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Medical Anthropology: Religious, Spiritual and Magical Beliefs Essay

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Updated: May 17th, 2021

Introduction

This paper evaluates the significance of spiritual, magical, and religious beliefs on the psychological and physical health of an individual. The effect of magic, prayer ceremonies, and rituals will be closely investigated. True scientific empirical methods will be used to find out the actual influence of individuals’ personal, as well as societal beliefs in the supernatural substance and its influence over the material universe (Bdolak, 2010). In the recent past, it has been illustrated that prayers are heard and answered. Prayer can refer to the transfer of an individual from one psychological state to the other. A stingier look at the personality traits of the non-physical beings will be investigated. Romberg (2009) argued that an individual could increase the pace of healing their own physical and mental injuries by using their feelings and thoughts.

Some of the key themes addressed by this paper include the use of personal subconscious powers to cure and heal, which has been practiced for centuries by peoples from various cultures. Religion has been the fundamental concept in transforming the individual’s state of mind. The other theme covered by this paper is the use of musical sounds, musical instruments, and songs in the search and application of the curing power. It is known that individuals are not to enter into a deep trance and are capable of gaining access to vast resources for their individual bodies and the great power that comes with the supernatural. This paper will closely investigate the shamans and the magical techniques they employ. There are practical techniques used in such ways, as illustrated in Shermers’s works in pseudoscience. The fundamental concept in the use of such power is the energy that an individual possesses. Tribal leaders have been known to make use of natural toxins or substances to obtain these powers of the Tantric state (Shermer, 2002).

Problem statement

How do religious, spiritual, and magical beliefs contribute to the healing process? Do they have a central role, or are they random and incoherent concepts playing only a symbolic rather than a real medical role?

Literature review

Magic

According to Bdolak (2010), magic is the process of turning, shifting, or twisting nature. She also argued that it is also the process of enhancing life for oneself and all individuals around a person. The universe of the seen and unseen converge when individuals practice healing by magic. This is an astounding gift that all humans innately develop as these are factual arts of nature found within and around individuals. Most individuals do not realize that they possess healing powers that can be used to heal themselves. Human beings tend to devalue themselves and their abilities. For decades, people have been healing themselves by essentially moving energy. As the world progressed into the modern era, some basic but powerful dominion of energetic healing emerged (Bdolak, 2010).

Bdolak (2010) continued to argue that if individuals can utilize energetics to cleanse and clear their chakras and aura, they can empower themselves to heal their physical and psychological injuries. It is also suggested that if an individual can regularly put energetics to practice, the individual will evolve and grow just like a spiritual being. In addition, any procedure of spiritual or religious training acquired or learned will become vivid to the individual when he/she realigns with his/her body and her/his true energetic self. Bdolak (2010) emphasized that energetics make an individual healthy, balanced, powerful, and in contact with an individual’s true essence if an individual chooses to practice and utilize it on a regular basis and actively. Energetics brings to the fore what was originally hidden within an individual and allows the individual to activate it and express it openly (Bdolak, 2010).

Tao Yin, directly translated, means energy directing. This is a form of energy enlivening practice that originated from Taoism, which is a part of China’s ancient philosophical system. Tao Yin is a central part of the universal Tao exercise. It involves a sequence of stimulating exercises. Through their correlation principles, these practices create harmony in the mind, body, and spirit, making one discover equilibrium within nature and a method to shift freely within the ebb and the course of life’s endless current. From ancient history, women and men in China have devoted time and energy to the research on essential harmony between nature and the human race. These scholars called themselves Taoists. Taoists perceive humans as organisms in a large existing organism known as nature, which itself lives within an even bigger living creature: the universe. Translated, the word Tao means “the way.” This refers to the way of the universe, the way of humans, the way of nature, and finally transcends to the way to unite together in the essential harmony of all organisms (Chia, 2005).

Tao is the route to the origin of life, the undifferentiated power that permeates all organisms, the formless. Taoists focused on invisible energetic powers that provide life to all these organisms. The ancient Taoists discovered that there is no clear distinction between the psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, and emotional selves. Whatever occurs in individuals on any of these phases has a multiplier effect on all the other phases too. Chia (2005) argued that the body, spirit, and mind are closely related because they are all exceptional aspects of the same origin of energy. For example, this means that the anxiety will reveal itself on the body as physical symptoms if an individual was overstressed. If an individual misuses or neglects his/her physical body, they are bound to be vivid effects on the individual emotionally or psychologically (Chia, 2005).

