Witchcraft is homeopathy

This will be short. In a previous post I quoted Dr Tom Dolphin’s dignified apology to witches for ever calling homeopathy ‘witchcraft’. Since his retraction, I have been mildly irritated by the continued references to his original description. I still keep seeing the claim that “the BMA calls homeopathy ‘witchcraft'”. Not any more! It’s now just “nonsense on stilts”, OK? (And, of course, the BMA did not call homeopathy anything. The BMA simply voted in favour of a perfectly polite and reasonably-worded motion to stop funding this batshit insanity on the NHS.)

Anyway, having seen the ‘homeopathy as witchcraft’ claim yet again today, I impulsively went off in search of witches. My purpose was to find out about witchcraft and establish the differences between it and homeopathy. I envisioned being able to present some killer argument about newts’ eyes and frogs’ toes being placed straight in a cauldron and simmered — not ‘succussed’ and diluted out of existence. Voilà la différence!

I happened on a UK-based website all about witchcraft called Children of Artemis and appropriately located at witchcraft.org, which helpfully features a ‘spell of the day’. Great! It meant I didn’t have to engage directly with any witches — my beef is not with them, after all. However, I was dismayed to read today’s spell, which I’m copying here in full, in case they make it disappear by tomorrow:

Water Spell

Materials required
Small piece of parchment paper/Blue ink pen.

To achieve the best results perform the spell on the waxing moon.

Write on a peace (sic) of parchment paper a goal you desire in your life, hold it in your left hand and really visualise that the paper is your goal. Believe that the spell has already worked. After five minutes or more throw the paper into a running stream, river or sea, and speak the rhyme below.

Water of stream and open sea,
Tide of change
And prophesy,
Flow of life
Wild and free,
Disperse my spell
So mote it be.

As the charm floats away, the ink and paper dissolve into the water and the spell begins to work.

Epona

My emphasis.

Tom Dolphin should never have taken back his original description. It seems that to be funded on the NHS, witchcraft just needs to be called homeopathy. To the Children of Artemis, I say, go for it.

33 thoughts on “Witchcraft is homeopathy”

  1. Your scientific and investigative rigour in this matter is amazing…

    …for the complete lack of it, of course.

    Perhaps, since you admit you would not wish to actually engage with the people involved based on your existing prejudices (apparently against the people themselves), you’d take the time to read my article on the subject:

    http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=ukgb2&c=words&id=13992

    Don’t worry, it won’t infect you or anything.

    1. Blimey, Rushyo, you sound rattled. You might want to down a frog’s toe special to calm you. I know a website where you might find a recipe.

      As I say in no uncertain terms in the above blog, I have no beef with witches and, as they are generously posting their spells for public perusal, I didn’t need to engage with any of them to find out what a spell consists of, which is all I set out to do. Witches are, as far as I’m concerned, irrelevant for the very reason you give in the article you link to:

      …the practice of Witchcraft does not infer (sic) with evidence-based medical practices. Witchcraft is not state sponsored in lieu of funding for evidence-based medicine, whereas Homeopathy is. I feel it is fair to say that Witches and scientists do not interfere with each other’s practice.

      If you want to interpret my lack of interest in engaging with people who recommend throwing bits of paper into rivers and uttering spells as ‘prejudice’, then I really couldn’t care less.

      Sorry.

  2. So, essentially, you just wanted to preach a bit of religious hatred? Don’t mask this as skepticism, it puts the skeptical community to shame. I’m ashamed to be associated with you. Pathetic.

  3. Right, now I’m slightly below livid:

    Your argument makes as much scientific sense as someone looking at Western medicine and using the description of the ‘cold treatment’, bringing people back to life, as a justification for calling all Western medicine a sham.

    There’s no evidence, no investigation, no knowledge. It’s pure ignorance. That’s all this post comes across as. This is the worst piece of ‘skeptical’ writing I’ve ever read – and I really do hesitate to call it that.

  4. Now I’m really confused. Where is the religious hatred in Skeptikat’s blog? All I see is a light-hearted piece pointing out the similarity between a homeopathic remedy and a witches spell found on a witches website. She’s not claiming to make scientific sense.

