Monday, April 30, 2012

Mind Flex

Every year my wife goes to a big sale called Munchkin Market here in the Twin Cities. It's a pretty good concept; since kids are always outgrowing some things and getting bored with others, you can sell stuff that your kids don't need anymore and then buy new things that are more age-appropriate. This year she came home with a Mind Flex, which is a toy based on a simple brainwave scanner. You put on a headband with sensors, which then communicates with a base station that lights up and runs a small fan according to your average overall brainwave frequency. You can put a little foam ball over the fan, and it will float in the air higher or lower depending on the frequencies being measured by the headset.

I though this looked like a neat concept back when it came out, but wasn't sure how well it would work. At the time it was also almost $100 for the thing, which seemed like a bit much to spend on an experiment of this nature. However, at Munchkin Market my wife found it for $8. Looking online it seems like it's now down to about $50, but $8 is still a whole lot better. So anyway, I now have a brainwave measuring device, albeit a very simple one. Since the sensors only run around the headband my guess is that the Mind Flex is not all that sensitive, certainly not up to what a cap covered in sensors could measure. After playing around with it for a bit, though, I found what it did measure interesting at the very least.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Near-Death Experiences

Salon posted an interesting article over the weekend on near-death experiences. The subject has been studied for decades by neuroscientists who claim that the similar features of experiences reported from people all over the world has to do with what we experience when our brains are in the process of shutting down. However, the biggest challenge to this idea remains that some of these accounts have independently verified. The feeling of rising out of the body can be explained by a number of different neurochemical processes, but in a number of cases patients have been able to observe and give accounts of objects that they could not have possibly seen unless their consciousness was indeed elsewhere. An example of this is the case of a woman named Maria, who seemed to leave her body while medics worked to save her life following a heart attack.

Maria was a migrant worker who had a severe heart attack while visiting friends in Seattle. She was rushed to Harborview Hospital and placed in the coronary care unit. A few days later, she had a cardiac arrest but was rapidly resuscitated. The following day, Clark visited her. Maria told Clark that during her cardiac arrest she was able to look down from the ceiling and watch the medical team at work on her body. At one point in this experience, said Maria, she found herself outside the hospital and spotted a tennis shoe on the ledge of the north side of the third floor of the building. She was able to provide several details regarding its appearance, including the observations that one of its laces was stuck underneath the heel and that the little toe area was worn. Maria wanted to know for sure whether she had “really” seen that shoe, and she begged Clark to try to locate it.

Quite skeptical, Clark went to the location described by Maria—and found the tennis shoe. From the window of her hospital room, the details that Maria had recounted could not be discerned. But upon retrieval of the shoe, Clark confirmed Maria’s observations. “The only way she could have had such a perspective,” said Clark, “was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence for me.”

In other cases, patients have awareness of events that happened in their presence during surgeries, but from times when their brains were registering no activity. According to standard neuroscience that should not be possible, as without neural firing the brain should have nothing to process and therefore nothing will be experienced.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Paganism in British Schools

Here's some good news for generational pagans and druids in the United Kingdom. The new religious education syllabus adopted by Cornwall Council schools includes paganism and druidry alongside more mainstream religious such as Christianity, representing the first time that pagan beliefs have been made part of the study of world religions by any British school.

The syllabus, put forth by Cornwall's advisory group, makes it clear that students ages 5 and above will learn mostly about Christianity, but 40 percent of the other religious material will be devoted to non-Christian and pagan beliefs.

"It is clear that Christianity should predominate at each key stage and should feature in no less than 60% of the religious education taught. The other religious traditions should occupy no more than 40% of RE time over the key stage," the syllabus reads.

The study materials will also help children "understand the basic beliefs" of paganism and recognize children of pagan parents who are also following the religion.

