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Сряда, 13 Март 2013 00:00

The Monopoly over Magical Thinking

Nikoleta Daskalova
Abstract: 

The paper analyzes the structuring of magical thinking in the context of Bulgarian web practices. Online phenomena are not diagnosed as newly formed developments but on a broader perspective; the impact of traditional media discourse as well pre-existing magical thinking practices are taken into consideration. The paper diagnoses how popular magical thinking neutralizes principal delegitimizing pressure from science and religion. It is argued that official religious monopoly over magical thinking is not functioning as such in the Bulgarian context. Instead it is colonized by the prevalence of noninstitionalized magical beliefs. The diagnosed form of monopoly over magical thinking is characterized by eclectics and syncretism developing in a convergence with media tabloidization. The new tabloid-magical monopoly is decentralized and oriented towards the consumption of easy and practical magical solutions. As a result the formation of a sustainable political project based on magical thinking is not possible. 

The fixing of human faith in the magical around one single structural center, no matter if religious or occult, public or political, official or countercultural, etc. is indeed a dangerous situation. This would mean easy manipulation of the human inclination to trust the irrational, of the human wish to seek beyond the visible and the logical, of the human ability to imagine. It would mean opening the door to radicalism and fanaticism. The power of magical beliefs is in their capacity to influence individual behavioral strategies but also to activate huge cultural and political projects (Santa Claus or religious wars, for example). That is why they are a valuable resource. The question is: who manages this resource, and how do they manage it?

The present text explores the resource of magical thinking in the context of the Bulgarian web. The analysis focuses on two key problems: how the interest towards the magical is structured on the Internet, and who the key agents of resistance against the magical thinking are. In the conclusion the issues of whether preconditions for monopolizing the magical thinking exist in Bulgarian online practices, and what would possibly follow, are discussed.

The concepts ‘magical thinking’ and ‘magical beliefs’ are used in the text as synonymous in their broad psychological and anthropological sense: a perception of irrational interdependence between events or phenomena; a conviction that one can provoke events and exercise control over animate and inanimate objects through thoughts or wishes; a belief in the existence of supernatural and mystical phenomena (cf. Hutson 2008; The Skeptic’s Dictionary).[1]

Magical thinking online: old resources on new ground

A girl in a coma after summoning the Queen of Spades!” announces the razkritia.com website. The example is illustrative of how the interest towards the magical is constructed in the Bulgarian web. Indicative are the contents and the positioning of the “news”, the comments that follow, the links to social networks, the generation of such stories by the users. In short, we understand that an eight-year-old girl fell into a coma without any medical explanation. The desperate parents consulted a psychic who explained that “the girl had teased the Devil” and told the parents to contact the child’s classmates. A friend of hers shared that the girl passed out after the two of them had summoned the Queen of Spades in the bathroom. The news ends with the words of the father: “I do not believe in such things but we don’t know what to do. I even started to read stories about the Queen of Spades and to look for some explanation”. In addition, the website publishes a short piece about the urban legend of the Queen of Spades along with the following appeal to its readers: “…what part of the myths is true we leave it up to you to share in your comments. Have you ever summoned the Queen of Spades and has something unusual happened to you?” One hundred and eighty five readers’ comments follow and the interest towards the story has continued for two years now – the first opinions are from April 2010, and new ones are still being posted (January 2012).

It is obvious that the website successfully exploits the interest towards a not-so-new urban legend. The summoning of the spirit of the Queen of Spades was fashionable among children more than twenty years ago (back then the ritual was conducted in the bathroom with a deodorant and a card of the Queen of the Spades). The legend has it that the spirit of the misfortunate maiden started to appear as far back as in the Middle Ages. Eventually, it turns out that regardless of the generational changes and despite the new and more modern ways of entertainment, the Queen of Spades still tickles the imagination of children. The readers of the article share that the ritual is a common practice nowadays; a great part of them have summoned or would like to summon the spirit of the Queen of Spades. The video social network VBox7, to which one of the comments on the article in razkritia.com links, illustrates the contemporary version of the ritual act. The low quality amateur clip from July 2008 “Summoning the Queen of Spades in the bathroom” has been viewed more than 20 thousand times.

dama_pika

Ill. 1. “Summoning the Queen of Spades in the bathroom”

