Wednesday, July 27, 2011

UFO and occult imagery

 Well hello again!  Thought I'd publish an excerpt of my MS Thesis that is also being included in next month's printing run! UFOs are an amazing aspect of modern folklore and their occult connotations are fascinating! Looking forward to including a plethora of articles that include UFOs and paranormal as part of 'Occult Folklore'. Anyways, here is a sneak peak of the thesis. I'll be finishing and defending the paper next semester so give it a look and wish me luck in the next few months!!!!!

            On the evening of July 14, a Pan American airliner, flying at 8000 feet, was approaching Norfolk, Virginia, en route to Miami from New York. Except for a few thin cirrus clouds above 12,000 feet, the night was clear and visibility unlimited. Shortly after 8 PM., Captain William B. Nash caught sight of a red brilliance in the sky, apparently beyond and to the east of Newport News. “Almost immediately,” they later reported,
We perceived…six bright objects streaking towards us at tremendous speed…they had the fiery aspect of hot coals, but of much greater glow- perhaps twenty times more brilliant (than city lights below)…their shape was clearly outlined and evidently circular; the edges were well defined, not phosphorescent of fuzzy…the red orange was uniform over the upper surface of each craft.
All together, they flipped on edge, the sides to the left of us going up and the glowing surfaces facing right…they were much like coins…then, without an arc or swerve at all, they flipped back together to the flat altitude and darted off in a direction that formed a sharp angle with their first course…the change…was acute…like a ball ricocheting off a wall.
Captain Nash estimated that the unlighted exposed edges of each craft were about fifteen feet thick and their top surfaces flat. As two additional craft suddenly joined the six, the lights of all eight blinked off, then back on. Remaining in a straight line, the UFOs zoomed westward, climbing in a graceful arc as their lights blinked out…one by one. The entire display lasted fifteen seconds.

            This account of UFOs being witnessed in a common staple in Ufological legendry.

As a form of supernatural narrative, the UFO legend has become a popular piece of

modern culture. Similar to stories about heavenly beings or demonic entities, the modern

UFO legend is both shaped and interpreted by cultural context.

            UFO narratives are instilled with numinous qualities that we typically find in

religious studies and the occult. Utilizing imagery of the sacred, sightings of UFO

phenomenon have borrowed from religion and myth in their interpretation. Keith

Thompson remarks that, “classical theologians who adhered to the great chain/hierarchy

of angels model of the universe, and modern-day Ufologists who catalog various types

of aliens, can be viewed as detectives following the same scent” (228). Much like visions
of angels or the terrors of hell, the modern UFO contactee encounters something that

is akin to religious experience.

            Mythological themes are also prevalent in the UFO sighting. Much like the use of

angels in religion, ufology touches upon very important myth-motifs in its explanation.

Bullard remarks that, “UFO stories echo unmistakable leitmotifs of the great

mythological themes: culture bearers and saucers from the sky, supernatural enemies and

the end of the world, ritual is initiation and transformation, interbreeding with otherworld

entities, magical events, and trickster figures like men in black” (277). Using the occult

and traditional religious visions, the UFO employs paradigms of the sacred as a template

for understanding.

It is my contention that the imagery of the alien has taken the place of

angels and demons in traditional folklore and fulfils a need for the sacred albeit in

scientific or technological guise. Throughout the course of this paper, I will examine

the religious symbols and imagery of UFO legendry. By better understanding the

religious imagery of this legend, we are afforded a signpost for what the symbols mean

and what kind of reality they conjure up. As part of my research for this paper, I will be

collecting instances of ufology in newsprint and the media. Since newspapers and

tabloids are a perfect platform for legend dissemination, I will show how religious

imagery is prevalent in UFO folklore.

The supernatural has enjoyed an astronomical increase in popularity in modern

times. Between television programs such as ‘Ghosthunters’ and Hollywood films like

‘The Blair Witch Project’, the occult and supernatural have saturated modern culture in a

variety of ghosts, UFOs, and monsters. The news-media has also printed a plethora of

articles that target the supernatural. Much of these stories carry religious imagery or

theological motifs. Bill Ellis remarks that, “Satan is alive and well, and the local

newspaper regularly prints petitions to various saints and divine beings” (115). This

religious imagery is a common characteristic of supernatural occurrences. Made popular

by mass media, otherworldly entities commonly mingle with ideas of the sacred in their


            Academia has studied the popularity of the supernatural in modern society. In fact,

many folklorists devote entire books on supernatural narratives and legend formation.

