Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mental Illness and Human Sacrifice

Normally these two terms are rarely mentioned in the same breath, but in the comments on yesterday's article RO posted a link to this story from Virginia, South Africa. Back in April, Chane van Heerden and Maartens van der Merwe lured a young man to a cemetery and killed him as a human sacrifice in some sort of occult ritual. They then dismembered the body and buried most of it, keeping the victim's eyes, ears, and facial skin. Where mental illness enters the picture is that Van der Merwe was diagnosed as schizophrenic as a teen and while Van Heerden was never officially identified as mentally ill, at her trial social worker Marilise Vergottini testified that the young woman's behavior had been odd throughout much of her life.

Vergottini said Van Heerden displayed strange behaviour, even as a young girl.

When her mother told her that dolls come alive at night, Van Heerden blindfolded her own dolls and bound them with shoe laces, said Vergottini.

Van Heerden's meeting with her co-accused Van der Merwe led to a disastrous partnership.

"They together [in a relationship] are a disaster. It created a platform for their behaviour," Vergottini said.

Van der Merwe was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 14.

Vergottini said when Van Heerden and Van der Merwe met, they discovered they both had fantasies that were not normal to the rest of the world.

The couple watched the television series Dexter, in which a serial killer is the hero, reading it as condonation for their own activities.

One of the old urban legends floating around the occult community here in America is that magicians who are careless or practice improperly run the risk of developing mental illness. I put up a post on this topic back in 2007 and the reason I say urban legend is that I've become more and more convinced over the years that it simply is not true.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Moral Panic, Anyone?

The case of the West Memphis Three may have happened nineteen years ago, but as this latest bizarre story shows the the media is still going completely crazy over any crime that appears to involve occultism. According to initial reports, two young women got together with a man they met over the Internet, then tortured and stabbed him to death in a Satanic sexual ritual. No, wait, actually there was no murder, the supposed "ritual" involved no occult or Satanic components, the stabbing was apparently consensual cutting that got out of hand, and the man is not pressing charges. Wow. That went from "batshit insane" to "poorly executed BDSM scene without safewords" in about two seconds. But of course the news media outlets prefer the former fabricated account.

While at the apartment building, police were approached by Rebecca Chandler, 22, who stated, “I think you are here looking for me.” Chandler told cops that she had engaged in sexual relations with the Arizona man “and that the cutting was consensual but that it got quickly out of hand.”

Chandler claimed that her roommate--whom she identified only as “Scarlett”--was “the one who did the majority of the cutting” during the incident. Chandler, police reported, “also made reference to ‘Scarlett’ possibly being involved in satanic or occult activities.”

Chandler was placed in custody at the scene. During a subsequent search of the apartment, investigators seized copies of "The Necromantic Ritual Book” and "The Werewolf’s Guide to Life,” a humor book. The former book promises to enable a reader to “share consiousness with the Angel of Death.” Paperwork seized from the home was described by police as the “7 Pentacles” of planets. Additionally, a black folder was described as an “Intro to Sigilborne Spirtits,” an apparent reference to “The Sigil-Born,” metaphysical entities that are “occultic practitioners” of necromancy, the purported ability to contact the dead.

As an aside, in the Thoth Tarot the Seven of Disks is titled "Failure," which in this case seems about right.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Celebrities Prove Illuminati Are Real

Remember my exchange with the Illuminati? I have yet to get any of my friends to admit to writing the mysterious letter that showed up on my front door after that post, but let's just say I have strong suspicions and we'll leave it at that. The whole concept of a real Illuminati as envisioned by conspiracy theorists is fundamentally ridiculous, and even sillier is the notion that various celebrities are secretly doing their bidding by embedding subliminal messages in their music. Back when theories about secret messages in music were first making the rounds, psychologists tested whether it was feasible to transmit information that way and concluded it doesn't work at all. You would think that if the Illuminati were so wise and powerful they would choose a functional method of brainwashing. At any rate, last week Slate put up an article about these pop-music conspiracy theories which makes for some entertaining reading.

