Ignoble Magic, the Origin of Law…
She’s a passionate figure, with dyed white dreadlocks. She is full of fire and gusto. In the video, published by UCT Scientist, of the encounter, she rallies against her enemy: science. If we are to understand the origins of science, in the ignoble past of taboo, charms, and so-called sympathetic magic, her views, while reprehensibly illogical, hold a lost logic in themselves.
Here is what she said:
'There is a place in KZN called Umhlab’uyalingana.'
'They believe that through the magic... you call it black magic,' she adds.
'they call it witchcraft...'
She asserts then that, 'you are able to send lightning to strike someone. Can you explain that scientifically because it’s something that happens?'
The Fallist, and leader of the Science Must Fall movement, as she became known across the country of South Africa, became famous overnight. She called for the scrapping, entirely, of Western science, in favour of magic.
Yet, magic has a lot in common with science. Sir James George Frazer, in The Golden Bough, claims that all magic is sympathetic magic, and that it can be divided into homeopathic magic – like affecting like- and contagious magic – the spread of elements of one thing into another. Sir James believed magic to be mere superstition, but also believed it utterly important in the development of our society.
An example of homeopathic magic is the voodoo doll, or effigy: what happens to the likeness is thought, with a complete faith, to happen to the victim. An example of contagious magic is the historical account that a Madagascan soldier would not eat a hedgehog, because hedgehogs are cowardly and curl up into a ball when attacked, and if he were to do so, he would most certainly become a coward. Likewise, a baseball player might believe that his sweat, on his dirty socks, from a past victory, will certainly allow him to win the next game, no matter how much his indignant teammates complain of his smell: the attribute of the socks, associated with past victory, is thought to be a charm by the sportsman.
Magic is thought to be the origin of many of the early religions. The Australian Aboriginals universally practiced magic upon arrival of the colonists, they did not however practice an advanced religion with a great priesthood. Societies at a more primal stage, universally, have taboos and charms, but many don’t have religion. Magic is absolute. If a person correctly does the ritual, there is no doubt in his mind that the magic will mechanically occur. Religion is a belief in intervention in the time-space continuum by beings which disrupt the mechanisms in the universe. To early man, the gods were merely invisible sorcerers. A magician may enslave these deities to his will, whether demons or gods, but a religious man seeks to approach them to please them, propitiation, in order to gain something of value from them. He also seeks to not displease them, lest a curse come upon him.
The 12 tables of the Roman Empire are the origin of law in Europe, and in places like South Africa. They would one day cause the Emperor Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis to come about, the body of the civil law.
Yet, while setting out laws, the priesthood relied upon which day a suit was brought to determine whether plaintiff or defendant won. The Germanic tribes, who rediscovered some of Roman law would likewise use seemingly supernatural means to determine whether laws had been broken.
In Great Britain, from which South Africa gains its law of evidence, something called the ordeal was used, according to records, to determine the guilt of murderers. A loaf of dry, stale bread was given to the alleged killer, who was then to swallow it, after a prayer to the deity, asking to be protected or killed based on guilt. If the bread lodged in their throat and killed them, they were surely guilty. If the potential murderer survived, they were innocent.
Of course, the example of the ordeal actually is a rather sneaky one. It usually got it right.
A person who is nervous will not salivate as much, their mouth will become dry. Someone who believed they would be found guilty, and thus felt nervous, was sure to be killed by the ordeal. An innocent person, would trust the divine to hold them out as innocent.
Linda Rodrigues McRobbie, writing an article entitled 'The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board' for Smithsonian Magazine, on October 27, 2013, details the fascinating history of the 'talking board'.
While the bible might condemn necromancy, and one need only look at the tragic example of King Saul for this, when the Associated Press, in 1886, reported that boards similar to the Ouija board were becoming popular for communing with spirits, mainstream American Christians tended not to see anything wrong with talking to the other side.
