Friday, May 31, 2013

What a Real "War on Religion" Looks Like

The Poor Oppressed Christians truly seem to have no comprehension of irony. If one person says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" to them during the winter season it constitutes an unconscionable attack on their faith, while when they attack alternative religious events in an attempt to drive anything but Christianity from the public square what they're doing strikes them as perfectly reasonable. The latest target for these hypocrites is a Pagan solstice festival being held in Pahokee, Florida. Local business leaders sensibly argue that the festival will bring business into town and help the local economy, but Poor Oppressed Christians living in the area argue that they shouldn't have to endure the presence of any other religion in their midst. Applying their own logic, I suppose one could call this a "War on Solstice."

Pastors from various churches in Pahokee attended Tuesday night’s city commission meeting to express disappointment in city leaders for allowing the event to come to Pahokee. The crowd cheered in agreement as, one-by-one, pastors from around the area admonished city officials for allowing festivals containing witchcraft and occult practices into the city. “I just found out about this today. I am disappointed in the city of Pahokee for allowing this group to come,” said Pastor Brad Smith, Florida Director of Kids for Christ. Smith called the event “an abomination”.

“We don’t need this in our town. Not now. Not ever,” said Rev. Raul Rodriguez, of Church of God Door of Jesus Christ. His daughter, Ruby Rodriguez said that this came as a shock to her. “We do live in a free country but of all of the cities in Florida, why would they choose Pahokee?” she asked. The line of speakers from Pahokee, a city with a high concentration of local churches, seemed endless. “We are opening ourselves up to things we should not, like belly dancing and magic spells,” said Daniel Mondragon. “We do not welcome these things. This is the first annual event, and it should be the last.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Walking With the Angel

My essay "The Descended Angel" will be included in this new anthology on the Holy Guardian Angel from Nephilim Press. The full list of essays and their authors can be found at The Lion's Den here. The anthology is now going into production and will be available soon. With this list of contributors I'm really looking forward to reading it, and I will notify you all when it is available for purchase.

So the "blogosphere school of magick," as I dubbed it awhile back, continues to make its mark in the world of traditional esoteric publishing. Chaos magick started with a small group of British magicians including Peter Carroll and Ray Sherwin back in the 1970's and grew into a major magical movement. It will be interesting to look back on this period in history and see if something similar happens here with the models, ideas, and practices that have taken shape out of our shared online community.

Fascinating times, indeed!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Without Practical Magick, Why Bother?

Lately the question of working practical magick has been making another round through the blogosphere. I've addressed this question in the past, and any longtime reader should know by know that I am strongly in favor of doing practical work. I think that insisting magick should only be for spiritual realization can very easily become a facile explanation for spells that don't work, and that many of the people who are opposed to practical work just aren't very good at it and don't like admitting that fact to anyone around them. Frankly, I don't understand why anyone who honestly holds that perspective would bother with magick at all. It seems like a lot of hard work that you don't need in order to simply expand your consciousness.

Ritual magick is complicated. Learning it involves practicing ceremonial forms, memorization, energy work, symbolic analysis, and so forth. The practices that the art incorporates include everything from meditation to visualization to breathwork to the construction of tools, talismans, and other implements. And it is my contention that the reason we do all these things rather than something simpler has little to do with cultivating an enlightened or awakened mind. It has everything to do with influencing material circumstances, which is why the complexity exists in the first place. If you want to use your mind to influence the material world, you have to be very particular about how you do it simply because of the nature of matter.

Awakening the mind through pure mysticism is much simpler than the multifaceted approach of the magician. Just start meditating and keep doing it on a daily basis. While simple doesn't necessarily mean easy and maintaining a meditation practice involves the application of self-discipline, it requires little else aside from a quiet place to sit. Not only that, but according to all the factors we can measure using the tools of neuroscience and modern medicine, there is little difference between the meditation techniques taught by the various mystical spiritual traditions. So you don't even need to learn a long list of instructions.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wikipedia's Magick War Ends

Last week Salon reported on the antics of Wikipedia user "Qworty," idenfied as writer Robert Clark Young, who engaged in an online vendetta against rival authors by in some cases "revenge editing" their Wikipedia entries and in others simply marking them for deletion. Young also appears to have had a grudge against alternative spirituality, waging a one-man war against Pagans and occultists. Abusing the "notability" standards as defined by Wikipedia, he argued that Pagans, occultists, and other esotericists, even those with a significant media presence, were not "notable" enough for inclusion. As explained in this follow-up to the original article, one of these individuals was David Jay Brown, a writer with published works on psychedelics. Brown apears to have been targeted because of his association with the organizer of the Starwood festival, a large Pagan gathering that has been running for many years.

