Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thoughts on "Nightmare Scenarios"

Llewellyn's New Worlds of Mind and Spirit has an article up by Donald Michael Kraig entitled Avoid the "Nightmare Scenario" in which he discusses the use of Tarot divination in order to avoid magick going terribly wrong.

While I have a couple of criticisms of the article, I want to start out by saying that the suggestion of doing a Tarot divination prior to engaging in practical magical operations is a good one, especially for beginning magicians, and Kraig explains how to do it simply and effectively. I don't do readings for my rituals very much anymore because after years of practice I have developed a pretty good sense of what will work and what won't. However, in the past I have found it to be a very useful technique for anyone who has not yet developed this intuitive sense of how magick works, and developing this sense does take years of dedicated practice. Kraig plugs a couple of different Tarot decks at the end of the article, but I don't think it matters which one you use. I like Aleister Crowley's Thoth deck the best because of the explicit Qabalistic symbolism and Frieda Harris' deco-style artwork, but I also know plenty of people who get good results with the Rider-Waite.

My criticisms are twofold. First off, in my experience "nightmare scenarios" as Kraig describes are actually very rare in magick if they happen at all. I've heard stories here and there but they are more like urban legends than verifiable cases. I do know of a few practitioners who have had mental illness issues, but if anything their practices have helped rather than hindered them in terms of dealing with such problems. From my own personal experience, I had issues with depression myself when I was younger and over the years my magical work has cleared that up without any therapy or psychiatric drugs. You're going to find mentally ill people in just about any group - in the United States approximately one person in four has some sort of mental illness - but I'm willing to bet that among genuine spiritual practitioners the incidence of such problems is much lower.

As far as practical work getting out of hand, I've done practical work for years and have never had anything of the sort happen, even as an inexperienced magician long ago. I'm convinced that this is because practical magick, in which the material world actually changes, is difficult enough that unless your entire being is behind the operation it will fail - and by "fail" I mean absolutely nothing happens. My basic working hypothesis is that for practical magick to work it must be in harmony with your True Will, your innermost divine nature, because otherwise your mind will be divided about the outcome and therefore the requisite "force" is not present to create the intended change. This hypothesis suggests a method of personal development that I have had great success with - evaluating magical successes and failures in order to gain insight into the nature of your True Will. A complete magical failure, in which no change or probability shift occurs, is likely out of harmony with your True Will in some key way.

My second criticism is related to what I consider to be Kraig's greatest failure - the recommendation that you should use the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram to begin and end magical rituals. It was published in Modern Magick and a lot of people who learned from Kraig's first book do rituals that way - and it's flat-out wrong. What is missing here is that if you understand how the banishing rituals work, no magical operation you send forth will ever get out of hand. The LBRP/LBRH creates what I call the "banishing field," which is a full magical shutdown. It stops all running spells, regardless of where they are in terms of accomplishing their objectives.

So in Kraig's example of "The Sorceror's Apprentice," all that would actually need to be done to shut down the wayward brooms would be to open a banishing field - they would fall over on the spot. Obviously, you don't want to be concluding your rituals this way because any influence you send out will similarly be stopped in its tracks before it has time to accomplish anything. My own recommendation, as I've mentioned a number of times, is to open practical magical rituals with an operant field, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram, and then close them with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram by itself. This allows the macrocosmic portion of the spell to continue operating after the ritual has been concluded.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lame Anti-Christ Attacks Roman Priest

The anti-Christ has been revealed, and boy is he pathetic.

Marco Luzi, a 25-year-old Italian man, has been arrested for stabbing a priest after watching the film version of "The Da Vinci Code" the night before. A note in Luzi's pocket read "This is just the beginning, 666." Another note found his apartment began with "I, the anti-Christ." So what can we conclude? It would appear that the anti-Christ is obsessed with mediocre film versions of pulp novels. Not only that, but he takes them seriously. Very seriously.

Apparently Luzi's dark omniscient mind must have missed the part where several of the main source documents for Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln's The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, mined liberally for many of the plot elements of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, turned out to be complete forgeries. I mean, maybe Satan is the father of lies, but wouldn't you at least expect his representative on Earth to be aware of facts that any regular newspaper reader would know?