Welcome to the world of pop-music trutherism, a bustling, grassroots expos√© industry in which Eminem is one of many performers called out by anonymous instigators for Illuminist sympathies. The best conspiracy theories go all the way to the top, and this one goes all the way to the top of the charts. Jay-Z? An “Illuminati puppet.” Lady Gaga? An “Illuminati whore.” Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Beyonc√©, Rihanna—Illuminati agents all. (Michael Jackson and 2Pac, it turns out, were victims of Illuminati-ordered assassination.) The Illuminati investigation unfolds sloppily but vigorously across countless sites, from YouTube to Twitter to fan discussion boards to dedicated shops like VigilantCitizen.com. The trained eye can spot Illuminati sartorial choices, like goat-themed jewelry and T-shirts, worn in ostensible tribute to Baphomet, a horned pagan deity who intrigued Aleister Crowley. There is Illuminati semaphore, such as framing one’s eye with the palms tipped together in a pyramid shape or otherwise isolating an eye to evoke the “all-seeing eye” on the back of a dollar bill, an image with Masonic origins. There are Illuminati lyrics, like Eminem’s mention of a “New World Order” on “Lose Yourself” or the references he and Jay-Z have made, separately, to a mysterious, powerful figure they call the “Rain Man” (the theorists are apparently unfamiliar with Dustin Hoffman’s IMDb page).

Don't get me wrong, I know there's a real global elite controlling much of the world's economy - Forbes Magazine publishes a list of the top 400 American members every year. It's also conceivable that a significant percentage of them have used magick to help build up their wealth, since becoming that rich without inheriting it requires incredible luck and that's one of the things magick is especially good at. But why would they bother with something as pointless as engineering pop-music messages when they can spend their money lobbying against financial regulation and get a lot more bang for their buck? I highly doubt that they care much about the content of popular music as long as it sells, and the idea of a unified conspiracy is belied by the fact that many of the super-rich can't stand each other and often work at cross purposes.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Mullet Cult Arrests

The Amish Beard Wars saga continues! On Wednesday, the FBI and Ohio police launched a raid against Sam Mullet's Bergholz Clan compound, arresting seven members of the sect including Mullet himself and three of his sons. The seven face federal hate crime charges in connection with hair and beard-cutting attacks on other Amish women and men, allegedly ordered by Mullet and carried out by members of his group.

Seven men were in custody and expected to be arraigned Wednesday. They include Mullet and sons Johnny, Lester and Daniel, Tobin said.

All of the men were sleeping when the FBI and local police showed up at their homes before dawn Wednesday, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said. Three men initially refused to come out of their rooms, but all seven were arrested without incident, he said.

Authorities were planning to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon to explain why they charged the men with hate crimes, Tobin said.

The attacks came amid long-simmering tension between Mullet's group, which he established in 1995, and Amish bishops. Arlene Miller, the wife of one victim, said several bishops hadn't condoned Mullet's decision to excommunicate several members who previously left his community, saying there was no spiritual justification for his action.

I'll say it one more time. The guy's name is Mullet, and his followers go around cutting hair. As Morgan noted on the original thread, you really can't make this stuff up. I'll add that hate crime laws draw a lot of criticism, but this is precisely the sort of situation for which they exist. In a previous interview, Mullet implied that from a legal standpoint cutting hair was no big deal, when as an Amish bishop he knew full well how important hair and beards are to members of his faith. Hate crime statutes allow these sorts of religious attacks to be prosecuted based on their significance to the victims, not just on how serious they might seem to members of society at large with different beliefs.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ghost Sex

Of all the things I'm thankful for this holiday season, one of them has to be the recent discovery that in the afterlife ghosts can still get it on. At least, that is, according to Diana Carlisle, an Ohio woman who claims that her grand-daughter took a photograph of two spirits frolicking in her living room. The photograph in question is shown above with the circle around the supposed ghosts added by Metro, and you can click to enlarge it.

'It looked like... like ghosts having sex,' she told the Fox affiliate TV channel in Cleveland. 'You can see the lady's high-heeled shoes.'

Ms Carlisle claims the phantoms have been having a scream of a time for a while but she was unable to document it until her four-year-old grand-daughter took this picture. The snap supposedly shows the outline of a shoulder and arm, which are above a white ghostly figure.

If true, these spooky shenanigans will be a landmark in the study of paranormal activity, with experts previously unaware that spirit sex was possible. Investigator David Jones told the Huffington Post it was highly unlikely that ghosts were engaged in intercourse, but did admit he was curious about the house.

One of the most intriguing things about this and other ghost photographs is that they rarely look much like what eyewitnesses report seeing. I have to admit, my first thought when examining the Carlisle photo was not one of amazement at being exposed to ghost porn. Like most spirit photographs, it just looks like a blurry mist or vapor. While skeptics contend this is the result of the mosaic effect, in which our brains fill in whatever we expect to see, most ghost photographs are so much less detailed than the corresponding eyewitness reports that I wonder if some other mechanism might be at work.

