Tuesday, November 26, 2013

World's Worst Ghost Hunters

There are a lot of bad paranormal investigators out there. Some are jumpy individuals who think that every stray draft is a sign of a haunting spirit, and others accept every word out of some psychic's mouth as true without any attempt to verify it independently. But I hereby nominate this group of investigators from Louisiana as the world's worst. During their investigation of a historic plantation, they burned the place down.

The suspects told authorities that they snuck into the Lebeau Plantation in order to investigate claims that the building was haunted. Unfortunately for everyone, many news outlets reported that these ghost hunters had more in common with Shaggy and Scooby than with Fred and Velma, because instead of actually solving any mysteries they just got wrecked on cheap weed and cheaper beer. Then they accidentally set fire to the building.

By the time police showed up to the plantation at around 2am, the building was fully engulfed in flames. All 7 men were arrested and charged with arson, burglary and criminal damage over $50,000.

Aleister Crowley once famously commented that the Great Work is not a tea-party. Likewise, it would seem that a corollary to that principle is that paranormal investigation is not a frat party. Getting high and drunk doesn't make anyone a better investigator, and even if it did anything observed by a person in that state would be immediately suspect. As it is, these folks may wind up with the dubious distinction of being the first people ever to serve prison time for hunting ghosts, and as for the plantation, the house is a total loss. Odds are any spirits inhabiting the place have been released.

UPDATE: Gawker has an update to this story that does the seemingly impossible - it makes these geniuses look even worse. According to the report, they deliberately set the fire because they were frustrated at not finding any ghosts.

"They had been looking for ghosts, trying to summon spirits, beating on the floors," Sheriff's Office's rep Col. John Doran told the Times-Picayune, referring to the seven suspects. After failing to find any ghosts, the men, who were allegedly drunk and high on pot, reportedly began building a bonfire at the instruction of ringleader Dusten Davenport, 31.

Wow. Just wow. These are the world's worst ghost hunters, for sure.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mastering the Great Table is Now Available!

It's finally here, folks! Mastering the Great Table, the second volume of my Mastering Enochian Magick series, is now available from Pendraig Publishing. Mastering the Great Table covers working with the angels and cacodemons of the Great Table or Watchtowers just as I covered the Heptarchial Kings and Princes in Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy. The attributions for these entities are not those of the Golden Dawn, but rather the schema presented to John Dee and Edward Kelley. Like the first book, though, this one includes a template for Enochian operations that allows the operator to integrate modern forms and methods into the original grimoire structure.

Currently only the print edition is available, but an ebook version is in the works. You can click here or on the link to the right to order the print edition from Amazon. Other online retailers should be following soon, if you would rather order from one of them.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Raganarok 2014?

These "end of the world" prophecies seem to be coming faster than ever these days. 2012 saw the made-up "Maya apocalypse" and Harold Camping's two failed predictions of the equally made-up "Rapture." Now it some experts believe 2014 is the date that the Norse predicted for their own apocalypse, Ragnarok. Apparently this latest calamity is scheduled for February 22, 2014.

During the world's end, the sun's beams will become black and the weather will become treacherous. The wolf Skoll would devour the sun, and his brother Hati would eat the moon, causing stars to vanish from the sky and the Earth to be thrown into eternal darkness. According to one of the prophetic poems: "Brothers will fight and kill each other, sisters' children will defile kinship. It is harsh in the world, whoredom rife - an axe age, a sword age - shields are riven - a wind age, a wolf age - before the world goes headlong. No man will have mercy on another."

According to Norse legend, the apocalypse is due to be preceded by the winter of winters. Vikings believed that three freezing winters would follow each other with no summers in between. All morality would disappear and fights would break out all over the world, signalling the beginning of the end.

My opinion, of course, is that this will turn out to be yet another failed prediction. I really don't understand why people seem to be so open to the idea that the world could mysteriously end based on dates extrapolated from ancient mythology, and more to the point why some seem to be drawn to it. Nobody who's tried has ever been right. And let's say, just for the sake of argument, that this one is for real. What could you do? It seems to me that regardless, the best strategy is always going to be living your life to the best of your ability, whether it's right up to the supposed "end" or, more likely, far beyond.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Train Goddess" Unleashes Naked Menace

So is this the beginning of an emerging new cult? A naked woman identifying herself as "Goddess of the Train" caused a bit of mayhem over the weekend on a Chicago commuter train.

