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occult glyphs

After looking at some of the recent posts around here, I’m thinking that I need to get back to this blog’s roots. Less modern day tech, more AI, aliens, and outlandish conspiracy theory reviews. And lucky for me, Wired has feature story about a manuscript created by the Occulists, a rather obscure spin-off of the Freemasons in Germany sometime in the late 1700s, and this story is a perfect starting point to talk about secret societies in general. You see, the reason why the past is littered with secret societies of one sort or another is thanks to the prying eye of churches and monarchs who liked to keep very strict control over the populace to ensure their power. Want to experiment with obscure religious ideas? Burn heretic! Want to discuss a different from of ruling over a population? Off with your head traitor! Back in those days there was a very real and very powerful ruling class which was also very paranoid, and because it made the law, it could do the sort of things that even the most politically connected plutocrats today can’t even imagine. And so, to keep their traditions alive but also secret, the Occulists wrote a book we had to decrypt with a powerful computer and experimental purpose-built linguistic software.

Today’s secret societies supposedly in charge of the world’s most powerful governments could make your life very uncomfortable. Examples given by conspiracy theories include tracking your every transaction, spying on your social media use, blacklisting you from certain jobs, detaining you at customs, threatening you with legal actions, smearing you in the press, and maybe even making your murder look like an accident as a warning to your friends. Unpleasant, true, but you probably noticed the absence of things such as making your death a public spectacle, torture that would leave you disfigured for the rest of your life, being burnt alive, beheading with a rusty axe that might not do the job with just one whack, or if you’re really lucky or happen to be a very famous aristocrat, exile. That’s the fate awaiting those who were discovered to be members of secret societies because any group outside of the mainstream was immediately assumed to be evil and a threat to the powers in charge. The Occulists were no different since they seemed to have been associated with Freemasonry, carrying a lot of baggage with their history.

While calling yourself a Freemason in public now summons conspiracy theorists to speculate if you have a role in creating the latest new banking crisis or war for your personal gain or at the order of your masters, when the Occulists gathered to perform their versions of Masonic rituals, you would’ve been deemed a Satan worshipping sodomite on a mission to undermine the power and sacred authority of the church and the king or queen. In reality, you would’ve met to indulge in banned plays, reading literature deemed unfit for the general populace, and talk about new, potentially blasphemous ideas in relative privacy and comfort, just letting your mind roam. If you were in the Hellfire Club, you may enjoy some casual sex on the side and call it a good night of fun and entertainment. If you were in the OTO, you would’ve performed rituals that you felt could connect you to the mysteries of the past. There would be nothing all that sinister about what you did, but the Alex Jones’ of the day would be calling for your head in much the same way they do now on the web, radio, and their occasional stints on TV shows.

It’s little wonder that well-connected, wealthy, and powerful people want to join exclusive groups like the Builderbergs or have prominent roles in Masonic lodges. They want to be able to share opinions without public scruitiny, talk about things they wouldn’t ordinarily discuss, and find out who they should really meet if they want to advance their careers or projects. At a certain point, people who have high level positions, are surrounded by aides and assistants, and bombarded with pleas for their time, advice, and help, need an easy way to figure out who’s really important, to put it bluntly. Joining exclusive clubs or going to exclusive parties gives them an easy way to boost their profiles or see who’s on the up and up. Secretive organizations like Skull and Bones and the aforementioned Bilderberg Group seem to be all about networking and getting to know ambitious and promising people on a first name basis. They’re basically the hushed versions of the country club. It’s not exactly the sanctuary for rebellious freethinkers to indulge in experiment after experiment and find like-minded friends it used to be in the 1700s, but it still carries similar overtones and provides an escape from the spotlight for those who feel they need it.

Of course for those more paranoid than most of us, if something takes place in secret, it must be evil or at least nefarious, otherwise it would be made public. People like Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, and Jim Marrs make a living hypocritically arguing that if all the societies they suspect of running the world behind closed doors have nothing to hide, they should be holding all their meetings in public while lamenting intrusive government surveillance as an invasion of their right to privacy, forgetting how quickly and easily the media savages people for simply speaking their minds on a regular basis even if they’re just discussing a hypothetical situation. I’ve lost track of how many times something I wrote sarcastically or just explored in a post was assumed to be my opinion on the matter, or how many times something I said was taken out of context and twisted into things I never said or implied. But I’m just a blogger and a techie. The stakes for me to bluntly speak my mind aren’t all that high. For the head of a major bank or a powerful politician, they’re huge; one of their gaffes or snarky comments can quickly become international news.