A possibility I've considered is that what a person experiences when encountering a ghost might be in part a sort of psychic projection, in which non-physical details are perceived along with the physical aspects of the manifestation. The latter could therefore be photographed, while the former could not. Of course, if I'm wrong and this is simply a case of mosaic in action, the next question that needs to be asked is why Diana Carlisle would expect to see ghosts having sex in her living room. So either explanation could make for an interesting story.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Witch-Hunter" Charged With Murder

When I covered the political death spell story last week I noted that traditional healer Jimmy Motsi's denials of being a witchcraft practitioner likely could prove important to his future well-being given that he lives in Zimbabwe, a country with a long history of witchcraft persecutions. As if to bolster my argument, the next day this story, also from Zimbabwe, showed up on the newswires. It seems that Dankeny Mpofu, a self-proclaimed "witch hunter," is being put on trial along with Thethela Ben Tshuma, who hired the hunter to kill his brother - who he suspected of casting spells against him.

Charges against them are that on September 25, 2008, Mpofu approached Tshuma who was not feeling well and told him that he was a witch-hunter and that his illness was being caused by his elder brother, Mqatshelwa Tshuma.

Mpofu offered to allegedly kill Tshuma’s brother on his behalf in return for payment with a beast. Tshuma allegedly agreed to have his brother killed and promised to pay Mpofu the beast as soon as the job was done.

He allegedly led Mpofu to his brother Mqatshelwa. On arrival they found Tshuma seated outside his house and Mpofu who was armed with a hammer allegedly struck him twice on the head and he died on the spot.

To cover up for the offence the two allegedly carried his body and hung it in the kitchen to appear as if he had committed suicide. However, the offence came to light a few days later when a dog was seen in the village carrying a human arm.

Can I just say one more time that I'm really glad I don't live in Zimbabwe? There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biggest one is that being a magick blogger and esoteric author would in effect put a huge target on my back. I will say that it's good to see the authorities prosecuting this case because there are still a lot of African witchcraft killings that never even lead to arrests, let alone trials, but the unfortunate victim here is still dead whether or not his killers wind up convicted. Was he a magical practitioner? The truth is that I have no idea, and I don't think Tshuma knew either. If this case turns out to be like most of these witchcraft killings, he just got sick and was looking for someone to blame.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tears of Stone?

I like to tell people I don't believe in anything supernatural, but I have a strong belief in the paranormal. To my way of thinking this position is largely axiomatic, in that I figure if something exists at all it's part of the natural world, whether it's material, spiritual, or some combination of the two. Here's a case that might be an extremely rare medical condition or might be the result of some process that touches on both the spiritual and material realms. Either way I see it as paranormal - that is, a phenomenon that lies outside the bounds of everyday experience. Doctors in India are examining the case of a young girl who appears to "cry stones" from her eyes.

Physicians in India have been left shocked after discovering seven-year-old Kura Nitya cries stones from her eyes.

According to a local newspaper, Kura has been excreting stones from her right eye for the last two weeks but doctors are not sure what is causing the phenomenon.

On average the young girl weeps between 12 to 25 stones a day. Nitya says she doesn't feel any pain but her right eye swells before the stones drop out.

Her grandfather Gopal Reddy says he first noticed the strange happenings in October. 'Initially, we thought it was some divine power and prayed to God for this phenomenon to stop,' he told the Star online.

The girl's parents have seen several different specialists but none have had an answer.

Ophthalmologist Dr Kalyan Chakaravarthy said Nitya was healthy and he could find no reason as to why she was weeping stones.

The stones are currently being tested in order to determine their composition. The most logical medical explanation is that they're calcified material of some sort, since calcium compounds are usually the hardest materials found in the body. If they're composed of actual stone, though, something far weirder must be going on, since the human body normally doesn't produce such substances.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Groping Ghost

Doris Birch of Kent, UK has been dealing with an unusual and disturbing paranormal manifestation haunting her apartment over the past four months - a groping ghost. While it's not unheard of for ghosts to touch living people during the course of traditional hauntings, according to reports they rarely are as determined to do so as this one seems to be.

'It's like an octopus,' she told This Is Kent of the spirit. 'It started four months ago. I was lying in bed when I felt this creepy pair of hands.

'I kicked frantically and it went away. Next time it came I hurled the duvet on to the floor!

'But the ghost keeps coming back. I've tried sleeping without the duvet. But it started shaking my mattress.

'I even threw the mattress off the bed and bought a new one but it has made no difference.'

Doris, who accepts many people 'are going to think I am mad', emphasised that, despite living alone, she is 'not lonely' and feels she may need to 'call in the Ghostbusters': 'I told the vicar and he said it is a lost spirit.