Often times, the supernatural is a college course and professors assign readings and

discussion based upon supernatural narratives. It is no surprise that these classes typically

fill up and even have waiting lists. The popularity of the occult and supernatural is a

rampant force that appeals to our sense of mystery and mysticism.

            Much of the popularity that accompanies the supernatural ultimately stems from

our wanting to believe in the phenomenon. For example, Jan Harold Brunvand has

conducted surveys “indicating that the level of “superstition” among American college

students has remained at a steady, high rate since the beginning of the century” (223-225).

And Gillian Bennett has shown that “one fifth of the American population has frequently

experienced paranormal events, including extrasensory perception, clairvoyance, and

communication with the dead” (9-14). These high percentages of belief in the

supernatural indicate the popularity of the genre in modern culture. As a way to delve

into our own ideologies, the occult sciences and supernatural are an enduring aspect of


            Along with ghosts, and revenants, the UFO may be the most popular folkloric

narrative in modern culture. Numerous books and movies have detailed the various

attributes and behaviors of these otherworldly visitors. Peter Rojcewicz published an

account in 1987 that shows the almost fanatical devotion UFO believers have in the

phenomenon. According to the narrative:

Instructed by a folklore professor to read a book on UFOs, a graduate student looked up to find a gaunt, pale man dressed in a black suit, shoes, and a string tie inquiring about his reading. When the student commented that he did not find the book very interesting, the man in black screamed, “Flying saucers are the most important fact of the century, and you’re not interested?” The student calmed the stranger down, who placed his hand on the student’s shoulder and said something like, “Go well on your purpose.” It sounded religious, the student later recalled… I didn’t look up to see him go. Within seconds, though, he was flooded with anxiety, sensing that the strange man was “otherworldly”.  (1987:148-160)

Whether or not UFOs are the most important fact of the century is open to debate.

Nevertheless, the narrative shows the popularity of UFOs in modern society. It is also

interesting that the student intuits the stranger could be supernatural. Showing just how

ingrained ideas of the supernatural are in the psyche, the student wonders if he himself

just had a ‘close encounter’. These deeply embedded ideas of the supernatural are

perpetuated by the popularity they receive in modern culture.

            Newspapers and tabloids are a valuable source for studying folkloric material in

mass media. As a vehicle for consumption and distribution, the news-presses provide

scholars with the ‘very latest’ in legend formation. This is done through the overt and

sometimes fantastic tales of supernatural occurrences and sightings. Degh states that, “the

repertoire of the tabloids is large and comfortably familiar- variants of classic texts,

revivals of old stories, or retellings of those currently in distribution. In other words, the

repertoire of tabloids is representative living legends” (175). Through the popularity and

dissemination of news-stories and tabloids, we see the human need to find meaning in the


Bill Ellis has also discussed the importance of social systems in legendry. He

identifies three levels of an emergent legend. First, they emerge as news. Daily headlines

in our local newspapers or programs are perfect conduits for a legend narrative. Second,

they occur as a result of specific social conditions and roles. Here context becomes an

important facet of where and how legends will appear. Thirdly, they embody an

emergency of some kind. Explicating a social dilemma or crisis, much legendry is

centered around socio-cultural problems.

UFO legends fit perfectly into the paradigm of an emergent legend. In fact, the

news-media has just recently been inundated by UFOs and religious imagery. On January

28, 2011, a UFO was filmed over the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The footage shows

what appears to be a large glowing orb descend onto the Dome. The UFO hovers for a

few seconds before shooting up and out of sight. News-media across the world covered

the spectacular event and the internet became the preferred platform in which to comment

about the occurrence. For example, the UK website reported:

                        UFO HOVERS OVER JERUSALEM SHRINE

The videos show a bright object slowly descending over the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem-believed to be the holiest spot on earth and sacred to three world religions.
A second video taken from a different spot shows a white light descending slowly above Jerusalem, hang in the air directly above the 2500 year old site, and then shoot up into the sky with a gigantic flash.
The event reportedly occurred in Jerusalem at 1am on Friday morning and has provided an online debate as to whether the footage is real.
(, February 2, 2011)

            As footage of the UFO spread through cyberspace, bloggers commented on the

sighting. Most of the remarks drew significance on the fact that the UFO appeared in the

Holy Land. One blogger stated, “Most of not all evidence of any contact with UFOs

reveal more of a demonic message than a good one” (2 February 2011, 15:13).