    Rushyo, your comment sounds like nothing more than a tantrum because someone’s had a dig at witches or homeopaths or both. If you’re not a spoof, you need to get over yourself.

  5. Quite so, Barbara.

    What I’m concerned about, however, is Rushyo’s suggestion that he is in some way “associated” with me. Just to be absolutely clear: he isn’t.

  6. “What I’m concerned about, however, is Rushyo’s suggestion that he is in some way “associated” with me. Just to be absolutely clear: he isn’t.”

    I was speaking broadly as a skeptic.

    “Thanks for the interesting link, Pilch. Seems not all witches are the harmless souls I’d assumed.”

    I’m beginning to feel the same way about skeptics all of a sudden.

  7. For anyone who isn’t familiar with me (which Iimagine would be the majority of people reading this), I’m a scientist genuinely studying the effects and trying to bring aspects of Witchcraft into the scientific fold.

    My work is being made rather difficult by elements on both sides of the fence that insist on refusing to recognise the other as ‘worthy of any investigation of merit’, acting like children and throwing their core values out of the window to besmirch each other.

    A skeptic that throws skepticism out of the window as soon as Witchcraft is mentioned is no better than Wiccan that turns around and throws the rede out of the window when it comes to issues of scientific interest (such as medicine).

    Witches are just as ‘surprised’ when skeptics get all flustered about the inappropriate use of witchcraft in healthcare as you lot seem to be by me supporting not slagging off witchcraft because it amuses you to do so.

    I’m seeing the absolutely worst of both communities recently.

    “All I see is a light-hearted piece pointing out the similarity between a homeopathic remedy and a witches spell found on a witches website.”

    Really, does that justify her response where she basically denegrates the behaviour of others without any evidence? (see comments)

    “She’s not claiming to make scientific sense.”

    I noticed, but since this is a skeptical blog perhaps this isn’t the place for it. Perhaps slagging other people’s activities off should be left until there’s some evidence, or in a more appropriate forum. Not whilst purporting to be a skeptic.

  8. Of the research I’m doing, Wiccans have told me it is a fool’s errand. Not based any lack of scientific evidence – but because they fully expect common prejudice against witchcraft to override any scientific proof that is gleaned.

    I’m currently trying to convince the witchcraft community as a whole that such a view is incorrect and skeptics would be at the forefront of presenting earnst-while, meaningful scientific debate and wouldn’t stoop to prejudiced remarks before they had seen a scrap of evidence.

    I can’t help but feel that with comments like this perhaps I’m talking crap and their concerns are entirely justified. Perhaps the skeptical community can’t actually be relied upon to behave in a skeptical manner unless it suits the context.

  9. Thank you for your response, Rushyo, but you have not answered my question. Your responses here have been very emotive – you sure don’t sound like a scientists – and you accuse SC of preaching religious hatred. You now further accuse her of denigrating the behavior of others without any evidence and of slagging people’s activities off.

    I have re-read both the blog post and the comments and I still don’t see this. Your purpose would be better served if you could be more specific about what you object to and why.

    It seems to me that SC’s piece was mainly ridiculing homeopathy. Yes, she had a dig at witches too but that was obviously a joke and, so far as I can see, a harmless one. So what exactly is your problem?

  10. Ok, specific objections:

    a) The implication homeopathy is witchcraft. I’ve already discussed in the aforementioned article why I think this is an offensive comparison. The BMA discussion was actually in good humour – and I accept it entirely as such, it made me laugh aloud. I have no personal issue with it. This, on the other hand, honestly has nothing to suggest it is good natured, when it incurs responses such as this:

    “You might want to down a frog’s toe special to calm you.”

    To a Witch, this is clearly going to be offensive. It would be like insulting an Islamist with a joke about where they should stick their ḥijāb. Why would that be considered any more appropriate?

    As far as Wiccans go, I perceive myself to be quite laid back about my religion – but I will not accept insults like this simply because other people find it humorous. There was no justification relating to humour here unless you find insulting people about their religious beliefs to be amusing – and that makes it no more justified.

