Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Megastructure Star" is Dimming Again

KIC 8462852 sure is weird. The star is the subject of speculation as to whether or not some sort of "alien megastructure" might be constructed around it. This is because it shows a pattern of irregular dimming that has yet to be fully explained, despite several alternative hypotheses. Up until now, we have not been able to study the star as it undergoes the dimming process. But astronomers are seeing the star start to dim once more.

Star KIC 8462852, or Boyajian's star (also nicknamed "Tabby's star," for astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, who led the team that first detected the star's fluctuations), has demonstrated an irregular cycle of growing dimmer and then returning to its previous brightness. These changes were first spotted in September 2015 using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which was built to observe these kinds of dips in a star's brightness, because they can be caused by a planet moving in front of the star as seen from Earth.

But the brightness changes exhibited by Boyajian don't show the kind of regularity that is typical of a planet's orbit around its star, and scientists can't see how the changes could be explained by a system of planets.

Scientists have hypothesized that the changes could be due to a swarm of comets passing in front of the star, that they're the result of strong magnetic activity, or that it's some massive structure built by aliens. But no leading hypothesis has emerged, so scientists have been eager to capture a highly detailed picture of the light coming from the star during one of these dimming periods. This detailed view is what scientists typically call an object spectra. It can reveal, for example, the specific chemical elements that are in a gas. It can also tell scientists if an object is moving toward or away from the observer.

Observing the star as it dims allows us to make additional observations that may resolve the mystery. Spectroscopy can help identify characteristics of whatever is blocking the star's light. It should be able to establish whether the obstruction is a cloud of gas or dust. But if neither of those wind up matching the measurements, we could be back to the megastructure hypothesis. That would be supported by an observation that the light doesn't seem to be passing through anything - if we can assume that said megastructure is not transparent.

So I'm looking forward to whatever these new observations will detect. As usual, the paranormal explanation shouldn't be the default. But you never know - it just might be space aliens after all.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Not a Nightmare After All

The week before last, I reported on the so-called "nightmare house" in South Carolina. The house was placed on the market with a mysterious note stating that the upstairs unit "cannot be shown under any circumstances." The note added that the buyer would assume responsibility for the upstairs tenant, who had a lease but had never paid rent.

At the time, I said that despite the note, there probably was a more normal explanation than a ghost or a gateway to Hell or something out of a horror movie. And I was right. As reported by The State newspaper in South Carolina, the upstairs tenant is not a ghost or a demon. He's an artist and illustrator who's an old friend of the family that owns the house.

The State newspaper in South Carolina said the real reason is anything but a nightmare. The paper reports the upstairs apartment belongs to tenant Randall McKissick, a once world-renowned artist and illustrator. McKissick lives with his three cats, and is a father of two daughters and is a grandfather.

McKissick has been friends with the owner of the home since junior high school, according to The State. The artist fell on hard times and moved into the upstairs unit nearly 10 years ago. “He never asked for any money,” McKissick said. “He never mentioned money. I would like to pay him, but I don’t have any.”

The owner of the home said he wanted to rent the bottom floor for money, but it needs repairs he can’t afford. “We don’t really have much choice but to sell the house; my parents need to sell it,” the current owner said. “But it’s been in the family for so long, we don’t really want to. And we want Randy to be able to stay there.”

It just goes to show that usually there's a normal explanation. Phenomena like ghosts are paranormal precisely because they are rare. But it also is true that people are drawn to weirdness, and everybody loves a good mystery. That's probably why the house went viral in the first place. I know that's why I picked it up. It would have been more fun for me if it had turned out to be paranormal, but paranormal should never be the default position.

I hope that the situation with McKissick and the homeowner turns out for the best. If nothing else, the "nightmare house" article has drawn a lot of publicity and raised awareness of McKissick's work. You can't buy coverage like that, unless you have a lot to spend.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Fire

This article is Part Four of a series. Part One can be found here, Part Two can be found here, and Part Three can be found here.

Working with the Fire element is the third step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Tree of Life, the mystical aspects of all four elements correspond to the tenth sephira, Malkuth, which represents the material world. The elements have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

Today, I'll be focusing on the element Fire. The Fire element corresponds to the plasma state of matter, and in the ancient Greek system of the elements is related to union of the Hot and Dry powers. The Cool power unifies and the Hot power separates. The Dry power reinforces structure, and the Moist power breaks it down. So the fundamental nature of Fire is separating and structured. A more detailed overview of the four classical powers can be found here, and that article includes a link to John Opsopaus' Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements, which is where I was first exposed to the system.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The White Horse of the Apocalypse


That arrow is tipped with something particularly hilarious about tiny hands.

According to disgraced evangelist Jim Bakker, the apocalypse is upon us. How does he know, you might ask? Why, he's already see the first horse, the White Horse of the Apocalypse, with his own eyes. In fact, it would have been hard to miss, because according to Bakker the White Horse is actually people making fun of Donald Trump. By that logic, there's a whole lot of apocalypse going around right now, and it shows no signs of letting up.

Bakker now sells survivalist food and gear to doomsday preppers on his “Jim Bakker Show.” In a clip from Thursday that was posted online by Right Wing Watch, he claimed there was a “hatred among peoples and this is satanic.” Then he went full “Sleepy Hollow” on his audience:

“This is the White Horse of the Apocalypse. The White Horse of the Apocalypse is the first horse. It’s a horse of speech. It’s a horse of spirit. And the spirit of Antichrist is out now. This is what you’re seeing. You want to know what the Antichrist spirit looks like? That’s what’s going on in America. These people mocking the president, the words they use, the speech they use, that’s the spirit of Antichrist. That’s the spirit of hatred.”

Bakker had a popular ― and lucrative ― TV ministry in the 1980s, but resigned in shame after a sex scandal. He eventually did five years in prison for fraud.

With the usual caveat that I have no real issues with Christians who aren't nutters like Bakker, I'm going to ask the obvious question here. Why should anybody worship a God who can't take a joke? That's So Sad! There, I made fun of one of Trump's tweets. Did I unleash the destruction of the world? It doesn't look like it. What's genuinely sad is watching Bakker carry all this water for Trump's thin-skinned authoritarian nonsense.

A reminder - this is America. We have the right to make fun of the president's hair, or his hands, or his diction, or his tweets. Every single president has been poked fun at over their personal foibles. And, if I want to say that I think Trump is incompetent and unqualified for the job, that's my right, too. Dealing with jokes and opinions like those is part of being a public figure, and as the old cliche goes, if you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.

Bakker should go back to selling potato soup to survivalists before his schtick degenerates into self-parody. By all accounts Trump is not a particularly religious man, so there's no reason to think that God is going to give him any special treatment. That being so, there's no reason to think there's anything theologically special about jokes targeting this particular president. And around here, mocking the president is practically a national pastime.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Literal Word of God?

