Thursday, May 31, 2018

Skulls, Bones, Masons, and Meth

Occult crime is one of those things that in real life is pretty underwhelming. Once the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare was debunked in the early 1990's by the FBI, law enforcement officials were forced to admit that very few crimes involved occultism of any sort. But this story from New Zealand at least touches on a few elements that might very well have freaked out American investigators thirty years ago. Today it's mostly just funny.

A Nelson man who stole a human skull and bones from a Masonic lodge said he would return the stolen goods in exchange for meth. Cayden John Minto, 27, pleaded guilty to a charge of burglary and another of blackmail when he appeared in the Nelson District Court on Thursday.

A police summary facts said overnight on December 1, Minto broke into the Southern Star Lodge on Collingwood St. He forced a fire door open, found a key on top of a locked cupboard and used it to access a ceremonial area of the building known as the temple. Once inside, he took a human skull, assorted human bones, cutlery and books, as well as ceremonial knives, robes and marbles. he value of the items was estimated to be between $1000 and $1500.

Almost two weeks later, Minto made contact with a member of a fellow Freemasons Lodge in Nelson via Facebook. He sent messages over several days, claiming he was acting on behalf of someone who had the stolen goods, but was willing to negotiate their safe return. "Tell them be as fast as possible as the person with it will destroy it and dispose of it if he doesn't get 7 gram," one message read.

The demand was passed on to a member of the Southern Star Lodge. It was believed the person was requesting $7000 for the safe return of the items. Police later located the stolen items at Minto's former partner's house in Stoke and they were returned to the lodge. He said that "7 gram" was a reference to seven grams of methamphetamine.

I have to admit, these leaves me wondering if Minto might be a graduate of the "Become a Living God" program run by the online occult scene's resident meth-head slash carpet installer. But that probably isn't even a connection to this crime. My guess is that the security at the Masonic lodge wasn't that good - Masonic buildings tend to be old, after all - and Minto just broke in, stole what he could, and then got in touch with somebody at the lodge from whom he could (incompetently) demand drugs.

Let me tell you, if the Masons really did run the world this sort of thing would never fly. Minto would have been subjected to a dark and secret ritual that would have dragged his soul down to the depths of hell - you know, instead of just being reported to the police like any old thief and arrested.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Regarding Devotional Work

A commenter mentioned devotional work such as Liber Resh on my post about daily practice. I don't include Liber Resh or anything similar in that article because I'm not assuming everyone reading this is a Thelemite, and in my experience Resh is mostly a specifically Thelemic practice. However, devotional work like Liber Resh can be an effective part of every magician's daily work. This is a short article that I wrote up awhile back summarizing Aleister Crowley's Liber Astarte, which is his guide to uniting with a deity through devotion rather than the traditional methods of ceremonial magick.

Devotional practices are part of just about every spiritual system in existence. In the Eastern systems, devotional practices can have a similar function to meditation, but they accomplish the alteration of consciousness by cultivating the emotions rather than pure awareness on its own. Both of these methods are important in developing the capacity for transpersonal or macrocosmic realization, by which the most effective and powerful magick can be wielded.

Devotional methods comprise most of the spiritual practices of modern Christianity - or at least they should. In terms of daily life, Christianity teaches love and compassion toward others as an essential devotional method for realizing your interconnection with everyone else, and by extension the entire universe. Sects populated by Poor Oppressed Christians who teach hatred and intolerance provide no spiritual benefits to their membership, since exclusionary belief systems impede transpersonal realization and in effect prevent salvation.

Prayer is primarily devotional in nature, though people with enough magical aptitude can use it as an operant technique. If the devotional portion of the prayer succeeds in uniting consciousness with the transpersonal and the specific prayer is focused upon with enough intensity and single-mindedness, an effect will be produced in the material world that is analogous to a practical spell. This practice is in fact a simple form of magick, although magick is considered anathema in many of the Christian sects that use prayer this way.

Little has been written concerning devotional practices for ritual magicians. One excellent and comprehensive exception to this is Aleister Crowley's Liber Astarte vel Berylli, which outlines the basics of devotional mysticism and outlines a method for attaining union with a specific deity or constellation of energy through devotion. This article is a brief summary of the practice outlined there, but you can click the link to read the whole thing if you would like.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Wizards Don't Rule the World

As a matter of fact, members of large mainstream religions like Christianity do. But Poor Oppressed Christians apparently have a deep-seated need to be oppressed by things that don't actually oppress them in any way - like occultists. There are so few occultists in the world that even getting a few thousand of us together is a difficult chore that only a couple of national conventions can pull off - and there are individual megachurches bigger than that. Recently author Paul McGuire appeared on The Jim Bakker Show and told the evangelist and potato soup peddler about all the wizards and "supernatural multidimensional" beings oppressing him and other good Christians.

“The physical battles that we see in our world and nation right now are a direct manifestation of the spiritual battles going on in the invisible realm,” McGuire said in an audio clip flagged by Right Wing Watch.

“There are people very high up in what is called the globalist occult or globalist Luciferian rulership system, and this rulership system consists of what used to be called the Pharaoh-God Kings, it’s what Aldous Huxley called ‘The Scientific Dictatorship,’ and these are advanced beings who know how to tap into supernatural multidimensional power and integrate it with science, technology, and economics,” he continued.

McGuire even had the hierarchical structure of these advanced beings pegged, saying they are at the “highest level of the pyramidic organizational structure in which the highest ranking officers, if you will, of the New World Order and Mystery Babylon are ruling the earth through an organizational structure that looks like the pyramid on the back of the U.S. dollar."

"And they control the world because they understand that the true control of the world is done through supernatural mechanisms.”

Now there are such a things as magical powers, and some of us are even pretty good at using them. But they aren't anywhere near as instantaneously powerful as what you see in fantasy novels, and hardly any of the richest people in the world are practitioners. "Globalism" is basically about free trade - that is, money. When you know a lot of really rich people, or went to high school with their kids like I did, what you learn is that the key to being rich is to think about money all the time. That doesn't leave a lot of time for magical practice.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

It's Tough Out There for an Avatar

Behold Lord Vishnu!

In Thelema we say "Deus Est Homo" meaning "God is Man." Or, if you will, "Every man and every woman is a star." We strive to see divinity in everyone - but one thing we don't generally do is use our own as an excuse to get out of work. Indian engineer Rameschandra Fefar has come up with a novel way of justifying time off from his job. He claims that since he is the tenth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, he has more plenty of way more important things to do than show up at the office.

Rameschandra Fefar made the claim after being served with an official notice asking why he had only attended his office in Gujarat for 16 days over eight months. “I am Lord Vishnu’s 10th incarnation as Kalki,” he responded in writing. “I am doing penance at home by entering into the fifth dimension to change the global conscience. This work I cannot do in the office. Thus I don’t remain physically present in the office.”

The engineer repeated his claim that he is an avatar of the Hindu god, usually depicted as having four arms and blue skin, when questioned on Indian TV on Saturday. “Even if you don’t believe, I am indeed the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and I will prove it in coming days,” he told reporters. “I realised that I am Kalki avatar when I was in my office in March 2010. Since then, I am having divine powers. Just like everybody laughed at me at the time of Mahabharata, you guys are doing the same because you’re unable to see God in me”.

He also claimed he was saving the country from drought, adding: “Just because I am Kalki avatar, India got good rains.” Fefar was appointed superintending engineer with the Sardar Sarovar dam project on the Narmadar river near Navagam in Gujarat in September 2017. This month his employers at the Sardar Sarovar Punah-Vasvat Agency sent him an official notice warning him he faced disciplinary action. “You have remained highly erratic ever since you joined duty on September 22, 2017,” the notice read.

I'm not sure if "the fifth dimension" is a term that exists in Hinduism. Does anybody here know? At any rate, as a Thelemite I'm not about to deny the divinity of anyone. At the same time, Fefar's contention that he and he alone is an incarnated god is probably not accurate either. You never know, maybe he just did the "Become a Living God" online course and things went very, very badly. Or, I suppose, very well if he really has the powers that he claims. But honestly, I doubt it.

If I were Fefar's boss, I would use much stronger language than "highly erratic." I would probably tell him that being a god is great and all, but he agreed to do his job full-time when he was hired instead of working a mere sixteen days over eight months because he had more important god stuff to take care of. Seeing as his magical powers should be capable of providing for his material needs, it seems pretty obvious that he neither needs nor wants the job. Or maybe he's just an older, more Hindu Ferris Bueller.

You know, "How could the great and powerful Lord Vishnu possibly be expected to handle work on a day like today?" Over and over again.

Friday, May 25, 2018

June 24th Now, For Sure!

On June 24th our cities will look absolutely nothing like this.

They keep setting them up, and I keep knocking them down. Guess what! There's a new date for the apocalypse - June 24th of this year. About a month ago David Meade's latest Nibiru rapture prediction flamed out, and this new one comes from a totally different Christian conspiracy theorist, Mathieu Jean-Marc Joseph Rodrigue.

The end of the world will come on June 24 of this year, according to Christians who believe that we have entered the end times. By analysing passages in the Bible, many believe they have been able to pinpoint the world will end – and that is June 24, 2018.

