A coven of witches has risen.
They practise their dark arts and expound their beliefs in broad daylight. Check over the fence and you are sure to find a fervent believer in witchcraft, with her crystals jangling and her incense burning. Mankind has always been quickly seduced by shyster shamen and their supernatural mumbo jumbo.
The modern witchcraft I fear is nothing more than the kooky beliefs that have become prevalent in society. These sorcerers are deeply offended if you suggest some evaluation of their techniques might be warranted. It’s a ‘holistic’ approach they say. That is, the treatment doesn’t specifically try to fix the problem, but is just generally good for you – like eating your carrots. There is usually no search for the truth in such systems, because the truth isn’t important. Perception is reality; belief the new empiricism.
Part of the reason for this intellectual devolution is our education system. Science is too demanding for Gen Y, so they opt for media studies or public relations – fields where you make up the facts as you go along. These days communication and media studies have about three times the number of student enrolments as does chemistry.
Earth Mother Paganism
The most common form of witchcraft today is ‘Earth Mother Paganism’.
At its root is an unquestioning belief in the benevolence of Mother Nature. If only we’d leave nature alone, all things would be in harmony and the world would be a veritable garden of eden. Nonsense. Mother Nature is, at best, ambivalent to our existence, and at worst, quite keen to kill us off.
To test my theory I walk in the Havelock North Cemetery. My kin are well buried here, in the old part, where graves are in disrepair. The heaving earth has left these graves cracked and broken. Headstones lean and crosses have fallen. The inscriptions and epitaphs on the old stones are fading now. After a generation or two the lichen eats them away, so as to turn even our last vanity to dust.
I strain and read: “Be called a little child unto Him”, Grace Elizabeth, died aged 12 days. Then Beatrice Anne, died at Hastings, aged 2 ½. The graves of children abound. And there’s Ethyl Rose, aged 22; her hips too narrow for the rigours of colonial childbirth.
The Earth Mother ruled in those times and was the merciless killer of the young. Thankfully modern medicine has largely brought the bitch into line. In Victorian New Zealand you had about a 13% chance of dying before your first birthday. Today it’s 0.4%. The biggest single factor that caused this improvement was the development of vaccines to overcome German measles, whooping cough, polio and the like. There is now a new breed of nutters who think vaccines are a bad idea for their pure children of Gaia. I recommend to them, a walk in the cemetery.
Nature looks harmonious from a distance, but don’t be deceived. Entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, is at work. Things trend to chaos. That picturesque forest that fills your heart with feelings of serenity is actually a war zone devoid of a Geneva Convention. Man’s inhumanity to man is nothing in comparison to what insects do to each other. Nature is a world of Darwinian brutality and its first law is survival of the fittest.
The laws of nature are not founded on balance and equilibrium. The natural world is full of asymmetry, disequilibrium and chaos. Plagues, floods, pestilence and climate change have always been with us, causing a great deal of havoc and the occasional extinction of some species or other. They happened long before man, and will remain long after we are gone. Chaos is nature’s favourite state; the basis on which limits are tested and species evolve and adapt. It is not disorder, just a system that is too complicated for us to understand – one in which things have to ‘break’ in order to get better. The brilliant chaos of nature is a great argument for both evolution and God.
The witches that preach harmony and balance can only be right temporarily. Then things will get horribly out of whack – as they should.
Coven of the Über-Clean
At the other end of witchcraft spectrum is the Coven of the Über-Clean.
Here they take exactly the opposite stance. These witches accept the evil intent of nature and rout it out in every crevice of their homes. They scrub and sanitise and fall prey to the fearmongering advertisements we’re constantly confronted with.
At the gym a witch scowls at me, the unclean. I have just failed to sanitise the apparatus I’ve been using. She squirts and rubs the cleansing potion on the hand holds of her elliptical trainer. “You should wipe down these machines every time you use them,” she tut-tuts. I stare, like a man, blank, confused and wordless.
The product she is so keen to splash about is Triclosan. Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston recommends Triclosan as a product for “hospitals or for persons with weakened immune systems”. Many medical experts are very concerned about its use in day-to-day settings. They have demonstrated in a lab, that in a few microbial generations they can quickly breed a resistant strain of E. coli. Triclosan leaves a residue which fades slowly over time. As it does, it loses its efficacy – that is, some of the nasties start to survive contact. Having untrained people using Triclosan 100 times a day is a breeding programme for a superbug. That seems to have been no barrier to some salesman convincing the gym to have it on hand, or for the Coven of the Über-Clean to start their militant campaign to sanitise the world.
The safe sanitisers to use are ammonia or alcohol-based as they kill the bugs, then evaporate in seconds. Over hundreds of years, bacterial resistance hasn’t occurred.
But here’s a tip. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recommends: “Vigorous hand washing in warm water with plain soap for at least 10 seconds is sufficient to fight germs in most cases, even for healthcare workers.” So what your great grandmother was doing a hundred years ago, still works.
Burn the witches and ban their potions. The history of mankind is littered with the folly of their beliefs – the world is flat, smoking will purify your lungs, leeches will cure. So often what we think is perfectly logical, is eventually proved to be mindless nonsense. Pasteur, Galileo, Nightingale; they looked and saw the evidence. Their principles endure, because they proved them correct.
Florence Nightingale didn’t know poor hygiene was what was killing soldiers in the Crimean War. While she toiled there, her assumptions about the causes of death were completely wrong. She only realised hygiene was the issue later, when she was back in London studying the data. Nightingale is known as a great nurse, but much more importantly, she was a great statistician.
Belief is dangerous. It is only through science that new knowledge is born. Science is not a ‘know it all’ uncle. Good science should be steeped in humility. It should say “I don’t know, but I can find out.” We should not be opposed to homeopathy, natural Mãori medicine or herbal supplements. All we need to do is to demand that they are subjected to proper scientific evaluation.
So next time you take colloidal silver, arnica or echinacea, do some research and see what science has discovered. Some of these things work and some are plain quackery.