Friday, August 29, 2008

Winged Cats and the Paranormal

I've commented before that I see an enormous difference between "supernatural" and "paranormal" explanations for events. Skeptics generally treat the terms as interchangeable but in fact they don't mean the same thing. A supernatural event is somehow above and beyond the bounds of nature, not just as we understand it but in an absolute sense. It is axiomatic that anything supernatural is not only incomprehensible according to the current state of scientific understanding, but that it is actually impossible for any future science to ever understand it. Seeing as Arthur C. Clarke was right on the mark when he stated that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magick, any supernaturalist explanation of the world is in the same realm as the Christian concept of religious faith. It may be believed, but it cannot be proven or demonstrated.

Seeing as anything that influences the physical world must interact with physical objects it should be clear that if supernatural processes and forces exist in some sense they must pretty much by definition be completely useless. I think it's closed-minded to dismiss people who believe in supernatural forces or entities, but for anyone to expect a supernatural force to be able to accomplish material changes of any sort doesn't understand what they're saying or doesn't understand the implications of their own beliefs.

Paranormal is a qualitatively different term. It means above and beyond the normal, not above and beyond nature. The forces used by ritual magicians are paranormal forces, not supernatural ones, and they influence the physical world by making unlikely events more likely. They are also amenable to scientific research to a degree, such as the Princeton quantum diode experiments. We still lack a good experimental instrument to measure consciousness, but once such an instrument is perfected empirical magical research should be able to proceed at a much faster pace than it has historically.

That brings me to the winged cat. In The New Inquisition, a slapdown of the skeptic movement by the late Robert Anton Wilson, he comments that in the early part of the twentieth century the Fortean Society documented a report of a winged cat. Seeing as I had no idea how such a thing could be possible I've often joked about it over the years, but as it turns out the joke is on me barring some sort of photoshop scandal. The winged cats are apparently real, the result of a rare genetic mutation.

In fact, polydactylism (extra toes) is common in cats, so there's no reason to think extra appendages are that unbelievable. "Wings," though, are rare enough that you don't see them very often, even over the course of many years. They are, therefore, paranormal rather than supernatural, and scientific investigation of this specimen may even tell us which genes are involved. Now, if some enterprising individual starts breeding these as pets and they catch on, what was once paranormal could become normal. Assuming that there are no averse health consequences associated with the "wings," I would certainly consider keeping one. It would make a great conversation-starter.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that magick is like a winged cat. It's rare enough that people don't have much normal experience with it, but with better tools and more advanced science it can and almost certainly will be investigated.

Focus on the Family Weather Magick Fails

In the lead-up to the Democratic National Convention, a video producer from James Dobson's Focus on the Family group asked their supporters to pray for rain during Barack Obama's acceptance speech. They failed, and what that says about them is pretty darn pitiful.

Prayer is magick, at least when you are using it to influence the material world. It really isn't any different than casting a spell except that it uses a less precise and disciplined method and as a result is less effective than real ceremonial techniques. What's pitiful about this is that among their supposed millions of supporters Focus on the Family couldn't find one decent weatherworker. That implies there may be way fewer people with magical ability in the religious conservative community than I had previously thought.

Weatherworking is not that rare a magical ability. I'm very good at it myself and I know a couple of others just within my circle of friends. I have no doubts that I could have made it rain last night in Denver if I chose to do so, but apparently nobody in Dobson's circle has the ability. You usually only need one to get the job done, especially if you are casting for specific weather on a specific day months away. The more time you have, the easier it is. And the convention date has been known since the beginning of primary season.

Something like one person in fifty or so has high magical aptitude, so in a large group there should be a lot of them, but it would seem that either this is not the case or that the form of prayer used is such a bad magical technique that it produces little effect. In the latter case, maybe a number of their members have the ability but are still unable to get good results.