Also, should it disturb the forces of darkness that their all-powerful champion, charged with winning a global war against the powers of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, was unable to successfully kill an unarmed 68-year-old man? While the priest is in critical condition in a Roman hospital, he did survive the attack. I guess we won't be needing any tanks for the battle of Armageddon - against this loser sticks and rocks are probably overkill.

On the other hand, if Luzi truly is in league with Mickey Mouse and thus has access to the awesome malevolent power of the Disney corporation, all bets may be off.

UPDATE: More signs of an impending low-budget Apocalypse? Road signs bearing the number 666 (or variants like 66.6) have been disappearing all across the United States. Perhaps these will be the weapons wielded by the Armies of Darkness in preference to anything effective, like, say, guns.

UPDATE II: Another sign? The Virgin Mary appears in the window of an abandoned Massachusetts building, as opposed to someplace useful.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Thoughts on Mantra

Recently I've been experimenting with using mantra meditation in conjunction with Western ceremonial magick techniques. My original idea was to use the Heavens of Assiah as mantras for each sphere and path on the Tree of Life, but I've done several rituals along those lines and now think a modification of the technique is in order.

My actual training in mantra meditation comes from the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. In Vajrayana, mantra meditation is divided up into two stages, generation and completion. In Western ceremonial terms, the generation stage builds energy and the completion phase grounds it. During the generation stage the deity's mantra is recited, and during the completion stage a shorter syllable is recited, such as AH or the Tibetan seed syllable associated with the mantra.

So my original idea was to use the Heaven of Assiah name for generation and AUMGN for completion. The main problem with this is that this confines the generation stage to Assiah on the Tree of Life, and that really is not correct. The generation stage should build energy higher up on the Tree and then the completion stage should ground it into Assiah once it has built to the appropriate level. AUMGN is not so much a grounding word as it is an integrative word, in effect combining the lightning flash and serpent of wisdom to create an esoteric circuit.

Here's the revised idea. For the mantra, use the godname or some short phrase including it. For the Qabalistic godnames the name itself is sufficient, as the name of God associated with each sphere is actually a word or phrase in Hebrew in addition to a proper name. For Egyptian godnames, my magical working group has used the following to good effect:


It means "the perfect (or great) god [name] brings life." We've had good results with it for Heru (Horus), Seteh (Set), and Tahuti (Thoth) so far.

This constitutes the generation stage and the recitations should consist of a number of mala rounds equal to the number associated with the deity's Qabalistic sphere. For an evocation, the visualization that accompanies this stage should be like a clockwise whirling cone of appropriately colored light centered on the focus of the spell. For invocations, the same visualization should be centered on the magician.

For the completion stage, use the Heaven of Assiah name. One recitation should be made for each mala round in the generation stage. The visualization accompanying this stage should be that of the cone of light sinking and being absorbed into the focus for an evocation or the magician for an invocation. It seems like the Hebrew Heavens of Assiah work fine with the Egyptian godnames, but at some point I want to put together a translation so that I can do the whole thing in Egyptian.

Finally, the practice is concluded with a single AUMGN. The visualization for this is that of the light integrating with the focus or the magician and stabilizing itself in a balanced manner within its target.

More testing is slated for tonight. If anyone else out there would like to try it out and provide some feedback, go right ahead.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Economics of Witchcraft Persecutions

Slate has an interesting article up about the economic factors that contribute to witchcraft persecutions. In agricultural societies prosperity is often tied to the weather, and comparing temperature records from Europe with the number of witch trials that occurred each year seems to support the notion that in bad economic times the persecutions became worse.

Emily Oster, an economist at the University of Chicago, has tried to gather systematic data on the link between witch trials and the weather. The results look striking: Between 1520 and 1770, colder decades go hand-in-hand with more trials. The link may be simply that witches were often blamed for bad weather. Or there may be a less direct link: People tend to lash out in tough times. There is some evidence, for instance, that lynching was more common in the American South when land prices and cotton prices were depressed.

In modern-day Africa, where many of the current killings happen, there may be a more direct motive. Suspected witches are often killed by their own family members who benefit by having fewer mouths to feed when resources are scarce.

Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of Economic Gangsters, a book about the economics of crime, corruption, and war, has studied the Tanzanian situation. He argues that there is a direct economic motive for the attacks. Tough times in a Tanzanian household may well result in starvation, and the elderly—especially women—are at risk of being sacrificed to free resources. As evidence, Miguel points out that victims of witch attacks in Meatu district—almost all old women—tend to be from the poorest households. The murders are much more common during years of drought or flood.

It may be that solving the problem of witchcraft persecution has less to do with debunking folk beliefs and more to do with addressing poverty around the world. Maybe that's the real reason that these killings are so rare in wealthier countries. While there are Americans who believe in witchcraft and consider it evil, there is little economic motivation for them to act upon those beliefs.

Having local law enforcement take witchcraft killings seriously helps, too, as I commented in my article praising Kenya's response to the killing of 15 accused "witches" by an angry mob. It may be that witchcraft is seized upon as the supposed motivation for killing elderly dependents because in some places it prompts the police to look the other way.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Witch School" Exposed in Malawi?

In Malawi, a nation in southeastern Africa, a school dedicated to teaching children witchcraft has apparently been exposed in the country's central district of Salima. The school is alleged to be quite large and according to the African Network for the Protection and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect it graduates 1000 students per year. So here's the question - is this for real?

Belief in witchcraft is widespread enough in Africa that it's not inconceivable that such a school could exist, and given some of the anti-witchcraft violence that sometimes happens in that part of the world the people running the school would have an interest in keeping it secret. However, the existence of the school is being reported by a single source with no corroborating evidence in a breathless "OMG the children!" sort of announcement. That undermines its credibility a bit right there.

I also wonder about the numbers quoted. A school that graduates 1000 students per year would be very large and would consume enough resources that it would be hard to hide. The graduating class from the private school that I attended was a little over 100 and the school was still a significant presence in its suburban community of about thirty thousand people. The school described in the article would be ten times that size.

Nonetheless, this portion is probably true.

There have been increased cases of people teaching children witchcraft, but efforts to deal with the issue are hampered by the constitution of Malawi, which does not recognise witchcraft and regards self-confessed individuals as "pretenders".

My question here is why this "issue" needs to be "dealt with." I certainly plan on teaching my kids magick if they are interested in learning it, and I don't see where the government should have any say in whether or not I can do that. The same should be true for people in Africa.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Christian Who Gets It

I recently came across an excellent article on a Christian site comparing the modern practice of "spiritual warfare" to ritual magick and finding little difference between the two. I've been telling people the same thing for years - this sort of results-oriented prayer is magick, plain and simple. The same is true of "green gospel" prayer that aims for lots of money, a nice house, or a Mercedes. It has a lot more in common with my magical practices than it does with the teachings of any major Christian sect.

There are two forms of spiritual practice that cut across all spiritual systems and denominations, magick and mysticism. Magick is the practice of directing one's consciousness outward so as to create change in accordance with will. Mysticism is the practice of looking inward so as to transform consciousness in such a way that an expansion of awareness and fundamental change in perspective is induced, what the Gospels refer to as metanoia. I've written elsewhere on this term and how it is poorly translated into "repentence" in English, a word that carries with it all sorts of connotations that the original Greek term did not.

The spiritual system that I practice, Thelema, embraces both techniques. However, most Christian churches teach that magick is forbidden but mysticism is fine. My belief is that this is an unnecessary restriction that does not automatically contradict the teachings of Jesus, but this is not a belief shared by most Christians. In fact, many of the "spiritual warfare" and "green gospel" Christians will happily explain that what they are doing is "prayer" and what I am doing is "sorcery," which makes them good and me evil. These people need a wake-up call - they are doing magick, and if their form of spirituality forbids magical practice they can't just use a different word and expect their God to be fooled.

Most of the "spiritual warfare" folks are also Biblical literalists, and it seems obvious to me that their practices are incompatible with Matthew 7:22-23.

On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'"

I mean, who else could this passage be talking about? I don't believe the Rapture is on the way or anything like that, but if Christianity is the one true religion and the correct interpretation of the faith is that of conservative theologians I'm smart enough to realize that I'm thoroughly screwed. The statement in the passage is that of people who think themselves to be devout but are surprised to find that God doesn't share their belief. I've seen commentary from Christians online implying that the "evildoers" here are liberal Christians, but a literal reading of the text renders that implication silly at best. What liberal Christian church teaches prophecy and casting out of demons?

