Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Argentine Werewolf Hysteria Unfounded

Here's another of those viral stories that has become garbled in the telling. In Argentina, there is a century-old tradition that the president of the country serves as the official godparent to the seventh son or daughter born into a family. The adoption of such a godchild wouldn't be a particularly significant world event, except for this outlandish story published by the Independent.

The President of Argentina has adopted a young Jewish man as her godson to "stop him turning into a werewolf", according to tradition. President Christina Fernández de Kirchner met Yair Tawil and his family at her office last week to mark the unusual ceremony, which dates back more than 100 years.


The story recently went viral on the Internet thanks to the Independent article, but it later came to light that the article conflates the adoption tradition and a piece of local folklore that have nothing to do with each other, except that both involve seventh sons.

It seems there is another Argentine tradition called "El Lobison"; a belief that a family's seventh son turns into a werewolf starting on the first Friday after the boy's 13th birthday, and every full moon thereafter, according to the New York Daily News. The belief was allegedly so widespread in the 19th century that parents would kill the seventh son to prevent a future teenage werewolf.

It's a great story, but the two customs are not related, according to Argentine historian Daniel Balmaceda. “The local myth of the lobison is not in any way connected to the custom that began over 100 years ago by which every seventh son (or seventh daughter) born in Argentina becomes godchild to the president,” Balmaceda told the Guardian. That detail didn't stop the Independent from blending the two separate customs and reporting that Kirchner adopted Tawil to prevent him from becoming a werewolf.

It should be noted that nowhere in the myth of "El Lobison" does it say anything about adoption by the president or any other political official breaking the curse. There's nothing particularly spiritual or magical about holding office in a modern democracy, so even in the context of magick it strikes me as a pretty dubious remedy. I mean, if some dark force were really out there preparing to turn Tawil into a werewolf, there's no reason to think it would care whether the boy's godparent is a sitting politician.

That's some sloppy reporting on the part of the Independent. Perhaps if they want to run a story like this in the future, they should run it by an actual occultist to see if what they're alleging makes any sense at all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

More "Flying Saucers" Revealed

Back in 2012 I covered the release of classified documents detailing attempts by the United States Air Force and a Canadian company to construct a supersonic saucer-shaped aircraft. At the time, I speculated that the goofy-looking prototype saucers might have been responsible for some of the UFO sightings in the 1950's, and that perhaps the project got further than the released documents implied. Nothing like that has come to light, but recently the Central Intelligence Agency took credit for many of the sightings during that period.

According to documents recently released by the agency, the culprit was the U-2 spy plane, which entered service in 1955 and remained a closely guarded secret. It flew higher than any other aircraft of the period, and operated out of the Groom Lake facility in Nevada, better known as "Area 51" among UFO enthusiasts. This facility was also used to test the U-2's successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 stealth fighter. Both of those look different enough from other aircraft that they could easily be mistaken for alien spacecraft.

"Reports of unusual activity in the skies in the '50s? It was us," the agency tweeted.

The document the tweet links to is a previously confidential report on the testing of the U-2 spy plane at altitudes of over 60,000 feet. It says half or more of supposed UFO sightings were actually times when they were flying the plane at high altitudes, which people didn't realize was possible at the time.

Though they realized people were spotting the plane by cross-referencing the sightings with when and where the plane was flying, the agency couldn't inform the public of that knowledge. The agency says the document explaining that scenario was the most widely read document released this year from their database.

It may very well be that when Project Blue Book released the statement that "there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as 'unidentified' represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present day scientific knowledge" the investigators were well aware the people were seeing the U-2, but were unable to offer any comments to that effect due to the plane's classified status.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Satanic Temple Holiday Display Destroyed

They whine and they whine about being oppressed, but here's another incident that shows the Poor Oppressed Christians are the real oppressors. On Tuesday the holiday display put up by The Satanic Temple in Florida was destroyed by a Christian woman who claimed she was "taking a stand against Satan."

The controversial display — in which an angel can be seen descending into a pit of fire — stood alongside both traditional Christian Nativity scenes and an 8-foot-tall “Festivus pole” made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans until 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, when Susan Hemeryck walked up to two Florida Department of Law Enforcement Capitol Police officers and told them that she was “sorry, but I have to take this down.”

Hemeryck, who was wearing a “Catholic Warrior” t-shirt at the time, told the Associated Press that “it’s just wrong, when you remove baby Jesus two days before Christmas and put Satan in his place? I was there at the right time and the right moment and I needed to take a stand against Satan.”

The Florida director of American Atheists, John Porgal, said “the angel’s dead. We’ve been tolerant of their [Nativity] display. We didn’t like it, but we tolerated it. You see what they did to our display.” He called the damaged display “a sign of what the religious right’s idea of tolerance is.”

Hemeryck’s only regret is that she was unable to do further damage to the display before Capitol Police arrested her on criminal mischief charges.

Can you imagine the uproar if this were a member of a minority religion "taking a stand against Jesus?" Condemning such an action would be totally justified, too, because it would be completely out of line. But we're not the ones doing it and they are, so tell me again who's being oppressed? Minority religions deserve representation in the public square too, and have just as much of a right to be there as Christians do.

It seems to me that rather than "criminal mischief" this woman should be charged with a hate crime. But she won't be, because Christians are not oppressed in the United States - in any way, shape, or form.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Zombie Nativity Scene Must Come Down

When Jay Dixon, the manager of a popular Ohio haunted house attraction, wanted a nativity scene for his front yard, he used what he had available - lots of Halloween decorations. The result was what Dixon called the world's first zombie nativity scene. Zombie enthusiasts loved it, but his neighbors and local officials were not amused. Dixon was recently ordered to dismantle the scene, with officials citing a rarely-enforced statute.

“The neighbors don’t like it. My father hates it and anything bad that happens he blames it on that,” Dixon pointed out. “On the average we probably get 30 or 40 cars stop and taking pictures, getting out with their camera. People that follow zombie movies and stuff like that love it,”

But just days after WXIX spoke to Dixon, Sycamore Township township ordered him to take it down or face legal action. Town officials claimed that Dixon was breaking the rules with a structure on the front side of his yard, and a display that took up more than 35 percent of the area. But Dixon said that he wasn’t buying the explanation.

“I’ve lived here for 15 years and I’ve never had a violation of any kind,” he insisted. “It’s a holiday decoration. I know if it was a real pretty nativity scene they wouldn’t be saying anything.”

The good news is that Dixon has until the 26th to take down the scene, so it will remain up through the Christmas holiday. The story has also likely generated a lot of notoriety for his haunted house. But it just goes to show that when it comes to Christmas, anything alternative tends to be targeted by the political establishment using whatever means they have at their disposal. I'm sure Dixon's town has others who put up huge displays, but it seems that as long as the displays are Christian they get a pass.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Poor Oppressing Christians?

Yeah, that title pretty much sums up this story from Phoenix, Arizona. A Poor Oppressed Christian there recently assaulted a Salvation Army bell ringer for saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." This may not be the stupidest thing I've ever heard, but it's certainly up there. I can't even get my mind around a worldview in which this would be a reasonable course of action.

Kristina Vindiola says a woman hit her outside the Wal-Mart on 91st Avenue and Thomas Road after she said "Happy Holidays."

"The lady looked at me," said Vindiola. "I thought she was going to put money in the kettle. She came up to me and said, 'Do you believe in God?' And she says, ‘You're supposed to say Merry Christmas,' and that's when she hit me."

