Friday, December 25, 2015

Fire at Boleskine House

Yesterday much of Boleskine House, the Scottish highland mansion on the shores of Loch Ness that was once owned by Aleister Crowley, was destroyed in a fire. The fire was reported at 1:40 PM on December 23rd and drew firefighters from all over the region.

Crews from Foyers, Inverness, Beauly and Dingwall have been sent to Boleskine House near Foyers. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said a large part of the property has been destroyed. Boleskine House was owned by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley and later for a time by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.

The alarm was raised at 13:40. Flames from the fire were visible from the other side of the loch. A fire appliance from Foyers and another from Inverness were first sent to the scene. Pumps from Inverness and Beauly along with a water carrier from Inverness, a pump from Dingwall and an incident support unit from Inverness have also been sent.

SFRS said: "A large part of the property has already been destroyed by fire and crews are concentrating their efforts on the west wing of the building. Crews in breathing apparatus are using four main jets to tackle the blaze and the incident is ongoing." Crowley, who died in 1947, lived at Boleskine House above Loch Ness from 1899 to 1913.

Boleskine was the house that Crowley purchased in order to perform the Abramelin operation, though he never did complete it there. In the instructions for Crowley's Gnostic Mass the directions specify that the temple should be oriented towards Boleskine, as the house is mentioned prominently in The Book of the Law.

Get the stélé of revealing itself; set it in thy secret temple—and that temple is already aright disposed—& it shall be your Kiblah for ever. It shall not fade, but miraculous colour shall come back to it day after day. Close it in locked glass for a proof to the world.

-- Chapter III, verse 10.

In 1904, Crowley's secret temple was located at Boleskine. However, he never did obtain the Stele of Revealing itself to place there. It remains housed to this day at a museum in Egypt among other artifacts from the same period.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Against Samantha Bee

Let's be clear - this is the kind of "full frontal" she's talking about.

So there's this conservative Christian group out there that calls itself "One Million Moms." As I've mentioned previously here on Augoeides in reference to their protests of the Lucifer television series and lesbian yogurt commercials, their goal seems to be to reduce all popular culture to the level of children's television by eliminating anything deemed even marginally offensive. At the same time, the group seems to be composed of some of the same people who rail against "political correctness," which given their stated goal of eliminating offense from public life makes no logical sense.

Or, more to the point, it does if you take into account that consistency is not one of these folks' strong suits. After all, the group is not composed of anywhere near a million people and it admits that they aren't all moms. So really, an accurate name for the group would be "Nowhere Near a Million Not-Necessarily-Moms." So the fact that they rail against anything that offends them while at the same excusing anything that offends anyone else is not exactly a stretch.

Here's the group's latest stupid cause. Former Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee has a new show that will be airing on TBS in January. The group has put out a petition against the title of the show, which happens to be "Full Frontal." So let's get this straight. There are no actual obscene words in the title, it just makes use of a phrase that sometimes alludes to nudity in films and television programs. Alludes. And for that, it should be censored. Talk about political correctness!

One Million Moms, the conservative group that seemingly will not rest until all of popular culture is sanitized beyond recognition, has found a new target: January’s TBS show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee“. Even though the show hasn’t aired yet, that hasn’t stopped the group from complaining about it and trying to rally its “family values” troops to protest it. On its website, complete with a petition to TBS to cancel the show that’s been signed by a whopping 4,900 people, One Million Moms writes:

“The title of this show alone is unacceptable. Even though airing later in the evening since it is a late night show, the name will appear in the TV lineup of programs scheduled and previews will air earlier during the day.”

In my book, criticizing a television show you haven’t seen simply for its title is sending a far more dangerous message than Samantha Bee ever could. It’s saying: Yes, judge culture by what you think it will contain, rather than what it actually does. It’s saying: Words are so powerful that the mere mention of them is enough to scar children for life. It’s saying: Don’t think for yourself, but allow your parents to think for you. It’s saying: There are “good” words and “bad” words and you’re too immature to even be told about that concept, let alone differentiate them for yourself. Not to mention that “full frontal” does not necessarily mean literal nudity; as blogger Joel Rieves points out, “the phrase has picked up another meaning along the way: nothing concealed or held back, direct, hard-hitting, etc.”

In other words, this petition is pretty much the equivalent of posting something on social media that says "Sign this if you're a dumbass." It also provides a better estimate of the group's size. If we assume that every member of the group signed the petition, along with a bunch of other people solicited from the Internet, we can fine-tune the accuracy of our count. It sounds like a more accurate name for the group would be "Not Even Five Thousand Not-Necessarily-Moms."

But, of course, that kind of honesty won't get them the headlines. "One Million Moms" sounds so much more impressive than "A Couple Thousand Crazy People."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

War on Christmas Troop Withdrawal

Back in November, I noted that the Starbucks Christmas Cup fiasco might be a sign that the "War on Christmas" was jumping the shark - that is, a sign that it was turning into something so ridiculous that no reasonable person could ever support it. According to this story from Florida, there might be some truth to that. The Christian group that has previously set up nativity scenes at the state capital decided not to put one up this year.

“My hope is that the Christ in Christmas is louder than a wood display and some figurines,” Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network, explained to the Miami Herald.

“I have been pondering this for a while,” Olsen said. “The racial tensions and mass murders, the shootings at the Planned Parenthood and in California – something is very wrong in our country. We need to step back and say we need to stop. Let the sound of the Christ Child bring hope, joy and peace instead of dissension.”

The Florida State Capitol has displayed a Christmas tree and menorah for many years. But holiday displays became a source of controversy in 2013 when state officials turned the rotunda into an open forum to allow a Nativity scene, provoking secular groups to ask for their own displays to be allowed.

The controversy lead some to declare that Florida was the frontline in the “war on Christmas.” “We pray that Christ’s message of hope and peace will be communicated in a much stronger way this year from Florida’s state Capitol, by us not placing the nativity in the rotunda,” Olsen said, adding that her group was not “retreating.”

Now it would be nice to think that the group's justification there is sincere. I mean, it actually sounds Christian to be concerned about the ongoing tension and violence in our society. But I highly doubt that's true. It's more likely that the Poor Oppressed Christians are completely unwilling to share public spaces with anyone, as similar controversies around the country have shown. They either get special privileges that elevate their religion above all others, or they take their balls and go home in a huff.

Which is good, up to a point. I would rather see nothing at all than a public display that elevates one particular religion. But as I've also said in the past, I think it would be better still to allow all religions equal access to public spaces. If the Poor Oppressed Christians refuse to play at that point, it's their own business, and it demonstrates pretty clearly their unwillingness to even allow for the existence of other traditions. Because clearly, in their minds, acknowledging that they are one religion among many is a one-way ticket to this dystopian future.

To these folks coexisting and facing oppression are apparently the same damn thing. I'm glad to see that more and more people are finally starting to realize just how stupid that argument really is.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Probably No Battle Cruisers Either

Here's an odd story that's been circulating on the Internet recently. Gary McKinnon broke into a NASA computer system ten years ago and claims to have found evidence of a "secret space program" run by the Navy which basically consists of a fleet of interplanetary battle cruisers. Here's his evidence for the secret space fleet:

Gary McKinnon believes he found evidence of a secret American space programme run by the Navy – with what sounds like warships in space.