It is also obvious that the site exploits not only the interest towards this particular urban legend but also towards paranormal phenomena and esoteric decisions. The text emphasizes the helplessness of the doctors to clarify the reason for the condition of the girl trapped in a coma, and at the same time offers its readers an alternative and actually the only certain diagnosis – the psychic’s conclusion that the girl is possessed by “dark supernatural powers”. Plotted in this way, the story is placed in a media context where similar stories are frequently found. Razkritia.com is a news website with strong inclination to tabloid content and is the most popular project of the Internet media group Mars Media. The portfolio of the media group includes mainly commercial projects with a high degree of “yellow” content. Mars Media has an astrologist on the payroll, listed on “the most popular website about horoscopes, astrology, star signs and occult news – Chudesa.net”, and furthermore, it regularly advertises psychic services.

Of course, there is nothing unusual in this media strategy. On the contrary, it is a part of the status quo, a part of the predominant in the country “yellow” media policy, no matter if the channel is television, press or Internet. If we trace the development of this type of media content in the last couple of decades, we have to note that the push towards establishing a permanent interest towards the paranormal and the magical beliefs as a whole was given by the traditional media. As early as the first years of the post-1989 transition, the liberalization of the media discourse brought along the figures of the astrologist, the fortuneteller and the psychic. Mischievous poltergeists, encounters with ghosts, extraterrestrials and spirits entered the public language. Stories about superstitions and mystical experiences colored the media columns about hobby and free time. Parallel to these changes there was a boom in the publishing of occult and esoteric literature.

An important part of the establishing of the topic about the supernatural in the public environment is related to the history of the most powerful media – the television. In this context at least three key episodes are worth mentioning. The earliest and most impressive media demonstrations of exercising energy influence over the health and the psyche of the audience are Kashpirovski’s television séances – the Russian hypnotist with contradictory fame, stigmatized by the church as a magician. His performances were broadcast on the Soviet television in 1989 and rebroadcast by a number of East European televisions, including the Bulgarian National Television. Ten years later, a specialized real time TV channel for clairvoyance and psychic practices was launched – Channel 2001. In 2008 the leading television in the country, bTV, combined the reality show format and the paranormal, and launched the “Yasnovidtsi [Clairvoyants]” show where the main characters were “Bulgarians claiming to have supernatural abilities”. Thus, Kashpirovski, Channel 2001 and “Yasnovidtsi” turned into TV brands that framed the evolution of mediatized paranormality in the transition period – from the initial infection of the masses through the self-made emancipation of the TV fortuneteller to the professionally formatted spectacle.

Kashpirovski

Ill. 2. A part of Kashpirovski’s TV séance   

 

talismani

Ill. 3. A blog where you can order Kashpirovski’s amulet

During the last few years the topics of clairvoyance, white and black magic, miracles, indigo kids, crystal kids, reptilians (extraterrestrial hybrids between people and reptiles) and so on are invariably present in the entertainment media formats – mainly in the magazine shows and talk shows.

For more than twenty years now, the press too has persistently accommodated similar content – both on the pages of the gutter press, which by definition is a place for displaying such topics, and in the columns of the more serious media. The press market also includes a highly specialized niche occupied by editions such as the Vrachka [Fortuneteller] newspaper or the NLO [UFO] magazine.

The Internet gets infected with the tabloid-magical virus, once the paradigm has been inculcated in the traditional publicity.

In its early elitist period the new media stayed aside from the thriving interest towards the world of psychics and prophecies. The first “magical swallows” appeared on the net when the initially poor content in Bulgarian began to diversify and commercialize. The Internet portals set the beginning. It was there that the basic models of spreading magical beliefs on the net were structured. A leading part in this process played the pioneers – the portals Giuvech and dir.bg. Created respectively in 1997 and in 1998, in the first few years after their appearance the portals strengthened their positions as the biggest generator of user traffic in the Bulgarian cyberspace. Part of the broad reference profile, gradually built and enriched by the portals, are the sections “horoscopes” and “dream book”.

Giuvech and Dir.bg established the model of the magazine type of offering information where similar sections exist as light accents in the motley palette of topics, together with categories such as “humor”, “cards”, “music”, “gossip”, “erotics”, etc., and parallel to tags such as “weather”, “sport”, “tourism”, “art and culture”, “science”, “history”, “medicine”, “media”, “transport”, “IT”, etc. This model of combining and offering access to useful and amusing resources completely fits the concept of the web portal as such. At the same time, such eclectically structured information can be considered an online analogy of the typical for the mass media “spicing up” of the content, aiming at larger audience and higher rating.