In 1890, Charles Kennard, from Baltimore, Maryland, and his four investors, including an attorney named Elijah Bond and a surveyor called Col. Washinton Bowie, set up the Kennard Novelty Company. Elijah’s sister, Helen Peters, was quite into spiritualism (communing with the dead), and asked the board what it itself was to be called, it is reported to have replied: 'Ouija'. When asked what Ouija meant, it said 'Good Luck'. It was later 'proven' to work when Helen demonstrated its efficacy by revealing the name of a patent office official. It was thus given its patent and went on sale. Elijah, being a lawyer, likely knew the name of the patent official.
Helen admitted in a letter that when she asked the Ouija board what to call it, she was wearing a locket with a picture of a woman above her head. It was likely one of women's activist, Ouida, whom she is known to have admired. Modern studies of the talking board, find it is likely ‘effective’ due to a scientific principle, rather than due to magic. With the release of the Exorcist, the Ouija board became a gateway to Satan, and its audience changed from average Americans, to those wanting a taboo thrill. That is not to say that the talking board did not instruct the odd person here and there to murder people, which American archives show it did, and that they did.
The Ouija board works based on something called ideomotor action, subconscious movements of the human body which we would not notice if we were not told that they came from somewhere else, whether other participants in the bizarre game, or ‘the spirits’.
As the Smithsonian, in the late 2013 article, relays: ‘Two years ago, Dr. Ron Rensink, professor of psychology and computer science, psychology postdoctoral researcher Hélène Gauchou, and Dr. Sidney Fels, professor of electrical and computer engineering, began looking at exactly what happens when people sit down to use a Ouija board.’
'Their initial experiments involved a Ouija-playing robot: Participants were told that they were playing with a person in another room via teleconferencing; the robot, they were told, mimicked the movements of the other person. In actuality, the robot’s movements simply amplified the participants’ motions and the person in the other room was just a ruse, a way to get the participant to think they weren’t in control. Participants were asked a series of yes or no, fact-based questions (“Is Buenos Aires the capital of Brazil? Were the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney?”) and expected to use the Ouija board to answer.
'What the team found surprised them: When participants were asked, verbally, to guess the answers to the best of their ability, they were right only around 50 percent of the time, a typical result for guessing. But when they answered using the board, believing that the answers were coming from someplace else, they answered correctly upwards of 65 percent of the time. “It was so dramatic how much better they did on these questions than if they answered to the best of their ability that we were like, ‘This is just weird, how could they be that much better?’” recalled Fels. “It was so dramatic we couldn’t believe it.”
'The implication was, Fels explained, that one’s non-conscious was a lot smarter than anyone knew.
'The robot, unfortunately, proved too delicate for further experiments, but the researchers were sufficiently intrigued to pursue further Ouija research. They divined another experiment: This time, rather than a robot, the participant actually played with a real human. At some point, the participant was blindfolded—and the other player, really a confederate, quietly took their hands off the planchette. This meant that the participant believed he or she wasn’t alone, enabling the kind of automatic pilot state the researchers were looking for, but still ensuring that the answers could only come from the participant.
'It worked. Rensink says, “Some people were complaining about how the other person was moving the planchette around. That was a good sign that we really got this kind of condition that people were convinced that somebody else was there.” Their results replicated the findings of the experiment with the robot, that people knew more when they didn’t think they were controlling the answers (50 percent accuracy for vocal responses to 65 percent for Ouija responses). They reported their findings in February 2012 issue of Consciousness and Cognition.
'“You do much better with the Ouija on questions that you really don’t think you know, but actually something inside you does know and the Ouija can help you answer above chance,” says Fels.'
Hypnosis, likewise, is sometimes able to gain details in the subconscious that we are unaware of.
The Ouija board, like the Ordeal, is so popular, because, due to a hidden scientific principle, it is actually effective. Magicians and sorcerers of old had to be accurate in their predictions and their use of magic, or they would be exiled or killed. The kings of Mexico would promise to bring rain and to perform other supernatural duties. Others still, such as in Britain, were thought to be able to cure disease. A sorcerer who brought the rain gained power and wealth from his contemporaries, one who, for some unbeknownst reason, wasn’t able to, one year, was lucky if he or she survived.