He reveals all in a long video interview on UFO channel RichPlanet TV saying, ‘I kept going for months and months. I kept thinking, ‘They’re going to close this door’.

McKinnon has spoken out about his finds before, but rarely in such depth. He says, ‘I used a program called Landsearch, which could search all the files and folders. ‘But I scanned and looked for documents, I found an Excel spreadsheet which said, ‘Non-terrestrial officers’.

‘It had ranks and names. It had tabs for ‘material transfer’ between ships. I took that to be, they must have a ships based in space – the names started with U.S.S.’

The problem there is that "non-terrestrial" can also mean "not stationed on land." It seems to me that would apply to officers permanently posted on aircraft carriers, submarines, and any other sort of ship that stays out at sea rather than docks regularly. As a funny coincidence, the names of those ships all start with the letters "U.S.S." and they are run by the Navy. Material is also transferred between them because they don't necessarily dock to pick up supplies.

So we're left with two choices. Either (A) the Navy (why the Navy?) has a fleet of space warships, or (B) Gary McKinnon's reading comprehension skills are poor. Given the fact that building space warships is incredibly expensive and hard to hide, and the fact that stupidity is incredibly common, I know which one my money's on.

It always surprises me when I come across people with poor English skills who are good with computers. I mean, aren't commands and programming statements words? Apparently, though, there are at least enough people like that out there to make the "Weird News" pages.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Universe Not a Hologram

From the "duh" files, a new experiment conducted at Fermilab shows that the universe is probably not a hologram. But you already knew that, right? Here's the deal - about two years ago, a computer simulation was set up showing that the complex dynamics found in cosmological models such as string theory could be modeled in only two dimensions and still produce correct results. This was actually a pretty important discovery, as it showed that you don't really need the 11 or 12 dimensions found in string theory to model physical behavior. It validated what I've been saying for a long time, that even if string theory puts forth an accurate model, it's far too baroque and complex to be the best possible representation.

Predictably, New Agers took the announcement of this discovery to proclaim some version of "the universe is a hologram!" which to their way of thinking translated back into their all time favorite tenet, "the universe is an illusion!" But that's not what the simulation implied at all. It just showed that a physical universe with only two dimensions could behave as if it had three or more. Take a look at a hologram sometime. It's true that the third dimension it shows is "illusionary," but the hologram itself is clearly a physical object with fixed properties. Just because the image it shows is created by the dynamics of light, it doesn't mean you can psychically control it with your mind or something.

The Fermilab researchers led by Craig Hogan were looking for signs of constructive or destructive wave interference within the fabric of space itself, using a device called a holometer. This sort of wave interference is what creates the three-dimensional appearance of holograms, and should be present if a third dimension is being projected in a similar manner.

It’s an extremely difficult thing to detect, because there are so many other things that could be mistaken for a jittery signal, including wind and traffic noise. The early signs weren’t promising when the first preliminary results (based on an hour or so of data) came in back in April. So it’s probably not all that surprising that the final analysis proved equally fruitless.

The $2.5 million experiment was controversial from the get-go, with the inventors of the holographic principle counting among the naysayers. So expect to see a bit of schadenfreude making the rounds of the theoretical physics community today. As Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist at Nordita in Sweden and one of the more outspoken critics of the experiment, tweeted: “Holometer results are out: Nothing. Not surprising, as the idea underlying it is nonsense.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Zombie Nativity Scene Returns

Last year's zombie nativity scene generated so much publicity and online traffic for Ohio haunted house operator Jay Dixon that he decided to set it up again this year for the holiday season. And, just like last year, officials in Sycamore Township are determined to shut it down.

Dixon reviewed the local ordinances and concluded that he could legally set up the display without a permit as long as it took up less than 200 square feet - according to him it takes up about 65. He applied for a permit anyway, just to be sure, which town officials promptly denied. Dixon is being threatened with a fine of $500 for every day the display remains up.

According to Sycamore Township officials, Dixon needed a permit for the macabre display this year. But when he applied he was turned down, and now he faces a fine of $500 per day for every day he leaves it up. Having gone through the same situation last year before dismantling it, Dixon began soliciting donations earlier this year to cover the expected financial sanctions.

Friday night on his Facebook page, Dixon wrote: “We were going to take it down, decided to leave it up, all the lights are re-hooked and open for business just no roof. Let’s see what happens.” According to Dixon, his request for a permit was denied because local authorities said his display violated the town’s zoning code by taking up more than 35 percent of his front yard.

“I got all the paperwork and how it was wrote out, and it says as long as it’s not over 200-square-foot that I can have it without a permit, and it’s about 65 square foot,” he explained, adding that he thinks the council hates the zombie theme. “I think it’s the theme,” he explained. “It just rubs people the wrong way. That’s why they’re coming down so hard on me.”

Of course it's the theme. I'm willing to bet that if somebody set up a traditional nativity scene that took up their entire yard and was bigger than 200 square feet, town officials wouldn't care one bit. I realize that traditionalists consider the concept tasteless, but I think it's funny. And I don't see why the law is being applied against Dixon in a discriminatory manner.

It's not clear from the article whether the "less than 20%" requirement is a regulation that Dixon missed in his research or if town officials are basically making it up to get rid of the display. From the photo, it looks like un the former case he might be able to shorten the fence in front, move "Mary" and "Joseph" closer together and squeeze the two "wise men" under either side of the roof, which would take up substantially less space and look about as effective.

I don't have the time to drive out to Ohio to see it, since the drive is something like fourteen hours from Minnesota. But if it were here in my home state, I would definitely want to make sure I checked it out before it was taken down.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Don't Fear the Krampus

The tradition of Krampusnacht is celebrated all over Germany and Austria. On the nights leading up to December 6th - which is tomorrow, by the way - people dress up in frightening costumes and roam the streets, pretending to terrorize local residents and abduct children. According to the krampus legend, Saint Nicholas comes to give gifts to children who have been good, but krampus comes to punish or take away those who have been bad.

When the American version of Christmas was created by Macy's department store in the 1920's, the store decided that krampus was a little too grisly and got rid of that part of the story. But the tradition endures overseas, and in some places is enacted quite extravagantly with amazing costumes, parades, and so forth.

This year, the Austrian village of Virgen has some new arrivals - a group of refugees from Syria and Iraq. Recently, community representatives met with the refugees to explain the tradition, so they wouldn't completely lose it when, say, out of nowhere they encountered an apparent horde of monsters roaming the streets.

Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called "Christmas Devils" who pretend to abduct kids. "In the first week of December, the good, gift-bringing St. Nicholas wanders through the streets with his evil, scary companions called Krampus," Kurt Glaenzer, the head of a local Krampus club, explained to NBC News.

Some of Virgen's around 2,000 residents wear animal skins and don carved wooden masks on nights leading up to St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Loud bells tied to their costumes clank through the darkness of the night as the creepy creatures wander the streets searching for poorly behaved children. "When the Krampus roams the town, he often wrestles people to the ground, symbolizing the abduction of bad children," Glaenzer added.

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October. They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event's history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had "lots of fun," according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter. The migrants "will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door," Kranebitter added.

Krampus may finally be making his way to America, as a new movie about the monster has been released for the holiday season. Unfortunately, according to this review, the film takes so many liberties with the myth that no matter how well done it is, I probably could never enjoy it.

