Monday, May 23, 2011

Kenaz Filan Fundraising Special on Tarot Readings

As per an earlier blog entry, I am hoping to get a Loki tattoo at one of my favorite Pagan events, Free Spirit Gathering 2011. Captain Gordon Staub's work is excellent and very reasonably priced - but we all know that good body art, and good festivals, don't come cheap.  To help defray expenses, I am offering a special discount on my usual reading rates. Instead of $75, I am charging $50 with proceeds going toward the cost of this tattoo.

I read using the Thoth tarot deck: my interpretations are colored by my initiations in Vodou and my experience in various other schools of mysticism, filtered through a hard polytheist lens.  I believe the gods, spirits and ancestors are independently existing beings which are capable of communicating with us; I believe that sentience is not limited to humanity or even to organic life forms; I believe that we are conscious beings in a universe full of consciousness, sparks contemplating the fire, snowflakes caught up in the glory and the terror of the blizzard.  And, from now through June 19, I'm available at a 33% discount: readings are available by appointment via phone, e-mail, or in person at FSG.

So what are you waiting for?  Get your future divined and leave a permanent mark.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Osama bin Laden Rises from the Dead

In the comments to my original post on Osama bin Laden's death Eldritch provided a lengthy and rather heated disagreement.  He raises several points that deserve an answer and so I thought I would respond here. Criticism is always more useful to a craftsman than praise.

This a terrible and a naive entry in an otherwise excellent blog. The idea that A-Q was simply a reaction to US foreign policy and alleged atrocities against Muslims is absurd; if that were the case why were over 80% of A-Q's victims Muslim? Why do they support Indonesia on the Timor question? Like most saudis A-Q and bin laden didn't care about Palestine, according to Arafat they "never tried to help us" saudis generally look down on palestinians. 
We have various "patriot militias" in the United States preaching violent overthrow of the government in the name of one cause or another: we have ethnic mafias from all over the world operating within our borders.  To date nothing has unified these groups into a coherent opposition: no charismatic leader has found a mythology that can unify various divergent, contentious and explosive fringe movements toward a common cause and common enemies. Perhaps we should explore how bin Laden succeeded where many a wannabe demagogue has failed. 
In the 1970s and early 80s the US helped fund and arm the Muslim resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan: we gave Osama bin Laden his breakout role. Unfortunately, our onetime allies turned against us: it seems they were no more impressed by Free-Market Capitalism than by Marxist-Leninist Communism.  And the mythology which united a resistance in Afghanistan - the tales of heroic Muslim martyrs rising up to fight infidels and Crusaders - gained an audience in Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and points around the world.
Neither bin Laden nor his audience need give a damn about Palestinians as people: they are far more important as symbols than as individuals. The sufferings of the Palestinians become a focal point for the Jihadi's own pain.  The Jews who oppress the faithful in Gaza and Al-Kuds provide a template by which the petty bureaucrats and tyrants who rule much of the Islamic world can be judged.  America's continuing support for Israel is criticized, along with its post-9/11 funding of every bloody-handed dictator who promises to keep their country (and the US) safe from al-Qaeda.  
You may argue that 9/11 forced our hand and demanded armed intervention: I think at the very least it made it inevitable. You can state that al-Qaeda does not offer a viable solution to the problems facing the Islamic world, and I would agree. But I don't see how you could dispute that our reaction to terrorism has helped to spawn more terrorists, or that our Realpolitik has had real consequences.  
I don't wish to act as an apologist for bin Laden and his ilk. Obviously I disagree with murdering civilians, stoning rape victims, defiling corpses on camera and similar antics. If I didn't make that clear last time, it was because I would have thought it self-evident. That regularly gets me into trouble: one of these days I will learn my lesson.

