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February 19, 2019

Reflections: The belief in witchcraft and magic

A witchdoctor's tool of work
A witchdoctor's tool of work

Many people do not believe in witchcraft and magic. We poh poh the idea of hexes and spell-casting amulets, dismissing such things as voodoo and mind control enchantments as mere superstition, or something you’d find only in fairy tales and movies.

But there is one magical artefact we all believe in. This artefact is so powerful, it has the combined power of all witchcraft and magical practices you’ve ever heard of, or even seen in a movie. We call this magical artefact — money.

I thought it a ridiculous idea at first, but on further reflection on how money is very much like witchcraft and magic, it just clicked. Money does have all the powers of sorcery.

Picture this scene. A shipping container in a Kenyan port. The container is chock-full of goods that should be charged customs duty. Over there, approaching the container, is a customs official carrying a clipboard with the shipping and duty paperwork pertaining to the container. The official gets to the container and from nowhere, the owner of the container is standing in front him. The owner then says to the official, while faintly waving a cash-laden hand in front of the official’s face, ‘This is not the container you’re looking for. Everything inside is duty-free.’ To which the official says, ‘Yes. This is not the container I am looking for.’ And as the official says this, he turns to the documents on his clipboard and signs off on the goods as duty-free. This is very much like the magic in a Jedi mind trick.

For the benefit of those who’ve never come across the fictional universe of Star Wars (though I can’t imagine who hasn’t), a Jedi is warrior who has the power of the Force (cosmic powers). One of the many things a Jedi can do with the Force is implant suggestions into the mind of those they encounter. For example, in one of the Star Wars movies, when Obi-Wan (a Jedi) runs into enemy soldiers looking for droids sitting right next him, he faintly waves his hand and, using the Force, he delivers a line that has become iconic: ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for.’ To which the soldiers agree, word for word.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the frog that turns into a prince. Money, too, has the power of a shape-shifting spell. A broke 70-year-old man chatting up a 19-year-old girl, trying to convince her they go back to his place is a dirty old man. But with money, the same old man shape-shifts into an attractive prospect as sponsor. Frog. Spell. Prince.

Also, when someone has money, we believe he knows everything. Never mind the little fact that we all know that no one can know everything. But money does grant an individual (or so we believe), the all-wise, all-knowing magic of the wizard Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings.  

And tell me if you’ve heard of this one. Rich man causing pain to little people from far away, say by demolishing their house while they sleep. Who else can inflict pain remotely? A voodoo priest, perhaps, sticking pins into a little effigy that looks like his hapless victim?

Like all witchcraft and magic however, the magical power of money over people has a flaw. Which is, magic only works if you believe in it, so you if don’t, you’ll never fall under its spell.

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