The bottom line is that this is just never okay in a civilized society. Some media commentators have suggested that fundamentalist Christians want to return America to the middle ages, and while I generally consider such statements hyperbolic incidents like this make me wonder. It suggests the attacker believes that violence is an appropriate response to anyone failing to privilege her religion above all others, which is completely messed up.

American Christians are not a minority and the mere existence of inclusion does not mean that they are under attack. Incidents like these clearly demonstrate that those who go around bleating about persecution are really the oppressors, and just need to knock it the hell off.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A New Solar Evocation Ritual

Lately I've been playing around with a few new magical techniques for planetary evocations. Years ago I posted a collection of planetary rites, and since then my methods have continued to evolve. I still am working with the intelligences and spirits from Agrippa along with the planetary angels and godnames from Liber 777 and the basic ritual structure remains the same, but I've added several new pieces that seem to work well and add to the effectiveness of the rites.

This is a solar evocation that I performed over the weekend that highlights some of this new material. At some point I'll be putting together and posting the rest of the set to update my planetary rites.

0. Setup

The temple is arranged with the table of practice in the center. The banishing dagger, invoking wand, and bell chime are present on the altar. On the table of practice is placed the tablet of the Sun and a talisman depicting the character of the Sun conjoined with the sigils of Nakhiel and Sorath, the solar intelligence and spirit from Agrippa. An orange seven-day candle dressed with solar fluid condenser and cinnamon serves as an offering to the intelligence and spirit. The ritual shall be performed in the day and hour of the sun.

I. Opening the Operant Field

Officiant performs the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.

Officiant performs the Comselh Ananael Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram.

All perform the Prayer of the Aeon, followed by Bell Chime.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Sea Monster in New Zealand?

Google Earth has provided us with views of the world that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. The combination of sattelite photography and mapping software means that there are now few places that can't be viewed over the Internet. Cryptozoologists have made extensive use of the software in their search for unknown sea creatures, such as the Loch Ness Monster. Recently a strange shadow was captured in the ocean near New Zealand, which some observers believe might be a sea monster.

Engineer Pita Witehira, who first spotted the dark mass using Google Earth, told the Daily Mail that he doesn't think it's a boat because there's no white wake. Other people think it's a floating tree trunk.

It isn't the first cryptozoological sighting in the region. In 2013, witnesses snapped a picture of a strange shape off the coast of Australia's Magnetic Island.

First off, it's not a tree trunk and it's not a whale. If you compare the shadow to objects on the shore it clearly is too large to be either of those. It also doesn't look anything like a boat. Not only is there no wake, but the shape is all wrong as well. A large American or Russian nuclear submarine would be big enough to cast such a shadow if it was running close to the surface, but the problem there is that the shadow would be straight rather than curved at one end.

So all things considered, it's probably just a glitch in the Google Earth software. But if it's not, there's something very weird going on in the ocean off New Zealand.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Satanic" Murder Trial Underway

The case sounds like something out of a horror movie. Two high school students murdered a young woman they both knew so that one of the perpetrators could "sell his soul to the devil." Or at least that's the scenario Houston prosecutors are pushing in the killing of 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes. Opening arguments in the trial of Jose Reyes began last week for the crime, which took place last February. Victor Alas, who also is alleged to have taken part in the slaying, will face trial at a later date.

Reyes is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes earlier this year with another teenage boy in a bid to sell their souls to the devil.

"Whether or not the devil was involved, what happened in that apartment was sadistic and inhumane," Assistant Harris County District Attorney John Jordan told jurors. "He said he had no regrets."

Jordan told jurors Cervantes and two other teens went to a vacant apartment to have sex after a late night of alcohol and marijuana at a friend's apartment.

In horrific and grisly detail, Jordan said the scene descended from consensual sex to a brutal beating with the heavy porcelain lid of a toilet tank.

From the crime scene reports there's plenty of evidence that Reyes and Alas killed Cervantes, so it's pretty clear to me that Reyes is guilty and should be convicted. What gives me pause about the report is that the occult angle is coming from the prosecution, and seems based on pretty flimsy evidence. For whatever reason, prosecutors love to bring up anything involving "Satanism" and will go so far as to coerce such details from suspects during interrogations.

The prosecutor's chief piece of occult evidence seems to be an upside-down cross carved into Cervantes' body. But that sounds more like something from an album cover than rather than from a real ritual. In fact, there is no occult technique for "selling your soul to the devil," at least none I've ever come across. Some of the techniques from the Solomonic grimoires involve pacts with spirits, but the details of such pacts differ substantially from this particular urban legend.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Satanic Temple Now Two for Two

The Satanic Temple's proposal for a holiday display at the state capital was recently approved in Florida, but the group is not stopping there. This week, their proposal for a holiday display in Michigan was also accepted. Michigan has yet to approve a proposal for a nativity scene, so if things remain as they are now the state capital may find itself with a Satanic display but no corresponding Christian one.

Michigan considered a nativity scene for the state capitol this holiday season. Instead, they got the snake from the Garden of Eden sitting in front of a pentagram, offering a book representing “knowledge” as a gift.

A local chapter of the Satanic Temple — a group best known for testing the limits of the intersection of free speech and religious expression, and not for actually worshiping Satan — announced this week that its proposal for a small holiday display was approved by the state. It’s the second such display from a local chapter of the group to gain approval this year.

I expect it's unlikely that no Michigan Christian group will submit a proposal for a nativity scene, but if they don't I'm of the opinion that this is exactly how the whole holiday display process should work. Any religious group that applies with a reasonable proposal should be able to put up a display, with "reasonable" having no relation to the religion practiced by the group. As with many things in life, sometimes what matters is showing up.

As activists for the separation of church and state, The Satanic Temple is continuing to do a great job. As I see it, it's a lot more interesting to watch the interplay of these competing displays than it is to be met with the same old thing every year.

UPDATE: As I expected, a Michigan Christian group has stepped up and will be putting up a nativity scene tomorrow morning. The Satanic Temple's display will join it on Sunday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Pharaoh Rises

After more than three thousand years, the Pharaoh has risen again. Specifically, archaeologists have completed the restoration of a statue of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III that came down in an earthquake thousands of years ago. The completed statue was recently erected and unveiled near the city of Luxor, and is now the largest standing statue of its type in all of Egypt. It is the result of more than a year of work, as it required careful reassembly like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

The statue, which came crumbling down during an earthquake in 1,200 BC, was reassembled at the northern gate of the pharaoh's funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile. The effigy is located directly beside an existing statue of the pharaoh which was unveiled last March. The restored statue measures 43 feet (12.9 meters) high and weighs 110 tonnes.

"These are up to now the highest standing effigies of an Egyptian king in striding attitude," noted German-Armenian archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian in an AFP article.

Last November, archaeologists began the restoration, which required the meticulous assembly of 89 large pieces and numerous small fragments. The completed effigy shows the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, and like the twin statute, it's holding a papyrus roll in each hand inscribed with the pharaoh's name. It also features a belt with a falcon-head handle, which is fastened with a clasp bearing the names of the king.

Amenhotep III ruled during a period of peace and great prosperity for the ancient Egyptian civilization. Accordingly, more surviving statues have been found depicting him than any other Pharaoh. He was succeeded by Akhenaton, who is credited with establishing the world's first monotheistic religion, a cult that venerated the Aton or solar disk. However, Akhenaton's successor, the world-famous "boy king" Tutankhamun, returned Egypt to the worship of the old gods.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Comselh Ananael Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram

This ritual has been in development for a long time by our magical working group, Comselh Ananael. Back in 2008 when we had only used it for a couple of years I posted the changes we made to the keyword analysis and corresponding signs. We have continued to test it out since then for all manner of practical operations, and according to those tests it does seem to work better than the original, particularly when employing the operant field method to open and close magical fields. Generally speaking, at this point when I write about using the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, it's this version that I'm talking about.

