Let's Talk A Little About Woo-Woo

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Over on FetLife, there’s a really interesting essay called “I’m Going To Stop Calling It ‘Woo-Woo’,” which is about how those who deal with mystical practices talk about their beliefs to others.  One of the traditional ways of handwaving it is to say something like, “Yeah, I work with tarot cards and auras – all that ‘woo woo’ stuff.”  And in case you’re not willing to click through to FetLife to read it in full, the essay can be summarized with this excerpt:

“What I realized last night was that by referencing what I do as working in ‘woo woo’ stuff, I had taken away the seriousness of what I believe and had taken away some of the power that these concepts have and given up some of the power that I have as someone who practices these disciplines.”

And it’s interesting, because I am not a woo woo kind of guy.  Yes, I believe in God, but I also acknowledge that it’s a thoroughly irrational belief; I keep my science and my religion separate, thankyouverymuch, and God makes sense to me in a way that I cannot, and more importantly would not, explain to others.  It’s a personal thing, fitted to me as carefully as a tailored suit, and though it’s riddled with things that might not make sense to others it works for me. It probably wouldn’t hold up to any kind of rational examination, and doing so would probably cause me damage, as I’d just create increasingly elaborate mythologies to bridge the logical gaps.
Meanwhile, I think aura work and past lives and crystal and prayer and any number of other mystical stuff are complete bullshit – just stuff that people who want to believe make up.  Yet that bullshit is not a bad thing; these sorts of irrationalities can be a useful tool to focus the mind.  Alan Moore once said (in a terrible paraphrase via me) that he doesn’t really believe in magic, but he does believe that believing in magic allows his brain to arrange his subconscious in interesting ways, thus producing phenomenal ideas… so he practices magic.
And that’s largely how I view it: useful bullshit.  Which is not a contradiction.  A lot of what most people believe is bullshit, but if it’s the kind of bullshit that gets them through the day and makes them feel better, well, so be it.  (I think I’m an absolutely terrible writer, and nobody likes what I do, which is bullshit, but that self-hatred makes me determined to improve myself.  It’s not truth, and the belief often makes me miserable, but it spurs me in good ways – which is all you can really ask of useful bullshit.)
The problem with many of the woo-wooeticers, however, is that when they discuss their magic, they have this intense way of discussing it.  “I viewed your bedroom last night,” they’ll say, staring at you intently, as if daring you to disbelieve them. And if you say, “I don’t believe in astral projection,” they’ll often talk about it more, without even acknowledging that you’re not a believer and that you’ve said this isn’t your cup of tea.
I’m of two minds about this.  I mean, yes, if it’s a part of something that gives you power, then by all means discuss it.  Either it’ll be one aspect of a larger and more interesting conversation, in which case I’ll stick around, or all you’ll be able to talk about is your ability to divine the future via the magic stick-arts of Kau Cim, in which case I’ll move on.  I’m not trying to dismiss the satisfaction you get from such things, and I think that you should be able to talk about it freely. It’s a part of who you are.  It’s part of what forms you, and that is a vibrant and inextricable portion of your personality.
Yet at the same time, some of the Great Woo-Woo Practitioners seem a little… desperate.  As if they can’t really be comfortable around you until you acknowledge the truth of whatever it is they believe.  And those conversations tend to be subtle pressurings, a constant stream of “Yes, but you do realize that I possess a power that you do not even begin to fathom,” where it keeps circling back to that central mystical tenet.  And those conversations, yeah, woo to the maxifuckin’ woo.
So I don’t have an easy answer.  I don’t know how you’re supposed to talk to people who don’t believe.  I don’t think there’s a single answer, either.  All I know is that there’s some tenuous balance between handwaving it with “woo woo,” and asking me to pretend that yes, you are an eleventh-level psychic and can read my past lives in the dregs of this chicken soup.  There’s gotta be a way, but damn if I know what it is.


  1. Terri Jones
    Oct 24, 2012

    You are talking about two things, at least from my perspective.
    There are those who have beliefs but hold them as personal and private, as you say you do, and then there are believers who insist on displaying their beliefs to others – sometimes whether others want to know or not. (There’s another set of people who profess loudly to believe but who are after power and money. They are non-believers unless you count that kind of thing as worship.) I have always had a negative reaction to the loud believers, probably because when I believed, it was intensely personal.
    I am a non-believer. You talk to me like you’d talk to anyone – until I’m boring or annoying. 🙂
    I’ve looked at and let go of gods and mysticism until now, at 55, what I believe in, very generally, is the general good of humans, the utter indifference of the universe, and the awesomeness of our awareness. I see the beliefs as distractions from the stunning, incredible realities we have the stunning, incredible ability to comprehend. Letting go of beliefs was to me like removing a veil. The clarity of reality is nothing short of godlike.

  2. jet
    Oct 24, 2012

    I can’t be the only one that tought this gonna be about sex with this title am I?

  3. Alexis
    Oct 26, 2012

    I enjoyed the paraphrase of Alan Moore. I don’t believe in gods or magic, but I’m writing a fantasy novel about magic, which means that I at least find magic exciting. There is an enormous power to the human subconscious, so perhaps in some sense magic does work to transform people’s minds. It’s an interesting line of thought.

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