Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ritual Tools and Extension of Self

There is a lot of discussion among magicians about the significance of magical tools. Some magicians have elaborate temples with extensive collections of magical implements while others prefer to use few if any physical objects in their practice. Yesterday I came across an article in which researchers claim to have found evidence that the use of tools alters the brain's perception of body shape and size. You need to register at the site to read the whole article, but registration is free and I have yet to be spammed by this particular website.

"To be accurate in doing an action with a tool, you need to make the tool become a part of your body," the study's first author Lucilla Cardinali of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bron and Claude Bernard University in Lyon told The Scientist. "Your brain needs to take into account that the action is performed with something added to your body part."

The study was conducted by having subjects work with a gripping tool that was longer than the normal reach of their arms for a period of time and then conducting a series of tests to gauge whether or not they perceived their arms to be longer.

Cardinali, a graduate student with INSERM's Alessandro Farnè, gave people a mechanical grabber that extended their reach and found that people with the arm-elongating tool took longer to grasp and point to an object after the gizmo was taken away compared to before they held the tool. They then showed that this delayed reaction time is a normal response of people with naturally longer arms, thus indicating that tool users judge their arms to be longer than they truly are. The researchers also asked blindfolded participants to touch specific landmarks on their arm -- the elbow, wrist and middle fingertip -- and showed that people perceived these spots as further along the limb after having played with the gadget arm.

This is one of those things that feels like basic common sense, but until now there has been little research testing the idea that tools can alter body image. Most of us have had the experience of driving a car, for example. While you're on the road the car feels like it's a part of you once your driving skill reaches a certain level. You don't think about each individual action you take as you drive, you just think "I'm going that way" and your brain and body automatically handle the necessary actions that make it so. This is true of many complex tasks in our day-to-day lives involving tools and implements.

Assuming that this research is accurate, it seems to me that the same principle could be applied to magical tools. In fact, it may be that the use of magical tools exploits this same principle in the service of spiritual evolution. As a magician you want to develop the realization that "you" are larger than the boundaries of your skin. Lon Milo Duquette describes this realization as "it's all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head really is." In practice, I have found the realization that my entire field of perception is in a meaningful sense "me" increases the power of practical magical rituals substantially. It's accurate in an objective scientific sense as well, since everything that we experience in the mundane world is mediated by our brains and what we usually experience as "seeing," for example, is actually a set of internal neural firing patterns that arise in response to patterns of light in the environment.

In my temple I have four small altars at the corners corresponding to the four directions. On each directional altar I have a candle of the appropriate color, a corresponding Egyptian deity statue, and the corresponding elemental tool. Using the model from the study, as I use each tool I perceive it to be a part of my body. It seems logical, then, that when I replace it at the corresponding quarter it would help to extend my sense of self in that direction. Using all four tools in sequence, as in a ritual like the Opening by Watchtower, should extend my sense of self to encompass the entire temple. Practices like the visualization of lineal figures at the quarters also help to accomplish the shift in awareness from the body to the entire working space, and at some point this realization "clicks" and becomes permanent.

While a magician can accomplish this realization without the use of tools by visualization alone, it makes sense to me that in our practices we should exploit every brain mechanism we can in order to speed our progress along the path. Tool use appears to be one of those mechanisms, so in the light of this new research perhaps those of us who generally work without tools might want to reconsider their use.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Is This a Real Practice?

One of the things you learn pretty quickly when studying true crime stories that are supposedly linked to esoteric practices is that prosecutors often exaggerate anything that sounds like an occult connection to sometimes ridiculous extremes. These exaggerations are usually obvious to magical practitioners like myself, but they sail over the heads of people who've never studied occultism and honestly have no idea what esoteric spirituality really entails.

For example, I've covered the case of Joy Johnson and Joseph Craig who were accused of sex crimes related to a "Satanic cult" that nobody in their area had ever heard of. The prosecutor went so far as charge one of their neighbors, I suppose in order to dig up somebody else so that he could justify the existence of a cult. In the end, however, the neighbor was released since it was pretty clear to the judge that she had nothing to do with any sort of cult, let alone any of the alleged criminal activity. Johnson and Craig remain charged with the sexual abuse of two other individuals and have yet to go to trial, but the "Satanic cult" elements have been completely dropped from the state's case - probably because the prosecutor made them up made them up when he found out the two practiced esoteric spirituality.

The conduct of the prosecutor involved in that story provides some context to this one.

A New York City woman has been accused of burning her 6-year-old daughter during a voodoo ritual and then ignoring her cries for help and sending her to bed.

