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placebo effect in magic

To: alt.magick,alt.lucky.w,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: placebo effect in magic
Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2002 21:52:56 GMT

Tom wrote:
> Research has shown placebos to vary widely in effect.  The figure Cat 
> is using is based on the 1950's research of H. K. Beecher.  She'd be 
> well advised to look at more recent research rather than make sweeping
> declarations based solely on a single study done 50 years ago.

 Hey! Thanks for the further data. I'd like to rearrange the studies you
mentioned, not to dispute them, but to attempt to sort them between
psychiatirc disorders and non-psyciartic disprders: 


> The UCLA Neuropsychiatric Center reports placebos effective in 30 - 
> 60% of the cases.
> Kirsh and Sapirstein, University of Conneticutt, in a study of the 
> effects of anti-depressants, found that 75% of the effectiveness of 
> the medication was placebo effect.


- no studies cited by Tom. 


> Sapirstein further did a meta-analysis of 39 research studies done 
> between 1974 and 1995, finding that placebos worked about 50% of the 
> time.
> Danish researchers Asbjorn Hrobjartsson and Peter C. Gotzsche, in a
> meta-study of 114 studies involving placebos, found little evidence in
> general that placebos had *any* powerful clinical effects.
> Roberts, A. H., D. G. Kewman, L. Mercier, and M. Hovell did a study in 
> 1993 in which they reported a variety of results ranging from almost 
> 100% in some studies to a low of 32%, declaring that "under conditions 
> of heightened expectations, the power of nonspecific effects 
> (placebos) far exceeds that commonly reported in the literature."

Tom wrote:

> In cases of psychogenic problems, those which have no detectable 
> physical basis, placebos seem to be remarkably effective, while in 
> cases of actual physical ailments, they are considerably less 
> effective overall.

 Understood -- and thank you for clarifying my own thinking on this. I
see that you quoted studies citing a placebo effectiveness rate ranging
from 0% ["little evidence ... [of] ... clinical effect"] to 75% -- so i
guess i could range my previously stated 30% upward to -- what 37%? --
taking in both psychogenic and non-psychogenic illness. 
> > In your second post, you desdribe very erratic behaviour by
> > the woman; this suggests mental illness.
> No, it doesn't.  It does suggest a certain amount of hysteria, but 
> that isn't classed as a "mental illness".

I am referring to her calling him for help because she was enduring a
"psychic attack" by "unseen presences" in the night, then shunning him
the next day. (I am assuming his depiction of events is accurate here,
for the sake of discussion.) That is more than hysteria to me -- it is
socially inappropriate to the point of being a red flag, in my book. 
> > Next comes the topic of nguyen's actual question: How do you sort 
> > the mentally ill from the actually cursed?
> >
> > Knowing the forms that curses take within each culture will help you 
> > to sort the truly afflicted from the mentally ill. If a person's
> > description of a "psychic attack" seems drawn from horror movies or
> > role-playing games, or is a jumble of the curse-systems of several
> > cultures that have been popularized in "spooky" books about 
> > witchcraft, or if they tell you that they have been seeking a cure 
> > for their curse for 20 years or more, you might be well advised to 
> > wonder if they are they are suffering the magical equivalent of 
> > hypchondriasis or if they are chronically mentally ill.
> >
> > If, however, they present as oriented, alert-yet-troubled, coherent 
> > in speech, with curse-symptoms that are appropriately culturally 
> > enframed, and they can provide a specific onset and time-line for 
> > the curse, you can proceed on the assumption that they are not 
> > mentally ill. If their cultural paradigm includes use of physical 
> > objects in cursing and they provide examples of physical evidence 
> > that a curse is being engaged against them (powders thrown for them, 
> > artifacts left at their premises or stolen therefrom), you can be 
> > pretty sure that someone is working against them. Ask them if they 
> > know who might be doing the work; if the answer is socially 
> > appropriate within their culture's curse-paradigm, again you will 
> > have accumulated evidence that they are probably not mentally ill.
> Cat forgets that a person's description of a "psychic attack" drawn 
> from horror movies of role-playing games is part of the culture of 
> white America.  

Good point -- i know exactly what you mean, and i was overlooking that. 

Actually, i don't meet many of those people. Most of the people who
phone me for help with presumed curses come from immigrant or minority
populations. They are people upon whom what some call "mall culture" has
not had a big impact. 

Interestingly, Siva gets more querying  or "help me!" email from the
middle-class, middle-American "mall culture" people than i do,
especially those worried about religious issues. 

> Like many overcompensating radical anti-American 
> politicos from the '60's, 

I am?

> she thinks other people's cultures are 
> sacred truths while the culture of white America is a lie. 

I do? 

>  So, a delusion couched in symbols of another culture
>  must be a genuine curse while a delusion couched in white
> American culture must be a mental illness. 

I didn't say that. I said that if a person presents evidence that
someone is physically working against them (e.g. they saw powders
thrown, they found a bowl of rice with 4 pennies in it on their
doorstep, etc.), i am inclined to believe that they are not making up a
"curse scenario" as a result of mental illness.

The trouble with "mall culture" concepts of cursing is that they consist
in large part of movie special effects, and people who complain to me
that they are suffering from movie special effects (balls of light
rolling toward them in dark alleys, green glowing auras around kitchen
appliances, spontaneous combustion of household pets) do tend to sound
mentally ill when compared to people who tell me that they caught their
boyfriend's ex-girlfriend buying black candles at the local drug store. 

It's just a question of how far i am willing to stretch my own belief in
the client's hold on reality. 

> It's the opposite of ethnocentrism.  
> Ethnodecentrism, if you will.

I like that term. I don't think it is a very apt description of my
attitude, but it is a cool idea nonetheless. 

cat yronwode 

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