Unlike a lot of magical practitioners, I have no problem whatsoever with Christianity or with individuals who follow the Christian faith. I explored it many years ago and just found that it wasn't for me. On the other hand, there are a lot of Christians who will happily condemn my practices while doing the same things themselves and calling their practice "prayer." This double standard strikes me as profoundly hypocritical or at the very least ignorant.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Witchcraft" Sparks Congolese Soccer Riot

Say what you want about American sports fans, but the real crazies as far as that goes are the football (soccer) fans of Europe, Africa, and South America. I can't remember the last time fans were killed at a sporting event in the United States, but in the footballing world it happens surprisingly often. Sometimes these deaths are accidental, as in the case of fans stampeding out of a poorly designed stadium, but the rest of the time they are due to brawls and riots.

That being the case, you would expect the teams on the field to keep from doing anything that might enrage the fans, right? Well, apparently this player didn't get the message.

Nyuki football club was losing to its local rivals Socozaki in Sunday's game when the club's goalkeeper decided to intervene.

Radio Okapi, a local broadcaster funded by the United Nations, said the player dashed up the pitch incanting "fetishist" spells to weaken the opposing team.

The game, a derby match in an eastern province of the Central African country, quickly broke up into a brawl between the two teams of players.

A local police commander then tried to intervene to break up the fight, but he was pelted with rocks by the crowd.

Matters quickly got out of hand as fighting seized hold of some sections of the stadium. Police fired canisters of tear gas and spectators stampeded for the exits.

The charge resulted in carnage: 11 dead and several others injured.

The most important message to take away from this is that if you are a magical practitioner and athlete who wants to use your powers to help your team, the most useful thing to practice is casting spells without any visible words or actions. It's more difficult, but you can work at it and you will improve over time. Especially if your sport happens to be soccer.

Real Ritual Abuse

Most people now realize that the "ritual abuse" scare of the early 1990's was a bunch of nonsense. The vast Satanic conspiracy implicated by the therapists who relied on hypnosis to falsify memories was too large, complex, and powerful to ever exist in secret, and furthermore there have never been anywhere close to enough Satanists in the world to pull it off. Not only that, but actual Satanists are opposed to any sort of child abuse.

So that means the only "witches" and "Satanists" who are left to abuse kids are deranged followers of the practices outlined in the Malleus Maleficarum - you know, all three of them - and a handful of predators who use the belief in ritual practices to keep their victims in line. Like this guy. Assuming that the allegations are true, this is someone who should be showered with enough curses to kill a small elephant.

Joseph Gerald Hermary, 42 - a previously convicted child pornographer - was arrested several weeks ago in British Columbia on a Canada-wide warrant.

He is facing several charges stemming from incidents in late 2006, including two counts of sexual assault and breaching court orders.


Hermary is alleged to have told the boys he had special powers related to witchcraft and invited them to join a club he was starting, sources said.

It was during these meetings - which included bizarre ritualistic ceremonies - that the sexual abuse allegedly occurred.

When predators exploit magick and witchcraft to help them commit their crimes they hurt every magical practitioner out there. The last thing the magical arts need is to be associated with exploitation and abuse. Our enemies tried that once, and every case like this gives them more ammunition to try again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alchemy's Scientific Basis?

A version of this article was posted on my old blog. This a rewrite of the same concept rather than a repost.

Modern people often assume that individuals who lived during the Renaissance and Medieval periods were less intelligent than individuals living today. After all, they believed in all sorts of things that science has shown to be false or even ridiculous. Furthermore, some of these beliefs seem to defy the conventional notion of common sense and as a result it is unclear how they ever came about. What we know about evolution, though, tells us that we couldn't have evolved that much over even the last several thousand years. The ancients were just as smart as we are, but they did have a vastly more limited knowledge base in the physical sciences.

