Friday, November 30, 2007

Deep in the Heart of...

Questioning “Intelligent Design” in Texas? You’re Fired.

Science bloggers let out a collective scream today. It seems Dominionists are up to their old tricks trying to subvert the education system of the USA (In Texas, no less! Who'd of thunk? Heh!): Bluegal at CrooksandLiars covers it well:

...Comer was put on 30 days paid administrative leave shortly after she forwarded an e-mail...announcing a presentation being given by Barbara Forrest, author of “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” a book that says creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Forrest was also a key witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case concerning the introduction of intelligent design in a Pennsylvania school district...

Of course, the person responsible for this latest stink is a Bush crony:

...The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as deputy legislative director for Gov. George W. Bush. She joined the Texas Education Agency as the senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January...

Josh over at Thoughts from Kansas says it best:

...Horrors! The state's science curriculum supervisor supports … science!
Indeed, Comer was fired for exactly that radical interpretation of her job responsibilities...

Do check out Josh's post above, as he's posted Comer's original email.

Bluegal makes an interesting side observation:

...Update: Some commenters are taking offense that this post is anti-Christian. I wrote it. I’m a Christian (believing Quaker). A great many members of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State believe as I do that intelligent design is a specific attempt by Fundamentalists to inject religion into the public schools, and some of us also believe that if the State teaches the Bible they will misinterpret it for our children. Religious freedom requires freedom from anyone’s individual religious beliefs being force taught in the public schools as scientific fact...

Bravo Bluegal! As a fellow member of Americans United, I fully embrace the fact one can be spiritual yet support science. It's funny, but I sometimes get flack coming in the opposite direction, as some of my deep science geek friends can't fathom how I can be Wiccan.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Our hellish sister planet, Venus

New Findings Underscore an Earth-Venus Kinship

Recent finding of the Venus Express spacecraft include wide temperature swings, signs of lightning, and evidence the planet may have had oceans the size of earth's:

“...They’re really twins which are just separated at birth,” said Dmitri Titov, the mission’s science coordinator. “The key question is why those twins are so different...”

In the NE USA, Venus is high and bright in the morning sky and easy to spot before sunrise. Understanding Venus is relevant for us here on earth, as the article points out:

...Understanding the dynamics and history of Venus’s turbulent atmosphere could lead to a better understanding of the role that heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide play in shaping the climate of planets including Earth...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mourning Moon, the Lament of Isis

We celebrated a full moon Esbat last weekend, the Mourning Moon. I have to admit I don't attend Esbats as regularly as I should. But our High Priestess is a follower of Hecate, and the Greeks had celebrations for her at this time of year. In addition, Nov. 24th is the Egyptian 'Festival of Burning Lamps' for Isis and Osiris. Not only that, there was just a celebration for Bast. So I figured I should attend. During the ritual, I read "The Lament of Isis", from James Frazer's 'Golden Bough'. After the ritual, one of our coveners said she really liked the reading. So I've posted it here.

When Isis and her sister Nephthys found the body of the murdered Osiris, they collapsed beside him. The two Goddess then commenced with this lamentation, which was heard throughout the world, even reaching Heaven and the Underworld:

Come to thy House, Come to thy House.
Oh god On! Come to thy house, thou who has no foes.
O fair youth, come to thy house, that thou mayest see me.
O fair boy, come to thy house...

I see thee not, yet doth my heart yearn after thee and mine eyes desire thee. Come to her who loves thee, who loves thee, Unnefer, thou blessed one!

Come to thy sister, come to thy wife, to thy wife, thou whose heart stands still. Come to thy housewife. I am thy sister by the same mother, thou shalt not be far from me. Gods and men have turned their faces toward thee and weep for thee together...

I call after thee and weep, so that my cry is heard to heaven, thou hearest not my voice; yet am I thy sister, whom thou didst love on earth; thou didst love none but me, my brother! my brother!

No God or mortal ever mourned more than Isis. Even the Nile could not contain her immeasurable tears, causing the mighy river to flood for the first time. (In the lament, Isis refers to Osiris as 'Unnefer' , which means 'Good Being", a title bestowed on the kindly God.)

