Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Weird News of the Week

Reindeer Herder finds pre-historic remains of Baby Mammoth

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Seeing the benefits of Memory-Erasing Drugs

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Advanced Disaster Planning for Google involves Alien Attack

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Back Street Boys songs culturally offensive to China?

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And a personal favorite...

People who Doodle Learn Faster!

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Working with Guardian Spirits from Jason Miller Rev. Inominandum

You could be the target of a spell or a curse and not even know it! Powerful, invisible spirits may be threatening your health, relationships, or job.

Psychic, magickal, and spiritual attacks happen more often than even most Witches and Magicians realize. All people, Magickal or not, are susceptible to these attacks. Protection & Reversal Magick focuses on giving you the tools to do something about these attacks.

Below you will find a chapter on Guardian Spirits taken from Chapter 6 of Jason Miller's work.

Whatever your view on the spirits, it is clear that old grimoires were written for their rituals to be performed as if the spirit were a separate, discarnate intelligence, and not just a part of your brain. Even if you think that the spirit is a part of your psyche, and the ceremony works via your own belief, it follows that if you treat the spirit as a separate entity that you are summoning, you will be able to get more worked up over the process than if you go into it as some psychological trick, and thus achieve greater success no matter what the spirit’s true nature.

In my practice, experience has led me to embrace the more traditional view of spirits: that where there is space, there is awareness, and this awareness manifests as varying classes of beings possessing different natures and powers. Some are localized, some are not; some can only speak to you using information in your mind to express themselves, some can speak to you as clearly as if they were a person standing in front of you. Some have influence over the material world, some do not. Whatever your personal views and beliefs on the subject, I encourage you to treat them in ritual according to this traditional view, as that is what experience has taught me yields the best results. Besides, as one of my magickal mentors Cliff Pollick once told me: “There is nothing like getting bitten on the ass by something that you didn’t quite believe in.” If and when that happens, you may find you need this book more than you thought.

Guardian Spirits

Just as spirits can sometimes cause harm, so can they defend against it. The practice of invoking gods and spirits for aid is common in almost all religions, and one doesn’t need training in witchcraft to pray for help. While general prayer can sometimes be effective, remarkably so in some cases, the Sorcerer will want to employ some surer methods of defense than just leaving the situation in the hands of the gods. Thus we seek to develop a relationship with various guardian spirits, and to learn the methods whereby they are summoned and convinced to aid us.

In most magickal worldviews there are very powerful, or even omnipotent, deities that are an object of veneration or worship. These beings are typically seen as being somewhat removed from the physical world and thus not very in touch with the goings on of everyday life. Because of this distance between the gods and man, there are often sets of spirits that are petitioned for aid with material problems and are thought to be more likely to intercede in our affairs than the high gods. We have already touched upon the defensive use of the spirits of departed humans through the agency of their graveyard dust in a previous chapter, but there are other types of spirits that can be employed by the cunning magician.

In Tibet, for instance, there are beings known as Dharmapalas, most of whom were spirits in Tibet that received blood sacrifices before Buddhism was brought to the Land of Snows in the eighth century. Because they knew that Buddhists were against animal sacrifice, they caused many problems for the King of Tibet, who was trying to build a monastery and establish Buddhism. The magician Padmasambhava was called upon to travel through Tibet and tame these spirits. Because these spirits were very connected to the material plane, he pressed many of them into service as guardian spirits, and promised that they would be offered tormas (cakes) that would replace the blood sacrifices to which they were accustomed. To this day, Tibetan Buddhists offer cakes that are shaped and colored like bloody heads and such to appease these Dharmapalas.

In Catholicism and Catholic-influenced magick such as hoodoo, we have angels and saints interceding, which are seen as more effective than calling upon God himself, because, like the Dharmapalas, they are more connected to the material plane and to the human experience. In vodou, the Loa serve the same function, most of whom were human ancestors that have been elevated to a higher level and now serve the community. It is well known that European witches have called upon all sorts of familiar spirits for aid, and have a long history of dealing with spirits such as the fey and sidhe. The medieval grimoires of ceremonial magick, which were written primarily for use by Christian clergy, are filled with catalogues of spirits that were known to be fast and powerful in fulfilling the requests of the magicians who evoked them.

Because these spirits are not as removed from the human condition as the high deities, they are also not as enlightened and thus can sometimes be dangerous to work with, and so they must be treated with a firm hand. In the case of Tibet, although the Dharmapalas are oath-bound, there are retinues of spirits that serve each one, some of whom are considered dregpa, which means that they are arrogant and easily offended. Because of this, whenever the Dharmapalas are evoked in ritual, the person doing it takes the God-form of a powerful enlightened Buddhist God called a Yidam. Usually this Yidam is itself very fearsome in appearance and is therefore threatening to the lower spirits.

In the grimoires, we see similar tactics used for binding the demons that can sometimes get unruly. In this case the various names of God are invoked and the demon, which is often secretly a pagan deity in disguise, is forced into appearing in a comely form and behaving politely. Often these conjurations and bindings are issued in an increasingly more dire and threatening order. The Goetia even goes so far as to suggest placing the spirit’s sigil inside a box and burning it if the spirit refuses to appear.

Whatever tradition you come from, the spirits are generally called upon via some symbol or sound that is connected with them. In the East, a mantra is most often assigned to a guardian, and someone wanting to invoke the protection of a particular spirit might meditate on the spirit’s mantra repeatedly. It would not be uncommon to recite a mantra 10,000 or more times in order to request the aid of a Dharmapala.

In the West, spirits are more often connected with sigils than with mantras, though the name of the spirit is also a powerful link. The word sigil comes from the Latin sigillum and can be translated as a “seal or signature.” The seal of a spirit is not only its signature, though, but its phone number and address rolled into one. In some cases, the seal of a spirit is synonymous with the spirit itself, and thus the presence of a spirit exists wherever its seal is present.

The methods of obtaining sigils for spirits vary widely. In some cases, the seal is a combination of letters (often the spirit’s name) bound together so that the individual letters are all present but not immediately apparent. In some cases a spirit’s name can be traced on a tablet, such as the Golden Dawn’s Rose Cross Lamen and the Agrippa’s’ planetary Kameas. In the case of the latter, the numbers of the magickal squares that make the Kameas are assigned letters according to Hebrew, and the sigil is traced using a circle to mark its beginning and a line to mark its end.

