Friday, March 28, 2014

Don't Fear the Reapers

Here's another gem from my Facebook feed. Apparently, after the Rapture God is going to send "Reapers" to kill everyone, and they're going to be showing up on gigantic UFO's that are the size of Jupiter. So I guess that makes them terrorist space aliens or something.

Seeing as none of this is in the actual Bible, I'd be very interested in finding out where this theology comes from. It is being taught by some new UFO cult? Also, I'm curious where this mysterious "NASA footage" can be found. A UFO the size of Jupiter near the Sun would be visible to the naked eye and disturb the orbits of all the inner planets including Earth. So where are they? Do they have some sort of cloaking device? Does it block the effects of gravity too?

At any rate, I've never understood why anyone would want to follow a deity so bent on carnage and destruction, space alien or not. The good thing is that as there's no evidence the Rapture will never happen, we seem to be safe from the Reapers for now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Gilford Ghost

Here's another one of those cases that's either legitimate paranormal activity or an outright fake. Recent security footage from a store in Gilford, New Hampshire appears to show a glass bowl being tossed off a counter by an invisible force. The bowl breaks at around 00:50 on the video. Some commenters online have suggested some sort of vibration from outside the shop might be responsible, but after viewing the footage I'm dubious of that explanation. The bowl doesn't just slip or slide off, it actually seems to be pushed or pulled.

The easiest way to fake this would probably be something like monofilament line attached to the bowl. At the resolution of the security camera it would be invisible and even digital enhancement likely wouldn't reveal it. WMUR news in New Hampshire reports that the store's owners will be bringing in paranormal investigators to check out the shop, and it will be interesting to hear their findings. Hopefully whoever they contact will be professional enough to try to rule out every possible normal explanation before concluding that the place is haunted, but at the same time avoid the usual skeptic assumption that just because it would be possible to fake the footage it must not be authentic.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Today in Poor Oppressed Christian Film

Many modern political attacks make use of one simple but highly effective tactic. You identify your candidate's weakest point, and then proceed to attack their opponent for the same thing. When George W. Bush ran against John Kerry in the 2004 US Presidential Election, Republicans felt that Bush's stint in the National Guard stacked up poorly against Kerry's war experience in Vietnam and proceeded to attack Kerry's service record. Likewise, the whole "birther" phenomenon started out as a similar attack in 2008. John McCain was born on a military base in Panama, and Republicans worried that Democrats might question his natural-born citizenship on those grounds. So they put forth allegations that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, which totally eclipsed the circumstances of McCain's birth and took on a bizarre life of their own.

Poor Oppressed Christians also make use of this same tactic incessantly, as illustrated by the new Christian film God's Not Dead currently in theaters. According to this review the film is not particularly good and I have no intention of seeing it, but I want to highlight one of the main plot elements. The film is about a Christian college student who challenges an atheist philosophy professor to debate the existence of God, which is not necessarily a bad setup and could have been used well by a more skillful filmmaker. The key point that I want to highlight, though, is how this philosophical debate is set in motion.

The most worthwhile moments of God’s Not Dead come from Kevin Sorbo, of all people, who plays the film’s mustache-twirler of a villain, professor Jeffrey Radisson. Professor Radisson teaches an introduction to philosophical thought course that asks students, on the first day, to write on a sheet of paper that God is dead, then sign it for credit [emphasis mine], so that he can move past the early stuff and get to the things he finds more fulfilling. As Radisson, Sorbo is playing a transparently awful person, but he has fun with his most villainous moments and even locates a few notes of sorrow and regret in Radisson’s backstory.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Science Isn't Philosophy, and Vice Versa

The new version of the television series Cosmos hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson has predictably attracted the ire of Creationists who feel that their beliefs are not being adequately represented. This complaint reminds me of a comment I made as a follow-up to one of my previous articles, that Creationists confuse philosophy with science. Believing that the universe was created by a deity who resides outside the realms of time and space is a philosophical claim, not a scientific one. Any scientific claim must be testable, and the hypothetical actions of a supernatural, omnipotent being fall completely outside that scope.

“Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all,” said Danny Falkner, of Answers In Genesis, which has previously complained about the show. Falkner appeared Thursday on “The Janet Mefford Show” to complain the Fox television series and its host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, had marginalized those with dissenting views on accepted scientific truths, reported Right Wing Watch.

“I don’t recall seeing any interviews with people – that may yet come – but it’s based upon the narration from the host and then various types of little video clips of various things, cartoons and things like that,” Falkner said. Mefferd said the show should at least offer viewers a false compromise.

