Witchcraft attempts to use psychic powers for practical ends.
In other words, modern witches use magic. Research in parapsychology,
and lessons from the U.S. government’s psychic spying program, are relevant
to magical practice. Unexpected side effects occur. Case studies
in psychical research and theoretical work in anthropology illuminate them.
Parapsychological research on altered states of consciousness,
task complexity, and redundancy shed light on the nature of magic.
Anthropological theories explain the relationship
between magic and social structure. The concept of anti-structure
applies. Neo-pagans have built no significant churches or temples.
They rarely attract large families to gatherings and rituals. Women
play a more prominent role than in mainline religions. Witchcraft
remains marginal. It has been characterized as anti-institutional
and anti-authoritarian. These qualities are conducive to magical
practice. Anti-structural conditions are associated with paranormal
phenomena. Consequently, as witchcraft grows, and strives for stability
and respectability, the efficacy of its magic will likely degrade.
The trickster was central to many so-called “primitive”
religions that used magic, and analyses of the trickster have much to say
The trickster is an irrational being, and today magic
is also considered irrational. It is disparaged in high culture,
especially in academe. This is exemplified by Tanya Luhrmann’s insightful
book Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (1989) where she said: “The
only reason I continued to think of myself as an anthropologist, rather
than as a witch, was that I had a strong disincentive against asserting
that rituals had an effect upon the material world . . . The very purpose
of my involvement . . . would have been undermined by my assent to the
truth of magical ideas” (p. 171). Her feelings typify academe.
This is no accident.
The Trickster and the Paranormal
integrates findings from parapsychology and anthropology that have repercussions
for the practice of magic.