Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Inside a Cult

Filmmaker Will Allen recently released a documentary entitled Holy Hell about his experiences inside a cult. A lot of the time, the word "cult" gets thrown around in such a way that it could refer to any new religious movement, but as Allen tells it, in this case the moniker fits. Allen was a member of a group called Buddhafield (which, as far as I can tell, did not in fact practice Buddhism) for more than twenty years. In the documentary he alleges that the group's leader, a man named Michel Rostand, was a classic manipulative cult leader who abused his followers.

His insider document of two decades of life inside the cult, entitled Holy Hell, combines home movies and official footage from these years alongside new interviews with former members detailing the sadistic, predatory nature that lay behind their leader's ostensibly gentle, omnipotent façade. Buddhafield's service-oriented, off-the-grid approach to attaining peace and harmony — "It was our little utopia in the middle of this big giant city," says one former member in the film — disguised its leader's iniquities, ranging from total mind control and forced abortions to alleged widespread sexual abuse and rape. The carrot dangled to all adherents was "The Knowing," a ritual in which Rostand would "transfer his energy" to the participant so they would truly know God.

I should probably point out here that nobody can do spiritual practice for you. Priests can't do it, gurus can't do it, even Jesus can't do it. It is useful to find a teacher who can show you how to practice, but after that you're on your own. The ironic thing here is that if some of these students expended the time and effort that they spent fitting into the group on their own personal practice, they probably would be a lot further along the spiritual path at this point.

Incidentally, that's why my Enochian books are written the way that they are. Instead of filling them with a bunch of personal "received material" or deep symbolic analysis, what they teach you is precisely how to get in touch with the Enochian entities and work with them. I don't necessarily know what you'll get when you do the work, but realizations stemming from your own work will always be more significant for your spiritual development than the realizations of others.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fundamentalists Versus Pornography

Nope, nope, and nope

It should come as no surprise that fundamentalist Christians are opposed to pornography. Unlike LGBT issues, which Jesus did not mention at all, Matthew 5:28 is pretty clear: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Technically, "adultery" only applies to those who are married, so it might not be sinful for a single man to view pornography of a single woman, but that would be seriously splitting hairs.

Even though I personally find such repressive religious worldviews kind of silly, in the end there's nothing wrong with practicing your religious beliefs as you see fit. It only becomes a issue when you try to use your religious beliefs to restrict the lives of others who don't share those beliefs. But basically, the problem is that a lot of fundamentalists are seriously bummed out that non-fundamentalists can look at whatever they want.

The fundamentalist establishment decided that the only solution to this problem was to ban pornography for everyone, and in order to do that they needed to show that it was somehow objectively harmful. First they tried "think of the children!" initiatives like the Child Online Protection Act, but those failed. So more recently, they have been pushing the concept of "porn addiction" - which, as this article from Salon points out, probably doesn't exist.

“You see, your brain comes equipped with something called a ‘reward pathway.’ Its job is to motivate you to do things that keep you and your genes alive — things like eating or having sex to produce babies,” the anti-porn site Fight the New Drug argues. “The way it rewards you is by releasing dopamine into your brain, because dopamine makes you feel good.”

The notion that feeling good is suspect should be a reader’s first clue that this site is dealing more in conservative Christian propaganda than science, but I reached out to an expert, Dr. Nicole Prause, for a response to this argument. Prause, a scientist who started the research firm Liberos, has done research that turned up no real evidence for porn addiction.

“Sex films are rewarding,” Prause explained over email, “and there is greater activity in dopamine associated with learning rewards (not pleasure) when people view sex films. However, the same could be said for watching puppies play, and we do not call puppies addictive,” she added.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Regarding Magical Models - Part One

This article wound up being much longer than I expected, so I decided to break it into sections. This week I will be discussing how I classify the various magical models used by practitioners, and my original "solution" to some of the conflicts between them that I published here back in 2011. In subsequent sections I will move on to a more precise explanation of how my 2011 model evolved into the model I use today, why I think it works the way that it does, and how I go about interpreting some of the latest ideas in theoretical physics and cosmology to explain my observations and experiences.

