What Do You Believe?

For thousands of years people believed in magic.  They were simple folk – often afraid and confused – unable to grasp the scientific world around them.

Sabbat

They struggled to:

* explain natural events

* understand why bad things happened

* barter with fate

* accept their place and rank in society

* influence things around them

* blame unseen forces when things went wrong

* believe in, and belong to, something bigger than themselves

* grapple with supernatural forces and events

* worship a greater power as part of a divine plan

* and find solace in a harsh, unfair world.

 

According to Sigmund Freud, each civilization passes through three distinct stages of development.

In the Magical Phase the primitive does not understand a natural phenomenon like rainfall, but he knows he needs water to survive.  By creating a ritual – rain dancing for example – he believes he can influence the weather to obey his wishes.

As society progresses the community enters the Religious Phase.  The rain-seeking ritual develops into an intricate rite of prayer, song, dance, and sacrifice, whereby the worshippers barter with the gods for their precious water.

But once the mechanics of rainfall are understood as a process of evaporation and cloud formation, that society progresses into the Scientific Phase.  At this point, Freud argues, there should be no more need for religious or  superstitious belief.  “Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality” without which the masses “could not bear the troubles of life and the cruelties of reality.”

Was Freud correct though?  Even in today’s super-scientific space age a huge portion of the globe still follows the religious beliefs of their ancestors, and paganism is on the rise.

It turns out science does not have all the answers.  It might satisfy the mind but it cannot soothe the wounded soul!

Source:

Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion.  New York: Norton, 1989.

Macbeth’s Weird Sisters: Reason or Treason?

A Psychological Riddle:

Were Shakespeare’s weird sisters real evil hags who seduced the newly-appointed Thane of Cawdor with ambitious promises above his station?  If so, could they have been the reason why the brave warrior Macbeth murdered King Duncan?

Points to consider:

* Superstitious Jacobeans believed in magic, and would have readily accepted that Macbeth was genuinely bewitched.  Satan was stalking the land in search of souls and his coven of witches found a good, brave man who succumbed to their temptations because he was also human.

* If you were put under a spell, you had no control over your actions.  Therefore, once Macbeth was in their power he could not prevent himself from killing the king.

* The Malleus Maleficarum claimed that wicked women have been responsible for the downfall of great men since the time of Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Macbeth was following in a long tradition of doomed heroes.

* The three sisters first approach Macbeth.  He does not initially seek them out.  This implies that Macbeth was intentionally targeted by Satan, which makes him a hapless victim of evil.

* Banquo sees the women too.  They were not just a figment of Macbeth’s imagination.

Fuseli

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)

Or perhaps the witches were merely a convenient excuse?  In other words, did they exist only in the mind/s of the central character/s – as a projection of ambition and desire – or as a psychological attempt to rationalize the ultimate treason?

Points to consider:

* If Macbeth was truly a good man he would not have been so readily tempted by evil.  Satan picks targets who are easy to seduce. The witches were the excuse he used to explain away his actions.

* The ambition to be king may have been seeded in Macbeth’s mind even before the witches appeared.  It was common to come across poor wise women, gypsies, or cunning folk, who made a living from fortune telling.  After the murder they were fashionable targets to blame for the deeds that Macbeth was destined to do.

* Supernatural influences can be used to explain, excuse, and justify horrific acts on the grounds that they are outside of self control.  In the same way that mass murderers claim to hear voices that make them commit their crimes, Macbeth blames the popular scapegoat of his (and Shakespeare’s) time.

* If Macbeth was genuinely bewitched he would have killed without deliberation.  But he questions his actions, later wrestling with guilt and remorse.  Is this because he knows he has done wrong and fears being found out?

* Banquo sees the weird women and also hears their prophecies, in which case he should also fall under their power.  But he is content to let fate play out by itself and does not take part in any murders.

I have always been fascinated by Shakespeare’s skill as both a writer and early psychologist.  His audience would have accepted these characters as real supernatural influences (which means Macbeth was an innocent man duped by evil).  But the bard also knew the human mind.  In today’s psychoanalytical society we understand how criminals sometimes project their crimes onto external influences to escape from blame (in which case Macbeth would have been guilty of murder and treason).

What do you think?

In Search Of Evil

Devil

After recently re-reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I am again left questioning the origins of evil.  Golding takes the classical stance that there is good and bad in everyone – the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other – yet he ultimately remains pessimistic about human nature, and the fate of civilization.  Golding sides with the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, suggesting that the “life of man” is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  But where does this wickedness come from?

It can be argued good and evil are human psychological concepts, projected onto outside active agents.  People need something other or outside to worship, fear, or blame — something beyond their own selves — and so they unconsciously create, and then personify, supernatural forces.  The semantic origins of God being Good and Devil being Devil supports this theory. These powers are then courted, worshipped, and offered sacrifices, in an attempt to secure individual favors.

By turning something other into the wicked outside element, communities can maintain an image of themselves as chosen or blessed.  They are then able to avoid looking too carefully at their own souls, may deny personal responsibility, and can point the finger of blame at a scapegoat: the witch, beast, devil, bogeyman, or whatever.

Over time, encounters with the supernatural have either turned into folk legends or been expanded into organized religions.  The eternal battle between good and evil was then mythologized in morality tales that showed folk how to live together in civilized societies, or served as warnings against giving in to selfish desire.

I  find myself agreeing with Golding’s conclusion that the beast dwells within us all.  As the Lord of the Flies tells Simon: “You knew, didn’t you?  I’m part of you?  Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are as they are?”

What do you think?

Magic Colors

rainbow-ribbon-flames[1]

Colors have always affected the human psyche.  They create atmosphere, change moods, signal danger, hide flaws, disguise predators, indicate states of mind, and relieve stress.  And because they trigger such potent reactions in people, many cultures have used them to influence, honor, or impress their gods.

Medieval cunning folk were no exception.  They used sacred clothing, color-coded surroundings, or dyed candles for their rituals.  But the meaning of certain colors can vary – for example, a black candle might be lit in a shape-shifting spell, while its partner stone (onyx) could be used for protection.  Sorcery and alchemy were complicated arts.

Even today, the meanings associated with color are open to personal interpretation, for what is pleasing and soothing to one eye might be unpleasant and jarring to another.  Yet within modern Wicca there appears to be a loose agreement on the following associations.  Choose whichever works for you!

WHITE: purity, protection, peace, happiness, spirituality, balance

GREEN: health, money, luck, acceptance, growth, fertility, beauty, employment

ORANGE: attraction, success, creativity, fun, opportunity, celebration

YELLOW: pleasure, intellect, confidence, inspiration, wisdom, psychic power, divination

RED: strength, passion, survival, courage, good fortune, health, power, sexual potency

PINK: love, self-improvement, friendship, fidelity, compassion, nurturing, maturity

GRAY: peace, neutrality, contemplation, solitude

BROWN: health, home, healing, blessings, stability

BLUE: forgiveness, psychic awareness, healing, sincerity, peace, sleep, focus, organization

BLACK: banishing, the void, protection, shapeshifting

PURPLE: wisdom, healing, power, luck, scrying, reversing

SILVER: female energy, victory, stability, intuition

GOLD: masculine energy,  attraction, justice, health, luxury

 

Sources:

“Llewellyn’s Witches’ Calendar” (Korea: Llewellyn, 2015)

“Understanding the Meaning of Colors in Color Psychology.” available at http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/meaning-of-colors.html (2/26/2015)