There are lots of books that can function as powerful resources for magicians, from my own, wide-ranging Modern MagickÂ or The Complete Magicians’ Tables to books going into depth on more specific topics such as Geomancy in Theory & Practice, Hands-On Chaos Magic, or Magickal Self Defense. In my experience, however, many magicians today don’t start research into magickal practices by going into their book collections; some, quite frankly, don’t have many books at all. Instead they depend upon that ubiquitous internet repository of information, Wikipedia.
I love Wikipedia. I think it’s a great tool. But as I have repeatedly pointed out, Wikipedia is a great place to start research but a horrible place to end. They admit themselves:
…Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information…
…Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields. [Emphasis in original]
So I would contend that as long as you only begin your researches into a subject having to do with magick or the paranormal on Wikipedia, you are probably off to a good start. But if you depend upon them for in-depth information or accuracy, if you go no further than Wikipedia for information gathering, you could end up with misunderstandings or misrepresentations instead of the truth you seek.
Why Wikipedia Fails
I believe that the concept behind Wikipedia is brilliant. It is the manifestation of that concept where Wikipedia becomes worthless as anything other than a valuable starting point. You may be unaware of it, but anyone can edit anything on their sites. Wikipedia, in the quote above, points this out. Recently one person, with some sort of personal vendetta against certain occult personalities, tried to have many of their entries deleted from Wikipedia. In a similar way, one person can eliminate or make misrepresentations in Wikipedia entries for the valued contributions of important people. Interestingly, Wikipedia will not allow original source material as documentation to claims. They will allow secondary interpretations of that primary material, even if those secondary sources have mistakes and misrepresentations. The fact is, with Wikipedia you never know what you will get.
This was exemplified in a recent blog post by Robert McLuhan. In it he describes a group that calls itself “Guerrilla Skeptics,” a group with the goal of altering Wikipedia entries to put forward their view. Now at first I thought this was more of something that could be traced to the satire website The Onion. To my surprise, there actually is such an organization. CalledÂ Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia, they claim that: ”Â The mission of the Guerrilla Skepticism editing team is to improve skeptical content on Wikipedia. We do this by providing noteworthy citations, and removing unsourced claims from paranormal pages.”
For this group, politics, not facts, becomes the moving force. They will change anything that dares to disagree with them. “Noteworthy citations” can be from their own sources even if the quality of those citations is questionable. Making subtle changes or eliminating anything that counters their opinion is another of their methods.
I have nothing against people who follow what I have repeated called “the religion of scientism” (an ersatz neo-religion based on archaic beliefs). That they may defend their belief system with all the ferocity and fervor of any religious fundamentalists is certainly their right. I do regret that they have usurped the term “skepticism” to mean the denunciation of anything and anyone daring to disagree with their beliefs. I also think that their insistence that they represent scientific thought (they don’t) and methodology (which they don’t follow) should be seen as being as unrelentingly unscientific as those who insist we must all believe that the world is about 6,000 years old and that early humans lived with dinosaurs.
Outgrown Its Original Purpose
No encyclopedia is perfect. There are ones that are more accurate than Wikipedia and some that are wildly less accurate.
However, Wikipedia has outgrown being “just an encyclopedia.” It is considered by many to be the ultimate resource for information on any subject. It is accepted by many people as accurate and correct. Most people never read their disclaimer I shared above. Nor do they look at this other cover-their-butt disclaimer found HERE:
USE WIKIPEDIA AT YOUR OWN RISK
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ANY INFORMATION YOU MAY FIND IN WIKIPEDIA MAY BE INACCURATE, MISLEADING, DANGEROUS, ADDICTIVE, UNETHICAL OR ILLEGAL.
DO NOT RELY UPON ANY INFORMATION FOUND IN WIKIPEDIA WITHOUT INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION. [Emphasis and all caps in original]
Wikipedia has morphed into what many consider a repository of all wisdom, the akashic records of cyberspace. It has become to the 21st century what the Encyclopedia Britannica was to the 19th and 20th centuries. The difference is that the EB gets articles from “scholars, world leaders, expert writersâ€”even Nobel laureates.” Then they edit the articles and verify the facts before they are published. Britannica is not perfect, nor have they been without criticism. But at least they try for accuracy before publication. Wikipedia doesn’t even make the pretense of doing so.
Wikipedia and the Guerrilla Skeptics Vs. Mrs. Piper
Mrs.Â Leonora PiperÂ was born in Nashua, NH, in 1857. Her parents claimed she exhibited signs of psychic abilities as a child. In the 1880s about 30 years after the beginnings of the Spiritualist religion, she developed mediumship abilities and could supposedly speak with the dead. She was investigated by numerous individuals.
This post is not an attempt to defend or debunk Mrs. Piper’s alleged mediumship.
Please look again at the sentence centered above. There is no doubt that Mrs. Piper worked as a medium. And yet, without giving any information on her mediumistic exploits, by simply using the word “alleged,” I called into question her entire history. The same is true with my use of “supposedly” in the paragraph above the sentence. You may think I consider everything she did to be bunk. This is a subtle and often overlooked technique of influence, and it’s one that can easily be used on Wikipedia.
I call your attention to this post on the Daily Grail. It points out that the information on Mrs. Piper in Wikipedia includes some debunking comments by the late Martin Gardner. However, the poster had examined Gardner’s in-depth analysis of Mrs. Piper and came up with over a dozen outright errors, including Gardner’s claims that:
- Piperâ€™s trances â€śnever occurred spontaneously.â€ť A primary source explicitly says they did.
- Her trances “never began when she was alone or asleep.â€ť A primary source says â€śthe access has several times come upon her during sleep.â€ť
- â€ś[W]henever a sitter paid for a sĂ©ance, she had no difficulty going into a trance.â€ť A primary source says â€śSeveral times Mrs. Piper was unable to go into trance at all.â€ť
- “[C]unning cold reading may account for most of Mrs. Piperâ€™s hits.” Primary sources mention investigators considered cold reading as an explanation, but ruled it out.
- She may have used muscle reading by saying Piper “usually” held a clientâ€™s hand “throughout a sitting.” Primary sources say that contact was avoided where possible to remove the chance of muscle reading.
- Piper might have checked obituaries, birth and marriage records, real estate sales, and reference books. This ignores the fact that the original investigators kept sitters’ identities secret and they were introduced under false names.
- Sitters talked freely during seance believing Piper was “asleep,” giving away information. Original investigators noted that they “made it a most careful business not to talk about anything connected with the experiments in Mrs. Piperâ€™s hearing.”
- Mrs. Piper’s trance was a fake. Original researchers (including world-renowned physiologists) noted “by an almost universal consensus of opinion her trance is a genuine one.”
So why don’t you see any of this information in Wikipedia? Because it all comes from primary sourcesâ€”written by people who were actually thereâ€”and Wikipedia doesn’t accept primary sources as evidence! This opens the door for individuals with a grudge or self-described guerrilla skeptics to modify entries to support their religious/political agenda.
I say, “more power to them!” Let the guerrilla skeptics pollute all of the entries they desire. The more they control through deleting what they don’t like and entering what they do likeâ€”even if their entries are in errorâ€”the more people will see Wikipedia for what it is: a bunch of opinions by people with personal agendas.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The only problem is that people see Wikipedia as more than just a collection of such opinions. More and more, however, people are seeing the issues that Wikipedia has. Hopefully, the use of manipulative language, deletion of material that dares to challenge what the (pseudo-) skeptics will allow, and the publication of errors will reduce Wikipedia in the eyes of its users to what it actually is:Â Â a great place to start research but a horrible place to end.