Huffington Post has an article up today reporting the results of an ongoing Gallup poll of American's beliefs regarding the Bible. The poll has been taken since the 1970's, and found that belief in the Bible as the "literal word of God" is at its lowest point since that time.

Twenty-six percent of Americans view the Bible as “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.” And Gallup found that roughly half of American adults say the Bible is “the inspired word of God” but that it shouldn’t be taken literally.

Gallup polled a random sample of 1,011 adults, aged 18 and older and living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, between May 3-7, 2017.

The survey revealed that the number of Americans who view the Bible as the literal word of God has dropped from 38 percent in 1976 to 24 percent today. The percentage that defines the Bible as a book of fables and stories has doubled since then.

This has coincided with a larger shift in the American religious landscape in recent decades. Belief in God has wavered, and the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped from over 90 percent to roughly 70 percent. More and more Americans are religiously unaffiliated, meaning they do not identify with any formal religious group.

In fact, the idea that the Bible is the "literal word of God" is kind of ridiculous. The Bible contradicts itself in many places, and it only takes one counterexample to disprove such an absolute statement. The idea that the Bible is a holy book inspired by God, but which should not necessarily be taken literally, is a far more robust belief. As you can see above, the percentage of Americans who view the Bible that way has barely budged.

What I find most interesting is that as the literalist position declines, the increase shows up in the "book of fables" percentage. Some of this likely has to do with an increase in members of minority religions who don't follow the Bible, at least on the surface it seems that what's going on is not "literal" changing over to "inspired," but "literal" transitioning to "fable." Maybe if you're raised as a literalist, once you discover contradictions in the text you can't unsee them.

Still, it seems a little surprising to me that instead of transitioning to more liberal forms of Christianity, literalists might instead reject the Bible altogether as a holy text. To be clear, without a breakout of Christians versus members of other religions, you can't necessarily draw that conclusion from the poll. That's just what it looks like from a surface reading of the results.

Another possibility is that "literals" are transitioning to "inspireds" at the same rate that "inspireds" are abandoning Christianity for other religions and therefore placing the Bible in the "fable" camp. Or there could be some even more complex set of dynamics at work. It's good to see the literalists on the decline for whatever reason, even though 24% still translates to a lot of people who would be fine with killing me just for being a non-Christian - or, I suppose, are hypocrites about the whole thing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Air

This article is Part Three of a series. Part One can be found here, and Part Two can be found here.

Working with the Air element is the third step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Tree of Life, the mystical aspects of all four elements correspond to the tenth sephira, Malkuth, which represents the material world. The elements have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

Today, I'll be focusing on the element Air. The Air element corresponds to the gas state of matter, and in the ancient Greek system of the elements is related to union of the Hot and Moist powers. The Cool power unifies and the Hot power separates. The Dry power reinforces structure, and the Moist power breaks it down. So the fundamental nature of Air is separating and unstructured or dissolving. A more detailed overview of the four classical powers can be found here, and that article includes a link to John Opsopaus' Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements, which is where I was first exposed to the system.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

He Picked the Wrong Water

Even though it sounds like something out of The Onion, this story from back in March is from Zimbabwe Today, which as far as I know is a legitimate African newspaper. According to the story, a pastor trying to demonstrate "walking on water" was instead eaten by crocodiles.

It is said that Pastor Mthethwa walked into the water and when he was 30 meters inside the river, he attempted to ascend above the water so he can start walking, but the 3 crocodiles appeared out of no where and started feasting on him.

"They finished him in a couple of minutes. All that was left of him when they finished eating him is a pair of sandals and his underwear floating above the water." said Deacon Nkosi.

ER24 responded to the scene 30 minutes after, but upon arrival there was not much they could do as the man of god was already dead, digested by the crocodiles.

Above and beyond the irony factor, what I find interesting about this story is how the pastor's actions are described. Instead of just walking across the water from the shore, he walked 30 meters in and then attempted to "ascend?" I can do that trick. I just have to be in the right place, and I only know of one that fits the bill - the Gulf of Mexico coast off Sanibel Island in Florida. But I'm sure there are many others around the world.

The deal is that off Sanibel island, there's a shallow sand bar about that far out from shore. So I could walk out into the ocean and then appear to rise until I was only knee-deep or ankle-deep in the water and walk for a ways. Obviously, anybody who followed me would discover they could do the same thing - but if, say, the body of water happened to be infested by crocodiles so nobody ever went in? That would keep the secret pretty well.

I don't know whether the pastor really believed he could do it, or if he was pulling a trick that meant he had to do at that precise location. Either way, luck was not with him. Even in waters with a lot of crocodiles or alligators, they usually are willing to leave people alone for a short period of time unless they are especially hungry - time enough to wade out, walk around on a sand bar or, I suppose, on the water itself, and then wade back. But not this time.

Maybe if he really was trying to pull a trick on his congregation, the crocodiles were just God's way of saying "no."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Movie Review: A Dark Song

I rarely post movie reviews on here, since most Hollywood films about magick are hopelessly clueless when it comes to how it's supposed to work. Either it's this comic-book thing where wizards shoot beams of light all over the place, or something like Harry Potter where the magic is a bunch of fairy tale folklore mixed in with bits and pieces of real occult ideas and terminology. But A Dark Song, a new Irish horror film written and directed by Liam Gavin, at least puts some effort into trying to get it right. That alone is praiseworthy, hence this review.

The film stars Catherine Walker as Sophia Howard, a grieving woman who sets out to perform a fictional version of the Abramelin working. We'll get to that in a moment. It also stars Steve Oram as Joseph Solomon, an experienced magician Sophia hires to help her with the ritual procedure. Much of the film takes place just between the two of them, and both turn in excellent performances. The film manages to be creepy, suspenseful, and at a couple of points genuinely scary, and it accomplishes this without relying on a huge special effects budget or anything like that. The otherwise positive top review on IMDb complains about the low budget, but I have to say, I watch lots of films and I really don't see where spending a ton on effects would have made it much better.

The fact is that when you do real magick you don't see laser lights all over the place, or crackly energy like a plasma ball gone crazy. Magick is about doing the work, day in and day out, with all of that practice leading up to eventual success. The movie gets that completely right, showing the sustained effort and intent required to perform an operation that lasts for months. There's no "Hollywood magick" here, and I found the film better for it. There are a lot of misconceptions that beginning practitioners bring with them, and that sort of "shoot laser light" or "levitate feathers" nonsense is to blame for a lot of it.

So as a film, I enjoyed A Dark Song very much. As for the magick itself, I imagine that how I felt watching parts of the film must be how physicists feel when they watch movie scientists go on about how to solve whatever physics problem is driving the storyline. Much of the exposition is close to the real thing - much closer than in any film I have previously seen. It's refreshing to hear Joseph Solomon talking about how these are "real angels" and "real demons," and that those "people on the Internet" who say the Holy Guardian Angel is your "Higher Self" are just wrong. That's an actual conversation I see all the time. But many of the details of the ritual are misinterpreted, and some are just wrong.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Nightmare House With Mystery Tenant

Huffington Post has an article up today about a "Nightmare House" that apparently was being sold complete with a mystery upstairs tenant. The listing is no longer available, but it was pretty bizarre while it lasted. According to the listing, the house came complete with an upstairs apartment that could never be shown that was occupied by a mysterious tenant who never paid rent on the unit - and still somehow still had a lease.

The first red flag shows up in the very first sentence of the description, “Please read carefully before scheduling showings.” And you’ll want to read carefully, or you may almost miss the buried tidbit about the mystery tenant who has never paid:

"Upstairs apartment cannot be shown under any circumstances. Buyer assumes responsibility for the month-to-month tenancy in the upstairs apartment. Occupant has never paid, and no security deposit is being held, but there is a lease in place. (Yes, it does not make sense, please don’t bother asking.)"

Can you ever meet this person? How on earth does this no-pay lease work? Did said upstairs tenant have anything to do with this?

Various theories about the upstairs apartment have been floated, including speculation that the "upstairs tenant" is actually a ghost and the sellers are trying to cover up evidence of a haunting. Personally, I don't know what to think. Some of my relatives invest in real estate, and have run into one situation where the seller's family members were occupying the house and insisted that they weren't going to leave even if the place was sold. But this "mystery tenant" business is a whole other level of weird.

That's what makes this story drift into paranormal territory. The situation of the house probably has a mundane but strange explanation, like a family member who made some sort of agreement to stay there indefinitely. Still, why all the secrecy? Why can't the unit be shown "under any circumstances?" Is the tenant an evil wizard, or some weird old dude who has to remain in the unit to guard a portal to some other dimension? If this were a movie, it would totally be something like that.

Since the listing has been taken down, I don't know if the house sold or if the seller just gave up. I know that I wouldn't want to buy a house with half of it entirely unseen and occupied by a stranger, and I think most buyers feel the same way. Either that, or the seller went upstairs to try to work something out with the tenant and wound up falling through the portal to Hell.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Watcher of the Dawn At It Again

Last February, it came to my attention that Watcher of the Dawn was trying to transition from snarking about the various Golden Dawn orders to setting itself up as the new Augoeides. Since the big Golden Dawn flame wars seemed to have died down, it was understandable that they might be looking to do something else. But as I said at the time, this is my beat. I stepped up my posting, both on the weird news side and the serious magick side, and it appeared that I won quite quickly. Watcher was back to only a couple of posts a month by last May.

But it looks like they've decided to try again. In April, the posting frequency jumped back up and the site is posting some of the same sorts of stories I have on here again. Thankfully, the "World's First New Age Tabloid" tagline is gone, because that was a lie. I was here first, folks. And while Augoeides is much more than a New Age tabloid, with serious magick articles and the like, a lot of my weird news and religion news posts certainly count as exactly that kind of subject matter. The monetization angle looks to be gone as well, which is smart. As I pointed out last year, there's no way to make any serious money blogging about the occult.

And I joke, sort of. It's not like Augoeides is the only paranormal blog in the world, and there's certainly room for more than one. But I also can be stubbornly competitive when I put my mind to it, which generally works out better for my readers. After all, who doesn't want to see more posts and more content? So that's what I'm going to do - I'll see if I can step up my game a little more here and vanquish Watcher once more. You know, in the metaphoric sense. Tracking down articles to post every day or even every other day takes time and effort. I'm used to that. But are they? Last time it seemed like they ran out of steam pretty quickly.

To be fair, there are some areas that Watcher could conceivably cover that I generally ignore. For example, I don't cover a lot of scandals involving religious leaders because they usually don't touch on the topic of "spiritual technology." It's not that, say, stories about religious leaders engaging in the sexual abuse of children or parishioners aren't important, but there's also not much to say besides pointing out that such leaders are simply awful human beings - and I shouldn't even need to say that since it's so obvious. But it does fit with Watcher's previous "scandal sheet" aspirations, and I would think that widening the focus from the Golden Dawn to religion in general would yield a lot of stories that I probably won't cover here.

As far as mainstream Christianity goes, one of my biggest targets is the "Prosperity Gospel" movement precisely because I think their tech is hopelessly broken and simply can't work. If you donate money, God isn't going to magically give you more. But prosperity preachers keep trying to convince people that this time, for sure, it will work, when as a magician I know that it never will. Also, the blog has become more political since the presidential election, in part because I really dislike our current president, but mostly because his administration seems determined to enshrine religious discrimination into law under the guise of "religious freedom." I've been fighting against that bullshit for years, and I'm not about to give it up now.

At any rate, Watcher, game on. Again. Let's see if you can keep up this time.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Via Solis Taurus Elixir Rite

Today's Magick Monday post is a full script for the Taurus Elixir Rite that we will be performing tomorrow, Tuesday May 9th, at Leaping Laughter Lodge, our local Twin Cities body of Ordo Templi Orientis. This is similar to the Libra Elixir Rite I posted here back in 2014, but it includes some additional elements inspired by research that went into the Zodiacal Work posts. Going forward, we will be performing one of these per month, once for each of the twelve signs, in a ritual series called Via Solis (the way or path of the Sun). 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 sign Taurus is attributed to "The Secret of Physical Strength," and therefore intents related to strength, healing, vitality, and so forth are most 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.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Happy May Day 2017!

I'm sure your first thought here is that May Day was last week, and it's already May 7th. But for folks like me who live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, May Day is always the first Sunday in May, the day of the May Day Parade and Festival, a tradition that dates back to the 1970's. This year just happens to be the latest that it can possibly fall, with the side effect that it was an absolutely beautiful day.

The May Day Festival is an interesting case of a pagan-ish festival that went mainstream by way of the hippie movement of the 1970's. The parade was originally planned as a Vietnam War protest, but the war ended in 1975 just before the parade was set to take place. The organizers went ahead with the parade anyway, as a progressive demonstration and general celebration of spring. Over the years, the parade and festival have grown to the point where they attract as many as 50,000 spectators, and what's noteworthy is they're not all witches, pagans, or ceremonial magicians. Many are regular folks who like attending a fun spring festival.

So whether you celebrated May Day last week, or joined in the festivities here at Powderhorn Park today, or did both, here's wishing you a happy holiday and what looks to be a glorious spring season here in the Midwest.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Watch Out for Book Demons!

My friend and brother Lon Milo DuQuette has written tons of books on magick and Thelema, but I think this is the first time anyone has accused one of his books of causing demonic possession. Or, at least, the first time anyone has bothered to put together a whole story explaining how it allegedly happened in this Amazon review of Lon's book My Life With The Spirits. Now I will start off by saying that the first thing I think when somebody starts out with "this is not a joke or troll review" is that it totally is. But judge for yourself:

First off, I want to say this is not a joke or troll review- these events are described exactly as they happened. Anyways the book is interesting and I read the whole thing in one sitting. However, after reading the book, I went to take a shower and noticed in the mirror the appearance of dark circles under my eyes which are unusual for me, I'm a devout Christian and my eyes never have dark circles under them- even when I don't have time to sleep that day and have been awake for 24 hours. I also noticed they were not as glassy, or 'glowing' as usual- my eyes usually have a shine, but they looked dead. IMMEDIATELY upon my noticing this fact, I felt a HEAVY sense of dread- SHEER terror, and the feeling that I was not alone, the feeling as if the whole room had 'shook' and the floor had fallen out from under me. I've dealt with this sort of thing in the past, but never nearly so strong a feeling- so intense and so real. It was as if whatever demon had become mad that I had spotted this change. I might have panicked and made the situation worse, but instead I stayed calm, prayed, and used my power of will to believe in my prayers and that they would work. I'm thankful that two hours later, my eyes are returned to their previous state- however I would not be surprised if I'm still having trouble sleeping tonight.

Someone who didn't notice the apparent possession or reacted differently may be in big trouble at this point. I still doubt that I am out of the woods entirely.

Taking this person at their word, there are tons of things that can cause dark circles under your eyes that will last for a couple of hours, and "demons" aren't usually on that list. Beyond that, all that really happened is that they got totally freaked out. That sounds to me like "devout Christian" - that is, fundie - programming that attempts to inculcate irrational fear of any spirit or spiritual force that isn't explicitly Christian and approved as non-heretical.

In other words, the odds that this person was freaked out by a demon rather than their own basically broken programming strikes me as very unlikely. Here's my thought - the reader picked up the book even though it was officially "forbidden" by his or her brand of Christianity. Reading through the book in one sitting, this triggered anxiety that started to build. Anxiety, in fact, can cause dark circles under your eyes. Then, the moment he saw something that looked weird, the anxiety came on in full force.

So my diagnosis there is that maybe people who are as "devout" as this individual should stay away from My Life With The Spirits unless they want to get freaked out. But that's where it ends. The book isn't going to cause a problem for anybody who's not triggered by the idea of magick as EVIL. I mean, the book isn't even a book of spells, just an account of Lon's experiences with magick over the years. And it is a fun read for those of us who know what we're talking about with respect to the occult.

Friday, May 5, 2017

"Religious Liberty" Executive Order Signed

As it turned out, the "Religious Liberty" executive order signed by President Trump yesterday wasn't anything like the laughably unconstitutional draft order leaked earlier this week, which singled out specific conservative Evangelical Christian beliefs as the only form of "religious liberty" worthy of protection. Instead, it turned out to be a totally different bad idea, a move to weaken the Johnson Amendment that limits the political activity of churches.

Trump approved the measure in the Rose Garden at the White House surrounded by clergy and leaders of faith organizations during a National Day of Prayer event. “Today my administration is leading by example as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty in the United States of America,” the president said. “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.”

The measure is designed to ease enforcement of a provision in the federal tax code known as the Johnson Amendment that bars religious institutions from endorsing or opposing political candidates and parties. It directs the IRS to “exercise maximum enforcement discretion” of the amendment, according to the White House. Additionally, it orders regulatory relief for those who object to ObamaCare’s preventive service mandate on religious grounds.

Trump is fulfilling a promise he made to social conservatives, who strongly backed him during the 2016 campaign. Those groups have long argued that the Johnson Amendment violates their First Amendment rights. Scrapping the amendment was a major rallying cry for Trump on the campaign trail and he made it one of his earliest promises once he took office.

It is not exactly clear what "maximum enforcement discretion" will mean in the context of real-world cases, and the executive order does not have the force of law. To overturn the Johnson Amendment, Congress would have to pass legislation. But the order does signal that overturning the amendment remains one of the administration's priorities, as Trump repeatedly promised it would be during his campaign.

I won't re-hash my argument against repealing the Johnson Amendment in this post, since you can read it here, but basically, I expect that if the repeal goes through, many churches will start becoming more explicitly political and therefore less religious. For sincere spiritual seekers that would just be bad news, and it wouldn't surprise me to see "non-political" become a selling point for churches soon after - kind of like "non-denominational" did back in the 1980's.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Reporting Criminal Space Aliens


All your butts are belong to us.

When the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office set up a new hotline for reporting "criminal aliens," they weren't expecting calls about aliens from outer space. But that's exactly what they got. A group of online activists decided to flood the hotline with calls about the kind of aliens that zoom around in flying saucers, and as a result, ICE issued a statement dismissing every single call that referred to extraterrestrials.

When President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January targeting what he called “criminal aliens,” he probably wasn’t thinking of extraterrestrials.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement unveiled its Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office Wednesday, one of the results of Trump’s order ― and it includes a hotline for victims of “criminal aliens.”

Critics such as Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) say the new office is part of the Trump administration’s effort “to perpetuate a stereotype that immigrants are dangerous and something to be feared.”

Others are taking their criticism a step further, turning it into a form of performance art by calling the 1-855-48-VOICE (6423) phone number to report space aliens.

A case could be made that referring to these calls as "performance art" could prove just as dangerous as stereotyping immigrants. Also, the volume of fake calls is troubling, and could cover up real cases. For example, what if somebody calls about real criminal space aliens? Abducting people and probing their butts can't be legal, even if the aliens return them to their beds when it's all over. But if fake calls prevent ICE from taking those cases seriously, they may never even be investigated.

So there's plenty of blame to go around on both sides here. Too many fake space alien calls mean that real cases can be missed. But the signal that ICE's response sends is that the Trump administration doesn't care about space alien butt probes, and that stance could wind up hurting his voters. Much of Trump's victory can be attributed to increased enthusiasm and voter turnout in rural areas, after all, and everybody knows that alien abductions always seem to happen in the middle of nowhere.

If we're not supposed to call ICE about criminal space aliens, who do we call? Maybe the administration should set up a separate hotline for these kinds of calls. You know, to show that they care. And maybe these activists should only call in if they've really been abducted or violated by visitors from the stars.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A 2015 Jersey Devil Hoax?

A friend of mine tagged me in a story about a man who claimed to have photographed the elusive Jersey Devil. At first, I decided it wasn't really timely enough to post here because it happened back in 2015. But today, I came across this article from Cryptozoology News with some analysis of the 2015 photo. It's from a couple months ago, so I figured that was at least fairly recent.

At any rate, the photo, which I include above, looks pretty good at first glance. As usual, I considered all sorts of possible explanations involving misidentification of some normal object, and the best I could come up with was a kite. But you also don't see a string or anything like that in the photo, or anybody standing on the right side of the road where they would have to be standing to fly it. So that's probably not it, which puts it in the category of photos that have to be either hoaxes or the real thing.