Back in September we put on our Libra Elixir Ritual as an equinox rite for our local Twin Cities OTO body, Leaping Laughter Lodge. As this was the version of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram that we employed, I put together the following write-up to hand out to those present explaining its symbolism and structure. I invite you to try it out for yourself and see how it works. I'm not at the point yet where I'm ready to conclude that it works better than the original for all or even a majority of practitioners, but I will say that so far everyone I know of who's tried it out have found that it produces superior results. If you do try it out and feel like sharing I would be very interested in hearing about your experiences, even if you find that for you it doesn't work very well.

I. The Keyword Analysis: The primary issue with the use of the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram for Thelemic operations is its reification of the life-death-rebirth formula of Osiris in the Keyword Analysis and the Signs of LVX. We set out to develop a new Keyword Analysis that would more closely embody the Horus formula of life and growth. We started with this version written by Benjamin Rowe, from his Ritual of the Heptagram:

(Make the sign of Osiris Risen. Recite:)
I, R, N, I
Yod, Resh, Nun, Yod

Isis, Horus, Set, Thoth
The linking of the Earth with the Stars!
Isis - Nature, the Fullness of Earth!
Horus - Warrior, the Triumph of Sol!
Set - Apostate, Seed of Rebellion!
Thoth - Perfection, Uniting them all!

We built upon Rowe’s concept considerably, to yield our revised keyword analysis:

I, R, N, I
Yod, Resh, Nun, Yod

Isis - Nature, the Fullness of Earth!
Horus - Volition, the Triumph of Sol!
Set - Guardian, Lord of the Threshold!
Tahuti - Perfection, Uniting Them All!
Isis, Horus, Set, Tahuti

(Sign of Sol) ABRAHADABRA!

(Sign of Isis) Isis in Fullness,
(Sign of Horus) Horus Triumphant,
(Sign of Set) Set the Liminal,
(Sign of Tahuti) Tahuti, Neter-Neteru.
Isis, Horus, Set, Tahuti

(Sign of Integration) MAKASHANaH!
The linking of Earth with the Stars!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

No Tax Incentives for Ark Encounter

Back in August I covered the latest attempt by Answers in Genesis to fund their "Ark Encounter" theme park based around a life-sized model of Noah's Ark. After failing to raise enough money by selling junk bonds and soliciting donations to obtain a set of tax breaks from the state of Kentucky, Answers in Genesis applied for a second set of tax breaks that they looked likely to receive. Unfortunately for them, job postings on their web site specified that only fundamentalist Christians need apply.

On those grounds, the state of Kentucky has denied the park's application, since recipients of state tax breaks are not allowed to hire in a discriminatory fashion. Tourism Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart informed the group of the decision, and explained that without the park's discriminatory hiring policies the application likely would have been accepted, as the state otherwise supported the project. He also noted that Answers in Genesis had pledged to the state that they would not discriminate, and then put up job postings to that effect anyway.

Stewart explains that their application will not go forward because the state will not grant incentives to a company that openly intends to discriminate in hiring based on religion, saying it is a violation of the state constitution for these incentives to be used to advance religion. He detailed how Ark Encounter representatives had previously promised not to discriminate in hiring several times, but recently they have stated they have every right to do so, saying, “The Commonwealth’s position hasn’t changed. The applicant’s position has changed.”

Stewart cited AiG CEO Ken Ham’s Nov. 19 fundraising letter that accused the Beshear administration of religious persecution and reaffirmed their desire to discriminate in hiring based on religion. He also cited other statements throughout the year from AiG officials claiming the purpose of the park is to evangelize and indoctrinate its visitors.

“Certainly, Ark Encounter has every right to change the nature of the project from a tourism attraction to a ministry,” wrote Stewart. “However, state tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion. The use of state incentives in this way violates the Separation of Church and State provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”

So Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis will have to go ahead and build their ark using their own money, which given the religious nature of the organization is as it should be. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the entitlement of these folks, in that they apparently went ahead and lied to state officials in order to secure funding and expected it not to be a problem. Here I was thinking that Christians were supposed to be honest, but clearly Ham's brand of fundamentalism teaches that lying is fine and good so long as in your opinion you're doing it to serve God.

That just goes to show what a toxic version of the Christian faith Answers in Genesis is preaching. It's Poor Oppressed Christianity through and through, and deserves to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Russian Orthodox Church Versus Sauron

No battle between the Dark Lord Sauron and the Russian Orthodox Church can be found in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien - not even in the Silmarillion. But that has not stopped the church from being angered by a Moscow property company's plan to place a replica of the Eye of Sauron as seen in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films on top of one of their skyscrapers. The Eye is a publicity stunt intended to coincide with the release of Jackson's final Hobbit movie. But the church fears that the replica will have evil powers.

A property company plans to raise what resembles a giant glowing eye on the 21st floor of a skyscraper this week to celebrate the release of the final part of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Hobbit.

In The Hobbit and also in Tolkien’s subsequent trilogy, Lord of the Rings, the Eye of Sauron is a giant flaming eye controlled by the “dark lord” Sauron, which allows him to watch anyone who puts on the fateful, power-giving ring at the novels’ center.

The installation is planned as a 1 metre (3.3 foot) sphere on top of a 21 storey building, with a light show projected from behind to create a 3-D effect, said Polina Murova, a spokeswoman for the property company behind the stunt.

But for the Russian Orthodox Church, the evil eye is no fiction. “This is a demonic symbol,” the Russian Orthodox Church’s head of public affairs, Vsevolod Chaplin, told Govorit Moskva radio station.

“Such a symbol of the triumph of evil is rising up over the city, becoming practically the highest object in the city. Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad. Just don’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”

Let's break this down a bit. Tolkien's works are incredibly detailed and based on a back story as complex as any real-world mythology, but the bottom line is that they are fiction. There's no such thing as Sauron; he's a character from a series of books adapted into movies. As such, the idea that an image associated with a fictional evil character will create real-world evil is quite simply ridiculous. The Eye may be demonic in the context of Tolkien's invented mythology, but otherwise not so much.

More than anything else, this reminds me of fundamentalists who wanted the Harry Potter books banned because they were afraid kids would learn and practice the spells in them. You know, the completely fictional spells that any occultist would tell you do absolutely nothing. If the church wants to do battle against evil, it seems to me that there are enough real problems in the world that fictional ones should not be worth their time.

UPDATE: On the evening of December 10th it was announced that the property company has decided to forego the stunt due to pressure from the church and city leaders. It's really sad to see such nonsense taken seriously. At the same time, though, it may be that with the unexpected controversy the stunt would not have had the desired effect and been counterproductive to the company's image.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Turnabout is Fair Play

Like most people in the Information Technology industry, I find censorship incredibly stupid. Despite decades of research on the hypothesized link between violent media and criminal activity, no definitive evidence has ever been found. While news sources like to put forth the claim that experts overwhelmingly agree that there is a connection and that it is a significant problem in our society, a recent large survey shows that this is far from the case.

With those points in mind, you can imagine my reaction to a recent petition delivered to Target Australia that prompted the store to stop selling the new Grand Theft Auto 5 video game on the grounds that it depicts "graphic" sex and violence. But that's when the story starts to get good. A group of people who presumably thought the whole thing was as dumb as I do started their own petition to ban sales of a book that likewise contains plenty of sex and violence - the Bible! Not only that, it attracted about as many signatures as the original petition.

