News Briefs 01-08-2014

”The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is or has been is but the twilight of the dawn.”

Quote of the Day:

“We were making the future, and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making.”

H.G. Wells

The Witch-Cult: from North Western England to the World Beyond

GOYA - El aquelarre (Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid, 1797-98)

August the 1st is Lammastide, a traditional Summer Harvest Festival dating back to pre-Anglo Saxon times. Lammas, also known by its Celtic name Lughnasadh, is one of the key dates (along with Walpurgis Night, All Hallow’s Eve, and the Feast of Corpus Christi) closely associated with the Renaissance idea of the Witches’ Sabbath. On these dates, it was believed that witches would gather together in secret locations and perform dark forbidden rites. The Compendium Maleficarum, 1608, by Italian priest Francesco Maria Guazzo gives a typical account of what was supposed to occur at such gatherings:

The attendants go riding flying goats, trample the cross, are made to be re-baptised in the name of the Devil, give their clothes to him, kiss the Devil's behind, and dance back to back forming a round.

Paul gives 666 sign, John throws horns

I'm writing this post sitting at my desk in my hot, book-stuffed workroom/study here in leafy Liverpool, in the UK. If you Google the words "Witchcraft" and "Liverpool" together you can all too easily find yourself descending into an quagmire of Beatles conspiracy theory. The group's profound fascination with Aleister Crowley (as evidenced by that one picture of him included on the cover of Sergeant Pepper's...), Paul's untimely death (by some occult means, probably) and replacement by a fake Paul ("Faul"), Lennon selling his soul to the Devil for fame and fortune then being assassinated (possibly at the hands of the Illuminati utilising an MKUltra brainwashed gunman) when his contractually agreed time in the spotlight expired, and of course Yoko Ono's status as a sorceress and master manipulator (the track "Yes, I'm a Witch", and the 2007 re-mix album of the same name almost certainly being cited).
The Fiendish Four aside however, Liverpool and Merseyside may not, at first glance, appear to have much of a history of witchery. Indeed, Dr Margaret Alice Murray’s notorious 1921 work The Witch-Cult in Western Europe mentions Liverpool witches only once in Chapter VIII - Familiars and Transformations:

In 1667 at Liverpool, 'Margaret Loy, being arraigned for a witch, confessed she was one; and when she was asked how long she had so been, replied, Since the death of her mother, who died thirty years ago; and at her decease she had nothing to leave her, and this widow Bridge, that were sisters, but her two spirits; and named them, the eldest spirit to this widow, and the other spirit to her the said Margaret Loy. 'This inheritance of a familiar may be compared with the Lapp custom: 'The Laplanders bequeath their Demons as part of their inheritance, which is the reason that one family excels another in this magical art.

Liverpool, and in particular the district of Toxteth (where I now feel duty bound to point put that Richard Starkey AKA Ringo Starr grew up), does however have a very strong connection with one of the most well remembered and often dramatised of all witch trials. A Puritan community once thrived in the Toxteth/Dingle area and in 1618 they erected the Toxteth Unitarian Chapel which still stands on the corner of today’s Park Road and Dingle Lane. The chapel’s first minister was a man by the name of Richard Mather who, along with most of that Puritan community, eventually emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts in North America. Mather’s son Increase Mather and grandson Cotton Mather (author of Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, 1689 and The Wonders of the Invisible World - Observations as Well Historical as Theological, upon the Nature, the Number, and the Operations of the Devils, 1693), both became Puritan ministers themselves. Today Increase and Cotton are best known for their involvement in the infamous Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, in which more than two-hundred people were accused of practising witchcraft and twenty were executed.

