Decades ago in one of my sociology classes, I remember studying the phenomenon of Voodooism. As a cultural phenomenon, the spells and hexes cast seemed to be effective. To outsiders, the results of the voodoo rituals seemed to be impossible, best explained as coincidences. But to the society engaged in voodooism, those spells and hexes were mighty powerful.
The sociological theory, as I remember it, explained the apparent effectiveness of voodoo as the direct result of the cohesive nature of the society practicing voodoo. All members of the community believed in voodoo, therefore voodoo had power.
For example, if a member of the community broke a serious cultural taboo, let’s say a taboo punishable by death, then the voodoo priest or priestess would perform the rituals required to send the person to death. Once the ritual was complete, all members of the community, especially the victim’s family, would begin to mourn. Though the victim could be standing right in amongst them, the family is told not to make eye contact. The ‘dead’ person’s spirit is trying to take you with them into the spirit world.
As the ‘dead’ person moves about the community, he/she is ostracized. No one will speak to them, no one will give them any indication of recognition. The belief that the cursed person is dead is so strong, that the victim begins to believe themselves that they are in fact dead.
And guess what happens… the victim dies of shock.
Voodoo is sort of a reverse placebo effect; death by ostracism.
Belief is a powerful thing.
In our modern western society there are countless examples of systems and institutions that work simply because we collectively agree. Our currency system works because we all agree… a certain piece of paper with specific markings on it is worth $10.00 versus the piece of paper that has my grocery list on it.
Do you believe that one piece of art is worth millions and the other is worth nickels? This week’s episode continues at Contentment is for Cows, Chapter Nine, ‘In Art Pursuit’.
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This week’s photo is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zulu_2013_-_Voodoo_Man.jpg