Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is a voodoo doll like a person so you can like...hurt someone?



Interesting question, and one of the most commonly asked. Voodoo dolls in the New Orleans Voodoo tradition are meant to be used as focusing tools in ritual and meditation. However, because of the portrayal in popular media of Voodoo dolls are something to stick pins into in order to put a hex on someone, it has unfortunately become a common practice by those who are not true followers of Voodoo to use them in this way. Some people believe that you can affect a person in any way you want following the principles of sympathetic magic. Sympathetic magic suggests that you can influence a situation or person by imitating that which you desire. So, in theory, if you "harm" a Voodoo doll that was created to represent a specific person, then you will also harm the person that the doll represents.

There is a strong psychological component to sticking a pin in a Voodoo doll. It can actually be quite therapeutic for the one doing the sticking. If you are the intended target, just the suggestion of someone hexing you with a Voodoo doll is enough to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if you believe things will go wrong, they will. Indeed, Voodoo magic is faith based, which means you have to believe in order for it to work. However, the idea that you can influence things to come simply by thinking about them has been challenged.

For example, several years ago, a team of psychologists at Harvard took "several dozen college-aged men and women, a fake Voodoo doll and an obnoxious man wearing a "Stupid people shouldn't breed" t-shirt...Each test subject and the confederate were ushered into the lab and seated at a table in front of a handmade twig-and-cloth Voodoo doll...For background, the experimenter told the pair they would be partners in a study of "physical health symptoms that result from psychological factors...in the context of Haitian Voodoo'" (Morin, 2006). Both partners were given a scholarly article on Voodoo deaths to read." The twist was that one of the participants was a confederate and instructed to act in an annoying fashion in the presence of the other participant. The other participant, coined the "witchdoctor" because of the role he was to play, did not know that the other participant was a confederate.

"The confederate dressed and behaved normally with half of the participants -- and very badly with the other half. He arrived late wearing the obnoxious T-shirt, and muttered, "What's the big deal?" when the experimenter said she was beginning to get worried. He tossed an extra copy of a consent form toward the trash can, but missed and left it on the floor" (Morin, 2006).

The confederate (victim) wrote his name on a piece of paper and pinned it to the voodoo doll. Both participants were then asked if they had any of 26 physical symptoms, including runny nose, sore muscles, and headache. The victim stated he had no symptoms, a statement overheard by the witchdoctor.

"The witch doctor was then left alone and instructed to think "concrete thoughts" about the victim. The researchers assumed that those participants exposed to the confederate in his offensive guise were more likely to harbor "evil thoughts" about their victim--an assumption that was later borne out when they asked them if they had thought badly about their ill-mannered partner. When the victim was brought back into the room, the witch doctor, again acting on instructions, stuck five pins into the Voodoo doll. The victim was again once again asked if he had any ailments. This time, he complained that he had a headache.

The witch doctor-participants were escorted from the room and completed a questionnaire asking whether they felt responsible for the victim's headache, whether they believed they had actually caused them harm and whether they actually had caused the headache. "The participants led to generate evil thoughts about their victim were more likely than the neutral-thinking participants to believe that they caused his headache" the researchers reported.

In fact, test subjects who had thought bad things about the creepy victim were, on average, twice as likely to feel they were at least partially responsible for causing the headache than those who had neutral thoughts, they found. "These feelings of responsibility were apparent on each of the individual items in the composite," they reported, indicating that evil-thinking participants were more likely to feel that they had caused the symptoms, that their practice of Voodoo caused the headache, and that they had tried to harm the victim" (Morin, 2006).

Check out this video. It is related to the present discussion and demonstrates the power of suggestion. Atheist, sceptic & mentalist Derren Brown challenges the beliefs of a New Age believer with the use of a Voodoo Doll.






Reference

Morin, R. (2006). Who do that Voodoo at Harvard? Pew Research Center Publications. Retrieved: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/66/who-do-that-voodoo-at-harvard




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