In the modern age we have solved the age-old problem of manufacturing gold from other elements. The trick is to use nuclear processes that alter the structure of atoms, and it can be done in nuclear reactors or particle accelerators. It turns out that making gold from lead, as the folklore suggests alchemists did, is not the way to go. Instead, you want to synthesize it from Mercury. As Mercury appears prominently in alchemical writings, I did some research to see if it might actually have been possible for ancient alchemists to have hit upon something similar to the modern method hundreds or even thousands of years ago. My academic background is in psychology rather than physics, so if I'm making some key error here feel free to let me know - but some of the evidence suggests that they might have been able to actually accomplish the synthesis of gold.

The ancients had no particle accelerators or nuclear reactors so some lower-technology method must have been employed. The only real option that a low-technology society would have is the exposure of base material to a highly radioactive element. Uranium wouldn't work because it doesn't give off a high enough level of radiation to come anywhere close to the energy requirements, and elements like plutonium do not occur in nature. A possible viable candidate, though, is radium. It is highly radioactive and can be found in small amounts in pitchblende, an ore that is found in central Europe. While the ancients had no mass spectrometry, radium is obviously different than the surrounding ore. It glows like the magical stones of ancient legends and also gives off heat.

Mercury is the only viable base material. It can be transformed into gold following this equation:

Mercury 198 + 6.8MeV gamma ray -> 1 neutron + Mercury 197 (half-life 2.7 days -> Gold 197)

Approximately 10% of naturally occuring mercury is of isotope 198, so it is plentiful enough to be useful. The decay of one atom of radium 226 releases 4.871 MeV of energy, so at least two would have to decay for each transformed atom of Mercury.

So here's the idea. Alchemy talks about the red tincture, the white tincture, and the Philosopher's Stone. We also know that lead was used in the process and at least some alchemists probably did believe that it was the lead which transformed.

The Red Tincture - cinnebar, the ore from which Mercury is produced.

The White Tincture - radium, which in its pure form is white.

The Philosopher's Stone - a smelted piece of radium. Radium's melting point is 1292 degrees Farenheit, well within the temperature range of even a bronze age forge.

The process might work something like this:

  1. Extract radium from pitchblende. This is the transformation from Nigredo to Albedo. Pitchblende ore is black and the extracted radium is white. The extracted radium is the alchemical "salt" due to its white appearance.

  2. Using a forge, melt the radium into some sort of mold to create a "stone."

  3. Extract the mercury from cinnebar. Cinnebar ore is red (Rubedo) and it during the extraction process it separates into Mercury and sulfur, which is yellow (Citrinitas). These are the alchemical sulphur and mercury - by this model the terms are literal.

  4. Place the liquid mercury into a lead vessel. Lead might have been arrived at simply because it offers some shielding from radioactivity. Needless to say, the entire process outlined here would be very dangerous to perform without modern safety equipment.

  5. Drop the radium "stone" into the mercury.

  6. Seal up the vessel and allow the mixture to "incubate" for a period of time. 40 days was commonly recommended, probably enough time for most of the mercury-198 isotope to transform.

  7. Open the vessel and remove the stone and mercury. The synthesized gold molecules would be deposited at the bottom of the vessel, which may have given rise to the idea that the lead was being transformed.
The stone would be reusable, so once you had accomplished (1) and (2) you wouldn't need to repeat the process. It's half-life would be about 1600 years so a stone could even be passed down from master to student over the course of centuries. You would need more mercury, though, to make more gold.

Whether or not this would work depends on two things. First off, the modern method of extracting radium from pitchblende uses electricity. Is there a lower-technology method that could have been applied in order to extract a small amount of the element? Second of all, would the radium actually produce enough concentrated decay energy to facilitate the transformation? One other issue is that to my knowledge we have never actually found one of these radium stones, which argues against the ancients ever coming up with this technology. However, they may have been regarded as so valuable and secret that they were never just left lying around. It might be interesting to sweep European alchemical labs with a detector and see if any buried sources of radiation can be found.

If I were a graduate student in physics and could get my hands on the materials, I would love to try it out. It could never have been developed to any practical level because the amounts of gold produced are tiny, and to this day it is cheaper to buy gold than it is to make it. Nevertheless, it intrigues me that this process does seem to match more features of the old accounts than you would expect due to chance alone, and the idea that the ancients could have managed a physical transformation is compelling and it would be interesting to know whether or not it is really possible.

