Friday, August 30, 2013

Animal Births in Nigeria

No, not the regular kind that you have all the time on a farm, something far more disturbing. Or at least it would be if it made any sense. According to this story from Nigeria, a woman named Chipo Mahuda claims to have given birth to birds, frogs, and mice after being cursed by her lover's wife. This is one of those stories that any skeptic will tell you is either definitive proof of paranormal activity or completely fraudulent. Some of the other weird stories from Africa such as the car-thief-turned-goat could possibly be explained as simple mistaken identity - a person steals a car and abandons it, leaving the door open for a wayward goat to climb into the driver's seat. But this one?

When visited by the news crew, Chipo confirmed the chilling development. “I conceived after cheating with my neighbour, Learnmore, last year in December. We had several confrontations with his wife and she threatened me with his delivery of animals if I was to continue dating Learnmore and I strongly suspect her of bewitching me. I was already five months pregnant and I couldn’t stop as Learnmore demanded to have sex with me in the bush and at Waterloo farm where he works.

“I could not believe her words until 30 July when I started hearing strange voiced from my stomach similar to the squeaking of a mouse and of small chicks. Suddenly I felt serious labour pains and had a stomach ache. I went to Waterloo clinic and when they pressed against my stomach, they heard the squeaking. When they saw a mouse coming out of my privates they couldn’t find a solution and referred me to Marondera Hospital,” she narrated.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

OTO in the News

Here's the sort of press OTO should be getting. Note the complete lack of Illuminati nonsense or similar nattering on about how the Order controls the politics and finances of the world (spoiler: it doesn't!). Also, the serious perspective of the article is refreshing in contrast to treating the Order as some kind of freak show just because we take an alternative approach to spirituality - like several British press outlets did earlier this year.

“I had always been interested in the occult and alternate religious traditions, even though I started off as a ‘good little Christian boy,’” said the body master, David, who asked that his last name not be used. “In the back of my mind, I knew I needed something else.” David looked into Buddhism, Wicca and New Age beliefs. But then he began to read about the OTO’s most famous leader, Aleister Crowley.

“Ever since I heard that name, he always had a grip on me,” said David. “I decided I need to go experience a Gnostic Mass, and I found Sekhet Bast Ra. At first, I thought it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen in my life, but I wanted to go back.”

Founded in Germany by Karl Kellner and Theodor Reuss, the secret society gained most of its prominence early in the 20th century, when Crowley, dubbed by the press as the “wickedest man in the world,” took the order to newfound worldwide fame. Although he was widely demonized, his work and rituals transformed the order into what it is today, with the Law of Thelema — “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” — the OTO’s guiding principle.

According to David, however, this isn’t an excuse to go wild. Quite the opposite, actually. “It never implies, at least to me, ‘Do whatever you want.’ The true will — some people might say is destiny, some might say fate, but I think it’s more than that — is what you are here to do. There are people who are following their true will without even knowing about Thelema. It’s a guideline that anyone can follow to [become] a better person.”

I suppose the truth is a disappointment to anyone who believes that we run the CIA and divulge secret pass codes at our initiations that can be used to make our enemies disappear or comb through their NSA files, but really, the idea that occultists wield incredible political power wasn't even true in the nineteenth century, let alone today. On the other hand, there are plenty of situations in which the power to control one's mind is a whole lot more useful - and that's something Thelema really does teach.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's Full of Stars!

Could this be the work of the Elder Gods? An Oklahoma City restaurant owner came into work last Friday to find a concrete monument weighing hundreds of pounds on the front lawn. The monument bore a metal plaque claiming the land on which the restaurant sits for Azathoth, one of the Elder Gods of H. P. Lovecraft's pantheon. Does Oklahoma City hide a secret cult of Azathoth-worshippers driven to claim land around the town for their infernal lord?

The concrete pillar is rough in texture and appears to have been ripped from its foundation and somehow ended up in the front lawn. “We came into work Friday morning, and we had this lovely concrete block out here,” Paseo Grill owner Lesley Rawlinson said.

The wording on the block is even more bizarre than its arrival. “It says ‘In the year of our lord 2012 Creer Pipi claimed this land for Azathoth,” Rawlinson said. “It’s kind of a problem that we’re stuck with, a very heavy problem.”

