eBay Bans The Selling of Magical Items And Psychic Services

The great and powerful internet auction house eBay has henceforth banned all sales of wizardly enchantments and magic spells, even if you have a vacuum cleaner’s worth of gold to offer.
Indeed, the company knows not what it does, unaware that the hour of the dragons grows near. Not only has eBay banned the sale of spells, but it has also prohibited the sale of potions. Yes, that even includes the +2 Potion of Dragonslaying — the fools! Psychic readings are similarly forbidden.
Read more at http://www.tecca.com/news/2012/08/15/ebay-magic-potion-psychic-reading-ban/#HhbovxHjcM6L82FJ.99

Tecca: Alas! eBay to ban sale of magic spells, potions
See also: Square prohibits its service from being used for “occult materials.”

Synesthesia May Explain Aura Reading

From Science Daily:

In basic neurological terms, synesthesia is thought to be due to cross-wiring in the brain of some people (synesthetes); in other words, synesthetes present more synaptic connections than “normal” people. “These extra connections cause them to automatically establish associations between brain areas that are not normally interconnected,” professor Gómez Milán explains. New research suggests that many healers claiming to see the aura of people might have this condition. […]
Many local people attribute “paranormal powers” to El Santón, because of his supposed ability to see the aura of people “but, in fact, it is a clear case of synesthesia,” the researchers explained. According to the researchers, El Santón has face-color synesthesia (the brain region responsible for face recognition is associated with the color-processing region); touch-mirror synesthesia (when the synesthete observes a person who is being touched or is experiencing pain, s/he experiences the same); high empathy (the ability to feel what other person is feeling), and schizotypy (certain personality traits in healthy people involving slight paranoia and delusions). “These capacities make synesthetes have the ability to make people feel understood, and provide them with special emotion and pain reading skills,” the researchers explain.

Full Story: Science Daily: Synesthesia May Explain Healers Claims of Seeing People’s ‘Aura’
(via Matt Staggs)
I’ve long suspected this to be true. I’ve met a couple of people who claimed to be able to see auras and didn’t seem to be liars or crazy.

Alejandro Jodorowsky Leads Group Psychomagic Ritual for Casualties of the War on Drugs

Psychomagic
Alejandro Jodorowsky made a rare public appearance in Mexico City to lead a group psychomagic ritual with over 3,000 participants:

It was billed as “the first act of collective psycho-magic in Mexico.”
The call made by the cult mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky said the event would seek to “heal” the country of the cosmic weight of so many dead in the drug war, by gathering for something he called the March of the Skulls.
On Sunday, on a wet and frigid morning in this mountain capital, hundreds of Jodorowsky fans answered the open convocation (video link in Spanish).
They donned black top hats and black shawls, and carried canes and Mexican flags colored in black. They wore calavera face paint or masks to give themselves the look of stylish skeletons gathered in this often-surreal city in the name of Mexico’s tens of thousands of sometimes nameless drug war dead.

LA Times Blog: Cult mystic holds ‘march of skulls’ for Mexico’s drug war dead
Update: You can find a collection of links to more pictures here.
(Thanks Trevor!)

When Did Magic Become Hereditary?

The Twelfth Enchantment author David Liss on the portrayal of magic in popular story telling:

In the past, people generally believed they could acquire magic in two ways: through learning the craft, either from another practitioner or from books; or through obtaining magic from a powerful being-think Faust or the classic, demonized witch, both of whom get their mojo from Satan. Anyone could learn magic as long as he or she had access to the knowledge or could make a connection with the right supernatural entity. The important point is that in theory, the gates of magic were open to everyone, and what I find most interesting is how that has changed in popular culture. […]
Magic has gone from being an open system to a closed one. Their massive popularity make the Harry Potter novels and films the most glaring example, but it’s everywhere, and has been for decades now: TV shows like Charmed and Wizards of Waverly Place, books like those of Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris. More often than not, magical practitioners are born, not made. Magic is an exclusive club. You can watch and be envious, but you can’t join.

i09: When did magic become elitist?
Also, Alyssa Rosenberg writes: “I wonder if a sense of biological magic also correlates to a sense of unease about how much power we have to impact our lives and to change the world. Believing that you can put the evil eye on someone, or that you can summon the devil, means believing in your own capacity to learn, hold, and wield power. Biological conceptions of magic are a way of explaining your own powerlessness. We can’t change our lives — but we’re also not responsible for changing the world — because we’re not Harry Potter, or the Slayer, or the Halliwell sisters.”
(both links via David Forbes)
Not unrelated are Michael Moorcock’s essay on the fascist, conservative and/or reactionary strains running through sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and this essay by Stokes on the aesthetics of fascism and the TV series Game of Thrones.