And so it seems that secret societies are a necessary construct to let us speak our minds and vet our ideas in the company of those also not too shy to share their experience. In the words of Oscar Wilde, if we give a man a mask, he’ll tell us the truth. These secret and occult groups are masks for men and women to tell what they think is the truth to each other. Although when such groups become too exclusive and too cut off, there’s always the danger of creating something a lot more sinister than a forum to throw out and discuss ideas: an echo chamber where not truth but groupthink shapes the members’ thoughts and actions. Conspiracy theories shouldn’t worry that secret societies gather to talk about taking over the world, they should be worried that they start publishing tome after tome, arguing about their way of thought being the only acceptable or reasonable way to consider world events, lobbying politicians with ideas that obviously received little to no intellectual challenge. But the level of debate is up to each secret society to enforce and which this may be a bizarre proposition, we should accept the secret societies as a release valve for their members and innocent of instituting a New World Order until proven otherwise…

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Dear readers, I have a confession to make. Once upon a time I lost my rationality and fell prey to superstition during a crisis. When someone very near and dear to me was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was ready to try anything and everything if it had the slightest change of prolonging his life, even if it made absolutely no sense when you really think about it. Of course I didn’t subject him to alternative medicine or naturist woo and made sure he followed the orders of oncologists to the letter. However, in a crazy attempt to help the situation, I turned to a religious organization to help me get rid of something that I for some reason thought might be an unlucky object that could be making matters worse. Looking back, it was absolutely ridiculous, but when a person you’ve known all your life is slowly dying right in front of your eyes, you’re desperate to do anything…

black cat

When I was studying alternative religions, one of the people I interviewed for a project gave me a very unusual gift. It was a Satanic athame, a ceremonial dagger used in Occult rituals. It was old, with an ornate handle that was shaped to look like a dragon in a battle stance, the blade projecting out of it’s gaping mouth. To me, the athame was a collector’s item and nothing more. Despite reading through a thick stack of Occult literature, I’ve never really believed in any of it and dismissed concerns from other Occultists about keeping “an object which radiates negative energy in every direction” as good natured superstition. Three months after I got the athame, my relative started complaining of an odd pain in his side. After going to the doctor and a few scans, we were given the bad news. It was pancreatic cancer. The tumor hadn’t metastasized but the probability that it would, wasn’t out of the question. He was given the standard 6 to 12 months to live.

As the treatment began, things weren’t going well. The cancer started taking its toll very quickly and his body, already weakened by other conditions, just couldn’t take the stress even from the most gentle palliative care. Any aggressive procedure was totally out of the question. During that time I started becoming convinced that maybe, the athame might be bringing some sort of bad luck and it couldn’t hurt to get rid of it. So I called the local Catholic church and arranged to have the thing ritually disposed of. As you can imagine, it didn’t do any good whatsoever. His cancer was simply too advanced and aggressive. A month after the athame burial, he succumbed after surviving about as long as a person in his condition generally survived. For the next week, I walked around like a zombie and hallucinated that I saw him in his room, sitting in his favorite chair, watching TV and winking at me as I passed by the way he usually did.

Why did I think that taking a piece of metal and burying it in a white shroud under a full Moon would affect the extremely likely outcome? His cancer was growing for years before it was detected, the same way that most pancreatic cancers do. Exorcising a few pounds of stainless steel used by people who admitted to using an array of magic tricks to make their rituals look eerie for bystanders and even taught me a few, was an act of irrational desperation. An attempt to win or gain the upper hand in a very, very one-sided fight. Under duress, my logic and scientifically rich education were suspended and I understood exactly why people could turn to woo and the supernatural, hoping for some kind of outcome. And how after losing someone very close, their minds went haywire, playing bizarre tricks on their senses which could make their hearts skip a beat…

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weekend satanists for jesus

September 13, 2009 — 4 Comments

Let’s face it, if you want a career in religious studies, not all religions will give you the same earning potential and the more obscure your field of research, the worse off you are. Back at the turn of the last century, esoteric manuscripts about the Occult were a hit with celebrities and the wealthy, but today, they’re old hat, seen either as a bunch of people having fun rather than a “serious” exploration of the supernatural, or as communes with demonic evil in fundamentalist circles. So what’s a budding theologian to do when he finds that his dabbling in something he calls Satanism holds no money in it? Why, turn his gothic fun into scary tales for Christians terrified by the shows put on by the Church of Satan and milk their popularity for all he can, of course!