At this point in time, nobody knows exactly how magick works. I and a number of other authors have devoted quite a bit of time to figuring it out, but we are fundamentally impeded by a lack of accurate measuring instruments. As I've mentioned before, what we really need is a "consciousness meter" that can objectively measure internal states of mind. Note that this is different than measuring the activity of the brain and central nervous system, which are not necessarily the same thing. However, I do believe that there's a close enough relationship between the two that we may be able to obtain some of that information indirectly.

Those studies are currently in their infancy, and mostly rely on brain imaging work with advanced meditators. The EEG work up until now has been largely solid, but unfortunately it came to light earlier this year that many of the results obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging may have been distorted by a software bug. The bug was corrected in May of 2015, but may have affected a decade or more of studies that now have to be redone. Some of those results were pretty interesting, like the presentiment study mentioned in that article, but at this point we have no idea if the data from those experiments is good.

So why should we bother? I have been asked this by other practitioners from time to time. Their argument is that as long as what they are doing works, they don't need to know how. But I consider that be a short-sighted attitude. It is valuable to have some idea of whether or not a magical operation will work to resolve a particular problem, and if so, how effective it will be. Without a model, thinking strategically is basically impossible. Given the state of the current data any model that we propose is likely to be wrong in some respects, but even a flawed model is in my opinion better than nothing.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Everybody's Got Demons But Me

So yes, it's another one of these.

Fundamentalist Evangelicals have to be some of the most paranoid people in the world. Recently, Colorado pastor and talk radio host Kevin Swanson explained that basically everyone, including Steven Spielberg, Lady Gaga, Charles Darwin, and Aristotle (!) were under the control of either demons or the devil himself.

I know that figures in the entertainment industry get this all the time, and that Darwin is basically an Evangelical punching bag, but Aristotle? I don't think he even believed in "the devil" because, you know, he lived in ancient Greece before Christianity even existed.

Swanson took a rather hard line on the issue, declaring at one point that Steven Spielberg and Lady Gaga, along with Charles Darwin, Aristotle, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, all are or have been “possessed by Satan” or “under the sway of the devil.” Swanson reminded his audience that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,” meaning that “we’re not fundamentally up against Steven Spielberg, Lady Gaga or Charles Darwin, we’re up against their ideas”—and those ideas are of the devil.

“Now, Charles Darwin, Lady Gaga and Steven Spielberg are under the control of the Evil One,” he explained. “1 John 5:19 says the whole world is under the sway of the Evil One, under the sway of the devil, the devil has absolute control over them. Now, again, these are the presuppositions that are not taken on by those who want to dally with the world’s ideas. They don’t see that Aristotle is under the sway of the Evil One, under the absolute control of this very powerful, malignant force called the devil, and they don’t see that Steven Spielberg and Lady Gaga and Charles Darwin are under the absolute sway, the control, the force and the power of the devil himself. So therefore they absorb any of the ideas that may come their way through these means.”

The modern fundamentalist movement only dates back to about the middle of the Nineteenth Century. If you ever were looking for proof, this is it. Aristotle influenced the philosophy and theology of the Christian church for more than a thousand years. Thomas Aquinas based much of his work on Aristotlean methods. I realize that many Evangelicals have it in for the Roman Catholics, but for the longest time Roman Catholicism was Western European Christianity.

Also, Creationists make the argument from first causes all the time in their tirades against evolution, first proposed by - you guessed it - Aristotle and adapted by Aquinas into the form that we generally hear it today. Seriously, does Swanson have any idea what he's talking about? Let's just say that signs point to "no."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Magick as a Fashion Statement

Stupid fashion trends come and go all the time. Sometimes they're not even trends, but rather one reporter's idea of things that are becoming more popular based on his or her limited personal experience. According to this article from Salon, a new trend that the article dubs "mysticore" is starting to emerge. Essentially, it apparently consists of something that I have expressed contempt for on multiple occasions - the appropriation of elements from real magick as fashion statements.

Stores specializing in metaphysical sundries (think ritual candles, blended oils, sacred herbs) like Spellbound Sky and House of Intuition in Los Angeles, while not brand-new, are suddenly crowded. In Brooklyn, Witches of Bushwick has evolved from a venue on the underground party circuit to a social collective that celebrates witchcraft as a feminist art and collaborates with fashion companies like Chromat. Of course, for those who prefer whipping up potions at home, several new witch- and occult-themed subscription boxes deliver the magical arts to the doorstep.

