The ancients saw demons haunting people who acted irrationally. They also feared certain phrases or images that could capture the mind and enslave one to demons.
I used to think, like most “educated” modern people, that this meant the ancients were ignorant. Now I think it means they were more poetic and metaphorical than us, certainly, but also more keen observers of the human condition.
For demonic possession exists, and it does occur through highly palatable ideas and images. It sets us on a path of bad decision-making which amplifies the original mistake until it occludes any chance of our returning to normalcy. Like zombies, we become creatures of our condition.
I don’t know if it has a supernatural origin. It might. What I do know is that people, by making moral choices of dubious value, set themselves on a path to demonic possession. Once there, they find the path only deepens and further separates themselves from all good things.
If magic is a way of perceiving the world, then it may be more ‘real’ than the enlightenment-rationalist method of pretending as if the many things that we don’t understand accord to natural laws that we only pretend to be familiar with.
To play with rhetoric a bit, what differentiates natural law from the laws of magic? Wasn’t Newton an alchemist?
Even iPhone hardware engineers tend to have only limited understanding of how each component works. How the touchscreen glass functions may be well-known to a hardware engineer at Apple, but the chemical structure of the material is likely to be highly obscured to him — an expert in the design of the overall device. No single person has all the knowledge necessary to craft an iPhone.
Further, to final users of an iPhone, its functions are likely to be ‘indistinguishable from magic’ in Arthur C. Clarke’s words. That the device communicates via radio waves that contain sophisticated data with a convoluted network is obscure to the average user. All of the words that describe what the device does are meaningless to the average owner of it. To the typical user, it’s a talisman that grants him telepathic powers, the ability to capture images with a gesture, and the capacity to conjure documents at will.
Even the complete hardware specifications for the iPhone will not include all the obscure methods for extracting its materials from the earth and refining them.
Consider the doctor: he uses esoteric knowledge, gained from centuries of human dissections, alchemical research, and practice to bring men back t health. He wears a sacred robe, or ‘scrubs’ purified through obscure knowledge to protect his hands from invisible malefactors that might as well be evil spirits were they not visible under a microscope.
And what is a microscope but a method for inspecting the world of tiny spirits in greater detail?
To shift to a darker tone, what is the Left but a machine that draws a sort of dark energy from the mass-sterilization of women? When an abortionist kills an infant, is this not a ritual of sorts? When women eat dry tinctures in tiny plastic packages formed from the eldritch recombination of long-dead things in enormous steel cauldrons (hydrocarbons, mana, whatever) to transform their wombs into fleshy deathchambers, doesn’t that have some impact on the human soul?
The mechanistic view of what’s going on rests on a different language, with less resonance.
For that matter, what is a ‘climate scientist’ but a wizard or oracle who is bad at his job? Should we not judge wizards by the strength and consistency of their spells? What use is an augur if all his auguries are false?
Isn’t it disturbing to pure materialists that men in robes embroidered with gold to fill church pews each Sunday? Can we say that there’s no magic in their rituals? If there’s no magic in their rituals, if it’s all a set of elaborate cons performed by hairless apes upon their fellows why is it much harder for materialists to draw the faithful into their pews?
If we arbitrarily redefine science and engineering as competent wizardry, neither concept loses salience.