A naked woman shocked train commuters in Chicago on Saturday when she jumped the turnstile and declared she was the ‘Goddess of the Train’ and planned to take over the train.

The unidentified woman appeared at the Granville station of Chicago’s Red Line, the Chicago Transit Authority's busiest line, in her birthday suit. She then slapped several commuters before heading to the front of the train with the intent to drive it.

The Train Goddess was apprehended by police before she could explain the nature of her creed. While police issued a statement asserting that the woman suffers from mental illness, hasn't that always the way with the sages and hierophants of the past?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Even Photographic Memories Lie

One of the more intriguing discoveries coming out of neuroscience research is that much of what we remember is essentially fabricated. The way that brain seems to deal with the enormous amount of information it is expected to store is to only truly recall key bits and pieces and fill in the rest based on everything from general assumptions about the world to material from completely unrelated recollections. This discovery has enormous implications for everything from psychotherapy to eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.

Certain people have better memories than others. The best memories are found in people with what researchers call "Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory," or in colloquial parlance photographic memories. So far 50 individuals with this trait have been identified. They seem to have a nearly superhuman ability to recall times, dates, and other trivial details from throughout their lives, such as identifying what they ate for breakfast on a particular day decades ago. And yet, a recent study has found that even these individuals are vulnerable to false memories.

UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning, where professor James McGaugh discovered the first person proved to have Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, is just a short walk from the building where I teach as part of the Literary Journalism Program, where students read some of the most notable nonfiction works of our time, including Hiroshima, In Cold Blood, and Seabiscuit, all of which rely on exhaustive documentation and probing of memories.

In another office nearby on campus, you can find Professor Elizabeth Loftus, who has spent decades researching how memories can become contaminated with people remembering—sometimes quite vividly and confidently—events that never happened. Loftus has found that memories can be planted in someone’s mind if they are exposed to misinformation after an event, or if they are asked suggestive questions about the past. One famous case was that of Gary Ramona, who sued his daughter’s therapist for allegedly planting false memories in her mind that Gary had raped her.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Trouble With Faith Healing

Proponents of the "blogosphere school" of magick - using mundane actions to increase your likelihood of success combined with magical operations to shift the odds further in your favor - usually complain about esoteric practitioners who expect their magick to work without any mundane effort on their part. However, some of the worst offenders are in fact Christians who belong to "faith healing" churches that try to replace medical treatments with prayer.

Now I want to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with using magick or prayer or whatever you want to call it to facilitate healing. The problem arises when magical and mundane methods are framed as antithetical to one another rather than complementary. It's a classic logical fallacy, apparently based on the idea that because spiritual methods can affect health they suddenly become all you need, an either/or construction that has no grounding in reality.

This investigative report out of Idaho, home to a number of such churches, shows where embracing this fallacy can lead - to dead children who would have lived had they received proper medical care.

Peaceful Valley Cemetery sits on a windswept hill 30 miles east of Boise. Some of The Followers of Christ faith healers bury their dead there. The same last names appear over and again, going back decades. Some - like Beagley - are the same names you’ll see in a similar cemetery in Oregon City.

In 2010, jurors in Clackamas County convicted Jeff and Marci Beagley of letting their son Neal die of an untreated urinary tract infection. KATU’s Dan Tilkin covered that story, as he has so many faith-healing stories. That’s why he traveled to Idaho to trace the connections between Followers members in both states, and a new trail of dead children.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Strange But Not True

A recent study found that many people in Iceland still believe in the existence of elves. This article cleverly builds on that fact to create a plausible-sounding story about a missing anthropologist who may have been kidnapped by the creatures and held for seven years. It sounds like a great paranormal tale, with the little nagging problem that none of it is true.

Seven years after she vanished without a trace, a female anthropologist emerged from a mysterious cave where authorities believe she may have been held hostage by real-life elves!