'What I want to know is, why has it got lost in my flat?'

Perhaps the octopus reference hints at something more sinister than a mere ghost, such as one of the Lovecraftian Deep Ones trying to push through into our reality from an alternative universe. Or maybe this particular spirit just finds the afterlife boring and is looking for some action. In my experience earthbound spirits aren't exactly the brightest bulbs, so to speak, in that they usually are those spirits that can't figure out how to move on properly.

For most hauntings a good set of banishing rituals will probably do the trick, provided that they extend into the macrocosmic realm. Sometimes pentagram rituals don't do that on their own, so I generally also recommend banishing by hexagram to really clear out a space. As long as you catch the ghost within the field when it goes up, the spirit should be sent on to wherever it belongs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Alien in the Fridge

The White House may have no evidence of alien contact, but for a woman in Russia the proof has been right there for the last two years - in her refrigerator. The woman, Marta Yegorovnam, claims that an alien spaceship crashed on her property two years ago, and that when she went to investigate she found the extraterrestrial pilot had not survived the landing.

Ms Yegorovnam then lovingly wrapped the creature in plastic and shoved it in the fridge, not uttering a word to anyone.

The remains have apparently been examined by the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, although this has not been confirmed.

Paranormal writer Michael Cohen said the ‘possibility that this might be a genuine alien should not be discounted’.

But astronomer Dr Ian Griffin told Metro: ‘If aliens were smart enough to travel vast distances between the stars, they’re probably smart enough to avoid being stored in a fridge for two years.’

The creature in the photograph does look pretty weird, although there have been many hoaxed alien bodies over the years and this one falls well within the limits of basic special effects. We'll have to wait and see if Russian scientists do indeed get a chance to run tests on the body, or if it mysteriously disappears before any such investigation can take place.

One thing that strikes me as odd is that the body looks to be in pretty good shape for a creature that died two years ago, even allowing for the effects of refrigeration. My other thought is that Reptilians are supposed to be taller.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Couple Charged With Political Death Spell

Zimbabwe is one of the many African nations in which the existence of magick is not only accepted but considered a part of regular life. This extends into the political sphere, as is illustrated by this case of a couple alleged to have hired Jimmy Motsi, well-known as a traditional healer, to cast a death spell on five rivals within the country's ruling Zanu PF party. According to the charges Zvenyika Machokoto, a party official, and his wife believed that these individuals stood in the way of their political careers.

In his evidence, Motsi said he was approached by Machokoto at his rural home in Mt Darwin and was driven to Dorowa where the ritual ceremony was to be held.

On the actual date when he wanted to kill the five, Motsi prepared bottled water and asked Machokoto to call out the names of the five saying the exact fate he wished on them.

On the recorded transcript, Machokoto is heard mentioning the names of the five saying they were a stumbling block in his political career.

Motsi said the five were supposed to die through an accident or any other mysterious sudden death.

At the same time as he made these allegations, Motsi insisted that he was not in fact a traditional healer and that he had omitted some key elements of the ritual. This claim isn't all that surprising, since being known as a malevolent spellcaster in countries like Zimbabwe can prompt accusations of witchcraft and sometimes even lynching by angry mobs.

“The names of the five were being called as a way of placing them in the bottle. They were supposed to die from that ritual had it not that I omitted some of the important elements of the ritual,” said Motsi.

“I am not a traditional healer or a wizard, but I know that with the powers invested in me I would be able to kill all of them though I realised it was not proper.

Even Moses caused death of the Egyptians while Elijah caused serious droughts and what would you call that?” Motsi said.

Personally I say magick is magick regardless of the deities or entities that you call upon, and plenty of grimoire magicians conjure spirits by calling upon the Christian God. But this distinction may prove important for Motsi's future well-being, as most people in Africa and for that matter elsewhere tend to see Christianity and witchcraft as opposing forces.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Meditation App

A while back I posted on an iPhone app developed by the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland for people interested in joining the priesthood. Now meditators have gotten in on the game with a new app for both Android and iPhone intended to get more people meditating. Called "Buddhify," the app provides basic meditation instructions and is being marketed by emphasizing the stress-reducing aspects of the practice.

The Buddhify app introduces users to restful mindfulness meditation practices by allowing them to select from 32 audio tracks to hear instruction from either a male or female voice.

Although its name makes reference to Buddhism, a religion in which meditation plays a key role, the app is intended for use by anybody interested in mental wellbeing.