As Qworty, Young denounced Brown as a “self-appointed spiritual savior” who had styled himself “a modern-day messiah who combined all of the powers of Jesus and Freud and Einstein and Marx and, oh why the heck not, Timothy Leary, lol.” Young also resorted to his go-to critique for Wikipedia pages he found wanting: he accused Brown of repeatedly editing his own page in violation of Wikipedia’s conflict-of-interest policies.

Brown contacted me soon after the publication of my first Qworty/Young story, but I didn’t examine his story close enough to figure out Young’s real gripe against him. Then, a week later, I started receiving emails from members of “the Pagan writing and publishing community” thanking me for unraveling the mystery of Qworty’s identity. According to them, Young had been guilty of waging a vicious and nasty war against prominent Pagans throughout 2012.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ending Univalence?

Many magical practitioners grew up in repressive Christian homes and as a result have a bad attitude toward Christianity. I'm not one of them. Before I became a Thelemite and joined OTO I considered myself a Hermetic Christian for a very long time, and I still believe that Christianity is a valid form of spiritual practice for many people. The argument that led me to leave Christianity stemmed from the religion's univalent theology - the idea that only Christians can attain salvation and practitioners of any other religion, no matter how virtuous or spiritual they happen to be, cannot. True, I could have kept the aspects I liked about the Christian system and dispensed with univalence, but that struck me as incoherent and dishonest. Univalence is at the heart of every major Christian denomination, and while it isn't necessarily spoken of in more liberal churches the idea is still there.

Or is it? Pope Francis has recently made waves in the Roman Catholic community by stating that non-Christians can indeed be saved. In fact, Francis' statement extends the possibility of salvation even to atheists, so long as they are virtuous people who perform good works. This apparently new doctrine is similar to Pelagianism, a strand of Christian thought opposed by Saint Augustine in the fifth century and suppressed since that time by the institutional church. According to Pelagianism, moral perfection is attainable through human free will without the necessity of preemptive divine grace, and as such it stands in opposition to the concept of original sin that is central to Augustinian theology.

“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mastering the Great Table

My blogging has been a little slow for the last couple of days, but this time there's a good reason - over the weekend I completed the edits for my new book, Mastering the Great Table. This is the second volume of my Mastering Enochian Magick series and presents a similar setup to the one I put together for the Heptarchial angels, but for the various Watchtower entities such as the Kings and Seniors, sub-quadrant angels, and cacodemons. My editor has now signed off on the final version of the manuscript so the layout and so forth are being worked on right now. I don't have a firm publication date, but I'll let you all know as soon as the new book is available.

This new book is also probably going to be more controversial than the last one. Not a lot has been written on the Heptarchia Mystica, which as I noted in the first book is a largely forgotten part of Dee's Enochian system. The Great Table, on the other hand, has been explored by many different magical groups and there are a lot of different takes out there, from the Golden Dawn system to that practiced by Dee purists. As in the first book, I present the material from a largely purist perspective, but with a template that can also accommodate Golden Dawn-style ritual forms adapted from Aleister Crowley's Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae.

Treatment of the Aethyrs and Parts of the Earth will be reserved for volume three, tentatively titled Mastering the Thirty Aires. I'm also thinking about putting together a fourth book of "advanced" techniques based on some of the experimental work I've done with my Enochian system over the years. About the only thing I'm sure about is that it won't be called "Advanced Enochian Magick" because there have already been two books published with that title, one from the Schuelers years ago and another by Frater W.I.T. I'll keep you all posted on that as it develops.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Trees and Qi

As I mentioned in a recent article, scientists have uncovered that plants emit inaudible acoustic signals that can help to encourage the growth of other plants. This is significant to energy work practice in light of ongoing Chinese research on Qigong, which has found that Qigong masters emit infrasonic waves that seem to encourage healing in the cells of their patients. I recently came across this article discussing a new book called Blinded by Science by Matthew Silverstone. In the book, Silverstone compiles studies that seem to indicate vibrations produced by trees are also beneficial to human health.