And another anonymous writer remarks, “I grew up in the church too, but it doesn’t mean

everything is demonic. I believe this reasoning makes one deny one’s own spiritual

experiences altogether, hindering our relationship with God and our personal search for

truth. First of all, the assumption that is made is that it’s a demonic alien craft. We saw no

craft. We saw a light. No one knows what it is really: awesome hoax by technically

advanced citizens of Israel, aliens, evil spirits, or a sign from God” (3 February 2011,


            These comments are important because they show the rapidity of legend

dissemination across the internet. The newspaper article provided a platform with which

to discuss UFO phenomenon and in doing so, showed the effects mass media can have on

supernatural legendry. Tabloids also fulfill this role in legend study. By their very nature,

the tabloid is a fantastic narrative. Through its sometimes bizarre accounts of

supernatural happenings, the tabloid is a perfect channel for legend distribution. By

studying tabloids of UFO occurrences, it is possible to identify the religious imagery and

connotations attached to the phenomenon and examine the power these legends have on

peoples belief systems.

A working legend uses belief to transmit meaning in a narrative. Linda Degh

has done extensive work on the study of legend and belief. In fact, she coined the term

‘belief legend’ and by the 1970s, this term became the preferred vernacular on the subject.

According to Degh, all legends are based on belief. She asserts that “belief makes its

presence felt in any kind of legend” (306). Suggesting that legends are stories about

belief, the degrees of belief do not alter this quality of the genre. Degh and her

proponents suggest that belief is not a narrative but the symbolic core of a legend and

because of this, all legends are necessarily “belief legends” (Ward 1991).

            Many academics utilize different means to express the quality of belief in a

legend. Largely differing only in semantics or subtle discrepancies on the importance of

the word ‘belief’ when discussing legendry, folklorists such as Gillian Bennett and Otto

Blehr prefer to use ‘story’ instead of ‘belief’ when discussing this subcategory of legend.

Their reasoning lays in the argument that “belief legends” represent “antiquated traditions

about beliefs that have been handed down in relatively fixed form. “belief stories”, by

contrast, were narrative illustrations of still living belief traditions” (Ward 1991, 360).

Bennett’s “belief story” addresses current community beliefs whereas the “belief legend”

is a fixed narrative that belongs solely to the past.

            Although Degh and Bennett have engaged in discourse concerning beliefs and

legendry, other folklorists have also criticized the “belief legend” for contextual reasons

as well. Lisa Gabbert states that, “I completely agree with Degh and others that the

underlying essence of legends is religious belief or ‘the unknowable’, but disagree that

this is solely what legends scholars should focus on” (114). Gabbert goes on to reiterate

the importance of explicating how belief legends work and why they are important. She

suggests that legend scholars focus too much time on content and not enough on

contextual “everyday” or general belief” (Gabbert 2000).

            UFO-lore shows numerous instances where ‘belief’ has changed traditional

narratives due to contextual circumstances. The most obvious concerns the shifting of the

divine into flying saucers. What was once the domain of angelic beings has now become

the realm of otherworldly space-men. Tumminia has addressed this when she writes that,

“flying saucers have become postmodern myths. With the dawning of the rational

technological age, social scientists expected secularization and science to wipe out

supernatural and magical religions. Instead, a magical enchanted worldview subverted the

scientific paradigm into an animistic account of space beings what was readily available

for our mass consumption” (115). In other words, traditional legendry of heavenly beings

has shifted into our perception of extraterrestrial visitors due to changes in context.

            Furthermore, the communal need for the sacred promotes changes in legendry in

order to satisfy the social status quo. Lindahl has remarked about this when he states that,

“modern society has shed a good deal of its reliance on the divine, and replaced it with

faith in technology. The sky, once invoked as the home of the gods, was now filled with

aircraft” (7). As times change, legends also adapt to fit the needs of society. Carl Jung

also studied religion and legendry and in regards to UFOs, called the phenomenon a

visionary rumour. He states that, “it is closely akin to the collective visions, of, say, the

crusaders during the siege of Jerusalem, the troops at Mons in the First World War, and

the faithful followers of Pope at Fatima” (8). In other words, UFO legendry works

because of the human need for the sacred. Fulfilling a spiritual role in society, the

otherworldly visitor provides an avenue for the numinous in its various manifestations.   

