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Skeptical Inquiry in Folk and Ceremonial Magic

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.lucky.w,alt.magick,alt.pagan.magick,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic,sci.skeptic
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: Skeptical Inquiry in Folk and Ceremonial Magic
Date: Mon, 15 Dec 2003 22:51:16 GMT

nagasiva wrote:
> 50031215 vii om
> Tom:
> #>#> Folk magic arose in small communities, where the root doctor
> #>#> or the local variant on a shaman was immediately and
> #>#> repeatedly available to the people.
> this says nothing about where said individuals might obtain
> their spellcrafting materials, just how they go about their
> business. modernization and urbanization has affected the
> methods employed for consultation and demonstrated assistance.

Tom may be identifying "folk" "root doctor" and "shaman" as
equivalent to "mages working in cultures that are
pre-electrification and pre-internal-combustion-engine
technology" However, even folk magicians in rural "third
world" countries buy and sell plant matter at local markets.
I well recall a photograph of this in an old  National
Geographic magazine from my 1950s childhood, with a caption
to the effect that the "hechero" (sorcerer) cut the herbs
and carried  them to market on donkey back. Such magical
herb and amulet markets can be found today in deeply rural
-- and highly urban -- regions of Mexico, Guatemala, Peru,
Bolivia, and so forth. 

More to the point, folk magic did not end when urbanization
began. The Victorian idea of folklore as a rapidly
obsolescing remnant of pre-indistrial society has been shown
to be a sentimental error. Folklorists like Alan Dundes and
Jan Brunvand have demonstrated that the folk process is not
an artifact of the pre-industrial past, nor did folk lore or
folk magic cease when practitioners acquired telephones,
cars, mail services, or even internet connections. 

Folk magic is a STYLE of magic, and as such it is not an a
priori  counterpoint to, an evolutionary forerunner of, or
an inherently lesser form when compared with other styles
magic, such as ceremonial magic, hermetic magic, thelemic
magic, techno magic, chaos magic, and so forth. Its major
claim to fame is that it is very old, but even that is
misleading, since it is not frozen in time and it undergoes
continual change as a result of changes in surrounding human
societies. For instance, a staple of folk magic as it is
practiced tofday in the US and Latin American natioins is
the paraffin candle -- yet anyone can tell you that paraffin
candles only came into wide use after the American Civil War
-- and the colour coding or dyeing of them dates to the
early 20th century, when analine dyes were invented. 

> sri catyananda:
> #> And this is still the way it is.
> Tom:
> # ...shut down your web site and operate on word of mouth alone,
> # like real folk magic practitioners around the world do....
> a criticism more of those who operate via telephone like psychics
> for clients than being able to touch them or be in their presence.
> usually even these take time to get to know their clients through
> some means. responsible conjures, for example, discern between
> those who really need the work and those who require other types
> of specialists (medical, psychiatric, etc.).

I disagree. I don't think that Tom is impugning phone line
psychics per se, or even equating my shop with a phone line
psychic shop. I think he is expressing the sentimentalist
fallacy that "folk" people are not connected to the rest of
the world via telephones, automobiles, radio, television,
tape recorders, CDs, or the internet.  That this is a
fallacy is easily demonstrable, as any scholarly work on
modern folk customs, beliefs, lore, and practices -- from
folk religious festivals with their own web sites to usenet
newsgroups on urbal legands -- will demonstrate. In other
words, what distinguishes "folk" practices from commerical
or corporate practices is their grass-roots nature, not the
manner in which they are disseminated. 

cat yronwode 

    Lucky Mojo Curio Co.

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