Is Witchcraft Rational?

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  • Topic: Amulet, Luck, Magic
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Is Witchcraft Rational?

Human nature has always instigated us to try and look for explanations for what happens around us. Psychology looks for the explanations for human behavior, meteorology looks for explanations for weather and the police now look for scientific explanations to solve a crime. The means we have today to investigate cause and effect are different from how they were even a decade ago let alone in the ancient civilizations when witchcraft and magic supposedly originated, not to mention that there are still tribes and peoples who live by the old traditions.

People who strongly believe in witchcraft will explain any negative events saying that witchcraft was at play, that someone was bewitched or cursed. Such is the case of the Azande tribe in north central Africa although their idea of what witchcraft is is somewhat different from what we understand by the word. For the Azande witchcraft is a substance that is inherited in one's belly that is fairly autonomous that performs bad magic on the person's enemies without the carrier's knowledge (1). Due to our skepticism of such beliefs we might be compelled to challenges such them by asking questions such as "what if someone does not have enemies but bad things still happened to him?" and an answer to that question would have to be a tricky one if you try to answer it with today's scientific knowledge or with our society's beliefs. The point is that ultimately most of the bad things that happen to us really are caused by other people. Buildings do occasionally collapse and kill people in them due to human error in construction or maintenance. People do get sick if they are in contact with other sick people. People do sometimes intentionally cause harm to others too. So is it really such a huge leap to think someone else's bad intentions are at play? In our culture we have all sorts of fancy equipment to investigate these events and tell us what really caused them. Then again, science is not infallible because otherwise buildings would not collapse in the first place. That doesn't stop us from using it and practicing it and believing it can do good, just like the Azande keep on believing and practicing magic despite its occasional failures (1).

We may at first glance dismiss the idea of witchcraft to be irrational, but what does rational mean anyways? To me rational is what I can explain with what I know and irrational is what I can't explain with what I know. I know through some physics I studied that sound waves have a long wavelength and can therefore bend around corners and light can't for the opposite reason. That is science and I knew it yesterday and today and it won't change tomorrow. My knowledge about other things though will change as I learn new things every day. I can now understand someone's behavior a year ago, which at the time I thought to be irrational, because now I've been told their reasons for it. So what is rational to each and every one of use is likely to change as we gather new knowledge of the world around us. Furthermore, since we do not all possess the same knowledge, what is rational is likely to be different for every person. So a more general definition would have to account for all these different variables. When I asked a friend to help me come up with a general definition she said "rational is reasonable within its own context". I stopped looking for a better definition after that because it pretty much covers every loophole I could think of. When I was a child I used to think that little rats in the wheels of a car were running to make the car move and to me that was a rational explanation. Then I grew, I started learning how a car works so the context, for me, changed. What I'm saying is that when these tribes came together, a long time ago, no one had any other plausible explanations to events and no others way to find out than to consult the oracle or the spirit world.

Different cultures who believed in or...
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