            UFO narratives are full of religious imagery. Acting as a template, biblical

allegories show many of the characteristics that we see in modern Ufology. For example,

the bible tells us that the prophet Ezekiel saw a burning wheel in the sky. The narrator of

the sacred story states, “The appearance of the wheels and their work [was] like unto the

colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work

[was] as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel (Ezekiel 1:16). This wheel is very

similar to the saucers made famous by Kenneth Arnold in 1947. Both describe a round

object emitting a supernatural light and performing unconventional maneuvers in the sky.

            UFO folklore also makes use of the wheel or halo symbol in its literature. For

example, the UK tabloid ‘The Sun’ published on October 11 2009, an account of a

circular formation in the Moscow sky. The article describes:

This glowing halo in clouds over Moscow looks like an Independence Day style of attack.

This astonishing ring was spotted over the city and captured on video by stunned locals. It has been described as a “true mystery” by a UFO expert. Scores of supernatural enthusiasts have been gripped by the astonishing footage and speculated it could be an ALIEN MOTHERSHIP. The sighting in the clouds is reminiscent of scenes from the 1996 Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day.

“Whatever it is, its one of the most beautiful and spectacular things I’ve ever seen.”
“Speculation is fever pitch on the internet.”
“This is being discussed in forums, blogs, and email lists all over the world. Some people say it’s a bizarre meteorological effect. Theories range from it being an alien mothership, proof of Russian weather modification technology or a weather weapon- even a sign of the end of the world” (Vince Soodin. The Sun. Oct. 11, 2009).

This account of a round, seemingly supernatural formation is very similar to what we
read in biblical scriptures. Both describe inexplicable objects that are spectacularly

beautiful. There is also a sense of mystery attached to both the biblical wheel and the

halo-like cloud formation that resembled an “alien mothership”. Both narratives make use

of preexisting cultural information to assess what the object is and how it should be


Friday, July 22, 2011

Modern ideas of the Occult


…I was at a party at one of the dorms at college. Someone suggested we have a mock séance. Everyone agreed. We all got around in a circle and clasped hands. We tried contacting various dead spirits. People were laughing. Someone suggested we try to contact the devil. Again, everyone agreed, saying it would be fun. We began contacting him. Suddenly everyone and everything got really quiet. A mysterious gloom came over the room. The guy who was contacting couldn’t speak any longer. All of a sudden one of the girls screamed really loud. She then fainted. When she awoke she started to babble. She said that she had looked in the corner and seen a shadowy figure. He was clothed in black and had a disfigured face. He was laughing hard, in an evil way. It was at that time that she screamed and fainted….

Folklore narrative:
Preserved at USU folklore archives

This occult narrative is a reminder of the fear and mystery associated with supernatural experiences. The occult has always been regarded with a certain sense of trepidation. Whether it be nefarious sorcery, Mothman attack, or revenants stumbling out of local graveyards in search of babies to eat, the occult has always been correlated with dark and unseen forces. The question is why?  What is it about the occult arts and sciences that mainstream culture finds so frightening? The answer can be found in a thorough study of the occult and its effect on modern society.
            Maybe one of the most obvious reasons that the occult is targeted by ultra-conservative Christians is the fact that the phenomenon eludes concise definition. Everybody knows that it appears on the fringes of society, but the characteristics and esoteric qualities of the occult seem to be so vast and far-reaching that it becomes impossible to be classified, categorized, and easily referenced. Jorgenson and Jorgenson state that “knowledge in the esoteric community derives from almost every conceivable source, including Indian and Eastern religions, Greek mythology and philosophy, heretical versions of Christianity, paganism, psychic phenomenon and research, and an odd assortment of anomalies (monsters, UFOs, Atlantis, and pyramids). Characteristically , adherents mix and synthesize these doctrines in complex and confounding ways” (379). Although a sufficient definition of esoteric knowledge, specific aspects of the occult such as demonology and ceremonial magic have been omitted to the detriment of the esoteric community.
            A basic premise of ceremonial magic is that things can be changed on account of the magician’s Will. For the occult practitioner, nothing is permanent; everything is in flux, durable, and subject to inherent properties of change. Even the magician himself is in a constant state of becoming or completion. According to Karin Johannison,