“Boy, but when you have so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution, it seems to me that that might be something to throw in there, you know, the old, ‘some scientists say this, others disagree and think this,’ but that’s not even allowed,” she said. Tyson recently said science reporting should not be balanced with nonscientific claims, so that seems unlikely he would offer that sort of fallacious argument on his own show.

There's an enormous difference between proposing and testing an alternative hypothesis that contradicts the established theory of evolution on the one hand, and arguing that any challenge to evolutionary theory automatically means "God did it, full stop" on the other. The first is science and the second is not, so any attempt to "explore the controversy" just means bringing up one apples to oranges comparison after the other. That's why science educators just don't do it. Nor should they.

There's no physical evidence whatsoever that the world is not billions of years old, and tons of evidence that it is. Even so, Christianity does not require anyone to be a scriptural literalist, and therefore there's nothing contradictory about believing (A) that God created the universe and (B) that the world is billions of years old, except in the minds of fundamentalists. The first is a philosophical belief, whereas the second is a scientific claim that has been demonstrated by actual research.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Westboro Baptists Eat Their Own

One of the downsides of founding a virulent hate group is that someday they may turn on you. According to this story, amidst rumors of his failing health, it has come to light that the Westboro Baptist Church excommunicated founder Fred Phelps back in August. Furthermore, his daughter Margie announced on Twitter that when he dies the church plans to picket his funeral. Normally I wouldn't comment on this as I think these clowns get way too much press already - they are, after all, a group of about twenty people, most of whom are Phelps' relatives. So we're talking about a group that's like what would happen if you got all your cousins and their families together and declared yourself a new religious denomination, but who nonetheless have a massively outsized media profile. However, the cautionary tale here shows what can happen if your group's entire ideology is based on hatred. Eventually nobody is pure enough to qualify.

With reports that the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. is near death, many quipped the Westboro Baptist Church, the very organization he founded, would picket his funeral as they have so many others in the past. It might sound like a joke, but apparently it’s the real deal: The WBC will hold a demonstration at the funeral of their former pastor.

Phelps Sr., 84, got back in the news Sunday when his estranged son Nathan posted a note to Facebook saying the pastor is currently in hospice care and was excommunicated from the organization for reasons that remain unclear. As twisted as it may be, his daughter Margie (who is a part of the WBC) said on Twitter the hate-fueled organization would definitely be at his funeral, if only to picket.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

RIP Donald Michael Kraig

On Monday Donald Michael Kraig, author of Modern Magick and Modern Sex Magick, passed away at the age of 62 following a battle with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer.

Kraig's first book is one of the most popular occult titles of all time with more than 300,000 copies in print over the last twenty years, and as a result he was one of the most influential authors in the field. For many people currently active in the occult community, Modern Magick served as their first introduction to the Golden Dawn magical system.

Unto Donald Michael Kraig from whose eyes the veil of life hath fallen, may there be granted the accomplishment of his true Will; whether he will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with his chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labour and heroism of incarnation on this planet or another, or in any Star, or aught else, unto him may there be granted the accomplishment of his will; yea, the accomplishment of his will.

Anyone who wishes to donate funds to Kraig's family in order to cover medical and funeral expenses may do so here. In light of certain ongoing Facebook discussions, be advised that comments criticizing Kraig and/or his work will be removed from this post. This is not the place for them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What Poor Oppressed Christians are Fighting For

If any of you have doubts about what the Poor Oppressed Christians really want, this story should settle them. Regular Christians - the vast majority of them - just want to practice their religion and be left alone. Poor Oppressed Christians, on the other hand, want to be granted special privileges so that they can feel like they're better than everyone else who doesn't conform to their faith. A judge in Louisiana recently ruled against a teacher who openly ridiculed a Buddhist student, describing his beliefs as "stupid," and included a test question that required students to profess Christian belief or be marked down.

The student, known as C.C., was asked by sixth-grade teacher Rita Roark to answer the following question on a test: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” When C.C. failed to respond “Lord,” Roark responded “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.” She also frequently denigrated his Buddhist faith, as well as the Hindu faith, referring to both as “stupid.”

When his parents complained to Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb, they were told that “this is the Bible belt,” so they should expect to find the Christian God in the classroom. Ebarb advised them that if they wanted an ungodly classroom, they should transfer C.C. to a school where “there are more Asians.”