Prosecutors say Marie Lauradin poured an accelerant over her daughter during a Haitian practice known as Loa and made her stand naked in a ring of fire, engulfing her in flames.

I'm not that familiar with Voudon, but I do recognize a few elements such as the ring of fire. I know that strong alcohol is also used in Voudon rituals, so that could be the "accelerant" prosecutors are talking about. However, I'm wondering if anyone out there can confirm whether or not this combination of the two sounds like something that Voudon practitioners actually do. Specifically, it seems to me that if it is common to have someone stand naked in the center of a ring of fire and then pour alcohol all over them there would be a lot more serious burn injuries going around the Voudon community than I've ever heard of. Or could this be the result of some serious technical problem in the ritual, like making the ring of fire too small or using too much alcohol?

I don't really know what happened here aside from the child being injured, but I also am well aware that statements from prosecutors can be profoundly unreliable when a case has anything to do with alternative religions or magical practices. Can anybody out there clue me in? Was this a poorly done version of a canonical Voudon ritual, or are portions of the charges outright fabrications?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Christian Black Magick

It never ceases to amaze me when I come across conservative Christians doing magick, especially what most would consider black magick. I'm not talking about Christian esotericists like Rufus Opus - the Hermetic Christian tradition has a long history of working with magical powers and according the Hermetic philosophy doing so is an essential component of spiritual development. No, I'm talking about Biblical literalists who completely accept and promulgate the Old Testament prohibitions on performing magick but nonetheless do so themselves. They call it "imprecatory prayer," a semantic shift that makes what they do no less magical and thus no less a violation of the Biblical laws that they claim to uphold.

The latest of these dark sorcerers is Wiley Drake, a Southern Baptist minister who served as second vice president of the Southern Baptist convention from 2006 to 2007 and ran for Vice President in 2008 on the American Independent Party ticket. At the beginning of June Drake claimed to have cast the spell (that is, "made imprecatory prayer") that took the life of Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered on May 31st by an anti-abortion extremist (and let me be clear, I don't believe that everyone who is opposed to abortion is an extremist - but it should be obvious that anyone who would assassinate a doctor is).

Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., called Tiller "a brutal, murdering monster" and said he is "grateful to God" that the physician is no longer around.

"There may be a lot who would say, 'Oh that is mean. You shouldn't be that way,'" Drake said. "Well, no, it's an answer to prayer."

Drake said he prayed nearly 10 years for the salvation of Tiller, medical director of the Women's Health Care Services clinic and an outspoken advocate for abortion rights. About a year ago, Drake said, he switched to what he called "imprecatory prayer."

"I said to the Lord, 'Lord I pray back to you the Psalms, where it says that they are to become widowers and their children are to become orphans and so forth.' And we began calling for those imprecatory prayers, because he had obviously turned his back on God again and again and again," Drake said.

Normally conservative Christians don't have a lot of magical aptitude simply because the best practical magicians usually don't fit very well into non-mystical spiritual systems*, but this guy now claims to have a track record and might be genuinely dangerous. To be fair the jury is still out since Drake made this claim after the fact - it's not uncommon for terrorist groups to take credit for operations that they had nothing to do with and this could be something similar. Still, because of the risks that he took every day Tiller was a prime target for a curse.

Death spells usually don't cause the target to just wither up and die, but rather they mobilize other people and events around the target to act in a way that leads to his or her death. I have no idea what percentage of the anti-abortion protesters that surrounded Tiller's clinic might be unstable enough to be influenced in that direction but I think it's safe to say that the killer was, whether or not Drake's spells had any effect on his psychology. Somebody who's willing to kill without the influence of a spell will certainly be willing to do so with magick spurring him or her along.

Emboldened by his success, Drake has a new project - using his magical powers to assassinate the President. In an interview with Alan Colmes, Drake made his intentions clear.

Asked if there are others for whom Drake is praying "imprecatory prayer," Drake hesitated before answering that there are several. "The usurper that is in the White House is one, B. Hussein Obama," he said.

Later in the interview, Colmes returned to Drake's answer to make sure he heard him right.

"Are you praying for his death?" Colmes asked.

"Yes," Drake replied.

"So you're praying for the death of the president of the United States?"


Peter Carroll once observed that politicians are substantially more difficult than regular people to kill by magick. He added that he believed this to be because everyone who supports them directs positive attention their way and this provides some degree of magical protection. As an Obama supporter and also as an advocate of the Rule of Law I hope that this is the case, but maybe this threat means I should send some additional magical protection the President's way. If I can't cast circles around somebody like Drake there's something seriously wrong with my magical practices.