So this can only be a good thing, right? Any child raised by pagan parents is going to want to see their own beliefs included in a class that purports to teach the beliefs of world religions, and from a social perspective this sounds like a pretty good way to explain to their classmates that just being pagan doesn't make them evil devil-worshippers. Predictably, though, some conservative Christians are lodging complaints, I suppose because that's just what they do whenever the word "paganism" crosses a public official's lips.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Brain Scanner Breakthrough

If anybody out there happens to be wondering what to get me for my birthday, one of these would be truly awesome. The iBrain is a personal, portable brain scanner with a USB connection that lets you record data over a period of time and then download it into your computer. This is exactly the device I've wanted for years, since it would finally allow me to perform a magical ritual and then go back over the brainwave changes produced at various phases of the ritual.

KGTV reports that the device, created by San Diego-based NeuroVigil, and dubbed the iBrain, fits over a person's head and measures unique neurological patterns connected to specific thought processes.

Low says the goal is to eventually have a large enough database of these brainwaves that a computer could essentially read a person's thoughts out loud. One person who has already tried out the iBrain is famed physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking.

"We'd like to find a way to bypass his body, pretty much hack his brain," said Low. This past summer, Low traveled to Cambridge, England, where he met with Hawking, who was asked to think "very hard" about completing various tasks while wearing the device.

NeuroVigil says the device could be used at home by individuals and worn during sleep. It comes equipped with a USB port for transferring the recorded data to a local computer.

At the risk of seeming pedantic I will point out that the idea of "reading thoughts" out loud is probably not going to work any time soon because thoughts aren't made of language or even symbols. Mine are odd collections of what I suppose I could describe as multimedia streams with strong visual components. However, if Low is talking about pre-vocalizations (and he probably is) it might very well be possible for the device to allow someone who is unable to speak normally, like Steven Hawking, to communicate using his mind rather than a slow and awkward computer interface.

From the article it sounds like the device is still in the prototype stage, so you're probably not about to find one on Amazon or eBay. Nonetheless, as soon as it becomes available I plan on picking one up and trying it out. There are several hypotheses I have about magical operations and brainwaves that I'm just dying to test.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Snake Transformations

So has anyone reading this blog ever transformed someone else into a snake? My guess is no, even though a South African pastor was recently accused of performing that very feat. While witchcraft accusations are common all across Africa, it seems that the current round of accusations against Stephen Zondo of River of Living Waters Ministries has struck a nerve - even here in the United States.

“People actually believe this is going on”, says Pastor Bob Houston of Charlotte, of Precious Blood Church group in Charlotte, N.C. that investigates cases of Satanism in the US. There have been violent protests outside that particular church, with community members vowing they will burn down the church”, he said.

Pastor Zondo blames local radio station, Thetha FM, for “spreading lies”. “Satan is a murderer and the father of lies”, according to the bible in John 8:44. “They have been doing it since last year when they came up with these allegations, in which they also claim that people have lost their lives", he said.

“If they strongly believe I’m guilty, why have they not gone and registered a criminal case against me at the police station, but instead they go to the radio station?” a defiant-sounding Zondo said.

But here's where the story gets really weird. Houston claims that in Saudi Arabia a woman really did transform into a snake - and he has a video provided by the dreaded anti-witchcraft squad to prove it. Of course, whatever is on the video doesn't move and looks more like the infamous Fiji Mermaid than any living thing, but I guess it's not like actual evidence is about to deter a true believer.

“We have investigated claim of people turning into snakes before and we attribute that to demons and witchcraft”, said Pastor Bob. “One case in Saudi Arabia there was multiple witnesses. As the story goes during theHajj a women on her way to Madina turned into a snake in front of a lot of people. The Video is taken by a Hajji after the women was taken to custody. Saudi government has kept it a secret”, he said.

I'll put the question out, though, just in case my natural skepticism has gotten the better of me. Does anybody out there happen to know this spell? If you'd like to share, I can think of a few people that I would be willing to try it out on. It's reversible, right?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"King of All Witches" Plans Occult Center

Grandiose titles are quite common in the world of esotericism, and the one claimed by the subject of this story from England is no exception. Lynius Shadee, a 66-year-old English man who also claims the title of Magus, is currently in the process of setting up an occult center in the city of Bristol. Whether or not any other witches accept Shadee as their King appears to be a rather debatable question, as I've never heard of him here in the States and I think I even remember a completely different individual, also from England, who claimed a similar office - or maybe even the same one. Still, the idea of a serious occult center is a good one, especially if it will be as focused on experimental work as Shadee's statements imply.