satanic book

That was a strategy employed by Mike Warnke who claimed to be a former Satanic High Priest presiding over ritual orgies, kidnapping and rape, and even sacrifice to the Devil himself. Then, he stopped doing drugs and found Jesus who saved his soul and lead him into the life of a minister and Christian comedian. Yes, it’s not exactly anything new and exciting for us today but in 1973 it was a pretty original piece of work, coming on the heels of Anton LaVey’s gimmick to scare and confuse Christians with grossly over-exaggerated rituals he tied to Satan. Warnke’s timing was impeccable and his story was just juicy, lurid and scary enough to capture the minds of the faithful who have a fascination for anything dark and evil. His book, The Satan Seller, was like a b-level horror flick. Graphic, reveling in sex, drugs and violence, and clearly fake from beginning to end.

But since it was released to a crowd ready and eagerly willing to believe him, doubts didn’t really bubble to the public surface for decades. In the meantime, Warnke performed hundreds of sold out shows per year, was a feature on daytime talk shows, religious programs and even advised police departments on cult behavior in a role where he surely impeded or derailed many an investigation. Spurned by the popularity of his book, other authors started writing about Satanists hiding in people’s back yards or recollections of “Satanic ritual abuse,” the most famous of which was Michelle Remembers, widely credited for inciting full blown witch hunts in a ye old ye style that wouldn’t be out of place in Salem, circa 1600s. Dozens of people were put on trial for abusing children or running Satanic cults, all of them acquitted after the judges got bored listening to paranoia and a panel of so-called experts who didn’t seem to know anything about human memory of behavior.

It took until 1992 for Cornerstone’s investigative journalists to tackle Warnke’s story and prove that pretty much all of his claims were either downright impossible, or very inconsistent. For example, for Warnke and Charles Manson to attend the same Satanic ritual together would’ve required Manson’s release from federal prison. At the same time, for Warnke to have converted in the Navy after being drafted to fight in Vietnam, would raise the question of why he was actively involved with The Campus Crusade for Christ, a fundamentalist evangelical group which seeks to proselytize college students, well before he had anything to do with the military. There was also a disturbing history of spousal abuse to consider. In short, Cornerstone concluded, Warnke was as truthful as an average politician, playing fast and lose with the facts to cash in on a collection of lurid tales with heavy religious overtones.

Though Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott certainly do deserve a pat on the back for their thorough investigation and objectivity in the face of the subject matter involved, writing for a Christian magazine did mean that another very important thing was missed in their article. One fundamental reason why Warnke’s claims should have been dismissed as ridiculous in the first place were his descriptions of Satanism and Satanic rituals. Rather than sacrifice humans or hold ritual orgies, Satanists tend put on a scary, dramatic show or play out some of their fantasies about the dark side of Occult traditions. Other occultists who call themselves Satanists really follow the old, monotheistic tradition of Hermeticism with a Cabbalistic twist thrown in for good measure. The Illuminati sitting at the top of some Satanic hierarchy kidnapping women for ritual orgies? Smells like the Taxil Hoax with a dash of David Icke on the side…

Warnke’s story was so popular because it played on ardent Christians’ lurid fears and lust for graphic tales of sordid ritual abuse and conspiracies by Satanic agents, and despite being exposed as a liar and a fraud, his stories and performances are still sought after and well compensated for the same reasons. And this raises a question of why the people who still take him, and the many “recovering Satanists” he inspired seriously, are so passionate about this kind of stuff, even if their sources are just crassly exploiting their religious devotion and sheer gullibility when it comes to the Occult?

[ illustration courtesy of Ceytin and the Modern Church of Satan ]

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the rosicrucian stonehenge

August 17, 2009 — 1 Comment

georgia guidestones schematicA little while ago, a Wired article about a huge stone monument built by a group represented by a mysterious person who went only by the odd moniker R.C. Christian. Various crackpots like Mike Dice declare it Satanic (which let’s face it, is just a label rabid fundamentalists give anything they don’t like) and quite a few people would really like to know who was behind its construction and why since the Guidestones are nothing less than an astronomical calendar with a list of instructions for a post-apocalyptic world.