The second basic mechanism for online popularization of the magical beliefs, used by the web portals, is promoting a culture of theme-based discussion. The clubs and forums of Giuvech and Dir.bg are the first important online hatchers for the exchange of information in the field of the occult, the mystical and religion. For more than a decade now (the religion and occultism clubs of Dir.bg for example were started up in 2000) they have been functioning as a platform for discussing topics in the filed of the magical. In the last few years, the model established by the first portal clubs has multiplied in a number of independent forum zones on the net. Specialized portals with different levels of access – open, limited or closed (only for selected users) are supported.

In addition to the two basic approaches to integrating magical beliefs online – magazine content and participation in discussions, the early history of the portals refers to a curious detail – the birth of the first urban legend about the existence of virtual ghosts. Cyber mysticism dates back to the first years of Giuvech

On several occasions we received information from independent sources that one of the images in our navigation bar is sometimes seen not as a bullet button but as a portrait of a young lady… at the same time though thousands of other people would see the image normally. This phenomenon remained without any explanation. (An interview with Pavel Kalinov, one of the founders of Giuvech, quoted in Belogusheva & Toms 2003: 140.)

Obviously, the spirits of queens and young ladies have a powerful magical appeal. But more important here is that virtual ghosts did not succeed in attracting strong interest among Bulgarian Internet users. The ghost from Giuvech remained not only unexplained but also an unrepeated phenomenon. Cybermysticism remains an undeveloped niche.

At the same time, cyberspace is developing as an extremely hospitable environment for traditional mysticism, and in general, for the old magical resources from before the Internet era. The Internet gives new instruments and a new field for activating the magical beliefs but the magical beliefs themselves do not take a new shape.

Astrology, witchcraft, magic spells, runes, coffee divination, tarot cards, voodoo, the Queen of Spades, etc. – the most actively multiplied examples of magical thinking on the Internet date back, as per the websites promoting them, from “antiquity” to the last century, the most recent one being the chaos magic movement from the 20th century.

Typical of all these online manifestations of magical thinking is that the Internet and the already established beliefs mutually instrumentalize each other without any magical innovations to follow. Thus for example, clairvoyants and the media warn that a spell may be cast on a photo on Facebook or may be sent via Skype or e-mail, but the spell casting itself follows the traditional methods. The functional uses of the Internet as a new ground for applying old resources is clearly seen in the practices of online tarot cards reading, rune divination, past lives calculators, or even in the unpopular virtual “burning at the stake” of problems . The most widely spread is the ordering and sending of predictions by e-mail or sms (see „Okultnite praktiki onlain: neobhodimi, (ne)priznati i na ryba na serioznostta [Occult Practices Online: Necessary, (Un)recognized, and On the Edge of Seriousness]”). As it becomes clear from the service coffee cup reading online, new technologies simply pragmatize the ritual:

Coffee cup reading is already online. It is not necessary to look for fortune tellers and psychics, and take into consideration their free time or queue up to see them. It is enough to have a cup of TURKISH coffee and send your cup to our address, and we would make sure to deliver your cup to Madame Velika and connect you to her within a day. Through online connection – Skype, Google chat, chat or email (as you wish) you will find out the details of what is written in your cup. Thus, we make it easier for you, we save your time, nerves and money, and we reduce the number of the people waiting at the fortuneteller’s house. (Gledanenakafe.info)

The observation that the Internet incorporates magical resources of mostly non-Internet origin is confirmed by the nature of the magical topics discussed in the specialized forums. Internet users advance their magical knowledge through the discovery, translation and spreading of a wide range of ancient practices. The geography of the magical beliefs in the Bulgarian web environment is extremely broad – from Slavonic witchcraft and Peter Deunov’s teaching as representative of the “domestic” magical knowledge, through Scandinavian magic or Brazilian rituals for prosperity, to the exotic dragon magic from Japan and China. We come to the conclusion that the liberalization of magical resources, made possible by the Internet, is developing mainly towards a collage of old knowledge, beliefs and rituals.

The eclecticism of magic and the resistance against magical beliefs

In his psychological study on the magical thinking in kids and adults with different cultural background, Subbotsky argues for the hypothesis that magical beliefs in kids are legitimate, conscious beliefs, but as a result of the pressure exercised by science and religion they are later pushed into the subconscious. Subbotsky relates the genealogy of this phenomenon to the establishment of monotheistic religions which, while claiming monopoly over the magical beliefs, actually divide them in two kinds – institutionalized and noninstitutionalized. The institutionalized beliefs are accepted by the religion, whereas the noninstitutionalized ones do not belong to an official religious doctrine (Subbotsky 2010).

