Friday, April 25, 2014

Consciousness as a State of Matter?

The study of consciousness is essential to any scientific understanding of paranormal processes such as magick. As we delve deeper into the inner workings of the brain we become familiar with the biochemical correlates of conscious experience and may even be able to create a crude "consciousness measure" by exploiting them. However, consciousness itself remains elusive. Theoretical physicist Max Tegmark has proposed a new model of experiential phenomena in which consciousness is treated as a new state of matter.

At first glance this conjecture seems to fail the "common sense" test, in that consciousness seems quite unlike any other known substance. However, it is also true that in quantum physics "matter" does not necessarily have many qualities in common with the classical objects that we interact with on a day to day basis. Whether or not "dark matter" is even composed of particles is open to debate, as such particles have been proposed but so far never detected. The same is true of gravitation, which might or might not be mediated by hypothetical particles called gravitons.

Today, Max Tegmark, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, sets out the fundamental problems that this new way of thinking raises. He shows how these problems can be formulated in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory. And he explains how thinking about consciousness in this way leads to precise questions about the nature of reality that the scientific process of experiment might help to tease apart.

Tegmark’s approach is to think of consciousness as a state of matter, like a solid, a liquid or a gas. “I conjecture that consciousness can be understood as yet another state of matter. Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness,” he says.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Explore a Renaissance Alchemy Lab

If you ever find yourself in Prague, here's a fascinating restoration project that you can visit. In 2002 a homeowner found that one of his basement walls had collapsed after heavy rains hit the city. Behind the wall he found a secret passage leading into the remains of an actual alchemy lab dating back to the European Renaissance. After ten years of restoration based on period drawings and engravings, the lab is now called Speculum Alchemiae and is open to the general public. This article provides an account of visiting the site written by a modern chemist.

Speculum Alchemiae offers thirty minute tours of the subterranean laboratories. Luckily, when I visited, the tour group consisted of just my travel partner and I, and the very knowledgeable tour guide. It didn’t require much imagination to be transported back to times gone by; the quest for the philosopher’s stone, elixir of eternal youth and transmutation (turning metals into gold). The whole of foggy, gothic Prague lends itself to this transportation. Speculum Alchemiae is really just the cherry on the cake.

The laboratory is believed to have been built at the behest of Emperor Rudolf II – Holy Roman Emperor between 1576 to 1612, and a great alchemy devotee. Whilst living in Prague he encouraged Europe’s best alchemists to his court; men such as Edward Kelley, John Dee, Tycho de Brahe and Rabbi Loew. He is even known to have performed some alchemy experiments himself. The secret passages connect the laboratories to Prague Castle, the Old Town Hall and Barracks – allowing alchemists to travel unseen between the four locations.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Remembering Jack Parsons, Rocket Scientist

Many people outside of Thelema have never heard of Jack Parsons. He was a member of Agape Lodge from 1941 until his death in 1952, which at the time was one of the few functioning OTO bodies in the world. Outside of his occult interests, though, Parsons was also an actual rocket scientist, and a good one at that. He was instrumental in the founding of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (sometimes joking dubbed "Jack Parsons Laboratory" at the time) and an expert on solid fuel rocket propellants still used in JATO units, missiles, and space shuttle boosters.

Wired has an article up today about Parsons and his mysterious absence from much of NASA's official history. The article speculates that despite Parsons' importance to the American space program, his practice of Thelemic occultism was considered far out of the mainstream and thus his contributions were downplayed. His life seems to have been considered something of an embarrassment to the powers that be, even though it was likely his interest in uncovering the mysteries of the universe that led him to make key scientific breakthroughs in the first place.

Parsons' legacy as an engineer and chemist has been somewhat overshadowed by his interest in the occult and, and has led to what some critics describe as a rewriting of the history books. "He's lived in the footnotes since his death. He's a forgotten figure," says biographer George Pendle, author of Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parson (Jack's full name). Pendle did an "archeological dig" into Parsons' life after finding a mention of him in a science book. "The more I dug, the more bizarre and extreme the story seemed."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Censoring Alternative Religions

As I mentioned back when David Cameron first proposed filtering "esoteric web sites" in the UK, Internet filtering is pretty much always a disaster. Companies have been trying to create working algorithms since the early 1990's, with at least one company back then even going so far as to have employees manually categorize web pages. Even their filtering software failed to distinguish objectionable content from informative pages, and when faced with pattern recognition that a human being can't do correctly, a computer is going to fail every time.