The image, submitted to Cryptozoology News and seemingly taken from inside the vehicle, shows a blurry and rainy highway with a few blurred cars and a dark flying animal on the top left. The alleged animal appears to be less blurry than the elements in the rest of the elements present in the photograph.

The man said the creature was very large and had “bat-like wings and goat features”. “It was extremely creepy, but we figured we must have just seen it wrong, because of the rain and darkness, but upon looking at the picture it looks like no bird or bat I have seen before,” he said about the alleged November 26th 2015 late evening encounter.

Image analysts tell Cryptozoology News that based on compression characteristics and EXIF metadata, the image initially appears to have been processed or edited with a photo editor software.

Cryptozoologists get a bad rap sometimes for being too credible about sightings and the like, but there you go. The photo is probably a fake that was edited to include the image. It just goes to show that even in some of these fringe communities, there's some real investigation and analysis going on. Interestingly enough, in October of 2015 another Jersey Devil photo was circulated on the Internet, and that story can be found here.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When Weather Terrorists Attack

Over the weekend a series of severe storms moved through Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi, killing fifteen people and injuring many more. In the wake of this tragedy, Religious Right activist Dave Daubenmire thinks he knows what is really going on. According to a webcast that aired yesterday, he speculated that the storms could be the result of "weather terrorism" unleashed by "people who'll kill babies" - which I guess is referring to pro-choice activists. But beyond that, the whole rant is pretty confusing.

Daubenmire said that while most people will dismiss this as “all tinfoil hat stuff,” it can’t be denied that “people who’ll kill babies” are capable of anything. “Folks, we’re talking about people who’ll kill babies,” he said. “They don’t even think about killing babies. We’re talking about unsaved people who will do anything for money.”

“Is it weather terrorism?” Daubenmire asked. “I wonder how many bridges were washed out down through Missouri and through Illinois and up through parts of Texas. I wonder, through the flooding, how much stuff was destroyed that they can just blame it on the weather, ‘Well, it was just bad weather that came through there.’ Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of damage that was done and is it being done through weather modification?”

To be clear, the reason this should be dismissed as "tinfoil hat stuff" is because even if somebody wanted to control the weather, there's no conceivable way that they could do it at our current level of technology. The closest we've been able to get is cloud seeding, which sometimes can make it rain - sometimes. It doesn't work at all if the conditions aren't right to begin with, which often is when a storm is already on the way. Wilhelm Reich claimed to get similar results with his "cloudbuster," but even taken at face value, they were only marginally better than the results of seeding experiments.

It also isn't clear to me how, even if you had a magical tornado machine, you could make money by using it on unsuspecting towns. Is whoever allegedly has this weather control machine a building contractor? Because that's about the only plausible scenario I can come up with where you could create tornados to make money that doesn't involve demanding a ransom or something. Otherwise, trying to create storms "for money" is just stupid - and, as I often point out here, "evil for evil's sake" isn't a motivation that you generally find in the real world.

Also, the point of terrorism is to inspire terror. If a "weather terrorist" group has this mysterious device, why aren't they taking credit for the storms? Why didn't they announce what they were going to do? Why aren't they asking for a ransom or the release of compatriots or whatever under the threat of using it again? I know that was the plot of that lousy 1998 Avengers movie and there's no way this hypothetical group is led by Sean Connery, but still, that doesn't automatically make it a bad plan - you know, if you can actually do it.

Which, to be clear, nobody can. Which is why "weather terrorists" only exist in the confused imaginations of guys like Daubenmire, and why "tinfoil hat" is the precisely correct description for his bizarre musings.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Water

This article is Part Two of a series. Part One can be found here.

Working with the Water element is the second step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Tree of Life, the mystical aspects of all four elements correspond to the tenth sephira, Malkuth, which represents the material world. The elements have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

Today, I'll be focusing on the element Water. The Water element corresponds to the liquid state of matter, and in the ancient Greek system of the elements is related to union of the Cool and Moist powers. The Cool power unifies and the Hot power separates. The Dry power reinforces structure, and the Moist power breaks it down. So the fundamental nature of Water is unifying and unstructured or dissolving. A more detailed overview of the four classical powers can be found here, and that article includes a link to John Opsopaus' Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements, which is where I was first exposed to the system.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Satanic Monument Controversy Comes to Belle Plaine

Yeah, I know what you're thinking - where the hell is Belle Plaine? Since I'm a Minnesotan, I'll tell you. Belle Plaine is a small town forty-some miles southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota where I currently live. It's classic small-town Minnesota, with a population of about 6,700. That's mentioned in the section I clipped from the article below, but I figured I would lead off with it to give you a sense of place - since unless you're from around here, you'll have no idea where it is.

Anyway, a Christian group put up a monument to honor veterans in the town's Veteran's Memorial Park. No surprise, the monument featured a cross. City leaders decided that the monument needed to be taken down in case someone decided to sue - and to be clear, no one actually did. A lot of people in Belle Plaine liked the monument, so they protested its removal. The city's response was to set up an area where monuments from all religious traditions could be erected, including the Christian one. Which is actually quite reasonable, as I see it.

The symbol in this case was a modest but poignant 2-foot steel war memorial called “Joe,” which features a cross in its tribute to soldiers in Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park. City leaders, fearing a lawsuit rooted in the constitutional separation of church and state, in January ordered the removal of the cross. But more than 100 residents rallied to restore the full memorial. To defuse the turmoil, the city then decided to designate a small area in the park as a “free speech zone,” open to 10 or fewer temporary memorials, as long as they honor veterans.

The cross was reinstalled on the monument this month. And it’s about to have company: The Satanic Temple in Salem, Mass., is planning to erect its own memorial: A black cube, inscribed with inverted pentagrams and crowned by an upturned helmet. “Everyone understood this could happen,” said Belle Plaine resident Andy Parrish, who led the charge to restore the cross. “It’s more annoying than it is offensive.”

In Belle Plaine, a town of 6,700 about 45 miles southwest of Minneapolis, the original decision to remove the cross proved deeply unpopular. For nearly a month, flag-toting protesters occupied the park each day, often staking their own handmade crosses into the ground out of defiance. Almost overnight, small wooden crosses popped up in business windows, on mailboxes and front lawns. “The residents feel a sense of duty,” Parrish told an overflow crowd at a February City Council meeting. “Our veterans defended us and it’s our duty to defend them.”

City officials decided that night to authorize the public forum on park grounds. Councilman Ben Stier wondered aloud if the change would be worth it to veterans if they had to share their parcel with, say, a satanic group. They answered with a reluctant yes. The Satanic Temple was first in line to test their resolve.