West Memphis Three Go Free – But At What Cost?

ABC News reports that West Memphis Three are being released today after a special hearing in which the three men made an Alford plea. According to Wikipedia, an Alford plea is: “A guilty plea in criminal court, where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence. Under the Alford plea, the defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What this means is that the WM3 will not be able to sue the state for wrongful prosecution, or profit financially from book, movie or speaking deals based on the ordeal. Or, in other words, it means that those responsible for railroading these kids in 1993 and putting them in prison for nearly two decades (while the real killer(s) remained free) will never be brought to justice, and the WM3 will never be compensated in any way for the years of their lives that they lost.
It’s a surprise move to those of us following the case. In 2007 new DNA evidence placed two men, including one of the victim’s stepfathers, at the scene of the crime, but provided no evidence that the WM3 were at the scene. I should emphasize that this doesn’t in and of itself exonerate the WM3, nor does it necessarily implicate the stepfather in the case. However, it was widely believed this DNA evidence would be enough to get the WM3 a new trial, and, given the lack of evidence in the first trial, would likely result in the three being exonerated.
I don’t know why the WM3 decided to take this plea, and I don’t blame them for taking an opportunity to go free after 18 years in prison. If they and their counsel believed this was the best option, then it probably was. But it’s extremely disappointing that the individuals – including David Burnett, Brent Davis and Dale Griffis – who railroaded the WM3 to advance their own careers will never be held accountable for their crimes.

PZ Myers on Alan Moore and Magic

A while back Cat Vincent asked why no atheists debated Alan Moore at the skeptics conference TAM London. I told Cat that I personally didn’t have much to debate with Moore.
Moore’s position, staked out in this essay on magic as well as the magic essay from Dodgem Logic 3 (which I think is a better version of the “Fossil Angels” essay, and extends the purpose of magic from art in particular to creativity in general), is that that magic is a process that takes place probably in one’s own mind and doesn’t confer the power to fulfill wishes. For example, in Dodgem Logic he wrote that using magic to try to get money handed to you was pointless. Instead, you were better off using magic to try to find some creative way to actually earn some money. He claims to have seen visions of gods, but admits they could very well be hallucinations. There’s not much room to debate a guy who says magic can’t fulfill all your wishes and that he could be tripping balls mad.
Biologist and noted atheist blogger PZ Myers seems to agree:

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% (although he did speculate a bit about the absence of explanation for memory, which he thought was a mystery because there are no changes in the structure of the brain that last for more than a few weeks, which is total bullshit, and he wondered if the purpose of junk DNA was to store memories, which is bullshit on fire. But, OK, the rest of the talk was mostly fun.)
Moore is a writer, and his explanation was basically that the weirdness was to spark creativity; for instance, he talked about staring into a quartz crystal and seeing visions, but he was quite plain that it wasn’t supernatural, it wasn’t the crystal, it was his own mind generating and imposing ideas on what he saw. And that’s all right with me — it fits very well with how I see science functioning.

Pharyngula: Alan Moore at Cheltenham
Actually, I think if there’s anything to debate Alan Moore about it’s whether what he describes as magic is truly “magic” at all. But I’m not particularly interested in having that debate, and I doubt he really is either.

Why Was There an Explosion of in Interest in Magick in 1984?

Google’s new NGram viewer gives a fascinating look at how memes ebb and flow throughout the years by sharting the appearance of certain words within all the books indexed by Google Books. So far, you can search between 1800 and 2008.
For example, here’s science and religion:
Science and religion Ngram
Here’s one that’s really interesting. Looking at the history of the word “magick,” there’s an explosion of interest beginning in the 1980s:
Magick NGram 1800-2008
A closer look reveals that the bump that starts an upward trend occurs between 1984 and 1985:
Magick NGram, starting with 1980
Occurances of the word “occult” have always been much higher, but seems to follow a similar but less exaggerated increase in the 80s and 90s:
occult vs. magick NGram
“Occult” seems to start rising a little earlier than “magick.” It also declined more sharply in recent years and went through a pronounced trough in the late 90s.
It’s also interesting how popular the word “magick” was in the early 1800s, long before Aleister Crowley started using it. But it’s never been as popular as magic with a c:
magic and magick Ngram
Note the cute little devil horns! (This could be due to scanning issues – see Danny Sullivan’s commentary here).
A few notes:
Michelle Remembers (the book that helped start the Satanic Panic) was released in 1980 and Falcon Publishing started around that year.
Some of Llewellyn‘s biggest hits like Wicca and Modern Magick didn’t come out in the late 80s, but the publishing house has been around since the 1901 (founded in Portland, incidentally). According to Wikipedia, the company started publishing authors like Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley in the 60s. The other big publisher of occult and new age books, Weiser, was founded in 1956 – also well before the 80s explosion.
McMartin preschool trial started in 1983 and through the 1987. This probably contributed significantly to number of books published on magick and the occult during this period.