The remarkable thing is that if their philosophy is at all consistent conservative Christians should be condemning this guy, but so far I haven't come across any statements to that effect from any of the organizations that normally have harsh words for magical practitioners. Does this mean that if I call what I do "prayer" it suddenly becomes mysteriously okay?

UPDATE: I've edited my comment about "magical people" not fitting well into "rigid" spiritual systems. Apparently my use of the former gave the impression that I was talking about people who do magick exactly the way I do or counter-culture people or something like that, when what I was specifically trying to refer to was individuals with high magical aptitude. Now it reads "the best practical magicians" which is clearer. I've changed the latter in response to Jason Miller, who rightly pointed out that spiritual systems like Vajrayana are "rigid" in terms of strictness of practice and also mentioned that he knew a Sufi Muslim who was quite culturally conservative but also a practicing magician.

After thinking it over I agree with Jason that "rigidity" of culture or practice is not the crucial variable. As I see it, the difference between Sufism and Vajrayana on the one hand and literalist Christianity on the other is that the former two systems incorporate mysticism while the latter one does not. Generally speaking, it's mystical practices that attract people who are talented magicians to religious systems. As a result, while I agree that there are plenty of literalist Christians out there who might try to do magick very few of them are any good. Believe it or not, I know this firsthand - when I was in high school I spent almost a year as a member of one of those churches, and let me tell you, there wasn't a competent magician or mystic in the place despite the church having several thousand members.

UPDATE II (*): Apparently that pesky sentence fragment preceding the asterisk is still giving the wrong impression. There certainly are schools of Christianity that I consider "mystical" and there are also talented Christian magicians. Here is what I meant when I wrote it, and also when I revised it:

People with the most magical talent tend to be drawn to spiritual systems in which they can practice magick or mysticism and avoid systems that tell them their abilities are evil. I think that this creates a statistical tendency in favor of systems that embrace those abilities.

You're welcome to agree or disagree, but that is what I meant and that is all I meant. The only person I meant to "belittle" by it was this particular idiot who wants to cast a death spell on our President.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Suspected Albino Killers on Trial in Tanzania

The African nation of Tanzania is continuing its offensive against traditional witchcraft by opening five cases against suspects believed to be behind the killing of albinos for their body parts, which were then sold to traditional witchcraft practitioners for use in magical rituals.

State-run Daily News newspaper, citing High Court’s Senior Deputy Registrar John Utamwa, said the five cases started in Shinyanga, one of the regions worst affected by the killings in which over 40 people have lost their lives since mid 2007.

The newspaper said Utamwa would not give more details on the cases and did not say how many people were arraigned in court.

Daily News, citing Director of Public Prosecutions Eliezer Feleshi, said another five cases will be filed in Tabora, three in Mwanza and two in Kagera.

Tanzania is an odd case in that usually legal prosecutions of individuals connected with witchcraft in Africa are either persecutions of the falsely accused or prosecutions of vigilante mobs who decided to take "justice" into their own hands following the accusation of a neighbor. It sounds like the accused were not witchcraft practitioners themselves, but without the continuing demand for body parts they of course would have had nothing to sell and probably would have pursued a different line of work - though it may have been some other form of organized crime.

Trials were held earlier this year in neighboring Burundi related to the killing of albinos there, apparently for the Tanzanian witchcraft trade.

The trials follow similar ones that started in neighbouring Burundi in late May. At least 11 people have been killed in Burundi since last year. Authorities in the tiny central African nation say the murders were done at the behest of people in Tanzania, who use the genitals, skin and bones in witchcraft in the belief that this will bring prosperity in areas such as fishing and mining.

Hopefully most of the killers are now on trial and will be found guilty by the legal system. If the trade in albino body parts ends Tanzanian magicians might be forced to do some empirical research and realize that there is nothing special about albinos that makes their body parts especially suitable for magical rituals. It's not like the absence of a pigment-producing gene substantially alters the body's morphic field in any useful way. Better still, maybe the body-part-using magicians will be forced out of the business leaving only those who figured out a long time ago that you don't need body parts of any sort to cast a successful spell.

UPDATE: A group representing albinos in Tanzania and Burundi has called for more education about albinism to dispel the superstitions surrounding it, on the grounds that these prosecutions alone will not be enough to stop the killings. Sadly, they're probably right.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on Magical Models and Ethics

For today I have a couple of thoughts on two blog articles that I recently came across.

