Magic & The Supernatural
Is magic real or just illusion? Does the supernatural exist or is it all in our heads?
Magic & The Supernatural
How many people have actually read the Bible? I suspect the answer to that is: not many. Not cover-to-cover anyway. It's like Shakespeare, great to dip into but, in its entirety, a little daunting.
But let's face it, as a source for quotes, like Shakespeare, pretty much unequaled. And one of the choices quotes comes in the second book, Exodus, and reads, depending on which version you possess: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18, King James version); or "You shall not permit a sorceress to live" (Revised Standard version); or, more prosaically, "You shall not allow a witch to live" (New English version). Either way, the Bible has certainly got it in for witches.
This invocation comes shortly after the Ten Commandments have been laid out. Now, you'd think when setting out the basic framework of laws to govern any community that, You shall not kill, would be at the top of the pile. But no, this doesn't actually crop up till number six. But clearly Moses and I have different priorities.
Anyway, there are over 600 commandments of one sort or another aside from the more famous Ten, and the imprecation against witchcraft was clearly deemed so important that it warranted its own special verse. The only good thing, if you happened to be a practitioner of the magical arts, was that if you were male it didn't apply. You can't help but think the writers of the 'good' book were a tad sexist. After all, in the entire tome there are only two books ascribed to women - or five if you count the Apocrypha, and one of these is co-written with a man.
So why did they have it in for witches? Well, as any commercial enterprise will tell you, driving the competition out of business is the surest way to achieve a monopoly. So here's the conversation: "I'm feeling a bit sick, what can you offer me?"
"Ah, well, we can pray for you."
"Will that make me better?"
"It might. But if it doesn't it will certainly stand you in good stead in the afterlife."
"Yeah, what happens after you're dead."
"So basically you've got nothing for me till after I'm dead?"
"OK, 'cos this witch said she'd sell me these herbs and if I took them they'd make me better, guaranteed."
"You shall not suffer a witch to live! Where is she, we must kill her at once!"
"Can you wait till after I've bought the herbs?"
The most infamous of the witch-hunters was the Spanish Inquisition but their activities pale into insignificance next to the English, self-proclaimed 'Witchfinder General', Matthew Hopkins, who spent two years in the mid-seventeenth century (1645-46) putting approximately 400 people to their deaths. Hopkins story was turned into a movie starring Vincent Price in 1968. Inexplicably the movie was also released under the name 'The Conqueror Worm', a title stolen from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. And apart from Price reading the poem over the credits, the movie has nothing to do with Poe but plenty to do with Hopkins' obsession with rooting out witchcraft, particularly among young women who refused to have sex with him. Still, as the saying goes, God moves in mysterious ways. Hopkins was eventually brought to book but far too late for his many victims.
The point is that whatever you think about the existence or otherwise of magic, the writers of the Bible clearly saw it as a major competitor, and one that had to be eliminated at all costs.
But surely, you're thinking, that may have been the case hundreds of years ago but today? Really?
Today when people hear the term 'magic' they immediately think of children's parties or stage shows with magicians performing conjuring tricks. And that's just what they are, tricks. As the wonderful Penn and Teller have for years been demonstrating, much to the fury of their fellow magicians, these are simple but, conversely, elaborate gimmicks. They're not magic. Indeed, the proper name for these events is legerdemain, or sleight-of-hand. Magic, on the other hand, by definition, means the causation of change in the physical universe by the application of will. And that isn't easy.
Magic is, in essence, science unexplained. Anyone who says that magic does not and cannot exist is actually saying: "There is nothing in the entire universe that I cannot explain in purely practical and scientific terms." Ask this person then, in purely practical and scientific terms, to explain love, an emotion often referred to as magical. That should shut them up.
As science discovers more and more about the universe and the human mind within it, the space that magic can occupy reduces, year-by-year. But that space is still pretty large even if slightly smaller than it was in Matthew Hopkins' time.
But the supernatural isn't just about magic. Some time ago my then editor said to me: "You know all these occult people, right?" I was intrigued. He explained that he wanted to run a feature wherein a certain celebrity would be presented with their star-chart and would then assess the truth or otherwise of what it said about him. That way he, a skeptic, and the rest of us - similarly skeptical - could judge whether there was anything to it.
To say that I am dubious about the horoscopes you read in the newspapers would be to put it mildly. There is a 'science', if you like, called cold-reading which most, if not all, so-called psychics use in the shows. You'll have seen it: Psychic announces that he/she is getting a message from beyond from some called Mary . . . "Margaret?" offers someone helpful in the audience. "Yes, Margaret," continues the psychic. And, having judged the age and marital status of the speaker, will then continue with: "Margaret is your mother!" "Grandmother!" cries the audience member."Yes, grandmother." And so it goes on with vague hints being dropped which are then given flesh by the oh-so-ready-to-believe audience. Newspaper horoscopes aren't even this sophisticated.
Harry Houdini was a great debunker of these charlatans while he was alive and told his wife, who believed in them, that if she was ever told by a psychic after his death that he was trying to contact her from beyond the grave, that she should ask the psychic what the code-word Houdini had given her was. And if the psychic couldn't name that word correctly then she would know the psychic was a fraud. Needless to say, no one ever guessed it.
Anyway, I contacted a woman and asked her to compose a star-chart with just the date, time and place of birth of the celebrity without revealing the name or even sex of that person. She pointed out that she had never done a 'blind' reading before but was willing to try.
About a week later I went back to see her to collect the chart and have her interpret it for me. I then wrote up what she said and that information was passed on, by my editor, to the celebrity.
The end result was that he was amazed. He said that 90% of what had been said about him, his past and present was accurate. My skepticism took a severe battering that day.
The point is this: According to string-theory, as I understand it, is that every atom in the universe is connected in same way to every other atom. Which means that large collections of atoms, like planetary bodies, might in turn have some major effect on smaller collections, like ourselves. And think about how much of an effect our closest planetary cousin, the Moon, has on the tides on Earth. And human beings are around 60% water, so is it that impossible that more distant objects can have an influence over our minds? I don't know, I'm just asking.
But this was the supernatural at work, in a real blind test, and the supernatural passed with flying colors. I suppose the woman could have spent hours plowing through birth records to find the name of the celebrity - this was pre-internet days! - and then doing more research to uncover childhood secrets. But seriously, that would have easily swallowed up with paltry sum I had given her to pay for the reading so I think it highly unlikely.
But magic and the supernatural appear to exist despite the best efforts of the church to destroy them. And it does kind of make you wonder what they are so scared of, doesn't it?