After Target Australia erred on the side of conservative moms, fans of the game or people who just didn’t like the idea of censoring a product because of its perceived vulgarity, created a new petition that requested that the store also ban the Bible… for the exact same reasons. From the petition (again, emphasis theirs):

"It’s a book that encourages readers to murder women for entertainment. The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get ‘god’ points – and now Target are stocking it and promoting it for your Xmas stocking.

This is The Holy Bible. This book means that after various sex acts, readers are given options to kill women by stoning her unconscious, Setting them on fire, cutting off their hands, and killing their children!"

The Bible certainly has a disturbing amount of sex and violence. In fact, there have been whole books written on the subject. Oftentimes these passages are overlooked by modern audiences and can cause quite a shock to people who have never bothered to actually plow through the whole book.

Personally, I read the Bible all the way through twice while I was growing up Christian, and now I'm a Thelemite. You can't necessarily draw any sort of statistical conclusion from a single example, but I do find it amusing how far actually reading the Bible led me from fundamentalism. I also know several individuals who attended Bible college and are now OTO members, and have seen plenty of fundamentalists who for whatever reason don't seem to know the text of their own holy book.

As an example of the latter, I was very disappointed with Bill Maher's film Religulous for this very reason - it sure seemed like Maher picked weak targets. He interviewed an anti-gay fundamentalist who knew about the prohibition against male homosexuality in Leviticus, but seemed to be completely ignorant of Paul's remarks from Romans. I don't agree with the guy's position, but he should at least know the text well enough to argue it coherently. He's a full-time minister - isn't it his job?

At any rate, petitioning to ban the Bible here strikes me as a great tactical move. It highlights the ridiculousness of the original petition, and how Target Australia fundamentally erred by giving in to it. If the store doesn't want to sell anything that contains sex and/or violence it's their right, but it would mean removing a whole lot of stuff unrelated to this one video game. Also, if I were I Australian I would be looking for someplace else to shop that is less susceptible to hyperbolic nonsense.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Move Over, Birdemic!

Does everyone remember the abjectly terrible trailer for Birdemic? It came out in 2010, and is acknowledged by many insiders to be among the worst modern films ever. From the stilted acting to the over-the-top "bird attack" CGI that looks like the video version of 4Chan photoshopping, everybody who saw it knew that its awfulness would be hard to beat. And until recently, it was at the very bottom of IMDB's Bottom 100.

But that was before Kirk Cameron's latest came along. The evangelical actor's new film, Saving Christmas, has now dethroned Birdemic as the worst-rated movie in IMDB's history. Here's the film's summary from Rotten Tomatoes, where it holds an impressive 0%:

With "Merry Christmas" being replaced by "Seasons Greetings" and court ordered removal of public nativity scenes, the fruit of Mary's womb is falling on hard times. But this year, Kirk Cameron is taking back Christmas with his engaging new movie KIRK CAMERON'S SAVING CHRISTMAS.

So here we have the Poor Oppressed Christian worldview taken to its ridiculous logical conclusion. Apparently, Cameron is playing an action hero dedicated to stomping out the heinous evils of inclusive holiday greetings. Now there's a gripping conflict that will keep us on the edge of our seats - NOT! No wonder so many people think it's bad.

The lowest rating anyone can give a movie, in case you’re wondering, is 1. Which means if 0 stars were an option, the score would probably be even lower.

Need a basis for comparison? From Justin to Kelly is #23 on the Bottom 100 list. Cameron’s movie is worse than From Justin to Kelly. From Justin to Kelly!

Give it a few hours and I’m sure Cameron will complain about how he’s the victim of Christian Persecution. When he does, someone please remind him that God’s Not Dead has an average IMDb rating of 5 stars. Nowhere near the bottom of the barrel.

See, while much of the framing of God's Not Dead is kind of silly and unrealistic, it at least is based on a premise that's potentially kind of interesting - a Christian philosophy student debating his atheist professor on the existence of God. Cameron's movie, though, is about something that I'm pretty sure hardly anybody cares about very much.

While many Poor Oppressed Christians will bring up this topic as an example, even they realize that making a big deal about it just makes them sound dumb. It's pretty clear to most people that expecting members of minority religions to use exclusively Christian greetings is unfair, and only the most foolish Christian would ever argue that hearing "Seasons Greetings" harms them in any meaningful way.

It hasn't even harmed Kirk Cameron, just the reviews of his movie.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dating the Antikythera Mechanism

The so-called Antikythera Mechanism, a device originally composed of a complex series of bronze gears, was discovered in 1901 off the coast of Antikythera, an island in the Aegean Sea. According to experts who have examined the device, it appears to have been used to determine the position of the sun, moon, and planets at specific times. In effect, it was the first known mechanical astrological calendar.

Researchers have now determined that based on its settings, the device could be as much as a hundred years older than previously thought. This is significant because precise dating of the device could help determine the mathematical principles that went into its construction.

A 2006 study dated the device to 150-100 B.C. But a new analysis of the mechanism's eclipse-tracking dial by scientists at the University of Puget Sound in Washington and the National University of Quilmes in Argentina indicates that the device's built-in calendar likely began at 205 B.C.

This suggests that the Antikythera Mechanism must be at least 50 to 100 years older than previously thought. If that's the case, the researchers say, the device could not have relied on trigonometry, which emerged during the 2nd century B.C. Instead, it was probably based on arithmetical principles the Greeks borrowed from the Babylonians.

For now, the mystery of who built the device remains unsolved. While some experts have linked the mechanism to legendary Greek thinkers like Archimedes and Hipparchus, the new study suggests it's too early to say for sure.

“We know so little about ancient Greek astronomy,” study co-author Dr. James Evans, a professor of physics at the University of Puget Sound, told The New York Times. “Only small fragments of work have survived. It’s probably safer not to try to hang it on any one particular famous person.”

Given the nature of astrology, it's also possible that these experts are wrong. For an astrologer, the device would be less useful if its starting date was the date on which it was built. Just like with a modern ephemeris, it would make more sense to have it start 50-100 years earlier so that it could be used to calculate birth charts for older adults. That amount of time is exactly the discrepancy found by these researchers.

As the research continues, I'm looking forward to hearing more about how the device works and how accurate it would have been over time. It just goes to show that ancient people were as smart as we are today, except that they were working from a more limited knowledge base.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Megan Fox Must Be Trolling

Creationist and anti-science blogger Megan Fox is back in the news this week, and now I'm convinced that her persona has to be some sort of ongoing performance art piece. Nobody could possibly be this stupid in real life - could they? This time around, Fox has posted a video of herself "auditing" the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Not only does she confuse ordinary lizards with mythical dragons, as in her previous videos she sees "leftist propaganda" everywhere.

“Look, I found a dragon!” she exclaims as she examines what appears to be an iguana. “Spikes, claws, scales, nails – it’s a dragon!”

Fox, whose stupefying video audit of a science museum went viral last month, toured the Brookfield Zoo in another series of videos posted on her YouTube channel.

She complains that the zoo is exhibiting “anti-human” prejudice in a display that shows 90 percent of the world’s primates are threatened with extinction due to the actions of one species of primate.

“There are tons of (displays) here that say, you know, humans are bad,” Fox says. “There’s all kinds of anti-human and green initiative stuff that we can look at here, so it’s going to be fun.”

The PJ Media blogger argues, as the camera lingers over the Spanish translation of “water,” that a display on water conservation has nothing to do with animals and is instead leftist propaganda.