Rawlinson says she has contacted the Oklahoma City Police Department. The monument has not been reported stolen, and police say, unfortunately, the owners of the Paseo Grill are responsible for getting rid of it. “What do we do with it and where do we take it?” Rawlinson said.

Far more likely than any sort of Lovecraft cult is a clever prankster with enough of a grudge against the restaurant to target it for some reason. It's likely that they knew the restaurant would be responsible for removing the heavy pillar and wanted to cause them trouble. As the pillar looks to have been pulled from its foundation and may have been stolen, the restaurant is seeking the real owners. With something this distinctive you'd think that wouldn't be too hard.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Satanic Pony Sacrifice Isn't

One of the things that frustrates me about law enforcement and occultism is when weird, unexplained events are pinned on "Satanists" as if (A) such folks are running around all over the place and (B) they mysteriously behave exactly as represented in Hollywood horror films. You know, doing evil just for the sake of doing evil rather than any practical or logical reason. Given that motive is key in many criminal investigations I'll grant that it's awfully convenient to have a class of individuals who keep themselves totally secret and are motivated by nothing other than the desire to do "bad things" - except that in reality, such people are so rarely encountered that they might as well not exist. Even psychopaths, individuals who lack both empathy for others and a sense of remorse for their actions, generally pursue tangible and rational goals - they just do so at the expense of anyone who gets in their way.

So this story is no surprise whatsoever to me, and really shouldn't be to anyone else who thinks about it logically. In July, the body of a pony was discovered in Dartmoor, England. The body was missing several organs and appeared to have been mutilated, leading a livestock protection officer to speculate that "witches or devil worshippers" were responsible. It's unclear how killing and mutilating a pony would benefit such people, except perhaps in the sense of earning them extra unspeakable evil points for the day. Oh, and just to be clear, those aren't real things. In response to the officer's speculation, police dutifully investigated and fortunately spoke to actual experts who concluded that the pony died of natural causes. The apparent mutilation was simply the result of predation by wild animals after its death.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Russian Pastafarians Detained

Discordians sometimes comment that they aren't sure whether the tenets spelled out in the Principia Discordia are a joke disguised as a religion or a religion disguised as a joke. The same appears to be true of Pastafarianism, the beliefs articulated by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Originally created as a parody of Christian Creationism, Pastafarianism may be the first religion to go viral on the Internet, with professed followers all over the world. Last Saturday Russian Pastafarians held a "pasta procession" in Moscow that was broken up by police, resulting in the detention of eight participants.

Pastafarians wear sieves on their heads, worship The Flying Spaghetti Monster and believe that their religion was founded by pirates, their website says. They consider every Friday a religious holiday and do not take themselves seriously, it says.

Russian Pastafarians announced a “pasta procession” in Moscow and St. Petersburg to celebrate the birthday of US actor Robert De Niro who played a character nicknamed “Noodles” in Sergio Leone’s 1984 mafia drama Once Upon A Time In America, according to their web-posted statement.

However, Moscow authorities did not sanction the procession which was disrupted by riot police and activists with the God’s Will Orthodox group headed by Dmitri Enteo, according to a message by Russian Pastafarians on a social networking website.

The Russian government of Vladimir Putin has come down hard on the side of conservative religious beliefs recently, with the arrest of punk band Pussy Riot for performing their anti-Putin "punk prayer" in a church, legislation outlawing "insulting the feelings" of religious believers, and an outright ban on even mentioning the existence of homosexuality. And now they appear to be coming for the pasta strainers as well, or at least those who believe in wearing such attire on their heads. One wonders where this all will end.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Northern Territory to Repeal Witchcraft Act

The law prohibiting witchcraft in England was famously repealed in 1951, after which Gerald Gardner began promoting Wicca publicly. It seems that Australia's Northern Territory has yet to catch up, though this will soon be changing. The law in question is the same witchcraft act of 1735, which at the time was instituted across all the territories of the British Empire. Northern Territory Attorney-General John Elferink has announced that the territorial government is finally planning a repeal of this outdated legislation.