I want to emphasize that all of this had to do with fears of a lawsuit on the part of city leaders. Nobody filed suit demanding that the monument come down. They were just worried that at some point in the future, somebody might. So they ordered it taken down of their own volition, not in response to any legal demand.

And the thing about this is that I totally support what looks like the outcome here. I'd rather drive by a public park and see a whole bunch of monuments put up by people of different religious traditions than drive by and see nothing. I also think that in this particular legal context, atheism needs to be treated as a religious belief as well - even though in reality, atheism is absence of one particular belief (in a God or gods) than it is a coherent set of beliefs. Atheists need to be given the rights as believers, so any atheist group should likewise be free to put up their own secular display.

The Christian monument in question is tasteful and I don't see any reason to remove it. However, if one religion is allowed to put up a monument on government land, every other religion needs to have the right to do the same. Whether they exercise it or not is up to them, but they need to be given the right to do it if they want. The Satanic Temple's monument is not offensive either, and it should be allowed to stand. And I think that's a better state of affairs than insisting that any monument with religious content be removed from government land.

Let's celebrate our religious diversity rather than trying to sweep it all under the rug.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Published in Denver Witch Quarterly

This article is cross-posted from my author website.

Even though I don't live in Denver and don't consider myself a witch, my article "Against Book Piracy" has been published in the latest issue of Denver Witch Quarterly.

The current issue has a bunch of material about the now-infamous Donald Trump binding spell, but my article doesn't have anything to do with that. If you're interested in my thoughts on the binding spell and the "Trump Magick War," they can be found here.

My article is more along the lines of my Truth About Writing post in the context of occult books and people who pirate them under the mistaken belief that we occult authors are making tons of money from our work. To be clear, we're not. The occult is a tiny market, and at this point it's pretty much impossible to make enough money writing occult books to live on, even at a minimum wage level.

The latest issue of Denver Witch Quarterly can be purchased here, from Smashwords.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Skeptic Reviews America's Psychic Experiments

New Republic has a review up today of a new book on psychic experiments conducted by the United States Government, Phenomena: The Secret History of the U. S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis by Annie Jacobsen. I'm including the Amazon link because if you take a look at the critical reviews, there are several that point out inconsistencies and omissions in the narrative that sound legitimate. The reviewer, on the other hand, appears to be a smug capital-S Skeptic who seems to generally like the book itself, but spends most of his time going on about what a waste of time all these programs were because, of course, psychic abilities don't exist.

This experiment is only one of the strange stories—many of them recently declassified—in Annie Jacobsen’s Phenomena: The Secret History of the U. S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis. As with her previous books on Area 51, Operation Paperclip (the secret project to bring Nazi rocket scientists to the U.S. after the war), and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which develops new technology for the Defense Department), this one begins with the fallout of World War II and the extreme measures the military-industrial complex took to unlock and weaponize psychic abilities in the early days of the Cold War. Spanning over 50 years, Jacobsen’s tale takes us from the immediate postwar years to the CIA’s experiments in the 1960s and ‘70s. The Defense Department, she tells us, began its own experiments in the 1980s and ‘90s, before their final incarnation, Project Stargate, was finally decommissioned in 1995.

Later in the article, which I'm not going to quote, the reviewer tries to debunk remote viewing by citing a single failed experiment. However, if you dig into the Stargate material, there were also plenty of successful experiments that produced some reliable intelligence. I am not convinced everyone can be trained to do remote viewing effectively, but I think anybody talented enough to do practical magick should be able to develop a reasonable level of skill at it. One of the problems with trying to deploy these abilities on a large scale is identifying talented people in the first place who are worth the investment of time and money.

Although Jacobsen’s book demonstrates an alarming pattern of government activity, the phenomena themselves are what makes her book so fascinating, and often troubling. “My intention … for this book,” she writes, “was not to prove or disprove anyone or any concept, but to report objectively on the government’s long-standing interest in ESP and PK phenomena.” That being said, she cuts these charlatans a great deal of slack while subtly undermining their critics, creating a reading experience that’s alternately frustrating and exhausting. And while she couldn’t have predicted this before finishing the book, Phenomena arrives at the beginning of a presidency that is thriving on conspiracy, distortion of fact, the discrediting of reliable sources, and outright paranoia. With the President of the United States quoting the National Enquirer as a legitimate news source, we’re in desperate need of a thorough account of the overlap between the government and the occult—but given our current climate, such a book also requires greater moral clarity.

I guess "moral clarity" to this reviewer means that the book should make it clear that the James Randi, capital-S Skeptic position is obviously correct and that any believer in psychic or paranormal phenomena is hopelessly deluded. Obviously, I don't subscribe to that viewpoint. Personally, I like that the author of the book took a more neutral position, because arguing over the existence of psychic powers can consume a great deal of energy and is ultimately boring. People experience them. Of course they exist in that sense. So what we should be trying to figure out is what's going on, not "whether it's real." As a point, the Skeptic favorite "mass hysteria" is precisely as poorly understood as "psychic ability," and is really no more credible as I see it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Presenting at NOTOCON XI

This article is cross-posted from my author web site.

I was originally asked to hold off on making this announcement until the official schedule was posted online, but since it's up now I figure I can go ahead with it. This summer, I will be presenting on Heptarchial Evocation at NOTOCON XI, the eleventh biannual conference of Ordo Templi Orientis, in Orlando, Florida. The presentation is scheduled for 9 AM on Friday, August 11th of 2017. It might have been nice to do the presentation a little later in the day, since I'm not really a morning person, but it's also pretty cool to be kicking off Friday's track of ritual presentations.

The presentation will include a condensed version of my Introduction to the Heptarchia Mystica talk and a full Heptarchial evocation ritual done according to the procedure laid out in Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy, with a few additional tweaks for a Thelemic audience. After the conference, I will be making the text of my talk available over on Augoeides as per my usual practice. If you would like to buy a copy of my book to peruse before the presentation, just click on the title there to order.

So if you will be attending the conference, I hope that you'll resist the urge to sleep in on Friday morning (which, to be fair, I might very well do myself if I wasn't presenting) and come check it out. It should be a good time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bermuda Triangle Still a Mystery?

For quite a few years now, a possible scientific explanation has been put forth for the large number of ships that have allegedly disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle - a rough triangle with points at the tip of Florida, the island of Bermuda, and the island of Puerto Rico. The ocean floor in this region is known to occasionally release methane bubbles, which some scientists believe can temporarily lower the density of the ocean water and sink a ship. However, physicist Helen Czerski has studied this phenomenon and concluded that its ability to sink a ship has been profoundly exaggerated. In fact, she contends that it poses little if any danger.

For decades, reports have claimed ships and aircrafts have vanished while traveling through the mysterious region of the Atlantic Ocean known as 'The Bermuda Triangle.' Some sailors call it the 'Devil's Triangle', claiming the area is plagued by supernatural powers or possibly extraterrestrial visitors.