Mr Shadee, who has previously tried to open a centre in Cambridge and also tried to stand to become the city's next MP, said that his centre would be different to pagan centres because it would be "much more heavily involved".

He said: "We don't preach, we prove. For instance, if sceptics out there wanted to see a materialisation – a ghost – we would go and show them that. It is all about channelling nature's energy. We believe in life after death, that the body dies but the soul and mind continue."

He has chosen Bristol because of the universities and because it is a "prime area" and a "junction spot" in the UK. "There are lots of free-thinkers in Bristol who I think are open to what we are saying," he said.

Normally I wouldn't give a would-be "Witch King" much thought. I don't think of myself as a witch and I've never been involved in Wicca or any other witchcraft-related tradition. However, Shadee's final reported statement does give me pause if he's serious.

"Witchcraft is only a word," he said. "There is nothing wrong with witchcraft. Every single religion that is practised is a form of witchcraft."

While I agree that there's nothing wrong with witchcraft as a practice, does the rest of the quote mean Shadee really does think of himself not only as my king, but as king of everyone else? If so, that's some serious hubris there - maybe even enough to be dangerous. So far I don't know enough to say whether this occult center is part of some "witch cult" that will venerate Shadee as its leader, or if he's just another eccentric occultist and everything is on the up and up. I'll be watching for future stories on the center's progress, because I hope it can develop into what this article makes it sound like - one more step along the path to developing more advanced ritual technology through experimentation and research.

Let's just hope that "Magus" title doesn't mean Shadee plans on declaring himself King of the Golden Dawn. With all the recent bickering on the Internet, the Golden Dawn tradition has enough to deal with as it is.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Horus Versus the Easter Bunny

The year the Easter holiday happened to fall on April 8th, the First Day of the Writing of The Book of the Law. As you can see from the photo, not only did the Hawk-Headed Mystical Lord peck out the eyes of Jesus as he hangs on the cross, flap his wings in the face of Mohammed and blind him, and tear out the flesh of the Indian and the Buddhist, Mongol and Din - he also kicked the Easter Bunny's ass. Bahlasti! Ompehda! I spit on your crapulous colored eggs!

On a more serious note, though, I want to thank everyone who attended and helped out with the Office of the Readings, which wrapped up yesterday. This is my working group's eighth year putting them on, and everything went very well. After all these years we're certainly getting the hang of it, and as usual re-reading all of the texts in sequence spurred a number of new realizations regarding their content and meaning. It's a good practice, and we look forward to putting it on for many years to come.

Happy Thelemic New Year to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Office of the Readings for 2012

So here it is folks, 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar and all that nonsense. So what is my working group doing to celebrate the Equinox of the Gods? Why, the same thing we do every year - the Office of the Readings!

Just as a point for those who aren't familiar with the system, the Thelemic dates that you may see written online in the format "IV:xix" are arrived at by counting the number of 22-year cycles since the original Equinox of the Gods in 1904 to obtain the upper case Roman numeral, and then counting the years of the current cycle to get the lower case one. Within each 22-year cycle, many Thelemites ascribe the Major Arcana trumps of the Tarot to the years in order starting with The Fool and ending with The Universe. So the year that we're about to enter into, the year in which the world is supposed to end and so forth, is IV:xx and is thus attributed to the Aeon card. You can tell me whether you find that little coincidence meaningful in your own life.

This post will remain the top article here for the duration of the Thelemic High Holy Days, from March 20th to April 10th. The Rite of the Office of the Readings is performed for all of the readings following The Invocation of Horus on March 20th. It may also be used with The Prologue of the Unborn on March 19th at your own discretion. We've done it both ways over the years.