Danish researcher Kalena Søndergaard was stark naked, covered by dust and babbling incoherently when rescuers found her outside a tiny opening in the famous Elf Rock, traditionally believed to house the underground dwelling place of mankind’s tiny cousins.

“She was crouching like an animal and spoke only in a language unrelated to any we know,” said Armor GuĂ°johnsen of the National Rescue Service, which airlifted the 31-year-old survivor to a hospital by helicopter.

“The only word we could understand was ‘alfur,’ an old Icelandic word for elves. On her back were strange tattoos similar to those markings Viking explorers found on rock formations when they settled Iceland in 874, traditionally known as ‘elf writing.’ ”

This is another one of those fake news stories that people sometimes pass around as fact on the Internet. How do I know? Take a look here and you'll realize that photo accompanying the story was taken from an unrelated article about a woman stuck on a cliff after attempting to climb down to a nudist beach in California - which is a long way from Iceland. Now a real story of abduction by elves would be something, especially if it were well-documented. This article just is not it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pope Versus Mafia

It sounds like the plot of a bad action movie. According to an Italian state prosecutor, Pope Francis may be in danger from the ‘Ndrangheta, a mafia-like organized crime syndicate with ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Francis strongly denounced organized crime back in May, and is moving to reform the church and limit its economic power.

Nicola Gratteri, 55, a state prosecutor in the southern Italian region of Calabria, where the ‘Ndrangheta is most active, said the pope’s effort to reform the church is making the ‘Ndrangheta “very nervous.” The organization is considered by experts in Italy to be the most dangerous, most unified and most difficult to penetrate mafia-type organization in the country.

“I cannot say if the organization is in a position to do something like this, but they are dangerous and it is worth reflecting on,” Gratteri warned. “If the godfathers can find a way to stop him, they will seriously consider it. Those who have up until now profited from the influence and wealth drawn from the church are getting very nervous,” he added. “For many years, the mafia has laundered money and made investments with the complicity of the church. But now the pope is dismantling the poles of economic power in the Vatican, and that is dangerous.”

Gratteri noted that in southern Italy organized crime figures have strong and high-profile relationships with local church leaders, who help give the crime figures legitimacy.

If Francis succeeds in his efforts, the ‘Ndrangheta financial base will be significantly undermined. It seems that the pope's widely recognized reasonableness includes stamping down corruption within the church itself, and this is making the beneficiaries of said corruption quite concerned. Hopefully Francis will press forward despite these threats and clean up the mess that Vatican finances have become. He certainly shows no signs of letting up.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Surprise Exorcism

This is a story that you would guess took place in Africa or India, not modern-day California, but you would be wrong. A California man and his son are being charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment after abducting the man's ex-wife and forcing her to undergo an exorcism - because they apparently believed she was possessed by demons.

Jose Magana-Farias, 42 and his son, Victor Farias, 20, arranged to meet with his ex-wife and mother of the son at a Wal-Mart in north Stockton on Saturday under the pretense of trying to make the marriage work, San Joaquin sheriff’s Lt. Mike Jones told KCRA-TV.

But after getting into the car, the men allegedly picked up two priests before forcing the woman to undergo an exorcism, Jones said. The men apparently believed drastic changes she’d made in her life were a sign that she was possessed by demons.

The woman was allegedly doused with sacred oil and “purified” during a religious ritual, according to KCRA-TV, which cited a deputy’s report. No torture was involved and the woman was found physically unharmed after the victim’s roommate reported the alleged kidnapping.

There's no mention of what the "drastic changes" the woman underwent might have been. My guess is that the husband was so incredulous that the woman would divorce him that clearly the only explanation had to be demons - and not, say, that he was the sort of abusive shit who would kidnap someone in order to perform an exorcism on them against their will.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Ark Encounter" Junk Bonds

Back in June I covered financial problems at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Declining attendance forced the museum to put its proposed "Ark Encounter" exhibit, which was set to include a life-sized replica of Noah's Ark, on hold. However, the project is not quite dead yet. Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, the group that developed and runs the Creation Museum, is now trying to sell bonds to raise the funds he needs to build his Ark.

