When I was 12 years old I found magic (kind of). Both of my parents are atheists, but I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps so I began searching the web for a religion. I remember coming across a site about paganism and white magic and I instantly knew it was the one for me (it may have had something to do with watching Charmed). I begged my Dad to take me to our local bookstore where he sat in the café next door blissfully unaware that I’d ventured into the religion and spirituality section to find a guide book on white magic. My affinity with white magic lasted about 2 weeks, as did most of my interests at the age of 12. However, I clearly remember one of the rituals about letting go of stress. You were to take a nice long bath with an egg. Upon draining the bath, you were to visualize all of your anxieties being absorbed into the egg which would then be buried in the garden.
Years later reflecting on my 2 weeks as a white witch I’ve come to realize a great deal of overlap between everyday acts of ‘self-care’ and ‘white magic.’ Taking a bath is still a ritual I do from time to time (minus the egg because I’d rather eat it), but I visualize all my stress being released as the water drains. According to Gmelch (1971) a ‘magic ritual’ is defined as performance of a certain task despite no ‘empirical’ evidence that it will help achieve the outcome. Therefore, rituals are regarded as largely ‘irrational.’ In many ways we are all irrational beings (what constitutes ‘irrationality’ is also context specific). Most of us would have engaged in certain rituals which come under the umbrella of ‘magic’ and yet would be averse to ever labelling our behaviors as ‘magical.’ Words are loaded and so often we get bogged down by words that we are unable to keep an open-mind.
There are other places you might never have considered to be riddled with magic, like… a baseball field? Gmelch (1971) analyzed the habits of baseball players and found a striking similarity to that of the Trobriand Islanders who used magical rituals when fishing in open water. Interestingly the Trobriand Islanders did not perform these rituals when fishing in the lagoon. It was when the chances of catching fish were more uncertain in the open waters that magic was utilized. Gmelch (1971) realized that American baseball played also engage in rituals, especially when batting as opposed to fielding because the odds are more precarious. Some of the rituals these American players performed were going to the movies on game day, eating a tuna sandwich and drinking two glasses of iced tea, tapping the home plate three times before batting and tugging their baseball cap a certain number of times.
A study was conducted on first year cultural anthropology students at The University of Western Ontario to see if they used ‘magic’ in their daily lives (perhaps you’ve done the same kinds of things without realizing it!). One student revealed: “The day of my first date with my current girlfriend, now of ten months, I came home and found a [guitar] pick in my pocket. Since then, whenever I am leaving the house, especially if I am with her, I always make sure to carry a pick.” Another student said he always wore the socks he was given on his tenth birthday when playing hockey despite their worn out state and many holes.
So before you proclaim that magic doesn’t exist, keep an open mind and reflect back on some of tasks you’ve performed over the years – magic might not be as distant as you once thought.
Gmelch, G 1971, ‘Baseball Magic’, Society, vol. 8, no. 8, p. 39.
Howie, L, Sattin, M, Coutu, S, Furlong, M, Wood, M, & Petersson, E 2011, ‘Some Thoughts on Magic: Its Use and Effect in Undergraduate Student Life’, Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 179-189
Hungry for more mystical insights? See also:
Abbie’s article on Mediumship https://anthrozine.home.blog/2019/06/01/anthropology-and-mediumship-should-anthropologists-access-spaces-beyond-the-earth-realm/
Lionel’s article on Witchcraft https://anthrozine.home.blog/2019/06/05/tio-gong-tao-using-witchcraft-to-rationalise-sexual-objectification-in-singapore/