Thursday, April 3, 2014

Today in Bad Magick

Some ideas about magical methods are so bad it's hard to see how anyone could take them seriously. A man in Malawi was told by a traditional healer that if he sacrificed body parts to a hyena he would become rich, so he went ahead and did so - with awful results. The hyena wound up eating three toes and his penis.

Chamangeni Zulu, in his early twenties, was discharged from the Chipata General Hospital this week, a senior nurse told AFP. "He was discharged on Monday after the relatives requested that he should be transferred to Muchinji in Malawi," said Sister Precious Matongo, referring to a town just across the border. "They should be constantly cleaning the wounds but he is stable," she added.

Local media reported that Zulu sacrificed his body parts after being told by a traditional healer that it would help him become rich. "I went to a bush where I was instructed to be naked and a hyena came to me and started eating my toes and eventually my manhood was eaten," he is quoted as saying by the Times of Zambia.

I seriously hope somebody debunks this and it turns out to be a hoax, because it's such a terrible story. But if not, it illustrates a fundamental problem that has corrupted many magical models - the just-world fallacy. The idea is that if you sacrifice something that you value, you will receive some equivalent benefit because the universe somehow "balances out." Only it doesn't. The only actual consequence of sacrificing your toes and penis to a hyena is that you no longer have toes or a penis and the hyena is a little less hungry.

While it's true that offerings can have a place in magical operations, the key to understanding how they work is that when you make an offering to a spirit, it doesn't matter how much you value it. What matters is how much the spirit values it, because spirits have their own independent spheres of consciousness. It's just like offering a gift to a person. If the gift isn't something that they want, it doesn't matter how much effort you put into obtaining it, it's still a lousy gift.

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Anonymous said...

With an offering it needs to be something the spirit wants, but with a sacrifice the idea is to give up something you personally find valuable. Gods generally aren't getting anything out of you slaughtering your fattest calf, for instance.

Usually sacrifices are done to gods, and not spirits, mostly because the later rarely appreciates them. Offerings are usually a quid pro quo type arrangement, whereas sacrifices are done to show respect, love, gratitude, as a form of worship, or to gain favor. In other words it falls more into the realm of gods than spirits.

Also, unless a spirit is very trustworthy or you don't much care about the cost, it's always better to receive your end of the bargain before completing an offering. More than half the time the spirit is just going to take off after it gets what it wants, and even if yo do manage to eventually track the damn thing down (which is often a whole lot of work that may not pay off), typically it's beyond its power to get you what it promised.

Scott Stenwick said...

That's a good point - with any sort of deal, getting the spirit to "pay up" first is generally a good plan.