Not just witches are enjoying a cultural renaissance, though. All manner of magic is in the air, as the New Age movement’s lighter granola-and-Zen fare has given way to the practice of a more modern mysticism, where conversations about conjuring, personal shamans and powerful potions can be intense as they are ubiquitous. While social media and feminism have brought witchcraft to the fore, the new kaleidoscopic array of spell casting, ritual observing (from pagan holidays to full moons) and crystal charging draws from traditional mysticism, magic and paganism. Served buffet style to an eager audience of open-minded converts, it’s shining a white light on everything from fashion and health to politics.

This may be the most prevalent, hidden-in-plain sight trend that you couldn’t quite put a finger on since “normcore.” Last fall the folks at trend-forecasting firm K-Hole — which coined the term “normcore” — looked into the cultural crystal ball to release a paper dubbed “A Report on Doubt.” Normcore, that infinitely hashtag-able trend that tapped into a “post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness,” stood against style clichés and aggressive street-style peacocking — it promised freedom through assimilation. After an endless stream of articles about how wearing dad jeans was indeed the ultimate hipster power move, time had come for the cultural pendulum to swing. K-Hole’s new prediction was that logic and “sameness” were becoming relics and people were about to head into the mystic.

As a point, I'm not even sure that "normcore" was a real fashion trend. I mean, how is "not bothering" fashion? It's highly possible that the firm coining the term was simply tracking the decline of fashion's relevance to the culture as a whole. So they identified that more people had stopped caring. To me, that just sounds like people wising up to the fact that going to a lot of trouble to look a certain way is basically bullshit. If you look relatively ordinary, you usually will have a lot more opportunities for success in your life.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Do Aliens Live Here?

The short answer is that we have no idea. But the more intriguing answer is that they could - and we might even be able get there with the right kind of spacecraft. Astronomers have recently announced the discovery of a rocky planet in orbit around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. What's more, this planet lies in the star's habitable zone, with expected surface temperatures that would allow liquid water to be present.

So if aliens have visited Earth, is this their home world? Statistically it's a good guess, since unlike in science fiction television and movies, interstellar travel is incredibly difficult and consumes vast amounts of energy. From a purely statistical standpoint, we can assume that it's far more likely for visiting aliens to come from another system close by. Of course, whether or not they've visited at all is still debated.

Researchers have long looked to Alpha Centauri for study. Now, they want us to go there.

Programs like Mission Centaur intend to design and build a space mission with a small telescope to point at the star system. It would look for exoplanets by imaging or other techniques that could find more of them around these three stars.

Given how long it took us to confirm Proxima b and the fact that the researchers encountered a puzzling extra signal in some of their data and models, it's entirely possible that there are more planets to be found.

It is also the target of the Starshot project, which aims to create and send ultra-fast light-driven nanocraft that would reach the system 20 years after launch and beam home images. This is on the list of Breakthrough initiatives, an effort whose board includes Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ignorance is not a Virtue

A couple days ago, The Independent reported that an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect based in New York has banned women from attending universities. The justification for the ban is that university education is somehow dangerous for women, which really appears to be just as dumb as it sounds.

The strict Satmar sect issued the decree, seen by The Independent, warning that university education for women is “dangerous”. Written in Yiddish, the decree warns: “It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah.

“We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.

"We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.” The decree was issued from the sect’s base in New York and will apply to followers of the faith group around the world.

There's a line in Liber Librae, a text that first showed up in the original Golden Dawn order and was later adapted by Aleister Crowley and published in The Equinox. It goes like this:

The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and willfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Joshua Harris is the Devil

Yeah, I know, that headline is totally hyperbolic; I don't believe that anybody is literally the Devil and never have. But hear me out.

Joshua Harris is the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a bestselling book that popularized Christian "purity culture" in the 1990s. Harris' book rejected the concept of dating entirely in favor of the outdated concept of "courtship," and recommended that couples not even kiss (!) before marriage. The book was very popular with overprotective Christian parents, and many Evangelical children were raised with its warped approach to sexuality.

