Tag Archives: magical

Superstition

Principles of Curiosity

Personally, I would give this video 3.5 out of 5 stars. It felt too lengthy (40 minutes) for the amount of information presented, but still very enjoyable.

Secrets of the pyramids

Gordon Bonnetby Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia

head_pyramid2_250pxWhat is it with people thinking that pyramids are magical?

I knew a woman a long time ago who was so convinced that there was something special about a square and four equilateral triangles that she built one by hot-gluing together some dowels.  Then she’d store her apples and bananas under it, and told everyone how much longer they stayed unspoiled than if the fruit was just sitting on her counter.

And lo, over at the Self Empowerment and Development Centre, we find out why this is:

Pyramids don’t kill bacteria. However the bacteria feed by absorbing nutrients as entropy breaks the tissues down. In a pyramid there is so little entropy that the bacteria barely survive and don’t multiply prolifically. Food therefore stays fresher longer and has a chance to dehydrate before it goes bad.

So these people not only don’t understand physics, they don’t understand microbiology.  Epic fails in two completely disparate fields.  Quite an accomplishment.

Other claims include the idea that pyramids act as a giant “cosmic battery,” that sleeping underneath a pyramid can cure illness (or at least alleviate insomnia), and that placing a dull razor blade under a pyramid will re-sharpen it.

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source: wikimedia

The whole thing has gotten so much traction that it actually made Mythbusters.  They tested a bunch of these claims, with a certified pyramid made to the exact proportions of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and to no one’s particular surprise, none of the claims turned out to be true.

Which makes you wonder why sites like The Secret Power of the Pyramidal Shape still pop up.  This one was sent to me by three different loyal readers of Skeptophilia, and it’s quite a read.  The thing I found the most amusing about it was that it had in-source citations, so it looks a little like an academic paper, but when you check the “Sources Cited” you find out that three of them come from the aforementioned Self Empowerment and Development Centre; one comes from a man named David Wilcock, who claims to be the reincarnation of Edgar Cayce; and one of them comes from Above Top Secret.

Not exactly a bibliography that would inspire confidence.

The site itself is worth reading, though, because it has some fairly surreal passages.  Take, for example, this:

The best passive torsion generators are formed by cones or pyramidal shapes built according to the “phi” ratio of 1 to 0.618 and it can, therefore, be said the pyramid shape has the power to harness torsional energy because torsion waves are phi-spirals and for this reason a pyramid will hold positive energy and deflects negative energy wavelengths and therefore inhibit natural decay.

Okay!  Right!  What?

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10 Ancient Books That Promise Supernatural Powers

By K.Fane via Listverse

Humankind has long dabbled in the supernatural, lured by the promise of obtaining power and enlightenment. Several texts have been devoted to this practice, outlining complicated and mysterious rituals that were presented as the key to achieving communion with otherworldly spirits.

10 • Greek Magical Papyri

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Photo credit: Glasgow University

The Greek magical papyri from the second century B.C. listed spells, rituals, and divinations. These included instructions for how to summon a headless demon, open doors to the underworld, and protect yourself from wild beasts. Perhaps most tantalizing of all, they describe how to gain a supernatural assistant, an otherworldly entity who does your bidding.

The most commonly found spells in the Papyri are divination spells—ceremonies that offer you visions of the future. One of its most well-known passages provides instructions for how to forecast upcoming events using an “iron lampstead,” “an offering of frankincense,” and an “uncorrupted and pure” child. After being placed into a deep trance, the child sees images flickering in the flame.

Among the Papyri’s most famous components is the Mithras Liturgy. This ceremony describes how to ascend through seven higher planes of existence and communicate with the deity Mithras.

9 • The Black Pullet

0218Originating in France in the 18th century, The Black Pullet focuses on the study of magical talismans, special objects engraved with mystical words that protect and empower the wearer. It was reportedly written by an anonymous officer in Napoleon’s Army, who claimed to have received the contents from a mysterious mage while on expedition in Egypt.

The Pullet includes detailed instructions for how to construct talismans out of bronzed steel, silk, and special ink. Among these invocations is a spell to call upon a djinn, a creature made of smoke and fire who will bring you true love. If your ambitions are slightly more cynical, then the Pullet also provides talismans that will force “discreet men” to tell you their secrets, allow you to see behind closed doors, and destroy anyone who is plotting against you.

