground conditions led the newest owner of the 1865 Iowa home, Sherri Meeker, to move the 100-ton structure five miles down the road. Naturally, it caught the interest of the Web. The old house, supposedly haunted by evil spirits, bears a resemblance to the one on “Nightmare on Elm Street” and is known around town as “The Haunted Mansion of Jasper County.”

Some locals swear it has a spooky past. The historical three-story, wood-frame house sure looks haunted. Local news station KCCI even spent the night in 1994 and heard lots of stories about Regina Long, thought to be the original owner, who was said to have been seen floating around. Mike Salier, the homeowner at the time, said in the KCCI story: “It's real. People think it's a lot of poppycock, but it's enough to make your skin crawl.”

Time will tell whether or not paranormal phenomena will be reported at the new location. If they are, that suggests hauntings are related in some way to the structure in which they occur. If they do not, and especially if the phenomena continue to be observed at the original location, it suggests that the physical location is more important than the structure. What's nice about this case is that since houses are so rarely moved and haunted houses are so rare, it provides an unusual opportunity for such experimentation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

New Brain Mapping Initiative Proposed

The secrets of consciousness may remain elusive, but a proposed new brain mapping project could get us closer than ever before to understanding the relationship between subjective experience and neural processing. Modeled on the Human Genome Project, researchers hope to set in motion a large-scale project to map out all the areas of the human brain by monitoring the coordinated firing of large groups of neurons throughout its structure. At the very least this project would put to bed the unbelievably stupid assertion that people only use ten percent of their brains - a notion that stubbornly refuses to fade away, especially in paranormal circles where people believe some "unused area" must be responsible for psychic powers. At least to me, that's a pretty significant breakthrough right there.

Harvard molecular biologist George Church, who is part of the planning team, told the Times that the scientists behind the initiative hope to get federal backing to the tune of more than $3 billion over ten years. Church also pointed out that the initiative, if successful, could provide an economic boost, echoing Obama’s message that every dollar invested into human genome mapping returned $140 to the US economy.

The project will take advantage of emerging technologies that allow scientists to simultaneously record the electrical activity of large groups of individual neurons. In June last year, a group of researchers that included Church proposed pursuing several new approaches, such as the creation of molecule-size machines to noninvasively measure and record the activity of brain cells.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pope Seeks Immunity

Encouraging conspiracy theorists everywhere, Huffington Post reports that following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, set to take place at the end of the month, he will remain in Vatican City so as to retain immunity from prosecution related to the ongoing sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. Prior to becoming Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed up the Vatican office charged with containing and mediating the scandal. While he has not been personally accused of any such offenses, victims advocacy groups have argued that he failed to take proper action against accused priests and had a hand in transferring them between dioceses and so forth rather than bringing them to the attention of law enforcement.

Victims groups have said Benedict, particularly in his previous job at the head of the Vatican's doctrinal department, turned a blind eye to the overall policies of local Churches, which moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and handing them over to authorities. The Vatican has denied this. The pope has apologized for abuse in the Church, has met with abuse victims on many of his trips, and ordered a major investigation into abuse in Ireland.

But groups representing some of the victims say the Pope will leave office with a stain on his legacy because he was in positions of power in the Vatican for more than three decades, first as a cardinal and then as pope, and should have done more. The scandals began years before the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005 but the issue has overshadowed his papacy from the beginning, as more and more cases came to light in dioceses across the world.

It may be that these scandals played a role in Benedict's resignation, as no Pope has resigned in more than 600 years. It also suggests that there might something to the prophecy of Archbishop Malachy that I covered last week. The 12th century Irish Archbishop predicted that Benedict would be the second-to-last Pope, and that the world would end during the reign of the final Pontiff. While this end-times prophecy is likely as nonsensical as all the rest, could it be that Malachy in fact predicted the end of the Papacy? It seems hard to imagine, given the size and scope of the Roman Catholic Church around the world. But I suppose stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Doing Peer Review Wrong

In science the concept of peer review is essential to establishing the validity of any working hypothesis. For a scientific discovery to be accepted, the data that supports it must be subjected to rigorous and thorough criticism by others working in the same field. Once a consensus is reached regarding the discovery, it will either be added to the existing canon of scientific fact or discarded as an anomalous finding. At least, that's the ideal of how it's supposed to work.

Back in November, I reported that a group of geneticists claimed to have sequenced Bigfoot DNA and concluded that the fortean primate was an ape/human hybrid. The researchers claimed that they would soon subject their findings to peer review, but as it turns out rather than following accepted scientific procedures and publishing the findings in a standard journal, the researchers started their own. This is pretty close to the opposite of actual peer review, since it's not like there aren't other journals out there publishing articles on biology and genetics. See, when you review your own findings, that's pretty much the definition of doing peer review wrong. And clicking through the journal's website reveals other obvious problems.

Please note the helpfully labeled slideshow cycling through on the front page — pollen; ladybug; eagle; h2o — as if to say: "Don't worry, this place is legit. Look, stock photos. Also this is a ladybug because you probably didn't know that."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sam Mullet Sentenced

Bishop Sam Mullet, the accused ringleader behind a series of hair and beard-cutting attacks on other Amish men and women that took place in 2011, was sentenced earlier this month to fifteen years in prison for his role in the attacks. Mullet was the last to be charged and therefore the last to be sentenced, bringing an apparent close to the Mullet Cult Saga that I've been covering for the last year and a half here on Augoeides. Fifteen of Mullet's family members have already been sentenced and are serving terms ranging from one to seven years.

"The victims were terrorized and traumatized," U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster said in sentencing leader Sam Mullet Sr., 67, who sat without emotion.