Some sigils are more pictographic, such as the veves of Haitian vodou. For example, Papa Legba’s veve contains a crossroads and a cane, Erzulie’s is a heart, and Gran Bwa’s veve looks like a tree person. Each of these veves conveys something of that particular Lwa’s nature and iconography, executed in an artistic style heavily influenced by French ironwork. Some of the seals in the greater Key of Solomon and the Black Pullet are also very picture oriented and may even have very blatant pictures of rings and people contained within them.

There are also cases where a sigil is revealed directly by a spirit or god. When received clearly, without too much intrusion from the receiver’s conscious mind, these are the most powerful sigils, especially if you were the one to whom the sigil was revealed to. Automatic writing, scrying, and onieric sorcery are the most common modes by which these sigils are obtained from the spirits, and can be employed by you to whatever extent your talent allows.

There are a number of different ways with which the sigil of a spirit can be worked. Sometimes they are worn as talismans or placed in the home and the name of the spirit and any associated prayers or conjurations that are traditional are spoken while contemplating the seal. Other methods involve making offerings to the sigil, such as would be the case with the aforementioned veves.

As I write this, I have a candle in front of me that has the veve of Papa Legba painted on it in red. Before beginning writing today I laid a glass of Bay Rum in front of the candle and called Papa by one of his songs and then asked him to clear the obstacles that often arise during the day that interrupt my writing. In exchange for his service I will offer him a coconut and more rum later, as well as this mention in the book in order to increase his renown.

If you choose to call upon a traditional spirit from an established magickal system, you should make every endeavor to reasonably follow the protocols of that system. This is particularly important in approaching spirits from traditions that still have a very active and traditional cult that has not had to be reconstructed, such as vodou, Santeria, Buddhism, and shamanism. Do not assume that the spirits will be cooperative and understanding if you approach them in the wrong way. If the spirit requires offerings, make sure those offerings are consistent with its nature. If the tradition required that you be initiated to a certain level before approaching that spirit, I strongly recommend that you undergo that initiation before asking it for aid. At the very least, you should consult someone who has a background in that tradition or has dealt with that spirit before. Eclecticism is all well and good, but it must be done with intelligence and respect.

As an example of how this kind of thing can go horribly wrong, a Witch in New York that I am acquainted with decided to invoke the aid of the Orishas after reading only a book or two on Santeria. He didn’t know much of Santerian ritual structure so he used a format similar to that of ceremonial magick and evoked Orishas into the four quarters according to their elemental attributions. In the West he invoked Yemaya, as she is a Goddess of the Ocean and West is associated with the element Water. In the North he invoked Oya, who is associated with mountains and thunder and also the grave, which seemed a perfect fit for the quarter associated with the element Earth. The problem is that in the Yoruban traditions these two goddesses hate each other because Yemaya tricked Oya into trading dominion over the ocean for dominion over the grave. Most botanicas won’t even put their candles on the same shelf! This unwise individual began to see signs of the heavy crossed conditions that he brought on himself almost immediately. He eventually lost his job and suffered many health problems until he finally got a trained santero to intervene for him.

This kind of problem doesn’t only exist in African-derived magick. I am aware of a similar problem that was caused by an American who was initiated into the practice of two Dharmapalas that conflicted: Dorje Shugden and Ekajati. Ekajati is a Nyingma Dharmapala, and Shugden is from a small sect within the Gelugpa school. This spirit Dorje Shugden is so sectarian that the Dalai Lama has asked everyone in the Gelugpa School to stop propitiating him. Unfortunately, he is known for being very quick acting in material matters and so some sects still give his initiation. The American in question had to undergo a long process to be free from the influence of Shugden, a spirit that she had no idea was hostile to the other schools.

If you choose not to work with a spirit from an established tradition, there are many ways to contact spirits yourself, from which you can then get names and sigils. If you are diligent with your offering rituals, such as those provided in the second chapter, you may notice certain presences hanging around, and you can reach out to these beings and ask if they are willing to work as protective spirits for you. How exactly you do this depends largely upon your own talents and the capacity of the spirit involved. Some people will be able to establish direct contact psychically; some will need to rely upon divination for the answers. Sometimes a question asked during the day will be answered in a dream or when you are hovering between being asleep and awake and thus more sensitive to the influences of the invisible. Trance states can also be induced by over-breathing, meditation, self-hypnosis, chemicals, or any combination thereof.

Certain people, ceremonial magicians especially, would recommend strongly against contacting whatever spirits show up at your offerings or are just hovering about the landscape, writing it off as “ignorant spiritualism.” Their argument is that the spirits in the grimoires have been evoked successfully for many years and their natures are already known, whereas whatever is lurking around the corner could be dangerous and is at the very least not to be trusted.

While I respect the fact that many people feel this way, I don’t find the argument to hold much water. For one thing, many of the spirits in the grimoires that magicians like to use have natures that are anything but friendly and ready to serve. If you are going to go so far as to burn a sigil and ostensibly torture a spirit listed in a grimoire because it is so reluctant to appear, how much less co-operative could a local spirit be?!

As for trust, while I agree that it’s dangerous to trust local spirits blindly, I think it’s dangerous to trust anyone blindly. There are many spirits in the grimoires that are devious by nature. The Goetia warns about the spirit Berith, for instance, as a spirit that is not to be trusted no matter what bindings you place on him. How much worse could you do on your own, talking to what appears at your offerings or in your local places of power?

The last hole in this argument is that these grimoires and spirits were contacted by somebody else first. Someone divined the name and seal, and then wrote the grimoire. That’s not very different from working with various unknown spirits. Sticking to only those spirits that are in the grimoires or known traditions is somewhat like sticking with people listed in a “Who’s Who” guide for all your friends. I wouldn’t do that, would you?

Another way to contact a protective spirit is to pray and ask the gods to send one to you. Certain spirits and angels can also put you into contact with familiar spirits from the legions that they rule over. The aforementioned Goetia, for example, promises that many spirits such as Marax, Malphas, Sabnock, Shax, and Alloces all “give good familiars” when asked. The spirits invoked in the banishing ritual from the second chapter—Abaek, Pyrhum, Ermiti, and Dimgali—all were revealed to me directly by asking Hekate to send protective spirits. There are seals and further rituals for each of them, but that will have to wait for a future book. In the meantime, they can be visualized and called upon either individually or as a group, according to the formula given in the banishing ritual.

In the chapter on home protection, I touched a bit on amulets that represent a fierce presence to scare away spirits such as the garuda door amulets of Nepal and Tibet, the devil or bat nut of American hoodoo, and the European gargoyle. Each of these items has the appearance of some kind of wrathful being that is dedicated to protecting the location in which they are set. As with so many amulets, their magickal potency is derived from their appearance, and it is believed that their form alone is enough to make them effective. They can be used as-is, or they can be awakened through energized prayer and spell-work, but in general the item is not believed to be a spirit in and of itself. There are rites, however, wherein a spirit can be called to an object, which can be placed as a guardian in the home or even worn on the person.