Christian conspiracy theorist Mathieu Jean-Marc Joseph Rodrigue examines a passage in the Book of Revelations which reads: "And a mouth was given to [the Beast], speaking great things and blasphemy, and it was given authority to act forty and two months.” Mr Rodrigue then says: “I heard a voice in the middle of the four living beings. This is wisdom. He who has intelligence can interpret the figure of the beast.

“It represents the name of a man. His figure is 666.” Mr Rodrigue then performs a series of complex calculations and when combining 666 with the number 42, concluding with the date June 24. However, the conspiracy theorist was unable to detail how he reached this figure or how exactly the world will end.

I think by "many" the original article means the handful of idiots who are still trying to make William Miller's calculations work after almost two hundred years of failed predictions. Give it up, folks! Seriously! At this point every single one of these predictions sounds dumber than the last one, and every failure just makes evangelical Christianity look like more of a joke.

I mean, I don't necessarily mind nutty theocrats discrediting themselves, since they spend so much time trying to pass laws that would deny me and my friends freedom of religion. But let's be honest. Isn't this getting even a little embarrassing?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

More Legal Trouble for Alex Jones

Alex Jones' legal situation just got a whole lot worse. After one of the families who lost children in the Sandy Hook mass shooting filed suit against the performance artist or truth teller or delusional conspiracy nut or whatever Jones is calling himself these days, six more families have filed suit for the exact same reason - Jones' support of the "Sandy Hook Truthers" who argued on his show that the shooting never happened and no children died there because they had never existed in the first place.

The families of six victims of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School along with an FBI agent who was among the first to respond to the shooting sued InfoWars’ founder Alex Jones and several of his businesses on Wednesday, alleging the radio personality had defamed them by repeatedly claiming that the shooting was a hoax.

The new lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, comes on the heels of two defamation suits filed in Texas last month by two other Sandy Hook families. Jones, who could not be reached for comment, responded to the Texas lawsuits on his show last month, acknowledging that he believes the massacre “really happened,” but that the families were being used by the Democratic Party.

The complaints from all eight families allege that Jones used his internet and radio platforms to push the conspiracy theory that the shooting, in which a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, was a staged event. The lawsuits claim that Jones’ false narratives have brought him attention and money, while the families have suffered deep personal pain as well as abuse from fans of Jones.

While it's true that this and other shootings have been politicized by gun control advocates and minimized by the NRA in an all-too-familiar back and forth that gets played out over and over again, that isn't what was said on Jones' show. He gave air time to a group contending that none of the kids at Sandy Hook died, and may never have even existed. As a parent, I find this one of the most heinous and deplorable things Jones has ever done, and he deserves everything that's coming to him.

I can't even imagine how horrible it be to grieve the death of a child in the midst of hundreds of death threats from crazies telling me my kid never even existed - and Jones is media-savvy enough regarding his audience that he had to know this was precisely what would happen if he aired the story. If he never really believed that the shooting was imaginary - as he now claims - then this was simply a cynical attempt to get attention by cultivating awfulness. Now that same awfulness is coming back at him, and it's time for him to pay the check.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Loch Ness Monster DNA

Totally not a sturgeon or a catfish. Also, totally fake.

I haven't done many cryptozoology posts for awhile, but this story from Reuters caught my eye. Scientists are planning a DNA hunt for the Loch Ness monster, which may finally settle the sturgeon versus catfish debate between longtime monster hunter Steve Feltham and myself. I say sturgeon, he says catfish. Whatever turns up, I'm hoping that it turns out to be more enlightening than the "bigfoot DNA" that turned out to be possum from back in 2013.

Whenever a creature moves through its environment, it leaves behind tiny fragments of DNA from skin, scales, feathers, fur, faeces and urine. “This DNA can be captured, sequenced and then used to identify that creature by comparing the sequence obtained to large databases of known genetic sequences from hundreds of thousands of different organisms,” said team spokesman Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago in New Zealand.

The first written record of a monster relates to the Irish monk St Columba, who is said to have banished a “water beast” to the depths of the River Ness in the 6th century. The most famous picture of Nessie, known as the “surgeon’s photo”, was taken in 1934 and showed a head on a long neck emerging from the water. It was revealed 60 years later to have been a hoax that used a sea monster model attached to a toy submarine.

Countless unsuccessful attempts to track down the monster have been made in the years since, notably in 2003 when the BBC funded an extensive scientific search that used 600 sonar beams and satellite tracking to sweep the full length of the loch.

Supporting Feltham's side, we know for a fact that Loch Ness is home to a population of Wels catfish because the Loch was seeded with the fish back in Victorian times. It is speculated that the Wels catfish can grow to thirteen feet or so, though the verified record is more like nine feet. Still, that's a big catfish.

But many of the pictures I've seen of the monster look more like a sturgeon to me. European sturgeons can grow longer than the Wels catfish, up to twenty feet. They also look a lot weirder and less like a fish that's easily identifiable, and they go back and forth between rivers and the ocean to spawn, like salmon. But we don't know whether or not sturgeons live or spawn in the loch.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Regarding Confidence

So not Monday. Again. "Magick Tuesday" seems to be turning into a thing as of late. I have another project that I've been spending time on here at Augoeides that I think you all will like, but I'm not announcing it just yet. That may mean my Monday post will be delayed for a few more weeks, but such is life. There are only so many hours in the day, right?

One of the original assumptions put forth by chaos magicians is that belief powers magick. There are a lot of reasons to think that this isn't true, and it probably arose from the Christian idea of "faith" accomplishing all things. But what is true is that doubt will wreck your magick pretty quickly. You might read that and wonder what the difference is, since belief and doubt are basically opposites. The difference is this - once you believe in what you're doing, you can't "believe more." That is, once you have banished all doubt, you're as coherent as you're going to get. This means that a better way to think about the "belief" idea is to treat doubt as a kind of resistance that you overcome with successful practice.

An important related point is that psychoanalytic models of magick - like the "psychic censor" model found in early chaos magick - are nonsense not just because they are psychological and magick is bigger than psychology, but because psychoanalysis itself is a very, very inaccurate model of cognition. That's why in controlled experiments it performs no better than "sham therapy." There is no "unconscious mind." The brain does some unconscious processing, mostly in the form of running autonomic systems and conditioning loops, but that's all there is. No "repression mechanism," no "psychic sensor," no "unconscious self" that has its own agenda.

A more accurate model of cognition treats it as the interaction of three distinct systems - thinking, feeling, and conditioning. The thinking system is also called the declarative mind. If I ask "what are you thinking about?" your answer will be based on what is going on in your thinking system. The feeling system produces emotions. If I ask "how are you feeling?" your answer will be based on what is going on in your feeling system. Those two systems basically represent "the mind" as we usually understand it.

The mind is actually quite flat. It's not the tip of some giant iceberg of "repressed material" and it's the only mind you have. For example, Freud's whole model of trauma is fundamentally wrong. If you look at actual patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, you find that the problem isn't that the trauma is "repressed" - i.e. the patient is unaware of the trauma and can't consciously think about it. The problem is usually that they can't stop thinking about it, which is why it causes distress in the first place.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Secular Ritual Design?

Add a third box for "Consciousness/Probability Shift" and they'd be on to something

I recently came across this article from The Atlantic discussing the idea of "secular rituals design." On the one hand, it seems to me that some of the ideas being bandied about by this group might be useful for designing better and more efficient magical rituals, but on the other, from the contents of the article it sounds like these folks are entirely missing the point.

At the Ritual Design Lab in Silicon Valley, a small team of “interaction designers” is working to generate new rituals for modern life, with an eye to user experience. Created by Kursat Ozenc and Margaret Hagan, the lab crafts rituals for both individuals and organizations, including big hitters like Microsoft. The team’s website offers a Ritual Design Hotline with a tantalizing promise: “You tell us your problem. We will make you a ritual.” Meanwhile, its Ritual Inventory invites you to add any interesting ritual you’ve made or seen to its growing database. And its app, IdeaPop, helps you brainstorm and create your own rituals.

This is an interesting concept, but at the same time what's missing is a way of evaluating how these rituals work. That is, the point of a ritual is to transform some aspect of yourself or your environment that you are unable to transform by any other means. A good ritual has macrocosmic resonance, and should shift probability in your favor in such a way that it at least has the potential to fix the problem. The "user experience" idea, while useful in terms of ease and efficiency, is meaningless without an eye towards the change that the ritual is intended to produce.

Ritual Design Lab has its roots in Stanford’s Institute of Design, where Ozenc and Hagan both teach. In 2015, they proposed a new course on ritual design. To their surprise, more than 100 students signed up. Most were secular. “The interest was huge—so we thought, we should harness this interest,” Ozenc told me. “The new generation, they want bite-size spirituality instead of a whole menu of courses. Design thinking can offer this, because the whole premise of design is human-centeredness. It can help people shape their spirituality based on their needs. Institutionalized religions somehow forget this—that at the center of any religion should be the person.”

This is the kind of approach that could be useful from the standpoint of designing better spells and so forth. Also, the critique of institutionalized religion is accurate and well-placed. However, the whole point of (effective) religion is to (A) produce the experience of Gnosis or metanoia or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it and (B) employ spiritual forces to shape your external circumstances. I don't see any evidence of either in what the design lab is putting together. Which is a shame.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Via Solis Taurus Elixir Rite - Year Two

Today's Magick Monday post is a full script for the Taurus Elixir Rite that we will be performing tomorrow, Tuesday May 15th, at Leaping Laughter Oasis, our local Twin Cities body of Ordo Templi Orientis. We will continue the momentum of last year by performing one of these per month for each of the twelve signs. I will be posting the full scripts here on the preceding Mondays so people can take a look at them if they want to attend. Also, if you are in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota) and would like to attend, let me or someone at the lodge know. This is a public ritual and all are welcome.

0. The Temple

The ritual space is set up with an altar table in the center. The bell chime, banishing dagger, and invoking wand are placed on the altar. In the center of the altar is placed a cup of wine for creating the elixir, within the Table of Art corresponding to Taurus. The power attributed to Taurus is "the secret of physical strength," so if you have a specific intent, something related to health, healing, vitality, and so forth would be appropriate. This ritual may be performed with one, two, or three officers, who may alternate taking the Officiant role and divide up the reading from Liber 963. The Via Solis Elixir Rites were written by Michele Montserrat in 2010 for the Comselh Ananael magical working group.

I. Opening

All stand surrounding the altar. Officiant inhales fully, placing the banishing dagger at his or her lips. The air is then expelled as the dagger is swept backwards.

Officiant: Bahlasti! Ompehda!

Officiant then performs the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. All rotate accordingly.

Officiant: We take refuge in Nuit, the blue-lidded daughter of sunset, the naked brilliance of the voluptuous night sky, as we issue the call to the awakened nature of all beings, for every man and every woman is a star.


Officiant: We take refuge in Hadit, the secret flame that burns in every heart of man and in the core of every star, as we issue the call to our own awakened natures, arousing the coiled serpent about to spring.


Officiant: We take refuge in Heru-Ra-Ha, who wields the wand of double power, the wand of the force of Coph Nia, but whose left hand is empty for he has crushed an universe and naught remains, as we unite our awakened natures with those of all beings everywhere and everywhen, dissolving all obstacles and healing all suffering.


Officiant: For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.

All: All is pure and present are and has always been so, for existence is pure joy; all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass and done; but there is that which remains. To this realization we commit ourselves – pure and total presence. So mote it be.

Bell Chime

Saturday, May 12, 2018

But Officer, the Horse is Sober!

I think I've heard this joke before. A young Amish man was recently arrested for drunk driving - in a horse and buggy. The man was found to have a blood alcohol level one and a half times the legal limit, and told the officer that he had consumed ten beers. The horse, on the other hand, was apparently not intoxicated in any way.

A young Amish man was arrested last month in Ohio after he was caught blowing through a stop sign in a horse-drawn buggy, and later admitted to drinking 10 beers -- in an incident caught on police dashcam video.

The Geauga County Sheriff's Office told FOX8 a deputy was concerned about the possibility of a runaway horse, or a driver having a medical emergency, and followed the buggy until the driver pulled into a farm about 50 miles east of Cleveland on April 29.

Inside the buggy, the deputy found a 21-year-old Amish man and a 20-year-old woman, noted a "heavy odor of alcoholic beverages," and spotted an open beer can on the floor, according to FOX8. The driver told the deputy he had consumed 10 beers.

In the dashcam video, the 21-year-old man can be seen attempting to complete a field sobriety test but he appears unable to keep his balance. When the man was unable to pass any of the tests, he was arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence, police told FOX8.

While I'm sure it's not at all funny to the man being charged, it does raise kind of an amusing question. Does it mean anything that the horse was sober? Or that a horse and buggy is far less likely to injure anyone than a car, even if the driver is drunk? I imagine this will all come up at trial, and we'll have to see how it plays out. Meanwhile, it always is fun to see a bad joke happen in real life.

Friday, May 11, 2018

No Secret Chambers After All

In some bummer news from the world of archaeology, a new ground-penetrating radar study have found no evidence of additional secret chambers in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Back in 2015 a survey of the tomb detected anomalies behind two of the tomb's walls. This led archaeologists to speculate that the secret chambers might be part of the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, which has never been found. However, a follow-up study was unable to replicate the results, so a more comprehensive survey of the tomb went forward.

Using ground-penetrating radar, three independent teams of researchers failed to detect the presence of doors or empty spaces behind the walls of King Tut’s funeral chamber. It’s a disappointing result, as archaeologists were hoping to find the final resting place of Queen Nefertiti.

