Home > 2011 Posts > Earthquakes and the Second Rule of Magic

Earthquakes and the Second Rule of Magic

Human cultures believed in magic before myth, or mysticism, or religion. In the hazy dawn of our kind, every person was a magician, no one was a priest. And even down to our own scientific age, magical belief persists.

Black cats are magical Contact omens

Magic is a way to explain cause and effect using two basic rules.

In an earlier post, I wrote briefly about The First Rule of Magic, which is Similarity, that is: like begets like, and an effect resembles its cause. Another post, Sacred Deer Net, was a short story that portrayed how people think and behave in a culture where this rule is an unquestioned truth.

Sir James George Frazer in his book, The Golden Bough, defines the second rule of magic as:

Contact. 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.

Warrior Contact Magic

An example of Contact that was believed across primitive cultures worldwide has to do with hair and nail clippings. If a magician got yours and burned them, you would get a terrible fever and probably die – unless you had some good counter-magic, like an amulet.

Warriors used this rule as well. When a friend was wounded, you wrapped the arrow in moist leaves and kept it cool so that the wound would stay cool as well and then heal. But your enemy, who shot your friend, kept his bow near the fire, causing the wound it made to inflame and fester. Then, the better magician won.

A modern example of the second rule, comes straight out of today’s news. According to an authoritative fellow in the UK, modern humans caused the big earthquake in Japan.

The magical explanation works this way: [1] humans cause a small change in carbon dioxide (a gas that makes up about 0.03% of the atmosphere), [2] that change causes polar ice caps to melt, [3] less weight on the ground causes continental plates to rise, and [4] that shift in those plates causes the earthquake in Japan.

A human-caused earthquake

So, by a magical chain of Contact, humans caused the earthquake in Japan. My guess is that maybe 5% of people on the planet, and perhaps many more, accept the magical chain of Contact above as real. Thus, magical belief is alive and well in the modern world. But today it often wears the glitzy costume of Junk Science and belts out its latest hit backed up by the hip sounds of those rockin’ celebrity groups, Responsible Journalists and Settled Science.

On a personal note: when I was 6, I believed that moving treetops caused the wind to blow. Jimmy, a Big Kid of 8 at my school, had told me that, so I thought it must be true. Mom was very kind when she explained how things really work.

Kinder than me.

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  1. July 20, 2011 at 6:53 am

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