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Will Scientists Be Forced to Consider the Occult as Science?

When the World Economic Forum invited a witch to Davos to offer incantations, it was more than just window dressing

In the aftermath of the recent plagiarism scandal at Harvard University, in which president Claudine Gay had to resign, one commentator at the Wall Street Journal reminded readers of something she had said earlier. Her earlier, disastrous testimony before Congress on anti-Semitism paved the way for the scandal. Her response to the subsequent widespread criticism was that she had failed to convey “my truth.”

Hold on to that phrase. It represents a shift in the intellectual currents of our time. “My truth” or (for grammatical convenience) “private truth” is making serious headway against public truth. That headway is beginning to impact science, as we shall see in later posts. But first it impacts culture.

A witch at Davos

In line with this shift, the recent World Economic Conference at Davos in Switzerland was addressed by, among other persons, a witch doctor who offered incantations and hexed the stage . Some saw this as a sign of greater enlightenment today:

The witch doctor’s enactment, embedded within the broader context of global dialogues, created a striking contrast. Attendees experienced first-hand a collision of distinct worldviews – from the rational and analytical domain of economics and politics to the esoteric and spiritual realm of witchcraft. The intersection of these contrasting approaches symbolizes the collective attempt to understand and address global challenges from all angles.

Safak Costu, “World Economic Forum: Witch Doctor’s Performance Adds New Dimension,” BNN, January 18, 2024

Witchcraft did not used to have so high an intellectual reputation. Lest anyone think that this invitation signals a newfound attention to spirituality, Catholic News Agency wonders “Would it have occurred to you to invite a priest to say a prayer?”

No, it would not have occurred to them. There are probably far more serious Christians in the world than serious adherents of witchcraft. But Christianity makes public, not private, truth claims and that makes it unwelcome. Put another way, people can go away and forget about the witch’s private truths because they all have private truths of their own. But the great religions, including Christianity, claim to interpret a universal reality. That is the perspective that is losing its shine.

It’s been centuries since witches were actually persecuted . The Salem Witch Trials (1692–1693) were only possible because the inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay Colony actually believed that witches could harm them. In modern times, witches have been figures of fun (Broomhilda) or staples of the B-movie Friday Nite frites, with occasional forays into serious popular literature and film (Harry Potter).

Thus, it was unsettling to learn in 2017 that a number of feminists had, quite seriously, taken to witchcraft to cast spells on then-president Donald Trump (BBC).

University of Newcastle Professor of Ancient History and Classical Languages Marguerite Johnson noted at the time,

Warnings about the Trump spell from both supporters and detractors flew around the Internet. Some experienced witches warned about the potential repercussions of amateurs participating without knowing what they were doing. Witch Queen Leslie McQuade for instance, opposed the event, and helped organise a “Magickal resistance to this evil nonsense”.

Marguerite Johnson, “A murky cauldron – modern witchcraft and the spell on Trump,” The Conversation, March 12, 2017

In other words, they actually believed in it. There is no support from modern, science-driven culture for any such belief. But as long as it is held as a private truth, the feminists experience no embarrassment. By contrast Christians who opposed the practice were subtly ridiculed, primarily because they are proclaiming — as a public truth — that witchcraft is evil.

The bigger picture

While interest in private salad bar spirituality has boomed in the last decade, interest in traditional “public truth” religion has declined.

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It was noted at The New Yorker in 2019 that astrology was gaining a broad public acceptance that hadn’t been seen in four decades. We are told that Millennials see “no contradiction between using astrology and believing in science.”

Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Kari Paul, “Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology,” MarketWatch, Oct. 31, 2018

The University of Exeter in Britain now proposes to offer a master’s degree in “witchcraft, magic and occult science.” That raises a question: Will science faculties and publications be forced to accept witchcraft as a science? Understandably, readers might scoff at the idea…

But wait. As a proclaimer of public truths, science may prove as vulnerable as religion.

Next: Public vs. private truth: Sex vs. gender pummels biologists

You may also wish to read: Does plagiarism really matter any more? Yes, if we don’t want a world drowning in merely private truths. In a world of no truth but multiple perspectives, what does plagiarism even mean?

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Immortal Mind: A Neurosurgeon’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Will Scientists Be Forced to Consider the Occult as Science?