The author points to a number of studies that have shown that children show significant psychological and physiological improvement in terms of their health and well being when they interact with plants and trees. Specifically, the research indicates that children function better cognitively and emotionally in green environments and have more creative play in green areas. Also, he quotes a major public health report that investigated the association between green spaces and mental health concluded that "access to nature can significantly contribute to our mental capital and wellbeing".

So what is it about nature that can have these significant effects? Up until now it has been thought to be the open green spaces that cause this effect. However, Matthew Silverstone, shows that it is nothing to do with this by proving scientifically that it is the vibrational properties of trees and plants that give us the health benefits and not the open green spaces.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Truck Thief Pursued by Zombies

The walking dead are on the loose in Temecula, California. At least, that's the claim made by Jerimiah Hartline, who stole a truck in an attempt to flee from the undead monstrosities. Hartline led police on a wild chase during which he crashed the truck several times and injured seven people as he tried to escape both the law and the shambling zombie menace.

The California Highway Patrol says Hartline stowed away in the truck in Tennessee and stole it when the driver got out at roadside scales near Temecula, Calif.

The CHP says after Hartline caused several crashes, the big-rig overturned on Interstate 15 and spilled its load of strawberries. Seven people were injured.

CHP investigators say Hartline told them he had to speed and swerve because he was fleeing from the walking dead.

There you have it, folks - clear evidence of the coming zombie apocalypse. The creatures who pursued Hartline were not stopped by police, nor were they witnessed by anyone else on the scene. Clearly these monsters have developed the power of invisibility that only Hartline can see through, which means that they could be seeking fresh brains just about anywhere and in the process spreading their foul plague far and wide. Today Temecula, tomorrow the world - and in the ensuing chaos there won't be nearly enough trucks out there for everyone seeking refuge to steal.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Swaziland Regulates Flying Witches

The regulation of magical practices is not uncommon in parts of Africa and Asia. Recently a Civil Aviation Authority official in Swaziland confirmed that witches riding broomsticks are prohibited by law from flying any higher than 150 meters. The law was put into place to protect the country's airspace and is not unlike laws in the United States that limit ultralight flights to 500 feet, only slightly higher than the Swaziland law specifies.

Witches’ broomsticks are considered similar to any heavier-than-air transportation device that is airborne, reports The Star. “A witch on a broomstick should not fly above the [150-metre] limit,” Civil Aviation Authority marketing and corporate affairs director Sabelo Dlamini told the newspaper. No penalties exist for witches flying below 150 metres.

The report said it was hard to say how serious he was, but witchcraft isn’t a joking matter in Swaziland, where the people believe in it. The statute also forbids toy helicopters and children’s kites from ascending too high into the country’s airspace.

Like all witches that are currently believed to exist in the real world (as opposed to those found in Hollywood movies and Halloween-based tourist attractions), Swaziland's witches are not reputed to fly through the air on broomsticks. So it may be that Dlamini was kidding around or using an outrageous example to illustrate the law. However, this strikes me as a rather dangerous statement to make in country where people are still killed by angry mobs for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Immortal Consciousness

I recently came across this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing an idea familiar to magical practitioners and which I have been considering since working on my experimental psychology degree back in the early 1990's. The concept of building a body of light or field of consciousness that is self-sustaining and therefore immortal has been part of the Western Esoteric Tradition for a very long time, and when you combine that notion with the rapid advancement still going on in computing technology this is what you get - the possibility of preserving the mind as essentially a mathematical object that can be simulated in a digital environment.

Cyberpunk author William Gibson played around with this idea in his novel Neuromancer, both in the form of a sentient artificial intelligence and a "ROM construct" that represented the uploaded and stored mind of an individual preserved at the moment of death. Researcher Ken Hayworth believes that our technology will soon reach the point where this is no longer fiction, and may be possible to achieve by constructing complete maps of individual brains called "connectomes."

Connectomics is a new way of looking at an old idea. Since the mid-19th century, scientists have known that the brain comprises a dense web of neurons. Only recently, however, have they been able to get a detailed glimpse. The view is daunting. A piece of human brain tissue the size of a thimble contains around 50 million neurons and close to a trillion synapses. Scientists compare the task of tracing each connection to untangling a heaping plate of microscopically thin spaghetti.