Nonetheless, companies are still creating filtering software products and hoping that customers will be too ignorant to realize that what they're selling is essentially snake oil. Recently a Missouri library was sued over the "Netsweeper" software that it used to filter Internet content. In addition to legitimately objectionable material, it blocked references to Wicca, Native American spirituality, astrology, and other alternative religion sites.

The ACLU sued last year on behalf of Salem resident Anaka Hunter. Salem is a largely Christian community of 5,000 residents in the Missouri Ozarks. Hunter was researching death and death rituals in minority religions in an effort to get more in touch with her Native American roots through spirituality, the ACLU said.

The library’s filtering software blocked access to sites about Wicca, a pagan religion that worships nature and involves witchcraft. Hunter was also unable to access sites about Native American religions. The suit said the library’s Netsweeper software blocked sites such as the official webpage of the Wiccan church; the Wikipedia entry for Wicca;; and the Encyclopedia on Death and Dying, which contains discussions on death and death rituals for several cultures and religions.

Sensibly, the judge ruled that the filtering software was out of line and could not be used as long as it censored alternative religious content. It should be clear that spirituality is not obscenity, whether or not it's part of a mainstream religious denomination, and libraries have a compelling public interest to provide information about it. But companies know that their filters don't distinguish sites well, so they generally default to blocking everything even marginally related to categories defined as restricted. Libraries need to be especially cautious when working with filters, to make sure that legitimate information sources are always available to their patrons.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Defensive Occultism by Robert Rubin

Back in January Robert Rubin sent me a copy of his book, Defensive Occultism, to review. I read through the book when I received it, but only now have gotten around to writing up my review. My impression is that it is an excellent introduction to magical self-defense, especially for those who know little about the magical arts. Experienced practitioners will likely know much of the material, but everybody starts somewhere - and any experienced practitioner who doesn't know much of it probably should.

Robert Rubin is an occult investigator from the Philippines. As he describes it in the book, an occult investigator is kind of like a cross between a paranormal investigator and the ceremonial magick equivalent of an exorcist. When confronted with an individual who claims to be under psychic or magical attack, he investigates the situation and attempts to devise a solution that will resolve the problem.

It should first be noted that the book is mostly targeted to what I imagine would be Rubin's clientele - individuals who may have never given much thought to the existence of magick or paranormal phenomena, but find themselves confronting a problem that they can't explain. So it includes a fair amount of the sort of introductory material found in other beginning magick books regarding the reality of magick, and assurances that encountering paranormal phenomena does not imply mental illness.

That being said, as with the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism the first and in some ways the most important step for an occult investigator is to verify that an actual attack is taking place. Rubin correctly notes that many people who believe they are under psychic or magical attack are actually suffering from psychological problems or mental illness and would be better treated by a therapist or psychiatrist. When this is the case, clients are referred to the proper medical authorities.

In my experience, inclusion of this step tends to be one of the main differences between fraudulent practitioners and real ones. Every few months I see another story about a purported psychic who took advantage of a mentally ill client, telling them that their suspicions of being under a curse were absolutely correct and that the only way the curse could be lifted was by paying the psychic large sums of money or other valuables.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The War on Easter

It's been a little while since I went off on the Poor Oppressed Christians, but religious holidays always seem to bring out the worst in them. In response to an Easter display in Chicago's Daley Plaza, a group of atheists have hung banners advocating for the separation of church and state. Naturally, the Poor Oppressed Christians are outraged that anyone could be expressing a different set of beliefs than their own, because to them difference of opinion constitutes a war. As usual, they can count on the collaboration of Fox News, which is the only major network that gives much time to this sort of breathless silliness.

Two eight-foot banners featuring Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams promoting the secular views of our founding fathers. One banner reads "In reason we trust", the other will say "Keep state and religion separate." The exhibit, aimed at countering the Jesus in Daley Plaza displaying a display that is going on today or going up today, it's been going on for eight years there in Chicago, it'll feature a nineteen foot tall cross and a 10-foot tall image of the resurrected Jesus. Has Easter evolved into an occasion to demean religious beliefs and Christianity?

Of course, in the mind of any reasonable person there's a huge distinction between demeaning and disagreeing - but not in Poor Oppressed Christian land. This is exactly the same debate going on in Oklahoma and other places about public resources promoting particular beliefs. It's simple - if I have a right to put up a display supporting my beliefs, so does anyone else. Easter often falls during the Thelemic Holy Season, and I can only imagine how hard these idiots would squeal and whine if I were to post a banner honoring Aleister Crowley and Thelema from March 20 to April 10.

