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(News gone but not forgotten)

by Raven Erling

This section is something we introduced in issue #24. What we present here is news from the world of science and acadaemia that Magickal types might find interesting food for thought. If you have something that might be of interest please send it to NPI care of Shadowplay. Note: NPI is not interested in hand fastings, births, deaths of animal familiars, or anything of the kind - unless we like you and you@#146;re either 500 years old, an alien from outer space ,or from another plane of reality..Send those announcements to Rhea for the Current News section.

Send Raven information for NPI

Ancient Birth Control

John Riddle a historian of medicine at the University of North Carolina, USA, has recently  published a book called "Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance". In it, Dr. Riddle asserts that women in ancient times had knowledge of herbal contraceptives that were very effective, and that their use was both widespread and commonly accepted. One of Riddle's most interesting examples is the importance of the Greek city-state of Cyrene in the ancient Classical world.

Located on the coast of what is now Libya, the foothills around Cyrene produced a plant which the Greeks called silphon and the Romans silphium. This plant, according to the Greek physician Soranus, when pressed into a sap and swallowed, would prevent conception or induce an abortion. So in demand was "Cyreniac juice" that for at least eight hundred years the Cyrenians waxed amazingly rich on its export. In fact a silver Cyrenian coin from the 5th Century BCE, has a picture of the plant on one side, reminding the world where their wealth came from. Sort of as if the Swiss put "Ortho-novum" (the most widely used birth control pill today), on the Swiss franc.

So widespread was it's use, that a playwright, Aristophanes, has one of his characters bemoan the fact that it's impossible to get a girl to bed him because the trade with Cyrene is interrupted by the war, showing how truly bad the war was on the home-folks. Pliny the Elder in Roman times remarks that in his time silphon costs its weight in silver and is worth it. Alas, by the 4th Century CE, silphon had died out, apparently harvested to extinction. Herbalists then turned to one of it's cousins in the giant fennel family, asafoetida (an herb known to many occultists now) as a substitute.

Riddle maintains that these are no "old wives tales". While silphon itself cannot be tested, he cites experiments that show extracts of asafoetida being 100% effective in preventing conception in lab rats when given within three days of mating. Nor is it the only plant. Riddle's colleague, Norman Farnsworth, a pharmacologist, has tested 450 plant species worldwide that are used as contraceptives, many of which he believes were both known and used in ancient cultures.

So, how did we lose this knowledge? Riddle suggests two answers: one, that the knowledge was lost when medicine became the speciality of just a few men working with even fewer books during the middle ages; second that it actually survived in the hands of midwives and village healers, who got killed off by the Inquisition. Riddle notes that many of the "crimes" witches were accused of dealt with causing abortions or infertility, and that a motto of witchfinders was "the devil works through herbs".

Personally, what I find most interesting is that this changes everything we thought we knew about the "family life" of our Pagan ancestors. The "old" view that women could either be celibate priestesses or mothers (with a man to provide for the little ones) is just a Christian myth. Think about how the "Pill" and the "sexual revolution" have changed our world in just 30 years. Now imagine a culture where women have had choice and control of their fertility for eight hundred years. . . This story was compiled from an article in the Seattle Times and from conversations on the Internet. (See below).

Not Even Half Right

Our friends in the science of parapsychology have done another study trying to convince each other that telepathy exists. The latest try is by Cornell psychologist Daryl Bem and Charles Honorton of the Psychosocial Research Lab in Princeton, New Jersey. In the January issue of the Psychological Bulletin, Bem and Honorton present what they feel is "replicable evidence" (meaning you can do it over and over in a lab) of what they call "anomalous information transfer".

They have developed what they call "the Ganzfield Procedure" where they use a sender and a receiver. The sender concentrates on a specific visual image, such as a tree or a tidal wave. The receiver is in a separate acoustically sealed room with Ping-Pong ball halves over their eyes and headphones filled with white- noise over their ears (sounds a lot like the old binding and blindfold trick of traditional Wicca, I know). After a half-hour of this, the receiver picks from one of four images. Normally, they have a one-in-four chance of getting it. Bem and Honorton report that their receivers got a "statistically significant" result of one-third correct images.

While I suppose that it's good that they are trying to give telepathy some validity in the religion of Science, that also means that 66% of the time they got it wrong! Sigh. Most occultists I know would consider that an awfully poor showing. Aren't there any magick users in New Jersey?

Bishops and Brahmans

On a more modern note, one hundred years ago, a group of Christians decided to hold something called the Parliament of World Religions. It far exceeded their original concept, giving much of the very Christian west it@#146;s first serious look at such "heathen" faiths as the Hindu pantheons and Taoist philosophy. After spending days together, giving lectures and reading papers, Bishop and Brahman all went home having learned there was lots more in the world than their own schtick.

The Parliament printed a collection of the papers and it became a standard for years after for folks who wanted to learn about more than that "old time religion". So, you ask, who cares? Well they are having another Parliament this year (1994) and this time Witches and other Neo Pagans are going to be up there with the Bishops and Brahmans, educating the worlds religious bodies about what they do. The Parliament runs this August for ten days starting on the 27th. Lets hope that this one does for all of us what the last did for Eastern thought - increasing understanding and tolerance of other spiritual paths.

The Red Sea Parts

A professor of oceanogragpy, Doron Nof, belives she has found the answer to one of those great Bibical miracles, the parting of the Red Sea. According to Dr. Nof, a steady east wind blowing for ten hours will part the Sea at the likeliest spot for an exodus. She says that such winds, while rare, are not uncommon, and that they can stop suddenly, leading to a very high wave that could bury people. Just another case of natural magic being appropriated for a "Cause".

Venusian Spells

Moving back to archaeology for a moment, the January issue of Archaeology Today has a wonderful article on a new theory of those paleolithic stone figurines which late eighteenth century "experts" dubbed "Venuses" (ala Venus of Willendorf), and many modern Neopagan types are enamored of as proof of the first Goddess worship.

A team of archaeologists discovered a large trove of figurines in Morovia, near the border of what was until recently Czechoslovakia. The natural question they asked (along with everybody else), was @#145;what the hell are these?". Doing some truly brilliant investigation, which included using hospital CAT-scans, they believe that the figures were not built to last, but be temporary. Playing with making their own from the same materials, they found that not only do the figures explode with a loud satisfying bang, they fall into piles rather than fly off like hand grenades. They conclude that maybe these are really spell objects - not statuary at all. Personally, I think of those piles glowing in firelight, and wonder if maybe we shouldn@#146;t think of divination, else why have animals and other figures as well as the well known gravid one? Instead of First Goddess, perhaps one of the earliest divination systems?

The Third Eye and Melatonin

Remember how all the Eastern mystics keep asking that you look for the third eye, which they locate in the Pineal gland? Well, the third eye is getting a new look at it by science. It seems that our little gland produces a substance called Melatonin which besides doing such nifty things as regulating the brain's circadian clock and the body's reproductive cycles, it may have many uses in relation to our health. In Holland, Dr. Micheal Cohen has developed a new female birth control pill that uses Melatonin instead of Estrogen. Not only does it work very well as birth control, but it seems to prevent breast cancer as well. Other researchers in the USA are looking at Melatonin as an actual cancer cure. It seems that Melatonin, which decreases in the body with age, may raise the body's immune system and actually increase our life span when added back into the system. Maybe Ledbeater had something after all, with his theories about the chakras, and in particular the "third eye".

Atlantis of the Sands

Using land facing satellites, an American filmmaker has found what Lawrence of Arabia called "the Atlantis of the sands" in southern Oman [Reported in The New York Times (5 Feb, 1992)]. By looking at land-sat photos, the ruins of the lost city of Ubar where traced from more than 30 miles up. Ubar was fabled for over two millenia as a wealthy many-towered city with huge fruit groves growing out of the desert before vanishing in the seventh century AD. Archeologists belive that Ubar controlled the trade in frankincense prized throughout the mideast for its use in magickal practice, ranging from burning in temples to embalming the dead in Egypt. At one time, frankincense was literally worth its weight in gold . As for how Ubar vanished, experts on site believe that the city was built over an underground water reservoir and sank from too much water being drawn out.

Goddess of Love

American archaeologists from the University of Arizona, while working on a site at the ancient city of Idalion near Nicosia, Cyprus, believe they have uncovered a link in the mythological story of Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of love , and her mortal lover Adonis. Excavating at the site they uncovered a temple with statuary to a male God with inscriptions in both Greek and Phoenician indicating the cross-cultural nature of the ancient city. The Greek inscription are to @#145;Apollo Amyklos@#146; and the Phoenician to @#145;Reshef Mikal@#146;. Above this temple lays "the ancient, venerable, sanctuary of the Great Mother, who was later identified as Aphrodite by later Greeks" . This information comes from an AP wire article which unfortunately doesn@#146;t give us any more of interest like dates of the findings. More on this as developments are reported.

This section is something we introduced in issue #24. What we would like to present here is news from the world of science and acadaemia that Magickal types might find interesting food for thought. If you have something that might be of interest please send it to NPI care of Shadowplay. Note: NPI is not interested in hand fastings, births, deaths of animal familiars, or anything of the kind - unless we like you and you@#146;re either 500 years old, an alien from outer space ,or from another plane of reality..

Underground Art

Most modern magickal folk know about the cave paintings done ten to twelve thousand years ago at Lascaux, France. Among the beautiful portraits of animals and hunting parties is one of a human figure with horns, used by some of the Wiccan writers of the Sixties to "prove" that modern Wicca was (of course) practiced by our remote Neolithic forebearers. Well, a new discovery near the town of Port Mers on the south coast of France shows that the Lascaux crowd were small-time. As an article in Archeology magazine reports, two years ago a diver found an underwater entrance to a miles long complex of caves that are above water. Here explorers have counted 15,000 Neolithic paintings and are still looking. The earliest are charcoal outlines, that give way over the centuries to finely done color works. Because the artists were using organic materials, carbon dating methods are able to tell when they where done. The earliest outlines date from 25,000 BCE. with the majority dating from 19,000 to 15,000 BCE. The most widely held theory about cave paintings is that they were part of magical rituals done by the Neolithic shamans. Oh yes, old horny is found here as well, along with what one explorer describes as a penguin with feathers!

The Sleeper Waits

From the July issue of Archeology, comes an article on the findings of a new Celtic burial site in St Albans, England. Reconstructing the remains in a large square grave, archaeologists have a new slant on Celtic death customs. They believe that the dead were first put in the grave reclining on a couch, surrounded by their weapons, best jewellery, and a large feast. At a later time, (exactly when the experts aren't sure) the whole thing was dug up and everything cremated together, then placed back in the original grave. The subjects, so to speak, of this interesting practice, were of two Celtic tribes that were under Roman occupation from 150 to 145 BCE. It seems also to have been limited to noble class warriors or rulers. Personally, I find the idea of a couch very interesting and possibly suggestive. What if Roman Celts referred to their warleaders as resting until their return (ie cremation)? Maybe, if he existed, a Roman Celtic warlord named Arthur had such a ceremony ....

Light on a Dark Matter

In the May issue of the Smithsonian is an article that looks at a new theory of what the universe is made of - dark matter. A group of astrophysicists at Cal Tech, U.S.A., were doing studies of the motion of stellar particles when they noticed that the speeds of the particles were not as theory would have them be; some unknown gravity potential was changing their speed, "dragging" at them, much as the Earth's gravity drags at a baseball when you throw it. Looking at everything from atomic particles to the motion of stars and galaxies, they have concluded that most of what the universe is made of is what they call "dark matter". Dark matter is composed of particles (which they give names like WIMPS and MACHOS - I kid you not) that are invisible, with no atomic weight or electrical charge, but a very strong gravity.

According to the theory, dark matter interpenetrates everything, including you as you read this, and moves in intergalactic size "streams". In fact, our galaxy, the Milky Way, and three other nearby ones, are moving "downstream" towards a large flux of dark matter.

Imagine, everything really could be said to be in the Dark Mother's embrace, the Dark Matter and the Dark Mother being one and the same principle.

The Oldest Cloth

The Seattle Times had an interesting note in the July 13th issue on the discovery of what is believed to be the oldest cloth. A team of archaeologists from the University of Chicago and Istanbul University, while working near the upper Tigris River in southeastern Turkey, discovered a semi-fossilized piece of cloth, wrapped around an obsidian and deer-antler tool. The cloth is believed to be linen, and using carbon dating, the team has determined that the cloth is 9,000 years old. The previous oldest find is dated at 6,000 BCE.

It seems that the more science digs (so to speak), the more we find that our pagan, magic using ancestors were intelligent, technology-using folk, ie "civilized", further back in time. Making linen, as any cloth-maker will tell you, is not something done by ignorant savages named Ugh or Oop; yet, just 30 years ago the scientific community would have painted just such a picture of nomadic herders scratching the odd crop out of the ground, rather than the planned cultivation, housing, looms, skill and time needed to make something like linen. By the way, knowing folk who have obsidian and antler athame's I wonder what the wrapped "tool" was used for? The practice nowadays of having one wrap magickal tools in silk can be a bit expensive here in the cold north; maybe we should start using linen and cite an older tradition?

The "New" Heretics

Finally, from the July 3 issue of the New York Times comes an article about His Holiness, Pope John Paul II of the Catholic Church. It seems the Pope has issued a condemnation of feminist Catholic women who are "worshipping an earth goddess or Mother Earth" as part of their services. In a stern statement His Holiness said that such "pagan worship" was an attempt to "undermine Christian faith" and close to witchcraft. Hmmm ... I wonder what he thinks about the worship of Mary? Anyway, I hope these "feminist Catholics" keep on; Mother Earth could use all the support She can get. By the way, for those who don't keep track of such things, the Office of the Inquisition of the Catholic Church is still in business.

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