The mash-up of krampus with Macy's version of American Christmas leads to a pretty disturbing implication, that if you lose the "Christmas Spirit" - that is, the urge to buy a bunch of expensive crap as gifts because money = love - a giant monster will show up to kill you and all of your neighbors.

Krampus is part of European folklore going back centuries if not millennia, and the one thing he is not is a deadly enforcer for the department store cartels. That's just terrible, and brings the commercialization of Christmas to a new and frightening level. Let's hope that this idea is one tradition that's not here to stay.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Witches Versus Evangelists

Jim Bakker is at it again. The televangelist has moved on from hawking potato soup to claiming that when televangelists get caught in scandals, it's witches who are to blame. Bakker may be a creep, but never let anybody tell you that he lacks epic buck-passing skills. What he's implying is that his 1989 fraud conviction had less to do with him essentially stealing a bunch of money than it did with witches casting curses on him.

Bakker recalled a story that a “man of God” told him upon his release from prison. According to Bakker, the man was sitting next to a declared witch on an airplane, who claimed her coven would destroy the television ministry, starting with Jim Bakker.

“She said, ‘Right now, all the witches … They’re all agreeing they’re going to destroy the television ministries and we’re starting with Jim Bakker. And we are all praying, praying to destroy him,’” Bakker said.

Bakker went on to say that you “see [preachers and ministers] going through troubles and you desert some pastor who’s been caught in something… and you don’t know that all the demons in hell brought whatever, whether it be sex, drugs, or women or whatever.”

So, two reactions here. First off, Bakker did defraud people, whether or not it had anything to do with a curse. I don't doubt there were occultists at that time sending curses Bakker's way, as he was a loudmouth and a supporter of the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" hysteria that unfairly targeted occultists. Maybe one of those curses had something to do with Bakker being found out and charged, but that's totally different than what he's implying.

Secondly, this suggests that Bakker's magick sucks. Isn't his Lord Jesus super-powerful over witches and demons and evil magick? And if he is, why would he let one of his servants be tormented in this way? Either he couldn't stop the curse, which means he's weaker than a human spell-caster, or he can and just didn't want to, which basically makes him an asshole. Do either of those seem particularly worthy of worship?

Apparently, Jim Bakker still wants you to think so, and that's why you need to send him more money. You know, for Jesus!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Masons Made Me Do It

This might be a case for the Masonic Police. Too bad they're probably in jail by now. Britton Clayton Traylor, the author of a conspiracy-theory book about "the coming New World Order" was arrested after trying to rob a movie theater in Hoover, Alabama. Traylor was subdued by the theater manager and a helpful patron, who detained him until police arrived to make the arrest.

Later, when asked why he committed the crime, Traylor explained that Freemasons had made him do it as part of a "higher degree" initiation. I'm left wondering if Traylor is so delusional that he thought people would believe him, or if somebody out there is seriously messing with him. "Yeah, we're Masons... umm... rob that theater over there and we'll initiate you..."

In either case, it's clear that Traylor truly has a dizzying intellect.

"We're not really buying that as we've never heard of Masons instructing members to commit criminal acts,'' said Hoover police spokesman Capt. Gregg Rector. "It's really one of the most ridiculous excuses that we've heard lately. He may have achieved a higher level of stupidity, but that's about it."

On Monday, lawmen responded to an armed robbery at the Carmike Lee Branch Theaters on Doug Baker Boulevard. Rector said Hoover officers and Shelby County sheriff's deputies arrived at the theater to find the manager and another man on top of Traylor, holding him on the ground in front of the theater.

The assistant manager told police the man entered the theater wearing a life-like mask and brandishing a handgun. He demanded cash, escorted the employee to the office and ordered him to open the safe. He took a large sum of money, put it into a backpack and left through the building's front door, Rector said.

Determined not to let him get away, the assistant manager followed Traylor, tackling and disarming him. At that point, Rector said, the victim realized the gun was a BB gun and tossed it aside. He also ripped the mask from Traylor's face.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Not This Again...

Every so often another iteration of the Mike Warnke con rears its ugly and ridiculous head. The stories are probably going to keep coming as long as evangelical churches are willing to fork over money to these folks to speak about "the evils of Satanism." They love finding speakers who confirm their utterly ludicrous ideas of how they imagine occultism works.

Warnke was discredited in 1991 by a Christian publication that set out to investigate his claims of being a "Satanic High Priest" with more than fifteen hundred followers. He eventually conceded that his "coven" actually consisted of only thirteen people including himself, but stood by many of the other aspects of his story even in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. However, his first book was published in 1973 and was popular with evangelicals, so he was able to bilk them out of quite a bit of money before being found out. It's possible that Warnke once assembled a coven of that size, but with all his lies and distortions it's hard to tell.

Another confidence artist who tried the same trick was Bill Schnoebelen. Schoebelen did run a Wiccan coven in the early 1970's, but that's where the accuracy of his claims end. My fellow blogger Frater Barrabbas was in fact a member of Schnoebelen's coven for four years, and a while back posted a full first-hand account of what really went on. No surprise, his account shows Schnoebelen to be a run-of-the mill occultist with a couple groups of followers consisting of maybe forty people in total, not the thousands he claims in his books.

See, here's the most basic problem. There just aren't enough occultists in the Western world to populate the nonsensical worlds of Schnoebelen and Warnke, let alone enough "Satanists" - who are a subset of the overall occult community. In addition, the practices described don't even make sense from a magical standpoint. The only explanation besides the most likely one, outright fraud, is that these people are such incompetent wielders of magick that they go around incurring great risk to themselves breaking laws in order to accomplish absolutely nothing.

So that brings us to today's nitwit, a guy named Zachary King. I say nitwit because even if this guy is managing to con the evangelical establishment, his story is so unoriginal that anyone with access to Google can find where he got it from.

When I was about 12, a friend introduced me to a group that played Dungeons and Dragons that also believed that magick was real. It turned out that this group was a satanic coven. A lot of people ask me, ‘wouldn’t you run and hide at that point?’ I remind them that I grew up in the 70’s where satanic covens on TV are really scary, but … I love pinball machines, video games, and science fiction, like Star Trek and Star Wars, and these guys had almost every science fiction and fantasy movie you could ever want to see. They had pinball machines, an in-ground pool, a big barbeque pit, and it was just like a boys and girls club, and it was just a lot of fun. Let me put it this way, they knew how to recruit. They knew everything that a kid would want to do, so I got involved with it that way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Goatman is Trending!

Goatman has to be one of the weirdest and hardest-to-believe urban legends out there. The story goes that a half-man, half-goat was accidentally created by some bizarre experiment at an agricultural research station in Beltsville, Maryland. The creature subsequently escaped, and has gone on the terrorize the woods of Prince Georges County, also in Maryland.

In 2005 a friend and I traveled to Prince Georges County to look for evidence of the Goatman. Sure, there also was a NOTOCON going on in nearby Reston, Virginia, but we went out earlier in the week to spend some time shooting video at some of the locations associated with the legend. We got footage from around Governor's Bridge, an abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium where some sightings had been reported, and so forth.

We never actually saw a Goatman, but we did encounter a few weird things along the way. One of the weirdest was that people at the agricultural research station visitor center refused to say anything about it, or even go on camera stating that they had never heard of the Goatman. It was pretty suspicious, and perhaps implies that government knows more than it's letting on. Or maybe they just thought it was a waste of time.