“For the magus, the supernatural coincides with the unusual, the marvelous, the artificial; the laws of nature are not regarded as absolute and can be exceeded by art”. The ceremonial magician is an architect of the universe that focuses on a design conforming with his personal Will. He or she uses his belief in the experience to exact changes in the world around him.
The study of belief is essential to gaining a better understanding of how the occult operates and is disseminated through world culture. As folklorist David Hufford succinctly stated, “An understanding of any belief must recognize an implicit claim of reference to the ‘objective’ world (that is, the world out there” (11). Here context is imperative because time and place determine to what extent occult belief is sanctioned in modern society. After all, the Western world is dependent on the rationality that encompasses empirical analysis of scientific data. Many members of society find the entire idea of the occult absurd and without scholarly merit. A contextual understanding of where the occult fits into other spiritual paradigms and institutions is important when discussing occult belief in our communities.
            For many, legitimizing occult belief is directly related to how these beliefs are performed or ritualized. Sarah Pike states that, “ritual practice and other experiential aspects of occult involvement exist in an interdependent relationship with belief. Systems of belief cannot be fully understood apart from the ways in which they are expressed and experienced” (357). Here experience is key because it is the supernatural experience that is interpreted through ritual and/or performance. These folk beliefs are socially constructed based upon their perceptions of the supernatural event.
            Also, cultures around the world often accept the presence of the occult in their social and religious structures. This cultural inheritance helps to maintain cohesion and order in their social systems. Essentially being ‘what they are brought up to know’, the occult and demonology are not fantastic but a regular occurrence in people’s lives. A part of tradition, belief in the supernatural is acquired in the same way as language. It becomes both common knowledge and folk belief simultaneously.
            The distinction of common knowledge belief and folk belief becomes blurred in societies where science and religion compliment one another to explain natural and supernatural occurrences. In societies where the sun is both an astronomical body that works off of nuclear fusion and a creator deity that bestows the gift of life, the folk belief becomes as legitimate as scientific certainty. The occult finds meaning in a kind of science-based metaphysics that supports the folk belief as objectively true while relying on empirical and/or rational data to explain its form.
            In addition to studies of belief, legend formation is essential to understanding the folklore of the occult. Legends provide a platform with which occult-lore is disseminated in society. Some of these legends are very well known, such in the case of Hiram Abiff or Christian Rosenkreutz. Other legends are more obscure, as in the skrying visions of John Dee and Edward Kelley. Still others appear as horrifying cautionary tales that give novice practitioners the bends when dabbling in occult ritual. We see evidence of this in a narrative about Aleister Crowley. As recounted by Dennis Wheatley, “Aleister had a disciple named MacAleister (Aleister’s son), who performed a ceremony to summon the god Pan. Their rite was all too successful: in the morning the disciple was found dead and Crowley was temporarily driven insane” (Wheatley 1956, 1971). A nightmarish story to be sure. But what is the truth of the legend? And are legends supposed to be based on fact? Folkloristics tells us that legends are ‘purported’ to be true and regarded as events that could actually happen. However, the study of legends is ripe with a myriad of definitions as characteristics. For example, Bill Ellis states that “whatever else we could propose a legend to be, it is not an underlying plot but rather a social impetus to create new narratives in the shape of the old” (125) Ah, finally some insights into legend formation. A legend is a modern derivative of a more traditional folkloric form. A sound theory if we consider the demonic characteristics of ufology’s Men In Black, or the Mothman’s uncanny similarities to ancient devils and monsters. Who says the Chupacabra or Jersey Devil are strictly modern creatures? In reality, they are variations of folklore from the past. What we see in these legends are narratives that rely on belief to be perpetuated. Linda Degh is absolutely correct when she remarks that “Belief makes its presence felt in any kind of legend” (1976:306). Without some element of belief, the legend isn’t viable as a part of tradition.
            Occult legends certainty make use of belief as they move through popular culture. A classic example can be found in the original marketing and advertising of 1999’s ‘Blair Witch Project’. The best part of this film was the idea that it was based on ‘true events’. The internet website was equipped with mock newspaper headlines and interviews with residents of the town. The disappearance of the college students was relayed as an actual event and even documentaries were created about the witch herself. The result was a powerful legend of modern witchcraft.
            Popular media plays off the fear we have of the unknown or mysterious. In fact, statistical surveys show that almost one-fifth of the American population has frequently experienced paranormal events, including extrasensory perception, clairvoyance, and communication with the dead” (Bennett 1999). The popular media becomes representative of the folklore that is disseminated through society. Having its proverbial finger on the pulse of society’s beliefs, popular media transmits traditional folklore and also makes use of modern variants to tell these stories.
            At the beginning of this discussion, we asked “What is it about the occult that society finds so frightening?” Could it be that conservative aspects of modern culture largely consider occultists one step removed from a padded cell? Maybe it’s the Simon Magus syndrome and mainstream society prays with all their hearts to pull a St Peter and stomp the wily sorcerer into a gelatinous substance. Whatever the case may be, modern society believes in the occult like they believe in an abscessed tooth. Something to be grabbed by the root and swiftly yanked until no trace remains except a goofy gap in an un-anesthetized smile. Say it ain’t so. What these conservatives fail to understand is that these are stories that have been around since early man first burned himself on the deitic campfire. These narratives speak to us of spirits, angels, and theophanic realization. They are archetypes that transcend the test of time. As legends, they are a way to touch the anima of contemporary society. As oral traditions, they help provide cultural stability. And maybe most importantly, the folklore of the occult sheds light on the mysteries that permeate everyday life.