The idea that spirits can inhabit physical objects is an old one, and goes back to the earliest prehistoric shamanic practices. Binding a spirit to an object either temporarily or permanently has the benefit of giving the spirit a foothold in the material plane and also provides an easy way for you to contact the spirit to give it instructions and make offerings to it. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of binding spirits to objects, thinking that it traps the spirit against its will, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The nature of spirits is sometimes said to be like fire, and like a flame it can spread from one lamp to another without diminishing the flame from which it was taken. This explains why spirits, such as the four archangels, can be called upon effectively by multiple people at multiple times, and why objects such as idols and seals are treated as if they are inseparable from the spirit itself, even if multiple objects exist.

Of course, there are cases where the spirits are thought to be trapped in their entirety by very powerful sorcerers, such as when King Solomon supposedly bound up the 72 demons of the Goetia in a vessel of brass and when the Fifth Dalai Lama did the same to Dorje Shugden. In both of these cases, though, the spirits were later released by less proficient mages.

Objects such as the gargoyle, devil nut, and garuda all make excellent objects in which spirits can be placed.

Devil Nut

Paul Huson, in his excellent book Mastering Witchcraft, gives a ritual whereby a spirit, or magistillus (Latin for “little master”), is attracted into a mandrake root or an alraun and made to serve as a guardian of the hearth. The mandrake, or mandragore, gets its name because the root resembles a human form, whereas an alraun is a humanoid figure carved from rowan wood. More complex spirit houses can also be made, such as the Palero’s Nganga, which often takes the form of a cauldron with various objects, such as machetes and sacred woods, in it that assist the inhabiting spirit.

As a last word, when dealing with spirits of any type, you should be aware that you are opening your life up to relationships with the other worlds. Like all relationships, it works two ways. The spirits will come when you call, but don’t be surprised if they start calling you back on their own. Magick happens everywhere, not just within the confines of a circle. This relationship is a blessing and is the only way to learn the magick that cant be taught in books, but those not ready to handle this should avoid working with the spirits at all.

Jason Miller (Rev. Inominandum) has devoted the last 17 years to studying Witchcraft and Magick in its many forms. He has traveled to and lived in New Orleans to study Hoodoo, in Europe to study Witchcraft, and in Nepal to study tantra. Miller is a member of the Chthonic Ouranian Temple, the Ordo Templi Orientis and the Sangreal Sodality, as well as an initiated Tantrika in the Nyingma and Bon lineages of Tibet. He is a regular contributor to Behutet, a journal of Magick. Miller lives with his wife and children on the New Jersey shore, where he practices and teaches Magick professionally. More can be found on his website. Miller is also the author of The Sorcerer's Secrets: Strategies in Practical Magick.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Creature of the Month - The Jersey Devil by Dr. Bob Curran

In the South-western corner of New Jersey State lies a vast area comprising roughly two thousand square miles of bog, river and forest tract known as the Pine Barrens. This is an old area, once the haunt of the Lenni Lenape Indians, and unexplored by white men until the arrival of Henry Hudson and a Dutch expedition in 1609. The region, although boggy in places, seemed very infertile and was not adjudged to be suitable for farming. It was therefore passed over for a long period until a number of years before the outbreak of the War of Independence. A find of bog iron meant that the Pineys became an industrial centre, mining iron for use in American munitions.

When the iron ran out, the area was home to a sporadic lumber industry which also quickly collapsed and the region was left pretty much unused and acquired a rather unsavoury and disreputable reputation. A number of families who had moved there had been left practically destitute by the collapse of the lumber trade and many other questionable characters also moved in. The name “the Pineys” acquired a rather derogatory emphasis – it was a place decent people should not go. There were stories of queer ceremonies held away out in the Barrens by “degenerate folks” who lived there which alarmed many people and so they shunned the area.

It seems only natural that such an area should have its own monster/ghost. The origin of the devil creature is said to originate in the 18th century when in 1735 a Mrs. Jane Leeds , from one of those “degenerate families” gave birth to her thirteenth child. No doctor would venture out into the disreputable Barrens and so folks out there had to give birth pretty much on their own.

The birth it is said, took place at Shrouds House at Leeds Point, which is now a ruin. In one version, the father was given as a British soldier, which would push the origin-date to around the 1770s. It was, however, a very difficult birth – she had twelve other children and each one had been difficult but this one was especially tricky. In her pain she pain she cried out – “If this must be born, let it be the Devil”. Whereupon the child leapt from her womb – a horrible, deformed thing – skittered around the house for a few moments, vanished up the chimney and finally ran off into the undergrowth. It continued to dwell there, appearing from time to time to menace the community round about with its hissing and roaring.

Children began to disappear and livestock was attacked in mysterious circumstances. Because it was a devil-thing, it required an exorcism to drive it deeper in the swamps and in 1740, desperate local people asked a minister to perform such a ritual. This was done and the exorcism is said to have lasted only one hundred years, allowing it to return around 1840.

Despite being a fairly bizarre story and the fact that some of these elements are so obviously questionable, this is the “accepted” tale as to the origin of what became known as The Jersey Devil. From the mid-1800s down to the 1950s, various people have claimed to have seen the creature which has both menaced and terrified them and through their tales, it has found its way into local folklore. The descriptions given of the Thing, though sketchy are surprisingly similar. It has, say witnesses, a long reptilian body – over twenty feet long – a horse’s head, great bat-like wings, huge ripping claws and a forked tail.

It is not only ordinary people who are alleged to have seen the Devil – a number of celebrated witnesses are also named. According to tradition, when the American Naval hero, Commodore Stephen Decatur visited the Hanover Iron Works in the Barrens in 1800, he was on a firing range to test some cannon balls when, looking up he saw an alarming creature flying overhead. Taking aim Decatur fired at it and allegedly hit the Thing without any visible result.

A few years later, the Devil was allegedly seen by another celebrated figure – Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon and later ruler of Spain. He had least a country house in American on the outskirts of Bordertown between 1816 and 1839 and glimpsed the Devil whilst hunting with some friends in the Pine Barrens. Although he gave a fairly detailed report none of his friends saw the creature.

