Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Spells Versus Prayers

This is not going to be a political post, but I absolutely love the graphic there from Comedy Central that they included in their piece on witches casting spells to bind Donald Trump and Christians trying to protect him with prayers. It highlights something that I think should be obvious, but which many people apparently fail to understand. The point is this - when performed in order to accomplish specific objectives, spells and prayers are exactly the same thing.

Now technically I would point out that the diagram mentions "supernatural forces," and I prefer the term "paranormal forces," because as I see it everything that exists is a part of nature. I understand that's a bit of a quibble, but I do think it's an important one. I do not believe that there's anything about magick that renders it fundamentally beyond the scope of the scientific method aside from the primitive state of our measuring instruments with respect to consciousness. I see spirits as natural, psychic abilities as natural, and so forth. So to me, "paranormal" is a better term than "supernatural."

At any rate, I think some of the confusion regarding spells and prayers comes from the fact that there are prayers that don't fall into the same category as spells, such as contemplative or devotional prayer. These practices are more similar to meditation than they are to spells, in that they are performed to uplift and expand consciousness rather than to accomplish any task in particular. The difference between this and goal-directed prayer is essentially the difference between mysticism and magick. One is performed to facilitate spiritual growth and understanding, and the other is performed to get things done.

Aleister Crowley defined magick as "the science and art of causing change in conformity with will." So for anything to be magick, it must be performed with a specific intent. So even an occult ritual performed without an intent is not magick. Celebratory rituals that are simply performed to mark seasons or whatnot? Those aren't magick. Some groups refer to them as magick, or as magical rituals, but really all they are is rituals. A ritual, in and of itself, is not inherently magical.

Now to be clear, it's not that difficult to turn a celebratory ritual into a magical one if you know even a little about what you are doing. Add on a statement of intent that, say, the ritual is being performed to increase the prosperity of your community throughout the upcoming season, and you're done. But I find that many ritualists and supposedly magical groups out there don't do that, and some don't even see the point of it. To me it seems pointless to raise a bunch of spiritual energy and then do nothing with it.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Pentagon Confirms UFOs Exist

To be clear, in my mind there was never much doubt. I refer you to Robert Anton Wilson, who once commented that of course he believe in unidentified flying objects, because he encountered unidentified non-flying objects all the time just going about his day. So I'm not necessarily saying that I believe that alien spaceships are visiting Earth, but rather that weird stuff that defies identification happens and that some of those phenomena happen to be flying ones. At any rate, last week the Pentagon confirmed that it has been funding the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program - that is, a military program that hunts for and tries to identify UFOs. It was previously thought that the government shut down that line of investigation when it ended Project Blue Book in 1970.

The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.

On CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May, Mr. Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth. Working with Mr. Bigelow’s Las Vegas-based company, the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift. Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.

Mr. Reid, who retired from Congress this year, said he was proud of the program. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in a recent interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.” Two other former senators and top members of a defense spending subcommittee — Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and Daniel K. Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat — also supported the program. Mr. Stevens died in 2010, and Mr. Inouye in 2012.

While not addressing the merits of the program, Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at M.I.T., cautioned that not knowing the origin of an object does not mean that it is from another planet or galaxy. “When people claim to observe truly unusual phenomena, sometimes it’s worth investigating seriously,” she said. But, she added, “what people sometimes don’t get about science is that we often have phenomena that remain unexplained.”

I also am unconvinced that space aliens are currently visiting Earth. But I will say that this shoots a hole in the capital-S skeptics who basically assume that anybody who reports a UFO sighting is just lying, and that nothing is really out there. Something is clearly happening, and even though I think most of what people are seeing are experimental flying vehicles of one sort or another, to my way of thinking this is how we should be investigating paranormal events. Instead of wasting a bunch of time trying to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that paranormal events sometimes happen, we should go ahead and investigate apparently paranormal observations to see what is going on, whether they turn out to be paranormal or not.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Back on the Market!

How did I manage to miss this? Back in October, the ridiculously over-the-top Poseidon's Fortress was put back on the market!

What's really, really funny is how much effort the realtor put into making the place seem "normal-luxurious" instead of "batshit insane." Compare the well-crafted listing to the video from 2014 that I included with my previous article. I'm not surprised at all that the video failed to sell the house. There just are not that many devotees of Poseidon left in the world, let alone rich ones, and it would take some serious faith in the Lord of the Seas to find this place even remotely tasteful.