One of these days I'm going to put a post up here about real Christian persecution, not this imaginary crap. There are other countries in the world where conversion to Christianity is punishable by death. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Poor Oppressed Christians somehow manage to be under dire existential threat from "bad manners." It's about time their pleas for special privileges be met with the ridicule that they deserve by every major media outlet, including Fox News.

Oh, and the image doesn't have much to do with this story, I just thought it was funny. I addressed the truth about Easter eggs here on Augoeides back in 2012 if anybody needs a refresher. Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nessie Spotted By Satellite?

For some time now I've been putting forth the hypothesis that if the Loch Ness Monster exists it most likely is a very large sturgeon. Recently an anomaly was spotted in the loch by amateur monster hunters using satellite photos. It's hard to say, though, whether the image is some sort of photographic artifact or an actual picture of a creature swimming just below the surface.

The location was just south of Dores, were beamed from Apple's satellite map app and could only be viewed on some iPads and iPhones.

The hunters Peter Thain from Northumberland and Andy Dixon County Durham, were amazed by their find.

Mr Dixon said yesterday: 'It was purely by accident that I came across the image. I was trawling through satellite transmissions of different parts of the country and I thought I would try Loch Ness.

'I could see something big under the water and I saved it to my phone. My first thought was that it was the monster and I contacted Gary Campbell of the Official Loch Ness Monster Club.

I was a believer in Nessie even before this but I had never been. Now I am so excited, I can't wait to get up north and pay a visit - with a camera of course.

'Unfortunately I have not seen anything since but I will keep looking.'

The outline of the object in the loch does closely resemble a sturgeon viewed from above. However, the one problem with that hypothesis is that the object is about fifty feet long. The largest sturgeon ever caught was about half that size. There is only one known fish species that is thought to grow that large, the whale shark, which is a filter-feeder native to tropical oceans. Such a fish could not survive in the cold fresh water of Loch Ness, even though it would have a similar outline.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Poveglia Island For Sale

If you happen to have millions of dollars just sitting around and are in the market for your own private reputedly haunted island, today is your lucky day. The Italian government recently announced that Poveglia, a small island in the Venetian lagoon, is up for sale. According to local folklore, the island is said to be one of the world's most haunted places, and thus this is the perfect setup for a new horror film. Think about it - a developer buys the island and puts up luxury condominiums. Once the new tenants move in, the angry spirits of the island take their revenge and kill every last one of them in imaginative ways except for the main protagonist, who narrowly escapes at the very end. It's a perfect blockbuster!

The trouble started back in the late 19th century when Poveglia served as a checkpoint for ships going to Venice. After a pair of ships carrying plague victims arrived in 1793, the island was sealed off and turned into a quarantine zone for people with infectious diseases, a role it served for over a century. It goes without saying that many of these people died on the island during this time, leading to the widespread belief that Poveglia is haunted. It didn't help when the place was converted into a hospital for the mentally ill in 1922. Rumor has it, the hospital was home to a number of crude lobotomies, performed by a doctor who'd been driven mad by the ghosts. He later flung himself off the bell tower.

These days, Poveglia's pretty quiet. Still owned by the Italian government, it's been abandoned for the past 50 years, though ghost hunters like to make the pilgrimage whenever they can. One American TV presenter even says he was briefly possessed while visiting the island. The Italian government is now offering a 99-year lease to whomever's brave enough to take it over. No price information is available yet—but they think it would make a great destination hotel.

I'll never forget the unintentionally hilarious episode of "Ghost Adventures" that was shot on the island. I'm sure that the poor family they brought over there was pretty frightened at the end of the night, but the whole thing was so over the top - to the point that the host of the show had to remind them that "laughter is not appropriate" when one of them giggled at his initial histrionics about how terrible the place was. The thing is, his tirade was so hokey that I was laughing too. I don't recall the family encountering much in the way of paranormal activity either, they just managed to repeatedly scare themselves bumbling around the place in the dark. So are there any real ghosts there? As usual, it's hard to say. But if the island gets developed many more people will likely have an opportunity to find out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The New Age BS Generator

Have you ever wondered where manufacturers of New Age products come up with the gibberish that passes for deep and meaningful statements to members of their target audience? If so, look no further. This webpage cleverly automates the process of generating New Age copy, and the results don't appear to differ much from the real thing. It's not a Markov chain; as far as I can tell the underlying logic is more like a set of Mad Libs mixed with randomly selected sentence fragments. So it holds together just like real promo text does, and it can be adapted to any product or service with a few small modifications.