On Strategic Sorcery, Jason Miller has an article up discussing several different models of magick. The three main models that practitioners generally adopt are (1) magick is accomplished via energy work, (2) magick is accomplished via some sort of mental psychic power, and (3) magick is accomplished by spirits external to the magician. Several books have been published in the last few years extolling the virtues of the classical grimoires, and a number of practitioners following the various grimoire systems have started putting forth (3) as a dogmatic position that implies (1) and (2) are not only incorrect, but irrelevant. However, Jason points out that the spirits summoned by the grimoire-only folks often do teach them techniques that are curiously similar to what the rest of us might call energy work, and furthermore that there are plenty of magical techniques in the old grimoires that rely upon sympathetic magick and similar methods rather than calling upon spirits.

Like Jason, I see the dogmatism of the spirit-only approach as pretty silly. In my experience all three models have a role in magick. Individual magicians can cast spells without summoning spirits, and when they do those spells are generally a combination of (1) and (2) - energy work provides the force and mental concentration provides the direction, much like a vector quantity in physics. Spirits external to the magician also can play a role when they are summoned as part of a ritual, and they are more than just internal mental constructs. If this were not the case, you could summon up fictional entities like creatures from the Lovecraftian mythos and still get decent practical results. In the Pseudonomicon, the book that got a lot chaos magicians working with Lovecraft's entities, Phil Hine essentially admits that this is not the case, describing the Great Old Ones as "devoid of sorcerous potential." He goes on to explain that he believes this to be because the Great Old Ones are "unconcerned with humanity" but to me the simpler explanation is that they are fictional. They simply do not exist in macrocosmic reality, and as a result have no power to act within it. On the other hand, most if not all of the traditional spirits do and therefore rituals involving them are objectively effective.

Jason goes on to say that practitioners should not be adopting magical models that limit their practices, and while I agree to a point I also think that when combined with empirical observations magical models can be helpful precisely because they help to define the limits of what we as magicians can or cannot do. The key is that pesky "empirical observation" component. A model that is adopted simply because it seems logical is not of much use, and as in any other science to treat a model as dogma gets in the way of developing an accurate understanding of reality. If we ever find ourselves dismissing evidence because it doesn't fit our model that's a pretty good sign that the model needs to be revised to fit the new data, and if we are to be effective magical practitioners we always need to be on the lookout for this tendency in our own work. As Thomas Kuhn outlines in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions this tendency is present in the physical sciences as well, even though in physics empirical observations are much more clear-cut than they are in magick. It is thus unsurprising that in our own field it can be an even bigger problem.

On The Experiments of Magicians, Taylor Ellwood has an article up discussing magical ethics and the lack of discussion on the subject in much of the published literature. The Wiccan "Threefold Law" is the most common ethical proscription that gets written about, but in fact as any good ceremonialist should realize the Threefold Law is a technical feature of the Wiccan magical system rather than an ethical one. When you invoke magical energy before casting it at your target it is just about inevitable that some of it will "stick" and you will experience some portion of whatever you intended for your target. If you evoke the energy into a containment structure instead this phenomenon is completely neutralized and the target will receive all of the energy of the spell. It should be clear that fixing this technical glitch in no way changes the ethical characteristics of a given spell.

One of the reasons that I think there is so little discussion of ethics among ceremonial magicians is quite simple - the ethical considerations are obvious. Magick is a technology like any other, not some special class of phenomena that requires its own set of rules. Magical ethics are therefore exactly the same as regular ethics. If accomplishing something by non-magical means is unethical, the same should be true of accomplishing it by magical means. Full stop. Magick is therefore ethical if it is used in a conventionally ethical manner, just like physics or biology or economics. The philosophical question of which criteria we should use to judge the best system of ethics remains, but this is not a question that is unique to magick. Personally I follow a Thelemic and fairly utilitarian ethic in my own magical work, just like I do with everything else.

UPDATE: Yesterday Rufus Opus presented his own "Spirit Model" of magick in response to this article and Jason's. Interesting stuff. Jason has also posted a second article on this subject clarifying his position on the use of magical models.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More Soccer Magick

I've commented from time to time about the use of magick in sports, particularly in countries where belief in such practices is widespread. This story comes from the African nation of Swaziland.

The artificial turf at Swaziland's only football stadium has been ripped apart by players who planted magic charms known as "muti" under the field, officials said on Monday.

Traditional rituals meant to help teams win their games saw the 600,000-dollar turf ripped up over the last month so the muti could be planted underneath, with the damage especially bad by the goals and at centrefield.

It seems to me that planting a talisman under a field's artificial turf is pretty self-defeating. Even if you manage to put it in the right spot you could rip up the turf badly enough to prevent playing the game that you hoped to win.

Apparently one particular team, not named in the article, is suspected of being behind most of the talismans.

Government sports officer Sipho Magagula said the government might consider banning the team suspected of most of the damage at Somhlolo National Stadium on the outskirts of the capital Mbabane.

"This turf is hardly a year old," Magagula told AFP. "Maybe we have to consider banning one big team because whenever that team would be playing at the stadium something strange would happen at the stadium."

So this begs the question - is the suspected team winning their matches? If not, they probably need to find themselves a better magician.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Intact "Witch Bottle" Discovered

Here's an interesting magical relic from the seventeenth century - an intact "witch bottle" recently found in Greenwich, England.

During the 17th century in England, someone urinated in a jar, added nail clippings, hair and pins, and buried it upside-down in Greenwich, where it was recently unearthed and identified by scientists as being the world's most complete known "witch bottle."

This spell device, often meant to attract and trap negative energy, was particularly common from the 16th to the 17th centuries, so the discovery provides a unique insight into witchcraft beliefs of that period, according to a report published in the latest British Archaeology.

As I understand it, the idea behind the witch bottle is that the urine, hair, and fingernail clippings formed a magical link to whoever the bottle was made for and the pins served to attract and trap magical energy. If a malicious magician were able to obtain a lock of hair, for example, the morphic resonance would be stronger between two locks of hair than it would be between the lock of hair and the person it was taken from. The energy of any spell cast on the stolen lock of hair would therefore wind up in the bottle. The same would be true for urine and fingernail clippings.

You could counter such a bottle by using a photograph or some sort of other magical link not included in the bottle, such as blood, but seeing as photographs didn't exist in the 17th Century and by the time you were in a position to extract someone's blood you could probably just kill them on the spot, it sounds to me like it would have worked often enough to be useful. Instructions for making these bottles have been available for years, but this find is important because it demonstrates that they really were constructed as described.

Jonathon the Impaler Pleads Guilty

The saga of Jonathon the Impaler continued yesterday with a guilty plea in the harrassment case against him filed by a Rochester girl who corresponded with him online.

Two days before his trial was to begin, a man who calls himself a vampire and once ran for Minnesota governor has admitted to harassing a Rochester teen by e-mail.

Forty-five-year-old Jonathon Sharkey pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of gross-misdemeanor harassment in Olmsted County.

I guess the case against him must have been pretty solid. Usually sending somebody e-mails isn't exactly actionable, so for him to accept a plea bargain like this the e-mails must have been pretty bad.

Sharkey and the girl dated online, but she tried to end it within two weeks. She told police he sent threatening messages.

Sharkey said in court that his threats were in response to threats to him.

As I mentioned in the previous story on the case, the "threats" the girl issued involved claims that she was a member of an elite vampire hunting unit and that Sharkey's relationship with her put him in danger. That is, her threats essentially amounted to "but I'm Buffy the Vampire Slayer!" If Sharkey indeed took that seriously, well, I think commenter Robert-Joseph said it best in response to the previous article.

IMO his presidential bid wasn't hurt so much by his Satanic beliefs or claims of being a vampire, but rather by the fact that the man has an IQ slightly beneath that of a mentally retarded monkey. I read his stuff. He's a dumb ass.

I mean, let's say that I want somebody to leave me alone and say "Back off, man! I'm a supervillain with special powers who could really mess you up!" A reasonable person would almost certainly conclude that only a true idiot would take me seriously and try to retailiate on the grounds that he was "threatened."

In addition, Sharkey's legal troubles aren't over.

His sentence of 180 days in jail is considered satisfied. But he'll stay in custody pending extradition to Indiana to face two felony charges.

For those of you who feel that giving any attention to this nutjob is somehow problematic, you're welcome to sign the petition to "End His Reign of Terror" and refrain from commenting further. As far as I'm concerned, though, the statements of stupid people should be publicized far and wide so that no mistake can ever be made regarding their intellectual capacity.

Finally, I'll reiterate what I said in the comments on the previous article - for those people who never want to see another President Bush in the White House, keep in mind that this guy claimed to be friends with Jeb. Never let the mainstream media forget it. Doesn't "Jeb Bush pals around with vampires" have a nice ring to it?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Friendly Ghost?

I've always wanted to own a haunted house. As a magician, there are all sorts of fun things that you could do with ghosts at your disposal. Imagine yourself sitting around chatting with fellow magical practitioners, and out of the blue pointing to the kitchen and saying "soda!" - and suddenly a can comes floating down the hall to rest in your hand. You'd get extra mage points for treating it as nothing out of the ordinary and going right back to whatever conversation you happened to be in. Too cool!

Unfortunately for me and my desire for soda telekinesis, even though the two houses that I've owned were both built in the 1880's I've never come across much evidence of ghostly phenomena. Haunted houses are actually pretty rare and on top of that I suspect regular magical practices tend to chase ghosts away. It's not like earthbound spirits are the geniuses of the paranormal world, after all - usually they are either the ghosts of people who haven't figured out that they're dead or haven't figured out how to move on, neither of which is a mark of superior intelligence.

Still, ghosts and people do apparently sometimes get along despite what you see on documentaries about hauntings. A British woman claims to have a ghostly friend who has saved her life twice. That's sure a lot more useful than any flashy party trick.

Louise Wright, who began seeing a ghostly young girl after buying a flat in a converted orphanage, was first woken by the spirit after leaving her oven on.

The second time, she felt a strong gust of wind through her home which blew out a fire started by a candle – despite no windows being open.

She also claims that the ghost found her a boyfriend.

Miss Wright was told she would meet a man called Paul at a party. She did and is now dating him.

'It was eerie but not at all frightening,' said the 25-year-old from Portsmouth.

So is this a genuine case of ghostly friendship, or just a woman with an overactive imagination? That's hard to say, though if Wright's ghost can levitate a can of soda that just might settle the issue.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Casinos Use Magick

I knew it!

I've always suspected that the gambling world must be full of magicians plying their trade in all sorts of undocumented situations. Whether they call themselves "management" or "security" consultants, casinos really do have a use for such individuals. How many people do you think visit an occult bookstore, buy a book of lucky spells, and then head out to the casino to try it out? I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that enough talented individuals get their hands on luck magick every year to put a dent in the profits of any casino that doesn't have its own magician or magicians casting counterspells.

Could this finally be the proof? According to a Taiwanese man, the Venetian Resort hotel and casino in Las Vegas put a stop to his winning streak by employing the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui against him.

The man, surnamed Yuan, alleged that the Venetian dug a one-metre (40-inch) square hole on the wall of the presidential suite he was staying in April last year and covered it with a black cloth, said Apple Daily.

The casino also put two white towels in front of Yuan's suite and turned on two large fans facing his room without notifying him, it said.

Yuan claimed that his luck turned bad after discovering the arrangements and that he went from winning 400,000 dollars to losing two million, the report said.

"We Chinese drape black and white cloths only when there is a death in the family. It is such a taboo for regular people, let alone for the gamblers," he was quoted as saying.

Now the fans and the white cloths might be coincidental, but what about cutting a 3+ foot hole through the wall and covering it with a cloth while a guest was staying in the room? That's completely bizarre - making an architectural modification like that is messy and would have required a lot of fast cleanup to keep the room looking pristine. There's no logical reason for a hotel to do this in a room that is being occupied by a guest.

While I'm not a Feng Shui expert, I know that changes like this to the floorplan of a space are thought to affect the chi flowing through the area. Maybe the in-house magicians looked at Yuan's winning streak and figured that he was employing some sort of spell, maybe based on Feng Shui or Taoist methods that are practiced in Taiwan as well as in China. They then made a small adjustment to the room in order to counter the spell and perhaps even cast something into the room through the large hole in the wall.

It's true that I could be making all of that up and this might just be a case of a gambler whose luck went bad for unrelated reasons, but if so why would this ever work?

Yuan filed a complaint against the Venetian after returning to Taiwan and demanded the cancellation of a two-million-dollar debt to the casino, half of it on credit, it said.

The casino has promised to refund him 100,000 dollars in cash and the same amount in chips, the paper said, without explaining why it had agreed to this.

Yuan had notified the Venetian through his lawyer of his intention to sue for feng shui sabotage if the casino fails to come up with a "reasonable solution," it said.

It sounds to me like the casino really wants to avoid anyone investigating its paranormal practices. Why else would they be so eager to get the case settled if nothing out of the ordinary is going on?

I will admit that I find one particular fact about the case particularly odd. Why, after discovering the Feng Shui "sabotage," did Yuan keep on playing? Personally, I'd take my money and walk out the door as soon as I suspected a counterspell. Without any functioning magick on your side the house is always going to win in the end.