The apex of the book’s mystical teachings is acquiring the Black Pullet itself—a hen that can find buried treasure.

8 • Ars Almadel

0319The Ars Almadel is Book Four of the Lesser Key of Solomon, also known as the Lemegeton, a significant grimoire of demonology compiled in the 17th century by an unknown author. This particular book of the Legemeton provides a blueprint for constructing an Almadel—a magical wax altar, somewhat like a ouija board, that allows you to communicate with angels.

The Almadel is composed of four Altitudes, or “Choras,” each of which corresponds with a unique set of angels with different domains. The text provides the names of the angels of each Chora (Gelomiros and Aphiriza, for example), the proper way to direct your requests to them (ask only what is “just and lawful”), and the best calendar dates for invoking them. It also includes brief physical descriptions of these angelic manifestations. The Angels of the Third Chora, for example, come in the form of “little women dressed in green and silver” wearing crowns made of bay leaves.

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Albino Facts and Fiction

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

The past decade has brought news of an atrocity, mainly from Africa: the slaughter of albino humans for their body parts for use in ritual magic. Bodies are usually found headless and missing one or more limbs, but sometimes are completely torn apart, missing even internal organs. The reason is, of course, pure unadulterated pseudoscience; we can confidently state that there is no magical benefit to the use of albino body parts, and that’s to say nothing of the abhorrence of murder for any purpose. Clearly there are some fictional beliefs out there concerning the nature of people with albinism, and today we’re going to look at some more of these beliefs that might be held even by those of us who are not into black magic.

A young man with albinism in Africa Photo: Wikimedia

A young man with albinism in Africa
Photo: Wikimedia

But the use of their body parts in ritual magic is the elephant in the room. Arms and legs are the witch doctors’ preferred bits. They are used as charms and talismans, and other body parts also have magical value, such as hair being sewn into fishing nets to bring good luck. About five albinos per year are reported to be killed in Africa for their body parts, but the total is probably larger. Perhaps even more frightening is that about the same number of people survive similar attacks, suddenly accosted by men with machetes who hack off the valuable limbs and abscond, with little care for the still-living victim they leave behind. It’s quick cash; in Tanzania, a single limb can be worth up to four times the average annual income. A complete albino body, chopped apart and sold bit by bit, can be worth more five times what the average Tanzanian can expect to earn in a lifetime; a figure often given in the press is $75,000. Fortunately, over the past few years, witch doctors and attackers have been prosecuted and some have been executed, leading to a reduction in these attacks.

But another problem faced by African albinos is that they are nearly always from broken homes. When some African fathers see their child born white, they assume their wives must have been having affairs with white men. The Albino Association of Kenya says that 90% of albinos in that country are raised by single mothers as a result.

There are four basic types of albinism, some of which have subtypes, corresponding to different genetic defects  .  .  .

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The Dangers of Magical Thinking in the Martial Arts

By Jeff Westfall via Violent metaphors

Recently on Facebook I saw a video of a Finnish martial artist named Jukka Lampila who called what he did Empty Force or EFO, and claimed that with it he could control an attacker without touching him. His Facebook page proclaims him the founder of EFO. The video begins with clips of Lampila fending off ‘attacks’ from his students. blue_hands_on_glass_250pxHe waves his arms; sometimes he twitches, and in each case the ‘attacker’ seems to be magically thrown to the mat without ever being touched by Lampila. He also shows an example of ‘controlling’ someone on the ground. He kneels calmly beside a supine student with the back of his hand gently resting on the man’s chest. “I don’t need to use any energy” he asserts as the student appears to try with all his might to regain his feet to no avail. It is a sad display of martial arts charlatanism.

Unfortunately for Mr. Lampila, a group of skeptics were in attendance this day, and several of them volunteered to be ‘controlled’ by Mr. Lampila. His chosen method was to have the volunteer try to push him. He failed in each case to stop them from doing so. The skeptics were admirably polite, giving Mr. Lampila an ample number of opportunities to prove his claims and not demonstrably gloating at his failures. When one of them calmly asked him if he would like to demonstrate his defense against a punching attack Mr. Lampila declined. He later invited everyone to pay for and attend his seminar the next day!