The words of Isis come to me whenever I recall the events surrounding the untimely death of a friend. I remember her mother crying, "I only wish I could bring her home". Everyone suffers from loss. But I feel we experience the most searing grief when someone is taken from us tragically, randomly, or prematurely. We have all felt what Isis felt: the loss of someone good and dear, taken far too soon, who is actually a part of us.

We thank and honor you, Isis, for showing us that even a Goddess can suffer tragedy. "Come to thy House" you wailed. Like us, all you wished to do was bring your loved-one home.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hug a monotheist today

Archbishop of Canterbury: U.S 'is worse than the British Empire at its peak'


...He said the modern Western definition of humanity is "clearly not working very well" and said there is something about Western modernity "which really does eat away at the soul...".

Thursday, November 22, 2007

My so called past life

Ancient sea scorpion was 8 feet long

Obviously this is what I was in a past life. No wonder Dr. Zaius had me classified as a 'crab person' for a while. Heh!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Welcome to America (*UPDATED*)

Potter Creator Tells Of Religious Fanatic's Attack

JK Rowlling was accosted by Xtain fundy recently while out with her children. She found the encounter unnerving:

"...The next thing, a man came up to me and said, 'Aren't you that Potter woman?' Then he brought his face close to me and said, very aggressively, 'I pray for you every evening.' "...I was stunned. It was very frightening..."

That's pretty mild by Bible thumper standards. Here in the US, where religious tolerance is suppose to be a virtue and wired into our Constitution, you get use to such in-your-face tactics when you're not among the Chosen.

I have to admit that lines like "I pray for you every evening" always makes me cringe. I can't help feeling they really mean "I hope Jesus gives me a ring-side seat so I can watch you burn in hell." We need a snappy comeback to such condescending dribble. Here's some suggestions:

1)"I saw your future in the chicken entrails last night. Don't worry, people with short lives usually die happy."

2)"Thanx, but where's the neighborhood abortion clinic? I have to render some baby fat for my flying potion."

3)"Instead of wasting time on my soul, don't you have gay nightclubs to bomb or something?"

4)"Pray for me? I ate the liver of the last person who prayed for me with fava beans and a fine Chianti."

These are just a few suggestions. Have fun with the whole family thinking of more!


LiviaIndica adds a good one:

5)"If you want to pray for me you've got a pray to a different god."

(thanx to Witchvox for this)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to Stone Someone

Thou Shalt Find It Impossible to Live Like the Bible Tells You to

Great article by Anneli Rufus about author A.J. Jacobs book "The Year of Living Biblically", which documents his year following the 600+ laws proscribed in the Bible-- hilarity follows:

"...The Hebrew scriptures prescribe a tremendous amount of capital punishment... Think Saudi Arabia, multiply by Texas, then triple that. It wasn't just for murder. You could also be executed for adultery, blasphemy, breaking the Sabbath, perjury, incest, bestiality, and witchcraft...The most commonly mentioned punishment method in the Hebrew Bible is stoning. So I figure, at the very least, I should try to stone. But how...?"

All the fun you can stand, and more!

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...Your results will reveal your deep ancestry along a single line of direct descent (paternal or maternal) and show the migration paths they followed thousands of years ago. Your results will also place you on a particular branch of the human family tree. Some anthropological stories are more detailed than others, depending upon the lineage you belong to. For example, if you are of African descent, your results will show the initial movements of your ancestors on the African continent, but will not reflect most of the migrations that have occurred within the past 10,000 years. Your individual results may confirm your expectations of what you believe your deep ancestry to be, or you may be surprised to learn a new story about your genetic background.

What a great deal for only $100 US! You also have the option of submitting your results to their database.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

comments on comments (or 'zeus', sam iii)

The creatrix of toomanytribbles and I started this conversation because of our opposing views on Mary Lefkowitz's opinion piece. For clarity, here's my original post and here is her's. Our discussions evolved in the comments section of her post. To more adequately reply, she elevated one of my comments to a post. Thanx, toomanytribbles.