It is believed that movement from superstitions such as those in sympathetic magic, which develop inevitably into charms for good fortune, or taboos which bring forth evil, towards science, came from the efficacy of some forms of magic. Dousing the arrowhead with poison inevitably brought game down quicker. Living in rain plains brought more assurance of rain. Understanding real signs in the sky and elsewhere of drought meant that a rain maker was more likely to be employed and not murdered.
Those who engaged in using lightning to kill enemies, like the Fallist’s heroes, might instead simply settle for any sort of death when the lightning proved ineffective, and might tell a customer to prick their enemy with poison or pour it in a drink.
The Temple of Apollo of the Oracles of Delphi, was located over natural gas, which is hallucinogenic. The priestess who went into a trance would utter nonsense, which her assistants would translate, sure it was divine. They themselves were subconsciously aware of many things in the world, as everyone brought their problems to the Delphi temple. While believing it was magic or rather religion giving them answers, they in fact had the same sort of subconscious knowledge that practitioners of the Ouija board do. Magic which works brings its magicians good luck, and magic which works tends to be magic based on science.
So, how does this relate to law? Even our scientific rules originate in us as children as taboo and as charm. Jump from too high and you will be hurt. Touch the stove and you will surely be burnt. After a while it becomes more specific: jump too high and land incorrectly and you will be hurt, touch a hot stove and you will suffer burns, but you may not suffer burns if you run your hand under cold water for ten minutes immediately afterwards.
In South Africa, the tribal chiefs gained their power due to witchcraft. They promised their tribes they would protect them from witches, and were given the power to allocate or remove land from their followers. In North Africa, the opposite happened. People even crucify cats believing they may be witches, yet the great leaders, since times immemorial, in much of Africa, have surrounded themselves with supposedly powerful sorcerers, or been so, themselves.
As I wrote on the Ebola epidemic in 2014:
Those who enjoy the works of JRR Tolkien, will be familiar with a scene where Gandalf the Grey is treated with deep suspicion, because he always comes where something is wrong. The people thought perhaps he was the cause of the wrongness. He was merely there to try and prevent it. One of the great written linguistic traditions of humanity comes from China, where the written work came from omens in bones. Signs of the supernatural can pervade human thinking. During the plague it was believed that spraying oneself with toilet water could spare one from the disease. Of course, toilet water, refers not to something present in a toilet but a certain form of low scented perfume, also known as eau du toilette. People believed that foul smell itself spread the horrid disease, rather than only being a symptom of it. Belief in vampires also came from that period, the plague dead often appeared to move in their state of decomposition.
Media have relayed how African villagers see a white person and go running away in fear, shouting ‘Ebola Ebola.’ With doctors unable to treat victims and ordinary nurses and others claiming to have a cure for Ebola, the virus has spread further and further.
If your witch doctor tells you not to go to the well by the banana tree, and you believe he is a true witch, then you will treat that well as anathema. A king or chief who promises his subjects his protection, must account for when bad things happen to them, whether due to his failure, or due to that of his witch doctors. Witch doctors, priests, seers and sorcerers are powerful, they may throw bones and determine that you raped or murdered someone, or that you need to be sacrificed to the gods, or even in one of the recorded cases, to a tree.
Research has found that ancient religion destroys the democracy of early people, where everyone is answerable to themselves, and in turn brings about hierarchy, the very basis of civilisation in any citified settings. This hierarchy is more pronounced, where human sacrifice is practiced, and research shows that it is mostly those from lesser status who are the victims of the sacrifice.
Just as the Roman Law which has become enshrined in the laws of continental Europe, and heavily influenced the laws of the rest of the world, originated in the charms and superstitions of certain days, and in the religion of the Romans, international law has its roots in the laws of Christendom, the laws governing actions between Christian nations. Law inevitably begins in either magic or religion, and gradually generally gains a more secular character.
Have you ever said to yourself: but I’m a good person? Or said to yourself, he is a bad person, he will get what is coming to him. What about those preachers who claim that natural disasters are punishment? Do you believe in karma? In comeuppance, in justice? There is a fine line between expecting something to happen, and making it happen, because it is expected; after all, when we refer to what should be, we refer inevitably to what is expected to be. It is rather embarrassing to not have your expectations met, isn’t it?
