Modern technology has allowed researchers to reveal previously invisible ancient imagery on the walls of the spectacular Cambodian monument of Angkor Wat:
Noel Hidalgo Tan, a rock-art researcher from Australia, was working on an excavation at Angkor Wat in 2010 when bits of the red pigment caught his eye. He took some photos with a bright flash. Then he put his photos through through decorrelation stretch analysis, which exaggerate the colour contrast. The technique is commonly used to enhance rock art as well as NASA’s Opportunity Rover’s Martian landscapes.
All of a sudden, monkeys, elephants, boats and buildings leapt out from the walls. Tan eventually found 200 of these paintings all over the temple... One particular stretch on the highest tier in Angkor Wat’s central tower features elaborate scenes with musical instruments and people on horseback.
Archaeologists believe the murals were painted centuries after Angkor Wat was constructed, as a number show Buddhist iconography (the monument was a Hindu temple until the late 12th century).
Original Paper: The Hidden Paintings of Angkor Wat
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Quote of the Day:
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.”
(photo by Tim Green)
The Minster Church of St. John the Baptist Halifax is a beautiful parish church, which has served West Yorkshire for over 900 years. Its classical Medieval form, gargoyles and exquisite stained glass windows are both typical of the great churches of England and carry with them the weight of England’s tumultuous ecclesiastical history. As befitting such a building, it has a very fine roof.
On 10 May 2014ce, Current 93 came in and blew the roof off of the place.
(photo by Cat Vincent)
Current 93 - named for Aleister Crowley's magickal current - have been a powerful, if sometimes overlooked, influence on industrial and dark ambient music and British magic and mysticism since their founding in 1982. Essentially a series of collaborations between founder and sole continuing member David Michael Tibet and a continually shifting collection of musicians (including the likes of Nick Cave, Björk, Steve Ignorant of Crass, Marc Almond, Antony Hegarty, Andrew W.K. and Tiny Tim), their sound has shifted from their original tape-loop-based work of their early productions to a style which Tibet has called ‘apocalyptic folk’ - and the Apocalypse, especially in the original Greek sense of ‘an unveiling’, is something Tibet is particularly interested in.
Despite the enduring Englishness of Current 93’s symbolism (Enid Blyton's childhood character Noddy, picnics, fields of oil seed rape, British folk music and practices), Tibet was actually born and raised in Malaysia. Interested in the mystical from his youth, he has pursued these interests enthusiastically - his studies include reading Crowley at 13, training in Nyingmapa Tantric Buddhism (probably the reason he was given his surname of Tibet by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge during his brief stint in Psychic TV) and learning to read Hebrew, Akkadian, Ancient Greek and Coptic in order to better study early Christian works. Tibet considers himself a Christian, albeit one happy to work with these eclectic influences... and also to be the creator of what I truly think is one of the finest curses I have ever encountered: the track ‘Benediction’ from the first C93 album I ever heard, the long-time banned Swastikas For Noddy.
What drove me on then as now was my sense that time was running out, that the apocalypse was also personal and that playing hide and seek behind all the cartoon messiahs was the Messiah with both peace and a sword.
The Halifax concert was unquestionably a powerful manifestation of this compassionate-yet-cataclysmic apocalyptic spirit. It began with bells...
Before the band came out a carillon of bells played on the speakers, resonating in the Minster’s glorious acoustic space, as the aisles filled with an eclectic mix of music fans, pagans and goths (including one fine lady in full Edwardian costume). Finally, the band took their places and Tibet - a puckish, tiny figure in trilby and bare feet - sang out the first lines in his distinctive, querulous voice;
“The Invisible Church...”
(photo by Cat Vincent)
Never a band to excessively dwell on their musical past, the majority of the gig comprised a performance of the latest album I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell (A Channel) - the music mostly led by the playing of pianist Reinier van Houdt, a performer who never forgot that the piano is a percussion instrument. There’s a resonance to those songs and Tibet’s voice, even beyond that provided by the setting - a sense of what the Sufis call a zab’bat, a ‘forceful occasion’. Tibet is far from what one would consider a normal front man in the classic rock sense - often he wandered into the aisle of the church to just stand and watch the band as they played, sometimes singing from there (especially in the sorrowful ‘With These Dromedaries’, with its heart-wrenching line "I saw Jhonn pass by" - referring to his late friend and abiding influence Jhonn Balance of Coil). The gig ended with two rousing encores of past works - ‘Imperium V’ and ‘Black Ships Ate The Sky’. By the time the last notes echoed in those old church walls, the audience, the band, Tibet - even that ancient space itself - seemed transformed, carried into a future of possible apocalyptic times, somehow, the better and stronger for it.