"It falls outside the gamut of modern sentencing," he said. "It's just a quirk that it is still operational law." Mr Elferink said the Witchcraft Act predated European settlement in Australia but was passed on along with many ancient British laws. It has already been repealed in England and many other jurisdictions. "It appears that this one has slipped through the cracks (in the Territory)," he said.

Mr Elferink said the Act had initially been set up to protect consumers and had replaced the 1563 version that allowed for witches to be burnt at the stake. But he "did not anticipate" any prosecutions in the future. Repealing the law would give Darwin's spiritual community some peace of mind. "I believe we have very fine and law-abiding tarot readers who would be fairly horrified to find out they've committed an offence that would see them pilloried on market day," he said.

All I can say is good riddance to a law that could be used to prosecute members of minority religions such as Wicca. I don't know if there are any other British territories in which the witchcraft act is still in force, but if there are I suggest they get with the program as well. Laws are funny things - it's always easy to pass more of them, but repealing them is another story, even if they have been on the books for hundreds of years and no longer bear any relation to the current state of society. I've often thought that all legislation should be subject in some way to periodic review to prevent this sort of thing from happening, though with politics being what it is, there are a lot of ways such a process could be implemented that would cause more problems than it solved.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Can This Trope Finally Die?

The idea that people are "left-brained" or "right-brained" infiltrated esotericism from pop psychology, which to this day asserts that "left-brained" individuals are more analytical while "right-brained" individuals are more creative. Even when I was in college twenty years ago professors were working hard to debunk this notion, but for whatever reason it remained stuck in the popular imagination. Back then, it was known that in Americans language tended to be processed on the left while spatial information tended to be processed on the right - though it should be noted that children who grew up learning Asian languages were much more likely to have language represented on both sides of the brain.

This functional division severely undermines the "creative" designator for the right hemisphere, as it should be obvious that while the creativity of a painter would tend to employ the spatial processing of the right hemisphere, that of a writer would tend to employ the language processing of the left hemisphere. This was the main avenue of attack back in the early 1990's. Since then, brain scanning and related technologies have improved dramatically, giving us the ability to map localized neural functions in real time. Researchers recently ran a study using this technology and found what looks like definitive evidence that the "left-brain/right-brain" dichotomy is essentially meaningless.

"It's absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection," study researcher Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Anti-Witchcraft Squad Still Going Strong

Maybe it was all just a publicity stunt after all. Back in October I covered the Saudi Arabian government's efforts to rein in the so-called Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, known to readers of this blog as the anti-witchcraft squad. At the time, it sounded like the government was serious about cracking down on abuses or at least trying to mitigate the bad press surrounding several high-profile executions on the charges of witchcraft and sorcery.

Unfortunately, as The Atlantic reports, the anti-witchcraft squad has kept up the persecution game despite the government's supposed reform of the unit. While there has been no news of executions since the October announcement, charges are still being levied and those convicted can face lashings and long prison terms.

The campaign of persecution has shown no signs of fizzling. In May, two Asian maids were sentenced to 1,000 lashings and 10 years in prison after their bosses claimed that they had suffered from their magic. Just a few weeks ago, Saudi newspapers began running the image of an Indonesian maid being pursued on accusations that she produced a spell that made her male boss's family subject to fainting and epileptic fits. "I swear that we do not want to hurt her but to stop her evil acts against us and others," the man told the news site Emirates 24/7.

According to Adam Coogle, a Jordan-based Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch who monitors Saudi Arabia, the relentless witch hunts reveal the hollowness of the country's long-standing promises about liberalizing its justice system.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Victims of Discount Acupuncture?

Skeptics like to argue that acupuncture doesn't do anything at all, even though the most recent studies show it to be more effective than sham treatments in which the needles are placed improperly. But here's something those studies never observed - spontaneous human combustion! After a mysterious death in Louisiana attributed to this supposed phenomenon, some acupuncturists are warning the public that being treated at discount acupuncture clinics can make them explode. I suppose that's a useful safety tip, you know, if you believe such a thing is even possible.

Some local medical professionals have proposed a controversial theory. Based on reports that Thomas has undergone acupuncture treatments for sciatica several times in the weeks preceding his untimely fulmination, a group of local experts are speaking out. They are warning the community to beware discount acupuncture clinics.

