Pagan Blog Project 2014

Pagan Blog Project 2014

 

The Question: When do we apply psychological principles to Witchcraft/energy work? When we say that the confirmation bias is what is really at work for superstitious beliefs, why don’t we also apply it to things Witches frequently use, like astrology and Tarot?

In my opinion, the answer to when we apply psychology to our spiritual beliefs is always and never.

As Witches, we do our best to be aware of both aspects, which is where ‘know thyself’ comes into great importance. Psychology is considered a ‘soft science’, unlike the rigid laws of most observational sciences, and psychological interpretation is constantly re-evaluated, changed, and rephrased as we develop wider understanding of individual and social behaviours. Technically, within psychology, any religious or spiritual belief could be described as a mental illness despite the fact that certain (usually very orthodox) religious views are considered an accepted part of the social environment. Confirmation bias (seeing what we want or expect to see) appears within many aspects of life and can be almost inseparable from the choices, decisions and events that lead on from the initial bias. In the case of readings, charts or horoscopes, confirmation bias affects the way in which we remember the ‘Hits’ (relevant to our lives) and forget the ‘Misses’ (irrelevant to our lives). We are encouraged to explore such confirmation bias within our lives, to distinguish the personal experiences and individual interpretation of events from the reality of a situation. Yet studies have shown that confirmation bias exists even within the field of psychology, the very professionals who espouse awareness may also fall prey to this behaviour (doctors will see abnormal behaviour when there is none, simply when told that a ‘patient’ previously exhibited abnormal behaviour; or will diagnose a sane person in a psychiatric environment as insane regardless of behaviour – see the Rosenhan Experiment). The spiritual concept of synchronicity is a great example of confirmation bias within most interpretations of psychology, and yet was first proposed by the psychologist Carl Jung. Although made more widely known by Deepak Chopra, also examining the works of Carl Jung and those who dispute his work will give a good understanding of synchronicity from both sides of the argument. Technically a synchronistic event is both irrelevant to and integral to the personal interpretation, actions and events that follow.

For example: I step outside my back door and see a raccoon. They are not uncommon where I live, but I have never seen one and certainly not this close. The presence of the raccoon and his masked eyes sparks a chain of thought about wearing masks and hiding true intentions. This plays into a situation in my life and the chain of thought leads me to consider an action. I ponder this for a day or two, and each day I see a raccoon. The repeated presence of the raccoon confirms my initial thought process and signals me to take action.

Now, the animal may or may not have been a spirit ally or guide – that is almost a different conversation. To a scientist and psychologist the presence of the animal holds no significant relevance to the chain of events that follow, nor does it hold any relevance to any future events. A family of raccoons simply moved into the area where I live, end of story. The fact that I import significance to the presence of the raccoon at that time and continue to build upon that significance in immediate, subsequent and perhaps future situations is a clear example of confirmation bias. I experience a similar life situation, I recall the significance of the raccoon, I see a raccoon, I confirm the significance. Therefore the repeated presence of the raccoon is neither magical nor mystical, it is irrelevant. However, without the presence of the raccoon which sparked a chain of thought I may never have taken action. Consequently, the raccoon is also integral to the process of events that follow.

To those following a magical path, we must learn to understand both the irrelevance and relevance of not only the initial event (reading/symbol/astro alignment etc), but how we personally interpret the event, how we act upon it within our lives, and whether we attribute the meaning of a past event/interpretation to a future situation. When we see the same tarot card arise in every reading in the same placement, we learn to act upon the event by understanding that our subconscious or higher self is highlighting a repeated issue, as well as practice gratitude for the magical skill that brings it to our conscious awareness. It is confirming that which we already know on a deep level, and is therefore a form of confirmation bias (we see what we expect to see either consciously or subconsciously), but it is no less magical, no less transformational, and no less important to our spiritual development. Meditating upon, reflecting upon and exploring every situation is very important to understanding where our psychology blends with our spirituality – and if necessary we must hold the two conflicting thoughts of relevancy and irrelevancy at the same time to be true to ourselves.

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So always consider the examination of self that psychology requires, yet never allow a psychological interpretation to alter, demean or devalue a personal spiritual truth. Explore the boundaries and behaviours of your mind from both psychological and spiritual perspectives. Know thyself with every skill available to you, be that therapy or meditation. Psychology often acts as a bridge between the world of science and the world of spirituality, after all the etymology of the word psychology is the ‘study of the soul’. Don’t be afraid to study your soul from a more scientific perspective – Witchcraft is an art, a science and a spiritual path.

 

This post is part of The Pagan Blog Project 2014.

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