In 1986, researchers did manage to map the nervous system of a millimeter-long soil worm known as C. elegans. Though the creature has only 302 neurons and 7,000 synapses, the project took a dozen years. (The lead scientist, Sydney Brenner, who won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002, is also at Janelia Farm.) C. elegans's remains the only connectome ever completed. According to one projection, if the same techniques were used to map just one cubic millimeter of human cortex, it could take a million person-years.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Creationist Science Quiz

This image has been circulating on the Internet for awhile, but I ignored it because I thought it had to be a hoax. The ease with which pictures can be faked is well known, and it's hard to believe any school would ever administer such a quiz. I've heard of the controversies over school boards packed by conservative Christians who want to give teachers the "freedom" to teach alternatives to evolution, but a quiz like this really takes the cake. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be real. That's right, there's an actual school that teaches this nonsense in science classes.

To start with, this photo is real, and was part of a quiz given at Blue Ridge Christian Academy, a private religious school. Since the school is private, and not public, this is not a violation of the First Amendment (unlike the flagrant stomping of the Constitution going on in Louisiana). In other words, this school can legally teach this. My complaint, therefore, is not a legal one. My complaint is one of simple reality. Young-Earth creationism is wrong, and it’s certainly not science. For that reason alone, ideally it shouldn't be taught as truth anywhere, let alone a science class.

And it’s not just wrong, it’s spectacularly wrong. It’s the wrongiest wrong that ever wronged. We know the Earth is old, we know the Universe is even older, and we know evolution is true. Any one of these things is enough to show creationism is wrong. In fact, all of science shows creationism is wrong, because creationism goes against pretty much every founding principle of and every basic fact uncovered by science. If creationism were true, then essentially no modern invention would work. Since you’re reading this on a computer, that right there is proof enough.

That this would come from a private religious school makes sense, as I can't imagine even a highly compromised public school being quite this blatant. Still, what's amazing to me is how this particular strand of creationist thought is presented as indisputable, when in fact Christian denominations can't even agree on how it should be interpreted. Mainstream Christian churches disavowed young-Earth creationism long ago. For that matter, even Pat Robertson, one of the most prominent conservative evangelicals, came out against it back in November. So it would seem that the folks running this school are determined to raise the most ignorant children possible when it comes to understanding not only the natural world, but also the theological discourse within their own religious tradition.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Plants and Qi

One of the research findings that I covered awhile back related Qigong practices to the generation of infrasonic waves. Any Qigong student will tell you that plants have a particular sort of Qi or energy, different from that of animals but present nonetheless. Researchers have now found that plants do in fact produce microscopic sound waves that can influence the growth of other plants. It may be that practitioners who work with Qi are able to sense these same vibrations, as well as issue sonic vibrations of their own.

It’s long been known that planting basil near other species can tend to encourage its neighbor’s growth, and it’s not new that plants communicate with each other through shade, chemical smells, root structures and other forms of touch. What scientists at the University of Western Australia were looking at specifically is if there’s any other ways that plants communicate, and what they found is astonishing. By planting chili pepper next to basil, then separating them from all known methods of plant interaction, the chili plant still grew as if it knew the basil was there.

“We have previously suggested that acoustic signals may offer such a mechanism for mediating plant-plant relationships,” they explained in their conclusion (PDF), “and proposed that such signals may be generated in plants by biochemical processes within the cell, where nanomechanical oscillations of various components in the cytoskeleton can produce a spectrum of vibrations.”

So maybe Qi really corresponds to "energy" after all - sonic vibrations have a measurable physical intensity. This might also explain why some people seem to have "green thumbs" even when they are very casual about caring for their plants. The plants themselves may just like the infrasonic vibrations produced by those individuals. It's also no big secret that sonic waves such as those corresponding to the vibration of names of power and so forth play an important role in magical operations. Closer investigation of the properties of these waves could prove very fruitful in terms of quantifying paranormal phenomena.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Unicorn Horns

Stories of the magical use of unicorn horns go back to the Middle Ages. The horns that still exist in museums come from the narwhal, a species of whale that like the mythological unicorn grows a single horn from the center of its forehead. As this article published in the Harvard Gazette back in 2005 explains, the horn of the narwhal is far more than a simple horn or tusk. According to researcher Martin Nweeia it is a complex organ for sensing the temperature, pressure, and composition of the water around it.

