It is important for people who practice magick to be true skeptics. Too often I have seen people perform a ritual and then get swept away into a world where chance and mere happenstance are attributed to their magickal working. Such people constantly see magickal forces (often working against them) rather than more common explanations.
If you’re feeling sick, assume flu first, magickal attack last.
As any person who regularly works with magick knows, most people don’t believe in magick. Those who go around saying that every creaking sound in an old house is the sign of a ghost or the failure of a politician is due to their magickal ritual only make the doubters laugh more heartily. And that is more likely to influence those who tend to be agnostic in their beliefs about magick than all of your rituals combined.
Keeping a magickal diary (as I discuss in Modern Magick) is more than just journaling. It is a legitimate scientific record of your experiments (rituals, spells, etc.) and the results of your experiments. This is part of what is called the scientific method. It requires what I call “true skepticism.” If you can show that repeated experiments produce the same results, if rituals repeatedly work, your record provides great evidence for the efficacy of magick. If you don’t get good results, your record may indicate where you need to change things to get the desired results. This is basic science.
While there are some magick practitioners who simply assume that anything and everything is caused by their rituals, I would contend that mere chance might have implied a cause and effect when there is none. The magickal record can prove that there is an actual cause and effect between a spell and a result. With magick it’s of great value to be skeptical. It helps to keep you grounded.
Skeptical vs. the Skeptics
My dictionary defines the word skeptical as “not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations.” Unfortunately, the word has been usurped and changed by a small coterie of self-righteous individuals who call themselves skeptics. It’s important to note that although they use the term, modern skeptics are not skeptical. They have a predetermined materialistic set of beliefs and will do just about anything to maintain their beliefs. And for some reason, it’s important to them that you must agree with them! If you don’t, they will attack you repeatedly. They will even lie and misrepresent facts to support their belief system. Perhaps the most egregious example of this was exposed when true skeptic Dennis Rawlins published his article, “sTARBABY,” in FATE magazine. That was almost 30 years ago. It had a decimating, albeit temporary, effect on the so-called “skeptic” movement.
Years later, I actually became the Editor-In-Chief of FATE magazine. One of the first articles we published under my editorship was on an example of Spontaneous Human Combustion. Shortly after it appeared, I received a letter from two so-called skeptics, asking why I hadn’t included their debunking of the case, a debunking that had appeared about a year earlier in FATE! At the time, we had not been able to catalog and database everything from decades of FATE history. Even so, I felt very embarrassed that we hadn’t included this alternate explanation to the case…until I read the “debunking” article. The two “skeptics,” who had previously written fairly regularly for FATE, hadn’t gone to the site of the incident. They hadn’t talked to anyone. Their debunking consisted of their talking about it over on the phone.
So I printed their letter and immediately followed it with a response that described their “debunking” method. I never heard from them again. I assume that they were unhappy that FATE was no longer going to be a place where they could espouse their philosophy without challenge.
And that’s what’s really going on. I showed real skepticism about their debunking and they didn’t like it. The so-called skeptics—more accurately called “pseudo-skeptics” or “debunkers”—have a predetermined mind-set and like religious fundamentalists, will strongly support their beliefs and attack those who disagree.
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.
The above quote is from the British philosopher Herbert Spencer. That is what the so-called skeptics would like to do, keep people in “everlasting ignorance.” They claim to be defenders of science and rationality, but they are not.
The Lord of the Skeptics
Although various skeptical groups have their dogmatic leaders, probably the chief mover in the area of modern (pseudo-) skepticism was Martin Gardner (1914–2010). There is no doubt in my mind that Gardner was an amazing genius. He published over 70 books on topics ranging from mathematics, science, games, philosophy, and literature to debunking. His first book of debunking, now titled, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, is still considered the archetypal debunking book.
But being a genius doesn’t prevent someone from having pre-set notions and defending them rather than using the scientific method that a person such as Gardner knew so well. Geniuses are also human beings, and as such they are often controlled and manipulated by their personal beliefs and past experiences.
It appears that such is very much the case with Gardner. That is why I’d like to draw your attention to what I consider to be a genius post by Greg Taylor of the Daily Grail blog.
The post, entitled “Skeptical of a Skeptic,” is brilliant, showing how Gardner used secondary sources and ignored easily available information that might have cast a different light on his “exposure” of the famed medium, Leonora Piper. Today’s pseudo-skeptics use his debunking in attacking Mrs. Piper rather than go back to the original documents. I would encourage everyone to read Taylor’s post.
As the title of the post you are reading indicates, I believe that minds are like parachutes. They work best when they are open. When you close your mind, taking a pseudo-skeptical attitude rather than one of true skepticism, you are opposing real science and opposing real magick. I would encourage magickal practitioners to be real skeptics, not pseudo-skeptics or mere debunkers.
What do you think?