“We conclude, with a very high level of confidence, that the hypothesis concerning the existence of hidden chambers adjacent [to] Tutankhamun’s tomb is not supported by the [ground-penetrating radar] data,” stated Franco Porcelli of the Polytechnic University of Turin, the lead investigator, in his final report. Porcelli and his colleagues disclosed their findings on Sunday May 6 at the fourth annual International Tutankhamun GEM Conference, which was held at the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza, as reported by National Geographic.

It’s an unhappy result, but such is science. The discovery — if it can be called that — discredits a theory proposed by Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves stating that Queen Nefertiti’s tomb is located behind the walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. The theory was given added credence in 2015 when radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe detected signs of apparent hidden doors behind the north and west walls of the 3,300-year-old burial chamber. A subsequent scan performed by engineers with the National Geographic Society could not replicate Watanabe’s results, prompting a “tie breaker” investigation.

To be clear here, a negative result is still a result, because often in science disproving something can be as important as demonstrating it. It would have been pretty amazing if Nefertiti's tomb were found adjacent to Tutankhamun's simply because it would probably mean that the tomb would be found undisturbed. Tutankhamun was a minor Pharaoh, but he is so famous and vitally important to modern Egyptology because his was the only tomb ever to be discovered intact. Grave robbers had hit all of the others.

A second undisturbed tomb would provide important perspective on Egyptian funeral customs and the kinds of goods likely to be buried with their dead, and the tomb of Nefertiti must lie somewhere. But this result means that the odds of it being found ransacked are much higher.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Down With Scorpio Spam

Recently the Reddit astrology forum posed an important question - are Scorpios responsible for more than their share of Internet trolling? At least a handful of people on the forum think so. While it may seem ridiculous at first, it is true that birth season does affect brain development in certain ways. There has been little research on how this might increase online trolling, but there also are no studies to rule it out. Anyway, I'm a Taurus, the opposite Sun sign - I'm already predisposed to find Scorpios kind of a pain in the butt, right?

Twitter user @colleentie recently drew attention to a screenshot of a Reddit post arguing, essentially, that Scorpios, aka those with birthdays from Oct. 23 through Nov. 21, are out of control online. In a post titled, “MODS: Please start banning Scorpio spam,” the poster complains that members of the sign are responsible for a disproportionate amount of garbage posts on the subreddit, and must be stopped. The thread goes on, “I’ve used this subreddit for 3-4 years now, and in all of that time, one of the constants here, has been a continual flood of attention seeking threads, written by Scorpio natives. No other sign’s natives do it to anywhere near the same extent, and I and several other people here are getting utterly sick of it.” Not everyone agrees with the assertion that Scorpios have hijacked the board—apparently there’s some indication that the spam may be part of a larger rash of obnoxious sun-sign threads.

While the thread only got a moderate amount of attention and responses, the idea that a Reddit community about astrology could more or less ban one of the 12 astrological signs from participation on account of insufferable behavior is too delicious not to contemplate further. Yes, there exists a species of online troll whose venue of choice is an astrology board, and today we learned that troll is a Scorpio. Maybe it was written in the stars all along—if one sign was going to get banned from the zodiac, it would be Scorpios, wouldn’t it? According to the cosmic authority that is, Scorpios are “a little bit TOO intense at times” and “can be protective and magnetic but also secretive, possessive and vengeful,” which happen to be the exact characteristics of people bound to create drama online. So sorry, Scorpio trolls of Reddit: Apparently, you’re in retrograde.

To be clear, I do have a few Scorpio friends and I don't find any of them a pain in the butt. If I did, they would no longer be friends and that would resolve the issue right there. There is some kind of tongue-in-cheek banter among astrologers in general, though, that Scorpios are more likely to be over-dramatic than natives of other signs. In my experience, Scorpios tend to get really excited about projects at the beginning and do a bunch of work but then lose interest and disappear. Or maybe that's a function of the particular people and more of a coincidence than a trend. It's hard to say.

At any rate, this might be a new avenue for research regarding astrology and its reliability. If we could show that Scorpios are more likely to be trolls, that's a positive correlation that would have to be explained. And maybe that would lead us to a better understanding of whether or not astrological forces shape our lives and how those forces work. Either that, or it would just feed the trolls some more.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Aibo Funerals

The Aibo, an early commercial robot developed by the Sony corporation, was the one of the first truly robotic pets. The device, fashioned to look like a small artificial dog, could follow basic voice commands and engage in fairly complex activities. In 2014 Sony terminated support for the robots, and over time they began to break and stop working. A Buddhist temple in Japan is now conducting funerals for broken Aibos that can no longer be repaired. If funerals are really for the living, this makes more sense than it seems to at first.