"The only prerequisite is having a mind," Rohan Gunatillake said. "Its origins are in the Buddhist tradition, but it's totally independent. It's a way of training your attention in such a way that it develops positive qualities in your mind."

The app also has a two-player mode allowing friends to meditate together.

Even though the app makes few references to spiritual realization, if it succeeds at getting more people to meditate those results should follow for at least a subset of them. The dashboard shown above looks a little hokey, but if that means more people see meditation as accessible and take up the practice I'm nonetheless all for it.

One of these days I should see about developing my own set of apps devoted to magical practices. I can imagine, for example, an "Evoker" app that would bring up the appropriate conjurations for spirits and so forth as you reach each phase of an evocation ritual. I could implement it by putting together some kind of standard ritual notation that would allow you to import a specific text file for the ritual you want to perform, and in fact the ritual template I include in Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy would be a good place to start as far as the structure goes. It wouldn't have that big a market, but I can immediately see how useful it could be for serious practicing magicians.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hexing on Facebook

The chairman of Malaysia's Islamic Medicine Association recently warned people not to post their pictures online at social media sites like Facebook, because those photographs could allow unscrupulous magicians to cast spells upon them.

Users of social media sites should not post their pictures online as they could be used for witchcraft, said Kelantan Darussyifa' Islamic Medicine Association chairman Zaki Ya.

He said that djin (spirits) are able to “connect” with humans through the Internet, including Facebook, Sinar Harian reported.

While this is technically accurate whenever photos are involved, in my experience there aren't that many capable magicians out there casting spells on random Facebook users. Even if there were, digital photographs are pretty weak as magical links go. A regular photograph that has captured waves of light bouncing off a subject can act as both a similarity link and a contagion link, while a digital photograph has to operate on similarity alone because there's no direct connection when the image consists of pure information.

“Once, I treated someone who became delirious because a spell had been cast on him while he was surfing the Internet,” said Zaki.

“A few days ago, I received an SMS from a father asking me to help his son who refused to go to school.

“The father suspected that his son had been influenced by a djin over the Internet,” he said when met at the USM Traditional Islamic Medicine Clinic in Penang.

He said the boy would create a fuss every time his parents forbade him from using the Internet and would even threaten to kill himself.

See, to me this last case doesn't sound like possession or anything remotely similar. It sounds like the kid is just a brat, and the fact is that children are perfectly capable of behaving badly even when they're not being attacked by spirits. My three-year-old sometimes throws tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants, but I expect her to grow out of it soon. If this boy is using the Internet I'm guessing that he's substantially older and never did.

UPDATE: Jack has more on digital links, and how you can go about blocking or shielding yourself from them. Jason has a related post up as well.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Book on Neuroscience and Free Will

In my previous post on Neuroscience and Evil I noted that the general perspective among neuroscientists these days seems to be the epiphenomenon model, in which consciousness is viewed as the experience related to having a bunch of neurons firing in particular patterns rather than the manifestation of choices or free will. While this remains the majority position, not all neuroscientists agree. One of these dissenters is Michael S. Gazzaniga of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Gazzaniga wrote the excellent Nature's Mind back in 1994, one of the books that influenced my model of how magick works, and now has a new book coming out called Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain that argues against the epiphenomenon model and in favor of the existence of genuine free human will. Today Salon has an interview up with the author.

Gazzaniga uses a lifetime of experience in neuroscientific research to argue that free will is alive and well. Instead of reducing free will to the sum of its neurological parts, he argues that it’s time for neuroscience to consider free will as a scientific fact in its own right. Through fascinating examples in chaos theory, physics, philosophy and, of course, neuroscience, Gazzaniga makes this interesting claim: Just as you cannot explain traffic patterns by studying car parts, neuroscience must abandon its tendency to reduce macro-level phenomena like free will to micro-level explanations. Along the way he provides fascinating and understandable information from brain evolution to studies involving infants and patients with severed brain hemispheres (split-brain patients). The final chapters of the book consider neuroscience as it implicates social responsibility, justice and how we treat criminal offense.

Anyone wondering about the validity of the epiphenomenon model should go ahead and read the whole interview. I'm glad to see this conversation taking place, because the fact is that even though I think neuroscientists have done a fairly good job demonstrating that our behavior is more deterministic than we generally think it is, at the same time there's plenty of evidence that human beings are something other than automatons suffering from the delusion of self and that the choices we make are fundamentally meaningful. The car parts versus traffic analogy there is one of the best metaphors I've ever seen of making the distiction between neurons and consciousness clear, and I can't agree with it more strongly. Consciousness exists in its own right and arises from the interaction of neurons, just as traffic exists and arises from the activity of many car parts all working together.