Or, of course, the DNC could have its own weatherworkers who are a lot better at it than these yahoos.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Scapegoating Satan and Metal Bands

Last week in South Africa a student, Morne Hamse, was arrested for a school attack in which he killed one of his classmates and wounded three others with a "ninja sword." Following the familiar story arc that seems to accompany cases like this, prosecutors first blamed the student's "experimentation with Satanism" but have now decided that he was actually influenced by a metal band whose music he enjoyed.

For some reason, prosecutors in these cases have trouble recognizing what is really going on and spend all sorts of time and effort identifying scapegoats with dubious connections to the case.

Harmse's parents have described their son's actions as a desperate attempt to "make a stand" after years of being bullied.

There's a certain species of idiot that contends bullying "builds character" and is good for kids. Here's a news flash - that's bullshit. Bullying for a lot of kids is really fucking awful. Those that don't go on to commit crimes are nonetheless more likely to become abusive adults and are often dogged by depression and other psychological problems that prevent them from living up to their full potential.

Bullies need to understand that sometimes when they bully mentally ill kids they are going to get killed or injured. A small percentage of the most messed-up kids will fight back, sometimes with deadly force. I'm not arguing that this is a justifiable crime or that the perpetrator shouldn't be removed from society - that's a given for anybody who hacks up another person with a sword. But I do wish that prosecutors would just look at the obvious motives in front of them instead of trying to figure out if they can find a way to blame the crime on music or occultism. They did the same thing with the Columbine shooting, another case of mentally ill kids retaliating with deadly force after years of bullying.

If we could get past this mindset maybe we could actually address some of the underlying problems. Schools need to step in and address bullying before it ever gets far enough to provoke even a mentally ill individual to violence. Also, students with mental illnesses should have access to decent and affordable mental health care to keep them from doing anything drastic. I know from personal experience that at least in the United States when kids are bullied the schools rarely do anything about it, and health care for mental illness is both stigmatized and underfunded. Finally, we could redirect a lot of resources our society currently spends trying to ban music, books, and occult practices that have nothing to do with any of these crimes.

UPDATE: Hamse appeared in court today and claimed that a ghost he met in a field instructed him to become a Satanist. Either he's agling for an insanity defense (how does South Africa handle insanity in criminal trials, anyway?), he's schizophrenic, or there's a ghost out there who's making a lot of trouble. I'm guessing it's one of the first two because I've never in my life come across a ghost that even mentioned Satan, and besides, real ghosts are pretty rare. On the other hand, about 0.5% of the population is schizophrenic.

Buffy is the New Harry Potter

Apparently Buffy the Vampire Slayer is to adult women what Harry Potter is to children - a malevolent force undermining traditional religious values. Or something like that. An article from Britain's Daily Mail cites Buffy as the reason many women are abandoning Christian churches.

The article quotes Dr. Kristin Aune from the University of Derby.

'In short, women are abandoning the church. Because of its focus on female empowerment, young women are attracted by Wicca, popularised by the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

'Young women tend to express egalitarian values and dislike the traditionalism and hierarchies they imagine are integral to the church.'

In fairness to Aune, she strike me as a genuine religion scholar as opposed to the crazies over here in the states who want to ban Harry Potter. Nonetheless, I have a hard time believing that (1) the large numbers of women abandoning British churches are becoming practicing Wiccans and (2) Buffy's extremely unrealistic portrayal of Wicca has anything to do with the decisions of those who do. It's not like real Wiccans can actually utter an incantation and shoot glowing beams of laser light out of their fingertips.

Maybe it just has to do with the traditionalist factions of the Anglican Communion who have become increasingly shrill in recent years about the practices of more liberal Anglican and Episcopal churches. When folks who are supposedly part of your religion throw a fit because the United States Episcopal Church dared to put someone of your gender in charge, I can see where it would be pretty easy to conclude that you just aren't welcome.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Satanism" in Iowa

A Sioux City, Iowa man is on trial for the murder of his two daughters in what prosecutors are calling "a ritual from a satanic bible." The judge is currently ruling on whether or not Satanism can be mentioned at the trial. In fact, if we lived in less hysterical world it should be. Anton LaVey's actual Satanic Bible condemns any sort of ritual involving the killing of humans or even animals, so a good case can be made that Satanism had nothing to do with these murders.