By 1840, some hysteria concerning the Devil was beginning to rise again. These flames of uncertainty were fanned by a local preacher who, knowing of the legend, suggested that the original exorcism was coming to an end and the monster might return. Children were kept indoors and even grown men refused to venture out after dark. Lanterns were hung on rural front porches to ward away the evil. Odd sounds akin to screeches and groans were said to have been heard issuing from the Barrens, all of which were attributed to the Devil crying out for fresh victims. Folktales about the creature continued, down through the years, even though actual sightings appear to have been few. Then in 1909, the monster suddenly appeared again.

This time hundreds of people all over the New Jersey State claimed to have seen it, leading to a State-wide panic in which people refused to go out and a number of schools were closed. It was first encountered by a police officer named James Sackville who was walking a beat in Woodbury, New Jersey when the Devil suddenly appeared on the other side of the street and emitted a loud scream. Sackville fired a revolver at it but does not appear to have hit it.

Around that same time, a number of other citizens of Woodbury and other towns claim to have seen the Thing including a Zack Cozzens who noticed it on the side of a rural road near Woodbury and a Mrs. J.H. White who was taking in her washing when she noticed a queer creature huddled in the corner of her yard. She fainted away but her husband came out of the house and chased the monster, which seems to have “spurted flames” at him as it went. It was even seen just across the New Jersey border in Bristol, Pennsylvania where it was glimpsed by a local postmaster, E. W. Minster.

In Trenton, New Jersey, the Devil was spotted by residents cavorting on the roof of a low building, prompting several police officers to fire on it without much effect. As it was January and there had been a heavy snowfall, odd tracks seemed to appear everywhere, each one attributed to the creature. The footprints were made in the snow and were all over New Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware – in a sinister tone, they all bore tracks of the cloven hoof, the indisputable symbol of the Evil One.

The Devil started to take a more substantial form when the Philadelphia Zoo offered $10,000 for its capture. Two men, Norman Jeffries and Jacob Hope turned up with what they claimed was the creature bound and fettered. Actually, this turned out to be a kangaroo, which had been painted with stripes and had wings and claws glued to it. The “captors” claimed that it was not the actual Devil but some sort of Australian vampire!

Following this fraud the Jersey Devil seems to have disappeared for a lengthy period – perhaps it was outraged at the deception. Apart from a sighting by a taxi driver changing a tyre near Salem, New Jersey in 1927 and some berry pickers near Mays Landing in 1930, nothing more was heard of it until 1951.

A group of children were allegedly cornered by the Devil which screeched at them in a terrifying manner but bounded off without actually hurting them. However, its appearance coincided with a number of cattle mutilations along the edges of the Barrens and the hysteria which had surrounded the sightings in 1909 began to resurface once more. A small boy reported seeing it “with blood on its face” outside his window. The story was reported in the Philadelphia Record and fed the hysteria even more. Now descriptions of it varied some saying that it was a large caveman over seven feet high.

With another fall of snow, more tracks appeared and were accepted until police found a bear claw attached to a stick. They posted up signs all over the State “The Jersey Devil is a hoax” and proceeded to arrest all Devil-hunters they encountered. Nevertheless belief in the monster continued well into the 1960s.

In 1966, Steven Silkotch living near Trenton claimed that it had decimated his entire poultry livestock, pointing to the fact that two German Shepherds, acting as guard dogs had been literally ripped to shreds. Around this time, queer noises were heard coming from the Barrens. However, although stories still circulate, that was pretty much its last appearance.

So what was the Jersey Devil? An unknown animal living in the Barrens and there are all sorts of predatory creatures out there – coyotes, bobcats, foxes. But is there something else. Or is it just a case of hysteria, whipped up by some old folktale? One thing’s for sure – I wouldn’t like to go out in the eerie Barrens to investigate! Let’s not dismiss the Jersey Devil just yet!

Dr. Bob Curran was born in a remote area of County Down, Northern Ireland, but left to travel and work in the United States., France, Italy, Mexico, North Africa, Spain, Holland, and parts of Eastern Europe. This has given him insight into the cultures and beliefs of people around the world. Living again in Northern Ireland, he holds several university degrees and acts as a consultant to such bodies as the Office of First, Deputy First Minister, and Tourism Ireland Ltd. He is author of many popular books on folklore such as Vampires; Werewolves; Man-Made Monsters; Lost Lands, Forgotten Realms; and due in October 2011 World's Creepiest Places. He can be found musing on

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Positive News of the Week

Cyclists find Visibility

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New King of Plasma in Fort Myers, Florida

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New Noninvasive Device to Measure the Body's Activity

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(Photograph Courtesy Of Jesse Snyder)

Epileptic Boy Writes Book to Help Raise Money for Seizure Dog

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Memoriam of Budd Hopkins by Stanton Friedman

June 15, 1931 to August 21, 2011

I have known Budd Hopkins for more than 30 years and have enjoyed his hospitality in New York. He was a man of uncommon artistic talent and also of courage. There are many modern artists, but I know of nobody else who has devoted so much time and effort to helping abductees and those interested in studying the abduction phenomenon. Because he was willing to make his interest public, he became a focal point for many who would otherwise have had nobody with which to discuss their experiences. He clearly cared about people as well as about seeking the truth and didn't let the nasty noisy negativists stand in the way of his search for truth.
He packed a lot of living in to his 80 years.

May he find richly deserved peace on the other side.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Power in the Chant

During his career as a board-certified surgeon, Dr. Turner’s curiosity drove him to explore nontraditional healing techniques that broadened the scope of recovery for his patients, including energy healing, chanting and meditation (approaches historically found in religious practices), soul travel, and astral projection. Below we've shared his experience with Chanting from Chapter 6 of his book Medicine, Miracles and Manifestations: A Doctor's Journey Through the Worlds of Divine Intervention, Near-Dear Experiences, and Universal Energy.

Chiang spoke slowly and watched the younger gull ever so carefully. “To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is,” he said, “you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived.”

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

The next evening, Michael and I drove to the meeting. We arrived to find a few dozen pairs of shoes and slippers neatly paired at the front door of the house. A Japanese woman escorted us inside to a waiting area. We heard harmonious voices emanating from the adjoining room—the occupants were hidden from our sight, but I could see the side of a large wooden cabinet located at the front of the room. This, I assumed, was the focal point. The occasional resonant sound of a gong punctuated the rhythmic chanting. Ten minutes later, the chanting stopped and we were asked to join the others in the meeting room. We passed by rows of devotees sitting in seiza (half-seated) position. They smiled and made small talk, greeting one another, while rubbing their eyes as if they had just woken up from an afternoon nap.