Bennett, Gillian. Alas, poor ghost! Logan. Utah State University Press, 1999.

Degh, Linda. Legend and Belief. Bloomington. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Ellis, Bill. Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults. Jackson. University Press of Mississippi, 2001.

Hufford, David J. “Beings Without Bodies: An Experienced-Centered Theory Of The Belief In Spirits.” In Out Of The Ordinary: Folklore And The Supernatural. Ed. Barbara Walker. Logan. Utah State University Press, 1995.

Jorgenson, Danny L. and Jorgenson, Lin. “Social meanings of the occult.” The Sociological Quarterly. Vol. 23 No. 3. (Summer 1982): 373-389.

Johannison, Karin. “Magic, Science, and Institutization in the 17th and 18th Centuries”. In Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual history and the occult in early modern Europe. Ed. Ingrid Merkel. 1988 pg 252.

Pike, Sara M. “Forging magical selves: Gendered bodies and ritual fires at Neo-pagan festivals.” In Magical Religion And Modern Witchcraft. Ed. James R. Lewis. Albany. State University Of New York Press, 1996.

Wheatley, Dennis. The Devil And His Works. New York: New York American Heritage Press, 1971.     

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is my Ouija evil or just good wholesome family fun?

Hello everybody! Wanted to share a small article with you that concerns Rumor panics and Ouija boards. It seems they go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or wine and cheese. Or Halloween and candy. Ok, enough of the wry comparisons. Suffice to say, the Ouija makes Conservative Christians weep and rage. Read on. :)

Is Ouija a gateway to hell?

In an unprecedented turn of events, conservative Christians are crying foul over Toys-R- Us decision to promote sell of Ouija boards to children as young as eight years old!

This version of the popular board game is marketed towards eight-year-old girls and comes in a pink edition. OneNewsNow correspondent Charlie Butts reports that a representative of Human Life International has visited the Toys-R-Us website and “finds it troubling that these things are treated as casually as any other game, like monopoly or anything else – and I think its something Christians should be aware of and really not support.” The Communications Manager of HLI goes on to note that “we’re supposed to deal with the truth only. We’re supposed to have nothing to do with dark spirits. We’re not supposed to have nothing to do with dark spirits. We’re not supposed to dabble in anything that would compromise our souls, and that’s exactly what this does.”[1]

The suggestion that Ouija boards are a quick way to enter the seventh circle of hell is common in popular media of the occult. In both films and television, accounts of young people meddling with dark forces usually ends up with the poor kids locked in a bitter struggle with the demonic over their very souls. Sometimes things are flung across the room by unseen hands; sometimes pea soup is flung in the face of an exorcising priest. And the folklore of the occult reinforces these perceptions of the Ouija board. For example, a narrative collected by a BYU student and preserved at the Utah State University folklore archives describes:

In John Hall, at BYU, a boy got hold of a Ouija board and had his friends come over so they could try it out. They asked the board if it was controlled by the devil and the marker went to YES. They asked him if he would appear to them, and the marker went to NO. They then asked him if he would appear to just one of them and the marker went to YES. All but one of the boys left the room, and after they had been outside a few minutes they heard a lot of banging around and commotion in the room. They also heard the roommate crying out “Get away from me!” They tried to get back in the room, but found the door locked. After a few minutes, it was silent and they found that the door was now open. When they went inside, they found the furniture scattered all over the room and their roommate was all cut up and laying unconscious.