Erik Davis – Technoccult Interview

Erik Davis
Erik Davis has been covering fringe spiritual movements, underground music and subcultures for magazines like Wired, Arthur and Spin for the past two decades. He’s probably best known for books his books TechGnosis and Visionary State. He’s currently a contributor to several publications, including Reality Sandwich and HiLobrow. His web site is here and you can follow him on Twitter here.
Nomad Codes
Erik’s latest book, Nomad Codes, is a collection of several of his articles and essays. It can be purchased from its publisher YETI or from Amazon. I talked with Erik about the new book, the changing American spiritual landscape, and why he’s now pursuing academia.
Klint Finley: Over the last few years, while writing the essays that comprise this book, have you seen any significant shift in American spirituality? Has much changed since the publication of TekGnosis?
Erik Davis: Spirituality is always changing, because “spirituality” itself is almost defined by its informality, at least in contrast to those more organized movements we call “religion.” And even religions are always changing. Since the 1990s, there have been some intriguing developments, some cool, some odd.
One has been the extraordinary popularity of yoga, and what makes yoga particularly interesting is that it bridges between spirituality and a purely secular world of exercise and keeping fit. People don’t go to yoga for gurus like they did in the 70s — it’s about the “practice.” That shows some healthy pragmatism in some ways, but it also represents how easily spirituality gets commodified in America. I mean, yoga is pretty cheap when you boil it down–you on a mat on a floor. And yet it has become a whole industry.
Yeah, the brouhaha over Bikram yoga really exemplifies that.
Then there’s the 2012 thing, which has really grown tremendously, right on schedule. I have been tracking that for years, a combination of archaic dreaming and very contemporary apocalypticism. I knew some folks in British Columbia that all decided to adopt the 13 moon calendar for a while, and they lived their lives partly in that alternate calendrical frame. Pretty outside stuff! Then a year ago, my sister, who is not a freak by any stretch of the imagination, started talking about 2012 and what it meant. That represents quite a shift. Even Christian fundamentalists are talking 2012 these days. Everyone on the bandwagon!
Where does the title of the book, Nomad Codes, come from?
For me the phrase Nomad Codes really captures something about the 1990s culture that really influenced me and most of the writing in the book, even the later stuff. In some ways, we never leave our home-base cultural framework. In the early 1990s, there was a tremendous sense of novelty and possibility–the Internet was opening up, electronic music, a revived psychedelic culture, even “Twin Peaks” on the TV seemed to confirm that reality itself was warping. That sense of warp was captured by the figure of the nomad–slipping beyond the established narratives and institutions, not trying to root himself anywhere, flowing between the cracks. But all this stuff was happening in the context of an exploding media and particularly digital culture. So codes were, and are, everywhere. The world we perceive is partly dependent on our codes–not just our ethical codes, but the codes of perception and experience we use to program our engagement with reality.
Goa sunset by Koshy Koshy
Goa sunset, photo by Koshy Koshy
Do you have a favorite story from the book? One that you’re particularly proud of?
There’s a number of pieces that come out of really amazing trips and explorations I’ve one on. “Sampling Paradise” was about going to Goa in India in 1994 to hunt down the origins of raves; it was just when Psy-Trance was starting to leak into the west, and I went to some amazing parties. But the craziest time was my visit to Burma, which I write about at length. At the end of the piece, I am drunkenly dancing with a cute transvestite spirit-medium whose gaudy outfit was stuffed with currency. My wife was there at the time and she found it all hilarious.
I don’t have a copy of the book yet, so I don’t know if “Technopagans” and/or “Songs in the Key of F12” are included, but I wanted to tell you that those two article were formative for me.
Well thanks. They both nearly made the cut, but not quite. “Technopagans” was too long, and a little dated, and some of the ideas were repeated elsewhere. And not a lot of the music writing made it in, other than a profile of Sun City Girls and a long piece on Lee Scratch Perry. Maybe I should have given more thought to “Songs” though! That was a fun time to write about electronic music. I am curious though: how did they influence you?
Keiko Uenishi
I read “Technopagans” in 2000 just as I was starting to learn about chaos magic, and the way the article related it to tech culture kind of gave me the push I needed to jump in and start doing it.
I read “Songs in the Key of F12” around the time it came out, and it planted the seeds that eventually lead me to become a laptop musician myself – though it was years after reading it. I guess, like “Technopagans,” it told me “This is something YOU can do.”

