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.

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.

All: MAKAShANaH

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.

All: ABRAHADABRA

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.

All: AUMGN

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 Astrostyle.com, 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.