A dark basement where we hide the black candles and inverted pentagrams.

The Rules of Magic

It's always good to have a little magic in your life, but this is fairly comprehensive. io9 have created a graphic explaining 'The Rules of Magic' (more explanations than rules really) as found in some of the great fictional works of fantasy (click on the cropped image below, and say "Maximus graphicus!" loudly, to view the full-size chart):

The Rules of Magic

Any others you think they should have included, or any obvious errors in the ones listed?

Was King Tut's Curse....Aleister Crowley?

Well I didn't see this one coming: a UK historian has claimed that the deaths of six people, supposedly due to the 'curse of Tutankhamun', were actually ritual murders committed by occultist Aleister Crowley:

Six mysterious London deaths attributed to the "curse of Tutankhamun" were murders by a Satanist called Aleister Crowley, a historian claims in a new book.

...At the time, a frenzied press blamed the "curse" and speculated on the supernatural powers of ancient Egyptians. But author Mark Beynon has now drawn on previously unpublished evidence to conclude the deaths were all ritualistic killings masterminded by Crowley, an occultist called "the wickedest man in the world".

After unique analysis of Crowley's diaries, essays and books and inquest reports, the armchair detective argues that he was a killer obsessed with Jack the Ripper's reign of terror in 1888.

Beynon puts forward his theory in his newly released book London's Curse: Murder, Black Magic and Tutankhamun in the 1920s West End.

Hysteria tonic is available right here: "How to Use Satanism to Market Your New Book"...

Escher Snakes

Another nice video from Cristóbal Vila, creator of the wonderful sacred geometry in nature video that I posted a couple of weeks ago. This one breaks down M.C. Escher's final woodcut print, "Snakes":

More about the film here.

P.Z. Myers Sock-Puppetry

Yet another tiresome skeptical rant from P.Z. Myers on the occult...

Last night at the Cheltenham Science Festival, I attended a Q&A between Robin Ince and Alan Moore... Much of the talk was about Moore's belief in magic Alan Moore— in a science festival, you say? Yes, and it actually made a lot of sense.

Moore has an affinity for a 2nd century oracular sock puppet, but he doesn't worship it. He believes in magic, but he doesn't believe in the supernatural. He also doesn't like religion. I agreed with almost everything he said 100%...

...So keep on trusting in the sock-puppet, or (once upon a time) taking hallucinogenic drugs, or staring at crystals, or dealing tarot cards, or using random number generators to spark novelty. It really does work well, and better than relying on narrow reason, which tends not to deviate much from what has worked before.

Wha....hey?! Did I read that right? First I was like this, and then I was like hmmm. But in the end I just realised that Alan Moore is simply one huge gateway drug to the woo...and P.Z. Myers has been main-lining Moore for years.

Seriously though, nice to see P.Z. acknowledge an aspect of all this that most of us crazy irrationalists have been saying all along. Though (non-existent-)God forbid that any religious folk get similar inspiration from their faith...

Astrology is Rubbish (?)

Regardless of your personal opinion on astrology, I highly recommend reading this informative *and* incisive article by Assistant Professor of History Darin Hayton: "What Exactly is Accomplished by Asserting 'Astrology is Rubbish'?". There's some really good points made about pseudoskepticism, and the almost fanatical approach some scientists take when it comes to topics outside the gates of science:

Scientists claim that arguments from authority do not carry logical force. Yet they rely on them in almost every effort to dismiss astrology. They then claim that precession invalidate astrology and suggest that astrologers are dolts because they either do not know about precession or have not taken it into account. Zodiacal SignsYet astrologers have studied and accounted for precession since at least Ptolemy borrowed it from Hipparchus. The standard medieval textbook used to teach astrologers the basics of planetary motion, Gerard of Cremona’s Theorica planetarum, devoted a section to precession. Georg Peuerbach’s enhanced and improved version of this text, his Theoricae novae planetarum, devoted an entire chapter to precession.

...Whatever else might be the case, astronomers seem singularly unable to avoid denouncing astrology and equally incapable of persuading proponents of astrology to relinquish their conviction (or even to dissuade the astrology-curious). Maybe astronomers’ lack of success is related to the cavalier approach they adopt when attacking astrology. They certainly have not engaged with the body of knowledge they hope to refute. Instead, they attack caricatures and straw men. They argue from authority rather than logic. And they seem to ignore astrology’s technical details—such as anything approaching an understanding of positional astronomy—and ignorant of astrology’s history. To be fair, they have occasionally asked questions about possible mechanisms for astral influence, but then dismiss the very possibility of such a mechanism. No doubt they realize that their invectives do not constitute logically compelling arguments. So what then is the point of their denunciations? And whom are they trying to convince?