Is polytheism more tolerant and multicultural than monotheism?

When different pagan cultures met, their respective Gods and Goddesses got right to work comparing notes on the strange human creatures that danced before them. Then they quickly started trying on each other's clothes. :) They did not command their subjects to wage ideological wars or chop the heads off infidels. Why is this?

Here are a few possibilities: a crowd of deities with many shared characteristics encourages numerous interpretations of the divine, making the religion accommodating to outsiders; numerous cults of contradictory beliefs tend to diverge and not unify; polytheism lacks a dogmatic and politically charged bible (such as the one of Christianity and Islam), so there's nothing for a manipulative government or clergy to latch onto; and most texts on morality and ethics are attributed to historical figures, not deities.

The characteristics above are true of Egyptian mythology, except for one glaring exception:

The Armana period encompassed the rule of the "heretic" pharaoh Akhenaten. During his infamous reign, Akhenaten forcibly instituted a strict form of monotheism. He claimed the God "Aten" as the one true God. Temples were closed and priesthoods disbanded. Images of the other Gods and Goddesses were rounded up and destroyed, even confiscating statuary from household altars. Akhenaten claimed one could only contact the Aten through him: worship Akhenaten--and you worshiped God! In Egyptian art until this time, you'd often see people bowing, kneeling, or making offerings before the divine. But in the Armana period you see citizens prostrate on the ground, groveling before Akhenaten and the Aten. Not only that, there's evidence nay sayers faced execution. All this didn't go over well with the Egyptian people. When Akhenaten was overthrown, the old Gods and Goddesses were quickly re-instituted.

Could Akhenaten's behavior have anything to do with monotheism? People should draw their own conclusions. But, returning to Mount Olympus, I'm impressed with Lefkowitz's findings about Greek mythology. I'm not entirely surprised how it dovetails with other Pagan beliefs. I'm glad there's good research supporting such claims.

As in other polytheistic religions, Wiccans don't proselytize or express their beliefs fanatically. We aren't hobbled by a concept of sin (phew!), yet trying to convince someone of the fallacy of their belief system--or persuade them of the superiority of our own--are big no-nos. We feel that everyone is on their proper spiritual path. Atheism is exactly where you are supposed to be. I'm not stating there's anything wrong with discussing important issues. But pushing opinions down people's throats, or denigrating those who hold alternative viewpoints, is just showboating and egoism. If people are happy, have good friends and family, are satisfied and lead productive lives and mind their own business--who the heck am I to take issue? Happiness is elusive. So, if someone ekes out comfort in their short lives by envisioning a blissful afterlife or casting fortunes, I'm not going to spoil their fun. There's enough suffering in this ragged-clawed world. I'm trying my best not to add to more.

(OTOH, I've been attacked. By that I mean seriously so, not just on internet forums by religionious zealots of the Xtain persuasion. In the USA, there's a movement afoot to spawn a Dominionist, "Big Brother", Right-Wing government. A small yet powerful minority pines for a country that resembles East Germany before the fall of communism, where neighbor spies on neighbor. This is not God, mythology, or the Bible doing any of these things--it's people who happen to be bat-shit crazy. I don't think I am compromising myself by taking such people on.)

There's server filling debates on the topic of Science vs. Religion. Do we really need to add more of these? Some people relish such exercises. Like Ann_C0ulter's fan base, they never grow tired of listening to her screeds. I think you and I are comfortable enough in our beliefs not to need reinforcement from soap-boxers.

Now, on to some of your comments:

...we're animals with an enormous evolutionary history...

OK, I think that's something we can agree on. :)

...even though our ability to reason is a fairly new 'trick,' it's obvious that it has done more good than harm. Think about what life was actually like for us humans 10,000 years ago -- or 500 or >even 100. isn't our moral standard changing and improving...

