Frohock begins chapter 3 with an account of a shell game on a New York street; he submits that the appeal of a well-crafted magic trick is the same – “a source of deep and unexplained pleasure … in encountering powers that seem to be outside the limits of the natural world.” Jordan and I found that to be a poor analogy; the shell game is much more about outthinking the shyster, mastering the incomprehensible – which is part of the appeal of magic to the magician.
Frohock keeps coming back to the need to believe in the supernatural for psychological health. Jordan resists ANY attempt to generalize about the human condition. Some, like Carl Sagan, want to know, not to believe. But “On the one hand,” Jordan said, “I’m a big fan of science and progress; science has a firm grip on the tangible world – but it trips up on spiritual matters.” Astrology, though, is something of a hybrid. Jordan calls horary astrology “outrageously accurate” Christopher Warnock described it as “spiritual science,” works on laws separate from physical world. See Mona Magic’s interview with him (interview will begin playing as soon as page loads).
Frohock maintains that “gods” are the central concern of religion, whereas the self – human beings and their needs – are the concern of magic.
Is there actually a dividing line between magic and religion? Recall, before you answer, that “religion” means much more than “church service”. With the amount of Christian prayer that goes on in hoodoo, for instance, how can we say that “God” is not “the chief variable” in magic?
When a client asked me if she had displeased God for breaking an old, ignorant vow not to use magic, I thought of the Episcopal communion blessing: The gifts of God for the people of God. The power and the materials all come from the Creator/Love Supreme/Great Architect, and so do the people who need them.
Like Eoghan Ballard, neither of us is sure that there is a “brick wall” between magic and religion. More accurately J thinks there is now a dividing line between magic and religion; but it blurs as you go further back in history.
Somehow we wandered onto the subject of animism – at least I think that’s why Jordan recommended Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. Wonderful book, good brain candy for magic workers (and everybody else, really).
This paragraph was too good not to quote in full:
“Magic, more than religion, represents what appears to be a basic component of the human species: a need to establish dominion over the natural environment. What is curious and complex about this need is that it must fail at the earliest stages of individual experience. Attachment theory and studies of cognitive development indicate that infants acquire identity in two ways: bonding with caretakers and encountering the resistance of the world to simple wants and intentions. Put simply, the human self is a product of love and an awareness that thoughts do not have natural kinetic powers. This almost paradoxical combination of early union with another and a separation of of self from surroundings formed on the differences between thought and act seems to be required [inevitable?] in all cultures that nurture humans from children to competent adults. But the impulse to close the distance between thinking it so and making it so is also a feature of all mature human communities. Most of the dazzling machines of Western technology are instruments to extend and translate nonkinetic thought into practical control over the natural world. Pretechnological civilizations do not have such toys. They do have magic, however…”
Jordan agrees up to a point – this principle applies to both physical and spiritual realms. We can’t ever stop believing in Santa in the back of our brains. Part of us never does grow up.
But how is the “power of positive thinking” a feature of mature human communities? Jordan’s take on it: Optimism is a necessary component of sanity. Maturity includes salt-of-the-earth common sense and hope. But I thought Frohock meant “maturity” like a climax forest, not like the Dalai Lama.
Roots of modern scientific method go back to 6th-century BC, Greece; but the Greeks did not recognize mind/body distinction, still believed knew the universe and matter had soul. This is how Pythagoras was able to postulate that numbers are things; they animate nature like gods do.
Why wasn’t dualism – the mind/body split – established before Descartes? Why so late? When and how did it become time to separate the mind from the body? J hazarded that The Industrial Revolution might have been the trigger. Materialist thought came into its own with urbanization, I think. Jordan agreed: from urbanization you get universities, doctors (who love dissection), time to study, read, sit around and be philosophers (and “lay about and bullshit”). So how come farmers aren’t materialists? Because they deal with things that grow, and you can’t see how they do it. Besides, Jordan said, farmers control so little: they are at the mercy of storms, blight, etc., so of course there’s reason to pray.
Speaking of “reality is reality:”
Edgar Cayce, “the sleeping prophet” (the “sleep” was self-induced trance), too well known to require googling 🙂 He believed (first) in herbal medicine as practiced in the place he grew up, then in mainstream medicine of the day; it was his prescriptions, not the resulting cures, that were psychic. His prescriptions were carried out mostly by mainstream medical professionals.
Jordan: The ancient peoples were not stupid, even if they didn’t know what we know.
This reminded me of Jared Diamond’s wonderful Guns, Germs and Steel, and his account of how he was inspired to write it.
Thus endeth the tangents. See you next week.
Next week’s topic: We continue Chapter 3, “Experimental Controls,” where we discuss several famous psychics and psychic researchers, and problems in designing research.