And what really is at stake in this enduring battle between science and astrology? Are astronomers afraid that their funding will suddenly go to astrologers? Does the fate of the free world or the rational mind or science depend on refuting astrology? Given the characterization of astrologers and believers in astrology as simple-minded, uneducated, irrational dupes, what threat do these people pose to astronomers and scientists? Does belief in astrology stand for a purported, societal-wide irrationality that threatens the entire practice of science? That seems a bit apocalyptic, but maybe. And what is served by the denigrating rhetoric typically used to brand astrologers frauds and charlatans? Surely it would be more effective to adopt a more conversational approach rather than labeling astrologers and their customers irrational, superstitious dupes.

But maybe despite its guise of rationality and argumentation, the anti-astrology polemic isn’t intended to persuade an opponent any more than any other polemic. Maybe it’s merely a secular form of “preaching to the choir.”

Make sure you read the entire article at the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science website.

Kenneth Grant 1924-2011

The Starfire Publishing website has announced the passing of influential British occultist Kenneth Grant:

Kenneth Grant died on 15th January 2011 after a period of illness. Our condolences go first and foremost to his family, whose privacy is something which we all wish to respect at this difficult time.

Kenneth Grant had an extraordinary life, and his work has a remarkable depth and breadth of magical and mystical insight. In particular, his monumental series of Typhonian Trilogies is creative, innovatory and inspiring, extending across thirty years from the publication of the opening volume The Magical Revival in 1972, to the appearance of the final volume The Ninth Arch in 2002. This is a substantial body of work, constituting a solid foundation for further development, widening and deepening in the years to come; his work will continue.

Michael Staley,

1st February 2011.

Grant was a close friend of Austin Osman Spare and a former student of Aleister Crowley, and was best known as the head of the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis.

Alan Moore on Austin Osman Spare

Alan Moore on BBC2 discussing the artistic and occult genius of Austin Osman Spare:

Mitch Horowitz on the Occult

Our good friend (and sometimes-Grail-blogger), Mitch Horowitz, has a half-hour video presentation over at Big Think discussing 'the occult' and other aspects of his book Occult America (recently released in paperback, see Amazon US and UK). I've embedded the complete video below, or you can visit the BT site to choose particular 'chapters' from the presentation.

Recently Occult America was awarded the 2010 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence, so congrats to Mitch on receiving some just reward. You read more from Mitch over at his website, mitchhorowitz.com

Alan Moore: Art is Magic

Love this video, excerpted from The Mindscape of Alan Moore (Amazon US and UK):

I think Moore nails it in the section from 5:00 to 6:10. For those who struggle with bandwidth, here's what he says:

Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They're not seen as transformative forces, that can change a human being, that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment, things with which we could fill 20 minutes, half an hour, while we're waiting to die.

It is not the job of artists to give the audience what the audience want. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn't be the audience, they would be the artist. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.

All said in that wonderful Moore drawl of course, giving it so much more impact.

The Ethnobiology of Voodoo Zombification

Here's a fascinating article over at ScienceBlogs on "The Ethnobiology of Voodoo Zombification":

Haitian clergy attribute the creation of zombies to sorcery. The Vodun religion makes a distinction between the corps cadavre (the physical body), the gwo-bon anj (the animating principle) and the ti-bon anj (agency, awareness and memory). When zombifying someone, the Vodun sorcerer (or bokur) extracts the ti-bon anj of the victim, and retains it in an earthenware jar (where it is then referred to as zombie astral).

Haitian doctors, on the other hand, consider zombification to be a result of poisoning, and there are reports that sorcerers use a white powder called coupe poudre to zombify their victims. In the early 1980s, Wade Davis, an anthropologist and ethnobotanist who was then working at Harvard University, travelled to Haiti in order to determine the ingredients of the coupe poudre. He interviewed a number of sorcerers and collected 8 samples of the zombie powder from 4 different regions of the country.

Upon analysis of the powders, Davis found that 7 of them shared a number of ingredients, including toxins produced by cane toad (Bufo marinus, left) and an irritant produced by a hyla tree frog (Osteopilus dominicensis). One of the samples also contained trace amounts of tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin produced by various marine organisms, most notably the pufferfish.

The article goes on to discuss possible flaws in Wade Davis's tetrodoxin theory and alternative hypotheses, though concludes that it's likely "there is no single explanation for zombification."

Previously on TDG: