Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Probably interesting only to me, but I find it fascinating.

One of hobbies earlier in my life was (and remains so, although I have no time for it) historical archaeology, especially that related to the Revolutionary War and Civil War periods. I once located a long-forgotten steamboat in the old bed of the Mississippi, even enlisting the help of a professional marine archaeologist from Louisiana with an underwater magnetometer. Unfortunately she lies in federally-protected wetlands and nothing beyond locating it could be accomplished. It remains where it came to rest, beneath 40 plus feet of muck and water. I also have assisted archaeologists with historical research backing up their field work, most notably at old Fort Pickering in Memphis. So, in looking for something else, I ran across "bellarmines," also known in some contexts as "witch bottles," and I found this fascinating: An American Witch Bottle.


Chiu ChunLing said...

The practice and social position of sympathetic magic, which generally operates on the well-attested and measured "placebo effect", is a fascinating commentary on the historical development of societies and the timeless problem of separating "mind" from "matter" in human existence.

While modern medicine attempts to make a firm distinction between 'quackery', which depends mostly on the patients credulity and belief in the cure for efficacy, and scientifically tested treatments which are effective regardless of what the patient believes, the progress of developing controlled studies which distinguish between the two has revealed that, in general, it is the placebo effect that is more powerful in creating positive health outcomes. And, somewhat paradoxically, as modern medicine has developed and enhanced its reputation as a rigorous applied science, the placebo effect has been widening its lead. In other words, the better the reputation of modern medicine has for effective treatments, the more of the effectiveness of the treatment is due to the patients' belief in the rigorous science behind it.

On the other hand, our society is seeing a reversion to belief in the potentially harmful effects of 'intangible' (and even completely imaginary) acts of hostile intent. "Anti-bullying" and "hate crime" laws are fundamentally justified by credence of the old idea that ill will, even absent any act producing overt physical harm, needs to be legally punishable. We may feel more 'scientific' when we talk about inducing harm through 'bullying' and 'emotional abuse', but in the end this is merely a change of verbiage from accusing people of engaging in 'witchcraft'.

The resurgence of alternative medicine (some based on sound medical principles, some less so) has further blurred the distinction, as has the attempt to leverage the benefits of "placebo effects" to improve patient outcomes in conventional healthcare.

All of which leads back to one of the greatest paradoxes of human health, the medical efficacy of belief in an ultimate purpose in one's life. It turns out that, good as it is, laughter isn't the best medicine. Faith is. And not just any faith, but faith in a just and loving God, who rewards people according to their efforts to spend their lives doing what is right. This faith is more effective, against more different illnesses, than any other treatment available.

The problem is that you can't have faith because you want better health outcomes. The very nature of such faith is that you prioritize doing what is right over your own life, both in whole and in part. You can only gain a longer, healthier life through the medical effect of faith by committing to expend your life as required in the service of God.

Anonymous said...

The mention of efforts to ban such "white magic" suggests that the authorities' impulse to render innocent people defenceless in the face of evil was as prevalent then as now?

Chiu ChunLing said...

Well, white magic would probably have been seen as an indication of a lack of faith in God (hence immoral), since such faith is (according to both Christian teaching and the best current scientific evidence) more effective in defending against the ill effects of sympathetic magic than any other method.

Of course, there is something of an irony in making it illegal for people to not have enough faith in God, since (as mentioned) the whole point of faith in God is prioritizing service to God above your own life, and the whole mechanism of legality is to threaten people with death for failing to comply.

Anonymous said...

"Please, Spock, don't say it's fascinating!"

"No, Doctor, but it is interesting."

Josh said...

Wychecraft is wychecraft wether "black" or "white" and are forbidden the faithful, prayer and faith are the antidote to wyches, warlocks, demons, and their idiot god, satan.

Also, this historic relic is fascinating and likely an example of what Mike would have found in his riverboat;

You've got to see it in person to appreciate it.