The Chinese refer to the life energy force as Chi. The ‘Chi’ rotates throughout the body in certain pathways, conserving the integrity of the mind, body, and spirit. The ‘Chi’ is the vigor of vitality at work in the universe, human bodies, and nature. For Taoist scholars, good health means a lot more than the condition of the various sections of the physical body. To the ancient Taoists, an individual who was sick meant that there was a blockage in the circulation of Chi in the body. The remedy to this was unblocking the blockage and increasing the circulation of an individual’s Chi. They developed a series of meditations and exercises that replicated the natural processes that they observed. They discovered that nature does not waste anything. Nature ensures that it conserves, recycles, and transforms everything it encounters. Therefore, the exercise and meditation regime of the Tao Yin helps and allows individuals to preserve their own vital life force, transform any hazardous or unbalanced energy into clean and useful energy, and recycle the life force through the individual’s body (Chia, 2005).

Spirituality

It is suggested by Joshi (2007) that there is a relation between spiritualism and mesmerism, a medium that is shared among phenomenological traits with several similar organizations of its day, the foremost being mesmerism. Spiritualism was dependent, and an embellishment of the early investigations conducted with hypnotism. Mesmerism included a mystical and a medical component, and in certain instances, mesmerized patients exhibited facilitation for the paranormal and the capability to talk to the deceased. Most scholars agree that the concept of the spiritualist movement began in the year 1848. This is closely associated with the Fox sisters. The fox sister had the ability to communicate with the dead from the tender ages of 12 and 14. It would be an understatement to think that only individuals who are uneducated and reside in rural areas can be accepted by the spiritualist movement (Joshi, 2007).

According to Emoto (2010), the power of prayer can change the molecular structure of a water molecule. In a study carried out in his office during the year 1996, a photograph of a water crystal was taken prior to the conduction of prayers. The result of the photograph was a deformed hexagon-shaped figure. Emoto then called for prayers for 500 of his friends from various locations in Japan. After a few minutes, he photographed the water crystal again and found out that it had now formed a perfectly beautiful hexagon-shaped crystal. Emoto (2010) further argued that the prayer sent from all over Japan travel all the way to the water crystal. In a similar study conducted in 2003, but with the prayers in Israel, the same results were achieved. From this experiment, Emoto realized that prayers had the power to travel across land and oceans so as to reach a small vial of water in his office (Emoto, 2010).

The pure intentions of human beings have the power to transform water. In whatever condition that the water was in, it had the capability to respond to compassionate thoughts and form spectacular crystals. This experiment is an opener as it is simple to complain or criticize social systems, but this does not help in forging ahead. For humanity to progress, it needs to reaffirm its current circumstances with gratitude and love. Individuals should be cautious of methods that change water negatively, such as electromagnetic radiations from computers, televisions, and mobile phones. Most individuals feel that they cannot live without these gadgets. However, they do not realize that they are a great source of electromagnetic radiation. In an experiment carried out on water exposed to the words of love and gratitude before being exposed to electromagnetic radiation, it was revealed that water that was exposed to the gratitude and love words was far more resistant to radiation than water that was not exposed. Emoto (2010) argued that the original form of man or humankind was water. Therefore, if water can insulate itself from radiation using love and gratitude, then human beings can also be protected by similar positive energy from any other negative energy (Emoto, 2010).

Emoto (2010) further suggested that if love and gratitude can protect water against the adverse effects from electromagnetic radiation, this can also be inferred to mean that it can ward off all the illness in the world. Despite the vast technological advancement made in the medical field, the immune system’s ability to heal itself has significantly diminished. Emoto (2010) believed that gratitude and love could revitalize an individual’s original, strong immunity and potential to heal-self. He further stated that when individuals have a sense of overwhelming love and gratitude in their hearts, that loving force revitalizes the individual’s defenses. In essence, the individual is protected, even from very strong viruses. As individuals are filled with love and kindness, they experience few negative feelings and thoughts. As a result, they do not attract any negative energy from their surrounding environment, such as diseases (Emoto, 2010).

From the ancient editions of science and health, Christian scientists associated with religious healing had staked out their position against the medicine and organized Christianity prevailing at the time. They believed that both the clergy and physicians had lost focus of the truths brought to light by Jesus Christ, and as a result, they have struggled blindly and usually ineffectively against illness and sin. The religious healer’s attitudes towards the physicians of the nineteenth century were pegged on outright derision. For instance, they claimed that there was less disease and better constitutions when doctors were few, and little thought was directed at sanitary objects. In addition to condemning the drugging of allopath’s, the washing of hydropaths, and the dietary habits of the Grahamnites, they saved an exclusive dose of invective, especially for all Mentalists and crests of the mind, who were regarded as criminals at the worst and the least, fraudsters (Schoepflin, 2002).

Homeopathy was believed to stand in between the radiance of Christian Science and the darkness of allopathy. Since the truth of science had been established, homeopathy had to be put aside. Christian Science, with its ideological denial of evil and matter, openly invited some subscribers to embrace human immorality. This would have been the situation if religious healers had not held to the strict principles and practical practice of moralism. It is argued that the scientific reform of Christianity comprised a restoration of the true apostolic faith, which had been eroded and abused over history. The subscribers required a spiritual dose of regular daily learning about the bible and science, prayer, health, and the period of pain to untie their scientific comprehension and illustrate the reality of health (Schoepflin, 2002).

Although misery does not appease God, and superlatively speaking does not subsist, it inevitably suggests that sin, death, sickness, and death shock one from a world of illusion and shifts them to a path of spiritual comprehension. Emphasis is placed on strict adherence to moral standards, even in issues concerning diet. This strong and assertive emphasis on individual morality and exclusive devotion to the bible, science, and health came to distinguish religious healing in America from mind healers and generic scientists (Schoepflin, 2002).

Real prayer makes use of the universal principles of action and reaction. The thought is regarded as an incipient action; the response or reaction originates from the inner mind that coincides with the nature of thinking. The idea is that when an individual thinks about the good, good will follow, and when one thinks of evil, evil will follow. When individuals engage in prayer, in essence, they are implanting a certain pattern of thought or mental picture in the universal imaginative mind that allows what people consciously believe to appear true. The imaginative law knows how to transform thoughts and patterns availed to it. The results will be viewed as a form, experience, function, or event (Murphy, 2007).

It is argued that, in prayer, one encounters a transformation of the mind as he or she begins to realize what the truth is, and the mind starts to adhere to the truth. Prayer discloses the truth that the almighty is supreme and omnipotent in tackling all human problems. Whatever the difficulty one may be experiencing, and regardless of how complicated the issues may appear, prayer can result in a harmonious resolution and realignment of one’s affairs in agreement with the divine order. Murphy (2007) argued that prayer is not an act of requesting anything from God. He also noted that prayer is also not an effort to transform the will of God. Prayer changes the condition of one’s own thoughts. Prayer is not a cowardly suppliant, beseeching, begging approach to a God or a request of favor. Instead, prayer is the positive attempt of someone acting with passionate belief and confidence that God, whose intelligence is infinite, will act according to the temperament of the thoughts exemplified in mind. The answer to prayer lies in the individual’s mind based on what he or she perceives as truth (Murphy, 2007).

According to Kinslow (2011), the most important thing in life is awareness. He believed that, without awareness, an individual has nothing. He argued that, without awareness, individuals would not be able to love their spouses and children, drink coffee, or work in their workplace. For all purposes and objectives, without awareness, one cannot exist. Awareness is not connected to the mind. If the mind could be compared to a light bulb, then it would suffice to link awareness to the electricity that makes the bulb light up—a poor thought of awareness in the brain results in misunderstanding, bewilderment, and finally misery. A mind illuminated with awareness is relaxed and present. It exhibits a serene gentleness that influences others to feel comfortable. If one recognizes awareness as his or her innate light, he or she will be closer to comprehending its principal significance (Kinslow, 2011).

The eminence of a person’s awareness unswervingly determines the individual’s eminence of life. It is critical for one’s awareness to be vibrant and alert. Darkness can be compared to the weakening of awareness. Deprivation of exercise, medication, alcohol, poor eating habits, exhaustion, grief, greed, and anger all have a diminishing effect on the consciousness and, as a result, impair’s a person’s capacity to view the universe in a reassuring way (Kinslow, 2011).

Buddhism

Zen cannot be feasibly understood unless one considers the ideology that the achievement of true understanding is indissolubly linked with a change in behavior. In this instance, Zen is deeply founded in Buddhist thought, for which behavioral transformation is a prerequisite for salvation. Greed for the property, self-conceit, and glorification is to be discarded. The feelings projected towards the past are one of appreciation, towards the present, future service, and of responsibility. To live in Zen translates to conducting oneself and the universe in the most appreciative and respectful frame of mind. This is a feeling that is the core of secret virtue, a very distinctive feature of Zen discipline. This means to conserve natural resources; it emphasizes that each resource should be fully utilized, be it economic or moral. As a positive objective, the ethical aim of Zen is to achieve comprehensive security and fearlessness. This is a principle of character and not intelligence, which suggests that Zen grows out of determination as to the initial principle of life (Fromm, 1960).

Fromm (1960) argued that the assumption of discordance between psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism originates only from a superficial perspective of both approaches. Contrary to this is the affinity between the two approaches seems to be strong. The ethical consideration common to Zen Buddhism and psychoanalysis is a state for achieving the goals of Zen, which is incapacitating greed, whether it is greed for glory or possessions or any other form of greed predominantly termed as coveting in the scriptures of the Old Testament. In Zen and psychoanalysis, greed is termed to be a pathological portent. It thrives where a person has not yet developed his or her productive and active capacities. The objectives of Zen transcend the objectives of ethical behaviors, just like psychoanalysis. It can be argued that both approaches assume that the success of their goals brings along with it an ethical change, which is the overwhelming greed and aptitude for compassion and love. They do not make an individual pursue a righteous life by suppressing the evil wants. However, it is expected that negative desire will vanish due to the warmth and light of enlightened consciousness (Fromm, 1960).

The connection between enlightenment and ethical change may be regarded as minimal. However, it would be a critical error to imagine that the objective of Zen could be separated from the goals of overcoming greed, folly, self-gratification, or that harmony can be attained without a similar transformation in the individual’s character. According to Fromm (1960), an individual who has attained a productive level is not greedy. However, he has to overcome his portents and the fictions of sapience and omnipotence. He views himself as he is and is humble (Fromm, 1960).

The teaching strategies of Zen are to direct the student into a corner. The koan enables the student to seek refuge through intellectual reasoning. The koan is similar to a barrier that makes any escape impossible. The analyst is supposed to act in a similar manner. The analyst should make sure he avoids the error of giving the patient any interpretations and explanations. This will only stop the patient from transforming from reasoning to experiencing (Fromm, 1960).

Neo-Shamanism

For ages, many cultures have harbored a belief in extraterrestrial creatures believed to exist in space. There have been reported accounts of alien abductions from across the world. Such accounts narrate how the victims were taken against their will and forced into experiments of some sort. An alien abduction can be said to consist of the removal of a victim, usually in case a human being, into captivity by extraterrestrial species with the aim of conducting spiritual enlightenment, medical experiments, and crossbreeding. Many cynics believe that abduction stories are associated with a variety of experiences that include dreams and sleep paralysis rather than practical occurrences in the physical world. Individuals who confess to having experienced alien abductions can be classified into two categories. This includes the “abductees” who are victims of alien experiments that are deeply scarred by trauma from the abductions and “experiences” who are victims of abduction who have derived spiritual enlightenment as a result of their abduction (Shermer, 2002).

An individual’s inclusion within one of these categories illustrates a correlation with the abduction researcher who made the first contact with the victim. Given that the strategy of choice for most researchers is hypnosis, even on occasions in which the victim clearly recalls the abduction experience, this classification of abduction experiences implies to skeptics that the investigator bias is the determining factor behind the phenomenon. Most abduction researchers respond to this reproach with the affirmation that hypnosis, when correctly and carefully used, is an essential tool for uncovering repressed memories (Shermer, 2002).

The use of hypnotics in the study of abduction can be traced to the first case that was published involving Betty Hill and Barney Hill. While traveling on a highway in the United States, the Hills noticed a bright light that was shifting rapidly across the sky. They made frequent stops with the aim of viewing the object when on one occasion, it changed course and hovered above their vehicle. Out of fear of being captured, they drove off but could hear beeping sounds in the rear. Later, they discovered that they could not account for about two hours of their journey. However, this could be explained by the frequent stops made to view the object. They reported the sighting to their local air force base and after a few months. Betty began having dreams about her experience with the inhabitants of the craft. During therapy, both Hills could recall their encounter with the abductors (Shermer, 2002).

The Puerto Rican ‘Brujaism’

The sumptuousness of premonition and magic has been a major issue of contention in the past three decades from a multiplicity of anthropological perspectives on the form, knowledge, and performance. This also forms such theoretical perspectives as post-structuralism, post-colonialism, and phenomenology. However, these theoretical perspectives arise out of particular pragmatics of the Brujeria founded on the eclecticism of its ceremonies, the profanation of its ethical economy, and mixed traits of its members. Why do people of diverse ethnicity, social backgrounds, and gender, while most of them do not believe in such things, come for consultations with other healers and brujos? The theory of belief, as blurred as it may be, looks inescapable. Belief can be assumed as the prerequisite condition for magic and rituals to be effective, but it is virtually impossible to identify within the spiritual sphere of the Brujeria (Romberg, 2009).

Romberg (2009) narrated his encounters with Tonio, who was a well-renowned espiritista. On their first interaction, Tonio pointed to the cave of Loiza, which was across his house with a lot of pride. He talked about its significance to the local residents of Puerto Rico. This is a mystic place inscribed in the national history of the country. It was once the residence of a famous female chief named Loiza. The town of Loiza got its name from this famous female chief. According to the local legends, she had jurisdiction in the area of Jaimano along the margins of the Rio Grande De Loiza. She was abducted and forced into marriage.

When asked about the Brujeria and the espiritismo, he uncovered a medal made of silver under his shirt and inscribed on it is the virgin of mercy. The local legend narrated that the virgin of mercy appeared to him. It is believed that everything around Tonio usually grows very fast. Tonio prays in Latin and uses it to heal. He also speaks as a famous Spiritist medium in the custom of scientific spiritism. Spiritism was founded on the belief in human interaction with enlightened spirits and reincarnation. European romantics held that enlightened spirits could lead people into establishing a progressive, morally just world. This is the reason why spiritism was accepted by the 19th century anti-colonial, liberal, and progressive elites. This was a reaction to the hegemony of the Latin catholic dominance in Puerto Rico and grew through the decades as a legitimate domain for alternative transcendental activities (Romberg, 2009).

An espiritista who interacts with enlightened spirits and tames and exorcises the evils among them is known as a brujo. Tonio talked about his encounters after undergoing surgery for appendicitis. After the operation, the incision was severely infected. At this juncture, he instructed one of the hospital staff to bring him a piece of fresh bacon, which he then placed on the incision scar. Miraculously, the scar was immediately cured. The doctors attending to him could not explain this phenomenon. Tonio is well acquainted with healing plants and all manners of prayers. He even goes further to list several ailments and their possible cures (Romberg, 2009).

Conclusion

In Puerto Rico, brujas derive their healing from a combination of magic rituals and spiritual beliefs. The brujos have a wide variety of clientele coming from different social backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, and most of whom are not believers of brujas. The question is why they visit the healers. Neo-shamanists believe that some of their encounters with extraterrestrial species benefited them with spiritual enlightenment. This thought has been heavily criticized by cynics. On the other hand, the Buddhists believe that the power to heal lies within the individual, that is, if one can contain personal greed for material gains. An individual who has attained a productive level is not at all greedy and views himself as humble.

References

Bdolak, L. (2010). Healing magic: Learn to heal yourself and others. Bloomington, United States: Author House.

Chia, M. (2005). Energy balance through the Tao: Exercises for cultivating Yin energy. Vermont, United States: Inner Traditions /Bear & Co.

Emoto, M. (2010). Messages from water and the universe. New York, United States: Hay House.

Fromm, E. (1960). Zen Buddhism & psychoanalysis. New York, United States: Taylor & Francis.

Joshi, S. (2007). Icons of horror and the supernatural. Westport, United States: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Kinslow, F. (2011). The Secret of instant healing. New York, United States: Hay House.

Murphy, J. (2007). Techniques in prayer therapy. New York, United States: Hay House.

Romberg, R. (2009). Healing dramas: Divination and magic in modern. Puerto Pico Austin, United States: University of Texas Press.

Schoepflin, R. (2002). Christian science on Trial: Religious healing in America. Baltimore, United States: JHU Press.

Shermer, M. (2002). The skeptic encyclopedia of pseudoscience. Altadena, United States: ABC-CLIO.

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