Of course there's great strides in science and medicine. However, we elite are the ones sucking that teat. (I don't buy Pinker's assessment of genocide and crime in the last century. He conveniently qualifies his data with " least in Western society." Of course, you realize Pinker has his critics, but I'm not interested in fighting that battle.) Since you brought up animals, I'm sure the Blue whale is very impressed with our noble standard. Mother Earth must think this Global Warming thing is a real kick! Thanx to our bone-headed behavior, our recent history has brought a global wide extinction, rivaling the effects of a cometary impact. Those are quite some accomplishments. To be clear, I feel the quotient of human suffering has not changed much over the centuries. Too few fruits of Western society are benefiting the rest of humanity.

...are you actually saying that fascism or totalitarianism is a result of critical thinking and rationality? were these dark episodes, truly, supported by logic and reason? in what way? or were they simply purported to, then and now?

Exactly my point: I'm not saying that. Our better qualities are not to blame. No Luddite arguments from me, my friend. :)

...mary lefkowitz says, '...but the poison isn't religion; it's monotheism.' i disagree.. the poison isn't monotheism -- the poison is belief in the supernatural without evidence -- i.e. religion

Yikes! Religion=Poison? If you hold the reactionary position that practicing religion is equivalent to everything anal, banal, and dread, such as slavery, human sacrifice, or genital warts, we are just wasting our time. Is there a point in having this discussion if you won't consider anything I say? Why not just blame cooking technology for the fact that people got shoved alive into ovens during WWII.

...we're 'way more' enlightened than our ancestors. we know so much more about our cosmos, our bodies, our origins and history and our place in the universe. isn't this enlightenment helping us reject slavery and racism and the burning of witches?

Who would argue against reason and enlightenment? That would be like arguing against truth and beauty. I know Atheists are capable of great truth and beauty. The sad thing is, not everybody likes science. Many people don't feel the quality of fulfillment you or I receive from it. Yet, I think we should work together on the issues facing us. Btw, thanx for throwing in the 'witch' part! :) The sad thing is, some people never learn.

...of course we act differently than we used to. not all of us, and not always -- but i think there's a definite shift towards the better, with ample evidence.

OK. We just have a difference of opinion. I feel there's evidence in support of my position.

...of course we can't know of every possible thing in the universe. scientists, in fact, don't claim to -- but theists do... and not just nebulous suspicions, but specifics as to what we can eat or how we can dress or against whom we can rub our bodies (or, as hitchens says, what bits of them we should saw off with sharp stones...

Ouch! This is a "frame" free blog! Besides, the last straw man here was burnt up at Lugh. Wicca in no way resembles what you just described. We are not faith based or absolutist. We don't enforce hurtful proscriptions. the face of not only a complete lack of evidence, but a complete lack of any concrete indication for deities (ancient polytheistic or primitive monotheistic), xenus, leprechauns, >poltergeists, fairies, etc., etc...the most intellectually honest stance is not believing in these things until we have sufficient reason to. maybe these things are not disprovable -- but are they even probable?

Heh! Why do you Atheists always bring up these weird creatures? It's as if you're in love with those things! Do you & your Atheist friends have some kinky/erotic thing going on with them or something? If you do, why not let us in on the fun! :)

Having spent time practicing my religion with like-minded people, let me assure you: leprechauns don't find their way into the conversation too often. But I fear this is arguing from the extremes. Next you'll be saying "You like to read your horoscope in the newspapers--SO YOU BELIEVE IN LEPRECHAUNS!"

I know you're aware there's considerable evidence that "little people" did exist. It's even possible the Amazons of Greek mythology existed. But Fairies, you ask? I'm just finding out about the branch of Wicca known as the Feri Tradition. Recently, I had the pleasure of being befriended by two such beings. (wink!) . Also, one of the contributors to the fine tradition posts here from time to time. I agree there's scant evidence of ghosts, but I have a horrific story that happened to me:

I came to Atheism gradually. By the time I was a teenager, I figured God did not exist. Years later, a friend who really trusted me confessed she was plagued with ghosts. She had been seeing them since she was a child. She was someone who experienced many hardships in life, and suddenly found herself thrust into a bad living situation. Once ensconced in her new place, she discovered it had a history putting the "The Sentinel" to shame! She was terrified, hearing strange noises at night and seeing things in the shadows. She was in sorry state when finally telling me all this. How did I react? Basically I gave her the spiritual back of my hand and laughed off her concerns. You could not escape the look of shock and betrayal that swept over her. It was much later that I discovered the harm I had done. Why didn't I just commit to losing a night while holding someone's hand? Would it have helped explaining it was only a creaky radiator, or those angry voices were nothing but the drunken fights of upstairs neighbors? Would this have been handled differently if I was not so full of my Atheist self? I don't know, I have not figured that out. Someday, I hope to make it up to her. Until then, I am still haunted by the look on her face. I told you this was a horrific ghost story!, back to the ancient greeks -- from what i's quite probable that theirs was amore multicultural and tolerant religion...the greek myths have a great deal to teach us, when not >taken literally, and they do lack the arrogance and narcisism present in even non-literal christianity...on the other hand, the greek gods were spiteful and petty and humanity was a minor irritant.

I'm also trying to figure these things out. Seeking people to challenge assumptions always helps. I'm fascinated that many scholars may have it wrong about the Greek Gods. Your mileage may vary.

...but you see, today we don't have to choose either. so can we just keep the tolerance and multiculturalism, insights and relevance to the human condition, and leave out the religion? can't we study and learn from them without espousing them?

Heh! Can we dance without paying the piper? Do we have to "believe in" the religion in order to learn from it? Good question. I-have-no-clue! But can we look at it like this: someone can intellectualize meditation, but won't get the benefits until it's practiced and experienced. In certain Buddhist traditions, after hours of chanting, music, and prayer, the group evokes certain Deities. If those entities can't be manifested--in all their beauty and terror--the students don't advance in training. I get the impression "believing in" is the stumbling block for you. You demand proof! Faith is not good enough. Those are reasonable demands. But instead of "believing in", what would you say to "practicing a" religion? Would that be entirely objectionable?

Could this insistence on belief and faith and diaphanous beings be a requirement of monotheism--not polytheism? In Egypt, the Gods and Goddesses rarely ask for testaments of belief. The questions from the Gods and Goddesses found carved into temples, or written in Books of the Dead, ask us to honored them, keep the Sabbats, and make proper offerings. Demonstrations of belief and faith are minor issues, compared to good intentions and encouraging justice. They don't ask us to abandon reason or intelligence, qualities they highly valued in themselves, and most importantly--in us. I'm discovering the same holds true for the Greek Gods and Goddesses.

Since the deities have never ask me to believe in them, why should I have too? It seems that's not part of the bargain. The Gods and Goddesses have given us much. Honoring them is little payment, especially when we don't have to swallow their theology whole.

...bring back the ancient greek gods? no, let's not.

I'm not so sure they ever left. :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Comet Holmes, now biggest object in solar system!

Comet Holmes now bigger than the the sun!

From astronomer David Jewett's page:

...Formerly, the Sun was the largest object in the Solar System. Now, comet 17P/Holmes holds that distinction...Spectacular outbursting comet 17P/Holmes exploded in size and brightness on October 24. It continues to expand and is now the largest single object in the Solar system, being bigger than the Sun (see Figure). The diameter of the tenuous dust atmosphere of the comet was measured at 1.4 million kilometers...

The "Goblin" comet could almost gobble up the sun!

(photo, Sebastian Voltmer, Spichern, France.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monkey Trials, again

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Get out the popcorn! Tonight, in the USA on PBS, a special 2 hour NOVA
concerning the Dover decision.

From a review in Variety:

...Through the expert testimony as well as interviews with the actual scientists, the production drives home that whatever one’s religious beliefs, incorporating an untestable theory based on faith into school curriculum bastardizes the long-held definition of science as something that can be challenged, examined and proven...
Finally, there’s even a kind of “Perry Mason” moment, where researchers expose intelligent design advocates using the term interchangeably with “creationism” in published materials, despite their insistence that the two are not directly linked...

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Green Fairy is back

Absinthe Returns in a Glass Half Full of Mystique and Misery

Goths and poets rejoice! Absinthe now more widely available in America. My favorite snippet from the article describes Oscar Wilde's impressions:

...But even those who hailed absinthe saw unsettling shadows. Wilde explained: “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world...”

Now I don't have to hang out till afterhours or beg for it at Horror writer conventions. :)

(image from Absinthe Green Fairy)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tail Breaks off Comet Holmes

It's been cloudy here the last day, so I've missed this turn of events. But the Goblin Comet is sure putting on a light show! To the unaided eye, it still looks like a blurry star. Yet just about any optical aid, such as a pair of binoculars or small telescope, will really much greater detail. From

...COMET TAIL: Exploding Comet 17P/Holmes continues to amaze onlookers. On Nov. 8th and 9th part of the comet's blue tail broke away in view of many backyard telescopes. Visit to see photos of the "disconnection event" and speculation about what might have caused it...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Delicious Divination on Halloween: Colcannon and Grilled Pumpkin

Colcannon is a great dish to prepare for Samhain. It's a traditional Irish dish with a long history. Do a Google search and a number of versions will turn up. My friend Green Ghost recommends the web page of the band Colcannon, which in addition to a good recipe, features other traditional meals.

However, most recipes for Colcannon are just versions on a theme. The recipe below is based on the one featured in Edain Mcoy's book 'The Sabbats'. Colcannon is based on potatoes and cabbage, subsistence vegetables people counted on to sustain them through the cruel winter. Reflecting its Pagan roots, the dish can be prepared in a way that features an entertaining form of deviation. This recipe serves 8:

4 cups mashed potatoes
2 1/2 cups cabbage, cooked and chopped fine
1/2 cup butter (do not use margarine)
1/2 cup evaporated milk or cream
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Sauté the onion in butter. When the onions are translucent, add all the ingredients together, except the cabbage, into a large pan. Stir with medium heat, blending the ingredients well. Next, add the cabbage, continuing heating and stirring until the mix takes on a green hue. Your colconnan is now ready to serve.

If you live by the adage 'The Olde Ways are Best', now mix in a thimble, ring, coin, and button! This was a type of deviation. If you wound up with the button in your portion, you'd remain a bachelor for the next year, the thimble meant spinsterhood, getting the coin foretold a coming fortune, and the lucky lass who got the ring would soon be married. Of course, if you're going to so honor your guests and the Pagan roots of this meal, by all means WARN THEM! There's an obvious choking hazard here. This is suppose to be a celebration, not a performance of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.

Note: most recipes include strong admonitions against using margarine. It seems margarine renders this dish into horrible tasting glop. Some use kale instead of cabbage, but most maintain cabbage is more authentic. This year, on the recommendation of a friend, I used 'Savory' cabbage, which has a darker green and more crinkled leaf form than the varieties I've used in the past. It did indeed impart more greenish to the mix, just as I desired.

Now onto Grilled Pumpkin!

I just found this recipe in an issue of Mother Jones Magazine. It's a great finger food and one of the easiest treats to prepare. It sure beat getting pumpkin pie together from scratch! Above all, make sure you are using cooking or sugar pumpkins and not the tasteless behemoths intended for jack-o'-lanterns:

1 sugar Pumpkin
Olive oil

Seed then cut the pumpkin into long slices. Next, brush slices with olive oil. Then sprinkle the slices with rosemary. Now toss the slices onto a hot grill. After a minute or two, when the one side is browned and has nice grill marks, turn over with tongs or spatula and cook the other sides.

This treat was really fun to prepare this year. The warm grill was across the porch from my altar, where we stood in the cool air, enjoying at all the Halloween decorations.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Samhain Altar

Isis looks on, along with her friend Bast who seems to be studying her reflection in the water. The God is a pine cone collected from under a tree at 'The Witch House' in Salem, Mass. Under it rests a pic of friend who has moved onto SummerIsle. The cauldron in the back, sporting flames to burn intentions, is supported by a tripod I made. (You can see the candle for the Southern Quarter under it--I like to face South, with North holding court over my shoulder.) My new athame is prominently in place, freshly dedicated with consecration oil prepared special for this ritual. The table is a spare 'pine round', volunteering for ritual use instead of its usual role as target for knife throwing.