The clock is tick-tick-ticking off its judgments. Tick – stupid. Tick – Hey, stupid. It’s new. I bought it for six bucks at the local five-and-dime. La Virgen de Guadalupe smiles serenely from its face, held aloft by angels.

Black Swan, White Swan... Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

Formal logic might be the blackest of magics (and it makes for the most excruciating of reads). Just try figuring out the Black Swan Problem. Read a ton of obnoxious articles by formal logicians – who I imagine wear capes and brood in towers while they go about their dark art of turning language into math – without pushing your thumbs into your eyeballs until they pop.

Donald Duck: High Priest of the Illuminati

Conspiracy theorists are dreadfully thorough, but I guess most of them missed this one: Donald in Mathmagic Land, the 1959 Disney featurette starring Donald Duck which teaches us about the Pythagorean cult, the pentagram, the Fibonacci Sequence, and the Golden Ratio.

Jack Kirby And Comic Book Mysticism

You may not recognize the name Jack Kirby, but if you’ve ever argued with your friends over who gets to be Cyclops when you were playing X-Men in your backyard, then you’ve been touched by his creations.

Eye of the Skeptic

Those “I’m always right” types absolutely need faith, or else those vicious doubts start creeping in. Not only will you find faith in the religious mind, calling God a fact, you’ll also find it lurking in the atheist, saying He isn’t. Come to think of it, anyone who uses the word “fact” so easily must be pretty faithful, at least when it comes to their own nonsense.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

How Suppression Led to Tarantism and Dancing Mania -Disinformation

Originally published September 29, 2013 via disinfo.com

I refuse to dance unless I’ve consumed at least half of my weight in grain alcohol (though I have been known to attempt the Dougie, as long as I’m by myself and the curtains have been drawn).  Generally speaking, a request to get down on the dance floor will almost certainly send me into a state of blind terror, accompanied by hives and the ice sweats.

You can imagine, then, my horror when hearing about “tarantism,” a disease which causes its victims to become irritable and restless, and was fatal unless treated immediately by engaging in aggressive dancing.  It was relatively common during the 16th and 17th centuries in southern Italy, and is said to be the origin of the popular folk dance, “Tarantella,” which was performed by victims as the most important part of their therapy.

Hydrotherapy was also considered to be an important part of the healing process.  Suffering would abate while listening to the soft sound of a gentle waterfall.  Cloth would be soaked in wine and wrapped around the shoulders of a dancer.  Many victims craved water and were even known to accidentally drown themselves, following deep contemplation of the ocean.

Symptoms of the disease included headaches, fainting, muscular spasms, delusions, overheating, and an increase in sexual appetite.  Its name came from the source of infection, the bite of the tarantula spider, as well as contact with other infected individuals.  There was no permanent remedy for the malady as those cured of tarantism would often relapse, the spider’s venom being reactivated by the summer heat or the overheard strains of Tarantella music being played to treat new victims.

Read the rest...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Emperor Norton I and the Slippery Idea of Self -BoB

Originally published September 24, 2013 via theblogofbaphomet.com

September 17th 2013 marked the 154th anniversary of the inauguration of Emperor Norton I.

Joshua Norton was born in England in 1818 or 1819 and was raised in South Africa. He came to San Francisco in 1849 during the gold rush with a large inheritance, which he used to invest in land holdings, making him a successful businessman and respected member of the community. In the early 1850′s, China was facing famine, and enacted a ban on exporting rice. Seeing this as an opportunity to corner the market, in 1852, Norton sold all of his land holdings and used the funds to buy an incoming Peruvian ship, loaded with rice. Unfortunately, within a few days, two more rice-laden ships appeared, dropping the market value and subsequently bankrupting the budding entrepreneur. He tried to back out of his contract with the ship’s owner, but in 1857, the Supreme Court of California ruled against him. In 1858, he declared bankruptcy and disappeared.

Norton wouldn’t be seen again until September 17, 1859, when he marched into the offices of the San Francisco Daily Bulletin and demanded they publish the following decree:

“At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U.S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.”