I now had an excellent view of the cabinet that was the center of their attention. An imposing structure, it stood more than 6 feet tall and measured half as wide. The front boasted ornately carved doors that were open to reveal a candlelit interior. Facing the cabinet (which I later learned was called a butsudan) was a small table that held an incense tray distributing a faint but pleasant aroma—sandalwood, as I remember it—throughout the room. A large metal bowl, perhaps 2 feet in diameter, sat to the right of the table. A strike on the bowl’s rim with a padded mallet accounted for the gong sound. We were invited to inspect the inside the butsudan. The center section held a paper scroll—a papyrus of some sort—the size of a sheet of typing paper. Inscribed on it were the Sanskrit and Japanese writings of Nichiren Dishonin. Our host explained that the vertical markings in the center of the scroll were representing the words Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, and the name Nichiren. Flanking this central inscription were instructions on the path to enlightenment.

We took seats among the congregation and our host announced, “I would like to introduce Dr. Turner and his friend Michael Williams. A polite round of applause arose among the three-dozen or so smiling faces. Several members took turns speaking of their love for Nichiren’s philosophy. One woman, her hemiparesis (weakness on one side of the body) evident, delivered a moving speech. “I owe everything to the power of chanting Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō. I developed a fever of 106 degrees; they thought that I was going to die! My family and friends constantly chanted for my health. I learned how to chant and evoke the tremendous power of the Lotus Sutra to burn off karma. Slowly but surely, the fever began to decrease.” At this point, she held up her contorted arm and hand. “I was left with considerable weakness, but I survived an abscess of the brain. If not for my practice of chanting, I would not be here today. There is great power in the Mystic Law. I have learned that overcoming difficulty in life is like changing poison into medicine.”

She sat down to a round of enthusiastic applause. I noted the faces in the audience. During the talk, they had been attentive to her every word. She mentioned “burning off karma.” She gave credit to the power of uttering the magic words, Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō.

Several members now volunteered their experiences about how they chanted for health, wealth, or love. Everything they had wanted came through for them just as they had requested—only of higher quality. This was the recurring theme throughout the evening: what is asked for by chanting is even better than that which was requested. I later learned that Nam (pronounced “Naahm”) stems from the Sanskrit word, namas “I pay homage to...”, and the words Myōhō Renge Kyō, when taken as a group, represent the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese title of the Lotus Sutra. Through the practice of chanting, it was taught that enlightenment could be obtained in one.

When the speeches ended, the group turned to face the butsudan, hands prayerfully together in front of their chests. Sandalwood juzu beads were draped over their fingers. In unison, they began chanting for the better part of an hour. The session ended with three deep-throated rings of the gong. Hearing them chant for such an extended period was an intense experience. As everyone prepared to leave, I approached the cabinet. I wanted to have another look at the scroll. One of the members stopped me.

“Let me tell you about it,” he said. “That paper, which we call the Gohonzon, is an exact replica of the instructions to reach enlightenment that were carved into a large piece of tree bark by Nichiren Dishonin himself. It’s scaled down, of course, as the original, carefully preserved in our temple at the base of Mount Fuji, is over ten feet tall.” He smiled proudly. “We have pledged our lives to protecting the Gohonzon. When we clean inside the butsudan, we hold a piece of paper or green leaf between our lips. This prevents us from blowing our tainted breath on the Gohonzon.”

The scroll was the object of worship. He explained how the power of chanting had allowed him to recover from terrible illness and poverty, and that he would always be loyal to the teachings of the Great Buddha Nichiren. The host interrupted our conversation, politely apologized for the intrusion, then took me to a small writing table. Three members were seated around the table, along with Mike. They stood—all except for Mike—and bowed politely, as was the Japanese custom, then retook their seats.

“Do you, Dr. Turner, and you Michael Williams, feel that you are ready to join Nichiren Soshu of America (NSA)?” our host asked.

Mike mumbled something about how he had to “think about it.” He retreated to the back of the room. I looked at the application form that had been placed before me. I knew they were eager to sign up new members, and as a physician and a respected member of the community, my joining the organization would be “a feather in their cap.” The principle involved was sound: tapping into powerful forces to guide one’s own life and, when needed, using this energy to cure illness, poverty, and conflict. I felt that the powers they spoke of were related to my search for the spiritual world. These included the electromagnetic force, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and other even more esoteric energy fields. Nichiren taught that the “law of causality” (the relationship between cause and effect) was the principle underlying all visible and invisible phenomena and events, and that a universal field was responsible for the rotation of galaxies around galaxies and planets around stars. This was the power that Nichiren Buddhism tapped.

Born in the 13th century, 800 years before Einstein formulated the concept of “space-time,” Nichiren had an inkling of the mysterious manner in which the universe operates. I thought about the woman with the brain infection, stroke, and eventual recovery. Had she been lucky or had she plugged into this power? Whatever the explanation, I wanted a dose of it in my life—I wanted to explore its mechanism of action. This could be another method to treat dis-ease.

“Absolutely,” I said. I reviewed the application quickly, noting that it spelled out diligent practice, respect, and honor for the Gohonzon. I signed my name. Everyone clapped and stood to shake my hand.

“I’ll be coming by your house with a butsudan for you!” announced one of the female members, the one who’d cut my hair the week before. In my mind’s eye, I saw her delivering a large ornately carved cabinet with electrically operated doors. Tonight’s event reminded me of the born-again Christian experience I’d been through a couple of years earlier, when I was cleverly persuaded to join hands and recite “The Sinner’s Prayer.” I’d given it a try, but with each visit to the church, the sermon left me shedding tears. The feelings of pseudo-guilt that accompanied my “rebirth” were diametrically opposite to those that I now experienced after having joined NSA. I felt empowered to correct life’s problems armed with the universal laws of physics. The Gohonzon would point the way; I only needed to follow its written instructions. What could be easier than this?

After thanking our host and saying goodbye, we left, driving in silence for a while. Mike finally said, “Turner, I’ll try it with you, but I don’t know if I want to join anything.” I knew it was Mike’s orthodox background holding him back from participating in this strange, mystic practice.

“I understand, Michael. It’s good that you’re willing to give it a shot, brother.”

When I arrived home, I looked at the materials given to me: a small booklet containing the words to five daily prayers (a mixture of Japanese kanji and Sanskrit characters). Phonetic spelling was written below each word. All five prayers were to be recited in the morning, three of them in the evening. Both sessions concluded with an extended period of daimoku (repeated chanting of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō). The practice was done facing the butsudan, candles lit at each side, incense burning, and the gong ready for chiming.