Slate recently published an article about Harris, and how he is in the process of rethinking the impact of his book. He solicits comments regarding the book on his website, and is grappling with statements from many individuals who feel that they were irrevocably harmed by growing up with the worldview it espouses.

Harris was 21 years old when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He was a virgin who had been home-schooled his whole life—an unusual profile for the author of a book proposing “a new attitude toward romance and relationships,” as the subtitle put it. He married at 23 and later served as the pastor of an evangelical megachurch in Maryland for more than a decade.

Over the years he wrote more books about dating and marriage, including Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Nineteen years after I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he is the father of three kids—two of them teenagers—and he is pursuing formal education for the first time in his life. And these days, he’s having very mixed feelings about the book that turned him into a Christian celebrity.

“Part of the reason this has been so hard for me is that I have so much of my identity tied up in these books. It’s what I’m known for,” Harris told me recently from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he moved his family last year to enroll in a graduate program at evangelical Regent College. “It’s like, well, crap, is the biggest thing I’ve done in my life this really huge mistake?”

So it took him this long to realize that a 21-year-old with little social or dating experience might have gotten something wrong about relationships? Seriously, that should be a no-brainer. Based on his acceptance of the purity culture interpretation of scripture, he doesn't even seem to have known his Bible particularly well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Breaking Rocks for Good Fortune

While there are not very many ceremonial magicians out there, folk magick is another thing entirely. Many people of all sorts of different religious traditions perform simple rituals during the course of their daily lives that certainly fit the description of magick. Last week, Huffington Post covered the Bolivian Catholic practice of breaking rocks in order to obtain good fortune and prosperity.

The rite is performed to call for the blessing of the Virgin of Urkupina. Legend has it that Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd girl to instruct her to take rocks from this dried river that miraculously turned into silver when she reached home.

On Tuesday, pilgrims struck rocks to try to improve their fortunes. When a rock is easily split, their wish will be soon fulfilled. If believers have more difficulty striking and splitting the rock, it will take more time.

“You can ask for a house, a car, all your wishes are fulfilled,” said believer Ricardo Tarqui. “I broke the rock with a second blow and in a third attempt. I have been able to buy a house and also a car.”

I realize that believers don't think about it this way, but from a technical perspective this practice is the same thing as a magical spell. It's not even slightly ambiguous, like prayer that is performed for purely devotional rather than practical reasons. Adherents engage in a specific activity associated with a particular spiritual entity in order to obtain specific advantages and possessions in the material world.

As for whether or not it works, I have no idea. Data is not the plural of anecdote. At the same time, all the elements are present for there to be a real paranormal effect going on, and my guess is that at least some practitioners do indeed benefit.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Angels of the Zodiac Presentation

This is a rough transcript of my presentation on the Angels of the Zodiac that I gave at Leaping Laughter Lodge in Minneapolis this last Saturday. A longer and more detailed treatment of this material can be found in the new limited edition anthology Liber Spirituum, currently available from Azoth Press.

Most of the attention of the Western magical tradition seems to be directed at the systems of the elements and planets. To some extent this has to do with how most schools and teachers structure the magical path. First, students learn to work with the elements during their “Outer Order” work, and then work with the planets to perform “Inner Order” operations. The signs of the Zodiac are attributed to the second sephira, Chockmah, and therefore from a sephirothic perspective represent a higher level system than the previous two.

However, in addition to this sephira, Liber 777 attributes the signs of the Zodiac to twelve of the twenty-two paths on the Tree of Life, and these attributions are used for practical Zodiacal magick. These operations are performed in a similar manner to the planetary work, and involve conjuring the appropriate angel by the appropriate divine name. In this form the signs represent forces of the natural world, and it is not necessary to have attained realization of Chockmah in order to work with them.

The terms “Angel” and “Demon” are thrown around a lot by organized Christianity, and they are generally defined in a simplistic manner. Angels are good, and Demons are evil. Obviously, though, this is little more than a value judgment than a technical distinction. In the real world, spirits may be classified as Celestial or Cthonic, according to their particular natures. Celestial spirits are attributed to sky and the stars, while Chthonic spirits are attributed to the earth and the underworld.

According to Christian dogma, Celestial spirits are good spirits called angels and work for God, and Chthonic spirits are evil spirits called Demons and work for Satan. The real spirit world is far less organized; you cannot determine how a spirit will be disposed towards you as a magician based solely on its sphere of influence. While it is true that in general, Cthonic spirits tend to be more hostile and Celestial spirits tend to be friendlier, the various spirits have individual personalities just like humans do. So there are plenty of hostile Celestials and friendly Cthonics.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Billions for Bigfoot?

In 2013, Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi founded a company called Bigfoot Project Investments (BGFT), dedicated to searching for the elusive cryptid. In order to raise money to fund various projects, he issued a stock offering this June for his company as a "pink sheets" firm. That is, he sold the stock over-the-counter on one of the country's least regulated markets. Then, about a week ago, the valuation of the company somehow soared to an astronomical ten billion dollars.

A $10 billion valuation puts Bigfoot on a par with Xerox, Discovery Communications and Gap — well-known companies with massive assets and popular products.

Bigfoot, by contrast, lists current assets of $221 in cash along with 73 original casts of Bigfoot footprints, a 109-inch skeleton and a rubber suit from a 2008 Bigfoot hoax. The filings helpfully explain that Bigfoot is known by 15 different names around the world, including Yeti in Tibet, Yowie in Australia and Hibagon in Japan.

In the "risk factors" section of the firm's SEC filings, the company discloses all the potential problems it could face, including problems relating to auditors, its burn rate, and potential future revenue issues. Nowhere does the company say that failing to find Bigfoot is a risk factor. In fact, Biscardi says the firm can make money even if Bigfoot is never actually located.

The firm lists Biscardi's salary at zero dollars: Bigfoot Project Investments is clearly a labor of love. The firm's market capitalization was so off target that even Biscardi — who owns more than 58 percent of the stock — was unaware of the listed market capitalization of the company when CNBC called him this week.

As it turns out, by Wednesday the ridiculously high stock price had disappeared. The SEC is still investigating, but it looks as if the valuation was based on some sort of computer error that affected the listed stock price. Once the error was corrected, it was gone. Biscardi, of course, was never actually able to claim his illusionary billions, but he plans to keep up the search regardless. He's not in it for the money, he's in it to prove the skeptics wrong.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

J. K. Rowling on Wands

Today the Guardian is reporting that J. K. Rowling has commented on an article from the Independent that claimed Richard Carter, the owner of a shop that sells wands for use in real magical rituals, said that he would refuse to sell wands to Harry Potter fans because his wands were not toys. Her response suggests that although she's made a fortune writing about magick, she doesn't have much respect for real magical spirituality.

As I mentioned in my post on the original article, I think it's a bit extreme to ban fans of certain books from your shop. But the thing is, that's apparently not what Carter said. He was misquoted, and was explaining that there's a difference between wands meant for magical practice and toys, and if a child wanted a toy, that's what he or she should buy.

On the other hand, it sounds like Rowling doesn't see the difference, because I guess she thinks magick - a discipline that I have dedicated the last thirty years of my life to practicing - is all made up.

The novelist tweeted a link to a story in the Independent about Richard Carter, owner of the shop Mystical Moments in Huddersfield. Carter, who supplies handmade wands, was quoted as saying that “Harry Potter is for children”, and that “if I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, no matter how much they were offering”.

“You wouldn’t believe how many real witches and wizards there are knocking about. You would be amazed,” he said. “They know they can come here and reveal themselves without people thinking they’re mental. I don’t have customers who have been Harry Potterfied.”

Rowling tweeted in response on Sunday: “Oh yeah? Well, I don’t think they’re real wands.” Her comment was liked by more than 15,000 people, but some criticised her on Twitter for making fun of pagan religions.

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling)
August 14, 2016

Oh yeah? Well, I don't think they're real wands.

The Sun reported he had banned Potter fans from his shop, but Carter told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner that his comments had been taken out of context.