The firm stopped repairing malfunctioning Aibos in 2014, leaving owners whose pets were beyond repair unsure of how to dispose of their companions. Kofukuji, a 450-year-old temple in Isumi, near Tokyo, has conducted services for 800 “dead” Aibo dogs in recent years. In January, Sony released an upgraded version of Aibo that uses AI and internet connectivity to interact with its owner and surroundings. But the consumer electronics giant has resisted pressure from owners of the original Aibo to resume repairs of old models.

Instead, owners of defunct robotic dogs can send them to A Fun, a company that repairs vintage products, which passes them on to Kofukuji. After the service — which does not involve burial or cremation — the firm removes parts that can be used to fix less seriously damaged models. Many of the dogs are accompanied by notes written by their former owners. “I feel relieved to know there will be a prayer for my Aibo,” one said. Another wrote: “Please help other Aibos. My eyes filled with tears when I decided to say goodbye.”

Bungen Oi, one of the temple’s priests, said he did not see anything wrong with giving four-legged friends, albeit of the robotic variety, a proper send-off. “All things have a bit of soul,” he said.

The Aibo is basically a computer connected to some sensors and motors, so it's no more alive than a PC workstation. However, it also is true that the Aibo offered a totally new experience to its owners when it came out in 1999. You could interact with it just like you could with an animal and it would respond in a seemingly organic fashion. Even though this was all done with software and algorithms that are primitive compared to what computers can do today, it's easy to see how owners could become attached to their digital companions.

Some people out there probably see this as a move towards recognizing machines as having "souls" or something silly like that. While I think it's true that consciousness is a property of quantum information and quantum information is a property of matter, the Aibo has no more of this sort of consciousness than a modern smartphone does. And after all, it's not like we're holding funerals for dead iPhones. This is more about recognizing that humans easily become attached to machines that act as if they are alive.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Regarding Macrocosmic Resonance

So I admit it, I'm cheating a little here and backdating this post to Monday. With this new consulting assignment and trying to be more proactive posting on my author blog, I still have not been as timely about this as I could be. Still, this is a good point that I haven't seen covered much lately. It was all the rage on magick forums back in the 1990's when chaos magick was the hip new thing.

This post is in response to a question that comes up every so often in the occult world. People who don't know much about magick often ask why we work with the spirits that we do, rather than more accessible figures like pop culture icons. Back in the day, chaos magicians proposed that you might be able to get better results by conjuring characters like superheroes instead of names from old grimoires. The logic was this - chaos magick proposed that since belief was the source of all magical power, millions of children around the world believing in superheroes was a whole lot of power.

Various experiments conducted on Internet magick forums back in the late 1990's showed that this idea was probably wrong. Rituals involving pop culture entities like superheroes failed to produce anything resembling what can be done with entities like grimoire spirits. The reason for this is so simple that for a long time, a lot of modern magicians missed it. Spirits are entities with their own independent macrocosmic existence, which fictional characters entirely lack.

The first problem with this idea is that belief is not the source of magical power. Peter Carroll's observations along those lines can be better explained by treating doubt as a force that inhibits magick. It is true that if you have no confidence in what you are doing and doubt that it will work your magick generally won't be effective, but that has more to do with doubt undermining the coherence of your thoughts. Because magick generally requires single-pointed concentration, if your mind is divided it is very difficult to induce the right state of consciousness to connect with paranormal forces.

The second problem is the idea that people do magick all the time, they just aren't aware of it. Maybe this is true using Aleiser Crowley's broadest definition of the term - the science and art of causing change in conformity with will - but even then, the term "will" still implies deliberate intent. And if you extend this to mean that people are setting in motion paranormal forces all the time without realizing it, you're just wrong. A child watching a superhero cartoon is not working magick, and is not sending any sort of paranormal energy to the characters depicted on screen.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Why Do They Do This?

The classic example of a limit to free speech is yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. After what happened recently at a theater in Redlands, California, constitutional lawyers might want to add proselytizing to that list as well. Preacher Michael Webber interrupted a screening of the new film Avengers: Infinity War when he stood up and started yelling about God and salvation. The moviegoers freaked out and stampeded to the exits, during which two of the fleeing patrons were injured.

Police were called, fearing a gunman in the theater because the preacher stood and shouted, “If you die tonight, would your passage to heaven be guaranteed?” The preacher’s shouting caused a panic inside of the packed movie theater which had people running for their lives, one witness described the scene: “That’s when the kind of chaos happened in the little exit, where people were jumping over the railings, and kind of falling over, twisting their ankles and hitting their head.”