The defendant, Lawrence Harris, claims to have been performing some sort of ritual that no actual worker of magick has ever heard of.

The girls' bodies were found in a second-floor bedroom of the house. Police say they had been stabbed and strangled.

Harris told police that he had been performing "some strange ritual" that had gone bad and that the spell could have severe consequences, court records show.

Presumably those severe consequences include being put in jail for murdering your kids. You know, because those are the consequences spelled out by our legal system.

Harris' attorney, assistant public defender Michael Williams, said during a court hearing on Wednesday that prosecutors are seeking to link what Harris says and does to satanism. Casting spells and practicing witchcraft is not proof of satanism, Williams said.

Nor should they be, though a ritual gone this bad is clear proof of reckless incompetence. Either that, or perhaps Harris' story sounds so unbelievable to me as a magical practitioner because it's completely made up.

Williams said he plans to use a defense of insanity and diminished responsibility. Woodbury County Attorney Mark Campbell said the evidence is needed to show Harris was performing a spell or ritual from a satanic bible when the girls died.

As I mentioned above, The Satanic Bible contains no such ritual. However, I suppose the defendant could have bought a copy of A satanic bible from just about anyone, including a guy in a trenchcoat standing on a street corner. Something like this:

"Can you sell me a copy of The Satanic Bible?"
"Sure, here you go. Ten bucks."
"But this isn't by Anton LaVey!"
"Oh, um, it's a different Satanic Bible. You can just call it Bob's Satanic Bible."

I'm not a fan of any sort of diminished capacity defense in criminal cases. It's pretty clear to me that if Harris killed the girls, and it sounds like he did, he should be sent to prison regardless of the context. He's either lying about his motive or so incredibly delusional and stupid that he's a danger to everyone around him. Society needs to be protected from him either way.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Godform and Mantra

As a followup to my Operant Candle Magick post here is a meditation practice for step 5 of the template that I think should prove highly effective. I have yet to do any substantial testing on the method, so if you decide to try it out feel free to comment and let me know how it worked for you. Suggestions for improvements, as always, are very welcome.

This technique is essentially a stripped-down version of Tibetan Vajrayana deity meditation adapted to the Western magical system. It is also much simpler than its Tibetan counterpart with far fewer complex visualizations. I want this system to be as accessible and easy to learn as possible and I think what I have come up with will allow a practitioner to start getting magical results quickly.

To use this technique you will need some sort of counting device, like a mala or rosary. Such strings of beads have been settled upon by many different spiritual traditions and are both simple and effective. You can find malas at any Tibetan store and rosaries at many Catholic churches and church supply stores. You can also get the materials from a beading store and make your own. The standard mala has 108 beads, but yours can be made up of any number of beads that you find significant.

A. Assuming the Godform. After making your statement of intent, assume the godform whose name you vibrated when you performed the Greater Invoking Ritual of Pentagram of Hexagram. Most traditions recommend being seated for this, so if your candle is on the floor a cushion works well, whereas if your candle is elevated on an altar a chair will work better. The key is that you want to be able to stare at the candle comfortably.

Assumption of the godform consists of visualizing your body, speech, and mind as that of the deity. With deities that are represented by a particular image you should imagine as forcefully as possible that you have taken on the appearance of the image and go from there. With other deities such as the Judeo-Christian God there is no particular visual image, so imagine that your mind and body have become boundless and span the whole universe as an integral part of all that is.

This technique requires practice, but if you stick with it you will eventually be able to do it very convincingly and tangibly feel yourself as the deity.

B. The Mantra. If you prefer you can skip A. and jump straight to the mantra. A mantra is a word or set of syllables related to a particular deity in the Tibetan tradition. For Western ceremonial practice, the Heaven of Assiah name for the Liber 777 Key Scale related to your operation fits this description nicely. Each time you chant the name you count off one bead on the mala. Going around the mala once is called a round.