Judge Elizabeth Foote of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Louisiana sided with C.C. and his parents, citing that Roark’s behavior — and the school’s decision to defend it — clearly violated “the Free Exercise and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

It should be noted that the student in fact responded to the question with "Lord Buddha," which prompted the teacher's response. He didn't refuse to answer, he just refused to pay proper deference to the Poor Oppressed Christian God. I honestly can imagine few situations more un-American than this one, and I'm glad to see that the judge ruled against it. But this is the world the Poor Oppressed Christians want, a world in which they are recognized by all public institutions as superior and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is attacking their civil rights.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Liber Loagaeth and the Heptarchia Mystica

Did you ever come up with an idea that was so good you wish you had put it in a book? Today's article is one of those ideas. Back when I was putting together Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy this would have been the perfect addition to the manuscript, and if I ever sell enough of them to merit a second edition I likely will be adding it as an additional appendix, provided it works as well as I think it might. I don't necessarily know that I'm the first person to work this out; once you see the pattern it's so obvious that it's hard for me to believe that nobody's published it or discussed it before. Still, I haven't seen it posted anywhere online, and it's certainly an idea worth sharing.

One of the things that I kept running across in my Heptarchial work is that there are no "Angelic Keys" for the Heptarchial system, or at least nothing that is explicitly identified as such. The workaround I came up with is to employ the First and/or Second Watchtower keys for Heptarchial work. Still it remains an unsatisfactory solution in that it's applying a piece of the system that's more properly associated with the Watchtowers to the Heptarchia Mystica. Now Liber Loagaeth is one of the pieces of the Enochian system that nobody really seems to know what to do with. In the early 1990's George Hay published a book claiming it to be an enciphered copy of the Necronomicon, which would have been a neat trick seeing as Lovecraft started writing centuries later. The text from Liber Loagaeth that I'm using can be found here, at Joseph Peterson's esoteric archives.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

So Veggie-Devil is Real?

Veggie-Devil was supposed to be a joke. An acquaintance of mine came up with it many years ago after dealing with one too many gothy kids in the Twin Cities occult community running around calling themselves Satanists, when really they were more like fashion victims. For whatever reason, one of the things that the members of this group seemed to all have in common was a deep-seated hatred of hippies. Thus a legend was born.

The basic idea is pretty simple. Satan is a hippie. He's vegan because he's part animal and doesn't want anyone hurting his friends. He wears tie-dye and special Birkenstocks that fit his cloven hooves. He smokes pot. He's environmentally conscious and wants world peace. And so forth. So whenever one of those black-clad, would-be Satanists would start going on about what a bad-ass Satan was, we would regale them with tales of Veggie-Devil.

Most of them laughed it off, but there were a few people who seemed generally bothered by the idea. The more parallels we could draw between hippies and Satan, the more upset they got. Needless to say, in true primate fashion, that prompted even more stories, and eventually an entire ethos that we dubbed "Eco-Satanism." It taught that the apocalypse was really an ecological catastrophe, so Satan opposed God by working to save the environment.

At one point on my old website I even created a satirical "Eco-Satanist Home Page." Sadly, a search through the Internet archive failed to turn up a cached version of it, but in my opinion it was pretty darn funny. Maybe I'll post it here someday if I can find a saved version of it on one of my home machines. At any rate, Veggie-Devil being a joke and all, imagine my surprise when I came upon the following on my Facebook feed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Horror Movie Demons are Out to Get You

A few weeks ago Pat Robertson said something reasonable, pointing out just how silly Ken Ham and his young-Earth buddies are for insisting that Bishop Ussher's interpretation of Bible chronology somehow rises to the level of scriptural infallibility. However, anyone hoping that the prominent televangelist might have turned over a new leaf incorporating critical thinking will be disappointed by his latest comments. According to Robertson, horror movie demons can attack you. Or possess you. Or, at the very least, mess up your car.

The octogenarian televangelist responded to a viewer who told him that she had been watching “a horror movie the other day on the recommendation of others” and a few days later got into “an accident leaving church.” She asked Robertson (God only know why) if the “creepy movie caused a curse — or the Lord’s protection to be lifted from me?”

Robertson, of course, went for it, and suggested that by choosing to watch the ”creepy movie” might have given a demon “permission” to possess her — or to cause a car wreck. Or something. “This thing may be living around you and what you need to do again is speak it — command this thing to leave — and ask God to forgive you. I know that’s weird but these things can happen.”