Read the rest...

Monday, September 23, 2013

How I Learned to Love the Hoax -Sitting Now

Originally published September 23, 2013 via sittingnow.co.uk

“Hoax” is the dirtiest of words, isn’t it?  Not only is it a lie, it’s a lie that makes us look stupid.  And it works double-time.  If it’s believable, you feel dumb for being gullible.  If it’s not, you feel dumb just for sharing DNA with the perpetrator.

But some hoaxes can have a positive effect, leaving us laughing at ourselves, and walking away with a pleasant experience.  The famous Nantucket Sea Serpent, for instance, was a hoax that wasn’t meant to denigrate its witnesses in any way.

Tony Sarg, an illustrator who would come to be known as “America’s Puppet Master,” was the designer of the first large-scale helium balloon animals used in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in 1928.  These massive balloons have since become a tradition, and seeing a Thanksgiving parade without one would be unthinkable.  In 1933, he performed a puppet show at the World’s Fair in Chicago with an audience of over 3 million.  And in 1937, he took part in one of the most fun hoaxes ever.

During the summer months in Nantucket, Massachusetts, sightings of a monstrous sea creature were reported in the local newspaper.  Soon, photos of men measuring large footprints allegedly left by the beast were published. The local community began to buzz over the news.

Then, in July, the serpent appeared.  Beached on the shore, the massive rubber creature became a major tourist attraction, bringing sightseers from all over America’s east coast to view it before it was entered into the Thanksgiving Parade, later that year.  Photos of tourists and children playing around the puppet don’t seem to show a single person upset by the hoax.

Read the rest...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hostile Spiritual Takeover: Thug Saints in the Cult of Maria Lionza -Disinfo

Originally published September 22, 2013 via disinfo.com

In less than a month, tens of thousands of devotees to the cigar-smoking and liquor-swilling Venezuelan religious cult, El Espiritismo Marialioncero, will make their yearly pilgrimage to Sorte Mountain.  Located there is their most important spiritual site: a shrine to Maria Lionza, their highest deity, the spirit of a departed native chief’s daughter.

It is impossible to pin down exactly who Maria Lionza was, the differing accounts of her history being numerous and varied.  Whether or not she was an actual historical figure is still argued.  Few hints can be gathered from the many disassociated images of her, some showing a crowned, green-eyed girl surrounded by the forest and animals, and some, like the famous statue by Alejandro Colina standing beside the Francisco Fajardo Highway in Caracas, depicting a warrior woman, astride a tapir, holding a female pelvis above her head.

Maria LionzaOne of the more common stories places her birth sometime during the 16th century, among the native Nivar tribe.  Her birth name was Yara, which, in an attempt by the Spanish to Christianize her story, would later be changed to Maria.  It is said that the tribe’s shaman prophesied the coming of a green-eyed girl who would have to be sacrificed to the Great Anaconda to divert the destruction of the tribe.  Yara’s father, upon seeing her eyes, decided to save the baby from her would-be killers, and hid her in a cave.  She grew up there, watched over by twenty-two warriors, until the day she sneaked away and visited the nearby lagoon.  There, the Great Anaconda caught sight of her, and, falling in love with her, demanded she come away with him.  Yara refused, and in retaliation, he swallowed her whole.  But immediately, the Great Anaconda began to swell, displacing the waters of the lagoon, and flooding the village, destroying the tribe.  He continued to swell until he burst, and the unscathed Yara emerged.

Read the rest...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Burning of Zozobra and Other Scapegoat Rituals -Disinformation

Originally published September 12, 2013 via disinfo.com

The 89th annual Burning of Zozobra, a 50 foot effigy of “Old Man Gloom,” was staged last Thursday in Santa Fe, NM.  The ceremony is a part of the Fiestas de Santa Fe, a festival celebrating the 1692 reconquest of the city by Spanish colonists in 1692.  My wife and I were planning on going this year, since we only live about an hour away, but a combination of heat, laziness, and the newest episode of Breaking Bad kept us at home in the air-conditioning.  Over 30,000 people showed up to the burning this year.  We weren’t missed.