The ark must “stand as a warning of coming judgment—to condemn those who reject God’s clear Word.” Gays, scientists, and liberals: Consider yourselves on notice. According to Ham, our current era of sin may soon be flooded by another cataclysm of divine punishment. When it arrives, those who “encounter ... God’s Word” (young-earth creationists, as long as they aren’t gay) will travel through the “door of the ‘Ark’ ” to “the Lord Jesus.” Those who don’t will go to Hell—a doomsday rapture Ham feverishly anticipates.

There’s just one problem. Before Ham can usher in a new era of mass destruction “to separate and to purify those who believe in Him from those who don’t,” as he wrote in his newsletter to supporters, he’ll need to actually build his ark—and three years after first announcing the project, he hasn’t even broken ground. The project’s first phase will require $73 million in total, and $24 million just to commence construction. (The state of Kentucky generously offered to toss in $37.5 million worth of tax breaks, though those will expire in 2014.) The next phases will require $52.6 million. Thus far, Answers in Genesis has raised $13.6 million—just 10 percent of an optimistic estimate of the total cost.

In order to make up that shortfall, Answers in Genesis will have to sell a lot of bonds. And at first, the bonds look like ordinary investment vehicles with a decent rate of return, between 5 and 6 percent. However, the fine print pretty much renders that moot.

Monday, November 11, 2013

But God Wants Them to be Rich!

Six of the wealthiest televangelists are currently under investigation by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. As I've covered before, the "Green Gospel" movement in Christianity is essentially a scam that completely inverts Jesus' message regarding compassion for the poor. Instead, its proponents contend that the richer you are the more God likes you, and God likes them a lot.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said those under scrutiny include faith healer Benny Hinn, Georgia megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar and one of the nation's best known female preachers, Joyce Meyer.

Grassley sent letters to the half-dozen Christian media ministries earlier this week requesting answers by Dec. 6 about their expenses, executive compensation and amenities, including use of fancy cars and private jets.

In a statement, Grassley said he was acting on complaints from the public and news coverage of the organizations. "The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls Royces," Grassley said.

"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."

I'm glad to see that such an investigation is underway. These televangelists are no better than cult leaders in terms of how they spend their followers' donations on their own extravagant lifestyles. You certainly don't need mansions and private jets and so forth to spread the word of God.

UPDATE: The linked article is from 2007, and Grassley's report was issued in 2011. You can read it here. It raises a number of questions regarding the tax exempt status of these evangelists' organizations, but makes no recommendations and so far has led to no real policy changes. That's unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected. These days it seems like money talks in politics, and these folks have plenty of it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Devil or Dust Devil?

One of the things that I like to point about my viewpoint on occult phenomena is that I believe in paranormal phenomena but not supernatural ones. To some extent it's a tautology, in that my perspective is that everything in existence is part of the natural world. And as I see it consciousness, spirits, magical operations, and so forth all exist - so they must essentially be natural components of the universe.

The concept behind paranormal is completely different - that is, it refers to phenomena outside the realm of most peoples' everyday experiences. So it includes psychic phenomena, but also especially unusual or unlikely occurrences. The video here shows what I think is unarguably a paranormal phenomenon, but at the same time one that conforms to known scientific principles. It is highly unusual, but not inexplicable in a "supernatural" sense.

In the video you can see a ghostlike mist flowing across a parking lot and taking a mirror off one of the parked cars. Since this parking lot happens to be at a police station and is therefore under constant surveillance it was captured by the camera. According to a local meteorologist, this is in fact a dust devil, a tornado-like vortex small enough that it does little damage to its surroundings - aside from the one unfortunate mirror.

And by the way, if anyone knows a reliable spell for conjuring one of these I'm all ears. I can imagine all sorts of mischief I could get up to with such a thing. I can think of a number of ways to do it that might work, but real experimental evidence always trumps speculation.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dark Matter or Probability Structures?

In his famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn leveled a strong critique of the supposed objectivity of scientific inquiry. What Kuhn found was that revolutions in scientific thinking seemed to be more grounded in social dynamics than was previously thought. Once data accumulated to the point where it challenged an existing scientific paradigm, new theories would be developed and tested to explain the new data - but rather than sweeping through the entire scientific establishment all at once the new theories would be resisted by entrenched interests. He found that often, what was necessary for a new paradigm to be fully accepted was the retirement or even death of the entire generation of scientists brought up on the previous one.

