Tag Archives: Miracles and Magic

Magic And Miracles (4)

sorceress 3
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

Following last week’s thread, what is the difference between praying for a miracle and casting a spell? I can only give you my impression/opinion. Let’s start with magic. One of the characteristics of magic that strikes me as different from Christianity has to do with manipulation. It seems to me that the sorcerer, sorceress, warlock, or witch sees himself or herself as mastering a skill or craft which makes possible the manipulation of people, nature, circumstances, and even supernatural entities.

sorceress 5
Sorceress by Frank Frazetta

To the extent that Christians try to cajole God for favors, I think they are behaving more like magicians than disciples. God is not a trained animal act, and he does not perform at our bidding. Does this mean that he should not be asked to intervene? Not necessarily. It depends on three things as I see it: what we are asking for, our motivation for doing so, and our attitudes about ourselves in relation to God.

William Blake
William Blake: Jesus giving sight to Bartimaeus

Without requiring all of my readers to believe as I do, I think it is helpful to look at how the scriptures describe (often by implication) the nature and purpose of miracles. In my own reading and contemplation I have settled (again) on three characteristics. First, miracles provide genuine help to those who need it. Second, they reveal some aspect of the character and nature of God. Third, as a result of this, they require something of us in the way of humility, commitment, and submission to a higher authority. Assuming (again, as the scriptures imply) that this authority is benevolent and has our truly best interests at heart, God should not be expected to conform to our limited and often misguided agendas. You may not believe he exists, but if you do, this has to be considered.

grace
Grace by Rhoda Nyberg (painting from 1918 photograph of Charles Wilden taken by her father, Eric Enstrom)

Some of you may remember that in a previous post (THE GODDESS MENTALITY – PART 3 from this same Myth and Reality category) I stated that I do not respect powerful people simply for being powerful. Seeking supernatural empowerment in and of itself can be very destructive. What if we get what we want? Will we use it for good or ill? Are we even in a position to be able to tell the difference?

giovanni_lanfranco_-_miracle_of_the_bread_and_fish_-_wga12454
The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1674)

It makes sense to me that God’s gifts, however commonplace or unusual, would be granted on his terms. Finally, by asking for the wrong things or for the right things for the wrong reasons, do people simply delude themselves and thereby compromise their abilities to function in the real world? On my ABOUT page, I say something to the effect that fantasy can give us a beneficial perspective  from which to examine reality. When fantasy becomes too much of our reality, the balance shifts toward distortion and dysfunction.

Okay, enough of the heavy stuff. I promise to  lighten things up and have more fun next week. Teaser: So what does Wonder Woman look like?

Gadot-Wonder-Woman1

 

Magic And Miracles (3)

I remember when a former colleague first came to our campus to interview for a position in Sociology. I had noticed in her curriculum vita (that’s academic for “resume”) that her dissertation topic was on magic and witchcraft, so I asked her about it. Her response: “I’m not a witch if you’re worried about that.” I wasn’t, and she went on to explain that she was studying it as a sociological phenomenon. All the while, I was thinking of that scene from Monty Python (those of you who have seen it know which one).

The Sorceress (2002) from the He-Man/Masters of the Universe series

In later discussions, as I remember, she explained to me that most Wiccans were women and that many of them had been physically or sexually abused. Wicca appealed to them as a means of empowerment in the face of some very unpleasant circumstances in which they felt otherwise powerless. Note that she did not say this applied to all Wiccans but that it was a prominent trend among those practicing this religion.

The Sorceress Greek by John William Waterhouse

We have a prestigious lecture on our campus which is given every two years. She was awarded this lecture by vote of our faculty and chose this area of interest as her topic. I remember that during the talk she blurred the boundaries between magic and other religious faiths, and that got me to thinking. Are those who pray for divine intervention, sometimes in the form of miracles, doing essentially the same thing as those who recite incantations or pronounce spells?

Medea by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandysk (1866-1868)

To answer this question, I narrowed it down to a comparison between belief in magic and the one religion with which I am most familiar: Christianity. So what is the difference between spells and prayer for miracles?

Sorceress by Rafaella Picca

I can see now that this is going to require more explanation than I originally thought, so I will continue this discussion next week.

Magic And Miracles (1)

Moses Delivering the Ten Commandments by William Hawkins
The Temptation of Christ by Ary Schefer, 1854

As an educator and as a casual observer of popular culture, I believe that our society is overly dependent on passive entertainment. We view more than we read. We assume more than analyze. Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve read very many of my posts in the past, you know that I love some of the entertainment that’s out there. My concern is the degree to which we are dependent on it.

In the biology courses which I teach, I emphasize the scientific method of thinking, its limits, and how this relates to our perception of reality. We currently have a problem with scientific literacy in America, but arguments which merely appear more scientific are given more widespread credibility.  I call this faux intellectualism the “culture of the scientific.” It’s more a statement of style than of content.

Additionally, our emotions influence our perception of reality. We believe in things we want to be true. Conversely, we disbelieve things we don’t want to be true. From this perspective, truth is often perceived as inconvenient, but consider the alternative. Ignorance can hurt or even kill us, and denying the existence of something doesn’t prevent it from affecting us if it’s real.

Finally, there is what sociologists term the “social construction of reality.” We tend to believe what those whom we identify with believe or what the majority of people believe, and that can sometimes get us into trouble. Metaphorically, the blind can lead the blind. Truth is not established by majority vote, and history is replete with cases involving individuals who went against the status quo and were later vindicated.

I have described a cultural mash in which our shared perception of reality is affected by at least four factors: our desire for and orientation toward entertainment, a “culture of the scientific” among the scientifically illiterate, emotional preference, and the social construction of reality. Within this context, society has grown increasingly incredulous about the existence of spiritual beings and the occurrence of miracles. This has been accompanied by a general drift away from the tenets of Judaism and Christianity. Historically, the two most prominent lines of thought in the development of western civilization have been the Greco Roman and Judeo Christian traditions.

Gods of Olympus, 1534-35 Giulion Romano
Gods of Olympus (1534-1535) by Giulio Romano
the-ascension-1801
The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801
SchoolAthens
School of Athens by Raphael
The last supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Ironically, western culture has shown an increased sympathy for Islam (with notable exceptions) and an increased interest in magic, paganism, and witchcraft even as it discards Judaism and Christianity as being irrelevant, superstitious, or worse. Please note what I am not saying. These are trends among diverse individuals who happen to exist in significant numbers. They are not the product of widespread, monolithic group think.

christianhinduspagans

Okay. This is my teaser. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, but I’ll pick it up again next week.