However, there is a scientific explanation. "This idea that if you had a whoosh of methane bubbles from the sea floor, it could sink a ship," Helen Czerski, physicist and oceanographer from University College London, said. So the tiny bubbles really don't threaten the ship?

"The first thing is that this whoosh of gas is going to break up into small bubbles, really, really quickly. It doesn't rise as one massive, great big bubble." Czerski said. "It pushes up on the ship, much more strongly than the ship is falling into the bubbles. The bubbles actually make the ship go up, not down."

In fact, the Bermuda Triangle isn't really much of a mystery. As I keep harping on here on Augoeides, even very intelligent people routinely estimate or calculate probabilities wrong. The Bermuda Triangle is (A) one of the areas most strongly affected by Atlantic hurricanes and (B) crossed by one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The storms somewhat increase the risk to ships, but more importantly the sheer number of ships passing through the area mean that there seem to be an unusual number of disappearances. Several studies now have shown that the rate of lost ships in the region is not that unusual if you control for the level of traffic and compare it to other shipping routes.

So once again, this is a case where a failure to understand probability means a failure to understand life, and not just with probability manipulation technologies like magick. If you want to live your life to the fullest, it helps a great deal to accurately assess risk, and a little knowledge in that area can go a long way.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An Aurora Named Steve

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that I must look like a "Steve." Nobody ever calls me anything else besides my real name, and if somebody can't remember "Scott," "Steve" is always what they guess. Thanks to a group of Canadian aurora borealis enthusiasts, it sounds like I now share my fake name with a mysterious phenomenon lighting up the sky over Canada - a strip of aurora light that these enthusiasts decided to name "Steve."

The story started with a group of Canadians who were enthusiastic about finding and photographing the most stunning displays of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. They formed a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers to share information about the best and brightest displays. A few years ago, some began to notice that Steve — a strip of light that appeared a bit farther south than the northern lights — was something special.

After that, scientists began to take notice. “The really cool thing about this is the social media providing a nice bridge between the scientific community and these amateurs, who are incredibly talented observers of the night sky,” Dr. Donovan said. He explained that Steve is a strip of ionized gas moving through the air at about four miles per second, with temperatures as high as 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit — as hot as the earth’s core. It is about 16 miles wide and thousands of miles long, flowing from east to west across Canada.

Photographs of the phenomenon, most of which show Steve as a glowing ribbon of neon light, have captivated aurora borealis enthusiasts in Canada and far beyond.

I bring this up here on Augoeides in part because I'm a science enthusiast, and in part because as I see it, this is an example of a "paranormal phenomenon" as I employ the term. It's not "supernatural," but rather an unusual observation that doesn't fit the normal pattern. Scientists know that it's there and know what it's made of, and so far they haven't figured out why it behaves the way it does. But I'm confident that they eventually will.

As I see, the same is true of magical effects. Spell results aren't necessarily as obvious as, say, a glowing strip of light running across the sky - though that would be pretty damn cool to cast. The point is that anybody with a modicum of talent who has done the work should know firsthand that there's something to it. The nature of magick remains an open question, but I'm confident that once we work out consciousness, we'll be close to a definitive explanation.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Earth

This article is Part One of a series.

Working with the Earth element is the first step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Tree of Life, the mystical aspects of all four elements correspond to the tenth sephira, Malkuth, which represents the material world. The elements have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

I have been very clear in my practical magick series that magick is more than just psychology. However, since your first and most important magical tool is your mind, it is with psychology that you should begin. This is not to say that I necessarily agree with Israel Regardie's contention that all aspiring magicians should start by getting years of psychotherapy. Much psychotherapy is quite frankly not that useful to mentally healthy individuals.

On the other hand, it also is true that mental illness afflicts about a quarter of the population in one form or another, and if you do suffer from such issues therapy can be useful in some cases. You will want to find a therapist who is up on modern, scientifically valid methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy, since most of the psychoanalytic methods have not been shown to work under controlled scientific conditions.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Aries Elixir Rite Intent for Leaping Laughter OTO

This post might be a bit obscure if you live outside the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota) or have no interest in Ordo Templi Orientis, the order I was initiated into more than twenty years ago. It's important to me, though, so that's why it's here.

Tonight Leaping Laughter will be holding a business meeting where our incoming master will be setting out priorities and such for the local body going forward. At Tuesday's Aries Elixir Rite, I issued the following intent in hopes of consecrating our local body to expanding into the greater community, and providing hospitality to all who seek us out in good faith.

As Aries is related to "The Power of Consecrating Things," I felt that this was the appropriate rite in which to issue such an intent, especially since it was the first of twelve zodiacal operations planned for the upcoming year. My intent consisted of five points, designed to dedicate and consecrate the Leaping Laughter community on all levels.

1. To strengthen and enhance Leaping Laughter’s relationships with the artistic and alternative spirituality communities in general, and increase positive attention to our work in all relevant contexts.

2. To bring members, guests, and visitors to Leaping Laughter who will contribute to our work in whatever capacity they can, who are committed to expanding the body and the order in general, and who are committed to maintaining fraternal relations with their brothers and sisters.

3. To protect Leaping Laughter from any person or situation that might undermine our hospitality, our work, and/or the personal safety of our members, such as those who are unable or unwilling to behave in a fraternal manner towards members, guests, and/or visitors.

4. To maintain Leaping Laughter as a welcoming and comfortable space for all who choose to attend our rites and events and abide by our policies, and to guard against the arising of any situation that might detract from this.

5. To extend the quality thus cultivated here at Leaping Laughter so as to inspire the healthy expansion of the order in general, in the United States and all across the world.

As I see it, these are all basic factors that go into making any group, and particularly a group dedicated to magical and alternative spirituality, a place where people will want to congregate, spend time, and hopefully support in whatever manner they are able. These are all qualities that I want to see cultivated going forward, and to be clear, none of these were issued because I find them lacking in the body as a whole or anywhere else.

I don't travel very much but I do attend the national conferences, and the people I meet there are generally awesome. That awesomeness is something that I hope every contact with our order can reflect, and as I'm sure you all know, I'm not shy about sending out magick to help wherever it's needed. After all, what's the point of learning magick if you don't put it to good use?

If all these tenets sound good to you and you're interested in checking us out, feel free to stop by. Most of our events are public, and our website can be found here with our calendar and other particulars.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Russia Bans Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses with their door-to-door proselytizing can be a little annoying sometimes, but I've never considered them dangerous. Russia, apparently, disagrees. Russia's Supreme Court has now declared the religious denomination an "extremist group," putting them in the same category as radical Islamic groups and other religious sects that support terrorism and violence. Since there's no evidence that Russian Jehovah's Witnesses have ever been involved in anything of the sort, it's hard to see this as anything other than a case of religious persecution.

Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants.

The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.

Viktor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the denomination, said Jehovah’s Witnesses would appeal the ruling. He said it had focused on the activities of the organization’s so-called administrative center, a complex of offices outside St. Petersburg, but also branded all of its nearly 400 regional branches as extremist.

“We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia,” Mr. Zhenkov said in a telephone interview. “We will, of course, appeal.” An initial appeal will be made to the Supreme Court’s appellate division, Mr. Zhenkov said, and if that fails, Jehovah’s Witnesses will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France.

Religious freedom in Russia has been seriously curtailed for years. Under an "anti-extremism" law passed in 2002, any religion that claims to offer a "true path" to salvation - other than the Russian Orthodox Church - can be banned. That's flat-out bizarre, the sort of law that you would find in the sort of radical theocracy that the Christian Reconstructionists want to establish here in the United States. It's just one more reminder of how thankful we should be that the Constitution of the United States protects freedom of religion.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cannabis Church Opens on 4/20

For the longest time, this idea was basically a joke thrown around in response to the rise of "religious freedom" laws. Kind of like the version of Satanism practiced by The Satanic Temple, it was primarily intended to ruffle the feathers of fundamentalists who are vehemently opposed to the use of any illegal drugs.

The thing is, though, recreational cannabis is now legal in Colorado, so Steve Berke and Lee Molloy decided to give it a go. They are opening the doors of their International Church of Cannabis in Denver today - which is, of course, 4/20, alluding to "420" as slang for cannabis. They even have a name for their religious philosophy, Elevationism, which they describe as "elevating one’s life and spiritual self-discovery through the sacrament of cannabis."

The church’s stated purpose is to serve as “a home to adults everywhere who are looking to create the best version of themselves by way of the sacred plant.” Just how that will be achieved is still up in the air, but church leaders told 9News that programming is expected to include guest speakers, comedians, artists, musicians and film screenings.

And while city officials ― and skeptical neighbors ― are concerned that founders Steve Berke and Lee Molloy are merely exploiting a legal loophole to create a cannabis club, the two promise the church isn’t just a smokescreen for illegal activities. No marijuana will be sold at the church.

“First and foremost, this is a community church,” Berke told Denver publication Westword. “There are rumors that this is a rasta smoking lounge or a nightclub. It’s not. It’s a safe place to congregate and consume.”

“Elevationism is about elevating one’s life and spiritual self-discovery through the sacrament of cannabis,” Molloy added. “I grew up in an evangelical, Pentecostal religion with people speaking in tongues and falling on the floor. If those people are considered a real religion, then why not us?”

Many people consume mind-altering substances as part of their spiritual or magical practices. Aside from sacramental wine, such as that used in Tuesday's elixir rite or the Gnostic Mass, I don't go that route because I find mental clarity important for my magical work. Still, my education in experimental psychology included a bit of psychopharmacology, and I find models like Timothy Leary's "set and setting" to be entirely plausible. So if this works for folks, I think it's great, even though it wouldn't interest me personally.

As far as legality goes, the "gateway drug" hypothesis was debunked by the LaGuardia Committee Report in the 1940's and has no scientific basis. Beyond that, there's no scientific evidence showing that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol, so it seems to me the most reasonable approach to regulating it should be something like the system they now have in Colorado. At the very least, it should be removed from Schedule 1 at the Federal level, since the key criteria there is that a drug have "no medical uses" - and cannabis has several.

On one level, I would really like to see somebody try to challenge the legality of the church and take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. I think there's a reasonable chance that Neil Gorsuch, Mr. Religious Freedom, might rule in the church's favor, and then the fundie heads would really explode.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Alex Jones Says He's Stephen Colbert

Alex Jones' InfoWars is the epicenter of many a conspiracy theory movement. Generally speaking, most people either consider Jones to be completely nuts, or a misunderstood truth-teller who dares to call out the mainstream media. But now, according to Jones' attorney, both of those interpretations are entirely wrong. Essentially, Jones is now at least officially claiming to be a fraud. Or a fake. Or maybe a joke.

In a custody dispute with his ex-wife, Jones' legal team is now saying that he is a "performance artist" who is "playing a character." In other words, they're trying to argue that he basically is Stephen Colbert - not the Stephen Colbert who currently hosts The Late Show, but the "Stephen Colbert" who hosted The Colbert Report on the Comedy Central network for nearly a decade.

InfoWars host Alex Jones may have built his media empire off of unhinged comments — from propagating innumerable conspiracy theories to using homophobic slurs and threatening violence against California Rep. Adam Schiff — but now his lawyer in a custody battle wants us to believe that this is all an act.

“He’s playing a character. He is a performance artist,” said Randall Wilhite, Jones’ lawyer in a custody dispute with Jones’ ex-wife Kelly Jones, according to a report by the Austin American-Statesman. By contrast, Kelly Jones insists that “he’s not a stable person. He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J-Lo to get raped.”

She added, “I’m concerned that he is engaged in felonious behavior, threatening a member of Congress. He broadcasts from home. The children are there, watching him broadcast.” According to District Judge Orlina Naranjo, this case is going to be about Jones’ capacity to be a good parent to the three children he shares with Kelly Jones, not the content of his controversial show InfoWars.

It should be noted that after this story originally broke, Jones posted a video completely contradicting his lawyer's statements - on the way to divorce court while he was allegedly under a gag order, which technically is not allowed. So which is it, Alex? Are you some sort of clown, or are you really as paranoid and messed up as you sound on your show?

A disturbing number of people in the occult community take Jones' nonsense seriously. One would like to think that sustained magical practice would lead to greater self-knowledge, which in turn would lead to better critical thinking. But much of the time, I have found that this is not the case. Maybe my error in thinking there is that I'm assuming anybody who claims to be a magical practitioner should at least be doing some work. But that's a whole other discussion.

Even as a performance artist, Jones is different than Colbert for one key reason - he's dangerous. I was a fan of The Colbert Report from day one, and one thing I never saw was "Stephen Colbert" inciting his fans to level threats and engage in actual violence against innocent people. Jones does this all the damn time. Frankly, if his whole show is a big joke, it's not a very funny one.

That's why, to my way of thinking, Jones deserves to lose this custody dispute, big time. Either he's lying in his statements to the court and really is nuts, or he's telling the truth and he's the sort of person who thinks that unleashing hundreds of fans to harass parents of the kids killed at Sandy Hook, or motivating an armed gunman to attack a pizza parlor full of children, is funny. Neither of those options says "good parent" to me.

UPDATE: On April 28th, Jones lost his custody case. My guess is that he would have been better off keeping his mouth shut and letting his lawyer push the "playing a character" argument. Then, he could have denied it on his show afterwards, rather than immediately releasing a video undermining his whole case. But nobody has ever tried to argue that the guy is smart.