Are there any physicists out there who might care to disabuse me of my ignorance? Fire away - I am by no means an expert and would love to hear why it can't work from someone who knows more about radioactive materials than I do.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A New Study on Astrology and Health

Most American scientists have a particular attitude toward research that can be problematic when studying certain types of phenomena, especially anything related to alleged paranormal events. Before they expend any effort at all on researching a specific subject, they want irrefutable scientific proof that it is "real." This mindset is efficient when examining easily reproducible effects, but for lower probability events it can wind up missing important information about the world.

In some other countries science is conducted differently. In Russia, for example, scientists start with the report of a phenomenon and investigate it in order to figure out what it is and how it works. This is why the Soviet Union was doing psychic research long before most Americans, though Joseph Banks Rhine at Duke University was a notable exception. I've always been of the opinion that this is a better way to do research because the concept of "real" as a lot of Americans see it is problematic in terms of how people experience the world. Psychological or neural effects are not "fake" just because they are unrelated to an external physically observable condition.

For example, it would be just as scientifically valuable to demonstrate concisely that something weird like, say, alien abduction experiences are the result of some specific neural firing pattern as it would be to show that there really are alien spacecraft with transporter technology. In either case, we understand the phenomenon where we didn't before, and when people report we know what is going on. If it's psychological, we can identify the neural pathways involved and develop some sort of drug therapy to help patients manage what are often terrifying nightmares. If it's physical, well, we could go ahead and set up traps for the aliens and maybe try to capture and reverse-engineer their ship.

Research on such a phenomenon is therefore a win either way, but so long as scientists dismiss the reports no solution that has any potential to help those experiencing the events in question will be found. With alien abductions in particular, Canadian neuroscientist Michael Persinger has been studying them for years, which would likely have not been possible in the United States. He believes that the experiences are at least in part due to electromagnetic fields affecting the brain and has built a machine to test it, the so-called "God Helmet." While the machine has yet to yield anything practical in the way of consumer technology, the findings from Persinger's research are still interesting and shed light on other areas such as how the brain works under the influence of a "religious experience."

In a roundabout way, this brings me to the topic of this article. In recent years there have been few scientific studies of astrology. At the beginning of the last century there was a lot of interest in finding some sort of scientific model that would explain how the practice works, but in many cases the researchers were not well-trained as scientists and made use of questionable statistical methods. One of the first researchers to go about studying the subject in a rigorous way was Michel Gauquelin, a French statistician.

Gauquelin's most significant finding was the "Mars Effect" in which he determined that the placement of the planet Mars in the birth chart seemed to correllate to high athletic ability if the planet was well aspected. Gauquelin himself was actually fairly skeptical of astrology in general, but the Mars Effect was highly statistically significant. He nonetheless regarded the effect as genuine and hypothesized that astrological effects were related to biological rhythms and time of birth rather than any sort of invisible planetary influence.

Gauquelin's theoretical model is actually a good one. There likely are personality differences between people depending on when they are born, though this has not been a well-researched are of study. For example, it is a known fact that more professional athletes are born in the sign of Leo (late July and most of August) in the United States. Leo is ruled by the Sun and probably is the sign that is closest to the stereotypical "jock," healthy and outgoing but also sometimes arrogant and grandiose. There's no magick to the timing itself - the American school year starts at the beginning of September and as a result kids born in August are slightly older and therefore more likely to excel in athletics than their peers.

It is nonetheless interesting that Leo is described as it is since astrology predates the school year and intramural sports by millenia. It may be that something similar was in place due to the harvest season. Early European societies tended to work all summer, harvest crops in the fall, and then hunker down for the winter. It may have been that children born in August got more individual attention for a longer period of time because they were born at the very end of the summer and their parents could hole up with them all winter instead of having their attention taken up by farming. The school year does start in September because traditionally children needed the summers off to help with their family farms.

A new study from India has found that there is a 75% correllation between planetary positions throughout the course of one's life and times at which health problems arise. The study was done with over 1000 patients, so there are no issues with the sample size, though without the exact methodology it is hard to say what other statistical problems might present in the data. If accurate, this study goes beyond Gauquelin's contention of birth time being the sole determining factor in personality and ability because the study tracked people over time and took into account the positions of various planets in the chart.