“We aren’t saying that every incidence of spontaneous human combustion is linked to the incorrect placement of acupuncture needles,” Kuang Zhu LAC, Chief of Pragmatic Acupuncture in the Health and Wellness division of Vic’s Day Spa and Pet Grooming Center, explained during a recent press conference. “But in some cases, there is a relationship that is hard to explain otherwise.”

Now what I want to know is in all the studies that have been done trying to differentiate between sham acupuncture and the real thing, what happened to all those exploding subjects in the control group? Because the whole point of sham acupuncture is that it deliberately is done incorrectly with the needles inserted at different points than those specified but in the same general area of the body. Oh, that's right, there aren't any! So it seems to me that this is a transparent attempt to drum up business for the non-discount clinics, which by definition charge more.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

He's Not The Messiah!

A magistrate judge in Tennessee is being criticized for renaming a baby on apparently religious grounds. You can question all you like the wisdom of naming your child "Messiah," which to me sounds a lot like insisting he spend his elementary school years tooling around in this vintage wienermobile pedal car. Still, we do have religious freedom in the United States, and unfortunately for this poor kid that includes a parent's right to be a complete dumbass when it comes to baby names. It's not that the courts can't throw out awful baby names - they do it all the time. The Constitution just explicitly states that they can't do it for religious reasons.

The baby’s given name was "Messiah DeShawn Martin." Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew spontaneously changed it to "Martin DeShawn McCullough" (McCullough is the father’s name), explaining that although there was no dispute about the child’s first name before the court, “The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ."

According to the Social Security Administration, "Messiah" was in the top 400 baby names for 2012. (Nearly 4,000 babies were named "Jesus"; about 500 were named "Mohammed"; and 29 were named "Christ.") The ACLU, pointing out that the judge cannot impose her religious faith on others, has offered to assist the baby’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, in an appeal of the judge’s order.

Ballew ordered that the baby’s birth certificate be changed because, as she explained, she was taking his Christian community into account and "I thought out into the future," and the name "could put him at odds with a lot of people." Her decision seems nutty on its face, and will no doubt be overturned, but it’s a reminder of how much freedom Americans truly enjoy when it comes to naming their children.

You know, if the judge hadn't made that religious reference during the hearing, she might have been able to sustain her argument. Unfortunately, she just couldn't keep her mouth shut. Because, frankly, "Messiah" is a really stupid name. You might as well go with "God-Emperor" or "Divine Pharaoh." Same thing, really, as far as a lot of people are concerned. And I know that names aren't destiny, but with such a moniker aren't you just setting your kid up to seek out a career as an evil overlord? There's no future in that, as the entire canon of Hollywood action films will attest.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

More on Near-Death Experiences

Near-death experiences are back in the news, with a new study that tracked the brainwaves of dying rats. Researchers found that after their hearts stopped, the brains of the rats exhibited rapid firing, raising their brainwave frequencies into the gamma range (>30 hz). While there are all sorts of caveats surrounding this research as it was done on animals rather than humans, the researchers still believe that this rapid firing may explain what people going through NDE's perceive.

"When you turn off a light switch, the light immediately goes from on to off," explains a neuroscientist who was not involved with, but was impressed by, the research. "The brain doesn't immediately go off, but it shows a series of sort of complicated transitions." The BBC explains further: The scientists measured an increase in gamma oscillations, high-frequency brainwaves that connect information from one part of the brain to another. How to explain this? The lead researcher thinks the surge in brain activity may be "the byproduct of the brain's attempt to save itself," as well as to make sense of what's happening.

Where this gets interesting is that there's another possible explanation. Gamma-frequency brainwaves have also been detected in advanced meditators and linked with mystical states such as samadhi reached during their practice sessions. While many neuroscientists tend towards reductive explanations, the idea that individuals could have mystical experiences while undergoing the process of dying is an ancient one. It may be that only now science is starting to catch up with it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mastering the Great Table

It's finally almost here. My new book on Enochian magick, Mastering the Great Table, will be available in September from Pendraig Publishing.