As an example, let's say that I was looking to convince New Agers that they needed to buy my books on Enochian magick. That would be pretty smart of me if I could pull it off, because as far as I can tell Enochian magicians number in perhaps the thousands but New Agers are legion. And hey, I do talk about working with angels. New Agers love angels! Here's the text that the generator came up with, modified a little to refer to my Enochian books. The bold text is what I inserted, the rest is automatically generated.

The goal of electromagnetic resonance is to plant the seeds of synchronicity rather than discontinuity.

This is the path of Enochian Magick revealed by Angels.

This life is nothing short of a condensing quantum leap of interstellar presence. We exist as ultra-sentient particles. Consciousness consists of molecular structures of quantum energy. “Quantum” means an evolving of the non-dual.

We are at a crossroads of growth and turbulence. We are in the midst of an endless unfolding of potentiality that will align us with the solar system itself. Our conversations with other entities have led to a deepening of pseudo-self-aware consciousness.

Traveller, look within and awaken yourself. If you have never experienced this ozmosis devoid of self, it can be difficult to self-actualize. It can be difficult to know where to begin.

The Mastering Enochian Magick series will show you the way.

Flow is a constant. Divinity is the healing of intuition, and of us. Nothing is impossible. As you heal, you will enter into infinite health that transcends understanding. Without growth, one cannot grow. You must take a stand against illusion. Pain is born in the gap where empathy has been excluded.

Delusion is the antithesis of truth. We can no longer afford to live with pain. You may be ruled by materialism without realizing it. Do not let it confront the growth of your path.

Buy the Mastering Enochian Magick series by Scott Michael Stenwick today!

Pretty good, right? Clearly, I'll be a New Age success in no time flat! I expect my sales will go stratospheric any moment now...

A suggestion for enhancing the generator might be to automate this process further by accepting the name of a product or company up front and then integrating it into the text, like I did with the subject and title of my book. It shouldn't be that hard to program, as it seems like most of the work should already be done and the name could just be inserted into certain of the "noun" positions. Better still, set it up so the information can be passed as parameters in the URL and return the text, so it can be seamlessly added into any web page.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blood Moon Apocalypse

It seems that the doomers are at it again. Last night's lunar eclipse was the first of a series of four, called a tetrad, that will be happening at six month intervals. Texas pastor John Hagee wasted no time declaring the eclipses to be a sign of the end of the world. It remains a mystery why this particular set of eclipses has been singled out, though, as they're not particularly rare and nine sets of them will occur during the 21st century.

The controversial 73-year-old founder of Texas' Cornerstone Church says he has been preparing for this tetrad for years. The preparation includes a book — Blood Moons: Something is About to Change and an online TV special Tuesday. "What is the prophetic significance (of the four blood moons)? Is this the end of the age?" Hagee asked his congregation during a sermon shortly after his book was released, Christian Today reports.

He cites Acts 2:19-20 as a sign: "And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord." In extensive remarks available online on his interpretation of the Blood Moons, Hagee says, "I believe that the heavens are God's billboard, that He has been sending signals to planet Earth, and we just haven't been picking them up."

He adds: "God is literally screaming at the world: 'I'm coming soon.'"

A spokesperson for Hagee later claimed that he "has not associated the blood moons with the end of days." However, it's pretty hard to interpret his comments any other way. The return of the Lord is pretty unambiguously the apocalypse, after all. But after the whole Harold Camping debacle it makes sense for Hagee to walk back his claims, even if he is trying to sell a book based on them. People do slowly seem to be starting to wise up and realize that a literal physical apocalypse is not going to happen, and that perhaps the prophecies of the Book of Revelation need to be interpreted another way.

UPDATE: It seems that Answers in Genesis - you know, the "Jesus rode a dinosaur" organization - disagrees with Hagee and some other guy named Mark Blitz, who are both predicting that apocalyptic events will accompany the lunar eclipses. Their response actually sounds totally reasonable, surprising though that may be given some of their other beliefs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Debunking "The Castle Project"

Generally speaking, I try to post longer original pieces on magick and magical techniques on Mondays. This article isn't precisely one of those, but it does have some important implications for any sort of skeptical investigation of magick and other paranormal phenomena. That's why I'm posting it today. There are two kinds of skeptics out there in the world - those who genuinely approach mysterious phenomena with an open mind and those who simply seek to debunk anything out of the ordinary regardless of the evidence presented. The article I'm commenting on here is a good example of the latter, and it should be no surprise that it was written by a member of the James Randi Educational Foundation, one of the world's most well-known debunking organizations.