The fear of the Ouija board as commodified and disseminated through popular culture takes the form of what folklorists call ‘rumor panic’. In a typical rumor panic, irrationality begets collective delusions in a given populace. These panics have taken the form of anything from cattle mutilations to UFO abductions. The occult has had numerous incidences where anxieties of its ‘dark forces’ has led to rumor panic. In fact, in the 1960’s “communities were shocked by rumors that Satanists were holding occult ceremonies and exhuming graves for the purposes of black magic” (Barham 1973). [2] Much like fears of rampaging Satanists running amok through cemeteries and digging up the recently deceased, the Ouija board instills a very real fear in conservative Christians. Whether the rumor panic is unfounded is beside the point because the ‘panic’ itself feeds off of irrationality. With that said, although it is the opinion of this scholar that the phenomena is absurd to the point of laughability, I’m still not gonna be talking to any spirits via the Ouija any time soon.    


[1] @ Courtesy OneNewsNow 2/3/2010
[2] Barham, Tony. 1973 Witchcraft in the Thames Valley. Bourne end, England: Spurbooks.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Baphomet's Boon

Hello everybody! So my brilliant graphic designer designed a picture of the mysterious Baphomet last month and I've been thinking about that magickal archetype ever since. Decided to include an article about it in next month's run so here's an excerpt. It's unedited but you'll get the idea! Enjoy.

Baphomet’s Boon

It appears like a devil. Cloven-hooved with goat features and horns on its head. It conjures up images of the demonic. Instant feelings of foreboding and precariousness are evoked when just looking at this seemingly monstrous entity. It is Baphomet. Recognized and popularized by many occult groups, the being known as Baphomet is enveloped in mystery and mysticism. How could something that appears so ‘evil’ be important to groups such as the Knights Templar and their modern equivalents? Did this demon bring about the downfall of the Templar and does it continue to maliciously infect all who dare practice the occult arts? I suspect these questions have passed through the mind of every wary occultist first embarking on the Baphomet legend. Somehow, I imagine our wizarding adept glimpsing this monstrous nightmare and running for the hills in a mad dash of crazed lunacy. Screaming counter-curses and melting into a pool of Hebraic gibberish, the unlucky magician finds himself facedown in a quagmire of frantic paranoia. But Baphomet is largely misunderstood and the boon that accompanies this horrific goat-faced pet can aid anybody who seeks esoteric knowledge. In fact, for many occult practitioners, the idea of Baphomet hearkens back to Gnostic teachings of spiritual awakening. Also reminiscent of P.D. Ouspensky’s idea of ‘Will Action’[1], Baphomet is an archetype of becoming a completed human being. As a symbol of spiritual growth and realization, Baphometic understanding is essential to any novice occult practitioner.
The folklore attached to Baphomet largely takes the form of legendry and superstition. The Templars were rumored to have worshipped the “sabbatic-goat” and this charge was one of many that led to their downfall. According to Piers Paul Read, “Templar priests were said to have omitted the words of consecration during Mass. At secret societies, they worshipped a demon called Baphomet who appeared in the form of a cat, or a skull, or a head with three faces” (Read, 266: 1999). Anybody familiar with cat folklore will instantly recognize the correspondences to witch-lore and magic.
The idea of worshipping a skull has always been prevalent in marginalized religious factions and so it is no surprise that there would be correlations within Bapho-lore. For example, some legends claim that the entire reason for the creation of the Templars was to excavate beneath the Temple Mount in order to retrieve the embalmed head of Jesus Christ.[2] Also, those familiar with the seemingly endless Leonardo Da Vinci conspiracy theories will immediately recognize the connections to Mandaeism and its assertion that St. John the Baptist was the true Christian messiah. This legend takes a myriad of forms and assumptions when taking into account the ubiquitous representations of a symbolic skull in religious art of the past. Works such as Francisco de Zurbaran’s, St. Francis with a skull in his hands, and Guercino’s Et in arcadia ego, include subtle indications of occult ideas in their iconography.  Could this be the reason why the Templars were accused to spitting on the cross and worshipping a disembodied skull? Is this our ass-headed demon we have lovingly attributed the name Baphomet?
If it seems that frantic paranoia and being confounded to the point of frusturated mumbling is a product of Baphometic understanding, then you’re probably on the right track...