I'm not an evangelist… Current is about trying to explain myself to myself and to work out my own salvation.
The album I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell (A Channel) and other Current 93 works are available from copticcat.com
Post Script: Synchronicity fans might care to note the gig took place on John Constantine's birthday.
Thank you, Bryan Singer, for making me feel 14 years younger after I left the multiplex last Saturday!
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Quote of the Day:
"From the point of view of many scientists, gods represent an explanation for the unknown. Scientists are focused on trying to understand the unknown, so there is a fundamental conflict. That said, some scientists find religion useful and perhaps even fulfilling."
~Stanley Prusiner. Nobel laureate, scientific heretic & discoverer of prions.
May is an important month in the British folklore calendar, falling as it does midway between spring equinox and summer solstice. It is the month when the rising sap reaches its culmination; buds become blooms, lambs are in the field, and chicks are in the nest. The Old English name for the month was Þrimilci-mōnaþ (“month of three milkings”) while the modern name is thought by some to derive from the pre-Christian goddess Maia to whom a pregnant sow would be ritually sacrificed on the first of the month. Associations with fertility and with plenty are abundantly clear in both cases.
Although many surviving customs such as the crowning of May Queens (young women picked for their beauty and virtue to act as May personified for the day), dancing around the Maypole (a relic of pre-historic dendrolatry, or phallic pagan fertility symbol, depending on who you ask/believe), and so on, chiefly take place on May Day there are many varied traditions spread throughout the month. As we approach May’s end we come upon a curious cluster of events centred upon today’s date - the 29th.
In 1660 British Parliament declared the 29th of May a public holiday in commemoration Charles II’s escape after the Battle of Worcester nine years earlier. Charles II is said to have evaded capture by Parliamentarians by climbing an oak tree (The Royal Oak in Boscobel Wood, Shropshire) and hiding amongst its leaves, so the holiday came to be nicknamed Oak Apple Day.
Around Dorset, Oak Apple Day was once known as Shit-Sack Day or Shick-Sack Day. There was a custom of adorning the door of one’s home with oak leaves on the day and Oak Apple loyalists would visit any undecorated house and place a wreath of stinging nettles on the door singing:
“Shit Sack, penny a rag
Bang his head in Cromwell’s bag
All done up in a bundle”
Similarly, people not seen to be wearing a sprig of oak themselves were sometimes beaten with nettles or pelted with eggs.
At All Saints Church, Northampton (www.allsaintsnorthampton.co.uk) a statue of King Charles II which sits on the parapet of the portico is garlanded with oak leaves at noon every Oak Apple day. Underneath the statue is the inscription This Statue was erected in memory of King Charles II who gave a thousand tun of timber towards the rebuilding of this church and to this town seven years chimney money collected in it.
During the English Civil War, Northampton – with an already long history of religious dissent – supported the Parliamentarians; even providing boots for Cromwell’s New Model Army. After regaining the throne, Charles II went so far as to take revenge upon Northampton by ordering the destruction of the town walls and the partial demolition of its castle. Despite all this, the Earl of Northampton had remained a friend and confident of Charles’ throughout the interregnum and it was he who persuaded the King to contribute the timber and repeal seven year’s chimney tax in order to build the church. The decoration of Charles’ statue is followed by a celebration of the Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer - a book whose use was famously outlawed under Cromwell.
Traditional May Day celebrations had very much fallen out of favour during the interregnum of England, Scotland and Ireland – a period of which began with the execution of Charles I in January 1649 and was ended in July 1660 Charles II, took to the throne. During this period maypole dancing was outlawed, denounced as “a Heathenish vanity, generally abused to superstition and wickedness” by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans. So it was that many of the former May Day customs came to be re-adopted and incorporated as part of the new Oak Apple Day celebrations.
In Castleton, Derbyshire (www.castleton.co.uk) the 29th is Garland King Day. The Garland King rides a cart-horse wearing a large wooden frame completely covered in flowers and greenery so that only his legs are visible. At the apex of the King’s floral finery is fixed a posy of especially fine flowers and this is known as the Queen. Following the King is a second Queen, on horseback like himself. Up until 1956 the Queen (or 'the Woman' as she was then) was always a man in female dress. The Garland King leads a procession which makes its way through the village, via the six public houses (naturally), into the churchyard. There the great garland is hoisted up on ropes to the top of the church tower, and the Queen posy is laid at the foot of the village War Memorial.