Yes, clean water has nothing to do with animals because none of them drink. Or swim. Or do anything that polluted water might affect. Clearly Fox has never kept fish, because even trace amounts of chlorine or soap can be toxic to them. Many of the chemicals we use for cleaning are even worse. As for the facts of biology being "anti-human," the truth is that human population growth and subsequent development has not been a good thing for most animals. As their habitat is reduced, their numbers dwindle. That's just math.

But I'm not going to bother debunking her ridiculous comments any further. I'm calling it now - Fox is engaged in some sort of a satirical project specifically designed to make religious people look dumb. She has to be. I'll freely admit that I fell for it last time, but no more. I expect that one of these days Fox is going to out herself as a member of the Landover Baptist Church. Either that, or one of these days she's going to go on some conservative television program and cite the mocking of her satirical videos as proof of how "intolerant" liberals are.

When she does, you can tell all your friends that you heard it here first.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Satanic Temple Plans Holiday Display

Let's hear it one more time for the folks at The Satanic Temple. The group is now planning a holiday display for the Florida State Capital that depicts Lucifer falling from Heaven. The display was initially turned down by Florida officials, but a legal challenge is in the works. The challenge falls directly in line with the latest rulings from the Supreme Court that allow for religion in the public square, but only if all religions seeking representation can obtain it. A model of the proposed display is shown above.

First a Christian group erected a nativity scene that endorsed Christianity. Then an atheist group hung a winter solstice banner celebrating the Bill of Rights and freedom from religion. Inspired, another atheist built a Festivus pole made of beer cans, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster added a small pile of holy noodles. Under current First Amendment law, the Capitol had no ability to turn down any of these groups; once the government opened the door to one religion, it had to let them all in.

But when the Satanic Temple applied to erect a display featuring an angel falling into a pit of fire, state officials turned it down. The display, they explained, was "grossly offensive during the holiday season." Now, with Christmas around the corner, the temple is reapplying, asserting its constitutional right to include its display alongside the others. And this time, it's bringing a legal team.

How did the Florida Capitol become the center of a constitutional showdown launched by Satanists? Surprisingly, the fault lies squarely with the U.S. Supreme Court's most conservative justices. In their quest to let the government endorse and sponsor mainstream religion, they accidentally granted groups like the Satanists and the Pastafarians a constitutional right to force the government to advertise their beliefs.

Apparently the author of this article believes that the Supreme Court "accidentally" allowed religions other than Christianity to erect displays, give invocations, and so forth, but from the questions asked and testimony given during those cases they did nothing of the sort. In every case the justices have made it clear that they're simply reading the constitution correctly - banning all religious displays would conflict with the "free exercise" clause, while allowing one religion and not others would conflict with the better publicized "establishment clause."

So the most accurate reading is in fact to allow members of all religions to erect their own displays and so forth as they see fit, which is the exact set of rulings by which The Satanic Temple should be allowed to put up their display. Hopefully the state of Florida will abandon its unconstitutional opposition soon and fall in line with the law of the land.

UPDATE: The state of Florida in fact did just that. The Satanic Temple will be allowed to put up their monument. The officials trying to block it must have finally realized that they had no case.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Creationist Fail

Creationist Megan Fox is a woman with a mission. That mission is to save the world from liberal scientists who are working to undermine the perfect Creationist paradise that she's sure is out there just waiting for us to abandon all that pesky investigation. Fox's Google skills could apparently use some work, as she apparently has no concept that conservative scientists actually exist. Thus, she figures that objections to Creationism are politically motivated and have nothing to do with facts or evidence.

Fox recently made a video of herself "debunking" Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History in which she did little to convince her critics that she has any idea what she's talking about. No scientist, liberal or conservative, is ever going to argue that "God did it" is the only explanation we'll ever need. That's not because facts have some sort of liberal bias, but rather because supernatural causality is completely beyond the scope of what the scientific method can explore.

In one example, Fox reads the information panel on an exhibit that details what paleontologists know about some of the first animals to make the jump from the water to land. Fox is incredulous.

“It’s not like their fins fell off and they grew feet! That’s what they want you to believe, that their fins fell off and then they grew some feet and started walking on the land. This is the dumbest theory I’ve ever heard in my whole life. It’s not good, it’s really not good. It’s bad. It’s very bad. Do you know how complex feet are?”

Fox then goes on to explain just how complex feet are (very, very complex concludes non-scientist Megan Fox).

But that's one more reason why Fox's hypothesis (note: not "theory") that "God snapped his fingers" is completely awful. It's not an explanation, it's a fairy tale. And, no surprise, her explanation of what the theory of evolution says about how land animals came to be is totally wrong.

Of course, if the theory of evolution stated that fish one day had their fins fall off and then grew some feet and walked on land, then we might conclude that the theory was “very bad.” Fox is right about that. That’s a pretty bad theory. Fortunately, no evolutionary scientist is proposing a “fins fall off, feet grew out of the stubs” model of how animals began walking on land.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

So Muslims Discovered America?

On November 15th Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech at a meeting of Latin American Muslim leaders challenging Christopher Columbus' supposed discovery of the Americas. Historians now agree that Columbus was not the first European to see or set foot in the Americas. However, Erdogan went on to explain that Muslims made contact with the Americas in 1178 AD, and therefore the Muslim world should be credited with the "discovery." While the Arabic world was more advanced than most of Europe in the twelfth century and a voyage from one of those countries would not have been strictly impossible, we know of no records indicating that one was ever undertaken.

Quoth Erdogan: “Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus….Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast.” The conservative Turk referred to a mention in Columbus’ diary of a hill in Cuba shaped like a mosque.

Spain was busy ejecting Muslims from Spanish land, pushing them back to the Strait of Gibraltar. The Moorish Kingdom of Granada surrendered to Spanish King Ferdinand V in 1492, the year that lives in infamy among the surviving Taino people in the Caribbean. Columbus would have known what a mosque looked like, but finding Muslims in the “New World” would have been a terrible calamity, since his King was at war with Muslims and his “right” to claim the land and enslave the occupants was based on the Doctrine of Discovery.

Erdogan’s remarks were met with derision among academics and quickly became a partisan political issue in Turkey. On November 18, The Guardian reported that Erdogan was doubling down, quoting him, “very respected scientists in Turkey and in the world…supported his claim. Some youth of our country have begun objecting to this without doing any research or paying attention to discussions.”

There are two serious problems here with Erdogan's assertion. The first and most significant is that America was actually "discovered" by the ancestors of modern day Native Americans, not Europeans. While the dark ages were going on in Europe, both North and South America were already populated by plenty of people. The second problem is that even if Muslims reached the Americas in 1178 AD, the Vikings did it around 1000 AD. They even established a settlement in what is now Newfoundland. The first Viking known to have landed in the Americas was Leif Erickson, who converted to Christianity just prior to his voyage. However, Erickson was following the voyage of Bjarni Herjólfsson, a Norse pagan who is believed to be the first European to see North America.

So the first European to see the Americas was pagan, and the first European to set foot on the continent was a recent Christian convert who himself grew up pagan. Christopher Columbus' voyages may have kicked off European colonization of the Americas, but they took place nearly five hundred years later. It's not clear who Erdogan's "respected scientists" are, and if he's going to make extraordinary claims like this he should at the very least name his sources.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Living God" Released from Purgatory

No, that headline is not figurative. It's entirely literal.

Matthew Lawrence, who writes books and sells magical paraphernalia under the name E. A. Koetting, has been arrested on drug and weapons charges in Utah. Koetting advertises himself with the tagline "Become a Living God," which implies that he apparently already is one. But I'm thinking that a real living god wouldn't find himself facing jail time.