Non-institutionalized magical beliefs find expression in the nonreligious witchcraft, paganism, astrology, numerology, palmistry, curses and damnations, divination, everyday superstitions, etc. Exactly these forms of magical beliefs are most widespread on the Bulgarian web; that is why they are the main topic of the present text. Looking into the issue of how the interest towards magical beliefs is structured on the net undoubtedly entails the question: which are the factors that counteract to the popularization of magical beliefs, or how does magical thinking online neutralize the opposition against itself? The answer leads to the fields that, as Subbotsky claims, suppress the noninstitutionalized magical beliefs – science and religion.

Science explores magical thinking with the tools of the social sciences and humanities as well as within the context of medicine and psychiatry. In the field of the mass Internet use, however, “pure” science and “high” academic texts are clearly not highly thought of as an information resource. In the popular web discourse, the opposition between science and magic is rather based on pseudoscientific arguments. The resistance against the magical is most often grounded in the concept of “common sense”, and the strongest argument is the empirical evidence. Thus, it is the shared personal experience that is most appreciated in the forums:

 [...]I was forwarded yet another junk email – if I didn’t forward it to several Skype subscribers, a ghost would haunt my house and would do something to me. I laughed out and I didn’t send it to anyone. I am still alive, for all I can tell. :D:D:D:D (Teddyytoo 2011)

At the same time, though, the personal example, articulated as empirical evidence, functions in the opposite direction as well – in support of the paranormal phenomena, and as a direct, usually partial, discredit of science:

Something quite interesting happened to me. I received a Christmas present by a girl, an utterly unnecessary item, a complete kitsch. I was wondering what to do with it, I didn’t want to bring trash home, so, I almost decided to throw the thing away but I would forget it at work all the time. I finally picked it today with the idea to throw it away somewhere on my way home but on my way out I slipped on some icy spot, I fell down, and the thing broke. It was strange because the present wasn’t supposed to break – it was in a bag and there was a stand to protect the very part that broke. I wasn’t hurt at all, the very fact that I fell down is also weird – knock on wood, I hadn’t fallen for years. Just in case, I threw the thing away in the river (nana 31.12.2011, 8:07 am).

Well, science has not discovered everything yet, and one should be careful. I don’t mean that we should be credulous but there are things that cannot be explained, that’s for sure (nana 31.12.2011, 11:42 pm).

In general, on the web, as well as in both the public and the everyday discourse, diverging examples of the kind and opposite personal experiences constantly clash. This situation stimulates the popularization of magical beliefs: sharing controversial evidence does not always succeed in generating belief in magical phenomena but undoubtedly keeps the interest towards them alive. The uncertainty and the questions are a valuable information capital because they create the need for additional information and raise curiosity towards the problem generating them. The article quoted above – “A girl in a coma after summoning the Queen of Spades!” – is rather indicative as it effectively does take unfair advantage of the readers’ doubts, including the invitation to share “what part of the myths is true”.

At another level, popular magical thinking neutralizes the potential resistance of science against it, as it is itself based on (pseudo)scientific authority. The connection between science and magical phenomena is an often-reproduced leitmotif on the specialized websites. The claim that magical power is “scientifically proved” (clairvoyance, for example) comes to the foreground. Magical thinking draws its legitimacy from the thesis that actually it stimulates scientific discoveries:

The respected professor of physical and mathematical sciences, Igor Garin, claims that all great physicists and philosophers had clairvoyant abilities. Prominent scientists like Einstein, Bohr, Oppenheimer, Heisenberg, even the ancient philosophers – Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Socrates – were clairvoyants because they listened to their inner voices (Clairvoyance and science).

As a whole, in the popular beliefs shared on the net, science is not recognized as a strong generator of resistance against magical thinking. The reason to a great extent is attributable to the earlier connection between scientific inventions and magical beliefs – the magical does not reject the scientific development but rather considers itself as its supplement and alternative. Faivre claims that scientific discoveries in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century were accompanied by a rise of occultism, which together with the triumph of science presented itself as an alternative solution. In this process, occultists did not deny scientific progress. Instead, they tried to integrate it in a shared vision whose purpose was to render more visible the lack of meaning in materialism (Faivre 1994: 88). In turn, Subbotsky sees an opportunity for “peaceful co-existence” between the magical and the scientific reality, and since the magic reality operates with meaning, emotions and communication, it could successfully supplement science (Subbotsky 2010: 14).