However, I also think it worthwhile to consider the environment which allows a bin Laden to succeed, and acknowledge our role in creating that environment.  They were not "simply a reaction to US foreign policy." But a large part of their success comes from their ability to game US foreign policy and force our hands. We can't stop every visionary in every village who wants to claim the world for Jesus or Allah or the Proletariat.  But we can work to eradicate the conditions which bring them to power. 
" Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, perhaps as many as 900,000"
Utter nonsense, Fred Kaplan - a critic of the war - debunked 100,000 plus numbers, wikileaks shows that the total civilians killed by all sides is under 67,000. Most Afghanistan civilians were killed by the taliban and the US saved the hazaras from genocide; which brings to mind a question, if these guys are just stewing with Chomskyite rage why the program of a genocide for a peaceful minority? That doesn't fit in with counterpunch rants so its ignored.
The story went on to point out that the Taliban was culpable for "more than three-fourths of all civilian casualties" 
"The policy of the Taliban is to exterminate the Hazaras"  
Maulawi Mohammed Hanif, Taliban Commander, Announcing their policy to a crowd of 300 people summoned to a mosque [after killing 15,000 Hazaras people in a day] 
This article by Fred Kaplan states that "[a] secret Defense Department report estimated that just over 100,000 noncombatants were killed between 2004 and 2009." So though Kaplan may dispute the findings of the Lancet study and even have some reservations about the DD report, it would appear that the Wikileaks documents actually supported the 100,000+ figure. And I think we can all agree that the Iraq conflict is a continuing tragedy with bloodshed, losses and atrocities committed on all sides, and that our continuing battle against "Islamic fundamentalism" has become a PR disaster for us and a PR windfall for anti-Western Muslims.

The plight of the Hazaras is largely ignored because most Westerners, certainly most Americans, know very little about the cultural patchwork which is the Middle East.  Demagogues regularly tap into ethnic and cultural disputes for their own ends. It's no surprise that an ambitious Taliban member might play on Farsi/Pashtun and Sunni prejudices against the Mongol and Shi'a or Buddhist Hazara peoples.  And while I am happy that the Hazaras were saved by American intervention, I'm hardly naive enough to believe that the Army was actually there for the purpose of saving Hazaras or other oppressed Afghan minorities.

Even assuming they were, that would bring us to another set of questions.  What do you think America as a nation should do to prevent genocide whenever and wherever it occurs? Do you think we should come in with guns blazing to protect villages in Darfur or Yezidi strongholds in Kurdish Iraq? Should we defend the oppressed indigenous peoples of South and Central America by going to war with Brazil or Colombia?  How many resources should we devote to this Anti-Genocide Squad and how many American lives should we be willing to sacrifice to stop genocide?  You appear to be laboring under the illusion that our military might is omnipotent and we are capable of enforcing our vision of human rights and democracy on the rest of the world, no matter where they are.
"It is comforting to think bin Laden and his compatriots hated us because they hate our ideals of freedom." 
It's more accurate to say that A-Q hates us because the US is a main obstacle to a wahabbi caliphate. 
Far from being their main obstacle, I'd say we're their best hope. The Ummah needs an enemy and we've happily played Darth Vader & Co. to their Rebel Alliance.  When your secular government is hopelessly corrupt, brutal and inefficient (read: most of the Islamic world),  and when the "First World" funds military oppression against you and your Muslim brothers, heroic militants preaching salvation, righteousness and a return to the glory days of the Caliphate look a lot more enticing.  So long as we can be cast as crusaders, we're a great target for the five minutes hate: we can either be capitalist devils or infidels pillaging the righteous and supporting the Zionist conquest of Palestine.

FWIW, I am a Zionist, albeit one who supports a two-state solution based on real compromise from both sides. I do not question Israel's right to exist - and they aren't going anywhere even if I do.  But I also recognize that our support of Israel is going to make us unpopular in some quarters of the world, and may even lead to real dangers for our citizens. I recognize that real excesses have been committed on both sides in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and that powerful people on both sides have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. And if we are going to find a peaceful solution to that crisis -  the best means, IMO, of preventing future bin Ladens from arising - we are going to have to find some way to get past that.

