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When Common Knowledge Isn’t

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on February 2, 2010 | Comments (0)

I like to collect quotes. My current favorite is from the British philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903). He wrote, “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

This is an important concept for magickal people. When doing magick, it’s important to have an attitude that your magick will work. It’s part of the process. When looking at the results of the magick, it’s important to look objectively at the work. If you don’t believe something will work, you may think the results are negative even when you are successful. If you do believe something will work, you may think the results are positive even when they are not.

To repeat: a magickian should have a positive attitude about his or her work and an objective approach to judging the results.

Common Knowledge

I think Spencer’s quote, however, goes further. It’s about an approach to any and all aspects of our lives. If your mind is made up about the way you think things are (or should be), you may not be able to understand the way things really are. This concept can be a bit confusing, so let me relate this to what is called “common knowledge.”

“Common knowledge” is an expression for something that everyone knows is true. When I was growing up, it was common knowledge that rain was in some way related to disease. “Don’t go out in the rain,” my mother used to say. “You’ll catch a cold.” One day I responded,

“If that’s true, it overthrows the entire histories of medicine, biology, microbiology, and epidemiology.” My mother thought about that, realized that rain generally doesn’t have germs that cause colds or other diseases, and had nothing to say.

Religion and War

There is another bit of common knowledge that many people hold: “religion has caused more wars than anything else.” I had a comment on this in the keynote paper I delivered at the 6th Annual Pagan Conference held at the Claremont Graduate College. I wrote:

“In my estimation, the concept of religious wars is grossly overstated. Religion is often used as an excuse for socio-economic or socio-political expansion or domination. However, it is rare for a ruling hierarchy to decide to expend valuable lives and resources to take over a foreign territory primarily because they have a different religion. Religion may be involved, but there are almost always other far more practical and non-theological issues involved. Even the Crusades helped to establish trade paths and economic benefits for the Holy Roman Empire and their European allies. The nearly 200 years of wars fought by people told that their purpose was to regain Christian control of the areas in the Middle East commonly called the ‘Holy Lands’ had the effect of turning the Knights Templar into one of the richest and most powerful organizations in the world.”

Religion as A Rationalization For Negative Actions

Unfortunately, this concept of using religion as an excuse for very negative actions is all too common. I have read about, met, and seen people lose their jobs, their homes, their families, and even their lives at the hands of others who use religion to justify their horrible actions. Most often such actions are committed by members of local majority religions simply because there are more people in those religions, including more people looking for a justification for antisocial actions.

However, that is not always the case. According to this post in the Seattle Weekly, a man named Eric Christensen allegedly forced his girlfriend to take a “Wiccan blood oath” not to communicate with certain man. The story claims that when he discovered they were still communicating, he considered her to be a “Warlock, literally an evil traitor.” The document goes on to claim that with this justification he allegedly murdered her and dismembered her body.

Most people, especially those who have not studied occult traditions, think that a Warlock is a male Witch. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, however, this definition only goes back to 1568. The original definition was “traitor” and “liar.” As I was taught, this did not mean a traitor or liar toward an individual, but rather, to a coven. That is, a Warlock was a person who would expose coven members to arrest, torture, and death from authorities. This has absolutely nothing to do with cheating on a partner.

If the case as described is accurate, Mr. Christensen completely misinterpreted the idea of Warlock to justify his alleged murder over personal jealousy, anger, and rage. The article gives no evidence that he was actually a Wiccan at all—he could just be using this as an excuse. However it does claim he “has prior convictions for assault, sexual abuse and domestic violence.”

The horrible murder is terrible, no matter the reason. Just as bad in other ways, however, is the accused man’s justification for his alleged crimes. Because for many people who equate Wicca and Witchcraft, it is “common knowledge” that Witches and Wiccans are evil. The crimes, falsely and inaccurately justified as being Wiccan, aren’t going to change this erroneous “common knowledge.”  And it hurts everyone when common knowledge isn’t true knowledge at all.

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