Fringe scientists love Kuhn's work and cite it constantly. It allows anyone who's infatuated with the beauty of some new scientific hypothesis that everyone working in the field rejects to think of themselves as geniuses for seeing "the future" of science - even when the hypothesis itself is deeply flawed in some obvious way. Anyone proposing an idea that represents a paradigm shift, therefore, needs to be especially careful when reviewing its implications. Most of the time a "new paradigm" simply represents some sort of error in data collection, like the case of polywater, which was covered on Slate today. Scientists in the 1960's believed that they had discovered a new form of water, when in fact the material in question was simply ordinary water that exhibited different properties because of sample contamination.

That being said, I'm now going to go ahead and put forth a hypothesis about the structure of the universe with profound ramifications for many areas of science. To be clear I have no idea if this hypothesis is accurate at all, and any eventual validation would have to be accomplished by experimental methods. It hinges on two basic factors - first, some recent observations from physics and cosmology, and second, my own observations of the activity consciousness and operant magick. Even though all I have so far is a speculative idea, I think it's an idea that may be worth a look.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Strange Things Afoot in Gloucestershire

A recent Freedom of Information Act request filed in the English county of Gloucestershire has revealed nearly a thousand calls to police regarding werewolves, witches, wizards, and ghosts. Apparently paranormal phenomena are common there - or at least local residents think so.

In Cheltenham, a caller contacted police to say a taxi driver who took his wife to a destination said he "changes into a werewolf." He then touched the wife's knee.

Elsewhere in the county, a caller contacted the police, saying they had discovered possible witchcraft items in the Forest of Dean. A "pile of stones in shapes of human shape" were what prompted the call to the force.

In Stroud, a man contacted police saying a satellite, which was above his house and controlled by a "coven of witches", was poisoning him.

My guess is that last one would be pretty easy to debunk - either there's a satellite positioned above the guy's house or there isn't (and my money is on "isn't"). But that's not all.

Elsewhere in the county, in Gloucester officers recorded a call from a woman whose ex partner was threatening to kill her and to cast a spell on her with witchcraft.

Also in the city, a young boy – perhaps who had watched too many Harry Potter movies – called in to tell officers he was a wizard.

And with a clear sign that people in Gloucester have a sense of humour, a man called the police saying he wanted the Ghostbusters, because there was "something strange in the neighbourhood", before hanging up.

A paranormal investigator asked to comment on the calls stated that he thought the high volume was simply due to increased media exposure. However, at the same time he added that some of the reported events may be real cases, and it would be difficult to identify which those might be without conducting thorough investigations.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Runner of the Beast

The latest harbinger of the apocalypse manifested this last weekend at a cross-country meet in Kentucky, where runner Codie Thacker was randomly assigned the number 666. Fortunately for the rest of us, Thacker refused to play out her role in the cosmic drama by declining to race, once more sending the forces of evil on their way.

Runner Codie Thacker said she was assigned a bib Saturday with the number, “666,” which many Christians associate with the biblical Antichrist or Satan. The Whitley County High School student said she asked for another number, but officials with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association declined.

“I just don’t believe that 666 should be a number that’s anywhere on your body, and I did not want that number associated with me,” Thacker said. “It kind of made me sick.” The number is mentioned as the “mark of the beast” in the Bible’s Book of Revelations, and some Christians believe it’s a harbinger of the apocalypse and try to avoid it.

Now I have a couple of more serious thoughts about this. First off, it seems to me that if somebody has a religious objection to wearing the number 666 it's no different than Thelemites being attracted to numbers like 418 and 93. But what's odd about this case is that according to race officials the numbers were assigned and issued to the runners in advance, and they only refused to give Thacker a new one because she asked on the day of the race rather than ahead of time.

That makes the situation hard to evaluate. On the one hand, if Thacker knew all along what her number would be, she may have made her request on the day of the race with the specific intention being refused, just so that she could get into the media as the latest supposedly oppressed Christian victim. However, if the race officials are lying about the numbers being issued ahead of time, they are failing to honor their stated policy of allowing number changes based on religious objections.