Anyway, the video linked above has been trending on the Internet lately with the story of Goatman. Most of the details of the legend are correct, although it should be noted that one of the photographs in the video is not a picture of the monster. It's a hunter in a custom-made goat costume, designed to allow him to get closer to a herd of mountain goats.

One other claim in the video is that Goatman might live in a cave near Governor's Bridge, but we found no evidence there of any sort of a cave that might fit the bill. The area around the bridge was still pretty wild when we were out there, with trails through the woods and places where it looked like teenagers - or maybe Goatman! - had built fires and such.

Also, it should be noted that in 2005 Prince Georges County appeared to be undergoing rapid gentrification, with housing developments all over the place. It seemed as if there would soon be no wilds left for Goatman to inhabit. But perhaps the crash of the real estate market in 2008 slowed that process down a bit.

Despite our failure to capture the creature on video, the story of Goatman remains one of the most amusing urban legends that I've encountered over the years. So enjoy!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Questioning Nazi Occultism

Thanks to the History and Discovery Channels, most of us know that Nazism was a political philosophy with strong occult roots. From the Thule and Vril Societies to the runology of Guido von List and the secret rituals of the SS, the Nazis are said to have made extensive use of occult powers to fuel their early victories in World War II. But is that really true?

I've commented a number of times here on Augoeides that generally speaking, occultism is not an area of study even paid much attention to by the mainstream, let alone the financial and global elites. The reason for this is quite simple: to become good at working magick requires an enormous investment of time and energy, but the same is also true of finance and politics. And there are only so many hours in the day.

Look at the schedule of any political candidate and you'll see what I'm talking about. The same thing is true of people who make large sums of money in the financial sector. Generally speaking, with a few exceptions, the only way to succeed to that degree is to basically think about money all of the time. It doesn't leave a lot of room for spirituality, let alone sustained magical practice.

I think that people like the idea of an "occult Reich" precisely because it lines up with the notion of the Third Reich being the most evil government in the history of the world, and Nazis being the closest thing to mustache-twirling villains doing evil for evil's sake that have ever existed in the modern world. Of course they had to be occultists!

However, the idea of an "occult Reich" powered by dark magick has in fact been questioned for a long time. As this article points out, the source for many of these ideas was a book called Hitler Speaks by Hermann Rauschning, who claimed to be one of Hitler's close associates. Unfortunately, his claims don't stand up to close scrutiny, and much of the book contains material that either cannot be verified or was simply lifted from other sources that are now known to be fictional.

One of the few scholarly efforts to trace connections between the occult and the National Socialist party is the late Dr. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s Occult Roots of Nazism. Goodrick-Clarke, while establishing a very indirect link between pre-World War I “Ariosophy” and the National Socialist party, rejects the exaggerations that have linked Ariosophy, the Thule Society, the Vril Society, et al to the rise of Hitler. For example he states that Dietrich Eckart, Hitler’s early mentor, and Alfred Rosenberg, were “never more than guests of Thule during its heyday,” while the geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer, did not have any link to the society, despite much fantasy being woven around these individuals and their alleged occult links. The influence of Lanz von Liebenfels and his Ordo Novi Templi in pre-World War I Austro-Hungary on the young Hitler and subsequently on the Third Reich is also put into context, Goodrick-Clarke pointing out that the Order was dissolved by the Nazis and Lanz was prohibited from publishing with the advent of the Third Reich.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Skeptics Versus Skepticism

I've pointed out a number of times that there's a big difference between being a capital-S Skeptic and being skeptical. Skepticism is what I try to exhibit here on Augoeides, evaluating paranormal claims on the basis of the evidence. I've put up a number of articles along those lines, such as pointing out that the Loch Ness Monster is probably a fish (though sturgeon versus catfish is still a topic for debate) or evaluating ghost photography for signs of possible normal explanations.

Back in the 1930's, Joseph Banks Rhine at Duke University conducted a whole series of experiments designed to test telepathy in human subjects. His work is where we get things like the Zener cards that appeared in movies such as Ghostbusters. Eventually one of the biggest problems with Rhine's protocols was discovered - if you have two people sitting across from each other at a table, with one looking at a card and the other trying to guess it, it is possible for the "receiver" to see the symbol on the card reflected in the eyes of the "sender."

Rhine's research was attacked by the scientific establishment of his day, but I find it rather telling that it wasn't the scientists attacking Rhine who worked out the eye-reflection explanation. That was done by other parapsychologists evaluating and trying to replicate Rhine's work. I remember how bizarre it was reading the critiques of Rhine back in college and seeing that no alternative explanations were proposed for his results at all. Rather, the critiques noted that Rhine had provided enough evidence to demonstrate virtually any other phenomenon, but they simply disliked the concept of psi and that was that.

Reading some of that material is what formed my current opinions of Skeptics and skepticism. A truly skeptical scientist would have looked over Rhine's work carefully for possible normal explanations, and might have even hit on the eye-reflection problem. That they did not showed me that they weren't really looking at the evidence. Many modern Skeptics do that as well. In the face of seemingly paranormal results, they quickly put forth explanations like "fraud," or if that's not possible or reasonable, "mass hysteria," which is an explanation that's about as well-understood as psi phenomena.

That background is one of the reasons I was so impressed with this article by Skeptic Michael Shermer that was published over a year ago, in which he discusses an apparently anomalous experience that he encountered and which he was unable to explain. To those of you not familiar with the Skeptic establishment, it probably seemed like no big deal. But to see one of them publicly admit there are weird things out there that current science can't completely explain was pretty much unprecedented at the time.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Magick and Meditation on Death Row

One of the questions I occasionally get asked is something to the effect of whether or not one would be able to practice magick or meditation under terrible circumstances, such as, say, being on death row. Without personal experience, it's pretty hard to imagine how effective practicing under such circumstances would be. But here's an article written by someone who actually did it.

Damien Echols was one of the West Memphis Three, a case from 1994 that was one of the last gasps of the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" panic of the late 1980's and early 1990's. Echols and two of his friends were prosecuted for the murders of three young boys on the basis of very flimsy evidence, with "Satanic ritual" the only motive being advanced in the case.

Then, in 2007, DNA evidence from the crime scene was finally tested and found to not match Echols or the other two defendants. This implied that the murders were committed by someone else, which just about anyone who knew much about occultism had already figured out. The evangelical concept of "Satanic ritual" - evil done for evil's sake - is simply not a real thing, and it's not an even remotely credible motive for murder.

Echols spent almost nineteen years on death row. In light of the new evidence, he and his fellow defendants were allowed to enter Alford pleas in 2011, under which they asserted their innocence but acknowledged that evidence existed linking them to the crime. Their sentences were reduced to time served, and they were released from prison.

In the article, Echols explains how magick and meditation helped keep him sane under the horrific conditions that he was exposed to on death row.

My interest in magick may have contributed to my being sentenced to death, but it was also a huge part of what allowed me to survive for the better part of two decades in the American prison system. For a huge chunk of my incarceration—nearly nine years—I was in a super maximum security unit prison, where I spent 24 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is like living in a vacuum in which no comforts exist. You spend every single moment alone, with nothing to distract you from the horror of your situation and no contact with anything or anyone that can possibly provide you with a shred of hope. Time ceases to exist, as there is no way to mark its passage. Noon is the same as midnight. Christmas is the same as the Fourth of July. All you can do is sit with your fears, waiting for the next time the guards decide to hurt you.