The Invocation of Horus
The Rite of the Office of the Readings


March 19th - The Prologue of the Unborn
March 20th - Saturn/Earth, The Universe
March 21st - Fire/Spirit, The Aeon
March 22nd - Sol, The Sun
March 23rd - Pisces, The Moon
March 24th - Aries, The Emperor
March 25th - Mars, The Tower
March 26th - Capricornus, The Devil
March 27th - Sagittarius, Art
March 28th - Scorpio, Death
March 29th - Water, The Hanged Man
March 30th - Libra, Adjustment
March 31st - Jupiter, Fortune
April 1st - Virgo, The Hermit
April 2nd - Leo, Lust
April 3rd - Cancer, The Chariot
April 4th - Gemini, The Lovers
April 5th - Taurus, The Hierophant
April 6th - Aquarius, The Star
April 7th - Venus, The Empress
April 8th - Luna, The Priestess
April 9th - Mercury, The Magus
April 10th - Air, The Fool

If you would like to perform this series and have questions, feel free to e-mail me here.

All Office of the Readings posts may also be viewed here. Our Office of the Readings series is based on this ritual by the Companions of Monsalvat.

The Mystery of Easter

One of the lingering unanswered questions surrounding the Easter holiday is its continuing association with rabbits, chicks, and colored eggs. I'm well aware of the conventional explanation, that these are old pagan traditions that remained associated with the holiday after the Christian church co-opted the date, but at the same time this said co-opting happened in 325 AD. That's almost 1700 years ago - a very long time for something as silly as coloring a bunch of eggs to persist without some sort of underlying metaphysical foundation.

A theory that's been advanced in recent years by both the creators of South Park and pundit Stephen Colbert is that Peter, the first pope, was in fact a rabbit. Both sources point to the design of the pope's hat as evidence, which certainly looks as if it could have been designed to conceal a set of rabbit ears. Still, when Colbert adds that the real Easter story involves Jesus being resurrected by a magical rabbit using colored eggs and life-giving marshmallow peeps, the theory enters into tinfoil hat territory. While the origin date for peeps is somewhat murky, no serious academic researcher believes that they predate the twentieth century.

The South Park version of the Peter Rabbit theory holds that a secret society, the "Hare Club for Men," is charged with both keeping the secret of the first pope and promulgating the various Easter traditions in which the secret is encoded. Though the names and details are obviously fictionalized, this element of the story is worth examining. If the various nonsensical Easter traditions were in fact being supported by a hidden organization that could account for their longevity. One would think that such a society would have to date back to at least the Council of Nicea, making it older than any of the fraternal organizations currently known to be active in the world. It would also have to be much more secretive, as the information age has shed light on most of the old mystery traditions - but apparently not this one.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Church Break-Ins Blamed on Witchcraft

According to Dominic Walker, the Anglican Bishop of Monmouth, witchcraft is to blame for a series of recent break-ins at churches and cemeteries in Wales. Personally I'm a little unclear on why pagan or Wiccan witches would want to break into a church to cast spells, though it is true that most of the old grimoires pretty much assume the operator is Christian and in some cases even expect them to be a member of the priesthood. I could see where working in a church could augment that sort of spellcasting.

The bishop claimed pagans hoping to use occult powers “for good, for healing and for love” had led the wicca revival. But he also said that as a direct result of this increased interest in wicca, more people had begun practising the “black arts”.

“White magicians would say they’re an ancient religion which give equality to men and women ... but also occult powers can be used for evil so the other side of it is that there are more involved in the black magic,” he said. “They hex, curse people [and] they try to use their powers for their own personal gain.”

I will say here that it's nice to see a member of the Christian clergy acknowledge the possibility that occultism could be used toward positive ends. Of course, the idea that there are "white" and "black" magicians is about as silly as claiming there are "white" and "black" scientists and is thus more a fantasy novel trope than anything real. However, seeing as a lot of Christians who talk about magick seem to believe that only the "black" variety really exists it's nonetheless a step forward.