I actually am not a big believer in the "invisible influence" model and subscribe more to something like a biorhythm model. According to this hypothesus, over time astrologers observed various processes in human physiology and psychology and noted particular cycles of different average lengths. The planets were then given their attributions on the basis of which cycle length was closest to their orbital period and this is how the traits associated with each planet were determined in the first place. This is consistent with the kind of organic proto-science that existed during the period in which astrology arose, in which a kind of sifting process slowly eliminates concepts that don't work and leaves only those that seem to be in harmony with the working data.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Circle and Sigils

In responding to a question about the spells I have posted here I realized that I omitted a couple of points regarding the performance of those and other similar magical workings. In Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae Aleister Crowley writes the following:

1. The student must FIRST obtain a thorough knowledge of "Book 777", especially of columns i., ii., iii., v., vi., vii., ix., xi., xii., xiv., xv., xvi., xvii., xviii., xix., xxxiv., xxxv., xxxviii., xxxix., xl., xli., xlii., xlv., liv., lv., lix., lx., lxi., lxiii., lxx., lxxv., lxxvii., lxviii., lxxix., lxxx., lxxxi., lxxxiii., xcvii., xcviii., xcix., c., ci., cxvii., cxviii., cxxxvii., cxxxviii., cxxxix., clxxv., clxxvi., clxxvii., clxxxii.

When these are committed to memory, he will begin to understand the nature of these correspondences. ("See" Illustrations "The Temple of Solomon the King" in this number. Cross references are given.)

2. If we take an example, the use of the table will become clear. Let us suppose that you wish to obtain knowledge of some obscure science. In column xlv., line 12, you will find "Knowledge of Sciences."

By now looking up line 12 in the other columns, you will find that the Planet corresponding is Mercury, its number eight, its lineal figures the octagon and octagram. The God who rules that planet Thoth, or in Hebrew symbolism Tetragrammaton Adonai and Elohim Tzabaoth, its Archangel Raphael, its Choir of Angels Beni Elohim, its Intelligence Tiriel, its Spirit Taphtatharath, its colours Orange (for Mercury is the Sphere of the Sephira Hod, 8), Yellow, Purple, Grey, and Indigo rayed with Violet; its Magical Weapon the Wand or Caduceus, its Perfumes Mastic and others, its sacred plants Vervain and others, its jewel the Opal or Agate; its sacred animal the Snake, &c., &c.

3. You would then prepare your Place of Working accordingly. In an orange circle you would draw an eight-pointed star of yellow, at whose points you would place eight lamps. The Sigil of the Spirit (which is to be found in Cornelius Agrippa and other books) you would draw in the four colours with such other devices as your experience may suggest.

That sounds like a lot, but it's actually simpler than it at first appears. The study of Liber 777 is important for two reasons. First of all, when performing a ritual you want the correspondences to immediately leap to mind, which is impossible when simply working off a script. While it is possible to work magick successfully from a text, the better you know the symbols and objects corresponding to your operation the better your magical results will be. Second of all, knowledge of the correspondences will enable you to make your own personal adjustments to the scripts as they are written here. You can add appropriate magical weapons, incenses, essential oils, stones, metals, and so forth based on the correspondences and in many cases this will help to amplify the effect.

I don't work with physical circles very much any more since I have a permanent temple setup with altars at the quarters and so forth, but there was a time when I did. I often get questions about the best way to set one up, especially on a temporary basis. My personal favorite method is crepe paper. You can get rolls of it inexpensively in many different colors and it can be taped to the floor or a rug to in the appropriate shape. Traditionally a magick circle is nine feet in diameter if you have the space. Once you've laid out the circle, you can make the appropriate number of points around it evenly and set down the proper lineal figure. At each of the points of the figure you would then place candles, preferably encased in glass like seven-day candles. You don't want to inadvertently knock one over and set the crepe paper on fire - one downside of using it is that it burns really easily. You can use plain white candles or candles that are an appropriate color to the operation. For my rituals posted here, this would be the color of lineal figure, which should match the color of the hexagrams traced in the Greater Ritual of the Hexagram.