Bear in mind that the realtor has done a great job here. Most of the photos of the interior are taken during the day and are angled such that they de-emphasize many of the interior elements and bizarre design choices made by the builder. Go ahead and scroll through the photos. For example, there's only one image of the living room that shows the laser lighting, and none showing the built-in smoke machines (!) in operation.

The "rooms that take you to other parts of the world" are similarly rendered, in as normal a manner as possible. There's no photo of the "cave bathroom," because that's just nuts. The replica Aztec temple in the workout room is likewise blended into the background. And I'm not sure what they did with the color for the exterior shots, but man, the photo that I included above looks just great. You don't really notice that basically, this is an ordinary McMansion from some decades ago with a bunch of fish crap shoehorned onto it.

In my original post I suggested that the place was built in the 1970's, but it actually was constructed in 1958, according to the official property records. So it was perhaps cutting-edge at the time, foreshadowing what would become the dominant building style ten years later. Still, the overall design is pretty dated now, and all the weird decoration or concert lighting or smoke in the world won't change that.

There's also the issue that the house is on the market for almost $900,000 when the property tax assessment says it's worth about $300,000. That's a pretty big differential, and I suspect the reason that it didn't sell before is that the appraisal didn't justify a mortgage that high. Homes often do sell for above their assessed values, but very rarely for three times as much.

Still, if you're a stupid-rich devotee of Poseidon, this might be the place for you. It truly is a unique property, and I imagine that a skilled magician could put many of the weird interior features to good use. You know, if you happen to have that much money lying around.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Last Year for Zombie Nativity Scene

Here at Augoeides I have been covering the saga of Jasen Dixon's zombie nativity scene since it opened in Sycamore Township outside Cincinnati, Ohio in 2014.

Dixon was ordered to take down the display the first year, but the deadline he was given was the day after Christmas so it stayed up over the holiday. It returned in 2015 and the township again tried to get him to take it down. In 2016, the township finally gave up, but the scene was vandalized. Dixon set up the scene once more for 2017, but he has announced that this will be its last year.

Sycamore Township's Jasen Dixon said he originally wasn't planning to install the display this Christmas season. "But I get hundreds of emails from people, local fans," he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It's almost like a cult following."

Dixon installed the display complete with zombie Mary and zombie baby Jesus in early December. He said he'll put it in storage or sell it after it's taken down sometime after Christmas. When it debuted four years ago, the nativity scene made news worldwide and was met with both scorn and celebration.

Sycamore Township in previous years took Dixon to court for alleged zoning violations because of the structure built over the display but eventually dropped the case. Dixon's attorney argued the township was trying to suppress his freedoms. The township didn't issue any fines against Dixon last December and apparently won't go after him this year.

Dixon can count me as one of those fans. I think the whole thing is awesome. But sadly, I never was able to make it out to Ohio over the holidays, and since I won't be able to make the trip this year either I guess that means I'll never get a chance to see it in person.

The scene brought up some important legal issues regarding freedom of religion - in 2015, Dixon carefully studied the local regulations regarding lawn displays and conformed to them. The town came after him anyway, even though I doubt they would have done the same for a traditional Christmas display. They backed off in 2016, but that was after harassing Dixon over his display for two seasons.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Auto-Talismanic Ritual

The following is a script for the Auto-Talismanic Ritual that we will be performing at Leaping Laughter Oasis tomorrow evening, Friday December 22nd, for the Winter Solstice. This ritual is a group invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel that we perform at this time every year, and which incorporates some of the same elements as the elixir rites. As with the Via Solis series and our other seasonal workings, this is a public ritual that is open to all.

0. The Temple

The temple is set up with an altar in the center, on which sits the Table of Art. A chalice, initially filled with salt water, is placed in the center of the Table. The banishing dagger, invoking wand, and bell chime are placed on the altar. Magus stands to the west of the altar facing east. Sophia stands to the east of the altar facing west. Magus wears white and Sophia wears black. Throughout the ritual, Sophia and Magus face each other across the altar, moving appropriately throughout the various ceremonial forms.