It was here that I decided to dedicate every single waking moment of my life to delving deeper and deeper into the realm of magick.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Probably Comets After All

Back in October, scientists working with the Kepler space telescope identified some sort of anomaly in orbit around a distant star. One possible explanation for the anomaly was that it was some sort of alien megastructure like a ringworld. At the time I noted that while the discovery was potentially exciting, it would most likely turn out to be some kind of phenomenon that did not involve aliens, pretty much like the discovery of pulsars.

A new round of observations seems to have born this out, showing that the "structure" is more likely to be a large collection of cometary fragments rather than any sort of alien-built structure. The study found no evidence of unusual amounts of infrared radiation emanating from the star, which if found would have indicated that the object or objects obscuring the star's light might be technological in origin.

The study, led by Massimo Marengo of Iowa State University and to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, examined the infrared light from the star. An unusually large amount of such light would indicate that a planetary impact or asteroid collision caused the large object seen blocking the star’s light – and, although not mentioned by the paper, infrared light would also be an indication of the proposed alien megastructure.

But Spitzer didn’t find any such infrared excess. According to the researchers, this favors the idea that a swarm of cold comets first blocked out the star’s light in 2011. In 2013, cometary fragments lagging behind the main group then blocked its light again. By 2015, though, this swarm had passed out of our line of sight.

Aside from the rather fanciful alien theory, the result is disappointing for scientists hoping to see evidence of astronomical dust around stars. "Spitzer has observed all of the hundreds of thousands of stars where Kepler hunted for planets, in the hope of finding infrared emission from circumstellar dust," said Michael Werner, the Spitzer project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.

I don't necessarily see where the alien hypothesis (note: not "theory") is "fanciful." Statistically speaking, alien lifeforms almost certainly exist. Just because proving the existence of an alien civilization must by necessity involve passing a very high bar, I expect that the events of the last few weeks is exactly how detecting such a civilization would go. First, an anomalous observation agreed upon by the scientific community. Then, more involved testing to rule out any other possible causes.

Just because this observation failed that second round of tests doesn't mean that no aliens are out there. I expect that they are, and that someday we are going to come across an observation that can't be explained any other way. Then, what to do with that information should become a very exciting question.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pope Francis Versus Gnosticism

Pope Francis has gotten a lot of props for his progressive-sounding statements, but it is also important to understand that he has done little to change Roman Catholic theology itself. His statements about compassion for the poor and income inequality are welcome, but it also should be kept in mind that such positions have been advocated by the church for centuries. It's just that since John Paul II it was an issue that received little attention, so it's good to hear Francis bringing it up again now.

While I find Francis to be a vast improvement over his last few predecessors, what would really impress me would be if he began making significant changes to some of the theological points that seem out of touch with the modern world. This he has not done. Recently Francis gave a speech in which he outlined the "two temptations" facing the church, one of which he described as "Gnosticism."

The Pope then identified the second temptation as “Gnosticism.”

Francis said this leads to “trusting in clear, logical reasoning” which “loses the tenderness of the flesh of the brother.” The fascination of Gnosticism — he said — is that of “ a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings” ("The Joy of the Gospel," No. 94).

Pope Francis said that the difference between every form of Gnosticism and Christianity is to be found in the mystery of the incarnation (of God who became man). “Not to put the Word (of God) into practice, not to bring it to reality, means to build on sand, to remain in pure ideas and to degenerate into intimacies that bear no fruit because they make its dynamism,” he said.

Now this is no real surprise because Gnosticism has been considered a heresy by the Roman Catholic Church since the first millenium. It also is true that the Gnostics of that period at least to some extent fit Francis' characterization. I've always found demiurge theology bizarre because it is based on the contradiction between the portrayal of God in the Old versus the New Testament. Put simply, the first millenium Gnostics decided that since the Old Testament God was an asshole and Jesus was cool, the Old Testament God must be a "false God" that they called the demiurge.

However, if you're not a literalist and understand that the perception of God has a more to do with the perspective of the various authors and less to do with what really took place at that time, this apparent contradiction falls apart. The Bible was finally written down after the Babylonian Captivity around 580 BCE. Before that it consisted of nearly a thousand years of oral tradition. The narrative gives a general sense of what the Israelites of the time believed their history to be, but that's about as far as it goes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pat Robertson Gets It Right

From the "a stopped clock is right twice a day" file, evangelist Pat Robertson has managed to make some sense. This happened once before, back when Robertson pointed out that creationist Ken Ham's embrace of the interpretation-heavy Ussher chronology really didn't jibe with his claims of being a Biblical literalist.

That was three years ago, so I suppose it's about time Robertson got around to making another reasonable statement. On a recent episode of his 700 Club television program, Robertson correctly explained that in fact the "sin of Sodom" had nothing to do with homosexuality - and it says so right in the Bible.

That made it all the more surprising when “The 700 Club” host alluded today to Ezekiel 16:49 to assert that Sodom was destroyed due to pride, not homosexuality: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”

“Pride, the Bible says, idleness and abundance of bread, neither were they thankful, that was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah,” Robertson said. “He didn’t talk about homosexuality.”

A number of us who have actually read the Bible cover-to-cover have been pointing this out for years, but it's pretty remarkable to hear it coming from a prominent proponent of modern conservative Christianity. That's because the story of Sodom is one of the main theological weapons that generally gets deployed by said Christians arguing that somehow, being gay is the most horrible sin anyone could ever commit.

Yes, it is a violation of Old Testament law - at least for men. But so are a whole lot of other things that modern Christians just ignore. These days hardly any Christians worry about mixing fibers or eating shellfish or coming into contact with blood, all of which are considered unclean in the exact same way as "a man lying with a man as with a woman."

I would find it profoundly ironic if the Dominionists turned out to be right, except that God really wound up smiting America for inventing poly-cotton blends. Or maybe for promoting shrimp-farming.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Let's Test This Out!

Over the years I've posted numerous stories about African witches who are supposed to be able to transform into goats and other animals. Usually, though, it's in the context of accusations being leveled by superstitious townsfolk. Up until now, I haven't come across a story in which someone claims to be able to actually perform such operations.

But today I found this article from Manica, a province in Mozambique. In the article, a "satanist hooker" apparently confesses to being able to transform into a lion, a goat, or a hyena. Granted, the lurid title of the article doesn't really scream "journalistic integrity," but what if it's true? Not only could teenagers with these abilities make James Randi shit his pants, the applications are potentially endless.

"We are a team of Satanists. It started when I was at a boarding school when we used to meet at midnight at the basketball and tennis courts and change into different animals such as lions, hyenas as well as goats. “We pounced on anyone whom we considered a threat. I can’t tell you the name of the school because they threatened to kill me if I expose them.

“I can turn into a hyena when I am angered. Our leader is a bishop at that school. He changes into a lion. I told my parents all these things and they withdrew me from the school. They no longer want to see me because of this. They are afraid of me. I have been staying here because I have nowhere to go. I have been sleeping with several men who hire my services,” she said.

She could not entertain The Weekender anymore. “I can’t talk to you anymore,” said the teenager. A source privy to matter said the teenager’s brother later came and tried to take her home, but her parents who stay in Darlington medium-density suburb could have none of it. “Her parents are bitter and are actually scared of her. They don’t want to hear about her anymore,” said the woman who requested anonymity.