Ten million tiny nerve connections tunnel their way from the central nerve of the narwhal tusk to its outer surface. Though seemingly rigid and hard, the tusk is like a membrane with an extremely sensitive surface, capable of detecting changes in water temperature, pressure, and particle gradients. Because these whales can detect particle gradients in water, they are capable of discerning the salinity of the water, which could help them survive in their Arctic ice environment. It also allows the whales to detect water particles characteristic of the fish that constitute their diet. There is no comparison in nature in tooth form, expression, and functional adaptation.

"Why would a tusk break the rules of normal development by expressing millions of sensory pathways that connect its nervous system to the frigid arctic environment?" asks Nweeia. "Such a finding is startling and indeed surprised all of us who discovered it." Nweeia collaborated on this project with Frederick Eichmiller, director of the Paffenbarger Research Center at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and James Mead, curator of Marine Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution.

What's most interesting to me is that one of the principal uses of the unicorn horn in folklore is as a magical implement to detect poisons, and in fact when attached to a living narwhal it would be sensitive enough to chemicals in the water to do exactly that. So how did that particular bit of information make it into the stories? It seems like a remarkable coincidence that the narwhal would use its horn for the exact same purpose that magicians did, when the science of how the horn works was only recently discovered.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

That's Called a "Miss"

The story all over the media today is the rescue of three Cleveland women who had been held in captivity for many years. Amanda Berry, the second woman kidnapped, had been held for more than a decade. Back in 2004, on The Montel Williams Show, Berry's mother was told by celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne that her daughter was dead. With Berry's successful rescue, it's now clear that Browne's alleged abilities were at the very least seriously off that day. This article, originally published in 2004 before the young woman's fate was known, covers the broadcast.

Desperate for any clue as to Amanda Berry’s whereabouts, and tired of unanswered questions from authorities, Miller turned to a psychic on Montel Williams’ nationally syndicated television show. The psychic said what the FBI, police and Miller hadn’t. “She’s not alive, honey,” Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

With those blunt words, Browne persuaded Miller to accept a grim probability that has become more likely with each passing day. Miller went back to the West Side home where she had been keeping Amanda’s things in careful order and cleaned up. She gave away her daughter’s computer and took down her pictures. “I’m not even buying my baby a Christmas present this year,” she said. Miller said she returned devastated from the show, taped this month in New York.

Is it overly cynical of me to suspect that Browne has no powers at all and was just playing the odds? Perhaps, but even though I believe that there are genuine psychics in the world, this is pretty transparent. At the time the show was taped Berry had been missing for nineteen months. If you look at actual criminal abduction cases, the odds that a missing person will reappear after being gone so long is probably something like one percent or less. Guessing they're dead is pretty much the definition of playing it safe.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Venus Talisman Ritual

It seems that I'm not the only one doing talismanic work lately. RO put up a post yesterday describing his own recent efforts in that regard around the time I was putting this one together over the weekend. The ritual described here has a lot in common with my Venus elixir ritual that I put together for the transit of Venus last June. The reason that I decided to go for Venus again had a lot to do with my studies of traditional astrology, in that a particularly favorable Venus election manifested last Friday morning during the first hour of the day. So it entailed rising early, which I'm not particularly fond of doing, but I'm expecting that the talisman itself will prove potent enough to justify the loss of sleep.

Venus is not just associated with love spells, which I'm not in need of at the moment, even though that's the most common sort of Venus rite most magicians perform and such rituals do work quite well. The state of consciousness associated with the planet is "the vision of beauty triumphant" and in traditional astrology the planet is considered the lesser benefic, the greater benefic being Jupiter. Venus is also associated with art, creativity, and aesthetic virtue in addition to this sort of general good fortune. I won't reveal the exact nature of the charge here as the talisman itself represents an ongoing operation, but its influence is intended to fall within those areas rather than the realm of love and relationships.

Because the nature of the talisman is generalized, the angel of Venus is conjured rather than the intelligence or spirit. The intelligence of a planet is best for Theurgic rituals intended to induce particular states of consciousness or obtain information about the divine realm or for protection, while the spirit is best for obtaining specific practical objectives - the more specific the better. This contradicts Agrippa's statement that the "intelligence is for good and the spirit is for bad," but my experience with these entities suggests that this stems more from a bias against "sorcery" - that is, practical magick - than anything inherent in their nature.