I. Opening

Magus takes up the banishing dagger and performs the Star Ruby.

Sophia: 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.

Magus: 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: ABRAHADHABRA.

Sophia: 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.

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

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

All: So mote it be.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Apophenia, Pareidolia, and Paranormal Beliefs

I talk about apophenia and pareidolia a lot here on Augoeides when evaluating claims of the paranormal. The two concepts are important because while legitimately paranormal events do happen, mistaking normal events for paranormal ones is far more common. You know, because if paranormal events were commonplace, they wouldn't be "paranormal" at all in any meaningful sense. Pareidolia refers to the natural human tendency to perceive random or semi-random stimuli as clear images, like when people see the face of Jesus on a piece of toast. Aphophenia describes the process by which our minds create and assign meaning to random or semi-random events. These two phenomena are responsible for most of the cases out there where normal events are mistaken for paranormal ones. In fact, a new study conducted by Tapani Riekki at the University of Helsinki in Finland has found that people who believe in the paranormal tend to have a higher capacity for both of these phenomena.

Riekki recently asked sceptics and believers to view simple animations of moving shapes, while lying in a brain scanner. He found paranormal believers were more likely to see some kind of intention behind the movements – as if the shapes were playing a game of “tag”, say – and this was reflected in greater brain activity in the regions normally associated with “theory of mind” and understanding others’ motives. Riekki has also found that people who believe in the supernatural are more likely to see hidden faces in everyday photos – a finding confirmed by another team at the University of Amsterdam, who showed that paranormal believers are more likely to imagine that they had seen a walking figure in random light displays.

Added to this, Riekki has found that believers may have weaker cognitive “inhibition”, compared to sceptics. That’s the skill that allows you to quash unwanted thoughts, so perhaps we are all spooked by strange coincidences and patterns from time to time, but sceptics are better at pushing them aside. Riekki gives the example of someone who is thinking about their mother, only for her to call two minutes later. “Is it just that sceptics can laugh and say it is just coincidence, and then think of something else?” he wonders. Significantly, another paper reported that paranormal believers also tend to have greater confidence in their decisions, even when they are based on ambiguous information. So once they have latched onto the belief, you might be less likely to let it go.

Even so, most researchers agree that sceptics shouldn’t be too critical of people who harbour these beliefs. After all, one study has found that various superstitions can boost your performance in a range of skills. In one trial, bringing their favourite lucky charm into a memory test significantly improved subjects’ recall, since it seemed to increase their confidence in their own abilities. Another experiment tested the subjects’ golf putting ability. Telling them that they were using a “lucky” ball meant they were more likely to score than those simply using any old ball. Even something as simple as saying “break a leg” or “I’ll keep my fingers for you” improved the participants’ motor dexterity and their ability to solve anagrams.

The fundamental problem that I have with the linked article is that to my way of thinking, it asks the wrong questions. It really should not be difficult at all to see that paranormal believers are believer because of their own direct experiences with what they consider paranormal events. Riekki's research entirely supports this notion - a person who mistakenly identifies more normal events as paranormal is pretty much by definition going to experience more "paranormal" events. From my perspective as a magician, the real question should be how we can train our minds to discern genuine paranormal events from misidentified ones. The article doesn't even touch on that, because it assumes at the outset that all paranormal experiences are the result of misinterpretation - since OBVIOUSLY nothing paranormal really exists. Of course, we practicing magicians beg to differ.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Trump Judicial Nominee Hunts Ghosts

Last week Trump judicial nominee Brett Talley withdrew his nomination after questions arose regarding his qualifications and a possible undisclosed conflict of interest. Here at Augoeides, though, what's most notable about Talley is that he's a paranormal investigator. Talley was involved with the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group from 2009-2010. It's possible that he may be the first judicial nominee ever to be a ghost hunter, or at least the first to acknowledge being one publicly.

The appointment of Brett Talley, 36, for a lifetime post as an Alabama federal judge is raising eyebrows because he has never tried a case, BBC reported on Wednesday. It also emerged he failed to disclose on a conflict-of-interest questionnaire that his wife is a White House lawyer. But he did divulge his Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group membership.

Talley was approved last week by the Senate committee on a party-line vote, and he is likely to be confirmed by the full chamber soon. His nomination is part of President Trump's efforts to expand the presence of conservative jurists in American courtrooms, say analysts.