You see, being a good person is a charm, and being evil is a taboo. We instinctively believe that the universe is out to get bad people. If you murder, or rape or pillage: you will be hurt as a result. If it doesn’t happen, it is because we don’t see it happening, or it must inevitably happen in a next life or afterlife.
When we engage in the correct rituals, when we treat our fellow man fairly, and avoid doing that which is taboo and do that which is charm, we expect to live a good life. When, however, something bad happens to us as a good person, we either lose faith in our charms and taboos, or we become angry, sad, disappointed, etc. There is a reason we shame ourselves when we are victims, or shame others, and it is an ignoble one.
Rather than seek out the, it turns out after our bad luck to be false, witch doctor for a satisfactory killing in which he is to be the victim, we tend to get angry with the person who does not adhere to the same charms and taboos as we do. If being a good person means that good things must happen to us, because we did all the right charms, and avoided all the right taboos, then we must be compensated when evil happens to us, and what better source of that compensation that the offender who engaged in taboo, and thus will in any case have evil happen to him. Why shouldn’t that evil be put to use to help us, the victim?
This is the origin of restorative justice. John raped Mary, in the Brazilian Amazon, therefore John must give Mary a wild pig to eat with her family in order to restore her to a better life. Not that just by western standards, is it? Or Jacob Raped Mara, in ancient Israel, therefore Jacob must support Mara’s material needs as his wife for the rest of his life (never mind that being around him might be traumatic for Mara). Restorative justice is what, in South Africa, we call delict, and what, in the United States of America, they call tort.
A fascinating study looked into standards of fairness across cultures. ‘A’ was given an amount of money, let’s say 100 $US, and told to offer ‘B’ a portion of it. If ‘B’ accepted the portion, then they both got to keep their shares. If ‘B’ rejected the offer, both lost out. In the Western world, it tended to be offers closest to 50% which were accepted. In other parts of the world where gift giving for favours is common, the split most accepted was unjust by western standards. Imagine accepting something like just 10% as just, doesn’t it anger you, would you really offer ‘B’ something like 90%? And in other parts the opposite was true, and the receiver was happy to get scraps. Justice was not an absolute. Oddly, in the west, an offer of say 70% to the other, would still be rejected. ‘B’ felt that he or she was being bribed and rejected the 70% they could have had, and denied ‘A’ his or her 30% as a result. The same rule went with the standard amounts of other cultures. It was, essentially, taboo to take more or less than what was just.
Of course, if those who engage in taboo behaviour are going to be punished by the universe anyway, then why shouldn’t the victim or the medicine man, or the tribal elders be the ones who inflict that harm. After all, if the universe in any case is going to hurt those who engage in taboo, then what wrong is there in helping it along, surely you yourself won’t incur taboo by that? Is this not the origin of the vigil ante, and of the court of law? This is the origin of the criminal justice system.
Classical jurisprudence holds essentially that the sovereign’s word is law, and that the sovereign is the figure that society habitually obeys. Sovereigns in the past have claimed to be gods, such as the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, such as Cleopatra, and the Emperors and Caesars of Rome, who had their own emperor worship cults to glorify them. Others claim to be powerful high priests or to be heads of national churches, such as the current monarchy of Great Britain, which rules the Anglican Church. Others claim to be great sorcerers. If a monarch has a divine right to rule, then disobeying their word is taboo, is bad luck, and obeying them is charm, is good luck. Rising up against a monarch who has the backing of God is rising up against God himself or herself.
Of course, while priesthoods in many ancient lands, and even in modern ones, such as Iran, hold great power, and keep their rulers in charge by taboo and charm, or religious curse or blessing, like in ancient, Rome, and like with what happened with science, laws tend to secularise over time.
I may break a mirror, walk under a ladder, and cross a black cat and not have any bad luck, but someone who murders another might have to account to their relatives. The sorts of things which religions all tend to commonly condemn are remarkably similar. Murder, theft, and so forth. That which is taboo, is also sometimes that which is unwise. That which is taboo for a leader to allow, can also be unbeneficial to him or her to allow. That which is taboo and superstition, but adhered to out of habit on the word of the sovereign, thus also becomes that which is rational to adhere to.