Zozobra (named after the Spanish word meaning “anxiety”) was created by local artist Will Schuster in 1924.  The original was a 6 foot tall marionette, constructed of cloth and wood, which represented the worries and difficulties of the residents of Santa Fe.  Schuster received his inspiration from a ritual practiced by the Yaqui people of Mexico, known as the Burning of Judas.  This ritual was performed during the week of Easter as a part of the Passion Play, in which the effigies of Judas and other villains was hanged on Good Friday and burned on Easter Sunday.

Before the Zozobra burning, participants fill the marionette with pieces of paper representing their troubles from the year before, such as unpleasant court papers, ticker tape from poorly made investments, and unattractive selfies. While the giant burns, so do last year’s bad memories.

Whether they knew it or not, the thousands of people gathered for the festival were taking part in a “scapegoat” ritual, where the blame of a perceived evil is laid upon a single source, and the destruction of that source brings a kind of equilibrium.  Variants have been practiced in numerous cultures throughout recorded history.

Read the rest...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Activist Magic -Sitting Now

Originally published September 5, 2013 via sittingnow.co.uk

The most commonly overheard criticism of magicians:  “Well if you guys have all these great super powers, then why aren’t you doing something to better the world?”  Pretty tough to chew on, especially if you’ve just been shooting off sigils to get a sweeter ride or a writing gig at Sitting Now.

Looking back over the modern history of the popular esoteric tradition in the West may give us some answers as to why most occultists find it so hard to see past their own noses.

With the overshadowing presence of hierarchical fraternities like the Golden Dawn and the O.T.O. within the occult scene of the early twentieth century, there was a heavy focus on secrecy and the support of an all-knowing inner circle.  For these organizations and others like them, a certain amount of reliance on the status quo (at least within the group, itself) was required to keep them functioning.  Any member’s goals were superseded by those of the group and its leaders, meaning that the only sanctioned use of magic was for the empowerment of the organization.

In opposition to this attitude, occultism during the latter part of the century was largely shaped by the Chaos Magick movement and groups like the Illuminates of Thaneteros and the Temple ov thee Psychic Youth.  Here, we find the focus shifted to the individual, where all authority was viewed skeptically, and one’s personal goals took precedence.  Knowledge and fulfillment of the Self and its needs were revered as the highest attainments in these circles, and effects on outer reality could be summed up in the common refrain, “Fix yourself, and the world will follow.”

And let’s be honest here.  Occultists have never really been known to get too involved with the outside world. They also tend to be a decade or so behind the cultural curve.  The insurrectionist philosophies of Hakim Bey (famed anarchist and alleged pederast), for example, were adopted by many magicians long after the punk movement had already been anesthetized by popular culture.  For all their talk of “cutting edge ideas” and “living on the fringe,” the average magic-dabbler will only take the time to lift their head from whatever self-help book they’ve been reading to ask an internet forum about whether or not “shadow people are real.”

Read the rest...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Godlike Productions and the Science of Shill -Disinformation

Originally published September 4, 2013 via disinfo.com

Shill [shil]
1. a person who poses as a customer in order to decoy others into participating, as at a gambling house, auction, confidence game, etc.

(Author’s note: No links to godlikeproductions.com have been included in this article.  The site is riddled with spyware, and only readers who are completely confident in their antiviral software should visit.)

In the monkey cage of conspiracy forums, the word “shill” gets thrown around more than feces.  Anyone who’s worn the skeptic hat has probably heard it at least once.  In fact, after my article criticizing the subscribers of the Monarch Program and Illuminati theories, I was sure I’d get my own share of shill slander.  But alas, no luck. Hope, though, marches on.

Even with all the monkey posturing, though, the reality of shills within the conspiracy community is hardly debatable, given our verified knowledge concerning the FBI’s COINTELPRO projects during the 1960s.  COINTELPRO technically ended in 1971, but it doesn’t take the wildest imagination to assume that it’s techniques are still in use.

Read the rest...