“I said that if Harry Potter fans wanted a wand they should go on eBay because what they’re basically after is a toy. But I have not banned them from the shop,” he told the local paper. “I have nothing against Harry Potter and actually liked the films. The wands I make, though, whether you believe it or not, are real and spiritual. If a Harry Potter fan came to the shop, whether they would be able to buy a wand would depend on why they want one. If for a toy, then no, but if they had watched Harry Potter and been inspired to start their own spiritual journey, then yes.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

Thoughts on Meditation

Meditation is a practice that every ceremonial magician should know how to do. There are a number of misconceptions about meditation that I run into all the time, so I want to go over some of those and explain why they don't make sense. Then I want to share some insights from my own practice over the years.

It doesn't really matter that much what form of meditation you use. So if you've studied Zen or Vajrayana or some other system and those methods work for you, there's no reason to stop doing them because you're also doing ceremonial magick.

Studies have found that while meditation has many cognitive benefits, the differences between the various systems are negligible and probably have more to do with individual differences. The point is that you do the practice, and that you do it regularly.

For those who have never studied meditation, the method I recommend learning is modern mindfulness meditation, a simplified non-sectarian system that is based on techniques akin to those of Zazen or Shamatha.

Here's how you do it:
  1. Find a comfortable sitting position with your spine straight.
  2. Soften your gaze and look downward at about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Focus on your breathing, paying attention to how it feels as you inhale and exhale.
  4. When you catch your mind wandering, bring your attention back to the breath.
  5. Maintain this practice for about 20 minutes.
That's it. Simple, right?

But more people have trouble with it than you might think. Some of that is due to false expectations, and some of it is due to poor instruction. Here's some of what I've learned from my own practice.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Zodiacal Angels Presentation at Leaping Laughter Lodge

Cross-posted from my author website

Next Saturday, August 20th, I will be giving a presentation on zodiacal angels at Leaping Laughter Lodge in Minneapolis. The presentation will be a distillation of the material found in my Evoking Zodiacal Angels article, published in the new Liber Spirituum anthology from Azoth Press.

Much has been published on the angels and other entities related to the planets and elements, but far less is available for working with the angels of the zodiac. However, the zodiacal forces represent 12 of the 24 sets of key scale values found in Liber 777 and correspond to many useful practical powers.

This presentation will discuss how to conjure these angels, according to the methods that I have used over the years that have yielded good results. If you are local or will be in the Twin Cities next weekend, I invite you to stop by the lodge and check it out.

Leaping Laughter Lodge is located at 3107 NE California St, Minneapolis, MN 55418. The presentation will begin at 7 PM. For those who are not local, I will do my best to post the text of the presentation here on Augoeides the following Monday.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Slender Man Case Moves Forward

Back in 2014, two twelve-year-old girls attempted to murder one of their classmates. The reason they gave for the attack was that they needed to do it in order to appease Slender Man, a popular fictional villain found in online horror stories. Slender Man is entirely made up; he's not even based on some pre-existing urban legend.

Both of the girls were found to suffer from mental illness, and the classmate survived and recovered from the attack. Nevertheless, the state of Wisconsin plans to charge the two girls as adults. Which, frankly, is pretty ridiculous, as this article from Rolling Stone explains.

In this case, the record suggests that, due to mental illness, the girls had significantly less control of their actions than the average preteen. Morgan Geyser, who wielded the knife, has since been diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent, but an undiagnosed Geyser believed she would get to go live at Slender Man's mansion if she killed her friend, and that he'd harm her family if she didn't go through with it.

Experts diagnosed her fellow plotter, Anissa Weier, with a delusional disorder and schizotypy, essentially "a diminished ability to determine what is real and what is not real." After the two stabbed their friend, they set off to find Slender Man in a forest 300 miles away – on foot. Mental health professionals testified that Geyser still believes Slender Man is real. But irrespective of these girls' mental illnesses, criminally prosecuting 12-year-olds as adults is unjustifiable.

The basic justifications for incarcerating criminals – rehabilitation, incapacitation, deterrence, and retribution – apply differently to juveniles. Most juvenile offenders don't need to be incapacitated because they grow out of their offending behaviors rather than becoming ongoing threats to public safety. Deterring someone who isn't in control of his or her actions or doesn’t recognize their consequences isn't really possible. And most importantly, you can't justify retribution against someone you've determined isn't culpable by virtue of their immaturity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

No Wands for You!