You can do one round for any ritual if you're pressed for time, but a number of rounds equal to the sphere numeration of your ritual will have a greater affinity to the outcome. Many malas are sold with round counters that allow you to keep track of where you are in the sequence and you should have one of these if you plan on doing multiple rounds. When you have finished your rounds chant some sort of grounding word of power like AMEN or AUM or AUMGN a number of times equal to the number of rounds that you chanted.

Chanting the mantra itself as the deity builds up energy for the operation. The grounding word then grounds the effect and binds it to the target. Make sure that you maintain your concentration on the candle during both phases of the mantra practice. This concentration should begin as soon as you start up the chant. Energy follows attention, so the magical energy raised will be directed toward your object of contemplation, whatever that may be, and you want to make sure that it is the candle.

This form of meditation should prove very effective in producing measurable magical results when combined with the Operant Candle Magick template. It can also be incorporated into your daily magical practices.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Not Much of a Secret

Despite the blaring all-caps of the title, this article completely fails to deliver and spreads more misinformation about magical practices, at least by implication.

Magick, its method of operation. Magick like it has been defined in one of my previous write-up is the outer reality of the inner act.

So far, so good. The article goes on for a couple of paragraphs about the persecution of magical practitioners by religious authorities, which I won't elaborate upon here except to add that I'm in agreement with the author that such persecutions are unwarranted and damaging to the magical arts.

Then we get to the "secret."

Now, the secret behind the working of magical feats is you. You are the power behind it all. These reveals that all human beings are in one time or another practical Magickians But the society always have a way to finding suitable names for their actions, as they would call this “Luck” They refer to magickal feats as Lucky arts.

This is the author's great revelation? It's pretty much the same thing that Peter Carroll was talking about back in the early 1980's. That "secret" is pretty much exposed - Liber Null and Psychonaut and Liber Kaos sold quite well as occult books go. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the entire New Age perspective on affirmations, miracles, and so forth is built upon the foundation of this particular belief. New Agers are a lot more numerous than magicians and their beliefs are actually pretty widespead, especially in certain communities.

In my experience, personal power is an essential part of the equation but not the whole story. The weakness of the "personal power only" perspective is that it ignores what I call macrocosmic resonance. Simply put, there are certain sets of symbols and names that appear to work better than others for practical effects and psychology alone doesn't appear to explain the discrepency, even when including more esoteric ideas like Jungian archetypes. How magick appears to work is that some entities are out there in the macrocosm and others are not, which means that the power behind magical effects does not depend solely upon the magician.

Here's where I think the article really runs off the rails, though the paragraph is kind of confusing and I could be reading it wrong.

If we go back to the definition of Magick, we human beings are always thinking, imagining, wishing and so on and so forth. Have you the Wiccas/pagans asked yourselves, by what means does your Magickal feats materialises most times? We most have read series of books on Magick, where Magick is said to require serious concentration, imagination and visualization. What and who is Mankind? How did we assume forms and figures here on earth? I will leave the rest here for the students of the art to complete.

If the author is suggesting that all there is to magick is imagining something or wishing for it he is flat-out wrong. I'll go back to my martial arts analogy, even though I probably overuse it a bit. While the power behind karate comes from the individual, just wishing for it is not enough. You need to study katas, exercise regularly, and commit yourself to disciplined practice in order to make any headway with the art. Magick works the same way. Much of the power of magick does come from you, but it needs to be nurtured and developed - through "serious concentration, imagination, and visualization" performed regularly over time.

The philosophical questions at the end of the paragraph don't seem to be related to the rest of it, and I'll float one final question. Given the title of the article, how does "leaving the rest here for the students of the art to complete" make any sense? I can't imagine maintaining a relationship with a teacher who did things like this:

Teacher: "I will now tell you the great secret of magick."
Student: "What is it, master?"
Teacher: "The power behind magick is you."
Student: "Really? How can that be?
Teacher: "Work it out for yourself."