In Aston on Clun, Shropshire, May 29th is Arbour Day (www.arbordayuk.co.uk). A Black Poplar tree which stands at the centre of the village is dressed with flags each Arbour Day. The ceremony’s origins are claimed by the village to have their roots in ancient tree-dressing rites dedicated to Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Fertility. On Arbor Day in Aston on Clun in 1786, local Squire John Marston of the Oaker Estate married Mary Carter of Sibdon. They arrived back at the Arbor Tree to see it dressed with flags, and the villagers having fun. The Marstons were so taken with the joy of the celebrations that they set up a trust to pay for the care of the tree and the flags, until the mid 1950’s, when Hopesay Parish Council took up the task. In 1995, the 300+ year old Black Poplar tree was toppled in a fierce storm. It was replaced by a sapling which had been taken from the tree twenty years earlier, and it is this thirty-nine year old tree which now takes centre stage.
On the 29th villagers of Wishford in Wiltshire celebrate the right to collect wood from the nearby Forest of Grovely which was granted in the Middle Ages, and confirmed by the Forest Court in 1603. An oak bough is taken, decorated and then hanged from the tower of Saint Giles' Church. In order to maintain their charter, the villagers must proclaim their right at a special ceremony in Salisbury Cathedral, where they repeat the ancient refrain: "Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely!". A banner emblazoned with the same slogan is paraded through the village before dancing, drinking and feasting take place.
So, praise Bridgid the exalted one! All hail the mighty trees and their spirits! God Save the King! And a very happy Shit-Sack Day to you, one and all!
It never ceases to amaze me how so many ancient cultures worked with large stones to create amazing monuments. And yet we still don't seem to have a full understanding of what drove them to work with such heavy, cumbersome materials - were these megalithic sites primarily aligned with the stars as some sort of astronomical clock, as seems to be the case at some locations, or were they funerary, or did they serve some other purpose ('earth energies' etc)?
And just when I thought I had seen most places that featured megalithic constructions, I recently came across this fascinating piece at Ancient Origins on the Senegambian stone circles:
The Senegambian Stone Circles can be found in West Africa, in the modern countries of Gambia and Senegal. Of the 1000 stone circles, 93 of them have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. These include the Sine Ngayène complex in Senegal, as well as the Wanar, Wassu and Kerbatch complexes in Gambia. Apart from these stone circles, the sites also contain numerous tumuli and burial mounds. According to the material obtained from the archaeological excavations of some of these features, the stone circles have been dated to between the 3rd century B.C. and the 16th century A.D. This suggests that the stone circles were built gradually over a long period of time, which perhaps reflects a tradition that was kept for almost two millennia.
...The function of these stone circles, however, remains a mystery to us. It has been suggested that they had a funerary function. In some of the excavations, mass burials were discovered, in which bodies were haphazardly thrown into graves. This suggests that either an epidemic killed a large number of the region’s inhabitants or possibly that it was some kind of sacrifice. By contrast, it is claimed that Islamic writers recorded that these stone circles were built around the burial mounds of kings and chiefs, following the royal burial custom of the ancient empire of Ghana. When Islam was introduced into the region in the 11th century, devout Muslims were also buried in the same way, and these stone circles became sacred places. Therefore, these stone circles may have had various functions. What is certain is that more research is needed in order to better understand their function.
Full story: The Incredible Senegambian Stone Circles
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There are a lot of very excited astronomers about today with the possible detection of a gamma-ray burst (GRB) in the closest galaxy to us, Andromeda (known under the Messier catalogue designation 'M31'). GRBs have been detected before, but never this close (Andromeda is 'just' 2.5million light years away). It's thought that the explosion has likely been caused by two colliding neutron stars (another possibility is a supernova, but the stars in that area are not thought to be large enough to nova).
But what are GRBs, and should we be concerned? After all, what happened to Bruce Banner actually paints GRBs in a *good light*...
Gamma rays are blamed for making Bruce Banner the Incredible Hulk. But what are gamma rays and what can they really do?
Gamma rays are the highest energy form of light. The rainbow of visible light that we are most familiar with is just part of a far broader spectrum of light, the electromagnetic spectrum. Past the red end of the rainbow, where wavelengths get longer, are infrared rays, microwaves and radio waves, while beyond violet lie the shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet rays, X-rays and, finally, gamma rays.