It's kind of amusing to see Robertson essentially advocating a position taken by some of the more extreme chaos magicians, that fictional entities can produce physical events. While it's true that magicians can create artificial spirits or servitors that can go on to cause magical effects, a fictional character is just that - fictional. It exists within the microcosmic realm only unless a talented magician decides to use it as a model for some sort of specific creation. That requires a real magical procedure, so it can't just happen by accident.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Meet the Deadraisers

Resurrection has been part of the Christian tradition since its inception. Not only is Jesus said to have risen from the dead, but according to the Gospels he famously raised Lazarus as well. In the modern era, the most extreme case of using resurrection for personal advantage was probably that of David Koresh. The preacher better known for his role in the Waco standoff previously challenged a rival for control of his sect to a sort of "resurrection duel."

Koresh obtained a corpse, challenged his rival to resurrect the body at a predetermined location, and then rather than actually show up to try it himself just called the cops. The rival was arrested and jailed for tampering with a dead body, and thus was no longer in a position to challenge Koresh - who went on to take over the group and renamed the sect "Branch Davidians" after himself.

Now according to this story, a new group may be giving Koresh a run for his money. A group called the "Dead Raising Team" led by an evangelical Christian named Tyler Johnson is appearing in a new documentary called Deadraiser. The film follows the group as they visit mortuaries and hospitals looking for bodies on which to practice their faith healing techniques. Spoiler alert: it never actually works.

Johnson is unwilling to provide successful case studies. And in general, the proof that believers cite is a bit unconvincing ­– for example, there is an American heart surgeon who allegedly brought a heart attack patient back from the dead with prayer … oh, and a defibrillator. Other doctors find the story entirely unremarkable. One wonders why.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Introduction to the Great Table

The following is the text of a presentation I gave over the weekend at Leaping Laughter Lodge based on material from my latest book, Mastering the Great Table, as a follow-up to my previous Introduction to the Heptarchia Mystica presentation. The procedure outlined here is Dee's grimoire evocation method, but the book includes an expanded template that shows how to incorporate modern ritual forms into the basic structure.

The Enochian magical system of Dr. John Dee and scryer Edward Kelley has inspired ritual magicians for centuries. Dee’s spirit diaries were first published in 1659 by Meric Causaubon, a clergyman who sought to discredit personal spiritual revelations by making the case that even John Dee, one of the most intelligent men of his age, was nonetheless taken in by evil spirits. Causaubon’s sixty-page preface to this effect was mostly ignored, but his edition of the diaries, A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Years Between Dr. John Dee and Some Spirits (normally abbreviated TFR by modern magicians) made Dee’s work available to an audience for the first time.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Birth Season and Brain Development

Twenty years ago when I was considering going for a graduate degree in neuroscience this was one of the studies that I wanted to perform if I eventually became a research scientist. It occurred to me as an undergraduate that some of the tenets of astrology might be derived from observations based on birth seasons. I live in Minnesota, where the seasonal variations are quite severe, and it only made sense that the month in which a child was born would influence how they experienced their first year of life, and potentially set them on a cycle of activities that could influence their personality development. For example, a baby born at the beginning of winter would spend his or her first several months indoors, while a baby born at the beginning of summer would have access to outdoor exposure right away. Now a neuroscience researcher has performed such a study, and identified a specific brain characteristic that seems to correlate with birth seasons.

The season we’re born in can have far-reaching consequences. For instance, Spring babies are more likely than others to develop schizophrenia later in life, whereas Summer babies tend to grow up to be more sensation seeking. There are many more of these so-called season of birth effects. Scientists aren’t sure, but they think such patterns could be due (among other things) to mothers’ and infants’ exposure to viruses over the Winter period, or to the amount of daylight they’re exposed to, either or both of which could influence genetic expression during early development. Now Spiro Pantazatos, a neuroscientist at Columbia University Medical Center, has studied links between season of birth and brain structure in healthy adults. He thinks the association between season of birth and psychiatric and behavioural outcomes later in life could be mediated by genetic factors that affect the growth of the brain.

Pantazatos has analysed MRI brain scans taken from 550 healthy men and women at hospitals in London, England. In one analysis he looked to see if there were any particular areas of the brain that differed between people according to the season they were born in. He defined the seasons as follows: Winter (Dec 23 to March 19); Spring (March 22 to June 19); Summer (June 22 to September 21); and Fall (September 24 to December 20). For the men only, he found that those born in the Fall and Winter tended to have more grey matter in a region known as the left superior temporal sulcus (STG), as compared with men born in Spring and Summer. Looking month by month, men born at the end of December tended to have the most grey matter in this region; men born at the end of June tended to have the least.