Two people were seriously injured in the chaos created by the Christian terrorist. One woman was trampled after jumping over a railing and falling 20 feet attempting to get away from what she thought was a gunman about to open fire on the theatergoers. So far, Webber has been charged with a misdemeanor, and he claims that he has “preached” in theaters before without incident. He excuses his behavior by saying he “was unarmed.”

To be fair, I don't know that this rises to the level of "terrorism" because I never attribute to malice what can adequately explained by stupidity. But seeing as there have been mass shootings at movie screenings, it's pretty damn stupid. What did this guy expect would happen? People weren't just going to sit there for some sort of impromptu spiritual revival. Of course they were going to make a run for exits en masse. He's actually pretty lucky that only two people were hurt and nobody was killed. Human stampedes like this can all too easily turn deadly, and it would have been entirely his fault.

I realize that Christians are supposed to "spread the good news," but I sure don't think that this is what it looks like. If Christians feel oppressed by the general culture, it's often because they get pushback when they refuse to leave people with beliefs that differ from theirs alone. Nobody who belongs to a minority religion cares that you're Christian. We don't even care if you're what we consider a flat-out crazy Christian - as long as you don't try to convert us or work to impose laws that limit our rights to believe and practice as we see fit.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Digitizing the Vatican Secret Archives

The Vatican Secret Archives comprise a collection of materials sought after by church historians and conspiracy theorists alike. According to rumors going back centuries, whenever the Roman Catholic Church came upon a grimoire or any other text related to magick they didn't destroy it, but rather sent it to Rome. It would then be housed in the secret archives where the church could authorize whoever they wanted to access it, but keep it away from everyone else. This has been true in at least a couple of cases - the text that went into the Heptangle edition of the Nigromancia was apparently found there, according to the book's introduction.

A new effort underway to digitize the secret archives is going to test that theory, and if we're lucky provide grimoire magicians with a whole new set of texts that have been locked away for centuries. Since most of the documents stored in the archive are handwritten rather than printed, up until now this has proved to be a very difficult process. But this latest effort is employing machine learning in a novel way to get around some of those limitations.

The grandeur is obvious. Located within the Vatican’s walls, next door to the Apostolic Library and just north of the Sistine Chapel, the VSA houses 53 linear miles of shelving dating back more than 12 centuries. It includes gems like the papal bull that excommunicated Martin Luther and the pleas for help that Mary Queen of Scots sent to Pope Sixtus V before her execution. In size and scope, the collection is almost peerless.

That said, the VSA isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible. Of those 53 miles, just a few millimeters’ worth of pages have been scanned and made available online. Even fewer pages have been transcribed into computer text and made searchable. If you want to peruse anything else, you have to apply for special access, schlep all the way to Rome, and go through every page by hand.

But a new project could change all that. Known as In Codice Ratio, it uses a combination of artificial intelligence and optical-character-recognition (OCR) software to scour these neglected texts and make their transcripts available for the very first time. If successful, the technology could also open up untold numbers of other documents at historical archives around the world.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hobby Lobby Returns Stolen Artifacts

For those of you who haven't been following along, I covered the story of Iraqi artifacts stolen by the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores last summer. Coincidentally - or perhaps not so much - Hobby Lobby is the same company that argued before the Supreme Court that it had "strong religious convictions" that women should be deprived of health care coverage for contraception. As I noted at the time, apparently those "strong religious convictions" aren't so strong as to preclude the owners of the chain from engaging in the theft of more than three thousand artifacts looted during the fighting in Iraq.

But at least according to this article, the case has a (relatively) happy ending. The stolen artifacts are on their way back to Iraq, which is a good thing for the museums and universities that will see their collections returned. On the down side, Hobby Lobby worked out a settlement in which they admitted no wrongdoing and nobody went to prison.

The dealers working with Hobby Lobby falsely labeled the shipments as "ceramics" and "samples" and illegally shipped them to Hobby Lobby stores and two corporate offices, according to the DOJ.

Hobby Lobby's president last year opened a Bible museum in Washington said to contain some 40,000 biblical artifacts. At the time of its settlement with ICE and DOJ, Hobby Lobby said that it should have exercised more oversight in its acquisitions.

"In 2009, Hobby Lobby began acquiring a variety of historical Bibles and other artifacts. Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artifacts about the Bible is consistent with the company's mission and passion for the Bible," it said in the July statement.

"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said in the statement. "Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today's settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved."

The DOJ said Hobby Lobby had pledged to set up policies on the buying of cultural property, provide necessary training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property it buys for eighteen months.