This sounds like a really great book, and I'll have to pick up a copy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Daughter of God

Salon has an interesting review up today of a book about a British woman named Mabel Barltrop and the religion that she founded in 1919, the Panacea Society. Even though I'm fairly knowledgeable on new religious movements of the last century, this organization is one that I had never previously read about. The group has survived until the present day, though there are only a couple of living members left still dwelling at its communal headquarters.

In February 1919, a small group of middle-class English women received a life-changing revelation. What they learned, Jane Shaw explains in “Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers” (Yale), was that Mabel Barltrop, a 53-year-old former mental patient living in the town of Bedford, was the incarnation of God. Mabel, whose late husband had been a priest in the Church of England, announced a new Christian theology, in which the Trinity was replaced by a foursome: God the Father and God the Mother, Jesus the Son and Mabel (or, as her followers began to call her, Octavia) the Daughter. She had come to conquer death and was guaranteed never to die. She had healing powers so strong that if she breathed on water or a piece of linen, it was transformed into a cure for any bodily ailment.

Octavia’s followers named themselves the Panacea Society, and they advertised her cures widely. Some 70 people came to live near her in communal housing in Bedford, and thousands more around the world wrote in to ask for a piece of the sacred linen. Over the years, Shaw writes, Mabel announced many refinements of her doctrine. She was forbidden to go more than 77 steps from her house; her garden, in Bedford, was the location of the original Garden of Eden; her late husband had been the incarnation of Christ; the souls of the departed were not dead but had flown to the planet Uranus to bide their time until they returned.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Witchcraft in Israel?

In Africa, India, and Saudi Arabia it is fairly common for courts to hear witchcraft-related cases, but it's important to keep in mind that such trials can also happen in (supposedly) more developed countries. A Rabbinical court in Haifa, Israel recently levied a fine against a woman for practicing witchcraft as part of a divorce hearing.

The court reduced the value of the woman's ketubah, the amount her husband must pay her in the event of divorce, by half -- or about $25,000. However, the wife was acquitted of refusing to cook for her husband -- the least the court could do since her husband had committed adultery.

The wife denied her husband's charge that she practiced witchcraft, but she failed a polygraph test, leading the court to determine that she in fact had been practicing witchcraft.

Death is the punishment for witchcraft in the Torah, but the rabbis found a source that instead allowed them to mete out the financial penalty.

It seems to me that since a polygraph essentially measures anxiety it's exactly the wrong tool to employ in the middle of a bitter domestic dispute like this one. I have no idea whether or not the woman in question is a magician of some sort, but I will say that in a situation like this some anxiety is to be expected. This is especially so with a witchcraft charge, given that a conviction could mean facing the death penalty.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

White House Denies Extraterrestrial Contact

On Monday the White House Office of Science and Technology issued a statement denying any knowledge of extraterrestrial contact. They also denied that this non-existent evidence was being hidden by some sort of government cover-up operation as alleged by many in the UFO community. Of course, if the politicians were all Reptilian aliens whose agenda depended upon discrediting anyone who suspects their presence, that's exactly what they would say.

"The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race," Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy reported on the WhiteHouse.gov website."In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye."

The petition calling on the government to disclose any knowledge of or communication with extraterrestrial beings was signed by 5,387 people, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race.

“Hundreds of military and government agency witnesses have come forward with testimony confirming this extraterrestrial presence,” the second petition states. “Opinion polls now indicate more than 50 percent of the American people believe there is an extraterrestrial presence and more than 80 percent believe the government is not telling the truth about this phenomenon. The people have a right to know. The people can handle the truth.”

Apparently not, at least according to those who are still insisting that extraterrestrials secretly control our planet. But really, those beliefs are pretty far-fetched. Jack recently put up a post describing his problems with the "ancient alien" hypothesis and I agree with most of his conclusions. Modern people often assume that because we have more technology at our disposal we have to be a lot more intelligent than the ancients, when given how slowly evolution works it's much more likely that within the span of recorded history people have always been about as smart as they are now. They just had a different knowledge base to work with and a different set of priorities.

Anyone who contends that human beings could not have built the various monolithic structures throughout the world is completely ignorant of the fact that ancient cultures would have had their own genuises who figured out how to get the necessary tasks done. The same is true of the modern world, in that extremely wealthy people and gigantic corporations are plenty capable of dominating the planet without any help from beyond the stars. There's no reason whatsoever to imagine that the global elite would have to consist of evil shapeshifting space aliens in order for them to act like a bunch of douchebags.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Flame Strike?