See, if I was going to work it all out for myself, why would I need a teacher? Or, for that matter, someone to expose the "secrets" for me?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Operant Candle Magick

Candle magick is one of those techniques that is often treated without much seriousness among ritual magick practitioners. It's not that we don't use candles in our rituals, it's just that there have been way too many books written that treat candle magick as "light a candle, make a wish, and there you go - you're a magician!" Candles are actually wonderful ritual implements and there is something alchemical about the whole process of wax moving through the states of matter from solid to gas and in the process fueling a flame, and in my opinion it is precisely because they work so well that they can be used to make a simple or even silly ritual more effective.

One of the issues with the operant paradigm is that ritual work must merge the microcosm and macrocosm in order to accomplish change most effectively. Just opening the operant field (Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram/Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram) and then doing a simple candle spell is much more effective than using the candle alone, and by adding the Greater Ritual of the Pentagram or Hexagram that corresponds to the goal of the ritual you can increase its effectiveness even more. This makes the ritual more complex, but in my experience it is well worth it if you are serious about getting effective magical results.

You should choose your candles carefully. The candle should either be white or a color associated with the goal of the ritual. I use the Crowley/Golden Dawn color scheme found in Liber 777 in my own work, but if you were trained in another tradition with a different set of associations you will probably do better with that color scale rather than starting over with a new one. A white candle will work for any ritual but it will be less specific in its effects. With the Crowley/GD color system, you want to use the Queen Scale color for a mystical ritual or meditation and the King Scale color for a practical magical ritual.

As far as the type of candle goes, I prefer the 7-day candles that you can leave burning after the ritual forms are complete. The spell will continue to work as the candle burns down. While the available colors are limited, you can find very nice colored glass candles at church supply stores. These are designed to take replaceable wax inserts but they will also hold many of the 7-day candles that you will find at stores. It's an added bonus to be able to tint the light of the candle and the symbolism of white wax producing a flame that then is filtered through colored glass tuned to the spell is a good symbolic representation of the lightning flash or divine light descending.

There are a number of different systems for "dressing" candles. This procedure generally consists of annointing the candle with various substances associated with the goal of the ritual. A simple way to do this is to select a harmonious essential oil and smear a little of it into the wax of the candle before you light it. Liber 777 includes a list of herbs associated with each sphere and path, which is helpful for selecting the type of oil that you should use, but again, if you have already learned a different set of associations use those instead. Traditionally you should smear the oil around the wick of the candle using a clockwise motion.

Here's the basic ritual procedure.

(1) Identify the goal of the spell and choose your candle accordingly. If you wish to dress the candle, do so before the ritual. Place it on an altar in front of you, usually to the east. For any sort of negative working, like a curse, put the candle inside a containment structure like a Goetic triangle. If you have a link to the target of your spell, place the link in physical contact with the candle.

(2) Open the operant field with the LBRP/LIRH.

(3) Perform the Greater Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram or Hexagram corresponding to the path or sphere that is related to the goal of the ritual. Conclude the GIRP/H with "Let the divine light descend!" and then light the candle.

(4) State the goal of your ritual clearly and succinctly. As I've mentioned before, state only the desired outcome without specifying the means by which it will come to pass. You want all channels open to the spell's influence so that it can select the shortest path.

(5) Meditate on the candle for at least a few minutes. Twenty minutes is great if you have the time, but even five will do.

(6) Close the ritual with the LBRP to send the energy on its way. Place the candle someplace where it can burn all the way down safely, and if you are using a magical link, keep it in contact with the candle. If you used a containment structure, you will want to leave the candle where it is unless the containment structure can be moved along with the candle. You're done.

This simple ritual will get you better results than the ones you find in most candle magick books, and can be done with very little preparation once you learn the basic pentagram and hexagram rituals. While the GIRP/H will make the ritual more effective, until you have those down you can omit step three and just say "Let the divine light descend!" and light the candle after the LIRH.

Pastors or Frauds?