    I feel this is world’s apart from how the BMA behaved. If people find that humourous then I feel like it’s for the same reason people choose to would laugh as they kick the ‘[insert religion or disability here] weirdo’. That’s why I find it unreasonable as a witch.

    b) “I didn’t need to engage with any of them to find out what a spell consists of, which is all I set out to do”

    Which is no more sensible that judging modern medical practice by one procedure or drug you pluck from any old source, which was my initial argument.

    Homeopathy is the subject of ridicule because it has a weight of scientific evidence against it. Witchcraft does not (surprisingly!).

    To refer to my earlier analogy:

    The idea that Western medicine can cheat certain death would seem laughable until you actually see it happening. Scientific evidence has proven that it is possible. To a witch, this post is no more reasonable than suggesting Western medicine is a sham because it has that ‘silly’ idea. It’s not a valid argument and it servers primarily to perpetuate prejudices that already exist for no good reason.

    The whole point of skepticism is to rewrite ‘common sense’ and ‘public knowledge’ and replace it with reliable evidence – so as not to perpetuate bad ideas. This post is the exact opposite. That’s why I find it unreasonable as a skeptic.

  11. For completeness sake I shall state this: My original argument was with the completely un-skeptical nature of the post and the implication that this kind of non-investigation perpetuates existing problems. Then there was the separate religious insult.

  12. Rushyo/Danny

    Going by the example of the spell provided, the comparison with homeopathy would seem to be a fair one. Are you defending the spell? Do you really think it can work? OK, I take your point that it’s only one spell and not a scientific comparison but the whole article is clearly intended as a bit of fun. I realise you are in a place where you can’t see it like that but what is not clear from your own posts is exactly what harm you think a piece like this does. You have not justified your allegation that SC is “preaching religious hatred”. Clearly you were offended you by her response to your first comment but then your first comment was pretty vitriolic. If you can’t take it don’t dish it out. You would have done a whole lot better just to calmly state your objections in the first place instead of being first snide then hysterical. If you are going to stand up for any religion that incorporates the use of magic, rituals and the supernatural you need to learn to suck it up and grow a thicker skin because such religions are a natural and legitimate target for skeptics.

  13. “I realise you are in a place where you can’t see it like that but what is not clear from your own posts is exactly what harm you think a piece like this does.”

    To explain why I’m so tetchy about the issue, I think any Witch would be. I don’t know one who hasn’t been physically assaulted in light of the misguided presumptions people spread. I certainly have – and I know people who have been horribly scarred and maimed, as a joke. It was all very funny to the people doing it.

    Ergo it’s not a subject I would generally take lightly. I would give the topic the gravitas I feel it deserves. Call it a ‘Galileo complex’ if you like. The value of establishing facts over adopting society’s wider views has become a core tenant amongst Witches. Something I was under impression us, as skeptics, were supposed to champion as well.

    Whilst it is indeed a ‘natural and legitimate target’ for skeptics, unfortunately there’s nothing skeptical about this. It’s about as unskeptical as you can get. To me, I see nothing but an ignorant joke that plays on the very societal prejudices skepticism is supposed to prevent and nullify.

    To fly the banner of skepticism over this is insulting to me as a skeptic. It makes me ashamed to be associated with such behaviour – makes me question whether I want to be apart of such a community at all. There’s no knowledge to be had here – no skepticism. Just reveling in willful ignorance of a subject, like a bunch of schoolkids. My response was ‘vitriolic’, as you put it, because I’ve never seen a rational skeptic behave in such a childish manner about any subject they knew nothing about. In my view it undermines everything skepticism inquiry represents to behave like that.

    If I may quote Wikipedia:

    “Scientific skeptics attempt to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourage accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence.”

    and

    “Scientific skeptics do not assert that unusual claims should be automatically rejected out of hand on a priori grounds”

    Were I an independent observer I would surmise I was not talking to skeptics – in fact I might reasonably surmise I was talking to the polar opposite given those definitions.