That’s great. That’s why I love writing about subcultures: I get drawn toward things I want or attract me, and then I try to communicate the attraction and the appeal, even if I don’t end up becoming a chaos magician or a laptop musician myself.
Here’s a question someone on Twitter just asked me to ask you: Have you faced any challenges as an independent scholar outside the university system?
Well its funny you should ask. I have faced some challenges, and the unfortunate fact is that, in terms of getting paid, the challenges have only gotten larger the more established in my career I have become. I came of age as a writer at a time when I was lucky enough to be able to live off interesting magazine work–I got paid for the Goa piece by Details magazine, all expense paid trip and a good fee, even though they never ran the story. That world is gone, at least for someone with my interests, which have only gotten farther off the beaten track as far as the “mainstream” goes. Which is why I have decided to cross the great divide and enter the academy. I am at a religious studies program at Rice that specializes in magic, mysticism, and the esoteric tradition. I still like to think of myself as an independent scholar though, cause I am just doing what I want to do!
In a round-table on the impact of the Internet on writing, you said “I find the internet-driven pressure to make pieces short, data-dense, and crisply opinionated — as opposed to thoughtful, multi-perspectival, and lyrical — rather oppressive, leading to a certain kind of superficial smugness as well as general submission to the forces of reference over reflection.” Since then, Slate has reportedly found long-form pieces on its site to be the among the most popular. Have you seen any shift back towards a demand for longer form work?
Well that’s wonderful news. I have certainly gotten great reactions from the half-dozen longish-form pieces I have written for HiLobrow this last year or so. They werent super-long, but they were dense and careful and reflective. I think the interest for this kind of stuff probably never went away but the editors and the people designing magazine and online templates went for the short stuff. I will be a happy camper if the pendulum swings back.
What are your favorite publications, print or otherwise?
Online I rove; I rarely return to the same place as if it were a magazine. Print is more conducive to a regular relationship, in my experience. I love Fortean Times, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have a subscription. Marvels and Wonders every issue. Coming to school I kind of went on a magazine diet though, so I am not reading the journals I normally do, from the annoying/enjoyable New Yorker to the occasional issues of Plazm. My parents just got me a subscription to The Economist, which is great because I don’t usually read that much news online, so it keeps me more “current”–whatever that means. But I like it because they write intelligently about this insane, totally fucked up world and somehow manage to seem chipper about it all.
Erik Davis at Burning Man
Erik lecturing at Palenque Norte camp at Burning Man in 2003
And what’s next for you? Are you working on another full-length popular audience book, or are you completely focused on academia now?
I have always written some stuff that had an academic twist–I’ve hard articles in almost half a dozen university press books. So I will be emphasizing that side of the equation while still doing as much online and magazine work as possible. I’ve also been doing the Expanding Mind net radio show on the Progressive Radio Network for a year and a half, and will continue to do that. It’s great because I have to push myself to discover new and interesting people–or to remember all the interesting people who have crossed my path, and bring ’em on and find out what they’re doing now. I love that conversational style. I am also working on an collection of Philip K. Dick’s writings from the Exegesis which is really fun.
Do you have any parting words before we sign-off?
Keep your minds open!

Good News: West Memphis 3 Get New Hearing

West Memphis 3

After analyzing new DNA evidence, the Arkansas Supreme Court has ordered a new hearing for the “West Memphis 3,” three men convicted as teens in the 1993 murders of three West Memphis Cub Scouts.
The justices also said a lower court must examine claims of misconduct by jurors who sentenced Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin.

CBS: “West Memphis 3” Get New Hearing in Murders of Three 8-Year-Old Cub Scouts
(Thanks Bryce!)