Church organisations and traditional healers have described the case as strange.

Do you think? To my way of thinking, "strange" doesn't even begin to cover it. And if it does work, I totally want to know how it's done. Not because I necessarily have much interest in turning into an animal, but rather because the forces involved would have to be able to produce incredible probability shifts to accomplish it. Those sorts of shifts could be applied to solving all sorts of practical problems.

Here's just one example. A hyena could be about the same mass as a teenage girl, and so could a goat. But a male lion weighs over 400 pounds. I'm guessing the man mentioned in the story is lighter than that. So all you have to do is put him on some sort of teeter-totter arrangement with a weight between his human and lion weight on the other side. Then, if he transforms back and forth rapidly, you can harness the difference in mass to drive a generator. Perpetual motion!

This must be a rare ability, because otherwise you would think all the African countries where this sort of magick is practiced would have witchcraft-driven power plants. Or, you know, maybe it just doesn't work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Poor Oppressed Christians Jump the Shark

So I held off on posting this one over the weekend because I wanted to make sure that it wasn't a parody. It sure sounds like one, complete with breathless freaking out about something so pointless it's hard to imagine that anyone could be bothered by it. But the story surprisingly appears to be real. Here's the deal.

For years, Starbucks coffee shops have changed the design of their cups for the Christmas season to designs incorporating red and green with images of snowmen, snowflakes, trees, and so forth. This year, the chain decided to dispense with any wintery images and go with a plain red and green design, shown above. To the Poor Oppressed Christians, the lack of snowmen and snowflakes means that Starbuck's hates Jesus.

Seriously? How stupid are these people?

The coffee chain’s seasonal designs are remixed each year, but this year’s tri-color tone of red, green and white has apparently angered some religious leaders for declaring a so-called “war on Christmas.”

“Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” wrote former Arizona pastor Joshua Feuerstein in a viral Facebook post that had at least 8 million views Saturday night.

Student pastor Nate Weaver at the Crosspointe Christian Church in Sarasota, Fla., vowed to never visit Starbucks ever again. “I’m officially banning Starbucks from my life,” Weaver wrote in a Facebook post Saturday.

What this implies is the the Poor Oppressed Christians seriously believe that snowflakes, snowmen, and Christmas trees are Christian symbols. In fact, the Christmas (or Yule) tree is actually pagan, and the others are generic symbols of winter. So I guess they're trying to argue that their religion owns the entire season, and anyone who says otherwise is "declaring war" on them.

It also says to me that they're getting so desperate to relevant to the culture of the modern world that they're willing to feed outrage that is completely pointless. This year, unlike the last few, I'm finally seeing a lot of conservatives commenting on how dumb this is, and maybe if we're lucky this will be the year that the "war on Christmas" finally becomes such a stupid idea that nobody remotely reasonable takes it seriously.

Fingers crossed, folks!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tutankhamun's Secret Chamber Found?

Back in August I covered the findings of Egyptologist Dr. Nicholas Reeves, who claimed to have found evidence of two hidden doors inside the famous tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. He speculated that one of the secret chambers might house the tomb of Tut's stepmother, Nefertiti, which has never been found.

Now researchers working inside the tomb have used infrared thermography on one of the areas indicated by Reeves, and found a temperature differential that may in fact indicate the presence of a hidden chamber. Even if the chamber turns out to house additional burial goods rather than Nefertiti's tomb, it would still be a huge discovery. Tut's tomb is so famous because it was discovered undisturbed rather than looted by grave robbers, and many of the most famous Egyptian artifacts were found among the belongings of the "boy king."

A team from Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering and the Paris-based organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation used infrared thermography to detect the temperature of the walls in the tomb. Preliminary analysis indicates the presence of an area different in its temperature than the other parts of the northern wall—a potential indication of a hidden chamber.

“The experiment lasted for 24 hours,” Egypt’s Antiquities minister Mamdouh Eldamaty said in a statement. In order to certify the results, Eldamaty said, a number of experiments will be carried out to determine more accurately the area showing the difference in temperature. “The team was very impressed and full of emotion to spend the night in the tomb,” Mehdi Tayoubi, founder of the Paris-based Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute, told Discovery News.

The non-invasive search follows a claim by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist at the University of Arizona, that high-resolution images of the tomb’s walls show “distinct linear traces” pointing to the presence of two still unexplored chambers behind the western and northern walls of the tomb.

I'll be following this story as new developments arise. Because today's archaeologists are far more careful than those exploring Egyptian tombs a hundred years ago, it could be a long time before anyone tries to go through one of hidden doors that Reeves may have identified. But a burial chamber filled with additional Egyptian artifacts of whatever sort would be well worth the wait.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Psychic Savant?

Ramses Sanguino is a five year old California boy who is a genuine savant. Ramses is on the "high-functioning" end of the autism spectrum - or, in his case, the "superior-functioning" end. He's not neurotypical, he's better. Ramses has already been tested as one of the most intelligent five-year-olds in the world, is learning seven different languages, and can solve reasonably complex mathematical equations.

And according to Dr. Diane Powell, a neuroscientist who trained at Johns Hopkins university, he might even be telepathic. Ramses' mother posted videos of her son in which he seems to be able to guess numbers and playing cards that are out of sight with almost perfect accuracy. Powell has set up a research study to test the boy's abilities, and if they really can be replicated under controlled scientific conditions they will constitute a highly significant finding.

In Ramses's case, he has apparently been able to demonstrate a degree of telepathy with Dr Powell during three meetings. She used a random-number generator to pick numbers for Ms Sanguino to write down and think about, before asking Ramses to try and read his mother's mind to guess them. The little boy did this successfully in the meetings, she said.

Ms Sanguino, who works as an artist, says her son has sometimes been able to recite 38 numbers written out of sight. She vows there is no trickery involved in his 'talent', or her home videos. In another test with Dr Powell, Ramses was able to correctly guess 16 out of 17 numbers hidden out of sight - including one double digit number, according to his mother.

She said: 'I was amazed when we began testing Ramses. We do have a very close bond which may have something to do with his abilities - but this is beyond anything I would have imagined. However, Ms Sanguino's main concern is helping to find a specialist school for Ramses, whom Dr Powell has described as 'one of the smartest five year olds on the planet'.

So there are couple things that need to be ruled out here that I can think of right offhand. The first, which probably would show up in a close analysis of the video is the "clever Hans effect," which is named after a famous performing horse who appeared to be able to understand small numbers, count, and add. But careful testing showed that Hans was simply well-trained to spot his trainer's body language, which would subtly change once the right number was reached. Without the trainer present, the horse's ability vanished.

The second thing to check is that I want to know what "out of sight" means in this situation. Autistic savants often have an almost superhuman sense of space and shapes. Temple Grandin, a well-known writer on the subject who is on the autism spectrum herself, believes that this is because people on the spectrum think in images rather than words. So it's possible that even if Ramses could not see the numbers themselves, he might be able to identify a number being written by reading his mother's arm and hand motions if she is writing in the same room.

A third possibility is a trick like what one person allegedly used back in the 1930's to guess Zener cards in the original Rhine trials. With the way those trials were set up, it was possible to see the symbol on the card reflected in the sender's eye if you looked at it at just the right angle. In addition to their faculty with spatial relations, autistic savants also can be much more aware of such small details in their environments than a neurotypical person generally would be.

Now if all those can be ruled out, though, we might just have something. And if young Ramses really is as accurate as his mother claims, he might turn out to be the subject who finally validates the existence of psychic perception.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Yeti Sightings in Decline

BBC has an article up today about the decline of yeti sightings in Bhutan, once an area in which such sightings were common. It seems that as Bhutan has become a more modern country with electricity and related infrastructure, fewer people spend time in the forest foraging or gathering firewood to heat their homes. Thus, the article theorizes that they have fewer opportunities to encounter the creature.

The last person in Chendebji to have seen possible evidence of the yeti is a younger farmer called Norbu. The first time was 20 years ago, he says, when he was 18. He was in the mountains with his cattle when he saw a large footprint and the body marks of a yeti in the snow. The mere sight of them made his hair stand on end. Then, five years later, Norbu says he discovered something very unusual - a lair made out of intricately woven sticks of bamboo.

"The yeti had broken the bamboo trees, folded them into a semi-circular shape, with the two edges of the bamboo in the ground. He had then slept inside the den. I could see the marks left by the yeti inside the nest," he says.

News of the lair travelled beyond the village and two months later, two men arrived as Norbu was making wood shingles for his house. They asked to see the lair, so he agreed to stop work and show them. Because it was so far away, the three of them had to spend the night in the yeti's nest. The trip passed off peacefully. That was the last time anyone in Chendebji saw traces of the yeti.

Now, says Norbu, people don't need to go up to the mountain to collect wood or graze their animals. They cook on gas rings, and farming patterns have changed. The villagers spend more of their time growing cash crops such as potatoes and oil seeds.

As I've mentioned in the past, I found Reinhold Messner's My Quest for the Yeti to be pretty convincing. He points out that much of the lore about the yeti comes from non-native speakers of local languages misinterpreting descriptions of the creature as some sort of large ape, when in fact the term "yeti" refers to a known animal, the Himalayan bear.

It would be interesting to compare the number of sightings in Bhutan with fluctuations in the local Himalayan bear population. My guess is that they would line up pretty well.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Religious Freedom Means All or None

Here's one more case where a Christian demanding special privileges has attracted the attention of The Satanic Temple, who continue to do good activist work in advancing the cause of real religious freedom, not the Poor Oppressed Christian version in which their religion is more equal than all the others. I'm at the point where I no longer believe that this incidents have anything to do with ignorance, as the concept that official recognition of religion must include all religions has been repeated over and over again in both the online and mainstream media.

So here's the latest. Joe Kennedy, a high school football coach in Washington, has refused to quit leading Christian prayers during games, despite complaints from students and orders from school district authorities. Since formal complaints have done no good, one of the students contacted the Seattle branch of The Satanic Temple, who promised to show up for the game and deliver a Satanic invocation following the game should Kennedy continue to lead prayers. All of this is completely legal - since Kennedy is leading Christian prayers, every other religion has the right to perform their own in the same context.

A student at Bremerton High School in Washington has asked the local Satanic Temple to deliver an invocation — and the semi-satirical devil worshipers told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson they would show up. “We will be at Thursday’s game doing a postgame Satanic invocation on the field if Coach (Joe) Kennedy continues to pray,” said Lilith Starr, head of The Satanic Temple of Seattle. “We won’t step on the field if he is stopped or doesn’t pray.”

Bremerton High School coach Joe Kennedy has defied orders from school district officials to stop his tradition of leading team prayers. The school says the prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public officials like Kennedy from promoting religion.

“School staff exercising their right to silently pray in private on their own is fine,” Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said in the statement. “But leading a prayer isn’t. School officials are role models; leading a prayer might put a student in an awkward position, even if the prayer is voluntary. For students who don’t share the official’s faith, prayers the official’s public expression of faith can seem exclusionary or even distressing.”

I've pointed out many times that I favor the "All" approach rather than "None." If a Christian wants to lead a prayer I think that's great - so long as every other religion is given the same opportunities and access. As a spectator, I would rather see a diverse display of religious expression rather than nothing at all. Unfortunately, though, the problem there has been that the Poor Oppressed Christians are basically hopeless - they want their special privileges, and to their way of thinking if everyone is special than no one is.

Hopefully someone will record the "Satanic invocation" that the temple will performing and post it. I'm curious to see what they come up with, since their presentations usually turn out to be pretty amusing.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Draft of King James Bible Discovered

Recently Jeffrey Alan Miller, a researcher looking into the biography of one of the scholars who translated the King James Bible, made an amazing discovery at the University of Cambridge archives. He came upon a text that had been mislabeled, and was able to verify that it was an early version of a portion of the King James Bible itself. Looking at the notes, he was able to gain some insight into how the project worked.

The material in the manuscript discovered by Miller covers the apocryphal books called Esdras and Wisdom and seems to show that the translation process at Cambridge worked completely different than what researchers had previously known. Until now, it had been assumed that six different teams, or companies of translators that is, had worked more collaboratively rather than individually. Yet — this draft throws that idea out the window.

Ward’s draft seems to indicate the people were assigned individual sections of the Bible and then worked on them almost entirely by themselves — a massive undertaking with little guesswork. You would think this would cause people to become more error prone. In fact, quite hilariously, Professor Miller noticed that the draft suggests that Ward was picking up the slack for another translator. This really shows how human the entire job was, according to him.

“Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it. It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

This is sure to piss off a lot of religious conservatives who claim that the Bible is the “actual word of God.” While this finding certainly doesn’t disprove God, it does show that the translators of the Bible didn’t get a finalized product the first go around — it wasn’t a walk in the park with an angel over their shoulder telling them what to write. It took many different individuals, working separately — and they often suffered from man-made struggles, like meeting deadlines.

Actually, more religious conservatives than you might think at first only believe that the original texts in the original languages represent the literal word of God. These are the folks who actually study the Bible and go over the original Hebrew and Greek texts. They may not be the people you see making noise in the media, but I went to a Lutheran college and met several of them who were quite reasonable about the whole thing.

However, there is one particularly bizarre group of fundamentalists who, for some reason, believe that the King James is the literal word of God and no other translations are. I've never gotten a satisfactory answer from any of them as to why this would be the case, and the discovery of this document only highlights that the process by which the King James was translated was just as error-prone as that of any other translation.

I will say that of the various translations out there, I like the King James, but mostly because I appreciate the Elizabethan English which is more poetic than the language used in most of the modern translations. I certainly don't consider it any more accurate, and besides, even if it were, a literalist approach to any religious text that pays more attention to exact phrasing than it does to the overall message is doomed to failure.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cameron's Occult Filter Slapped Down

Last year United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a system for filtering Internet content. In addition to the usual targets such as porn, the plan would filter "esoteric sites," which included pretty much anything related to alternative spirituality. Why this would be remotely reasonable escapes me, as the only people who are offended by esotericism are the kind of religious fundamentalists that should never be allowed to drive public policy.

Fortunately for those in the UK who value being able to look up esoteric material online, the European Union has voted to require Internet Service Providers to treat all Internet traffic "without discrimination," a principle which Cameron's filters appear to violate. So presumably people will once more be able to access occult websites in the UK without going through whatever rigmarole was required to bypass the filters.

This rather shows the bias inherent in the Independent's editorial style, for these filters applied not just to porn sites, but to websites that dealt with topics and lifestyles that somehow made David Cameron and his government uncomfortable -- such as those dealing with the Occult.

The fact is that the then Coalition Government attempted to cause sites that dealt with astrology, tarot, magick, the New Age, etc to be filtered out by internet service providers unless their customers had specifically opted in to search for them. This caused a lot of anger in the occult community, which has a great number of authors (e.g. myself) and providers of goods and services who were using their websites to promote their books and indeed their means of making a living.

Filtering the Internet is pretty much a hopeless task, as oppressive governments all over the world have been finding out. Within weeks of Cameron's system being announced there were already browser extensions being released to get around it, and it generated a lot of bad press for his administration all over the world.

While there are ways, official and otherwise, to get around the filters, the problem is that there are a lot of people who are not that technically savvy. There's nothing offensive, dangerous, or even that controversial about the vast majority of esoteric sites, so there's no reason to set up all sorts of hurdles that must be cleared in order to access them.

It makes me wonder who proposed the idea of filtering esotericism to Cameron's government in the first place, and what their agenda was.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Witch Versus Warlock

No, that's not the title of the latest Hollywood attempt to capitalize on the popularity of witchcraft, released just in time for Halloween. It's the latest courtroom drama to emerge from the Salem witchcraft scene.

The case pits witch Lori Sforza, who goes by the professional name Lori Bruno, against warlock Christian Day. At a hearing yesterday, Sforza won the first round and was granted a protective order against Day after accusing him of telephone and online harassment that she alleges has gone on for the last three years.

During testimony that at times became heated, Sforza accused Day of making incessant phone calls and humiliating her on Facebook. Day’s lawyer countered that the dispute stems from a onetime business partnership that fell apart. Day and Sforza both run occult shops in Salem.

I will point out that whether or not the dispute stems from a business partnership gone bad makes no difference in a harassment case. You simply don't harass or threaten people, no matter how upset you are or how good you think your reason might be. But I know from personal experience that this basic principle is quite hard for warlocks to comprehend.

During the hearing, Sforza reportedly told the judge that she can see into her own future, saying, ‘‘That’s why I'm here today.’’ Sforza, 75, uses the business name Lori Bruno and says she is a psychic witch who descends from a line of Italian witches. She also leads a pagan church in Salem.

Day, 45, who now lives in Louisiana, owns occult shops in Salem and New Orleans. Described on his website as the ‘‘world’s best-known warlock,’’ he organizes the Festival of the Dead in Salem, a series of occult-themed events every October that culminates in a Witches’ Halloween Ball.

The judge hearing the case said he was dismayed by the volume of late-night calls Day made to Sforza. After hearing the decision, Day, who didn’t testify, denied making the calls and then stormed out of the courthouse, according to The Globe. He told reporters he would appeal the order.

There's a reason I've been known to refer to the Salem witchcraft scene as "the clown shoes of magick" on this blog, and these folks and their associates are why. I have nothing against anyone who happens to live in Salem, Massachusetts - as a matter of fact, I have a number of OTO brothers and sisters who reside there of whom I think quite highly.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Belgian Scientologists On Trial

The Church of Scientology has gotten a lot of bad press over the last couple of years, and now members of its Belgian branch are on trial for fraud and extortion. While I personally find what I've heard of the higher Scientology levels to be kind of silly, that's not my problem with the organization. Lots of religions have teachings that sound silly to outsiders, and they still have a right to teach them.

Rather, my problem is that there are way too many reports of the organization operating as a classic destructive cult. It allegedly uses various forms of trickery to recruit members, charges them large sums of money, and most telling goes after anyone who tries to leave in the form of flat-out harassment and all sorts of outlandish legal threats. It seems to me that any legitimate organization should allow people to quit without threatening to ruin their lives.

“The church’s revenues were roughly 5,000 euros a week; 2,000 came from the sale of books and videos and 3,000 from courses and training,” the Belga news agency quoted the group’s treasurer as saying. The treasurer, who worked for the church until 2005, said she was not paid but was not required to pay the church fees, while her husband contributed about 10,000 euros ($11,000) for training.

The church stirs sharp divisions — critics say it is cult and a scam, while supporters say it offers much-needed spiritual support in a fast-changing world. The Belgian authorities launched a first investigation in 1997 after several former members complained about its practices. A second probe followed in 2008 when an employment agency charged that the church had made bogus job offers so as to draw in and recruit new members.

The authorities as a result charged 11 members of the Belgian branch, plus two affiliated bodies, with fraud, extortion, running a criminal organisation and violating the right to privacy. A conviction could lead to a ban.

While it's true that many churches require volunteer labor, the whole bogus job offer thing is the sort of trickery I'm talking about. It's not clear to me why any church would have to resort to such tactics in order to find members, though from the amounts of money quoted above it sounds like the Belgian group is pretty small. At around 10,000 euros per person per year, 3000 euros per week from training means 16 or so people, plus the treasurer who paid no fees, plus whoever runs the group.

Scientology is already banned in several European countries, and if the trial goes badly the church could also face a ban in Belgium. Still, given the size of the group it sounds like such a ban wouldn't affect many people.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Poor Oppressed Christians Versus Sex Ed

Recently the Omaha Public Schools announced a new, optional sex education curriculum that departed from the abstinence-only programs favored by Poor Oppressed Christians everywhere. Officials reasoned that since the class was optional, offering it would be no big deal. But they were very wrong. Hundreds of abstinence-only activists showed up and proceeded to disrupt the meeting, which had to be concluded early.

The abstinence-only proponents disrupted the meeting to such an extent that it had to be ended 45 minutes earlier than it was scheduled to be. OPS officials emphasized the fact that students had a choice to opt out of the proposed curriculum. Yet this fact seemed to have no effect on the level of outrage from conservative parents. One woman who was dubbed "puritymom" stood and screamed at OPS educators during the meeting.

"It’s my daughter! My daughter! Who’s going to keep her pure? Nobody! I am! Not OPS! Not OPS!"

So don't have your daughter take the class. How hard is that? Too hard, apparently, for these folks.

Her mindset reflects the general attitude among many in the pro-abstinence movement who believe that sex before marriage will somehow make young people less "pure" or less "good" than they would have been had they waited until marriage. One common lesson in abstinence classes is the "stick of gum" example that compares students (usually female students) who engage in sexual activity to a stick of gum that has been chewed. This type of unscientific tactic has had an especially detrimental effect on victims of rape and sexual abuse.

This highlights the fundamental problem with the Poor Oppressed Christian mindset with respect to religious freedom. If they want to raise their kids as if the dark ages never ended I suppose that's their right as parents, though I find the whole thing pretty silly. Generally these folks are also "abortion is murder" pro-lifers, and one of the few things that has been shown to lower abortion rates is comprehensive sex education.

No, the problem is that the entire point of the Poor Oppressed Christian worldview is to force others to conform to their beliefs whether or not those beliefs are shared. As a Thelemite, I'm strongly in favor of my daughters getting the best sex education possible, and my religious beliefs are diametrically opposed to abstinence-only bullshit. That's the entire point of an opt-out class - parents who don't approve don't have to let their kids attend, but those who want it can get it.

But for the Poor Oppressed Christians that's not enough. It seems as if they are only happy when they are undermining the religious freedoms of everyone around them, all the while insisting that they're the ones whose freedoms are under attack.