The Sigils from Agrippa can be found here. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will see the Table, Seal or Character, and the Sigils of the Intelligence and Spirit of each planet. The Table is used to derive the Sigils but it is not generally traced on a talisman or ritual implement. The Seal and Sigils, however, should be. The Seal corresponds to the supernals on the Tree of Life, the Qabalistic worlds of Atziluth and Briah. It should be drawn in the King and Queen Scale colors. The Sigil of the Intelligence corresponds to the Qabalistic world of Yetzirah and should be drawn in the Prince (or Emperor in 777) Scale color. The Sigil of the Spirit corresponds to the Qabalistic world of Assiah and should be drawn in the Princess (or Empress in 777) Scale color. There are a few oddities, such as Sigils for the "Intelligence of Intelligences" for the Moon and Venus and the "Spirit of Spirits" for the Moon. As far as color goes, a spirit is a spirit and an intelligence is an intelligence, whether or not it is plural.

Generally speaking, the symbols should be drawn together on one piece of paper or parchment that will then serve as a talisman linked to the operation. For certain kinds of magical work, such as healing spells, you might want to draw the Sigils on your own body in the appropriate colors if you are healing yourself or on the body of the person you are trying to heal. In such a circumstance it is perfectly fine to use some sort of water-soluable marker for this since the Sigils only need to be present while you are performing the ritual. It you decide to use a paper talisman for such a ritual, though, carry it around with you after the ritual to maintain a contagion link to the spell or have the target of the operation do the same if the ritual was worked for someone other than yourself.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fortune-Telling Ban Lifted in Vermont

St Johnsbury, a town in Vermont, has lifted a ban on fortune-telling and various other spiritual practices. The ban was enacted in 1966 and was quite comprehensive.

It had left little to chance, banning practitioners from telling fortunes or attempting 'to reveal future events in the life of another or by means of occult or psychic powers, faculties or forces, clairvoyance, psychometry, spirit-mediumship, prophecy, astrology, palmistry, necromancy, cards, talismans, charms, potions, magnetism or magnetized articles or substances, oriental mysteries or magic of any kind or nature; to undertake or pretend to find or restore lost or stolen money or property, gold or silver or other ore or metal or natural product; or to undertake or pretend to unite, or reunite or to find lovers, husbands, wives, lost relatives or friends.'

I'm of the opinion that laws like this are just plain silly and show that the legislature at the time had nothing better to do. Fraudulent mediums who claim to be able to predict the future for a fee and then fail to do so can be prosecuted under existing fraud statutes, and going after con artists is the only justifiable rationale for a law like this. I can't imagine anyone seriously arguing that tarot card readers are a threat to their community.

It's unclear how this law got on the books in the first place. Maybe somebody needs to do a reading to find out.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why I Leave Skeptics Alone

There are quite a few magical practitioners who have it in for the "Skeptic Movement" founded by James Randi and centered around The Skeptical Inquirer magazine. I'm not one of them. While I do practice magick and know from personal experience that it works, I'm not fully convinced that proving this in an irrefutable scientific way is such a good idea. Furthermore, it is completely reasonable to expect there to be repeatable and consistant empirical evidence for any extraordinary phenomenon that we hope to subject to scientific scrutiny.

Skeptics actually perform two very valuable functions. First of all, they target confidence artists who trade on peoples' belief in the paranormal. Most people who make a living doing magick for others are fakes, plain and simple. Magick is actually a statistical effect, not a guarantee, and anyone who claims that their spells work all the time is lying - especially if they are asking for exhorbitant sums of money. Debunking these people is very helpful to society in general simply because money spent on their nonexistant services could be better spent by the desperate people these tricksters target and exploit.

The second function they perform is to undermine widespread belief in paranormal powers. Believe it or not, I consider this a very good thing, even as a magical practitioner. While I don't appreciate people like James Randi and Michael Shermer calling me an idiot, in the end their opinions are irrelevant to my own practices. A society in which I am considered deluded or misguided as opposed to dangerous is a much safer place for a magician like myself to live. In parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia where belief in magick is widespread spellcasters often get strung up or burned by angry mobs. And even in the United States you get incidents like this.

In fact, if you can use magick effectively it is much better to live in a society that thinks you're a harmless crank than in one that considers you a demonic menace. So skeptics are really my friends, even when they consider me confused, insane, or both.