Salem Witch Trials as depicted by Baker, Joseph E., ca. 1837-1914

In the 1920s and 30s, the Egyptologist Dr Margaret Alice Murray published several books (Witch-Cult... cited above being the most famous today) detailing her theories that those persecuted as witches during the Early Modern period in Europe were not, as the persecutors had claimed, followers of Satanism, but adherents of a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion - the Witch-Cult. In the decades following the publication of Dr Murray’s works the Witch-Cult grew with new covens springing up in places such as Norfolk, Cheshire and the New Forest. These new witches drew their inspiration not only from Murray’s writings but from a broad sphere of influences including classical mythology, Aleister Crowley’s writings, folk magic, and Freemasonry. The New Forest Coven, for example, was formed as a Neopagan off-shoot of The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry - a non-Christian Scouting-like movement founded in 1916 by Ernest Westlake. One, perhaps rather unlikely, initiate of the New Forest Coven was a white-haired, retired Civil Servant named Gerald Gardner. Gerald Brosseau Gardner was born in Blundellsands, Merseyside in 1884 but lived in places as diverse as Portugal and British Malaya before returning to England in 1936. Following his involvement in the New Forest Coven, Gardner formed his own group known as the Bricket Wood Coven.

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Gardener wrote several books on the subject of modern witchcraft – High Magic's Aid (1949), Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) – all of which attracted much media attention at the time. Today he is known as the Father of Wicca – the neo-pagan religion which grew out of his writings and Bricket Wood’s practices (although Gardner seems to have preferred Murray’s term Witch-Cult himself).

So, next time your mind turns to moptops and the Ferry 'Cross the Mersey, maybe you'll remember that one of the most infamous incidents in American history, and a global religion with as many as eight-hundred thousand adherents (according to were also birthed upon the banks of that river. So much of our modern concept of witchcraft has its roots buried deep here in the Mersey mud.

Today the 1st of August is one of the sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year - eight festivals, spaced at even intervals throughout the calendar. No doubt Guazzo and the Mathers would be glad (or perhaps disappointed?) to learn that there is no flying-goat riding, or Devil-arse kissing involved in the modern Witch-Cult’s Lammas celebrations. gives the following as suggested activities/practices for Lughnasadh:

As summer passes, many Pagans celebrate this time to remember its warmth and bounty in a celebrated feast shared with family or Coven members. Save and plant the seeds from the fruits consumed during the feast or ritual. If they sprout, grow the plant or tree with love and as a symbol of your connection with the Lord and Lady. Walk through the fields and orchards or spend time along springs, creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes reflecting on the bounty and love of the Lord and Lady.

News Briefs 31-07-2014

History Channel's The World Wars was Ok, but showing McArthur without his epic pipe? That's like showing a shaven Gandalf without his pointy hat!

Thanks to Richard, for covering for me last week (sorry I forgot, old pal!)

Quote of the Day:

“When you draw from the past, you’re stuck with the myths as they are. Fantasy and science fiction are the mythos of the future. Pop cultural mythos are strong mythos to hold on to, so why not explain magick in terms of the Force?”

~Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (née Timothy Zell)

Does Quantum Physics Imply That You Are Immortal?

Are you immortal?

Is Schrödinger's Cat immortal? And by extension, does that mean that both you and I will live forever as well?

In the famed thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects the radioactivity from a single atom decaying, the poison is released into the sealed box, killing the cat. But in the weird world of quantum mechanics - or more specifically in this case, the 'Copenhagen interpretation' of quantum mechanics - the cat would supposedly remain in a state of 'superposition', both alive and dead, until an observation or measurement is made by an external observer opening the box, collapsing the wavefunction - and finding the cat either alive or dead. Schrödinger did not see this as a serious possibility - instead, his thought experiment was meant to show a problem with the Copenhagen interpretation.

Another interpretation of quantum mechanics, formulated in 1957 by Hugh Everett, removed the problematic wavefunction collapse. In the 'Many Worlds' interpretation, rather than collapsing from superposition into a single reality, the wavefunction branches into multiple realities consisting of each possible outcome. This interpretation of quantum mechanics carries with it the mind-boggling implication that all possible histories exist, each contained within its very own universe (or 'world', as per 'Many Worlds'). Every time a decision is made, another complete universe splits off from this one.

In the Many Worlds interpretation, Schrödinger's experiment has created two completely separate in which the cat is dead, and another in which it remains alive. The 'collapse of the wavefunction' is an illusion caused by viewing the outcome from only one of the universes. And if Schrödinger carries out the experiment again, he creates another two universes, one with another dead cat, and another with the cat still alive.

