Thursday, 29 July 2010

Podcast of talk 'Ginnung and the tools of concsiousness'

A podcast is now available of a talk I gave in 2008, entitled 'Ginnung and the tools of consciousness'. The event was a day of talks given by Eormensyl Hall of the Rune-Gild, at London's Conway Hall in September 2008.
For anyone interested in the Northern Mysteries, there's lots of other excellent podcasts there too.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Lies and Statistics

I never said I'd only be reviewing newly-released books; here's one from 2005*.

Freakonomics, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
I am by no means an economics buff. In fact I'm mildly hostile to most economics, parading its theories as science, often justifying the worst excesses of government economic policy with ideas that soon go out of fashion.
This book is definitely not mainstream economics, though, and earns its subtitle - 'A rogue economist looks at the hidden side of everything'. This is a book which challenges accepted wisdom.

Some of the results of Levitt's analyses are predictable. For instance, who doubted that estate agents lie, not only to buyers but also to sellers? Similarly, it comes as no surprise that the career structure in crack gangs is exactly analogous to that in McDonalds - a few people make serious money, the vast majority make almost nothing. The personalities of those at the top of the heap in either organization is no doubt also comparable; fans of The Wire will probably recognize the similarities, in Levitt and Dubner's profile of a business-studies-educated crack boss, to the Wire character Stringer Bell, probably as nice a sociopath as any investment banker you'd ever care to meet.

Other analyses do not, on reflection, surprise, but it's interesting to see them demonstrated in action. The '9/11 effect' is named for the spike in ordinary human decency that followed the attack on the Twin Towers; people feel mutually aligned in a condition of common threat.

Others are decidedly counter-intuitive. For instance, it seems that the death penalty has no deterrent effect on would-be murderers. Levitt and Dubner write: 'Even in a death penalty advocate's best-case scenario, capital punishment could explain only one twenty-fifth of the drop in homicides in the 1990s.' (p125). So if we want judicial killing, we'll have to come up with other reasons or base punishment policy on a lie.

Which brings me to the argument that makes up the core of the book. Many of Levitt's studies use regression analysis, the careful parsing of groups of statistics to freeze all but one of the many variables that apply to the raw data of socio-economic research. This is the chief tool Levitt used to approach the vast, multi-variable question of the spectacular drop in crime in 90s USA. To cut a long story very short, it seems it was not due in the main to new policing strategies (such as New York mayor Giuliani's programme of 'zero tolerance') but to the increased availability of abortions from the late 1970s onwards.

The chain of causality and its underlying social tragedy are easy to see: More women who did not want, and could not bring up, a child, had abortions. For obvious reasons, the main distinguishing socio-economic factor was poverty. Combined with, or as the main cause of, a mother's inability to raise a child, is it any surprise that these conditions predict behaviour in later life that attracts the attention of the law. Another study, applied to the years of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, supports this connection.

There is a grim satisfaction to the discovery of a truth that is going to be hated by such a wide spectrum of people; and hated it was - the campaigns against Levitt became angry and personal. The public reaction to certain kinds of uncomfortable facts or well-researched theories tells us why politicians lie so much. Most of them seem to take the view that it's their responsibility to keep the public away from uncomfortable truths, and this is one of the weaknesses of democracy - if you're a politician, and you don't lie about some issue, your opponents will, and it will be they who get elected. This leads to a consensus of misinformation, a political culture of mendacity. A recent UK example was the disgraceful sacking of David Nutt, the Government's chief scientific advisor on drugs. He published and defended a well-evidenced scale of the levels of damage caused by drugs both legal and illegal. The best knowledge that could be gathered about this subject did not agree with the official picture, the consensus lie, and Prof Nutt was given the boot.

So this book is good, because it helps us to think. It is, ipso facto, rather bad for the stupid and those who would lead them.

*On loan from my local library. Apparently, library book borrowing increased by 1% this year, the first increase in a decade. Get some in now, before the government gets down to its real function and kills off this too.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Online course review - The Essence of Germanic Soul-Lore

Here's an excerpt from my review, The Essence of Germanic Soul-Lore by Ingrid Fischer (taught online by Ian Read), Arcanorium online College of Magic (

The full version is published in the Rune-Gild's new online magazine, at . If you have any interest in the magical traditions of Northern Europe, then I urge you to go and take a look at this excellent publication straightaway.

The fact that you, dear reader, are reading this is evidence of some degree of familiarity with the virtual worlds offered by the Internet. You are unlikely to let out a gasp of astonishment at the knowledge that such a thing as an online college of magic exists. However, considering the quality of much online content, you could be excused the cynical expectation that it's either a Harry Potter marketing stunt or just another Emperor's New Clothes, another fat tranche of cyberbollocks aimed at the occultizoid market.

Not so, by a long mile. Arcanorium is run by seminal chaos magic author Peter Carroll, staffed entirely by experienced magicians and offers courses (and less formal discussions) of a consistently high standard. The courses take place in virtual classrooms, the course content delivered as weekly threads initiated by the teacher. In a practically-based course like the one under review, threads are created by students to record and discuss their results and ideas.

The experience of taking part in such a course can be an unusual and highly fruitful one; you are sharing thoughts with a class full of lively thinkers who are actually doing their own magical work.

This course is no exception. Taught by Ian Read, Rune-Gild Master (and Drighten; see interview in Issue 1 of this magazine) it delivered in its six intense weeks an astonishing level of original work by Rune-Gild Master Ingrid Fischer on the Germanic soul-complex whose Master-Work of Runelore, Germanic Psychology, is on its way to being published. For those unfamiliar with this fascinating facet of Northern lore, I've appended the reading list from the course.

Masters Read and Fischer are not only(!) magicians steeped in the Northern tradition and with decades of magical experience but they are also both trained in modern psychological and psychotherapeutic practice. So this course sheds new light on the complex subtleties of traditional soul-lore, and in a superbly practical way. The student is given conceptual tools and exercises to help him map his own subjective experience onto the old names for the soul-components. More about this important work later.

Like most Arcanorium courses, this one ran over six weeks. The lesson-topics covered were: Development of the Personality, The Core Triad, Dreams, The Fylgia or Fetch, and Fate.

The Core Triad is one of the original concepts in the course, and one of the core ideas. The triad consists of hugr (approximately intellect, dominant hemisphere activity, the seat of the mundane self and conscious will), minni (memory, reflection, the subordinate cerebral hemisphere) and odhr (inspiration and ecstatic consciousness, among other functions).

I have been aware for some years of the approximate parallels between these modern terms and traditional ones, but I had not mapped these soul-components onto my own subjective states with anything like the depth and detail that I gained when I applied the Core Triad concept in the course exercise.

It is hard to exaggerate just how important this kind of work is, the fine tuning of subjective discrimination, and how thoroughly it can integrate into daily experience. Drifting on the edge of sleep, I came to feel the events of the day flickering from consciousness into the beginnings of REM-sleep, hugr's thoughts being processed into minni's reflections, like the pages of a book being riffled for the bits worth casting into long-term memory. Experiencing this, I am aware of the observing faculty hovering over that dyad, one of the functions of odhr, and one of the gateways into higher consciousness.

What could be more valuable in this kind of study than that, to gain a correlation between subjective feelings and a map of soul-elements? We cannot get anywhere with a soul-map until we start to correlate it with the territory of how that soul feels in action.