The judge said the defendants had violated the constitutional rights protecting religious practice that had benefited them as Amish — such as an exemption from jury service and allowing Amish children to leave school at age 14."Each of you has received the benefits of that First Amendment," Polster said.

The judge said the defendants have two weeks to file appeals of their sentences or convictions. Defense attorneys have indicated such appeals are likely.

What's that? An appeal? Count me in! My sheer amusement at being able to report on a guy named Mullet involved in illegal hair cutting hasn't subsided yet. I look forward to keeping you posted on these possible Mullet Cult appeals, and not just because it lets me mention the "Mullet Cult" one more time. From a religious freedom perspective, this case sets a precedent that had never before been addressed because it's just so weird and has broad-ranging implications for members of other religions outside the mainstream.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Islam Not a Religion?

The last time I covered Pat Robertson here on Augoeides, I found myself amazed that his comments regarding creationism actually made sense. However, apparently another such moment was too much to hope for. On a recent episode of Robertson's 700 Club television program the evangelist made the bizarre claim that Islam - the world's second largest religion behind Christianity - is in fact not a religion. It remains to be seem if he ever will articulate a coherent definition that would allow him to explain what features his form of Christianity has that Islam lacks.

"Every time you look up — these are angry people, it’s almost like it’s demonic that is driving them to kill and to maim and to destroy and to blow themselves up," Robertson said of Islam. "It's a religion of chaos." He went on to say, "I hardly think to call it a religion, it’s more of — well, it’s an economic and political system with a religious veneer."

This is hardly the first time Robertson has spoken out on Islam. ThinkProgress points to an incident, after Major Nidal Malik massacred his fellow soldiers in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, when Robertson claimed not only that Islam is "not a religion," but also that he sees it as “a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination."

Robertson has apparently confused "Islam" with the extremist form of Wahhabism that inspires terrorist groups like Al Qaida, completely failing to comprehend that Islam as a whole has something like 1.6 billion followers and if they were all violent terrorists engaging in asymmetric warfare we would be totally doomed. More predictably, he also appears to believe that anything other than Christianity is not a religion but rather, well, something else - which renders the whole concept of religious freedom pretty much moot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Last Pope?

With Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation to take place at the end of the month, the Cardinal Electors will soon begin the process of selecting the next Pope. But will this newly elected Pope be the last to serve? According to a prophecy made in the 12th century by the Irish Saint Malachy, the next and final Pope is about to be chosen. Furthermore, during this Pope's reign the prophecy claims that world will end - but you know how those always go. One more apocalypse party, after which we wake up the next morning with the world still here.

In 1139, then-Archbishop Malachy went to Rome from Ireland to give an account of his affairs. While there, he received a strange vision about the future that included the name of every pope, 112 in all from his time, who would rule until the end of time. We are now at the second last prophecy.

His predictions are taken very seriously. As one report states, "In 1958, before the Conclave that would elect Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Spellman of New York hired a boat, filled it with sheep and sailed up and down the Tiber River, to show that he was 'pastor et nautor,' the motto attributed to the next Pope in the prophecies."

As for the prophecy concerning the 111th pope, Pope Benedict, the prophecy says of him, "Gloria Olivae," which means "the glory of the olive." The order of Saint Benedict is also known as the Olivetans, which many claim makes Malachy's prophecies correct. The next and final pope then should be "Peter Romanus"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Number of the Beast

According to Jonathan Haidt's moral foundations theory, one of the main differences between liberal-minded and conservative-minded individuals is that conservatives give higher priority to what Haidt describes as the "sanctity/degradation" or "purity" axis of moral reasoning. While Haidt has at times argued that this means the moral framework of conservatives is more balanced, what he largely ignores is that a simplistic concrete emphasis on this sort of purity in many religious contexts is fundamentally stupid. Here's a case in point - a Tennessee man who quit his job twice over the number "666" appearing on routine tax forms.

A Tennessee man is so fed up with getting the number "666" on official forms that he's quit his job—twice. The latest incident occurred when his W-2 tax form bore the number, which the Bible associates with the Antichrist. The number on the tax form was related to the payroll mailing sequence at Contech Casting, but that doesn't matter to Walter Slonopas: "If you accept that number, you sell your soul to the devil," he tells the Tennessean. When he began working for Contech in 2011, he was given the number 666 to use for clocking in; he had it changed. When an alteration to the time-clock system made his number 666 three months later, he quit the job, but came back after the firm apologized. A rep for the company is "completely at a loss for words."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fake Illuminati Meets Real Super Bowl

Following Sunday's Super Bowl the conspiracy theorists were out in force, claiming that during her halftime performance Beyonce Knowles made the "Illuminati sign" which is apparently given by forming a vaguely triangular diamond shape with the thumbs and forefingers. I suppose this is supposed to resemble the eye in the triangle logo associated with the shadowy cabal, though it really kind of doesn't. Naturally, this is a gesture that in all my years of studying esotericism I have never once seen linked to the Illuminati, even in fiction. I say naturally because really, like the supposed modern Illuminati themselves, this is a complete pile of nonsense. It doesn't matter that this "sign" previously had nothing to do with the Illuminati myth; it's a gesture that a celebrity made, so of course it must be suspect. One wonders how frantic true believers in the Illuminati conspiracy must be just going about their daily lives, given that celebrities make gestures all the time - you know, just like everybody else.

During Beyonce’s performance, she unmistakably made the triangular sign of the Illuminati which set conspiracy theorists’ tongues wagging and their online keyboard fingers keying. There are those who believe the sign was flashed on purpose by the famed singer while believing that she knows all about the suggestion of the sign.Then again, there are others who simply think Beyonce was sending a secret message to her entrepreneur-entertainer husband Jay-Z who uses a somewhat triangular-shaped diamond as his logo for his Roc-A-Fella Records endeavor.