Volume > Issue > The News You May Have Missed: December 2023

The News You May Have Missed: December 2023

As the Deity Dillydallies

Shamans at a Sri Lankan temple known for helping pilgrims place curses on their enemies went on strike after appeals to their deity failed to resolve a labor dispute (Agence France-Presse, Oct. 26). Seenigama Devale, a shrine off Sri Lanka’s southern coast, hosts daily ceremonies in which celebrants guide the grinding of fiery peppers over a millstone, and ritual offerings are made to Devol, a god whose duties involve comforting the faithful and unleashing great suffering on their enemies. But D.M. Kumara, chief shaman, halted the ceremonies to protest new rules that sharply cut his and his nine colleagues’ earnings. Administrators decreed that the shamans could take only 30% of the cash, gem, and jewelry offerings made to Devol, down from the complete share they previously took. The shamans had appealed to Devol to intervene on their behalf, Kumara said, “but we are taking direct action because we have not seen immediate results. Divine influence will take a little time to work.” The strike is unnecessary, an administrator said, because celebrants still earn around $1,500 per month, 10 times the average salary of a new employee in the Sri Lankan public sector.


Magic in the Air

Britain’s University of Exeter will offer an unusual postgraduate program next year to students seeking a master’s degree in magic and occult science (United Press International, Oct. 18). The school describes the program’s core module, Esotericism and the Magical Tradition, as covering such topics as “magic in Greece and Rome, occult texts in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the history of witchcraft, magic in literature and folklore, deception and illusion,” and more. “A recent surge in interest in magic and the occult inside and outside academia lies at the heart of the most urgent questions of our society,” explained Emily Selove, who will lead the program, which will “allow people to reexamine the assumption that the west is the place of rationalism and science, while the rest of the world is a place of magic and superstition.” The master’s program will be housed at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, which Prof. Selove said acknowledges “the profound debt of western culture and science to the Arabo-Islamic world, a history that has been erased in creating our false picture of the west as uniquely rational.”


Sky High

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who allegedly consumed magic mushrooms before boarding a flight between Everett, Washington, and San Francisco was arrested after attempting to disable the plane’s engines (Agence France-Presse, Oct. 24). Joseph Emerson, 44, sat in the jump seat of the cockpit, per airline policy for non-working staff. Shortly into the journey, he tried to pull two fire handles that would have activated the plane’s emergency fire-suppression system and cut fuel to its engines. The on-duty pilots quickly reversed the handles and made an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, while flight attendants placed Emerson in wrist restraints and seated him in the rear of the aircraft. Emerson tried to open an emergency exit during the landing but was restrained by the cabin crew. “I thought I was dreaming and I just wanted to wake up,” said Emerson, who admitted it was his first time taking the psychedelic drug and he had not slept in 40 hours. He faces 83 counts each of attempted murder and reckless endangerment, and one count of endangering an aircraft.


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