Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster

Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster
"Sorry guys...you haven't seen a small metal ball with wings flapping around by chance, have you?""

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Effective placebo effect...implications for magic?

A very interesting article that was posted on a group website that I'm a part of about the placebo effect.  The placebo effect to a naturalistic magician is obviously very interesting, so I'm posting it in case anyone wants to take a look.

Placebo: Unmarked drug capsules

It is an article that appeared a couple of years ago in The Guardian titled "Placebo effect works even when patients know they are getting a scam drug".  It tells of a group of irritable bowel syndrome patients who received a placebo while being fully aware that it was a placebo. 

 The article states that:
The second group was told by the doctors that they would be taking "placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS-symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes".
"Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed on the bottle," said Kaptchuk. "We told the patients that they didn't have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills."
The results, published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, showed that the placebo pills were more effective at relieving symptoms compared with doing nothing at all.

In the same newspaper, there is an opinion article written by Ed Halliwell which is also relevant--"Let's be honest about placebo".

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pride celebration and thoughts

In addition to being Lammas or the half-way point between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox, yesterday was the last of July.  July is a month where typically LGBT and/or gay pride is celebrated in many parts of Europe, North America and other places.   I thought this post would be a good occasion to talk about LGBTI people in magical and shamanic practices.

For some time I had been aware of the fact that it was quite common in many aboriginal cultures in the Americas for gay, lesbian, bisexuals and transgendered people to assume ostensibly spiritual roles in the community as shamans, diviners, seers, spirit-workers or spell-casters.  In Native American and First Nation communities, the term generally used in English is of "two-spirited people".  The Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society, an advocacy group for two-spirits quotes Roscoe's Living the Spirit:  A Gay American Indian Anthology in defining the concept:

In Native American culture, before the Europeans came to the America's, "two-spirit" referred to an ancient teaching. This type of cross-gender identity has been documented in over 155 tribes across Native North America (Roscoe 1988).  Our Elders tell us of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits, that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women, as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third and fourth gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Two-spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, the care givers (Roscoe 1988). They were respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies. This is our guiding force as well as our source of strength. This is the heart of Two-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (2 Spirit Nation of Ontario).

What I would eventually find out is that this pattern is quite common in many cultures across the world, spanning multiple continents. Daan Van Kapenhout stated as much in this interview from 1995:

Through his costume, the shaman relayed the message: "I am not a man, I am not a woman, I am human." The Siberian shaman costume expressed that all people are basically the same, that sex, age and status are unimportant in their essence. To become a shaman, one had to be both man and woman, because a person should be the sum total of all human experiences. This idea was taken very seriously in many Siberian - and some Native American - tribes. As part of the training of the shaman-to-be, he or she was expected to live for some time - anywhere from weeks to years - as a member of the opposite sex. During this period, the aspirant had to think, act and dress like a man if she was a woman, like a woman if he was a man. If the candidate found this task too difficult, he or she could not continue training to be a shaman.
Often, a person who successfully passed this part of their shamanic "examination" would chose to continue living as a member of the other sex. In some parts of Siberia, this was even expected of all male shamans. Homosexuality and traditional - Siberian - shamanism have always been connected. Many homosexuals do not feel "at home" in the role expected of them by society, and this lack of full identification with this role makes it relatively easy for them to drop it in order to try a new one. Many traditional shamanic cultures offered their homosexual members the possibility of living with a partner: a gay or lesbian could become a shaman and change sex, afterwards being able to marry a person of the same biological sex. Usually such transformed shamans would be looked upon with awe, fear or suspicion. They were considered to have very strong and special magical powers and carried distinctive and important responsibilities, yet their shaman costumes were androgynous, just like those of the "normal" shamans.

To my way of thinking, this idea of LGBTs being magical or particularly suited to be spiritual leaders or members of a shamanic order in the community goes back to a concept which is basic to any definition of magic: transformation or change.  Because one of the most ancient and natural methods of effecting change is through reproduction--the uniting of male and female.  Some of the most universal magical tools (i.e. the broom, mortar and pestle, bell) are symbolic unions of male and female essences.  This something alluded to by Julika Iles in her book The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, in which she states:

Female and male energies, yin and yang, are considered the most powerful radiant energies on Earth.  Unifying these male and female forces provides the spark for creation, and what is a magical spell after all but an act of creation? Instead of a new baby, ideally new possibilities, solutions, hopes, and outcomes are born from each magic spell.

From that vantage point, it would make sense that many peoples would consider it a requirement for someone to have both male and female essences as part of them in order to intercede magically on behalf of the community.  Someone who naturally has both could be considered naturally imbued with powers of change and transformation---inherently magical, as it were. 

I am very wary of making broad generalizations of that type which could imply that an entire group of people (i.e. LGBTI) are inherently more attuned to magic than others.  The perspective reflected by many of these cultures, however, offers a very useful insight.

 Our societies tend to ridicule effeminate men and shun masculine women.  Even in the gay community it is quite common for more masculine men (and not so masculine men) to ridicule more effeminate ones.  This can only be an example of what psychologists call projection.  I believe that most people have elements of their behavior and personality that are masculine and feminine, regardless of their biological sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.  For some people that "ratio" might be clearly towards one direction (90% "masculine", 10% "feminine") or it might be much more balanced (60% "feminine", 40% "masculine").  If the first example is a biological male, it would be comparatively easy for him to simply suppress any expression of his feminine side, not just in terms of behavior, but also in terms of conscious perception.   If the second example is a biological woman, she will face social pressure to suppress an even bigger part of her personality.  If either one of them were magical practitioners, I would tend to think that suppressing either side would be rather costly.  If magic has a huge psychological component and resonating with the deep self is necessary to be effective, it would follow that the less connected with the self one is, the harder it is to make magic.  If we suppress our natural masculinity or femininity,  we are suppressing a particularly potent source of magic; our own internal sense of creativity as symbolized by the joining of both "essences" inside of us.  And that seems unnecessarily hindering, regardless of whether we're gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered or intersexed.

Further Reading:

Carpenter, Edward.  Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk.  1921.  Very old, but very concise and interesting read.

P.S.  Just in case you're wondering about the candle--I used that for my personal pride celebration.  It included petitions for each of the colors of the rainbow related to the LGBTI community, the world in general and myself.  Then there were drums and dancing...