Note that this quoted article was written before Talley withdrew his nomination. He will not become a federal judge.

The Harvard-educated lawyer was unanimously deemed "not qualified" by the American Bar Association to serve an appointment on the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Talley, who has practised law for three years, has written right-wing blog posts critical of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, whom he labelled "Rotten", according to US media. He also maintains a horror blog online, when not searching for ghosts.

In a questionnaire form submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Talley revealed his 2009-10 affiliation with the phantom chasers. The Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group searches for the truth "of the paranormal existence" in addition to helping "those who may be living with paranormal activity that can be disruptive and/or traumatic", according to their website.

While Talley strikes me as an under-qualified right-wing ideologue who I would never want on the bench, it's interesting that ghost hunting is now mainstream enough that it is not considered immediately disqualifying for a federal appointment. This probably has to do with the success of television programs like Ghost Hunters, and the Tuscaloosa group appears to follow a similar approach to that seen on the show. They try to debunk everything they can with normal explanations before concluding that activity they observe is paranormal, employ similar equipment like EMF meters, and so forth.

I can see some advantages of having a good ghost hunter serving as a judge. Someone experienced at working out normal explanations for apparently paranormal phenomena might have better insight into complex cases that involve unusual situations, and consider possibilities others might immediately dismiss. I have no idea whether Talley would have brought such a perspective to his work, but it looks like we won't be finding out now.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Ceremonial Forms for the Outer Planets

The topic of ceremonial forms for the outer planets came up in a discussion last week. So I figured I would put together a quick overview of how I attribute the outer planets and what I would do to work with them in a ceremonial context. There is not a lot of agreement on this topic, and I have heard of a number of different schemas being employed by different practitioners. As always, keep in mind that if you have something that works better for you, keep doing that. My first rule is that if it works, it works.

At any rate, I'm not a fan of Aleister Crowley's final set of attributions for the outer planets, in which he maps Uranus to Daath, Neptune to Chockmah, and Pluto to Kether. If you're going to use Kircher-style planetary attributions for the sephiroth above Binah at all (and, to be clear, you don't have to if you prefer different attributions, or would rather drop the planetary attributions for the sephiroth altogether), it seems to me that the astrological natures of the planets really don't fit all that well. Mapping the higher octave of Mars to Kether and the higher octave of Venus to Chockmah don't make sense to me, even if you can make a case for the higher octave of Mercury as Daath.

Better to my way of thinking is the pre-Pluto system found in Crowley's General Principles of Astrology, where we find Uranus mapped to Chockmah and Neptune mapped to Kether. As modern astronomers have worked out, Pluto is the problem. It's not a "planet" in the same sense that Uranus and Neptune are. It is a Kuiper belt dwarf planet, and not necessarily even the largest one. Keep in mind that doesn't mean I think Pluto is astrologically irrelevant or anything like that. I just associate it with "asteroids" like Ceres, which is now considered another dwarf planet. Astrologers find the asteroids significant, too. They make aspects just like the larger planets do, and can be highly relevant when interpreting a chart.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

More Ghost Sex

Back in 2014, I reported on that apparent fad in which a couple of celebrities reported having sex with ghosts. Then, in 2017, I reported on another alleged incident that happened during the taping of a British reality television series. At first the idea of having sex with ghosts sounds pretty farfetched, especially with what we know about sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations. But a number of reports of it are out there now.

The general rule is to always look for a normal explanation before jumping to a paranormal one. I have to admit I'm curious about these cases, though, on the off chance that something paranormal might be going on. The latest story reported by Huffington Post is that of a British woman named Amethyst Realm (seriously, that's her name) who claims to have had sex with more than twenty ghosts. Either she's got some serious sleep paralysis going on, or spirits really have a thing for her, but regardless it sounds like an odd and intriguing case.

Realm appeared on the British TV show “ITV This Morning” on Thursday to discuss what being “ghosted” is really like. The first experience was 12 years ago, she said, after she and her then-fiancĂ© moved into a new house and she felt the presence of a strange entity. HuffPost could not reach Realm for comment on her story.