The first book of my Enochian series addressed working with the Kings and Princes of the Heptarchia Mystica, while this one will address the Kings, Seniors, and other entities derived from the four quadrants of the Great Table. I've made a deliberate effort to structure the new book just like the previous one, so if you liked Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy, which received many positive reviews, I expect that you will enjoy Mastering the Great Table as well.

Writing about the Great Table courts more controversy than writing about the Heptarchia Mystica. While the latter material has remained relatively unexplored, the former has been analyzed, expanded, reworked, and integrated into the curricula of many modern magical orders, all of whom have their own ideas about how it should be interpreted and applied. My version doesn't quite line up with any of those, but rather takes an approach like that articulated in my first book. While the ritual template I include shows where modern ritual forms can be added to the basic procedure, it also allows those magicians who prefer to work with just the original material to omit them and interact with the Enochian entities grimoire-style.

The new book will also expand upon some of the general ideas about magick that I introduced in the first book, so if you were holding off on picking up a copy of Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy until my book on the Great Table came out now is the perfect time. Click on one of the links to the right to order your copy today, and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Death by Telepathy!

IO9 reports that telepathy is suspected in the deaths of four Turkish engineers. The deaths were originally classified as suicides, but a new report touches on the possibility of paranormal influence. If it pans out, that's a pretty neat trick - you know, if you happen to be the sort of person who needs to get some pesky engineers out of the way and have no qualms about how that happens.

Four engineers working for a Turkish defense company died under mysterious circumstances originally labeled suicides. A report by the Inspection Board of the Prime Ministry suggests that telepathy may have been used to cause the deaths.

The report cites neuropsychologist Nevzat Tarhan, who asked prosecutors "not to disregard the possibility of telepathy causing severe distress and headaches in the victims, giving them a tendency to kill themselves." All four engineers had been undergoing psychological treatment before their deaths.

Now even though I don't necessarily discount the possibility of telepathy in general, the fact that the alleged victims were undergoing psychological treatment strongly suggests to me that skepticism is the way to go in this case. Because the reality is that mentally illness drives patients to suicide much more often than telepathy does, and nothing about the case makes me suspect anything unusual beyond that.

I'd be a lot more willing to entertain the notion of killer telepathy if, say, we were talking about four mentally healthy individuals who killed themselves out of the blue. My suspicions would be further heightened if all four were involved in a specific defense project, the derailment of which would benefit some powerful interest group. Of course, even then, you would need to rule out staged assassinations before invoking psychic powers as an official explanation.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Teen Exorcist Squad: The Movie!

I suppose it was inevitable. The Teen Exorcist Squad is now the subject of a new documentary film from Vice. The teen exorcists themselves are attractive, telegenic, and engaged in an activity that most people find truly weird, which makes them a perfect subject for a documentary. One wonders how Werner Herzog would treat this material, and if he did, my guess is that his narration alone would be worth the price of admission.

One of the most glaring aspects of the film, noted by Jezebel, is how obsessed with sexuality modern Evangelical Christians are. Apparently any sort of sexual activity, volutary or otherwise, exposes you to the dangers of demonic possession. If that were really true, I imagine that the human race would have died out long before now - because, you know, sexuality is how we reproduce. Furthermore, given the number of sexual acts going on in the world at any one time, if this "risk" were anything other than infinitesimal our entire species would almost certainly be completely infested. The Jezebel article quotes the following from the film:

"Satan can't just go into anybody that he wants to. He has to have a legal right."

You can catch demons from having sex with prostitutes.

You can catch demons from being sexually abused.

Teen exorcists stay away from things like Harry Potter, witchcraft, violence, Twilight (mostly because the storyline is "not attractive at all"), really scary horror movies, and "sexual stuff."

Well, I can't fault them for disliking Twilight. That series is just awful and suggests that there might be something to the Mormon religion, as I can't imagine how a writer as bad and unknown as Stephanie Meyer could have gotten such a huge book contract short of divine intervention. It should also be pointed out that the obsession with sexuality is a lot newer than one might expect. The Puritans of the seventeenth century, for example, are commonly cited as an example of a sexually repressive form of Christianity. However, they were in fact much more open about sexuality than the form of Christianity practiced by the teen exorcists and preached by their spiritual leader, Bob Larson.