A British witchcraft shop that sells magical wands has announced that it will not sell wands to Harry Potter fans, because they are for real magical practitioners and not fantasy enthusiasts. The owner of the shop, Richard Carter, creates each wand by hand and makes little money on them because he wants them to be available to spiritual seekers.

But Richard says he only wants to attract true believers in magic and can detect Hogwarts fans wanting his wands for their collections of memorabilia by their aura. He said: "JK Rowling has obviously done her research but Harry Potter is for children. It has done nothing for business.

"You wouldn't believe how many real witches and wizards there are knocking about. You would be amazed. They know they can come here in reveal themselves without people thinking they're mental.

"I don't have customers who have been Harry Potterfied. If I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, not matter how much money they were offering.

"I can tell what people are like when they walk in by their aura." He would also spot dark wizards and witches the same way and will not sell wands to those wanting to hex other people or perform curses.

Former textile worker Mr Carter, opened the shop in April with partner and fellow spiritualist Jackie Restall, 43. He claims he does not make a penny out the wants, costing £15 to £25, which he uses to spread the spiritual message.

While I sympathize with Carter to the extent that people who conflate Harry Potter with real magick are pretty annoying, it seems to me that there are a number of other ways he could go about this which would work out better in the long run and spare him a lot of bad press.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Lesser Versus Greater Pentagrams

One of the bits of magical lore I've heard bandied about from time to time is the allegation that performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram will make you poor. For years, the only people I heard it from were people I didn't particularly respect as magicians, and since it's so diametrically opposed to my own experience, I figured that they must be wrong. Then I heard it this last year from somebody I do respect, so I decided to dig into the symbolism a little more.

In the operant model of magick, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is a microcosmic banishing. That is, it acts on the psyche of the individual, not on the outside world. It can sort of banish spirits by cutting the connection between the spirit and your personal aura, and since magick is a non-local phenomenon, this can feel like sending said spirit away. If the spirit wants, though, it can try to connect again. It isn't precisely "banished."

Since the LRP is microcosmic, it won't send anything in the external world away. You're not going to attract more expenses or lose job opportunities just because you're doing the LBRP. However, one of the things I did realize when I thought about it further is that the ritual does tend to cultivate a state of mind that "transcends" mundane reality. Perhaps this could contribute to the practitioner not taking advantage of opportunities that he or she otherwise might, for example.

The core of the argument for the LBRP making people poor stems from the direction in which the pentagram is traced - it corresponds to the direction for banishing the Earth element. Since Earth is related to things like material success and wealth, the contention is that you shouldn't be banishing Earth all the time. But I'm not convinced that the "Lesser Pentagram" is the same as the "Earth Pentagram," even though they are traced in the same direction.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Roman Catholics Consider Women as Deacons

Pope Francis has a great public relations department. He is routinely hailed as a "progressive pope" moving the Roman Catholic Church into the modern world. But the thing is, aside from making a number of progressive-sounding statements, he so far has done nothing to actually reform the policies of the church.

While Francis' public statements are a big improvement over those of his recent predecessors, in the end talk is cheap. I've been waiting for years now to see if he makes any actual changes to church doctrine, rather than internal political moves and savvy image management. And according to this article, a change might finally be on the way.

Pope Francis has set up a commission to study the role of women deacons in early Christianity, the Vatican said on Tuesday, a move that might lead to changes in the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church.

Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers, and as in the priesthood, must be men. They may not celebrate Mass, but they may preach, teach in the name of the Church, baptize and conduct wake and funeral services.

Scholars debate the precise role of women deacons in the early Church. Some say they were ordained to minister only to other women, such as at immersion rites at baptism. Others believe they were on a par with male deacons. The Church did away with female deacons in later centuries.

A Vatican statement said the pope decided to set up the commission, made of six men and six women members under a president who is a bishop, “after intense prayer and mature reflection.”

Allowing women to serve as deacons in the church would be a genuinely positive change. Allowing women to serve as priests would be better, of course, since spirituality is not limited by gender, but this would be a good first step towards gender equality. But we will need to wait and see what comes of it, if anything.

