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Magical Thinking Across the World When Faced with the Unknown

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Anthropology
Wordcount: 1435 words Published: 18th Oct 2021

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Magical thinking has been prevalent in cultures all around the world for centuries and come in many different forms for different purposes. Although there may be similarities between some countries, some ideas that come from magical thinking is unique to each their country, due to beliefs that were already existing that were built upon as the country developed. Magical thinking could occur for any number of reasons, but its usage often correlates to when people need something that seems realistic to grab onto and use in times when their future is unknown. Although some practices are harmless like superstitions, other more desperate practices can lead to people getting seriously hurt, all so they could relieve some worries that they may have for the future. Magical practices hold a lot of weight even in modern day situations, so it is important to know why these practices are so important to so many people.

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Lecture 8 as well as its readings focuses on different types of magical thinking, ranging from superstitions in sports and everyday life, to supposed remedies for illness that have no science to support it. The practices that are the main focus of the readings are practices like superstitions which differs from country to country as well as within daily life and especially sports, old practices that are magically related like witchcraft, and practices that relate to health and well-being. The authors are writing about many cultures but many of the readings focus on the United States and the many examples of magic thinking that have immerged from the country. Each reading discusses a different type of magical thinking with one reading taking about American baseball since that is where superstitious actions are often seen and performed in sports (Gmelch, 1992). Another reading talks about the effect of COVID and the new magical remedies that have appeared throughout the globe to try and fight the unknown virus (Gusterson, Moses, & Coutros, 2020). While one discusses the effects of magical thinking and how it connects to the witch trials that occurred all over America but specifically Soweto (Ashforth, 2000). So overall, all of the readings have an general theme of magical thinking and how humans are often influenced by these thoughts.

The ethnographic example that I chose is the usage of plants and more naturally occurring products for medicinal purposes in Asian countries rather than relying on pharmaceuticals like how most western countries do. Specifically, the new magical theories that people are creating in order to deal with the corona virus and the worry that comes with such a new and unknown disease. Some examples of these magical cures and remedies that people believe can cure or prevent COVID are using only white handkerchiefs in Sri Lanka, using saltwater to kill the virus in certain parts of China and using volcanic ash in the Philippines (Gusterson, Moses, & Coutros, 2020). There were also some more bizarre and dangerous practices like drinking methanol which has killed over 700 Iranians so far, using cow dung and urine in India to deal with the virus and even drinking vodka and going to saunas (Gusterson, Moses, & Coutros, 2020). Since the corona virus is still a new disease, little is known about it and a lot of worry and fear is caused by this lack of knowledge. So, in order to make a sense of things, people all around the world are creating cures for the corona virus that is supposed to prevent and cure the disease, even though there is no scientific evidence to back up any of these methods.

An example from my own experience is that my parents would avoid using pharmaceuticals whenever possible and instead use magical practices and other cures that they had learned growing up in Vietnam. Instead of using normal creams for scratches or bruises or medicine when someone has a cold, they would use eucalyptus oil for everything. If you had a scratch or bruising, they would put eucalyptus oil on since they believe that it will help it heal faster. As well, if you were sick, they would use a spoon and eucalyptus oil and scratch on certain places on the back and certain patterns that were supposed to help make you better, which is also known as coining therapy. If it got really red, really quickly, that means that you were sick and the sickness is coming up and out of the body, but if it did not turn really red, you were not sick. They even believe that eating certain foods can help with sickness since there are "hot" foods and "cold" foods and eating too much of a certain temperature of food can cause illness as well. Eating a lot of foods that were too rich or with too many "cold" properties will cause things like acne, make your body "hot" and other illnesses like sore throats and eating too much food with "hot" properties will cause you to get colds. In order to get better, you would need to eat foods that are associated with the opposite properties to balance out the remedies. The methods used to cure and prevent COVID are similar to normal illnesses, with drinking warm water and gargling saltwater being used often since they believe that as long as you do not have a sore throat, you will not get the virus. My parents still prefer to use their own methods and cures for sickness and injury due to the influences of magical thinking and the beliefs that they have for cures that have supposedly worked for centuries in curing people. All of these cures and magical practices come from practices that were passed down to each generation and have been imbedded into the culture of the people who practice it and are still used to this day, even if only a few have been proven to be actually beneficial.

The way that the ethnographic example that I found connects to what the author had discussed in their work is that their work discusses how more and more people are relying on magical thinking and coming up with different remedies in order to ease anxiety and fears that occur due to the virus. I believe that the author had included the examples of different cures that different cultures and countries are coming up with to cure and prevent COVID because it shows how people will adapt to an uncertain situation by creating ideas that will give them some form of security and comfort, even if they are not scientifically proven. Although the example includes practices from all over the world, they all have the same goal of preventing and curing COVID when there has not been an official cure. They will possibly risk their lives, since some of the mentioned methods are not safe, in order to relieve some anxiety about the unknown of COVID and people will willingly follow if others are doing it as well. It shows how magical thinking and practices plays a large role on the practices of the country even to this day, and how a country's past beliefs will still have an influence on the people in the country, no matter how modern or developed the country is. People will always rely on their country's past magical practices and create new ones in times where modern methods are uncertain, since they trust the magical practices.

So, in conclusion, magical practices, although rarely have any scientific knowledge to support the practices, are still an important part of many people's lives today in the modern era.

In times where things are uncertain, and even science dees not know everything, like with COVID, more people relying on something that they are familiar with in order to reduce anxiousness, like magic practices that will help to prevent COVID, that are similar to what they have practiced for centuries. Even for occasions that are not as serious, like baseball games, superstitions help to bring comfort and confidence for those who are relying on it. Although some of these magical practices may seem pointless or unrealistic, like the "cures and preventatives" of COVID that come countries have created, since there is not cure for COVID yet, it helps to relieve some anxiety that people face and allows them to be more comfortable living in a time of uncertainty.


Ashforth, Adam. "The Soweto Witch Project." Transition, no. 81/82 (2000): 22–51. Gmelch,

George. 1992. "Superstition and Ritual in American Baseball." Elysian Fields Quarterly 11(3): 25–36.

Gusterson, H., Moses, Y., & Coutros, P. (2020, May 12). COVID-19 and the Turn to Magical

Thinking. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://www.sapiens.org/column/conflicted/covid19-magic/


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