As for the Purgatory bit, that's the actual name of the jail in St. George, Utah where Lawrence was arrested - Purgatory Correctional Center. So after his arrest this Living God was indeed released on bail from Purgatory.

Erin Cody Elder, 31, and Matthew Joseph Lawrence, 33, face identical charges: five third-degree felony counts for possession of drugs, one third-degree felony count of being restricted possessors of a firearm, and one misdemeanor count each for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

They were released from Purgatory Correctional Facility on bail. Their arrest occurred a week after the task force received a tip from a confidential informant, Whitehead said.

After conducting the traffic stop, investigators searched the roommates' residence in the 500 West block of Los Alamitos Drive. The search uncovered cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and other drugs, along with a gun, Whitehead said.

I am of the opinion that the war on drugs has been a complete debacle, and that throwing people in jail for possessing small amounts of controlled substances for personal use is a massive waste of prison resources. That being said, they got busted after a vehicle stop? Apparently this Living God lacks the power to turn his car invisible, or at least as invisible as you can make a car with a spell. Hasn't he read Modern Magick? Even Donald Michael Kraig could do that!

Seriously, though, in cases like this the possibility of police misconduct has to be considered and I expect any such allegations will come out at trial. Koetting bills himself as a Satanist, and Utah is a very conservative and religious state. I'm also wondering if that "confidential informant" is someone from the magical community with a grudge. But if the drug charges turn out to be true, thinking you're a living god is a common symptom of meth use. Could that be the basis of Koetting's entire business model?

I'll keep you all posted as the case develops and more information becomes available.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Egyptian Book of Spells Deciphered

A 1300-year-old handbook of Egyptian spells has recently been deciphered by two Australian researchers. The text is written in Coptic and dates from the centuries following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, a period from which few magical texts have survived.

Getting a look at the structure of the spells that the text contains could provide valuable insights regarding the magical practices of that time. Some of the references in the text seem to indicate that it was written or used by the Sethians, a Gnostic sect that was likely dying out by the time the codex was written.

Among other things, the "Handbook of Ritual Power," as researchers call the book, tells readers how to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat "black jaundice," a bacterial infection that is still around today and can be fatal.

The book is about 1,300 years old, and is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language. It is made of bound pages of parchment — a type of book that researchers call a codex.

"It is a complete 20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual practitioner," write Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, who are professors in Australia at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, in their book, "A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power" (Brepols, 2014).

The ancient book "starts with a lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings and words of power," they write. "These are followed by a number of prescriptions or spells to cure possession by spirits and various ailments, or to bring success in love and business."

I would be most interested in evaluating whether the spells contained are more similar to classical goetia or theurgy. Some grimoire traditionalists insist that the latter is a later, strictly medieval development, and finds like this allow us to test that hypothesis. With that in mind, I'm looking forward to getting a chance to read through the text.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Resolving the Marriage Debate

This is another weird landmark moment, like when I posted an article from James Randi's website two weeks ago. Today I find myself in agreement with members of the religious right, at least on one issue. But that's still pretty remarkable; I never thought I would agree with them on anything.

The article in question is from First Things, a publication that has been instrumental in pushing for Christian control of the public sphere, a position that I routinely mock here on Augoeides. But in response to the rising legality of same-sex marriage, the article advocates churches getting out of the "government marriage" game. I couldn't agree more.

As the legal reality of marriage changes, we must also act. If the churches continue as if nothing has changed, the message is that for all our strong words nothing really decisive is at stake. It’s now time, then, to think long and hard about what we need to do—or refuse to do. I can’t see how a priest or pastor can in good conscience sign a marriage license for “Spouse A” and “Spouse B.” Perhaps he should strike those absurdities and write “Husband” and “Wife.” Failing that he should simply refuse the government’s delegation of legal power, referring the couple to the courthouse after the wedding for the state to confect in its bureaucratic way the amorphous and ill-defined civil union that our regime continues to call “marriage.”

Getting out of the government marriage business is exactly what Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz now urge. They’ve formulated a pastoral pledge. It requires ordained ministers to renounce their long-established role as agents of the state with the legal power to sign marriage certificates. I find their reasoning convincing. Easy divorce, pre-nuptial agreements, a general tolerance of cohabitation, the contraceptive mentality—this degrades and obscures the meaning of marriage. But redefining marriage so that male-female complementarity is irrelevant? That’s a fundamental contradiction of the most fundamental meaning of marriage.

What the same-sex marriage debate has exposed is that the way we do marriages in this country is dumb. You apply for a "marriage license" which then has to be signed by either a minister or a civil official after conducting the ceremony. A good friend of mine asked me to officiate her wedding earlier this year, but had I not registered credentials with the state the marriage would not have been legal. That's just silly.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Brain Stimulation and Magical Consciousness

Science News has an article up today about the rising popularity of electrical brain stimulation. The technology is based on solid research, but critics contend that the findings are still preliminary and require more investigation. Many people exploring the field currently make use of DIY techniques and devices, which makes the practice sound a bit fringy, but reading over the article I wonder if I might be seeing a new, more effective method for inducing magical states of consciousness.

The first time Nathan Whitmore zapped his brain, he had a college friend standing by, ready to pull the cord in case he had a seizure. That didn’t happen. Instead, Whitmore started experimenting with the surges of electricity, and he liked the effects. Since that first cautious attempt, he’s become a frequent user of, and advocate for, homemade brain stimulators.

Depending on where he puts the electrodes, Whitmore says, he has expanded his memory, improved his math skills and solved previously intractable problems. The 22-year-old, a researcher in a National Institute on Aging neuroscience lab in Baltimore, writes computer programs in his spare time. When he attaches an electrode to a spot on his forehead, his brain goes into a “flow state,” he says, where tricky coding solutions appear effortlessly. “It’s like the computer is programming itself.”

Whitmore no longer asks a friend to keep him company while he plugs in, but he is far from alone. The movement to use electricity to change the brain, while still relatively fringe, appears to be growing, as evidenced by a steady increase in active participants in an online brain-hacking message board that Whitmore moderates. This do-it-yourself community, some of whom make their own devices, includes people who want to get better test scores or crush the competition in video games as well as people struggling with depression and chronic pain, Whitmore says.

While I am not a proponent of the psychological-only model of magick, altered states of consciousness are part of the process of a magical operation no matter what model you subscribe to. Technological methods such as light and sound machines have been used to alter consciousness for a long time, and as I wrote back in 2006 I was finally able to get eyes-open scrying to work properly by using an alpha-theta meditation program on the Nova Pro. Brain stimulation could offer a more direct method for inducing such states, bypassing light and sound completely.

At this point the area of the brain to stimulate in order to induce magical consciousness is not clear. Researchers don't study ceremonial magicians, though some of the studies of advanced meditators might prove analogous. One exciting possibility is that once this area of the brain is identified, it might be possible to evaluate magick in a more controlled fashion by analyzing the correlations between the different levels of stimulation made possible by this method and shifts in probability. This would be a nice complement to research I've proposed that would compare local brainwave analysis with rates of magical success.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Satanic Coloring Book Having Intended Effect

As I covered back in September, The Satanic Temple is now distributing "The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities" at schools in Orange County, Florida. The book was created in response to a decision allowing a church group to distribute religious materials on school grounds, which the Temple in no way supports. Instead, it issued its own literature to point out to the board how inappropriate the ruling was and essentially embarrass them into changing the policy. According to a recent statement from the board chairman, it seems to be working.