Over the weekend I got a chance to watch "The Castle Project," a documentary about the renovation of a reputedly haunted mansion in Denver, Colorado into a bed and breakfast. While searching for more information about the property, I also came upon this article from the James Randi Educational Foundation written by Dr. Karen Stollznow debunking the film. While I agree with Stollznow's conclusion that the documentary does not show any substantial evidence of paranormal activity, the way in which the article was written reminds me of much that bothers me about Randi-style skepticism. Instead of addressing the facts in an objective manner, such reports include assumptions of bad faith, innuendo, and sometimes outright misrepresentation to support the foregone conclusion that no evidence of the paranormal can ever be convincing because the paranormal simply does not exist.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Shape-Shifting Crocodile Wizards Plague Zambia

When David Icke writes about shape-shifting lizards ruling the world, I don't think that this the sort of thing he's talking about. Still, in the African nation of Zambia a rash of crocodile attacks is being blamed on shape-shifting wizards who transform themselves into the creatures in order to stalk victims. According to local folklore, the wizards then remove organs from their kills and use them for charms and other magical operations.

While ecologists and conservationists are attributing the escalation in the crocodile attacks to human-induced disturbance of the eco balance, the locals believe that the assailants are actually human beings who turn into crocodiles using witchcraft to kill others for ritual purposes. The Ng’umbo people believe that the assailants and their sponsors remove some organs from the victims, which are used in charms for boosting business. The remains of the victims are usually recovered in a horrifying, mutilated state with some members missing.

This is giving Chifunabuli member of Parliament (MP) Mutaba Mwali sleepless nights. Dr Mwali, who is Deputy Minister of Lands, says traditional leaders are living in fear of people who want the Witchcraft Act amended to give them leeway to attack suspected witches and wizards. He said villagers are accusing the chiefs and headmen of failing to identify and punish people they suspect of turning into crocodiles.

To me, transforming into a crocodile seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to just to get your hands on some body parts. Gangs in Tanzania have been known to kill victims and sell their body parts with no shape-shifting involved whatsoever. Furthermore, it's not like transforming is going to help an enterprising wizard get away with it, as they're suspected every time a crocodile attack happens. It probably would work better for a wizard to transform into a completely different person to commit a murder, which if you think about it has to be a lot easier than turning into a crocodile.

But really, what's going on here is superstition run amok. There's no way for an accused wizard to prove that he or she can't transform into a crocodile, after all, and thus they become a convenient target for the inevitable local grief and anger that follow an attack. Zambian leaders need to stand up to the populace and keep the laws prohibiting witchcraft persecutions in place. Vigilante witch killings will only make the situation worse.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Office of the Readings for 2014

Happy Thelemic New Year, everyone! It's that time again, for the Office of the Readings.

The Thelemic dates that you may see written online are arrived at by counting the number of 22-year cycles since 1904 to obtain the upper case Roman numeral, and then counting the years of the current cycle to get the lower case one. Within each 22-year cycle, many Thelemites ascribe the Major Arcana trumps of the Tarot to the years in order starting with The Fool and ending with The Universe. So the year that we're about to enter into is V:0 and is thus attributed to the Fool card.

This post will remain the top article here for the duration of the Thelemic High Holy Days, from March 20th to April 10th. The Rite of the Office of the Readings is performed for all of the readings beginning on March 20th. It may also be used with The Prologue of the Unborn on March 19th at your own discretion. We've done it both ways over the years.

This year, instead of doing our own Invocation of Horus, we'll be attending the ritual at Leaping Laughter Lodge on Saturday. So Saturday's rite will be performed in the afternoon rather than evening so it does not conflict.


The Invocation of Horus
The Rite of the Office of the Readings


March 19th - The Prologue of the Unborn
March 20th - Saturn/Earth, The Universe
March 21st - Fire/Spirit, The Aeon
March 22nd - Sol, The Sun
March 23rd - Pisces, The Moon
March 24th - Aries, The Emperor
March 25th - Mars, The Tower
March 26th - Capricornus, The Devil
March 27th - Sagittarius, Art
March 28th - Scorpio, Death
March 29th - Water, The Hanged Man
March 30th - Libra, Adjustment
March 31st - Jupiter, Fortune
April 1st - Virgo, The Hermit
April 2nd - Leo, Lust
April 3rd - Cancer, The Chariot
April 4th - Gemini, The Lovers
April 5th - Taurus, The Hierophant
April 6th - Aquarius, The Star
April 7th - Venus, The Empress
April 8th - Luna, The Priestess
April 9th - Mercury, The Magus
April 10th - Air, The Fool

If you would like to perform this series and have questions, feel free to e-mail me here.