This is an older story, from September, but an intriguing one nonetheless. A man who died last December is believed to be Ireland's first victim of spontaneous human combustion. This is problematic, as most experts who have investigated the phenomenon are of the opinion that spontaneous human combustion does not exist and is quite simply impossible.

But an Irish coroner declared just that this week as the cause of death for 76-year-old Michael Faherty, who died in December 2010. The BBC reports that the finding is the first reported case of spontaneous human combustion in Ireland’s history.

Forensic experts originally attributed the blaze that killed Faherty to a fire in the fireplace of the sitting room where his body was found. But after a closer investigation, the coroner ruled otherwise. “The fire had been confined to the sitting room,” the BBC reports. “The only damage was to the body, which was totally burnt, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath him.” No accelerant was found nor any signs of foul play.

Coroner Kieran McLoughlin explains: "This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation."

Clearly this coroner has never played Dungeons and Dragons. The most telling clue is that damage was found on the ceiling above the body and also on the floor below it. That means only one thing to anyone who's ever played a Cleric character with access to fifth level spells - Flame Strike! Someone in Ireland must have mastered it, and I totally want to know how it's done. Because Flame Strike is awesome!

If anyone overseas has a line on this mystery conjurer, please let me know in comments. This is one opportunity that I don't want to let slip away.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mapping the Luck Plane

In my previous article on the luckiest city in America I commented that if some sort of pattern could be derived from the "luck ratings" of the 100 cities evaluated by Men's Health magazine, we might be able to get some sort of a handle on how magick interacts with geography in the United States. After running the numbers on the magazine's city ratings, the map shown here (click to enlarge) is the result, with The light blue points representing lucky cities and the purple points representing unlucky cities. Cities marked in green are neutral, and cities not included in the study are shown in gray.

Once I mapped out the points, I went ahead and connected them using a simple heuristic - that one set of lines connect the lucky cities to each other, a second set connects the unlucky cities to each other, and the lines do not cross. There are few outliers - Providence, RI is lucky but just far enough west that you can't draw a line to it from New York City without passing through unlucky Bridgeport, CT. Unlucky Stockton, CA is surrounded by lucky cities on all sides. And while according to the heuristic Denver, CO connects into the West Coast grid, it is a considerable distance from the other cities in the grid and might be an outlier instead. Also, the cities in Alaska and Hawaii are really too far away to be included in either of the continental grids.

Looking at the map, a pattern does become clear. Most of the West Coast is lucky. In the east a lucky swath runs from the area around Baltimore and Philadelphia between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. Once it reaches Kansas, the swath turns due south until it passes through Texas and Louisiana, reaching Houston and Baton Rouge. My original working hypothesis was that magical forces related to particular elements should follow the physical movement of the element in question. So Earth would move along fault lines, Water would move along rivers, and Air would move along with atmospheric currents. But with the way that the map looks, this analysis seems too simplistic. The lucky eastern swath sort of follows the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, but it runs north of the Ohio and west of the Mississippi, and cities on the river such as Memphis, TN and Little Rock, Ak, are distinctly unlucky.

Friday, November 4, 2011

More on the Mullet Cult

As I commented in my Amish Beard Wars post, I find it way more hilarious than I probably should that there's an Amish leader out there named Sam Mullet whose followers go around cutting hair and beards. It's as if growing up with that name draws you to bad haircuts or something. CNN has a new article up with some further information about Mullet's Amish sect that calls itself the Bergholz Clan, and the closer you look at it the more cultish it appears to be. You should read the whole thing, but some highlights are quoted below.

The CNN article features testimony from a former member, Aden Troyer, who was once married to Mullet's daughter Wilma but left the group in response to what he describes as cultish behavior on the part of its leader.

They say Mullet has created rules and punishments for breaking those rules that Amish folks had never heard of before.

The Amish typically resolve disputes within their community without the interference of law enforcement. But they say Mullet takes this to a whole new level.

"The way he's been treating and talking to people, he is not an Amish guy," Troyer said. "He is not your typical peaceful, loving Amish person."

Troyer said he eventually realized what he was getting caught up in and moved away from Mullet's compound, along with his two daughters.

There's a problem: Wilma did not. Three years after their marriage in 2004, the couple divorced, and Troyer received full custody of the girls.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Please Come to Church Unarmed

The state right next door, Wisconsin, recently passed a concealed-carry law, allowing those with valid permits to carry concealed weapons. This led Milwaukee's Roman Catholic bishops to issue the sort of statement on Tuesday rarely heard in countries outside war zones - they urged parishioners to come to church unarmed out of respect for the integrity of sacred spaces.