The Georgia Guidestones are actually a great example of how monuments we view today as bizarre and mysterious come to be. While we construct all sorts of theories involving aliens, secret cults and lost civilizations, the truth is right in front of our noses. These monuments are designed to be huge, mysterious and awe inspiring. They’re built to make people ask and wonder while taking in the monuments’ cryptic messages outside of a normal cultural context. For the Guidestones, the big question is what motivated a mysterious, intentionally nameless group to design, plan and fund the project, and what message they wanted to convey. Thankfully, they left a few clues…

The intricate stone arrangement in question here, bears all the trademarks of Rosicrucianism, a sect of Christian mystics who developed incredibly complex and elaborate texts on theology, often trying to mix in scientific updates to their permutations of Biblical stories and references. Just the fact that their representative went by the name R.C. Christian already speaks volumes. The mythical founder of the Rosicrucians was an ancient alchemist by the name of Christian Rosenkreuz, or Rose Cross. The term Rose Cross also refers to the 18th degree in the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, the Knight of the Rose Croix.

This is one of the reasons why conspiracy theorists who still can’t accept that the Leo Taxil hoax was just a prank at the expense of church officials, want to call the Guidestones a Satanic monument. There’s a sign of the Freemasons in its history. But in reality, Masonic legends are a homunculus of several high profile esoteric and occult traditions based mostly on the Old Testament, and their rites and orders reflect that. The actual doctrine of the Rosicrucians is very different and focuses mostly on something called spiritual alchemy, a sort of human transcendence beyond the base forms of the flesh and blood.

Maybe, fearing that our civilization could one day collapse without getting there, they wanted to preserve what they thought were the basic guidelines for a future society that could fulfill their goal. And just to make sure they would catch the attention of post-apocalyptic leaders, they wanted to build a multi-lingual monument guaranteed to catch their attention.

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the god of the occult

November 21, 2008 — 3 Comments

Right off the bat, we have to start with a serious bummer for horror film aficionados. Eccentric scholars driven to insanity by their nightly commune with dark forces didn’t write Occult spell books in a demonic trance. Actually, at their inception, Occult arts weren’t secretive or hidden, but openly discussed esoteric ideas about how the universe worked and why, combining the scientific discoveries of the day with highly refined theology.

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When Christian missionaries tried to replace ancient religions by mass conversions or violence if the niceties failed, it was necessary for scholars of ancient esoterica to shroud themselves in a veil of secrecy. To the officials in charge of spreading the new religion, the Occult arts based on a combination of Ancient Egyptian mysticism, Greek logic and the roots of what would soon become Kabballah (the complex religious musings of rabbis, not the recent celebrity fad), were a pagan superstition to be eliminated.

From that point on, the misconceptions about the Occult began. It was associated with pagans, with the Devil or with heretics who wanted to play God by questioning the inner workings of the world. Myths portrayed Occult spell books as encyclopedias of recipes for evil, eye of newt, left testicle of frog while dancing naked under the full moon kind of stuff. But the reality was much more complex. Despite their pagan roots, the Occult arts were actually monotheistic and their only deity in Medieval times became the God of the Old Testament.

The first known spell book was The Key of Solomon and it set the tone for virtually all the spell books that came after it. Rather than being a demonic cookbook with some corrupted Latin or a twisted alien language thrown in for the creepiness factor, it was an astrology manual and an encyclopedia of angels and demons. It borrowed heavily from the Kabballah and instructed its readers to use the powers of God wisely and only in accordance with strict rules. The outcomes of the rituals it detailed would depend on God’s calculus of what you were and weren’t allowed to know or do.

All spell books mention only one deity and all the powers in which they try to tap were just ways of getting closer to God and gaining knowledge of the universe. No newt eyes or frog genitals. No dancing naked around a boiling pot under the full moon. Just complicated astrology charts, symbols of ancient zodiacs and lengthy incantations that were actually special prayers to God and his menagerie of supernatural servants.

During the neo-Pagan revival of the late 19th century and the resurgence of Kabballah and the hybrid of Egyptian magic and Greek philosophy, Hermeticism, a great deal of new things were added to traditional Medieval Occultism. New branches that mixed pagan concepts and many New Ageisms with classical Occult esoterica arose and fought for publicity and dominance as people like Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley sought to leave their marks on the religions of the world. But from Plato’s Timaeus from which the basic root concepts of Hermeticism were taken and nurtured by Alexandria’s religious scholars, to the alchemists of the Renaissance, there was only one God in the Occult universe.

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