All Office of the Readings posts may also be viewed here. Our Office of the Readings series is based on this ritual by the Companions of Monsalvat.

"Jesus' Wife" Not a Modern Forgery

Back in 2012 a piece of papyrus that appeared to contain a fragment of an unknown Gospel was presented at a conference in Rome. The text was written in Coptic and, controversially, included a phrase in which Jesus refers to "my wife." According to official church doctrine Jesus was not married, and an editorial published in the Vatican newspaper declared that the document was likely a modern fake. However, recent testing of the papyrus and ink has found it to be far older than the editorial suggests.

Harvard Theological Review says in the article published Thursday:

"Over the past two years, extensive testing of the papyrus and the carbon ink, as well as analysis of the handwriting and grammar, all indicate that the existing material fragment dates to between the sixth and ninth centuries CE [Common Era]. None of the testing has produced any evidence that the fragment is a modern fabrication or forgery."

Testing by a research scientist at Columbia University, using a technique called micro-Raman spectroscopy, determined that "the carbon character of the ink matched samples of other papyri that date from the first to eighth centuries CE," the Theological Review says.

It is of course true that even the new dating of the text does not necessarily mean that the historical Jesus was actually married, only that the doctrine claiming he was not is more recent than previously thought and was not accepted by all First Millennium Christians. The various Gnostic Gospels contain many unsubstantiated claims about Jesus which may or may not be historically accurate. The "Jesus' wife" fragment also contains a number of phrases that appear in the Gospel of Thomas, a much more famous Coptic text that is part of the Nag Hammadi Library collection and which may be one of the oldest Gnostic Gospels.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Noah" Flooded Out

The latest film adaptation of the story of Noah's ark, Darren Aronofsky's Noah, has courted controversy and protests since it opened, mostly due to fundamentalists objecting to changes in the story that differ from the Biblical account. At a British theater in Exeter, though, the opening of the film was not interrupted by protesters, but rather by flooding.

An Exeter cinema was forced to close due to flooding - on the same day Noah opened on the big-screen nationwide. Those wanting to attend the first viewing of the latest blockbuster at Vue cinema in Exeter on Friday could have been forgiven for thinking they got a little closer to the action than anticipated.

Staff discovered the excess water when they arrived for work just after 7am. The venue had to close to the public until 2pm - meaning the first showing of Noah at 12.15pm had to be cancelled. The scale of water may not have been as biblical as it was on the big screen - and it is unclear if any animals had to be rescued from the confines of the cinema – - but the irony wasn’t lost on cinema-goers.

It's tempting to think that someone or something out there has a sense of humor. Of all the movies that could have been flooded out, this one is by far the most amusing, even though the water apparently just came from a broken ice machine. In the overall scheme of things that's pretty unimpressive and certainly nothing requiring an ark or even a small boat. According to the theater, engineers are working on repairing the damage and they should be open for business as usual again soon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fairies in Lancashire?

Back in 1917 the world was stunned by photographs that purported to depict real fairies taken in the British town of Cottingly. The photographs turned out to be part of an elaborate hoax created with paper cutouts, but with the camera technology of the time the pictures looked quite real. Now a university lecturer named John Hyatt claims to have photographed the real thing in the county of Lancashire, and has created an exhibition at the Whitaker Museum in Rossendale showcasing his pictures. Skeptics, however, are not impressed with the photographs and believe they may simply be images of normal insects.

"I was just taking sunset through the trees and when I enlarged the photographs later in the studio, I saw these figures," he wrote. "They are not doctored apart from I increased the size of a detailed section of a larger photograph along with the DPI to stop them being just large pixels -- normal size enhancement techniques." He said that the creatures in his photos don't look like normal insects. “It was a bit of a shock when I blew them up, I did a double take," he told the Manchester Evening News. “I went out afterwards and took pictures of flies and gnats and they just don’t look the same."

Hyatt's photos have skeptics buzzing around him like flies. In fact, flies are what the photos actually show, according to one insect expert. Entomologist Erica McLaughlin writes in the British Natural History Museum's NaturePlus blog that the creatures that Hyatt photographed are most likely a small species of fly known as the "midge." "These tiny midges form mating swarms where the males will ‘dance’ around trying to attract the opposite sex," she writes. They have delicate wings and long legs which dangle down."

The pictures do seem to show creatures with vaguely human outlines, but there are a number of possible explanations that should be considered before jumping to the conclusion that these are in fact fairies. Midges are common in the area that the photograph was taken, and they do sometimes hold their legs in a position that when blown up might produce the human-like silhouette. On the other hand, it's also possible that this could be a new species of insect, and probably the easiest thing to do would be to catch a few and see for sure. If they're so easy to photograph, catching them shouldn't be that difficult. And if they do turn out to be tiny people with wings, that would be quite the discovery.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hazards of Massage Therapists

Silly me! I was under the impression that when you go to a massage therapist all you leave with is relaxed muscles. But leave it my Facebook feed to set me straight. It seems that a visit to the massage therapist can result in demonic possession. I wonder if that's what happened to the yoga guy from Friday's post. I imagine that demons probably enjoy throwing dead animals more than the rest of us.

Going to a massage therapist however innocent, for therapy or just for a relaxing thing to do with your girlfriends or hubby/guy friend....can transfer demons present in them, unto you! If they are practicing witches or using witchcraft, new age techniques in any way, it is an open door to receive this most deadly spirit of witchcraft, not to mention all the other demons they may carry! It's a "laying on of hands"!!! It's an open door to Satan to attack you! Believe me....this is how our family was infected years ago when my mother went for massage treatments to bring her womb up into position so she could conceive. The result....every demon that was in that woman was transferred unto her! Yes she became pregnant but the child ended up demon possessed! Those demons were transferred then unto the rest of us...destroyed our family!!! Thus God brought me through 12 yrs of spiritual warfare to break those rid us of all the demons and bring us out of the curse.....I minister to people all the time who have picked up demons from the massage therapist!..SO ONLY GO IF YOU COVER YOURSELF WITH ANOINTING OIL FIRST....OVER YOUR WHOLE BODY, ASK FORGIVENESS OF SINS BEFORE YOU GO IN AND FORBID SATAN TO TRANSFER ANY DEMONS FROM THEM TO YOU!!! ALSO BREAK ALL SOUL TIES WITH WHOMEVER GAVE YOU THE MASSAGE! IF YOU DON'T KNOW THEIR NAME..... SAY....THE ONE WHO WORKED ON ME TODAY LORD WEARING THE BLUE SHIRT (OR WHATEVER)

It would be interesting to see a real clinical study of this supposed case, since I have a hard time believing anybody who goes in for a massage really gets infected with demons, at least not the sort I'm familiar with. This just seems like more of the paranoia about the modern world that seems to infect certain fundamentalists. But maybe I'm wrong, and there really is a whole class of massage demons created by Satan for the express purpose of afflicting massage therapists. If so, given the popularity of massage the Teen Exorcist Squad really has their work cut out for them.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How Not to Do Yoga

Maybe the reason fundamentalists keep trying to ban yoga stretching in schools is that they imagine it's done something like this. United States Park Police officer Jared Tyng recently arrested a man named Bill Kachle on National Park Service property for “disorderly conduct/obscene acts,” which involved holding yoga poses, masturbating, and hurling a dead animal at passing cars. It should go without saying that this isn't any sort of yoga practice with which I'm familiar.

Two female witnesses pointed Tyng in the direction of Kachle, a Washington, D.C. resident who was “holding a yoga pose” nearby. The women said that they were walking along a bike trail when Kachle--who was waving his arms and “shouting odd statements”--dropped his pants and began masturbating.

“Thereafter, the subject then picked up a dead animal, ran into the northbound lanes of travel on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and threw the dead animal at a passing car,” according to a U.S. District Court complaint. After flinging the animal, Kachle “returned to the trail, pointed at both women and masturbated again,” Tyng added.

Since the article was posted on April 1st it might be fake, but at the same time weirdos commit crimes on April Fool's Day just like every other day. If real, Kachle's actions sound like they may be the result of dementia or some sort of untreated mental illness, and I hope that he gets the medical attention he likely needs. Because otherwise he's probably going to keep harassing passersby and giving yoga a bad name. Just to be clear, no part of yoga practice involves masturbating and throwing dead animals. If it did, I wouldn't want it in my kid's school either.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Today in Bad Magick

Some ideas about magical methods are so bad it's hard to see how anyone could take them seriously. A man in Malawi was told by a traditional healer that if he sacrificed body parts to a hyena he would become rich, so he went ahead and did so - with awful results. The hyena wound up eating three toes and his penis.

Chamangeni Zulu, in his early twenties, was discharged from the Chipata General Hospital this week, a senior nurse told AFP. "He was discharged on Monday after the relatives requested that he should be transferred to Muchinji in Malawi," said Sister Precious Matongo, referring to a town just across the border. "They should be constantly cleaning the wounds but he is stable," she added.

Local media reported that Zulu sacrificed his body parts after being told by a traditional healer that it would help him become rich. "I went to a bush where I was instructed to be naked and a hyena came to me and started eating my toes and eventually my manhood was eaten," he is quoted as saying by the Times of Zambia.

I seriously hope somebody debunks this and it turns out to be a hoax, because it's such a terrible story. But if not, it illustrates a fundamental problem that has corrupted many magical models - the just-world fallacy. The idea is that if you sacrifice something that you value, you will receive some equivalent benefit because the universe somehow "balances out." Only it doesn't. The only actual consequence of sacrificing your toes and penis to a hyena is that you no longer have toes or a penis and the hyena is a little less hungry.

While it's true that offerings can have a place in magical operations, the key to understanding how they work is that when you make an offering to a spirit, it doesn't matter how much you value it. What matters is how much the spirit values it, because spirits have their own independent spheres of consciousness. It's just like offering a gift to a person. If the gift isn't something that they want, it doesn't matter how much effort you put into obtaining it, it's still a lousy gift.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Holy Grail?

A new book by two historians claims that a chalice held in a Spanish church is the mythical Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. With the book's publication, crowds of visitors have swarmed the church attempting to get a look at the Grail. On Friday the cup was taken off display as curators attempted to find a more suitable venue.

There are hundreds of chalices in European churches that are reputed to be the Holy Grail, and there was a time in European history when the forging of Christian artifacts was a highly profitable and booming business. But is there a chance that this could actually be the one?

The director of the basilica's museum, Raquel Jaén, said the cup was taken off display on Friday while curators looked for an exhibition space large enough to accommodate the crowds. "It was in a very small room where it was not possible to admire it to the full," she told AFP. Made of agate, gold and onyx and encrusted with precious stones, the object in León is formed by two goblets joined together, with one turned up, the other down. It has been known until now as the goblet of the Infanta Doña Urraca, daughter of Fernando I, King of León from 1037 to 1065.

The two historians – León University medieval history lecturer Margarita Torres and art historian José Manuel Ortega del Rio – identified it as the grail in their book, Kings of the Grail, published last week. They said two Egyptian parchments they found in 2011 at Cairo's University of al-Azhar set them on a three-year investigation. Their studies led them to identify the upper part of the princess's goblet, made of agate and missing a fragment as described in the parchments, as the grail – one of the most prized relics in Christianity.

As I see it the problem with this hypothesis is that the actual legend of the Holy Grail only surfaced in Europe more than a thousand years after the date given for the death of Jesus. Obviously if no historical Jesus ever existed, there would be no Holy Grail. But even assuming that he did, no special significance was accorded to the cup by those who knew him. Likewise, the Grail legend incorporates elements of non-Christian mythology just as the later story of Jesus himself does.

Hopefully these objections are answered to a satisfactory degree in the book. They need to be if the authors want their claim taken seriously. It should also be noted that the supposed magical powers attributed to the Grail developed from folklore and are not mentioned in the Gospels. Therefore, even if the chalice really was used by the man behind the myth of Jesus, it's most likely simply a significant historical artifact.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Day

The usual tradition here at Augoeides for April Fool's Day is to find some satirical article about religion and comment on it as though it were genuine. However, some years are better than others in this regard. After a fair amount of searching, I've concluded that there's nothing out there even remotely recent that I'm finding particularly funny this year. It seems as if the various satirical sites are drifting in the direction of spoofing politics and celebrities, without much in the way of stories that fall within the range of articles that normally appear here. So instead, I've decided to break with tradition and post this story from Huffington Post on the origin of the holiday and its surprising connections to Judeo-Christian religious traditions.

The day began, most believe, in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII decreed the adoption of the “Gregorian calendar” — named after himself — which moved New Year’s Day from the end of March to Jan. 1. The change was published widely, explains Ginger Smoak, an expert in medieval history at the University of Utah, but those who didn’t get the message and continued to celebrate on April 1 “were ridiculed and, because they were seen as foolish, called April Fools.”

Even though the annual panoply of pranks meant to mock the gullible or to send a friend on a “fool’s errand” may not be grounded in any ancient religious merrymaking, the notion of “holy fools” does have a long and respected place in Judeo-Christian history. Hebrew prophets were often scorned as mad or eccentric for pronouncing unwelcome or uncomfortable truths. The Apostle Paul talked to the Corinthians about becoming “fools for Christ.” And Eastern Orthodoxy still sees the “holy fool” as a type of Christian martyr.