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.