The other potential source of resistance against magical beliefs is the official religion. The traditional Bulgarian denomination, the Eastern Orthodoxy, is present online on several information portals (the primary one being Pravoslavieto.com, created in 2001); there is also an official website of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The online discussions dedicated to Christianity are concentrated in several specialized forums (most active are the forums of Dir.bg and the ABV Forums, as well as Forumi Pravoslavie.BG [Forums Orthodoxy.bg]). It is striking that the online spread of specialized Orthodox information as a whole is more limited in comparison with the interest towards non-Christian magical practices. The points of intersection between the institutionalized and the noninstitutionalized magical beliefs are mainly found in the realm of the latter. The most frequently expressed resistance against non-religious practices is in the form of reprimanding their commercialization and denying their positive power. In this line of argumentation, religion and the institution of the church are considered the better option:

Come on, enough of these fortunetellers, clairvoyants, psychics, etc. They won’t help you – they will rather harm you. You’d better go to church and pray to God about your problems than look for satanic “help” or give your money to mountebanks! /most of them are such/ (Radostislava 26.10.2008).

Do not give your money for nonsense. Someone tells you that a spell has been cast on you and you give him a huge amount of money to undo it. Only God protects us. Pray to him. It’s free (comment8,Vseki mesets ni namirat v kushti magii!!! [Each month they find spells cast on our home]).

What is impressing is also that the religion-based disapproval of magical services does not coincide with the negation of magic as such. In this sense, the thesis that religion aspires to monopolize the belief in the magical is confirmed by the popular interpretations of magic online:

Unfortunately, magic exists. It is written in the Bible in the New Testament, in the Acts of the Apostles. First of all we have to pray to God Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Repent sincerely and make a confession. Go to church regularly. Take holly Communion. Keep God’s commandments and try to live by God’s word. Change and become a better person, and God will help you and release you from the evil magic. God bless you! Amen! (comment 18,  Vseki mesets ni namirat v kushti magii!!! [Each month they find spells cast on our home]).

If we talk about the specialized “Christian zones” on the net, they adhere mainly to the religious principles and firmly reject phenomena and interpretations that are off canon. A curious example in this respect is the attempt of a user in Forumi Pravoslavie.bg to turn the other users’ attention to a way of rationalizing esoterics beyond its straight denial:

Aether: It is clear that sick mysticism is out there but esoterics as a whole cannot be declared sick mysticism. The fact that you may come across something rotten, for example, a “rotten” priest, does not mean that the whole church is unworthy. So, if you come across something rotten in esoterics, it doesn’t mean that we should dismiss it.

Zhoro: Aether, you have nothing to do with Eastern Orthodoxy, so embrace esoterics as much as you wish and lapse into you mystic states as much as you want. Just don’t impose them on us – the Eastern Orthodox people.

Aether: I am asking you questions and you react as a kid defending himself, and since he doesn’t have any logical arguments in response – just some beliefs that he wants to defend – he starts attacking me??? [...]

Deiana: If “something” (whatever it is, I can’t find a more relevant word) doesn’t have Christ as its source and purpose, run away from it like that dog in your signature, and again, let the purpose of your running be Christ!

Aether: Yes, that is true, but the Rosicrucians, the Bogomils, the White Brotherhood, the Protestants, the Catholics also have Christ as their purpose. If you just have a look at the way the Protestants and the Catholics bark at each other about who will be burning whom in hell… they both believe that they are righteous… So, the mess is complete and obviously it is a matter of choice and I have the feeling that there isn’t a wrong choice, at least in my observations (excluding Satanism, however, as in Satanism you directly and consciously want to connect with the devil) (Urotsi po ezoterika [Lessons in esoterics]).

What is obvious is the absolute reluctance of the participants in the forum to look into what they call “sick magic”. Aether remains alone in this attempt. Similar firm positions fit in the more general policy of self-isolation of the religious resistance against the noninstitutionalized magical beliefs. The attitude towards nonreligious beliefs and practices as a whole is edgy, non-dialogical and closed within the frames of the Eastern Orthodox zone.