I’ve been involved in the martial arts since 1971. I’ve been teaching martial arts since 1975. In this time, and long before I became aware of formal scientific skepticism I grew to see that a lot of people are drawn to martial arts styles that are based on pseudo-science. The arts that are the biggest culprits by far are the arts that base their claims of effectiveness on developing and manipulating a purported form of internal energy.Tantra_prana Whether you label it Chi, Ki, Prana, “The Force”, or Empty Force it has never to my knowledge been proven to exist through robust, double-blind, replicated scientific experiments. If it is energy, where are the scientific instruments that can detect its levels? Is this energy chemical, radiant, nuclear, kinetic, electro-magnetic, mechanical, or ionizing? Is this energy in the form of waves or particles? At the risk of building a straw man, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that practitioners and apologists for these arts would say that science doesn’t know everything, and that “chi power” is as yet unexplained by science. If this were plausible, wouldn’t it follow that a large number of physicists would be pursuing a future Nobel Prize by attempting to prove the existence of this vital energy?

In the last 43 years I’ve seen quite a few ‘demonstrations’ of this power. I have yet to be impressed. Mostly what I’ve seen were sad carnival sideshow tricks, many of which I can easily explain if not reproduce, without resorting to magic. The rest were feckless displays like that of Mr. Lampila.

I assert that on the rare occasions when practitioners of these styles defend themselves effectively it is through properly applied principles of leverage and body mechanics, and not the magical power of Ki.

This phenomenon raises further questions. First, what possesses people to train in such a system of martial arts? Second, what is in the minds of people who already train in such systems and continue to do so after seeing their ‘Master’ embarrassed as Mr. Lampila was in the video?

As for what draws people in the first place, I will cite what scientific skepticism has taught me.

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Superstition

superstition broken_mirror_02_600px
Via Skeptic’s Dictionary for Kids

In a nutshell: Superstitions are beliefs about the power of things to bring about good or bad when there’s no logical or scientific evidence for the belief.

superstition 140_300pxA superstition is a belief that something can cause good or bad to happen when there’s no scientific or logical reason for believing it.

It seems that everybody is superstitious about something. Ask anyone if they would wear a sweater worn by somebody who has done the worst evil thing you can imagine. Even though there is no rational or logical reason for believing that an evil person’s sweater would feel any different from any other sweater, most people don’t want to even come near the sweater of someone they think is evil.

Even grownups who think they are not superstitious will get chills or a good feeling when they touch something that belonged to someone they greatly admire. There is no logical or scientific reason why anything touched by anyone you admire should have any special effect on you. Yet, people will go to great lengths to get an autograph or to visit the home where someone they think is great was born or used to live.

The world does not divide up into the ones who are superstitious and the ones who are not superstitious. We’re all superstitious, but not always about the same things. We might laugh when we read about people who used to beat their drums to make the moon give back the sun during an eclipse. superstition 143_200pxBut they’d probably laugh at us for trying to touch a rock star or for buying clothes with the name of some singer sewed into them.

Many superstitions start by observing some things that happen by coincidence. You forgot to wash your socks before a baseball game and then you hit a home run. From now on you don’t wash your socks before you play a game. You wore your blue sweater to school on the day you aced a test. Now the sweater is your “lucky sweater” and you wear it whenever you have a test. Instead of accepting that things happen by coincidence, we make one the cause of the other. If you stop to think about it, you know there’s no logical reason dirty socks should help a baseball player hit a baseball. Wearing a sweater can’t substitute for studying for a test.

Many athletes are superstitious. They’ll wear twisted ropes around their necks or rubber bands with holograms around their wrists. Why? Not because they think they look good in them, but because they think the ropes and rubber bands can improve their playing. Not likely, you might think. But, if the player really believes his necklace or bracelet helps him, it might relax him and put him in a good mood. Maybe he plays better when he’s relaxed and in a good mood. So, magic jewelry might help some people sometimes, but only because of their superstition!

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Some superstitions are due to magical thinking. Believing that something evil stays in the sweater of an evil person is type of magical thinking. Thinking that things that look alike share some sort of magical connection is also magical thinking. Just because a plant looks like a kidney doesn’t mean it will be good medicine for kidney problems.

Some people think that if they make a doll to stand for some person they can help or hurt the person by helping or hurting the doll. Some people think you can help a person by doing acupuncture on a doll that stands in for the person. Some think that you can make a person feel it if you stick a pin in a doll that stands in for the person. These are examples of more magical thinking.

Magical thinking seems to be based on a belief that there is some sort of energy or essence that things can magically transfer to other things.

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