“It started as an energy, then became physical,” she told hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. “There was pressure on my thighs and breath on my neck. I just always felt safe. I had sex with the ghost. You can feel it. It’s difficult to explain. There was a weight and a weightlessness, a physical breath and stroking, and the energy as well.”

Realm said she had an affair with the ghost for three years but that it ended when her human husband came home from work early and saw the shadowy shape of a man through the window. Since then, Realm hasn’t strayed from the paranormal pond and says she’s had sexual encounters with at least 20 ghosts.

When Schofield commented on the number of ghost lovers she’s had, his comments bordered on spooky slut-shaming. “I should imagine you have got quite a name for yourself in the spirit world,” he said. “I would imagine they would be keen to visit you.”

Now Realm wants to get pregnant by one of the ghosts. “I’ve done a bit of research into phantom pregnancies,” she said. ”There’s a possibility that it is a ghost in you, but people don’t know how to carry it to full term.”

Actually, it probably isn't. But it makes for kind of an amusing twist to the story. Seeing as spirits don't reproduce like humans do, or really have any need to do so, a ghost is not going to make someone pregnant. "Phantom pregnancies," or more accurately false pregnancies, have to do with various hormone changes in the body that are similar to those that happen during real pregnancies, and despite the "phantom" appellation have never been connected with paranormal activity or ghostly phenomena.

Following the general rule, my guess is that Realm just has a propensity for sleep paralysis and doesn't find the experience unpleasant the way most other people do. That's unusual, but not entirely unknown. The same is probably true for many of the other cases. Still, it would be interesting to study the phenomenon and see if a paranormal explanation can be ruled out, or if something spooky is going on after all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

We Defeated Roy Moore!

Okay, to be fair, Augoeides probably didn't have much to do with Doug Jones' win over Roy Moore in yesterday's special election for Alabama senate. I called for it and it happened, but I doubt many folks from Alabama even read this blog, let alone were motivated to vote for Jones by my article. At the same time, a win is a win, and there are few candidates I would be happier to see lose than Roy Moore. The guy is a crazy theocrat, dedicated to the notion that anybody who doesn't follow his version of fundamentalist Christianity should be denied basic human rights, should not be allowed to run for office, and so forth.

As I said back in November, even if the allegations that Moore molested a 14-year-old, dated 16-year-olds, and creeped on teenage girls at a local mall - as a district attorney in his 30's - were false, his theocratic beliefs render him entirely unfit to hold public office. That, and he's been removed from office as a judge twice already for refusing to abide by the law. A common-sense law that would have prevented this whole situation from arising again would be to bar anyone who was formerly removed from office from running again. But even that would probably be controversial in today's political climate.

And speaking of today's political climate, when we talk about polarization between the parties, it should be clear that much of what is driving that polarization is fundamentalist Christianity. Check out what Roy Moore's brother had to say about Moore's defeat.

One would think, given Roy Moore’s record—being removed from office in ignominy both times he was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, reportedly being banned from a mall for creeping out teenage girls, becoming the first Republican in 25 years to lose a Senate race in Alabama—that he is the “black sheep” of the Moore family. This appears not to be the case:

Roy Moore's brother Jerry Moore spoke to @NPRDebElliott: "It might not happen on this earth right now, but Doug Jones will pay for what he’s saying. And them Democrat people that’s out there and those Republicans in Washington. They’re going to have to answer to God.”

— Arnie Seipel, NPR (@NPRnie) December 13, 2017

So to be clear, "Democrat people" - presumably Democratic voters - are evil according to Jerry Moore, and will be punished by God. The idea that it is somehow sinful or evil to vote for Democrats is quite frankly totally bizarre, but a lot of these fundamentalists seem to believe it. When political operatives talk about "demonization," they usually are talking about opposition research to dig up dirt on their opponents, and negative campaigning tactics like attack ads. But way too many of the fundamentalists apparently mean it literally.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kim Jong Un Can Control the Weather

At least, that's the latest claim from North Korea's official state newspaper, known for spreading all sorts of ridiculous propaganda about the country's ruling family. Augoeides has previously covered Kim Jong Il's discovery of a unicorn lair and the sad story of North Korean weather mourning his death in 2011. Now if the younger Kim really can control "the nature," as the paper contends, I guess that makes him a wizard. Right?