"This really has, frankly, gotten out of hand," board chairman Bill Sublette said during a workshop on Thursday. "I think we've seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we've had." Though the board discussed reversing the policy on Thursday, it won't vote on the matter until early next year. The policy allows groups to hand out Bibles and some atheist pamphlets, and the Satanic Temple decided to start handing out its own materials about Satanism to make sure that students are exposed to various beliefs.

"We would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State," Doug Mesner, co-founder and spokesman for The Satanic Temple, said in a statement under the pseudonym Lucien Greaves. "However, if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth."

See, where I part company with The Satanic Temple is that I'm completely fine with an open forum, if that's what it is. If one religion can distribute materials in school, all others must have equal access to do the same - and really, to my way of thinking that's a better state of affairs than no representation of religious beliefs at all. The problem is that most of the time, these moves are little more than a veiled attempt to secure special access and privileges for Christians, which to members of minority religions like me is just not okay.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monster Energy Conspiracist At It Again

When I posted the video explaining the Satanic nature of Monster energy drinks, I figured it was a one-off. Christian conspiracy theorists believe a lot of ridiculous stuff, it just usually doesn't wind up caught on video. But as it turns out, the conspiracist in the video, a woman named Christine Weick, is back in the news this week.

On Friday, she disrupted a Muslim prayer event being held at the National Cathedral by admonishing those present to worship only Jesus Christ because America was "founded on Christian principles." She was then quickly escorted out of the building by security, as shown in the video above. Dangerous Minds reports:

So this is not Weick’s first or even second brush with notoriety, it is (at least) her third—she got a Slushie thrown in her face in front of a news crew on Mother’s Day as she held a sign reading, “Thank your mom today for not being gay!”—we just didn’t know her name until now. In the sub-Drudge reader sector of wingnuts within wingnuts, Weick, who lives out of her car and has authored the book Explain This! A Verse by Verse Explanation of the Book of Revelation, is already being held up as a Christian martyr “hero” and not someone who needs to be fucking medicated, stat.

She claims that it was a “thumbs up” from a “strange” clapping woman along her 400 mile drive from Tennessee to the nation’s capitol that she took as a sign from God convincing her that she was doing the right thing. Weick’s husband apparently divorced her over her goofy beliefs. More from WND (where the comments are pure mental midget genius!):

“It was a situation in my life, how God yanked every anchor in my life over the last five years, just everything that would keep a normal woman, a normal mother, at home just got yanked out from under me,” she said. “I have a son and a daughter, and they disowned me. I took a stand against gay marriage and I lost them. That is my heartache. And it hurts me so much. And I wonder what they think now when they see me on the news.”

Weick said she doesn’t know what her next “assignment” will be, but she knows now she can tackle almost anything. “I told the Lord last night, ‘OK, you can take me now,’ but I don’t know,” she said. “I think He may have other plans for me, per Jeremiah 29: 11.”

Oh Lord, please do not take her. Christine Weick is one of the very BEST Christians in America. Maybe THE best. What a fine example of a good Christian to point to (at?). Time will tell what plans God has for this zany lady, but all I can say is watch out Victoria Jackson, you’ve got fierce competition in the Christian dingbat department.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jack Parsons Miniseries in the Works

Director Ridley Scott is slated to produce a new miniseries on the life of rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons for the AMC television network. The miniseries will be based on the biography Strange Angel by George Pendle. Parsons was one of the founders of Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and among other innovations developed the solid rocket fuel used in boosters for the space shuttle until the program ended in 2011. He was also a Thelemite, a practicing occultist, and a member of Agape Lodge, at the time the only surviving body of Ordo Templi Orientis in the world.

Jack Parsons, born into Pasadena wealth in 1914, began experimenting with explosives at a young age. Although he never graduated college, his self-taught proficiency with incendiary devices led to both his working at an explosives factory and appearing as an expert witness. The conviction of a Los Angeles police captain for the 1937 car bombing of a private investigator relied largely on Parsons's forensics testimony.

Parsons championed the then derided idea of rocketry. After establishing an off-hours collaboration at Caltech, Parsons worked to create liquid fueled rockets which he launched from Pasadena's Arroyo Seco. The group won a wartime government contract to invent jet assisted take off (JATO), which would enable airplanes to launch from aircraft carriers using shorter runways. Parsons's creation of a solid fueled engine with uniform burn properties was key to the project's success. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was established in the Arroyo shortly thereafter.

While Parsons as the passionate outsider driving technological advancement is in itself a compelling story, the plot twists of his personal life make it truly fascinating. As was the case for many intellectuals in the 1930's Parsons frequented communist gatherings, though he never joined the Party. His quest for alternative viewpoints led him to attend a Gnostic Mass at Hollywood's Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, run by followers of Aleister Crowley. Parsons came to join and eventually lead the Lodge.

Parsons died in 1952 in a laboratory explosion that was either the result of an accident or deliberate sabotage, depending on who you ask. The television series Mythbusters tested the official theory, that the explosion was caused by a dropped vial of fulminate of mercury, and found that dropping or even throwing a vial to the ground would not set it off. However, a chemist I spoke with after I put up that post told me that there are numerous other ways in which the explosion could have been accidentally triggered.

Parsons' contributions to the American space program were highly regarded by his peers, but perhaps because of his occult interests he has not received much of the recognition that he deserves. Hopefully increased exposure from Scott's miniseries will remedy at least some of that.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Slovenian Hunter Bags Unicorn

No, that's neither a joke nor a typo. A hunter in Slovenia recently killed a roe deer with a single antler growing out of the center of its head. Unicorn goats can be created by surgically relocating the cells that produce horns into a single central patch, there was little evidence that anything similar happened naturally. That is, until now.

So you read that right, folks. Unicorns are officially real. The animal's actual skull is shown in the image above, and National Geographic will be running a feature on it in the December issue.

Shot by a hunter in Celje, Slovenia, in August, the roe deer has an extremely rare type of antler deformity, likely caused by an injury early in the antlers' development. Such injuries are common in deer and often lead to antler abnormalities, including bizarrely shaped racks. The abnormal antler on this Slovenian "unicorn" is so unusual that scientist Boštjan Pokorny, who verified the animal's authenticity, said he's never seen anything like it in nature.

"In this species, only males grow antlers, which are bilateral and usually symmetrical bone structures that appear from two antler pedicles, i.e. extensions of the skull," Pokorny, assistant director of the ecological research institute ERICo Velenje, said in an email. "However, in the case of this very untypical and interesting buck, both pedicles, which should be separated, grew up together in one large pedicle."

This is another case showing that most mythology is at least partially rooted in fact. In the middle ages, unicorns were believed to exist but were thought to be rare. The "unicorn horns" that have survived from the period generally come from narwhals, a species of whale with a single large hornlike protrusion. But the existence of this deer suggests that perhaps one like it was seen from time to time roaming European forests, which would have reinforced the myth or possibly even started it off.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Unknown God Discovered in Turkey

Archaeologists working at a 2000-year-old site in Turkey near the city of Doliche recently found a basalt stele that appears to depict a previously unknown deity. Enough is known of ancient religious practices that such discoveries are relatively rare, and this one appears to be from Roman times, a period for which a fair amount of historical documentation exists.

The deity is depicted on the stele as a bearded man surrounded by what appear to be images of leaves and vegetation, suggesting that the deity was associated with plant growth and fertility. They may also indicate an association with a particular plant. Some ancient cults grew up around the use of entheogens, and I can see where the image of the god emerging from the leaves might allude to the use of some such plant in a ritual context. Or perhaps the god was associated with a particular crop grown in the region.