We hear a lot from the Skeptic movement about fraudulent spiritual practitioners cheating their clients by claiming powers that they don't really have and then demanding outrageous fees for their use. Usually the targets are members of alternative religious movements of one sort or another, but that's not always the case around the world.

In Nigeria, some Christian pastors have come up with the new scam of charging fees for "deliverances" - that is, exorcisms. The family of anyone with some sort of mental illness can be targeted and some of them are convinced that their relative is possessed by a demon. The pastor then conveniently offers to exorcise the demon - for a price.

The idea of being able to pay a fee to have a loved one instantly cured of a debilitating condition is a powerful motivator, and many pastors have become wealthy working this confidence game. It just goes to show that fraud makes no religious distinctions.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Magical Expectations

I recently came across this article by Donald Tyson, a well-known occult author. I have mixed feelings about a lot of Tyson's work. Some of it is ridiculous, but on the other hand he does sometimes come up with creative ideas for ritual practices and also put together the definitive edition of Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, an edition that was praised by academics at the last Association for the Study of Esotericism convention I attended in 2006. This is a reasonably impressive accomplishment given that Tyson is more a popular author than a professional scholar.

But then something like this comes along. I realize that it's directed at rank novices, but a lot of it drifts into the "once you do magick enough you realize that you don't need to do magick" idea that is way too prevalent in modern esotericism. You wouldn't say that about any other skill that takes discipline and determination to develop. Consider:

"I spent years teaching myself how to program a computer but now I realize that all I need to do is browse the web."


"I spent years teaching myself to play chess but now I realize that it doesn't accomplish anything so I never play."

or even

"I worked hard learning to drive a car but now I see that I don't need to go anywhere."

Let's face it - all of those statements are stupid. Magick is the same way. So let's take a look at the article from that perspective.

Everyone who gets into ritual magic has pretty much the same goal-he or she wants to rule the world. They may not admit it
even to themselves, but they are thinking: Suppose, just suppose,
I could learn to hurl lightning bolts from my fingertips, and
ring mountains crumbling down, and move the Moon out of its orbit?

There's some truth in this, even though everything but the lightning sounds pretty useless. Still, there's an important nuance missing in the statement. Everybody who studies magick is not some would-be evil overlord - the desire is not usually to control the world, but to control one's own life and the circumstances surrounding it. I would say that most magicians start on the path with the desire to create the life they want rather than the desire to hole up in a secret base somewhere and blackmail the world for "A MILLION DOLLARS!"

Magic is seductive but not unjust. She gives far more than she takes. While she is gently pulling away the gun, she is putting a flower in its place. Instead of commanding the world, the Magus gradually learns to command personal thoughts and passions. Instead of making others see things his or her way, the Magus begins to see things their way.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Magick is about uniting the macrocosm and microcosm. Therefore, by developing the ability to control thought you also gain some ability to influence the world. It's not an either/or, and magick is more than archaic psychology. A Magus who can't influence the outside world is not a Magus, plain and simple. A self-proclaimed Magus who can't influence the world and hides behind "well, I could, but it's wrong" to keep others from finding out how inept they really are is simply being dishonest. You should work at cultivating wisdom so that you can use your abilities effectively and without creating lots of unforseen consequences, but at the same time nothing in magick requires you to see things "others' ways" if those others are wrong or stupid. We are all interconnected, and sometimes the best course of action is for others to see things your way.

You should not expect to control others through magic. It is true that with properly executed rituals you can bring magical energy to bear on another person and change your relationship to this person in a desired way. However, everyone has a will of their own. Will is like an iceberg,in that only the tip of it shows above the surface of consciousness. If you magically push someone, they may push back. Hard. They may not even be aware that they are doing it. People who seem very weak physically and emotionally may be very strong on the unconscious level.

Actually, untrained people don't "push back." They don't know how, and imagining that they do is like believing that people can just intuitively do karate or kung fu. Magick is at least as complex a discipline as most martial arts. It is true, though, that people have a natural level of "magical strength" for lack of a better term. In untrained people this provides a sort of natural protection - the more innate magical strength someone has, the harder they are to influence. Once you've done magick for awhile you'll be able to see it. A person with high magical strength looks more 3-dimensional or "sparkly" than regular individuals do.