    I also found this quote, which I feel is very appropriate given the context:

    ‘The greatest ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about’ -US author H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

  14. PS. Since this might actually go somewhere: “Are you defending the spell? Do you really think it can work?”

    Sure. Why not? Scientists prove dafter things all the time. I mean, imagine what people would have said a few hundred years ago if you suggested that a magic field of energy specially calibrated would let you play in a virtual 3D world with a million people from around the world instantly, where you could talk and use video over the distance of the planet in near-real time. And that eventually that kind of power would rest in a little device in your hand. They’d lock you up and throw away the key.

    Much ‘magic’ has already been dissolved into mainstream science. Hypnosis. Magnets. Much of the field of psychology (after all, they would have said our soul controls our actions…)! All considered ‘magic’ until they were scientifically evaluated and proven to be perfectly logical.

    Pretty much everything in science seems ridiculous until it is evaluated to be true or false. Skeptical activism exists for the purpose of exposing the chaff – but also for finding the gems and until you perform rational investigation, you’re essentially blind as to which is which. That’s the entire point of the scientific method, is it not?

  15. And when you consider just how gigantic the field of witchcraft actually is, how many forms it takes, it seems reasonable to me that it’s at least worth considering some of them might have some grounding.

    It surprises me just how much of the vastness of witchcraft isn’t actually documented in scientific writing at all. Very little of it is actually proven not to work. There seems to be a pervasive assumption, as is true with all controversial scientific discoveries, that ‘common knowledge’ is complete and there’s no point continuing. But science doesn’t work like that.

  16. Danny this is just a response to the first part of your first comment because I don’t have time to read your others at the moment.

    Again, please be specific. You are accusing SC of spreading misguided presumptions? Which misguided presumption did you have in mind and why do you think this presumption is dangerous for people? I mean, if SC had suggested witches were ritual child abusers, I could understand where you are coming from. If she’d fabricated the scientifically implausible spell and attributed it to witches, I could understand you for being mad. But all she did was lift a real spell from a real witches website and copy it here with the minimum of comment and what comment she did make was obviously opinion. She didn’t claim any hard facts and it’s not at all clear to me why you think the opinion expressed could possibly be dangerous to anyone.

    Bottom line is you came to a blog and abused a blogger for expressing an opinion you don’t like, the opinion being that Tom Dolphin should have stuck to calling homeopathy witchcraft.

    I hope you are all able to take a step back and realise why your interventions here are not making any sense beyond demonstrating the oversensitivity and consequent irrationality caused by your deeply emotional attachment to your religion.

  17. And when you consider just how gigantic the field of AltMed actually is, how many forms it takes, it seems reasonable to me that it’s at least worth considering some of them might have some grounding.

    It surprises me just how much of the vastness of AtlMed isn’t actually documented in scientific writing at all. Very little of it is actually proven not to work. There seems to be a pervasive assumption, as is true with all controversial scientific discoveries, that ‘common knowledge’ is complete and there’s no point continuing. But science doesn’t work like that.

    However, that is irrelevant, but Barbara T hits the nail on the head. What, exactly, in what Skepticat said in the OP is it that you have a problem with?

  18. Danny, if Skepticat had made that stuff up I’d see your point, but that’s not what she did. There are people out there calling themselves witches, and it seems like they perform and believe in this silly ritual (actually it reminds me of a 19th century German quackery called “Schluckbildchen”, though I guess it was popular elsewhere, too). If you’re not one of “those witches”, good for you. If you are you’ll have to accept I think it’s silly. (Another thing witchcraft and homeopathy have in common.) If people have been attacked because they’re witches that’s bad, but nobody here is responsible for that or promotes such behaviour, so it’s a straw man, and it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to criticise, even mock witchcraft if I want to.

    While you’re right about science being a continuous process, sceptics don’t have to prove witchcraft doesn’t work (you can’t prove a negative). Witchcraft has to prove it works (or rather witches have to). If it is, I won’t have a problem changing my mind about witchcraft, but until then I prefer to think of it as fairy tale BS.