If the commission concludes that no changes to existing doctrine is necessary, we can safely conclude that this is likely another round of progressive window dressing. On the other hand, if the policy really does change, it would be a legitimately progressive step for both Francis and the church as a whole.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Jedis in Australia

Believe it or not, this appears to be an actual thing. Since 2001, people have written in "Jedi" as their religion in Australia's national census. In 2011, it claimed approximately 64,000 adherents, just behind Sikhs and just ahead of Seventh Day Adventists.

The Jedi religion originally appeared in George Lucas' Star Wars films, but it also is true that Lucas came up with it by combining bits and pieces of other world religions. In the films, Jedis believe in a mystical energy called "the force" that binds all life in the universe together, and they are shown engaging in real spiritual practices such as meditation.

"Jedi" is also sometimes claimed as a joke religion like Pastafarianism, with atheists selecting it just to be funny. But Kylie Sturgess, president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, is trying to get atheists to stop doing that and mark "No Religion" instead for the 2016 census.

Jediism is inspired by The Star Wars series and patches together aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and other faiths. While some see it as a serious religious affiliation, others see the rise of Jediism in Australia as a reflection of the fact that the country is becoming an increasingly secular.

Australia’s religious landscape has changed significantly over the past century. In the 1911 census, just .4 percent of Australians chose “no religion” when asked about their religious identity. In 2011, 22 percent of Australians answered “no religion” in response to the census. With a few more percentage points, this group could potentially knock Catholicism, which at 25 percent is currently Australia’s largest religious denomination, out of the top spot.

An accurate portrait of Australia’s religious groups matters because, according to AFA, exaggerations in the data may “lead to groups wielding disproportionate influence within government.”

“Answering the religion question thoughtfully and honestly matters because it benefits all Australians when decisions on how to spend taxpayer dollars are made on sound data that accurately reflects modern-day Australia,” Sturgess said.

As I see it, if you're really a Jedi you should go ahead and answer Jedi. On the other hand, if you're not religious and just checking the box as a joke, "No Religion" would be a more accurate answer.

The Star Wars films were inspired in part by the works of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, and the Jedi religion as presented does resemble a simplified distillation of Daoism and Buddhism. I don't see why it's any sillier than the "lite-Buddhism" followed by a large percentage of New Agers just because it originally came from a film.

In the United States, because of the separation of church and state it would make no difference whatsoever. I don't know enough about Australian politics to comment on how the census relates to tax dollars being spent, but for those who consider the Jedi religion a legitimate spiritual path, I don't see why they should have to hide it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Author Website Updates

I've mentioned a number of times here that the thing I hate most about trying to make it as an author is all of the marketing and promotion that you have to do in order to get anywhere. I'm a lousy salesman and always have been, since the whole idea of trying to convince someone to buy something they don't already know they want really goes against the grain for me. I feel like the work I do should stand on its own, and I shouldn't have to manipulate people into wanting it.

Unfortunately, that's the way things are in the publishing world these days. There is a line between twisting somebody's arm and simply informing them about a product, but I never have been very good at seeing exactly where it lies. So usually I err on the side of caution, which probably means that most of the time I could do more or say more without causing offense. I just don't have a good feel for peoples' reactions, and can rarely tell when laying on a sales pitch is the right thing to do.

Still, I have to promote my work somehow, which is one of the reasons I keep Augoeides going. Fortunately, the other reason is that it's fun, since I do really love snarking all over weird news stories and sharing magical lore. I also have an author website dedicated to my published works, but as you can imagine it's not nearly as popular as this one. I haven't been updating it nearly as much either, and mostly I just use it for announcing publications and events.

I've decided that has to change if I'm ever going to increase my traction in the book market and introduce my work to more people. To that effect, I have made a number of changes to the site and registered the domain, which now links to it. My author site is built using Wordpress, as its support for pages is slightly more flexible than Blogger, and I've tried to make it look as much like a regular commercial author site as I can without sacrificing too much of the previous look and feel.

So the weird news will be back here tomorrow, but today I invite you to check out my new and updated author website. I also added a link to it on the upper left, in addition to the feed further down on the right, to make it more prominent for casual Augoeides visitors. I'm hoping to get back to posting more material there in the near future that will be of interest to fans of my writing.

As always, thanks in advance for your support!