Archive for December, 2009

Solstice, or Not?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2009 by Patrick

An interesting article from Slate on the historical accuracy of Wiccan claims about Yule.

I agree with his conclusions, at least: if we don’t try to falsify history in order to make religious points, pagans have a chance at being a valid and spiritually fulfilling faith.  The thing that strikes me as strange about the article, though, is, where is he finding all these Wiccans making these claims?  I don’t know a single pagan personally who makes such claims, and every Wiccan I know (which is fewer than I used to know, granted) usually begins any discussion of Wiccan history with “In the 1950s, when Wicca was made up . . . ”

Of course, they also understand that being made up doesn’t mean it’s not true.


Hebrew Exorcism Ritual Found

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2009 by Patrick

The Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, reports the discovery of a short and rather old Hebrew exorcism ritual among some 19th century collections of antiquities.  It’s pretty clearly designed to banish a nefesh, the soul of a dead person, who is obsessing a living person.  It’s specifically designed for a widow haunted by her dead husband.

“We got a bit excited because we realized that people have collected lots of dybbuk stories, but our fragment describes a real event, where you see how they come together and pray in order to exorcise the ghost from a widow,” Smithuis said.

The prayer makes a number of things clear. At the time of the exorcism, Qamar bat Rahmah is married to Joseph Moses ben Sarah and is bothered by the spirit of her late former husband, Nissim ben Bonia, and the
“control that it has over her.” The prayer is respectful to ben Bonia’s spirit and asks that when it leaves his widow’s body, it “shall go and reunite with his [vital] soul, his spirit and his [rational] soul in the place which is appropriate for them.”

The vital soul is the nefesh, the rational soul the ruach.


Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 by Patrick

So until last week, I didn’t know the word “wheelhouse.”  Yes, I was never much of an athlete.  Since hearing it and looking it up, I’ve heard it three different times.  Several possibilities occur to me: 1) it is a message from the beyond that I should take up baseball.  2) after learning the word, it has become salient and I’ve begun to notice hearing it, when I’ve heard it previously just as often or 3) the writers for sitcoms all know each other and share a vocabulary.  I’m actually voting on #3 right now.

Isn’t That Always the Way?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 7, 2009 by Patrick

Efforts to reach Christ for comment were unsuccessful.

Burning Times, Indeed

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3, 2009 by Patrick

Although I tend to roll my eyes at fantasies of persecution, whether fundamentalist Christian or fellow pagan, sometimes people actually are persecuted.  The BBC reports that the Saudi government is holding literal witch trials:

Human Rights Watch accused Saudi courts of “sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police”.

“The crime of ‘witchcraft’ is being used against all sorts of behaviour, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Middle East director.


Posted in Writing on December 3, 2009 by Patrick

Well, Nanowrimo is two days over, and I made it to 33,000 words.  But I didn’t use the recommended technique; I outlined and planned instead.  And the writing is going well.  My current goal is 1000 words a day, and I’m about a third of the way done with the book, I think, maybe a bit more.

So I failed at Nano, but don’t mind.


Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2009 by Patrick

All right, I’ll jump on the energy talk bandwagon.  Obviously, since I’ve written two books based on an alternate interpretation of magic, I’m not a fan of “energy” talk.  Actually, unlike Frater R. O., I don’t have violent thoughts when I hear it, but I do tend to think it’s a bit sloppy if the person using it doesn’t recognize it as a metaphor.

For example, Frater P. O. S. (who, despite the unfortunately abbreviated magical motto, is a clever guy), posts a list of ways of “raising energy” at his blog.  But about half of them have little to do with “energy” at all, and thinking of them in terms of energy is clumsy, awkward, and obscures their differences.  For example, he includes things like invocation and prayer, which are so evidently and obviously acts of communication, in which information, not energy, is moving, that I can’t see what benefit speaking of them in terms of energy might have.

Imagine you’re a computer scientist, and someone comes to you and says “I need you to make me an application that will make it possible for me to communicate more effectively with my suppliers and customers.”  And you say, of course, “Well, then we’ll need to up the current.  I mean, to do that, you’ll have to pay special attention to what sorts of outlets you plug the computer into, and . . . ”  No, of course you don’t say that.  Because the way a computer manipulates information, and even the quantity of information is moves, isn’t proportional to the amount of energy.  Yes, there’s a relationship — if you don’t plug your computer in or have a working battery, you’ll be disappointed.  But upping the amount of electricity getting to your computer won’t make it faster; it’ll make it broken.

To those who believe in a literal, actual energy moved by thought and used in magic, let me offer you a few questions:

1)  How many joules does the Middle Pillar raise?  If you do the ritual of the movement of the body of light, or something similar, how many Watts can you move?

2)  Energy, as Fr. R. O. points out, is really a mathematical reality, a characteristic of mass.  As such, it can be transformed easily — in fact, we can think of work as the transformation of energy from one form to another.  For example, if I pick up a rock and set it on a table, I’ve performed some work.  I’ve taken chemical energy locked up in ATP, transformed it to kinetic energy to move the rock, and now that energy is in the rock as potential energy (minus waste heat).  If I tie a string to the rock, wire a bulb to a motor, and wind the string around the shaft of the motor and let it fall, I’ll transform the potential energy into kinetic energy, and then into electrical energy, light energy, and heat energy.  So here’s my question: if magical energy is energy, transform it.  Move this rock with your mind.  Turn on this light.  Light a candle.  The usual excuse for why we can’t easily do telekinesis is that it “takes too much energy.”  Really?  It takes a joule to lift an apple a meter.  I can do that without breaking a sweat.  If breaking the bonds in a few sugar molecules is enough to power that kind of motion, then what a feeble thing is magic.

Of course, sometimes people say “it’s not a physical energy.”  At that point, I usually have to wonder if I want to continue talking to that person.  I tend to change the conversation to something more harmless, like macrame or health reform.  All energy is, by definition, physical, because energy is a characteristic of mass.  (Actually, it’s the same thing as mass — look at R. O.’s post for the explanation)

“Magical energy” is a habit of thought.  It can be useful, like all habits, but like all habits it can be dangerous.  Can we break the habit, and start talking about what is manifestly and obviously occurring in magic: the manipulation of symbols to communicate intent?