To be fair to Tyson, this relates to his statement later in the article that is the principle gem of wisdom in this piece. He only mentions it in the context of love spells, but it is in fact true across the board: Don't specify means! This is probably the most important thing a beginning magician can learn. You will get the best results if you specify the outcome you want without giving your spell too much detail. "Bring me a suitable romantic partner" is much more likely to succeed than "Make person x fall in love with me" simply because of the probabilities involved. The first is much more likely and doesn't require as powerful an influence in order to succeed.

So take this article with a big grain of salt. It's not completely worthless, but it also makes magick sound a lot less useful than it really is.

The Function of Religion

Recently I came across an article on a Christian blog critical of Pentecostal Christian churches that makes for interesting reading. While I am no fan of the Pentecostal movement and agree with some of the author's criticisms, what stood out for me was this:

Secondly, Pentecostals really have no love for doctrine. I will admit that the church I grew up in, as a whole denomination, had a firm handle on doctrine. However, my local church was obsessed with the extreme elements of Pentecostalism, like slaying in the Spirit, excessive use of tongues, “deliverances” and stuff like that. I can recite whole sermons where Baptists, Presbyterians, John Piper, John MacArthur and anyone who actually “taught more than actually do something”. And it is not isolated. My father visited hundreds of Pentecostal churches where doctrine is disparaged, nicknamed “religion” and ignored in favour of “experience”.

Essentially, the author contends that a serious problem in Pentecostal Christianity is the possibility of experience trumping doctrine.

But shouldn't it?

The function of a religion is not to lay down a bunch of rules for people to follow in a group. That's the job of society and culture. The function of a religion is not to impart intellectual truths. That's the job of science and philosophy. So what does religion actually do?

The function of a religion is to produce spiritual experiences.

I'm not going to go so far as to defend some of the ridiculous practices found in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. "Speaking in tongues" as practiced in those churches is nonsense and many "faith healers" are total fakes. Here's a hint - in order to heal somebody using a spiritual practice you need to be able to actually direct spiritual energy, not just say "Lord, heal this person in Jesus' name!" and then hit them on the forehead.

On the other hand, the "conversion" or "born again" experience described by a lot of Christians sounds like a genuine spiritual awakening of some sort, which was described as metanoia in the Gospels. One of the things that the Gnostic Christians got right was that metanoia is the key function of the Christian religious system, just like enlightenment is the key function of Buddhism. Furthermore, there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience suggesting that at least at the physical level they are essentially the same experiences.

In Christian doctrine, metanoia (Greek) is translated into paenitentia (Latin) and from there into repentence (English). But the word metanoia literally means a change in one's consciousness or state of mind (meta = change, noia from nous = mind), not some sort of "atonement" as the Latin and English connotations suggest. When Gnosticism was wiped out by the institutional Christian church the real meaning of metanoia was obscured.

For example, I'm of the opinion that that the idea of original sin comes not from the Gospels or even the Bible, but from confusion arising from metanoia's translation into paenitentia. Notably, Saint Augustine spoke Latin, and there is no concept of original sin in Judaism. The idea didn't appear anywhere until the Gospels were translated into Latin.

If doctrine is supposed to trump experience, the doctrine had better be unassailable and frankly the above example strikes me as a rather amateurish mistake by a poor translator - or perhaps one with a specific agenda. It's very useful for an intercessionary organization to convince its followers that they are somehow flawed and desperately need the organization's help to "repent."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bad Magick Revisited

As more information is becoming available regarding the "Satanic Cult" case in North Carolina the whole thing is starting to look more and more fishy. To recap:

Joseph Scott Craig, 25, and his wife, Joy Johnson, 30, were arrested last month after a man and a woman told authorities they were beaten, shackled to beds, kept in dog cages and starved.