This particular correlation between season and brain structure only seems to hold for men, but with the way that protosciences work that could be enough to suggest a relationship between birth season and particular traits. The sifting process of information gathering in such disciplines is based on holding onto information that seems to valid and discarding relationships that fail to hold up over time. It is far more vulnerable to error and cognitive bias than formal scientific inquiry, but the observations thus accumulated can suggest potential areas for more rigorous inquiry. It's too bad that anything dubbed "paranormal" has gotten so little attention in academic circles, but some of that is starting to turn around with studies like this one and others relating brain activity to altered states of consciousness such as those employed in both meditation and magical operations.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Studying Out of Body Experiences

Here's a fascinating case study, a Canadian graduate student who claims to be able to induce out-of-body experiences at will. One of the biggest problems with studying OOBE's is that usually it's hard to predict when they will occur. Therefore, controlled scientific experiments on this phenomenon pretty much require at least a small population of such subjects. Experimenters are hopeful that more will be found, as the woman only brought it up during a psychology class that discussed how rare such experiences actually are. She thought everybody could just do it.

The 24-year-old "continued to perform this experience as she grew up assuming, as mentioned, that 'everyone could do it.'" This is how she described her out-of-body experiences: "She was able to see herself rotating in the air above her body, lying flat, and rolling along with the horizontal plane. She reported sometimes watching herself move from above but remained aware of her unmoving “real” body. The participant reported no particular emotions linked to the experience."

An unusual find, wrote the scientists, University of Ottawa researchers Andra M. Smith and Claude Messier--this is the first person to be studied able to have this type of experience on demand, and without any brain abnormalities. Instead of an "out-of-body" experience, however, the researchers termed it a "extra-corporeal experience" (ECE), in part because it lacks the strong emotions that often go hand-in-hand (such as shock & awe, for example).

To better understand what was going on, the researchers conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of her brain. They found that it surprisingly involved a "strong deactivation of the visual cortex." Instead, the experience "activated the left side of several areas associated with kinesthetic imagery," such as mental representations of bodily movement.

Even without the strong emotions, I think it's likely that what the subject is experiencing could very well be the same process. Those strong emotions could be the result of cognitive dissonance stemming from the surprise of such an unusual experience, whereas the intensity just won't be the same for someone who does it all the time. The cognitive dissonance would also imprint the memory of a singular experience much more strongly.

While it's fascinating to see the brain activity during an OOBE, I'm hoping that researchers will take the next step and see if the woman can actually obtain new information while "out of her body." With a subject who can do it at will, that's extremely easy to test - just write down an unknown word and put it someplace where she could only see it by floating or something similar. It would really be a shame for no such tests to be conducted just because researchers assume that nothing paranormal is going on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Alchemy and Modern Science

When I talk about a pre-scientific discipline I prefer the term "protoscience" to "pseudoscience." Skeptics, on the other hand, like the latter mostly because it's more pejorative. The idea that disciplines failing to conform to the formal scientific method are useless is simply wrong. They may not be as useful in terms of producing reliable results, but they can still reveal phenomena that may prove amenable to scientific inquiry down the road.

A classic example of this is herbalism. Traditional systems of herbology do in fact identify useful medicines, many of which have been picked up by mainstream pharmaceutical manufacturers. The difference is that in such disciplines the process of discovery is more organic - over a long period of time, a sort of sifting process retains herbal medicines that seem to work while discarding those that don't. It's much slower and more susceptible to error than double-blind studies, but much of the time it can reach similar conclusions.

According to this article from Smithsonian, the same may be true for alchemy. Alchemical writings are difficult to study because alchemists used codes and allegories to conceal the nature of their work from the uninitiated, but as it turns out many of them were doing real protoscientific work that would later become the basis of modern chemistry.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Great Table Presentation

For those of you who live in the Twin Cities area or happen to be passing through, I will be presenting an introductory lecture on the Great Table or Watchtowers this Saturday, March 8th, at Leaping Laughter Lodge in Minneapolis, Minnesota at 7:30 PM. The talk will be based on the ritual template from my new book, Mastering the Great Table.

Like my previous presentation on the Heptarchia Mystica, it will focus on working with the angels of the Watchtower quadrants along the lines of the original system as revealed to John Dee and Edward Kelley, rather than the Golden Dawn approach or "Neo-Enochian" methods that combine techniques like pentagram and hexagram rituals with the original grimoire system.

A link to the event can be found here, and directions to the Lodge can be found here. For those of you in the area with an interest in Enochian magick, I hope that you will be able to make it. In addition to the lecture itself I will have books available for sale and will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about the Enochian system.