The sanctuary’s grounds reveal much about the continuity of religious beliefs over time, as it is made up of various constructions and renovations of different time periods – from a wall from the Iron Age, and the Roman-age foundations from 2nd century A.D., through to its use as a Christian monastery in the time of the crusades. The excavation has revealed finds from all periods of the site’s history, now including a basalt stele featuring a unique Roman relief and depicting an unknown god.

The stele measures one and a half meters (five feet) and was being used as a buttress in a wall of the Christian monastery on the sanctuary site. Archaeologists suspect the image represents a fertility or vegetation god. AlphaGalileo quotes Dr. Michael Blömer from the Cluster of Excellence, describing the find, “The basalt stele shows a deity growing from a chalice of leaves. Its long stem rises from a cone that is ornamented with astral symbols. From the sides of the cone grow a long horn and a tree, which the deity clasps with his right hand. The pictorial elements suggest that a fertility god is depicted.” The beard composition and arm posture echo back to similar Iron Age depictions.

My first thought from the original description was that the "tree" to the deity's left might be a vine and that the "chalice of leaves" suggested Dionysus, but none of the leaves appear very grapelike and there are no actual grapes depicted on the stele. So that's most likely incorrect.

Assuming that the leaf images are not generic, identifying the particular plant they depict could provide some insight into the deity's true nature. Hopefully, as the excavation continues more evidence will come to light that will help archaeologists learn more about this unknown god and the practices associated with his worship.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Unleash the Beast

I first came across this image awhile back and figured that it had to be a joke. The "skeptic society" tag at the bottom sold the deal; it had to be a parody of how the irrational thought processes of conspiracy theorists associate all sorts of coincidental nonsense with grand, evil plans.

I kept a copy because I thought it was funny, but as it turns out it's not some made-up spoof. Apparently, sincere conspiracy theorists actually believe that the Biblical account of the apocalypse is really all about a brand of energy drink. As implausible as that last sentence sounds, now there's a video that's been making the rounds on the Internet.

There are a couple of things I completely fail to understand about this concept. Let's say that all the "symbolism" is deliberate. Does it matter? As a practicing occultist I can tell you that it takes a lot more to enchant something than writing a few Hebrew letters on it - you know, if that's even what they are. So drinking out of a can with some symbols on it is not going to harm anyone.

And let's say that Monster Energy is really what the prophecies in the Book of Revelation are all about. That sure would constitute a whole lot of effort on the part of God, John of Patmos, and the church to make sure people knew ahead of time that this particular energy drink would exist. If this is indeed the case, wouldn't it make more sense if God's been putting us on the whole time with this apocalypse business?

"Two thousand years of hype, and there you go! It comes in a can!" Cue celestial laughter.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Battle Over Bigfoot

Buzzfeed has an article up today covering the split in the Bigfoot hunting community between legitimate investigators and scammers like Rick Dyer. Dyer has pulled off two Bigfoot hoaxes that attracted media attention, including here on Augoeides. Melba Ketchum, who I likewise have covered, is another example of either an incompetent or an outright fraud.

But not everyone researching Bigfoot sightings is a confidence artist out to make a quick buck. A few serious scientists are involved as well, and while they are often criticized by their peers, they insist that they are simply looking to get to the bottom of whatever is prompting all the sightings. I know that it's far less believable to me that all of the evidence and reports are completely made up than that there's some sort of living creature behind at least a few of them.

As Dyer has become a wily villain in the Sasquatch scene, he has drawn outsize media attention, swarms of paying customers and fans, and loathing from the many people who consider Bigfoot a living creature. After a hoax earlier this year, a petition was posted on demanding that he be charged criminally (he has not been). Loren Coleman, the cryptozoologist and author of Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America, describes Dyer as a “disgusting phenomenon” who just won’t go away.

For this second variety of Bigfooter, the search for Sasquatch is a serious endeavor. They are modern-day explorers, amateur investigators, and even academically credentialed researchers who have sought to not only bring science to Bigfoot, but Bigfoot to science. While no bones, body, or DNA have been discovered, they argue that there is considerable circumstantial evidence that Bigfoot is real.

For these dedicated few, Rick Dyer is more than an entertainer — he’s a danger to a field of study that already has credibility issues. That they all toil under the same big tent is one of the great oddities of a subculture that is as crowded and fractious as ever, one that can seem like an amalgam of a cult and an earnest explorers club, with competing camps of believers and skeptics, hoaxers and hunters, self-appointed experts and serious-minded scientists, all seeking to advance, in their own peculiar way, the mystery of Sasquatch.

The article is much longer than this brief summary, and if you're interested in the subject you should read the whole thing.

As I've written before, my personal opinion is that the living creature behind Sasquatch sightings is probably the black bear. A lot of people don't realize that black bears, despite the name, come in a variety of colors. Also, much of the classic "bear shape" is produced by the animal's coat. When suffering from conditions like mange which cause them to lose most of their fur, they become unrecognizable as bears at a distance. And they do sometimes spend significant amounts of time walking around on their hind legs in a manner that looks surprisingly human-like.

For example, take a look at the trail camera footage above that was submitted to the Bigfoot Field Research Organization. I'm convinced it's genuine, but I don't think it's an ape. I think it's a bear. You can't see the face to tell for sure, but look at the proportion of the legs to the torso and how it's down on all fours. Note that It's not as "bear-shaped" as you might expect because it's lost a lot of fur. Now imagine seeing it standing up, through the woods, at a distance, maybe from behind. Sasquatch for sure!

But of course I could always be wrong. The range that Bigfoot sightings cover is vast, and it's possible that a small population of large, unknown animals could inhabit it. If that's indeed the case, people like Dyer and Ketchum are doing all sorts of damage to the push for answers by making Bigfoot enthusiasts look like a bunch of clowns.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Secular Humanism Ruled a Religion

Atheists often refute the notion that unbelief constitutes a religion, any more than, say, a lack of interest in golf constitutes a sport. While this is true, many atheists also subscribe to Secular Humanism, a system of philosophy that among its tenets rejects supernatural forces. Last week a judge ruled on a case brought by a federal prisoner that, for legal purposes, this philosophy should be treated as a religion and entitled to the same rights and protections as faith groups and churches.

On Thursday, October 30, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty issued a ruling on American Humanist Association v. United States, a case that was brought by the American Humanist Association (AHA) and Jason Holden, a federal prisoner. Holden pushed for the lawsuit because he wanted Humanism — which the AHA defines as “an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces” — recognized as a religion so that his prison would allow for the creation of a Humanist study group.

Haggerty sided with the plaintiffs in his decision, citing existing legal precedent and arguing that denying Humanists the same rights as groups such as Christianity would be highly suspect under the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which declares that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

“The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” the ruling read. The decision highlights the unusual position of the Humanist community, which has tried for years to obtain the same legal rights as more traditional religious groups while simultaneously rebuking the existence of a god or gods. But while some Humanists may chafe at being called a “religion,” others feel that the larger pursuit of equal rights trumps legal classifications.

As I see it this ruling is a proper reading of the Establishment Clause, since my take is that it was created to ensure freedom of conscience. Secular Humanists have a clearly defined set of shared beliefs, even if one of them is the rejection of supernaturalism, and those beliefs should be respected just like those of everyone else. It should be noted, though, that this still does not imply that atheism as a whole is "religious" in any coherent or meaningful sense. Not all atheists are Secular Humanists, and anyway the law does not judge the content of the beliefs that it protects.

As I've written many times before, I would rather not see religion in general driven from the public square. I just think that representation should be given to minority religions and those unbelievers who seek it out. Hopefully this ruling will facilitate the latter.