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 — 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...
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. Yet 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 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.
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 BBC2 discussing the artistic and occult genius of Austin Osman Spare:
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
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.
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:
A number of years ago, when I was visiting Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to be steered and beered around the town by my good friend Blair MacKenzie Blake (whose writing appears online at the website of prog-rock band Tool, and also in print via our own Darklore anthology). During that visit, I was given a glimpse of Blair's amazing esoteric book collection - a veritable treasure trove of first editions on various occult topics, from Crowleyana to pulp ufology, collected over many years by a man who knows the topics inside out. I certainly felt privileged to lay my hands - if for a short time - on such precious pieces of history. It's just a good thing that I didn't drool all over them, as any lover of books and/or esoterica might have done if put in my position (and I hope BMB has since taken on board my suggestion for a fireproof storage option!).
Now you too can get a taste of Blair's awesome collection, with the release of The Wickedest Books in the World: Confessions of an Aleister Crowley Bibliophile:
The Wickedest Books in the World is a large format (9 X 12) coffee table-style hardcover book containing over 50 glossy full color photographs of the rare, often magnificently produced, first edition books of the renowned British occultist, Aleister Crowley that are currently in the collections of both Blair and fellow bibliophile, Danny Carey (Tool's drumming genius).
Collectors please note! Printed and bound by one of the top printers in the world, this first hardcover edition...
...is strictly limited to 1000 copies, with the first 156 copies numbered by way of an anti-consecrated page carefully removed from the author’s personal copy of the 1922 British first impression of Crowley’s notorious The Diary of a Drug Fiend (placed inside a clear envelope). Additionally, the first 333 copies are individually numbered and SIGNED by both the author and the author of the book’s foreword, DANNY CAREY (who is featured throughout the book as avid collector of Crowleyana).
Along with the wonderful images you'll find text touching on Crowley's history, the story of how many of his most coveted books have meandered their way through the decades and into Blair's collection, and also a foreword by Danny Carey. You can pick up your own copy of this wonderful book via Danny Carey's newly redesigned website (and I suggest you don't wait too long). Alternatively, go directly to the purchasing page.
(And don't forget to check out Blair's book of sumptuous occult-influenced prose-poems, Ijynx too!)
This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 2, which is available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK. The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on paranormal, Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field: Robert Bauval, Nick Redfern, Loren Coleman, Jon Downes and Daniel Pinchbeck, to name just a few. Darklore's aim is to support quality researchers, so it makes sense to support Darklore.
by Greg Taylor
Few guitarists have been as influential as the legendary Delta Bluesman, Robert Johnson. His recordings have inspired fellow blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, song-writing genius Bob Dylan, formative rock gods The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, guitarists Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton (who labelled Johnson “the most important Blues musician who ever lived”) - who in turn have influenced subsequent generations of musicians.
However, rumours swirled about Johnson’s involvement with the occult even before his premature death – aged just 27 – in 1938. His seemingly instantaneous mastery of the Blues gave rise to legends that he had made a deal with the Devil, who had given Johnson his skills in return for his everlasting soul. Tales circulated of the young black musician from Mississippi who had taken his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight, and met there with a large man who took the guitar and tuned it, and gave Johnson mastery of the instrument in a Faustian bargain. Within a year of this fabled meeting, Johnson was recognised as one of the greatest Delta Blues musicians…but within two more years, he had met his end – and, we suppose, delivered on his side of the contract.
Johnson’s song titles provide a vivid reflection of his occult ties. “Hellhound on my Trail”, “Me and the Devil Blues”, and the narrative of “Crossroad Blues” (“Went down to the crossroads, bent down on my knees”) all add colour to the myths surrounding this seminal musician. But as Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh point out in their book The Elixir and the Stone, these allusions to the occult world are a fundamental part of the Blues, not least due to its origins in the music of Voodoo: