Black magic versus prayer in Islamic Indonesia

July 8, 2009

Talk about appealing to the lowest common denominator. I was both amused and disappointed when I read about this in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. It’s one of those strange crossovers between real life and fantasy novels.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation (with around 237 million people) and it has the largest Muslim population in the world. It also has an incredible range of cultural and religious diversity across its 17,508 islands. (I know, that’s a lot of islands!) And yet the current president and almost certainly returning incumbent is playing into the basest of superstitions in a bizarre display during the elections.

President Yudhoyono claimed on Friday that black magic spells had been cast against him and his campaign team. Antara, the official Indonesian news agency, quoted him as saying, “Many are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it. It’s extraordinary. Many kinds of methods are used.” I wonder what he’s feeling exactly, and what those many kinds of methods actually are.

President Yudhoyono, perhaps indicating how much black magic he’s felt today.

So how does someone deal with such a thing in the modern world?

“I have come to the conclusion that only prayers can defeat black magic attacks. For instance, last night I kept praying all the way to the venue of the [candidates’] debate along with my wife, aides and driver.”

Right. Remember, this is the current (and almost certainly returning) president of the fourth most populous nation in the world.

Another smear campaign during the election process has been to portray the wife of Mr Yudhoyono’s running mate, Boediono, falsely, as a Catholic. Look out! The wife of the running mate is *gasp* a Catholic! You can’t trust them, you know. You know where you stand with superstitious Muslim black magic shamans, but you can’t trust a Catholic. Which she’s not anyway, apparently.

It remains unclear whether this so-called “black operation” was launched by supporters of Mr Yudhoyono and attributed by them to rival party Golkar, or actually carried out by Golkar or its associates. But whether he was responsible or not, Golkar’s candidate, Jusuf Kalla, has run an extensive advertising campaign featuring his wife and the spouse of his running mate proudly wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf. It’s the “No Catholics Here” platform of the opposition.

Seriously though, who cares? What about some actual political policy? Are we still in the dark ages? According to the Herald, “The President… has campaigned on his record of bringing economic stability to Indonesia, crushing terrorism at the same time as attacking the country’s endemic culture of corruption.”

Maybe he’ll take on those pesky black magicians if gets another term in office.


The Call Of Cthulhu by H P Lovecraft – review

July 5, 2009

I first read some of H P Lovecraft’s short stories back in my mid teens. Me and friends even played some Call Of Cthulhu role playing game, investigating weird phenomena while trying to hold onto our sanity points. Ever since those days the intergalactic horror fiction of Lovecraft has had a special place in my heart. I recently decided to reread some of his stuff and picked up the new edition of The Call Of Cthulhu And Other Weird Stories, edited by S T Joshi. This edition was first published in 1999.

call of cthulhu Howard Phillips Lovecraft
The Call Of Cthulhu And Other Weird Stories, and the author Howard Phillips Lovecraft

This is an excellent collection, including eighteen stories from quick two or three page vignettes to extensive multi-chapter stories and novella. It also includes the novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which was the only actual book of Lovecraft’s fiction to be published in his lifetime (by William L Crawford’s Visionary Press). The vast majority of his stuff was published in Weird Tales and other similar pulp magazines.

This particular collection has many of the classics, including the title story, The Call Of Cthulhu, the aforementioned The Shadow Over Innsmouth, plus other well known stories such as Herbet West – Reanimator, Dagon, Nyarlathotep and The Colour Out Of Space (which turned out to be my favourite yarn in this book).

Great Cthulhu

Stephen King describes Lovecraft in a quote on the cover of this book as, “The twentieth century horror story’s dark and baroque prince”. It’s a great description. Some of the stories are extremely predicatable and obvious. Sometimes that makes the story boring, but often with Lovecraft’s work you know what’s going to happen but you want to read it anyway. There’s a distinct formula to his stuff. As an atheist, Lovecraft wanted to write horror that didn’t depend on religio-mythical fodder, so his monsters were creatures from beyond space and time, hideous things older than mankind that travelled across the vast tracts of space to cause us horror. In a letter to Robert E. Howard Lovecraft said, “All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hair-splitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist.”

While there was a lot of scope within Lovecraft’s chosen field, the stories usually followed the basic idea of:

Someone discovers something weird;
Horrible things happen to people;
Person tries to discover more;
Person does discover more and wishes he hadn’t;
Person is driven insane or dies. Or both.

The stories that really work are the ones that affect innocent people. When you have a story where people are deliberately calling up the Old Ones or trying to discover their secrets you tend to have less sympathy for the characters. When you have people affected by these horrors without any fault on their part the story’s always more disturbing.

Written in the 1920s and 30s, the language is something you have to get used to. Lovecraft deliberately writes with a prosaic and detailed verbosity, demonstrating his mastery of the thesaurus at every turn. This usually works and marks his style well, though sometimes it comes across as too heavy handed. A good example of language, at its descriptive best, is this, from The Shadow Over Innsmouth:

The sight of such endless avenues of fishy-eyed vacancy and death, and the thought of such linked infinities of black, brooding compartments given over to cobwebs and memories and the conqueror worm, start up vestigial fears and aversions that not even the stoutest philosophy can disperse

You get lost in Lovecraft’s language as much as in his stories and when it works it works really well.

This particular volume is edited and with an introduction and notes by S T Joshi. I don’t know who S T Joshi is (or even if they’re a man or woman) but they obviously have a massive knowledge of all Lovecraft’s work and the Cthulhu Mythos. Often this is good, but sometimes it’s downright annoying. There are considerable footnotes throughout all the stories that have you skipping to the back pages time after time. Often the footnotes are really interesting additions to the stories, notes pointing out references to other stories and other writers, developments of ideas and where Lovecraft might have got them. But equally often they’re notes describing whether or not a particular church or newspaper is real or made up, or Joshi’s thoughts on what Lovecraft might mean by a certain phrase. It’s a shame there wasn’t someone on hand to edit Joshi’s notes. However, on the whole, they add a great deal of depth to the collection and you get to learn a lot about Lovecraft’s life and writing process along the way. Along with the introduction at the start and the small intros to each story in the back page notes, this becomes a brilliant book packed with stuff.

Lovecraft only lived to 47 years old, born on August 20, 1890 and dying on March 15, 1937. He lived with illness and poverty for all of his short life, and was was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine in 1936. He also suffered from malnutrition and lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, 1937 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Lovecraft’s own story is tragic on many levels, not least of which the lack of recognition he received in his own lifetime for writing that stories that have become entrenched as massively influential on hundreds of writers since, myself included. If you love to read or write dark fiction of any kind, you should read some H P Lovecraft. A good way to get a handle on the way that Lovecraft formulated his ideas is found in the opening paragraph of The Call Of Cthulhu:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

I’m looking forward to that piecing together, but I’m also enjoying the exploration of potential horror stories to be found in the meantime.

I’ll finish up this post with this. When I see this particular tree I think of Lovecraft. It’s at the end of the lane where I live and I often pass it when out walking the dog. This tree is known to myself and my wife as the Lovecraft Cthulhu Screaming Tree.

lovecraft cthulhu screaming tree

That’s the kind of influence Lovecraft has had – I’ve named a tree after him.


Atheist bus slogans – the debate goes viral

February 10, 2009

So you’ll know very well by now that I’ve been greatly enjoying the atheist versus Christian bus slogan war. (I wonder if the Muslims or the Hindus or anyone else will get involved? It would be quite good to see this debate evolve into a war of words between various religions, all played out on the sides of buses.)

Anyway, those funny folks over at CR Blog (News and views on visual communication from the writers and readers of Creative Review) came along and pointed people towards a bus slogan generator and asked for better responses to the atheist There’s Probably No God slogan. After all, the responses thus far from the Christians have been pretty lame.

This highlights a number of my favourite things about the internet: the debate itself, raging globally; people’s desires to get directly involved; a bus slogan generator website to make it happen. These things do make me smile.

Here’s one of my favourites from the CR Blog responses:

So off you go to the bus slogan generator and have a go yourself. It’s lots of fun.

I was both amused and slightly perturbed by one of the comments on the CR Blog. Simon Coxon of neondog pointed out:

The war between the Christians and the Atheists will be traced back to 2009, where the Christians started blowing up buses.


Atheist buses – the Christian backlash

February 5, 2009

If you remember a while ago I was having a laugh about the atheist bus campaign, where ads on buses read THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE. Then there was the inevitable complaint flurry and the ASA threw the complaints out.

Well, now there’s been a bit of a Christian backlash, which was also inevitable really.

The Reverend George Hargreaves, leader of the right-wing Christian Party, created a bus ad that proclaims “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.”

I think it would be easier to challenge this one with the ASA. After all, calling an ad that says “There’s probably no god” false advertising is shaky ground. An ad claiming something with the word “definitely”, however, is rather more open to a complaint requiring proof.

The Russian Orthodox Church is going with a more authoritarian line, invoking the old “We command” approach with “There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don’t worry and enjoy your life.”

The Trinitarian Bible Society makes the mistake of using a line from the Bible to put down non-believers with “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” taken from Psalm 53, verse 1. Of course, if you are an atheist, you don’t give a toss what it says in the Bible, so that one is a bit of a toothless tiger.

These ads will run on 175 buses for two weeks from Monday. Who says debate in public life is dead?


‘No God’ campaign upsets Christians

January 8, 2009

Not really a a surprise there then. This is one of those delicious ironies that crop up from time to time where some idiot is completely unaware of just how ridiculous they sound. To give a bit of background, comedian Ariane Sherine in Britain dreamed up a campaign of bus ads proclaiming,


(Image from

The campaign was backed by serial atheist Richard Dawkins and funds were required. Asking for 5,500 pounds sterling, they actually raised well over 100,000 and the campaign went into full swing. And then the Christians started moaning. The campaign organisers must be loving it – you can’t get better advertising than some religious body complaining about your work. In this case it’s Christian Voice, a plainly fundamentialist group of fools that think they speak for Christians by “analysing current events in the light of scripture”.

But the issue is not one of atheism or religiosity. It’s one of free speech. These Christians would fight for their right to advertise their ministry, but what’s good for them is not good for anyone else apparently. And that’s where the truly ridiculous comments start to come in.

Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said:

“There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.

“But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”

Yes. He really said that. Apparently, there is ample evidence for God but “scant evidence” that there’s “probably no god”. Why are these people so fragile?

I think that Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, has a handle on it when he says:

“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

I’ll be watching this story for more entertainment.


Would You Like to Know the Truth?

December 17, 2008

It’s that time of year again. Because Christians hijacked a pagan festival all that time ago and turned it into a propoganda event for their belief system, they think they have some right to it. The fact is that most people have long since taken “Christmas” to mean “buy presents, get presents, eat too much, argue with family”. It’s a time of excess and stress and only the merchants in the marketplace really have any reason to celebrate. Yeah, I know, bah humbug.

But the Christians seem to think that they have some right to come and knock on people’s doors and remind them what Christmas is all about. In their minds it’s about the birth of their Christ hero, best described as some kind of cosmic zombie that was his own father and can make you live forever if you symbolically eat him and accept him as your master so that he can remove the evil that he put there in the first place. Or something. Yes, I’m being deliberately pertinacious, but there really are people out there that believe this as absolute fact.

Never mind that these same Christians that think they’re reclaiming the “real meaning” of Christmas have never heard of Saturnalia or Sol Invictus. Those fourth century Christians and their hijacking of pagan festivals have a lot to answer for.

But it gets worse than that. Those same god-botherers that have no idea what they’re really talking about, and who can’t seem to seperate allegory from fact and myth from history, came to my door yesterday. The woman even had the cheek to suggest that it was at this time of year that people’s thoughts turned to Jesus. How out of touch can she be? My wife insisted that I not be rude to her, so I simply sent her on her way. But she did leave me something.


The truth, eh? Sorry, the Truth. Capitalising it makes it all the more true. You expect this sort of thing, really, but I couldn’t help being particularly amused in this instance. They’ve really surpassed themselves in sophistry and hubris this time. Look closely at the two paragraphs at the bottom of the pamphlet:


Key points: you might look in books for answers to life’s big questions, but so often books become outdated or are revised or replaced.

And then we have:


The Bible? The book that isn’t outdated or revised is the Bible? I can’t think of a more outdated or revised book in the history of books. Now, I’m all for people believing in the supernatural and higher powers if they want, and seeking the answers to those deep and meaningful questions that keep us awake at night. But the Bible as a book of truth? Seriously, how do these people ever expect anyone to take them seriously. The Bible is a damn good mythology, especially the Old Testament when Yahweh was this tantrum throwing storm god that was all envious and murderous. That’s some good stuff in there. But truth?

You know the best bit? And this is the absolute truth: After I’d shut the door in the Christian woman’s, after showing her the contempt she deserved, she disappeared off with her bible-bashing mates. Shortly thereafter a large Red Bellied Black snake was basking on the flagstones exactly where she’d been standing. First snake I’ve seen this year. Make of that what you will.

Christmas? I’ll be glad when it’s all over. Bah humbug indeed.


Church excommunicates author

November 30, 2008

I read about this today over at David B Coe’s weblog. It’s truly astounding. Various churches around the world never cease to amaze me with their antics, but this is one of the best ones for a while.

Author Jeremy F Lewis wrote a novel called Staked. The book deals with vampires and werewolves and all sorts of murder and mayhem. And love finally triumphing over all I expect. That’s pure speculation on my part, but it fits the paradigm.

Anyway, Jeremy’s non-denominational church (<– oxymoron alert) has decided that, according to the author himself, ‘by writing the book, I committed the sins contained within it. They also felt that I’d aimed the novel at young children (which boggles the mind) and that it teaches and encourages the use of vulgar language. Though I disagree wholeheartedly with their decision, I can’t really say they took the action they took in order to be mean… they appear to have been acting out of genuine concern.’

Sure, it’s probably not meanness. It’s astoundingly stupid and self-righteous. The church actually told Jeremy to renounce his book and stop promoting it and, when he refused, they “withdrew fellowship”. Jeremy says that this wasn’t exactly excommunication but it amounts to pretty much the same thing.

Unbelievable holy bullshit strikes again. The most vocal religious people really are the worst marketing team for religion. David Coe says on his blog “out of respect for Jeremy and consideration of the church itself, I won’t publish the church’s name here”. Well, I wish I could find out what church it was, because I’d happily name the idiots. You would think a church, based on the “teachings” of the most successful fantasy novel of all time, would recognise fiction. Then again, maybe that’s exactly the point. They obviously don’t. In the same way that Jesus really did rise from the dead and absolve us of our sins, Jeremy Lewis really is a foul mouthed, sex crazed vampire that fights werewolves. Or something.

Anyway, the upshot of all this, of course, is publicity that Jeremy Lewis could never have dreamed of. Once again the church manages to achieve exactly the opposite of its aims. I’d never heard of Jeremy Lewis before, or his novel Staked. Now I’m very well aware of it and so is everyone else thanks to the wonderful power of the internet. Way to go, Jeremy – I hope you sell a million books on the back of this. And who would want to be a member of such an idiotic organisation as this “non-denominational church” anyway.

Here is Jeremy’s website and here is Staked at Amazon.


Bigotry I agree with

November 17, 2008

This is one of those signs that reinforces both sides of an argument. It argues eloquently for those that consider themselves highly devout and for those that are opposed to such nonsense.

And really, being the bah humbug that I am, I wish Christmas was just for Christians and we could do without all the commercial apoplexy that surrounds the whole gods-forsaken event. Ah, so begins the season of goodwill.


Where was the Lord of the stampede?

September 30, 2008

This comes under the banner of the truly ironic. I read in the Sydney Morning Herald today that more than 140 people have been trampled to death in a stampede in Jodhpur in western India. The people were Hindus on a pilgrimage to the 15th-century Chamunda Devi temple. There was a long, narrow passage that became a death trap when the people were gripped by some kind of panic.

Now, you’d think that this would be the ideal opportunity for a bit of divine intervention, no? Or, if a god or gods were being honoured by the pilgrimage of thousands of faithful, you would think that said gods wouldn’t let something like this happen in the first place. Shouldn’t the people be gripped by a holy calm rather than a panic?

A senior state government official, Kiran Soni Gupta, said, “We have lost over 140 lives due to suffocation. This was a chance accident.”

And indeed it was, in one of those moments that are actually not that uncommon. This particular deadly stampede was the fourth in India this year. The annual Haj to Mecca has a body count that Arnie and Sly Stallone could never hope to top in their most brutal movies combined:

From wikipedia:

# On July 2, 1990, a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel (Al-Ma’aisim tunnel) leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims.
# On May 23, 1994, a stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims at the stoning of the Devil ritual.
# On April 9, 1998, at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamarat Bridge.
# On March 5, 2001, 35 pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede during the stoning of the Devil ritual.
# On February 11, 2003, the stoning of the Devil ritual claimed 14 pilgrims’ lives.
# On February 1, 2004, 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.

Of course, hundreds, even thousands of deaths at a specifically religious event are considered a terrible accident; pure chance. One grilled cheese sandwich with the hazy image of a Messiah on it is a Divine Miracle. Let’s all look up Pareidolia for our homework.

In a slightly similar vein, I was greatly entertained today by Michael Fridman’s post at A Nadder!, where he equates books of the Bible with their very modern counterparts. Why are some mythologies still causing deaths by the thousand while others are considered nothing more than fairy stories? After all, a religion is nothing more than a myth that some people still believe to be the truth.


World Youth Day – even the name is abuse

July 20, 2008

Word abuse that is. I was going to try to avoid posting anything about this mass gathering of Catholics (pun very much intended) but I can’t help it. Hundreds of thousands of “pilgrims” from all over the world coming to Sydney to block our roads and cost our small businesses at least a weeks takings. Not to mention the massive amount of our supposedly secular tax dollars that got donated into the event. An event held by the wealthiest religious institution in the world, incidentally.

But I’ll avoid all the obvious rantings that are so easy with something like this. Let’s keep the whole thing on topic for the blog. Well, as much on topic as this blog ever is.

You can always rely on religious institutions to have very little respect for words and their meanings. They’ll bleat on about the literal word of god or the sacred word of scripture and so on, and then they come out with a selection of words like World Youth Day. The only word among those three that is vaguely accurate is World. It is an event that is televised all over the world and people from all over the world descend upon it. But Youth? Day? The bloody thing went on for a week and had very little to do with youth.

Sure, old Pope Benedict the Ratzinger prattled on about how the young people should pay heed if they feel that their god is calling them into the service of the church. After all, most church leaders of all ranks are getting old or being hidden away in distant parishes to help them avoid accusations of child abuse and, no matter how much they big themselves up, the church is slowly dying. It’s one small mercy, I suppose. Calling the event World Catholic Indoctrination Week would have been far more accurate. But the church, any church, never has much of a track record when it comes to accuracy.

Pope Benedict the Creepily Smug Looking

Which brings us to another piece of word abuse associated with this event. Their slogan – The Time Of Your Eternal Life. Really? It says very little for heaven if a few days freezing your arse off camped at Randwick Racecourse is as good as it’s ever going to get. Who wants resurrection and eternal life if it’s not even as good as Sydney in the winter. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sydney (without the Catholics), but it’s not my idea of the pinnacle of human existence. At least, not in July.

And one final gem from Ratzinger himself. On Friday he gave an apology to the victims of clerical sexual abuse. He made no mention of what they were going to do to prevent it happening in the future, and even had the audacity to suggest that he felt their pain. But the apology was made, however insincerely. Then the very next day, during his mass, he spoke of the need to embrace the church to beware the dangers of a secular existence. Apparently the irony was utterly lost on him.

Ah well, at least it’s all over for now. I pity Madrid in three years time.



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Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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