  19. Thanks for all your comments, everyone.

    I can’t improve on the points made by Barbara, Zeno and Vicky and I particularly look forward to Danny’s response the question posed by Barbara but as yet unanswered:

    What EXACTLY did I say that you think amounts to “preaching religious hatred”? As you had the temerity to tweet that I was preaching religious hatred, Danny, I expect you to have the guts to reply to this straight question or else to admit that I am doing no such thing.

    I note that in your article, you say

    “It is important to understand that Witchcraft and religion are considered to be quite separate entities, as articulated at length by members of the Witchcraft community, whilst often found in tandem [5].”

    So according to you, my short piece, which makes fun of one real life example of ‘witchcraft’ was “preaching religious hatred” even though, according to you, witchcraft and religion are considered to be separate entities.

    It’s not looking good for you, Danny.

    And stop giving me all that ‘being ashamed to be part of the skeptic community’, crap. There is no skeptic ‘community’ in any meaningful sense of the word. We are not in any way ‘associated’ with each other beyond your participation on this blog.

  20. If there was such a ‘skeptic community’ Danny would not be a member of it anyway. He’s a pseudoskeptic, not a skeptic – “Just reveling in willful ignorance of a subject, like a bunch of schoolkids.” – as he put it. All that stuff about scientists proving daft things all the time and witchcraft remaining unproven etc. is utter nonsense. The distinction Danny attempts to draw:

    “Homeopathy is the subject of ridicule because it has a weight of scientific evidence against it. Witchcraft does not (surprisingly!).”

    would only be regarded as valid by those other notorious pseudoskeptics – the EBM crowd. 😉

  21. I believe the spell would be more powerful if the paper on which it is written contains sugar and the spell-caster goes downstream a few miles and drinks some water from:).

    For the class of problems for which the placebo effect works, the meditative aspects of witchcraft may be enormously effective.

    My problem with anything requiring magic is the utter lack of any evidence for it. The Law of Similars in homeopathy is one example. Magical thinking interferes with common sense in determination of cause and effect.

    I hope to win the lottery, but that is just wishful thinking, not magical thinking.

    Is there any relation between depression and magical thinking? Severe depression is so disabling that a sufferer may resort to magical/wishful thinking looking for relief, but this is purely speculative.

  22. Written up a blog post here, will gladly fill in any gaps that aren’t adequately addressed: http://rushyo.com/yasb/?p=107

    I do apologise for any confusion that has arisen as a result of my complaints not being clear but I’m not certainly not apologetic for making those complaints vocally heard.

    In essence, my original complaint was entirely non-religious in nature. It was a skeptic, annoyed at a piece of (what I perceived to be) horrendously poor skeptical analysis, commenting upon that work negatively. I believed it would have overarching negative effects. As a scientist and political writer, I’m used to peers and the public going out of their way to criticise my work. I generally find this constructive.

    Then apropos of nothing other than the fact it related to the original topic, my personal religion was brought into the frame – in the form of an insult – an insult whose ‘wittiness’ relied entirely on the fact that it was a prejudiced remark about witches. IE. Religious intolerance – or hatred, if you will. You can argue against the semantics of whether I should have used that term. I think it’s subjective – and I’ve justified the criteria for why I used it in the blog post.

    I have since received personal attacks outside the context of this blog attacking my religious beliefs as a result of my taking offense to this – from a skeptical community (whether I strain the term to mean ‘those who refer to themselves as skeptics’ or otherwise, it amounts to the same thing) who apparently do not believe that religious people are welcome to be skeptics – and deserve to be insulted for their beliefs.

  23. @Danny Moules

    A Journal of Witchcraft?? Flipping heck – are you taking the p****!!!!

    All I can say is you had better ensure that you use spell-check before you publish anything!

  24. Complaining about this short humorous piece on the grounds that it’s a ‘poor skeptical analysis’ would be absurd and pathetic even without the whining and stupidity.

    Maintaining that one is a skeptic and a scientist after writing such bizarre drivel is risible.

    Woundedly pleading that one’s religious beliefs should be exempt from ridicule and attack is just creepy.

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