Keen observers might note that, in Many Worlds, among the infinite branching of universes, there remains one branch in which the cat continues to be alive. It is claimed that Hugh Everett saw his theory as guaranteeing immortality to conscious beings: at each branching of universes between death and living, a being's consciousness is bound to continue following the living path (given that consciousness, according to orthodox modern science, does not continue beyond death).

[See this fantastic documentary on Hugh Everett and Many Worlds Theory, as explored by his rock-star son, Mark Everett of Eels, for more insights]

The 'quantum suicide' thought experiment, devised in the 1980s as the Many Worlds parallel of the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, illustrates the concept:

A physicist sits in a chair with a gun pointed at his head. The gun is attached to a machine that measure the spin of a quantum particle. Every time the trigger is pulled, the spin of the particle is measured. If the particle spins clockwise, the gun fires, killing the physicist. If the particle spins anti-clockwise, the gun won’t fire – there’ll only be a click.

The physicist keeps running the experiment, but all he ever hears is a click – the gun never goes off. Because each time the trigger is pulled, the universe splits, creating two universes – one where the physicist dies and one where he lives. From the living physicist’s point of view, the gun just keeps clicking. But in all the other universes, there’s a dead body.

The implication is that, among the infinity of universes being created, we will all follow the particular branch that guarantees our immortality. That's not to say you haven't died though. We will all experience the deaths of our friends and family at some point, as they - at some point - diverge from our personal 'branch of immortality' and follow their own. That car accident where you can't understand how you weren't killed? You were in another universe, but not the one you're in now. In that other universe, your family grieved your passing, while in this one we carry on.

But before you begin celebrating your god-like quantum immortality, note that the theory has been criticized. Physicist Max Tegmark has explained that life and death situations are not always dependent on binary events like the quantum experiment. And it's difficult to understand how, as aging beings, we can overcome the ticking clock of time in slowly destroying our physical body and brain.

Unless maybe in your branching universe you discovered the secret to eternal youth...

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New Interstellar Trailer is Getting us Ready for Blastoff

From what I've read of the last Comic-Con, few upcoming movies managed to gather as much excitement as Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. After seeing the last released trailer, I can certainly understand why:

I'm still sure the movie will also generate a lot of controversy, since it seems to be following the current cultural zeitgeist of inevitable environmental collapse. No longer are we looking at space as 'the final frontier', a great unknown beckoning us to explore it in order to satisfy our curiosity; we now are looking at space as 'the final hope' for humanity, and the only solution to avoid extinction —whether caused by natural catastrophes, or our own reckless stewardship of the planet.

Interstellar premieres on November 7th

[H/T io9]

News Briefs 30-07-2014

I'm not saying it was aliens...

Quote of the Day:

People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.

~ Ursula K. Le Guin

The 100 Best Science Fiction Movies

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Are you a connoisseur of science fiction films? Check out Time Out's list of the "100 Best Sci-Fi Movies" and see how many you've fed to your eyeballs. Let me know in the comments how many you can tick off, and any notable absences or problems with the order that you can see.

Apart from catering to some of the 'blockbuster' movies that are more sci-fi in setting than theme, I think it's a great list...the fact that I thought The Matrix should be a bit higher, but couldn't figure out which movie to tip out to make way for it, suggests that they've done an excellent job. No doubt helped by the fact that the list was voted on by "leading sci-fi experts, filmmakers, science fiction writers, film critics and scientists", such as Guillermo del Toro and George R.R. Martin.

News Briefs 29-07-2014

Mythbusters' Adam Savage deserves all the (face)hugs for this amazing SDCC cosplay…

Quote of the Day:

Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Megaliths of Japan and East Asia

Most of us grew up hearing about amazing, mysterious megalithic structures from all over the world: Stonehenge in England, Baalbek in Lebanon, the temples of Egypt, Sacsaywaman in Peru. But very rarely did we hear - and thus know - that Asia also features a plethora of incredible stone structures. The video above gives a quick introduction to some of these megalithic sites of the East...a topic that I'm pretty sure Graham Hancock will be covering in his upcoming book.

Any readers visited these sites? Feel free to comment and add more information!

(via The Cosmic Joker)

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