This seems like a completely reasonable, common-sense request, especially since the bishops are leaving the decision on whether or not to ban weapons up to individual churches. Except, of course, for the known fact that Patriotic American Jesus never goes anywhere without his M-16. So how can they expect him to show up for Mass without it?

"Intuitively, we understand that acts of violence, destruction, and murder are antithetical to the message and person of Jesus Christ and have no rightful place in our society, especially sacred places," the bishops said just before the law went into effect on Tuesday.

"We ask that all people seriously consider not carrying weapons into church buildings as a sign of reverence for these sacred spaces," they said.

The statement, issued by Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and four other bishops, said a decision on whether to ban weapons was up to individual churches.

Minnesota went through all this years ago when our concealed-carry law passed, and the result was that most public establishments just put up signs banning guns. That made it difficult to carry one around with you if you planned on going into just about any business, church, or public building. At the same time, the Minnesota law hasn't caused any of the problems that its opponents warned about when it went through. Our law has worked by upholding the principle of individual rights - it lets people with valid permits carry guns, but at the same time gives business owners the right to keep people with them out if they so choose.

Still, if churches start banning weapons in Wisconsin Patriotic American Jesus is going to be pissed. And since he carries an M-16, that's never a good thing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Alien Abduction as Astral Projection?

Ever since the phenomenon of alien abduction was reported by Betty and Barney Hill in 1961, scientists have been trying to come up with an explanation for it that does not involve the presence of little green men from space. A group of scientists from UCLA now claim to have come up with a procedure by which many people can experience the presence of aliens as they sleep. The lead researcher on the team describes these experiences as the result of a "poorly studied state of consciousness," but based on the description given I think it's safe to say that we magicians know it as astral projection.

Volunteers underwent a series of mental exercises on waking, and of the 20 who took part, seven claimed to have seen aliens - from little green men to seven-foot-tall robots - as part of an out-of-body experience.

One volunteer, Craig, explained how he felt a floating sensation after falling asleep. 'I told myself to go see aliens. The next scene I was near a mountain in a clearing with trees around it. There was a space ship. There were two aliens with helmets on. They also had a type of robot with them,' he explained.'It was about seven ft tall and was silver in colour. The aliens did not appear to be friendly.'

However, lead researcher Michael Raduga said that the study proves that extra terrestrial experiences are merely a product of the human brain. 'Alien contact is not indicative of the existence of otherworldly civilizations, but rather of a poorly studied state of consciousness that people fall into inadvertently,' he said.

In the time before aliens such experiences were likely interpreted as visits to the fairy realm or something similar when reached inadvertently. These days, though, the experience often seems to be parsed using schemas from contemporary science fiction, which means space aliens. I'm not the first person by any means to suggest that astral projection and alien abductions might be part of the same phenomenon, but it would be particularly interesting to see the full set of exercises used by the subjects in this study. I'm guessing that to any practicing magician they will seem quite familiar.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Scientology Versus South Park

Back in 2005 the television program South Park produced an episode mocking the Church of Scientology, which led to something of a scandal. Comedy Central refused to air the episode and Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist who voiced one of the recurring characters, resigned from the show on the grounds that it "makes fun of people's religions." It should be noted that Hayes did not resign over earlier episodes ridiculing Catholicism, Mormonism, and Judaism, not to mention the "Super Best Friends" episode from 2001 in which Moses, Jesus, Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, and Lao-Tzu act as a super-team to defeat the evil sorcery of David Blaine - who calls his religious cult "Blaintology." Nope, no making fun of religion there!

At any rate, the scandal was a testament to the touchiness of the Church of Scientology, which is famous for threatening lawsuits right and left at the drop of a hat, regarding critcism of its beliefs. What is not widely known is how far the Church went in "investigating" Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park's creators. A recently leaked document supposedly details various actions the Church took in order to embarrass the two of them, which if true pretty clearly cross the line into stalking and harrassment.

Former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun, who left the church in 2005, released an internal Scientology document on his blog detailing the investigation by the religion's Office of Special Affairs (OSA) — which he calls "the harassment and terror network of Corporate Scientology." The probe of Parker and Stone was apparently direct "retaliation for the South Park episode that exposed the religion's bizarre upper-level teachings," says Tony Ortega at The Village Voice. According to Rathbun, the OSA uses methods comparable to Cold War-era CIA and KGB "intelligence and propaganda techniques," such as investigation, threats, and infiltration.