According to the couple's defense attorney, the victims could have left at any time and were not prevented from doing so, implying that whatever went on was consensual. Also in the article, a "cult" organization is finally named - "The Order of the Morning Star." No order of that exact name maintains a web site and the only references to it are in articles about the case. It might be a case of prosecuters garbling "Hermetic Order of the Morning Star" and if that's the case the organization is part of the Golden Dawn tradition and has nothing whatsoever to do with Satanism. Then again, this is North Carolina.

A second Durham County Democratic Party official has been arrested in relation to the case, which raises the specter of possible political persecution on the part of law enforcement.

Diana Palmer, 44, of Cottage Woods Court, surrendered to police Wednesday afternoon. She was charged with being an accessory after the fact of assault with a deadly weapon and was being held in the Durham County Jail.

Palmer denies knowledge of any cult or illegal activity. It seems awfully convenient that both women happened to be involved in a Democratic Party that may finally be within striking distance of winning North Carolina in the upcoming presidential election. Also in the article, a representative of the actual Church of Satan issued a statement that the original couple charged were not members and that the Church does not sanction any sort of sexual abuse.

Also, am I the only one who finds this suspicious?

Prosecutors say both victims are originally from out of state and have since left North Carolina. The District Attorney's Office says that so far, it hasn't been able to contact them and that the contact information is with an investigator who is on vacation for the next two weeks.

From the same article, we find that:

The male victim went to live with the couple in November 2007, the female victim a month later.

So the victims and the accused were housemates. Maybe this whole thing doesn't have anything to do with BDSM or Satanism or magick, but some sort of bad roommate situation. If that is the case, the lurid allegations could be yet another instance of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" that never actually occurred.

Even more sinister, could this be some sort of a setup in the ongoing battle between the various Golden Dawn lineages? (1) We would have to start out assuming that the couple were involved with the Hermetic Order of the Morning Star, part of the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn, rather than some made-up organization consisting of the people involved in the case. (2) EOGD has been the target of numerous attacks on various online lists, especially from David Griffin's Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. To be fair to Griffin, his group has also been targeted so perhaps some third party might be involved. It seems unlikely that anyone would go to such great lengths to discredit a rival magical order and a bit paranoid to even float the suggestion, but stranger things have happened in the magical community.

I'll keep following the case and post any new revelations that arise during the trial, but at this point the line between prosecution and persecution in this case is starting to look awfully thin.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Templars Want Their Treasure Back

In 1307 the leaders of the Knights Templar were arrested by King Philip IV of France with the cooperation of Pope Clement V and the Roman Catholic Church. The leaders were accused of heresy, had their assets seized by the Church, and were eventually executed. Just prior to his execution in 1314, Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars, is said to have placed a curse upon Clement and Philip that within a year and a day they would both be called before God to answer for their crimes. According to Templar historian Malcolm Barber:

A variation on this story was told by the contemporary chronicler Ferretto of Vicenza, who applied the idea to a Neopolitan Templar brought before Clement V, whom he denounced for his injustice. Some time later, as he was about to be executed, he appealed 'from this your heinous judgement to the living and true God, who is in Heaven', warning the pope that, within a year and a day, he and Philip IV would be obliged to answer for their crimes in God's presence. (Ferretto of Vicenza, 'Historia rerum in Italia gestarum ab anno 1250 as annum usque 1318', c. 1328).

In fact, within a year of de Molay's execution both Philip and Clement were dead.

Documents recently unearthed by the Roman Catholic Church show that there was never any real evidence of heresy on the part of the Templars and that they were simply eliminated for political reasons. In light of this new revelation they want their stuff back and their order's good name restored. They are demanding assets worth approximately 100 billion euros, which is a testament to how wealthy the order really was in the fourteenth century. In fact, it was their wealth and power that made them politically dangerous.

For all the stories of lost Templar treasure, it is most likely that the order's riches were confiscated by Philip and the Church. It's about time that these ill-gotten gains were returned and for history to know the truth about the Templar persecutions.