Thomas Hobbs in Leviathan, portrays the state of man in nature as savage, short-lived, and full of cruelty and calamity. He seeks to make such a state taboo, in order to justify overreaching statist forces of his time. In truth, the state of man in nature is well known. People in nature often interact with other primitives in a manner which is respectful. It is when they start to appoint chiefs and chief sorcerers, that the violent nature of man begins to emerge.
Modern jurists tend to point to natural law: to that which can be reasoned to be wrong in a rational manner: murder, theft and so on. Yet, even at the stage of mere taboo, law remains law. The refinement to adhere to rationalism, and to ensure the longer existence of the taboo, as it is a rational taboo, is merely what happens to law over time.
Have you ever disobeyed a taboo, and felt a great joy when some evil did not immediately strike you down where you stood? Habitual criminals can become addicted to the high that comes with getting away with breaking the law. If you break a law and evil does not befall you when you expected it to, then you have defied a taboo. Perhaps this gives you a sense of your own worth, of your power.
Others break a law and expect to be caught and punished, they expect it as though it were inevitable.
Still others refuse to break any law, because they know they will surely be caught, whether due to extensive enforcement, ever vigilant enemies prowling about like lions after their prey, or due to taboo.
Those who obey the taboos and the charms of our society, often become furious with those who do not. After all, if such people get away with it, then perhaps being a good person is not such a charm, and being bad is not such a hassle. People who obey the law tend to feel the need to make sure crime does have a cost for the criminals, because otherwise the charms they follow and the taboos they avoid are all in vain.
Where disobedience is on purpose, the response tends to be anger, where it is unintentional, frustration.
Of course, bad things do happen to good people. Religion tends to differ from magic in that respect. The Buddha saw life as about suffering and thus created a plan to escape it to Nirvana. Jesus Christ, the Christian Messiah, confronted people who said those who were victims of a building collapse must surely be evil, in saying that all then alive (except him, being God), were equally deserving of any such thing, and is recorded as saying that God sends the rain on the good and on the bad, and that only God is good.
The truth, of course, is that many good people die terrible deaths. In Christianity, my own religion, these are called Martyrs. Jesus, himself, the founder of the Christian religion, died, tortured on a cross. Likewise, many evil people live long, enjoyable lives in the lap of luxury, much loved by friends and amidst happy fountains of descendants. The answer Christianity has to this is hell, where evil people are given their due, and perhaps purgatory, where almost good enough people are purified of their sins. Heaven, of course, is a just reward for a just life, and is where the martyrs go. If injustice is not punished, smitten even, and if moral living is not blessed, what good is there in living a good life?
To the religious, being evil is a curse upon yourself, while being good is a blessing. To the superstitious, being evil is a taboo, while being good is a charm. To the scientific, being good is wise, while being evil consists of doing unwise things. What is good after all, except that which leads to life, and what is evil, except that which causes death. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are said to have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, despite God warning them that they would surely die. Indeed, death is bad, and life is good: and it could be said that they gained that knowledge when they became mortal like the rest of us.
Many modern jurists fit themselves squarely into the third category. The law must be wise, or it is not law.
In truth, law based on taboo or curse is law, so long as it is enforced by an authority. Having knowledge of the law, much as magicians have knowledge of magic from their grimoires and books of shadows, allows one to use the law to one’s advantage, and to avoid being penalised by the authority, whatever it is, which enforces it.
The ancient Israelites boasted that their law, which included putting sorcerers, and fornicators to death, was much admired throughout the ancient world. Likewise, Western nations boast of their legal systems, and how rational and well thought out they believe them to be.
In truth, law is just law, it doesn’t have to be a just law to exist. Its origins are not in a contract to a commonwealth, or a rationalisation of nature’s truths. Law’s origins are in the way the human mind works, how we automatically believe that like breeds like, and that contact breeds contagion. Just as science has emerged from magic, rational law has emerged from taboo. This is not something to hide from or lament, for it is inevitably a good that from mere ignoble magic we have gained the great skeletal structure of human society, law.
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