A gamma ray packs at least 10,000 times more energy than a visible light ray. Unlike the Incredible Hulk, gamma rays are not green — lying as they do beyond the visible spectrum, gamma rays have no color at all that we can describe.
Exactly how Bruce Banner survives his transformation is unclear. Just as high doses of X-rays are typically lethal, so too would an explosion of gamma rays kill the average person.
Gamma rays can knock electrons around like a bowling ball would bowling pins. These charged particles can then disrupt any chemical bond they come across, wreaking havoc on the delicate chemical machinery of the cell and generating molecular fragments that can act as toxins.
To put it gently, a gamma bomb in the real world would not turn Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. Rather, it would likely quickly turn him into a corpse dead from radiation sickness, if not incinerating him instantly.
In short: if a GRB hit us hard, it would kill all life on planet Earth. Gulp. Doesn't sound too good does it? Fortunately, GRBs are highly directional, and this one wasn't pointing at us (and additionally, even the galaxy next door is still a long distance away from us). As astronomer Robert Rutledge responded to a concerned person on social media, the basic rule of thumb with GRBs is "if you can get to the end of the sentence, 'Hey, what's going on?' You're gonna be fine".
Astronomers are awaiting detection of neutrinos here on Earth to confirm the event as a GRB - another possibility is that it is an ultra-luminous X-ray source (ULX) - it's still very early days (it was only detected a couple of hours before the writing of this post). The Heavy Metallicity blog is one of the first reporting this in layman's terms (as opposed to the more science-directed releases), and will be updated as more is known, so keep an eye on it and the Twitter hashtag #GRBm31 for new developments over time.
(* And by "just went BOOM", I mean "went BOOM about 2.5 million years ago...like I said, the galaxy next door is still a loooong way away)
Update: False alarm folks. If it's any consolation, we may still be obliterated by a gamma-ray burst anytime now.
On my latest contribution for Intrepid, I discuss an unexpected outcome which could be brought by the dawn of commercial space travel.
PS: Due to the unfortunate hacking of the old Intrepid blog, all the previous links to my older posts are no longer working. You would need to add "new[dot]" to the URL links --or just go to the Intrepid blog homepage, where you'll be able to find all my previous articles.
Spirit Mediumship: A Complex Phenomenon
I. Neuroimaging Studies
by Jack Hunter
Spirit mediumship is a complex, near universal phenomenon (see Talking With the Spirits: Ethnographies from Between the Worlds for a cross-cultural snapshot of just a few of the world’s mediumship traditions), which, despite over 130 years of investigation from psychical research and the social sciences more generally, continues to evade scholarly attempts to pin it down and neatly explain it. Countless attempts have been made, however, from the debunkers who suggest that all mediumship is a mixture of fraud and delusion, to the social anthropologists who argue that spirit mediumship is a purely social phenomenon, performing specific social functions, and certain parapsychologists who suggest that spirit mediumship offers proof of survival after death. And yet, none of the theories that have been put forward quite seem able to offer a fully satisfying explanation for what is going on.
In this series of short articles I would like to highlight some of the reasons why spirit mediumship is such a difficult phenomenon to get a grip on through outlining some of the research that has been conducted, and pointing out gaps in our understanding of the underlying processes. This first article will present an overview of the, really rather sparse, neuroimaging data on spirit mediumship, and will briefly discuss what it does and doesn’t tell us about the phenomenon.
It was long suspected that mediums might exhibit unusual neurological activity, and yet despite countless studies of the neurophysiological correlates of other forms of altered consciousness, such as meditation, very few neurophysiological studies of spirit mediumship have actually been conducted. Altered States researchers Edward F. Kelly and Rafael Locke have suggested that despite the potentially fruitful use of EEG and other physiological monitoring devices for classifying and differentiating specific altered states of consciousness and their physiological correlates, there are unfortunate technical and social difficulties associated with attempting such studies in the field. Technological difficulties include the problems associated with trying to monitor and record brain activity naturalistically in the field setting using cumbersome equipment, while social difficulties include getting spirit mediums, and other practitioners, to agree to participate in such studies. Fortunately, since Kelly & Locke first published their research prospectus in 1981, technological advances have made it possible to measure EEG in the field (see Oohashi et al. below), but other forms of neuroimaging still rely on heavy-duty equipment which is impractical for field studies. Despite these difficulties, however, a small number of studies have been successfully carried out specifically looking at the neurophysiological correlates of mediumistic states of consciousness.
Even before the advent of neuroimaging studies of mediums, American psychologist Julian Jaynes, drawing on his theory of