After releasing images this weekend of a smiling Kim on top of Mount Paektu, an active volcano on the China and North Korea border, the nation's state media said the "peerlessly illustrious commander" can control "the nature." The evidence for this weather modification?

When Kim "ascended" to the top of the 9,000-foot mountain through thick snow wearing his signature double-breasted winter coat and black leather shoes, a blizzard gave way to "fine weather unprecedented."

Kim was apparently responsible for this moment of sunshine on what should have been, according to a North Korean government statement, a dreary winter day.

"Mount Paektu presented charming scenery showing magic peaks and dazzling sunshine on its clear and blue waves," the account of Kim's journey up the mountain published in North Korea's official state newspaper Rodong Sinmun said.

In fact, weather modification is one of those areas where magick does work pretty well. But I doubt that Kim is a magical practitioner of any sort. Why bother to put in the time learning magick when you control a newspaper that will happily tell the world you have paranormal power whether or not you actually do? For that matter, when you're a dictator you can just order people around rather than messing with complicated stuff like calling up spirits.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Free Will Truthers and Magick

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, the "Free Will Truthers" have been at it again. Now I just made that term up, but it seems appropriate for those psychologists and neuroscientists who are busy trying to prove that their idea of "free will" does not exist. As a magician, I obviously think the whole idea is ridiculous. If you have no conscious will at all, the very idea of practicing magick doesn't make sense. At the same time, the idea that our conscious wills are entirely free, at every moment, regardless of what we are doing, is also probably wrong.

To be clear, the formal "free will" debate is to a large degree over a philosophical question rather than a scientific one, since the definition of "free will" can refer to many things. Obviously, human beings can learn, so we're not talking about free will as opposed to absolute determinism. What psychologists and neuroscientists are trying to tease out with these studies is to what degree the mind as we experience it directs the body. And even that Cartesian breakdown isn't really correct. It's pretty clear at this point that the mind and body are not separate, but rather components of what we perceive as a unified human experience.

So really, the free will truthers are not necessarily trying to argue that human behavior is constrained in certain ways, but rather how much of our behavior is really motivated by "the unconscious." In a way, they're a little like the Freudians from a hundred years ago, arguing that our conscious perception of the world is merely the tip of a metaphorical unconscious iceberg. So that's not the same thing as what philosophers mean by "free will" at all, and that's not what I'm talking about in this article. When I use the term "free will," what I really mean is a sort of "unconscious will" versus "conscious will" as we generally experience it.

At any rate, the original "free will" observations came from studies that seemed to show that brain scans could predict the decision a person was going to make before said persons were conscious of having made them. As I have previously mentioned, these studies were undertaken around the same time as Daryl Bem's presentiment studies were going on. Using a similar technique, Bem seemed to have proved the existence of precognition, showing that subjects seemed to react to emotionally charged images before the images were actually displayed.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Let's Defeat Roy Moore

I have no idea how many people from Alabama read Augoeides, but as a dedicated fighter in the war against creeping theocracy, it behooves me to weigh in the special election for Alabama Senate which will take place next Tuesday, December 12th. Crazy theocrat Roy Moore is running on the Republican ticket against Democrat Doug Jones, an attorney best known for prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan for perpetrating the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham.

Alabama is a very conservative state and normally elects Republicans by large margins. Roy Moore isn't really a Republican, though, at least not a normal one. He is opposed to legal abortion and seems to be okay with kicking poor people, but that's where the similarities end. Moore is a theocrat, who believes that his fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible supersedes all existing law and that non-Christians should have no civil rights. That's flat-out insane, and has no place in American government.

I've spoken with a couple of conservatives who don't believe me when I make that assertion, but there's plenty of evidence out there. Moore was ordered to remove a Ten Commandments monument from his courtroom, refused, and had to be removed from office. Then, when he was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, he directed the state to defy the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. He had to be removed from office over that one, too. Is it completely out there for me to think that somebody who's already been removed from office twice shouldn't be allowed to run for anything ever again?

But is there more? Of course there is. Moore was a lecturer and co-author of a course on "civil government and public policy" sponsored by the Vision Forum, a Christian Reconstructionist organization. If Moore is going to convice anybody that he's not a supporter of their ideas, he needs to explain his involvement. And to be clear, I'm pretty sure that he won't, because I don't think he can.