Some of this bias may also be due to the fact that a spirit conjured on its own without the influence of the intelligence behaves like a blind force that's hard to control, but the solution there is simply that you never do it. Even when calling on the spirit to perform an specific action, you conjure the intelligence first to provide a measure of control. With a generalized intent, though, that may involve both Theurgic and Thaumaturgic components in some unknown combination, the angel is usually a better option. You don't need any sort of additional sigil to conjure the angel; the planetary seal from Agrippa works just fine.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ancient Egyptians Knew How to Party

Just in time for Beltane, it turns out that the ancient Egyptians took part in annual rituals involving widespread sex and drinking. While most Egyptian rituals were highly organized affairs revolving around the priesthood, this particular rite was a far more chaotic affair. Archaeologist Betsy Bryan has pieced together some of the details of these ceremonies from evidence uncovered during the excavation of an ancient temple complex.

Since 2001, Bryan has led the excavation of the temple complex of the Egyptian goddess Mut in modern-day Luxor, the site of the city of Thebes in ancient Egypt. And the ritual she has uncovered, which centers on binge drinking, thumping music and orgiastic public sex, probably makes "Jersey Shore" look pretty tame. At least it was thought to serve a greater societal purpose.

Bryan, a specialist in the art, ritual and social hierarchy of Egypt's New Kingdom (roughly 1600 to 1000 BC), has painstakingly pieced together the details of the Festivals of Drunkenness, which took place in homes, at temples and in makeshift desert shrines throughout ancient Egypt at least once and, in some places (including at the Temple of Mut), twice a year.

The sexual aspects of the rite were intended to represent and encourage fertility much like those associated with modern-day Beltane, and were also thought to facilitate the annual rise of the Nile which was vital to agriculture in the region. The drinking was related to the destruction wrought by the lion goddess in Egyptian mythology, and in fact it seems the point of it was to drink until one passed out. Everyone would eventually awake to the beating of drums.

Unsurprisingly, there is substantial evidence that many Egyptians disapproved of these rituals. I suppose that just goes to show killjoys have been with us from the beginning of time.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

World's Priciest Dowsing Rods

Hardcore skeptics can be a real annoyance to anyone trying to explore paranormal or even unusual phenomena, such as those who insist that acupuncture doesn't work even though recent scientific studies show that it clearly does. At the same time, however, those who are honestly examining the data and working to eliminate fraud perform a valuable public service by preventing confidence artists from enriching themselves on the basis of phony paranormal claims. In a victory for the skeptic movement, and which should be considered a victory for the paranormal movement as well, James McCormick, the maker of a "high tech" bomb detecting device that essentially works as a dowsing rod, was recently convicted for fraud.

The devices did nothing at all to detect bombs. They didn’t even have any working electronics in them. Instead they rely on what’s called the ideomotor effect; small movements of the human body we aren’t conscious of, but can be affected by what we want them to do. The classic examples of this are Ouija boards and dowsing rods, both of which have no paranormal ability at all. They simply reflect what our brains are telling our muscles to do.

This has been shown to be true over and again, so much and so thoroughly that there’s little room for doubt. These bomb sniffers worked the same way, as was brought to light by skeptics James Randi and Air Force Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack. And as with dowsing rods, the people who use them swear they work, despite proof that they can't work, and are no better than random chance at detecting objects. Flipping a coin would do as well.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kill the Mason!

Spoiler: Nope!

For those who might be tempted to dismiss obsession with Masonic conspiracy theories as harmless nuttery, this story out of New Mexico should make it clear just how dangerous such obsessions can become. A man there has been charged with vandalizing a Masonic lodge and attacking a church choir director that he believed to be a Mason. He claimed that his actions were motivated by Masonic involvement in a far-reaching conspiracy, which almost certainly is related to the "Illuminati" nonsense that has recently been all over the Internet.

Lawrence Capener, 24, told police that he tagged the Sandoval No. 76 Masonic Lodge in Rio Rancho with spray paint on Sunday, authorities said. Police later found red and blue spray paint on signs, outside walls and a door. Investigators said he also left the message, "I hope you guess who I am." Capener is accused of attacking a choir leader at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church at the end of Sunday Mass services. At least two others were stabbed in the attack when they tried to stop Capener.

According to a criminal complaint, Capener vaulted over pews and lashed out at choir director Adam Alvarez, who had his back toward him. The complaint said church flutist Gerald Madrid saw Alvarez being attacked and attempted to "bear hug" Capener to try and stop him. Madrid was then stabbed five times in his back by Capener, authorities said. Capener later told police that he was "99 percent sure Alvarez was a mason" and that he thought Alvarez was involved in a conspiracy.