In the meantime, we should understand that by taking one side in this conflict we are going to incur the continuing enmity of the other.  Whether or not their/our cause is valid is subject to debate.  The fact that our actions in this arena have consequences is not.
"The uncomfortable truth is that they hate us because we have betrayed those ideals in our foreign and domestic policy." 
As I have shown that simply isn't true and your comment implies they love those ideals, very repulsive.
We have given money to tyrants to prop up their creaky regimes: we have supplied despots with arms that were used to put down pro-democracy protestors. And we have done this in the name of promoting "freedom." I don't know about you, but I'd call this  pretty clear-cut betrayal of MY American ideals.  To add insult to injury, this betrayal has not served to make me safer or to advance any of the causes which I hold dear.  So if you're feeling a bit repulsed, you can join the club. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Religious Reflections in iMax and 3D: Thor

Kathy and I were were hoping for a Battlefield Earth or Showgirls: something which should never have been put on celluloid, but which achieved a certain perverse glory through its shambling unabashed godawfulness.  We were afraid that what we would instead get a soulless Hollywood blockbuster created by committee, one which never took the sort of chances which would lead to the spectacular fun of a good bellyflop. What we got instead was a surprisingly thought-provoking film with an uncommonly nuanced, intelligent portrayal of one of my favorite gods.

This film is not without its flaws. Unlike Tron: LegacyThor was shot in 2D with 3D added later.  I found some shots dull and fuzzy - an issue which others have noted as well.  Natalie Portman was wasted in the non-role of Jane Foster, the scientist who discovers that Bifrost is actually a wormhole.  Patrick Doyle's soundtrack is mostly generic. The Warriors Three are given little to do, save adding more characters to an already overloaded cast. Fight scenes are too often staged ala Zack Snyder, with headache-inducing fast-fast-fast-SLOOOOOW-fast-fast-fast-fast-fast cinematography.  But after the closing credits (and the Easter egg hidden at the end), I felt it worth the price of two tickets and a bucket of popcorn.

The visuals lived up to the promise of the trailers: Chris Hemsworth is not the only eye candy Thor has to offer. Asgard and Jotunheim looked like they had been lifted from the fervent imagination of Jack Kirby, as did the... memorable... costumes and monsters. One almost expected to see "Kirby Crackle" as energy bolts flew fast and furious in various combats.  Branagh wisely contrasted the glories of the other Worlds and their dwellers with flat, bleak utterly unremarkable New Mexico scenery for the Midgard scenes.  It helps keep viewers grounded through a rather convoluted plot involving more schemes and secrets than a whole season of Real Housewives of New Jersey.

For much of the film Thor behaves like a hot-tempered grunting fratboy - not implausible, given his position as heir to Odin's throne. (Hemsworth's occasional overacting can be forgiven: he shares the big screen with Anthony Hopkins, one of the most well-smoked hams in Britannia's bulging larder).  His subsequent loss of powers and transformation in the face of trials is the stuff of many legends and coming-of-age tales. It's a story told in broad strokes, and Hemsworth tells it beautifully - or at least looks beautiful telling it. But chiseled abs and baby blue eyes are not (quite) enough to make a movie: Thor's story is told with the aid of a Marvel-ously large supporting cast.

Among them Colm Feore's Laufey is a suitably monstrous Frost Giant King, with a spiteful sneer worthy of roid-raging Vincent Price. (Alas, his troops look more like Frost Latex Makeup Creations, combined  with New Improved CGI Swarm Algorithms).  Idris Elba was a controversial casting choice in some quarters, not all of them dentally and socially challenged.  His performance as Heimdall should silence any critics. Elba captures a suitably godly nobility and hints at the ineffable power and wisdom one would expect from the greatest watchman in the Nine Worlds. But perhaps the biggest news is that a Marvel movie manages to bring us a decent antagonist.

The Loki of Marvel Comics often evokes Adam West's Batman villains: a "god" who is as frightening as Egghead or Mr. Freeze. Given the cinematic butchering of Doctor Doom and Venom, we could hardly expect much from Loki's movie debut.  But Tom Hiddleston's Loki is complex, charismatic and thoroughly unpredictable. Hiddleston draws inspiration from his Shakespearean acting experience, giving us a character inspired by Cassius in Julius Caesar and the bastard Edmund of King Lear. His Loki thinks he is more qualified to rule Asgard than brother Thor, and not without reason: he is certainly more subtle, devious and politically skilled.  (He generally dresses better as well and even manages - almost - to pull off the notoriously silly Loki helmet).

The brother/frenemy relationship between Hemsworth and Hiddleston is far more interesting than the more common portrayals of Loki as Asgard's sworn enemy: instead of a melodramatic blackguard, we get a conflicted and canny antihero. The forces which push him and Asgard into conflict take on the air, if not necessarily the depth, of Greek tragedy. This vision of the Lord of Misrule is less primal and terrifying than Heath Ledger's Joker, but perhaps it will be no less resonant. Over the past decade or so heathenry has grown increasingly interested in (or at least tolerant of) Loki.  Hiddleston's vision may well provide Himself with further inroads into the community: as a bit of cosmic irony, Elba's portrayal will almost certainly inspire renewed interest in Ol' Flamehair's sworn archenemy, Heimdall.

(Some of you may think it silly that one might draw spiritual inspiration from a comic book movie. Consider the debt which modern Wicca owes to J.R.R. Tolkien, to Victorian Romanticism, and to the Ossianic poets of the 18th century. If the muses spoke to Greek worshippers through poetry and drama, why wouldn't they reach out to today's worshippers through movies and comic books? The line between fiction and prophecy can be a fine one: today's folk hero may be tomorrow's demigod and today's historical event can become tomorrow's edifying myth).

Power of the Poppy excerpt on Reality Sandwich and other Shameless Self-Promotions

An excerpt from The Power of the Poppy is now available on Reality Sandwich, the website founded by Daniel Pinchbeck. I'm thrilled to be on RS and hope to be posting more material there soon.  I am also available on Podcast, with recent interviews by Omo Yemaya (H2O Network), Frater Puck (Thelema Now!) and Karagan (Witchtalk).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yep, even MORE on the Voudon Gnostic Workbook: For Fr. Barrabbas and Kojat

My postings on Bertiaux's Voudon Gnostic Workbook continue to attract controversy and page views. (I should have known better than to fool around with praeterhuman plasmotronic Afro-Zothyrian death computers).  I've been remiss in my responses, and wanted to get back to the ever-interesting Frater Barrabbas and talk a bit about his unflattering portrait of Michael Bertiaux.
I found him to be cruel, manipulative, ruthless, and completely without any human compassion whatsoever. This is not the kind of person that you could trust, believe in, nor would you place yourself into his hands for any reason. I would rather offer my head to the gaping jaws of a crocodile than give myself into the hands of this man.....
... Michael used a form of sexual terrorism to get his students into the right frame of mind for his various occult and magickal operations. He would select an approach that was guaranteed to frighten and unbalance his subject, acting as either a homosexual or a heterosexual lover, as it suited him. His unwanted advances would be rationalized as being the only manner that such occult knowledge and initiatory mysteries could be communicated. It was an excuse to sexually abuse and exploit individuals who came seeking knowledge and special teachings, and Bertiaux had no problem obliging those foolish enough to accede to his desires.
Based on what Frater B. says (and I've found him to be a reliable narrator), Bertiaux sounds like a singularly unpleasant person who is not above using his magical offices to get sexual favors.  This kind of  power-tripping and sexual predation is not uncommon in the magical community.  (Given our debt to Aleister Crowley, it could hardly be otherwise).  But Frater B's account is particularly important because it points to some thorny ethical and practical questions about magic.

Bertiaux's published work on Gnostic Voudon describes a number of sex magic practices.  It is not surprising that at least some GV initiations might involve sexual contact with the initiator.  While this is not done in Haitian Vodou (or any other African or Afro-Caribbean tradition of my acquaintance), there is definitely precedent for it. Did his bishops get anything out of their "initiations" besides a sore sphincter?  Uncle Al certainly experimented with the XIº from both sides of the fence. Was he transmitting esoteric knowledge or getting his rocks off with gullible acolytes? And could the answer to that question be "yes?"

Another question which comes to mind: is it wrong to trade sexual favors for spiritual attainments?  Most consider it acceptable to take money in exchange for teaching, divination and other services.  Why would it be wrong to accept a roll in the hay as payment for magic? If we are spiritual beings on a human path, we might as well use all our assets to better our position.  Is trading our bodies for wisdom more degrading than expecting it to be given to us for free? Again, I don't know if there are any easy answers to that one.  But it's definitely a question which deserves some thought, preferably after meditating on the mysteries of goddesses like Freyja and Aphrodite.

I've said that Bertiaux, like Grant, is a great Surrealist. There's also a healthy dose of Andy Warhol thrown into that mix.  He played the role of obscure, reclusive magician and used it to become an underground celebrity.  You can love him or hate him: you can praise his erudition, excoriate his racist and colonialist preconceptions, or scratch your head in utter bafflement. But sooner or later you end up talking about him - and that may be his greatest magical achievment of all.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spiritual Wisdom Channeled from Beyond the Grave: Harvey DelCruccio Speaks

Everybody's favorite working class stiff what happens to be a bit stiffer than most is back to dispense his thoughts on the current political and economic situation.  Harvey's words may not always be the most grammatical, but how many other Ghede have their own blog. (And it's on Livejournal, thereby proving there truly is life after death).  

And while Harvey shares his feelings with the world, I will be talking with Karagan on WitchTalk radio tomorrow night at 8pm Eastern time.  Listen live or pick up the podcast later. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Honoring a Fallen Enemy: on the Death of Osama Bin Laden

On the day of my 46th birthday Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by a team of Navy SEALs. My wife and I were both in New York on the morning of September 11, 2001: for months afterward we lived with the stench from the smoking charnel pit that used to be the World Trade Center.  I would be remiss if I did not say something about the man who had such an impact on our city.

I shed no tears for bin Laden's death: he has left behind many others who will mourn for him.  I will not chide those who took to the streets or to the Internet to celebrate his demise: there is no shame in celebrating a hard-won victory in a long and bloody war.  Instead I offer Osama bin Laden the tribute due to any valiant enemy who died fighting for his cause.

This may seem distasteful, unpatriotic, even blasphemous.  But if you see bin Laden as a monster who has finally been slain, you are likely to believe this fairy tale has come to its happy ending.  In recognizing his accomplishments, you will see the mark he has left on our country and our culture - a mark which is far deeper and uglier than the open sore which remains at Ground Zero.

In September of 2002 bin Laden issued a letter to America which explained his motivations quite clearly.
The American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq. These tax dollars are given to Israel for it to continue to attack us and penetrate our lands. So the American people are the ones who fund the attacks against us, and they are the ones who oversee the expenditure of these monies in the way they wish, through their elected candidates.
We have supported and continue to support some of the world's most repressive dictators in the name of "national security." American-made tanks and machine guns have been used against peaceful Bahraini protestors.  Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, perhaps as many as 900,000, have been killed and countless more injured thanks to our efforts to free them from a dictator we once provided with funding and weaponry. We supported Hosni Mubarak's repressive kleptocracy and the murderous Shah of Iran because we feared the rise of a freely-elected Islamic government.

After the September 11 attacks, we openly admitted to using waterboarding and other forms of torture and declared that we need not follow the Geneva convention when dealing with terrorists. Our Patriot Act created a "surveillance society" and cast aside long-cherished protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.  In the name of protecting ourselves against another 9/11, we began harassing "eco-terrorists" and left-wing websites.  And we increased our support of brutal dictators throughout Central Asia and the Middle East, thereby garnering the resentment of their subjects for generations to come.

It is comforting to think bin Laden and his compatriots hated us because they hate our ideals of freedom. The uncomfortable truth is that they hate us because we have betrayed those ideals in our foreign and domestic policy.  And until we recognize that, we can only expect more Osama bin Ladens to follow. Only when we have extricated ourselves from the various wars and reaffirmed our commitment to true liberty and freedom will we have a chance of defeating him and the movement he spawned.

You are beyond my judgment now, Osama. You are gone to a place where my scorn and my praise are equally meaningless.  It is for the Gods to determine whether you are to be elevated or damned: I leave that judgment to Them.  Much as I may loathe your version of Sharia, I cannot dispute your success in promoting it. All I can do is hope that one day we can heal the injuries you inflicted on me, on my country and on my world.