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's an Honor Just to be Nominated

I was cruising around on Facebook recently and came across a video list of the "Top 10 Secret Organizations" posted on Bing. Right there at #9, I found the order of which I'm an initiate, Ordo Templi Orientis. Interestingly enough, the blurb in the video is reasonably accurate, describing OTO as a "Mystical movement based on the spiritual philosophy of Thelema" with "strong connections to the occult." One could perhaps argue the meaning of "strong connections" in this context, but given the significance of Aleister Crowley's work in the general occult scene I nonetheless consider it a basically true statement.

Here's what's interesting about the OTO's inclusion - the other societies on the list. At #9, OTO is ranked higher than the Catholic organization Opus Dei despite the latter group's membership of 85,000 compared to OTO's 3-4 thousand. The rest of the list includes organizations that are legitimately powerful today, shaped historical events, and/or attract a lot of press from conspiracy theorists. Here's the rest of them:

8. The Knights Templar - Prior to the fourteenth century, served as bankers to all of medieval Europe.
7. Ku Klux Klan - Now a shadow of its former self, but once an enormous organization with millions of members.
6. Beati Paoli - I hadn't heard of this one, but apparently it is believed that some of the modern mafia groups are descended from it.
5. Majestic-12 - Researched by many and pretty much found to be bogus, this group was supposedly set up to study UFO techology and communicate with aliens.
4. Freemasons - Another group with which I'm involved, the Masons still have millions of members but are not nearly as nefarious as some claim.
3. Thule Society - Smaller than the OTO even at its height, but this German occult society had a disproportionate influence on Nazi philosophy.
2. The Illuminati - Disappeared around 1800 and fictionalized in the early 1970's by Robert Anton Wilson, this group is nonetheless apparently the sworn enemy of fundamentalist Christianity.
1. The Bilderberger Group - Small but genuinely powerful, the Bilderberger group constitutes one of the largest concentrations of financial and political resources in the world.

You can check out the video here. As they say at the Oscars, it's an honor just to be nominated. And in case you're wondering, no, the OTO does not "run the world from the shadows." It would be kind of cool if it did, though.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

NBA Goes Supernatural

It seems like television series dealing with the paranormal are a dime a dozen these days. Due to their continuing popularity, even sports franchises are now getting into the act. Back in January the National Basketball Association announced a new paranormal investigation series which was original scheduled to start in mid-March, but should be starting up any day now. The name of the show? NBA Nights.

According to show insiders, Kobe Bryant will become suspicious that certain Minnesota players may be a different sort of wolf altogether when Darko Milicic checks in to the game unshaven, haggard, and playing with an unusual ferocity. After the final buzzer, when the Lakers discover deep gouges on the basketball—apparently sinister claw marks that "weren't made by the dribbling of anything human"—it's up to a trench-coated Kobe to chase down Milicic as a full moon casts ominous shadows across L.A.

"Will Darko be friend or foe?" a press release for the half-hour postgame teaser read in part. "Can the commanding but shadowy figure known only as 'the Commish' turn a league of unruly on-court rivals into an elite midnight squad of monster hunters? Who can be trusted, and who is hiding what? Alliances will be forged and shattered, team loyalty will be tested, and everything NBA players think they know about one another will change as they step across the threshold into a darker, more mysterious world."

NBA Nights will reportedly feature a broad, constantly revolving cast of characters, with weekly episodes showcasing every franchise in the league: Emeka Okafor pursues zombies in New Orleans, Andrew Bogut and Mike Dunleavy battle thawed-out vikings in Milwaukee, and Kobe and his Lakers teammates realize the entire Los Angeles crowd is a swarm of soul-eating demons. However, the NBA is promising a larger, deeper story will unfold as the season goes on.

So will it be any good? I have a hard time imagining this concept working, but then again, we do live in a "darker, more mysterious world" than most of us generally imagine. Apparently, that goes for the world of professional sports as well.