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Skeptical Inquiry in Folk and Ceremonial Magic

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.paranet.skeptic,alt.magick,alt.pagan.magick,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic,sci.skeptic
From: flufwikn 
Subject: Skeptical Inquiry in Folk and Ceremonial Magic
Date: Thu, 04 Dec 2003 22:21:55 GMT

50031204 vii om -- hi Doubting Tom(as?)! ;>

Tom:
#>#># ...the claims made for folk magic items....

flufwikn:
#> claims made about all different kinds of magical objects are sometimes
#> quite extreme. Hermetic spells are said to help with mysticism, for
#> example, and yet I've seen countless examples of people contending
#> that they practice them and exhibit symptoms of spiritual immaturity.

Tom:
# Claims for spiritual or metaphysical effects are not testable.  

why not? I agree that certain tests cannot be conducted.

# Claims for physical effects are.

agreed. causation may be elusive, but results can be identified.

# I don't think anyone has ever brought a successful suit against a 
# religion for failing to provide promised spiritual advancement....

agreed, the type of information we're dealing with is more concrete
and subject to consensus scrutiny. whether examining this or focus
upon it within a forum ostensibly for discussion about it may be
distracting at points is also certainly relevant.

#># Do you believe you can stop a police officer from testifying
#># against you by crossing out his name and shouting foul language?
#>
#> any particular individual, or just anybody with a mouth and 
#> paper?
#
# You may choose your own conditions and decide what you believe 
# for any of them.

what people believe about magic is tangentally important to a
discussion about its practice and expectable results. generally,
differentiation of proximity (in time and pace) to the 
situation; specialized skill of the spellcaster; and materials
involved with the result (concerns, etc.); are important to a
success. more than just doing the thing and having paper are
often required even by those who believe in the efficacy of it.

#> how would such a study be conducted and determine results?
#
# Offer the opportunity to about 20 people who are facing criminal 
# charges. Select another 20 who face similar charges.  Compare the 
# number of officers who refuse to testify in one group with the 
# number of officrs who refuse to testify in the other.  If there 
# is no significant difference, it's reasonable to conclude that 
# the spell doesn't work, at least not among a randomly selected 
# group of individuals.

immediately we can see vagueness in which such a study could
become subject to criticism from practitioners -- where it
is not done by specialists, where it doesn't include spell
components making it more likely to succeed, etc.

your suggestion is valuable, and from the standpoint of someone
who believes in the efficacy, there are weaknesses which may 
be refined here that would allow for a thorough examination, 
if someone wishes to conduct it.

# So maybe it only works for a certain kind of person.  Now you 
# will have to collect a group who have the characteristics you 
# feel would make for a successful spellcaster.  YOu can test them 
# against an equal number of people selected at random.  If the 
# expert spell casters don't do significantly better than the 
# control group, we can conclude reasonably that the spell
# doesn't work event for folks who are considered to be competent 
# and talented enough to cast a successful spell.

agreed. then we might also move on to spell components.

# But what if we can't determine who it will work for and who 
# it won't work for?  Then we can collect a group of people for 
# whom it did work and see if it works again, and again, and 
# again.  (Assuming they're repeat offenders, that is.)  

and assuming that we're talking about repeatable activities.
'repeatability' becomes an important characteristic to consider.

# Possibly we'd have to find a less reprehensible spell, one that
# would be no problem to repeat at will.

agreed.

#> is it as easy as examining spiritual maturity? I agree that
#> examinations of this kind may be beneficial, but I'm not
#> sure that the claims and outrageous expectations reside with
#> folk magic.
#
# Do you think that folk magic items should be treated differently 
# from any other items in terms of their potentially fraudulent 
# claims?  

within .skeptic newsgroups it is a defensible position
to take with all comers to the forum. expressing consistently
challenging (particularly if negating) skeptical positions with
those making claims could reasonably be considered misplaced.

I don't think this skepticism, taken to folk magic, should 
be *restricted* from criticism of theurgic/mystical magic. 
nor do I think that folk magic should be treated differently
in terms of their potentially fraudulent claims, especially
within forums ostensibly discussing magic and its practice.
after all, even mystical magic is sometimes suggested as
having byproduct material results that are success indicators.

evidence to the contrary in *either case* should be identified.
a LACK of evidence one way or the other should not become a
platform for criticizing that about which we're ostensibly
gathered to discuss (whatever its actual foundation). this is
quite the opposite in a skeptical forum, whose basis *ought*
to be the focus of the forum to all unusual assertions.

# If  I promise your vacuum cleaner will work but it doesnt, 
# can I legitimately blame it on you for not being the kind 
# of person for whom the vacuum cleaner will work?

no, but I'm not sure this illustration is pertinent. better
examples (cooking, constructing, etc.) have been made.

#> one might follow out all magical enterprise to
#> find the astounding claims by mages.
#
# I'm all for testing any claims that are testable.

go ahead then and do it and cross-post the results to the
.skeptic newsgroups so we can focus discussion of it there.
I think in part why people focus on your expressions of
opinion is that you're running across the grain of the main
interests (i.e. skeptical, arguably contentious/cynical) of
those who visit/frequent it (alt.magick and spinoffs). note
I'm not criticizing or complaining you, just remarking on it.

#>#># What, in your opinion, does magick really do?

#>#> I could probably go on and on on this subject... but
#>#> basically focusing one's will, changing behavior to
#>#> fit one's will... thus by changing oneself one can
#>#> possibly change the world around them, as well as
#>#> overcoming conscious roadblocks by affecting the subconcious

#> I'd call that a weak psychological defense of magic's power.
#> it's one of the strongest supports for magic's value (as a
#> kind of subjective support device).

# Call it "weak" if you will, but the transformation of self 
# is no trivial effect.  

agreed. not being easily tested, that doesn't make it trivial.
in fact, it is THIS aim and purpose of magic which I feel is
most defensible and most manipulated toward personal ends,
obscuring real success for purposes of deception.

# It has ramifications of many kinds, some of which will look, 
# at least on the surface, like miracles.  

ACClarke comes to mind. :>

# Hence my use of the term "magic" to describe the deliberate 
# induction of such transformations.

specifications about what constitutes self, how this changes,
what part of that change might be attributable to what is
called magic, what might be indicators of successful (and 
also unsuccessful?) transformations of self, would all be 
helpful to an understanding of this contention of your.

thank you for bringing your skeptical inquiry to magical
newsgroups. I hope you can understand the variety of
responses you receive from those who frequent the forums
in which your contentions occur. I think it bears markedly
on the types of those who inhabit them with you. one might
compare as akin those skeptical/challenging of religious 
axioms of belief who raise challenge within religious forums.

nagasiva

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