On Wednesday, ThinkProgress published a piece examining "Law and Government: An Introductory Study Course," which promised that in "addition to learning concepts of civil government and public policy, students will be strengthened in their understanding of biblical principles which govern us and which point us to the Lawgiver who governs us all -- Jesus Christ." Moore was one of the lecturers and a co-author of the curriculum, which appears to be part of the Witherspoon School of Law and Public Policy, which is not a school in any formal sense, but rather a program of four-day seminars teaching a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the law to male-only audiences.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Real "War on Christmas?"

A couple of weeks ago I covered the latest pathetic attempt by Fox News to drum up some of that old "War on Christmas" magic that got them such great ratings in the Bill O'Reilly era. The thing is, there really is a War on Christmas, but it's not being led by liberals or George Soros or lesbian coffee shops or whoever else the network doesn't like these days. According to this article from Huffington Post, it's being led by Christian evangelists themselves.

Pastor David Grisham, a self-described Christian evangelist, taunted children and their parents who were waiting for a meeting with Kris Kringle at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska.

“I wanted to tell you kids today too that Santa Claus does not exist. Santa Claus is not real,” Grisham announced. “The man you’re going to meet today is a man wearing a suit like a costume and it’s make-believe. It’s not real.”

“Your parents have been telling you a story that is not true,” he said. “There are no reindeer, flying reindeer.” An employee interrupted Grisham spiel and asked him not to interfere with the customers. “I’m not interfering,” Grisham said. “I’m just telling them the truth.” He then promised to be done “in about a minute.”

What I'll say about this is unlike the old Bill O'Reilly talking points, this actually makes sense. The commercialism and related hype around Christmas does detract from its meaning as a religious holiday. Our whole modern concept of Christmas and the somehow-non-religious "Christmas spirit" was invented by Macy's department store in order to sell toys, and has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.

Fox News would rather demonize a bunch of people who really don't care one way or the other how Christians celebrate the holiday season, so my guess is that they won't be reporting on this story any time soon. But being upset about Christmas commercialism makes a whole lot more sense than throwing a fit about "lesbian hands" on a coffee cup.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Magick and Mental Illness

So this is a "Magick Tuesday" post. Yesterday evening I was at a writing event promoting my fiction, and didn't wind up with enough time to finish writing this up.

Lately there's been some discussion here on Augoeides regarding magick and mental illness. People who think occultism is evil like to throw around ideas like magicians who mess up developing severe mental illness, or wind up in abject poverty, or both. Back in 2007, I posted this article on the topic, which discusses my statistical approach to evaluating claims like those.

These days, fundamentalist Christians - particularly those of the "Green Gospel" persuasion (or heresy, really) - particularly have trouble with the idea that an occultist could ever be financially successful. After all, they believe that material success means God favors you, but they also believe that anything occult is sinful. So a financially successful occultist is a threat to their worldview that needs to be dealt with.

Some of them still buy into the "ritual abuse" nonsense that Satan is blessing occultists when they do things that are "evil enough," basically a Manichean inversion of the Green Gospel itself. But when occultists like me explain that magick just doesn't work like that, again, it's a threat. In fact, it's the Green Gospel that is messed up. There's nowhere in the New Testament where Jesus says that the rich are blessed and the poor are forsaken. In fact, Jesus says the exact opposite in The Sermon On The Mount.

Aleister Crowley gets brought up in this context a lot as an occultist who died "broke and insane," but a lot of the basis for that comes from John Symonds' tabloid biography The Great Beast. This is very inaccurate account of Crowley's life that accepted every claim about that made it into the press as true, regardless of how outlandish it sounded. Crowley was not seriously mentally ill in his old age - read The Book of Thoth, which was written towards the end of his life. It's dense like most of Crowley's writing, but it's lucid, comprehensive, complex, and deep. It is not the work of a "crazy person."

And Crowley was relatively poor at the end of his life, but for an entirely obvious and non-mysterious reason. By that time Crowley had spent his entire family fortune self-publishing his occult works. Back then book production was extremely expensive because it was still done mostly by hand, and works like The Equinox never made much if any money. Had Crowley lived in the time of CreateSpace, I imagine he probably would have died a wealthy man.