Current Essays

Run your cursor gently over Rowie's ear to 'ear the essay.

Letter to America: Unsympathetic On:2022-04-16 06:12:30

My Dear Americans,
   Of course I'm sure we've all read the Golden Bough and so are familiar with James Frazer's coinage of the term 'Sympathetic Magic' (though, even more of-course-ly, the Germans got there first with Sympathiezauber---bloody typical, innit?).

He (that's our guy Frazer not the Germans1) said that its practitioners believed that:
"like produces like, ... an effect resembles its cause": the Law of Similarity (which I'm sure couldn't really have been cheap dig at homeopathy) and that
"things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed", the Law of Contact or Contagion
Whilst this last has actually been demonstrated to be true, and quantum entanglement2 is one of the bedrocks of modern physics—though to be honest and as someone with a Physics background I'd take modern physics with a pinch of salt especially since those guys at Fermilab just noticed that the W boson is a whole 0.1% heavier than it should be3, and those guys aren't Bozos! So who knows-os?
Anyway, not to dwell on the Dark Matter of physics, sympathetic magic is where something resembling or symbolically associated with an event or a person over which influence is sought is used, the classic example being the voodoo doll. You make it, perhaps adding something, hair or toenail clippings or in extreme cases snot from your victim. You stab it with a pin and your victim goes "Ouch!" or in extreme cases sneezes.
It is worth considering that, just like the Roman God Janus, that damn woman in the corner house or even a coin, magic has two faces and unsympathetic magic is the other one. The evil twin.
In unsympathetic magic you do something to encourage an event and it of course prevents it. Or you do something to prevent an event and you can guess what happens.
Consider, for example, the aforementioned voodoo doll: you stock it up with discarded portions of your victim's anatomy and, laughing "Bwahahah", you stab it vigorously with a pin which goes right through the bloody doll and sticks into your hand and you go "Ouch!". Yup that’s magic about as unsympathetic as it can get.
Then there are phenomena such as conspiracy theories where the less informed among us get together (on say Facebook, or even in person) to defeat some imaginary conspiracy thereby actually creating a conspiracy of their own that isn't imaginary in the least.
Or the Anti-VAXXer movement which I'm sure we're all familiar with, you know, those avoiding vaccination because of such things as Bill Gates's microchip implant programme who only avoid whatever it is they are trying to avoid by dying more or less horribly. Though that one may just be boring old sympathetic magic used by the undertakers union.
In less evil areas of life, we all know exactly what happens if you wash your car one sunny morning, or again when you are expecting a package or a visitor on a certain day at say 1 o'clock in the afternoon you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and finally at 4 o'clock you give up on them, or it, in disgust and you leave the house.
Guess what happens at five past four.
You see, unlike sympathetic magic unsympathetic magic doesn't even require intent.
And it can work in quite complicated ways, consider: it's raining hard and it's cold and blustery, but you are determined to go for a brisk walk anyway. You check your weather app. "Windy. Continuing cold and wet till late evening", so undaunted you wrap up in your warmest waterproof with maybe an extra layer of clothing under it and you head out into the storm. You've gone hardly a couple of miles down the road when of course the clouds break and the Sun comes blazing out, but you soldier on, getting hotter and hotter and sweatier and sweatier. In danger of heatstroke and about to redefine 'hangry' as 'hot and angry' rather than 'hungry and angry', you stop and remove your coverings...just as the storm reappears, redoubled, and a speeding truck thunders through a large and near-by puddle and drenches you. You wonder what you did to cause, or deserve this. Then as you stand shaking a dripping fist at the truck, the sky, the Sun, Fate and the Universe, an incontinent seagull flies overhead. Very slowly.
Kindest regards,
Richard Howland-Bolton
and, of course,
Cheerio for now
from me!


1 See Richard Andree: Ethnographische Parallelen und Vergleiche (1878)

2 Quantum Entanglement

3 On the BBC, so it MUST be right

<-- Go Back

Home | Essays | Notes | Gallery | Miscellany | Contact

All contents including writing, cartooning, music, and photography unless otherwise specified are
copyright © 1965-2022 and Richard Howland-Bolton. All Rights Reserved.
All logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.
Web work* by
*as distinct from Wetwork