As promised, the woman delivered the butsudan: a small cabinet made of plain lacquered wood. My visions of a grand electrified altar evaporated in an instant. I opened the doors, and was quite surprised to find it empty!

“Excuse me,” I said, “where is the Gohonzon?”

“That,” she replied, “you must earn.” She found a suitable place on my living room bookshelf for the cabinet. “This must be in the best room of the house, the place you would reserve for an honored guest.” With that, she opened the doors of the butsudan and knelt in front of it. She took out her beads and chanted Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō a few times, then turned to me and said, “When you have proven that you are serious, and that you have practiced with true diligence, you will be rewarded with a Gohonzon.”

I got the picture—no one gets into this on a whim. That made sense. No problem. I had committed to give it a good effort twice a day for one year. She left, promising to check on my practice in the days to come.

For the next year I went down on my knees twice a day, sat seiza with lighted candles, fresh green branches in the pots, and three sticks of incense burning. I found that the practice somehow separated mind from body during the repetitive chanting and focusing upon the scroll.

In time, the butsudan came to hold a Gohonzon, presented to me by a Buddhist priest at a private ceremony held in a stately temple in Honolulu. The Gohonzon I knelt before that day easily stood 10 feet high, black (perhaps ebony wood) with gold kanji (colors I had chosen for my office). The carpet was mauve, the same as the carpet in my home recording studio! The ceremony was surrealistic, as if a dream that incorporated bits and pieces of my real life.

I returned to Hilo that night and gave a speech to more than 200 people who gathered for the occasion. I compared the power of chanting to Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, and I explained the relationship between energy and mass. I’m a good spontaneous speaker, and for this lecture I was charged up; I had the power! The audience gave me a thunderous round of applause. I no longer had to stare into an empty altar. With the arrival of my personal Gohonzon, I had assembled all the necessary parts of the puzzle. I was determined to experience the trance-like state and produce events that would alter the environment to suit my needs.

Chanting was absolutely marvelous. Each morning, I could construct my day and decide on events that I wished to experience. Although the process did not always work in a reliable manner, for the most part it worked well. It was interesting—to say the least—to watch the events unfold just as I had requested. Furthermore, when they happened, they were delivered to me better than what I had asked for.

When I began to chant, focusing on the Sanskrit markings, I noticed that my speech soon became automatic. I could disassociate my mind from my body and become aware of remote events while continuing to utter the prayers. One session that I can clearly recall dated back to the early days when I had the empty butsudan. My mother, a child psychologist by trade, came to Hilo for a visit shortly after I joined the Nichiren organization. On that particular night, she and Mike sat outside in the hot tub. Inside the house, I chanted to the Gohonzon. As I did, I could hear their conversation clearly as if I were with them in the spa.

“Dr. Turner,” Mike said, “don’t think I’m going crazy too. When he told me you were coming for a visit, and you being a psychologist and all, I told him that he would have to chant by himself. He’s in the house now, mumbling in Japanese to an empty box!” He snickered.

“Well Mike,” she replied, “I have seen him interested in many things over the years. It’s just a phase he’s going through. He will soon move on to something else

Mike said, “I want you to know that I’m not going to join him in going nuts.” He laughed again, and even my mother began to laugh

After finishing the session, I joined them. I told them how chanting released my mind to explore other places and other dimensions. They laughed again. I let them know that throughout my chanting and ringing of the gong, I had heard their every word, although the distance from the living room to the hot tub made this seem unlikely. After I reiterated their conversation verbatim, they were amazed and a bit startled to know that such a thing was possible. They stopped laughing.

I enjoyed the dissociated awareness that I achieved while chanting. It was not like the reported out-of-the-body experience, but more akin to clarity of mental processing, as in a lucid dream. The Japanese concept of kotodama (the power of words) implies that when words are chanted, they have a power that can change the environment. I believe that chanting sets up resonant circuits in the brain that activate usually quiescent neural pathways. I came to know this feeling of attunement quite well, and after the promised 12 months I discarded the incense sticks, the gong, and the chanting. I could recreate the feeling through meditation. Conceivably, for some, NSA’s chanting could overcome personal illness and hardship, perhaps by stimulation of the immune system, through quieting the mind as in meditation. However, I saw no practical way in which to use this complex and time-consuming process for the benefits of my patients. It was time for me to move on. Time to search for other methods of healing.

But, how did chanting really work? There were times when the results were as requested and that was exciting. It seemed to be truly magical. However, I came to the realization that the changes I thought I’d made to my environment through chanting were only parts of a script (written in the spiritual world) unfolding.

John L. Turner, MD, served as the first neurosurgeon on the Big Island of Hawaii. He arrived with the desire to investigate the spiritual world and understand the meaning of life, death, and life-after-death. His metaphysical experiences began the first night he was on call and continue up to the present. Dr. Turner balances his time between stargazing from an observatory dome at his rain forest home and serving as a consulting physician for the Hilo Pain Center in Hilo, Hawaii.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weird News of the Week

Noses investigated by Science

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Cowboys & Aliens distorts truth about
Alien Encounters in the Wild West

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Moustachioed horse evades barbers

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Deaf Man complains Nudists would not provide Interpreter

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Tourists flying over the Berkshires?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Saturn's Mystery Moon from Lamont Wood

Anomalies are the focus of our recent release Out of Place in Time and Space by Lamont Wood. There are many examples of items and artifacts showing up decades and centuries before they could possibly have been invented. Below we share an excerpt from Chapter 8 which looks at Astronomical Candidates specifically focusing on Saturn's Mystery Moon.

Of course, it’s monumental hubris to say that an astronomical body is out of place, either in time or space. After all, there it is. The laws of physics that govern its motions and other behaviors are known with precision. Space probes can be made to rendezvous with it. As for how it got there, detailed scientific theories explain the whole process back to the Big Bang, possibly beyond. For generations people have been complaining (or gloating) that science has removed the necessity of God, except perhaps as the Cosmic Billiards Player who put the balls in motion. Etc.

Excuse me—the real hubris is in accepting the previous paragraph without blinking. For millennia we have gazed at the stars with nearly total incomprehension, and things are only superficially better today. Meanwhile, what facts we have been able to piece together concerning the nature of the cosmos are totally at odds with our daily experience. But not only are we able to live in comfortable denial about them, we may be better off doing so.

Trivial example: if you got up early enough this morning you were able to see the sun rise gloriously in the east, its rosy fingers touching the clouds across a background that was fading from dark to pale blue. Alas, in truth the sun didn’t rise—the Earth on which you were standing rotated in such a way that the sun came into view. You (hopefully) knew that, but the illusion of the sun rising is too persistent to disregard. Nor is there any reason to disregard it. No one gets confused, or accuses you of trying to mislead them, if you refer to the sun rising. In fact, if you insisted on referring to the Earth as rotating under us, or corrected other people who referred to the sun rising, you might not get an entirely favorable response.

In other words, it is accepted without discussion that we are better off ignoring selected information about this prosaic topic. Describing it in full involves too much information, and some of it is disquieting. If we thought them at length, our equilibrium might suffer. For most of us, celestial mechanics is out of place.

As it turns out, our relationship with a couple of places in the Solar System has been entirely based on decisions to ignore disquieting information. They’re undeniably out there, but our equilibrium would suffer if we thought about them at length. In terms of a cosmos that satisfies our need for pat explanations, they are out of place.

Saturn’s Mystery Moon

Three-quarter-lit Iapetus showing the mysterious dark spot that covers nearly an entire hemisphere, and the equally mysterious equatorial ridge that extends in a straight line across the dark spot. Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Perhaps awesome mysteries await anyone who examines any natural phenomenon in sufficient detail. But you don’t have to delve very deeply to have that experience when talking about Iapetus (eye-Ap-a-Tus), the outmost of the large, prograde moons of Saturn. It is 914 miles in diameter and orbits Saturn at a distance of 2.2 million miles. The fact that it is large enough to be spherical and has a prograde orbit (that is, its orbital travel is in the same direction as Saturn’s day-night spin) and indicates that it was formed with that planet—it’s a “regular” moon of Saturn. (The next section examines the significance of “prograde” and “regular” moon.) Iapetus differs from Saturn’s other regular moons by its rather large orbital inclination, of more than 15 degrees. And while that inclination is a mystery, that’s not the mystery (actually, mysteries) we’re talking about.

The first mystery involving Iapetus is that, when it was first discovered, it was observed to disappear and reappear. Large astronomical bodies are, of course, not supposed to do that.

The moon was first observed in 1671 by pioneering Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Cassini. After figuring its orbit and following it for a number of months, he realized that he could see Iapetus when it was on one side of Saturn, but not when it was on the other side. It was a time when irrational factors were still given credence in the public mind—the Salem witch trials were 20 years in the future, to give one small example. But Cassini was a man of science and would have none of it. He immediately assumed that Iapetus had a bright highly reflective side and a dark, non-reflective side. Meanwhile, he assumed that it revolved only once during its orbit around Saturn, meaning that one side always faced Saturn. Therefore, he could see Iapetus only when it was positioned so that its bright side faced Earth, which was during half its orbit around Saturn. During the rest of its orbit its dark side faced the Earth and Iapetus could not be picked out of the dark background of space.

He could point to the example of the Earth’s Moon, which is locked in position so that one side always faces the Earth. And he knew that the power of available telescopes was a moving target, and what could not be seen today might be seen with a better telescope tomorrow. But that did not mean that the thing which could not be seen did not exist in the meantime.

Basically, better telescopes let you see dimmer objects—ones with lower “apparent magnitude.” The apparent magnitude refers to the brightness of an object when seen by an observer on Earth, and takes no account of how brilliant the object would be if you were nearby—that would be its “absolute magnitude.” Extremely bright stars that are far away will have low apparent magnitudes, even though they may have high absolute magnitudes.

However, in the magnitude scale used by astronomers (both apparent and absolute), dimmer objects are assigned higher numbers. Apparent magnitude 1 is a bright star, while magnitude 6 is about the faintest star that can be seen with the unaided eye on a dark, clear night. (In the night sky of a city, you might not be able to see anything dimmer than 3, as dimmer stars than that are washed out by the background glow.) Values higher than six will require a telescope, and the higher the value the fancier the telescope will have to be. On the other end of the scale, objects brighter than 0 are given negative values.

For example, the Pole Star (Polaris) is about 2, Sirius is -1.4, Venus at its brightest is almost -5, and Jupiter and Mars at their brightest are almost -3. The full Moon is almost -13.

When Cassini found Iapetus, it had an apparent magnitude of 10—when he could see it. He kept the faith for more than 30 years, assuming he could eventually find it when he had equipment that was good enough. That finally happened in 1705, and he found that its dim side had an apparently magnitude of 12. Because each full level of magnitude is about 2.5 times brighter (or dimmer) than the next, the bright side of Iapetus turned out to be more than six times brighter than the dark side. That’s an average based on whole hemispheres. Modern measurements show that its dark areas are as dark as fresh asphalt, while the bright areas are as bright as arctic ice, or ten times more reflective.

So Cassini had demonstrated a rational explanation—except that it was not really an explanation, because there was no obvious mechanism for producing the bright-dark difference. Also, why isn’t the division observed with any other moons?

True, it might result from some kind of sand-blasting effect because, with one side always facing Saturn, another side a quarter-turn away would always be facing the direction of orbit. Saturn has obvious rings, so maybe there is a lot of debris even out in the vicinity of Iapetus, which orbits 1.9 million miles beyond the rings.

Meanwhile, the idea of this moon amounting to an unexplained blinking light in the Solar System intrigued more than one writer, which brings us to Iapetus’ impact on popular culture: Iapetus was the objective of the space mission described in the 1968 Arthur C. Clarke novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey. (The novel was adapted from a 1951 short story by Clarke titled, “Sentinel to Eternity.”) Explorers on Earth’s Moon find a buried monolith that is obviously artificial, and when sunlight first falls on it after excavation it beams a radio message to Iapetus. When an astronaut gets to Iapetus to investigate (surviving an on-board computer’s murder of the rest of the crew) he finds a “gate” that allows interstellar travel.

In the enigmatic movie adaptation, the moon is switched to Jupiter, because a visually convincing movie version of Saturn’s rings proved too difficult.

A real, albeit unmanned spaceship did reach Iapetus in 2007, six years later than Clark’s projected date and 10 years after the probe—called Cassini—was launched jointly by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. Having achieved orbit of Saturn in 2004, it performed a close pass of Iapetus in 2007.

As predicted, its pictures showed that a large part of one hemisphere was covered with a dark spot, not unlike a thin layer of soot. They named the dark spot Cassini Regio. The rest of the surface appears to be ice, and the border with Cassini Regio is abrupt, with no intermediate gray areas. If the dark spot was caused by scouring space debris, you’d expect Iapetus to wobble somewhat in its orbit, and so the darkness would have a feathered edge. The abrupt border makes it seem that the dark material was deposited in one incident, such as an explosion.

Within Cassini Regio, exactly following the moon’s equator, is a pockmarked ridge of mountains, running straight as a garden wall, that’s 12 miles wide and 8 miles high. It’s so obvious in the space probe photos that commentators said it makes the moon look like a walnut. The ridge does not extend beyond the dark spot. (Before someone runs off and says the range is a military fortification that was defeated by the explosion that caused the dark spot, let’s say that the mountains don’t look artificial. They do look like a mountain range, with foothills, rather than a wall.)

Meanwhile, the moon’s shape is oblate, the poles being somewhat flattened. The degree of flatness there, considering that the moon is almost entirely ice, would indicate that Iapetus spins every 10 hours. But it doesn’t—it spins at the same rate that it orbits Saturn, or once every 79 days.

Basically, it looks like Cassini Regio was seared by a huge explosion (military or otherwise) but that does not explain the oddly limited equatorial mountain range, of the polar flattening. The best that can be said is that Iapetus has had an eventful history, one we may wish to understand, as we live in the same Solar System.

Like Giovanni Cassini, we should assume there’s a rational explanation, even as Iapetus continues to produce phenomena that confounds us. But we may also have to accept the possibility that we may not understand Iapetus for the foreseeable future—it may be the ultimate reverse anachronism from the future.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Positive News of the Week

Blind Artist Paints a Colorful World

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Further Measures for Cyclist Safety

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Power-tower Technology Making Strides

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16,000 finds it's way back to original Owner

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Seeing the Future: Not Always Helpful by Lamont Wood

Jobs are tight. Having a stand-out skill is important. Surely, as skills go, being able to predict the future would be unbeatable way to boost your career.

Guess again.

My recent book, Out of Place in Time and Space, highlights several people whose careers incorporated what we now know to have been accurate prophecy. They correctly predicted at least one future trend, and in some cases built their careers around that prediction. And it was of almost no benefit to them.

If you're thinking of Jules Verne (1828-1905) he did indeed predict a wide range of future developments, from feminism to mutually assured destruction. (And, no, he didn't connect those two trends.) But in any event he died long before most of his predictions were realized. A better example would be his younger contemporary Albert Robida (1848-1926) who wrote richly illustrated science fiction about life in the 20th century.

Robida portrayed his heroes as awash in information from a global telecommunications network, including flat-screen teleconferencing devices that could dial each other at will. (Sound familiar?) High-speed flying machines were used for long-distance travel. All professions were open to women. There had been a catastrophic war in 1910.

The war came four years late and claimed several family members. Robida died embittered, professing to hate the 20th century.

A little more upbeat would be the prophecy of Chief Plenty Coups (1848-1932) of the Crow Indians. His coming-of-age vision (induced by fasting and exposure, as tradition demanded) told him that the white men would over-run the land, their cattle would replace the buffalo, and those Indians who resisted them would suffer a fate like trees splintered by a hurricane. Under his subsequent leadership his tribe allied with the whites against those tribes (who also happened to be enemies of the Crow) who resisted. Things were a little rocky during one eventful summer when he sent men to ride with Son-of-the-Morning-Star (Gen. Custer) but in the end the tribe acquired a reservation on land they considered worthwhile.

But his tribe's way of life was still destroyed. They were still relegated to a reservation. His prophecy merely let him make the best of a bad deal. But it must have given him some ray of hope that total destruction could be avoided, and perhaps that was enough.

No such ray lit the prophecy of Hector Bywater (1884-1940). A British journalist and naval expert, he wrote a book in 1925 about a future naval war in the Pacific between the U.S. and Japan. After opening the war with a surprise attack, Japan over-runs the western Pacific but is eventually defeated by an island-hopping campaign, despite Japanese suicide missions. Sound familiar? He mentioned ships by name, and some showed up in the actual war 16 years later.

In fact the main differences between the plot of his novel and the real campaign was that Bywater's surprise attack was against the Panama Canal rather than Pearl Harbor; the real war started in 1941 whereas the book was set it in 1931; in the book neither the Americans nor the Japanese had any allies whereas in the real war both sides had allies; and the Americans in the book were slow to adopt island-hopping. (Of course, the real American generals in the real war had read the book, and adopted island hopping without delay.)

We don't really know how Bywater felt as the world descended into real war, but evidently the sight of his predictions coming true gave him no joy. He died nearly a year and a half before Pearl Harbor, in London, apparently of alcoholism. Perhaps, having seen the future, he didn’t want to go there again.

Of course, if you see things too far over the horizon your predictions will be no practical benefit, and your prophecy will end up as a footnote in history—if that. Suffering nearly that fate was Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, who wrote the first computer program about a century before the first programmable computer was constructed. Then there was Vannevar Bush, who wrote a magazine article describing what we would call a Web browser about 50 years before the World Wide Web was invented. He was already a presidential science advisor, so you could not way his career suffered.

But the most extreme case of unproductive prophecy would have to be British journalist W.T. Stead (1849-1912), who was involved in the birth of the British tabloid genre. (With the recent "News of the World" scandal, we may be witnessing its death.) When not dabbling in sensationalism he used his publications to promote a number of causes, including women's rights, world peace, and the suppression of child prostitution. At one point he also campaigned against obsolete laws that let passenger ships carry an inadequate number of lifeboats. He even wrote dramatic fiction describing the outcome of a mid-ocean collision where panic broke out as it was discovered that there was lifeboat space for only about a third of those on board, the loading of what few lifeboats were available was botched, and the "women and children first" rule nearly broke down.

He got rich, so in 1912, when he decided to attend a conference in the U.S., of course he bought tickets on the finest, newest passenger ship available.

You might have heard of it: Titanic.

He was one of the many who didn’t survive, so we don’t know what he was thinking when he bought that ticket. Later, after the collision, perhaps the irony of the situation struck him, as the story that he wrote years before played out around him—but it seems highly likely that he had more immediate concerns on his mind.

And indeed, that probably sums the situation of our other prophets. Foreseeing the future is one thing, but getting through the day is quite another, and inevitably consumes more mindshare. The fact that you have clear conception of where events are headed is interesting, but on a given day it won't get you a good table at a restaurant.

As a journalist and freelance writer of wide experience, Lamont Wood is familiar with the sometimes arbitrary distinction between cause and effect, and the subsequent gulf between what happens, what is experienced, what gets written, and what is understood. He has been freelancing for nearly three decades

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Weird News of the Week

Universe's Largest Water Reservoir Discovered in Black Hole

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The Loch-ness Monster of Alaska?

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Caltech Researchers Find a Toggle Switch for Mouse,
& Perhaps Human Aggression

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Woman finds giant sinkhole under her bed

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