Popular magical thinking, though, does not remain closed in the particular trends of the noninstitutionalized beliefs. On the contrary, its typical feature is the syncretism of practices and rituals of different origin, including the official religion. Here, just as in the case of science, magical beliefs disarm the potential counter-agent by integrating its authority and resources. Thus, for example, God and the church are nearly always present in the repertoire of fortunetellers and magicians, and among the most often given advice on breaking black magic spells is reading Cyprian prayers and performing certain church rituals:

I am a clairvoyant and I am shocked that there is a spell cast on every one in three people who come to see me. Read your Cyprian prayers, CONSECRATE your home, and you shall never have such problems (comment 16, Vseki mesets ni namirat v kushti magii!!! [Each month they find spells cast on our home]).

What is more – psychic and fortunetelling services turn out to be an influential factor in encouraging the “spellbound” people to enter the church. It is exactly on the advice of fortunetellers, sorceresses and magicians that people visit the Eastern Orthodox temples in search of “supernatural energy that can break the spell on them” (Krastev 2005). Thus, somewhat paradoxically, the noninstitutionalized beliefs, considered a threat by the official religion, actually promote some religious practices even if rather fragmentarily.

The observations on the resistanse and counter-resistance processes related to the imposing of magical thinking online confirm that the Internet acts as a favorable environment for a wide-ranging magical eclecticism. We have to note, however, that the new media play the role of an intensifier of developments whose origin is much older than the advent of the Internet. Magical syncretism can be traced back to as early as the period of the conversion to Christianity and the affirmation of the Christian faith.

Back then, the pre-Christian folk (pagan) traditions were mixed with the new religion. As a result, the model of “folk Christianity” or “folk-mythological faith” developed. Typical of this model is that the folk beliefs and the official confession existed in the traditional way of life not as “alternative religious systems” but parallel to each other – “they completed [each other] as two different levels of ‘high’ and ‘low’ (folk) culture” (Nushev 2011). Over the years, new layers were gradually assimilated by the magical syncretism: 

Nowadays the old pagan religious beliefs and magical traditions relate to the new occult, theosophical and religious movements through a peculiar exploitation of the “deep esoteric” tradition on the Balkans, originating in the “Thracian Orphism”, going through Bogomilism and Deunovism, and being revived by the worshipers of neo-paganism, the contemporary neo-Gnostic sects, and the “new age” cults (ibid.).

The contemporary state of the magical beliefs has been influenced by some of the specifics of the socialist regime. Firstly, the period was marked by the atheistic propaganda and by the ideological fight against religion. The aim of this propaganda was “to convincingly point out the advantages of science in comparison with superstitious faith, the advantages of materialism and atheism over idealism and mysticism”. It was considered that “new socialist elements, undermining the foundations of the religious holidays and rites, as well as of the religious coloring of other, purely folk customs and traditions” had to be promoted in everyday life (Avramov 1959, published in Pravoslavieto.com). The perception of the actual effectiveness of the propaganda was controversial but what dominated the public discourse was the thesis that socialism tolerated the promotion of pagan and occult beliefs at the expense of the official religion. It is illustrative, for example, that the prohibition of the mummers’ festival originally imposed by the communist authorities was rather short-lived: “the communist authorities gave up the battle with the stubbornness of the peasants and let them freely celebrate their winter carnival” (Iordanov 2012).

The memories of the socialist period are actively made use of in the discussion practices online. In the self-reflection of the Internet users, for example, emerges the observation that during the communist regime “celebrating Christmas and Easter was forbidden but the mummers’ and sourvakars’ customs, St. Lazarus’ Day, and the so called “Snake Days” weren’t” (comment 27, Nestinarstvoto – tancyt na Izida ili kolko sme drevni vsashtnost [Fire-dancing – Izida’s dance or how ancient we are actually]). An important part of the online reflections is also the reference to the late socialism when the authorities demonstrated interest in the occult:

[BKP] Both occultism and Eastern philosophies were tolerated. Mainly under the protection of Lyudmila Zhivkova who… so carried away with the Eastern philosophies, Roerich, etc. that it killed her. They were tolerated because atheism couldn’t suppress the need for satisfying the religious feeling and quest of the atheists themselves – it only guided it towards superstitions and pagan beliefs. [tonkata3 14.02.2011]

In the end, the post-socialist wave of democratization of magical knowledge, including the Internet, has leveled the considered elitist socialist interest in occultism and has brought the divergent magical beliefs back to the field of “low” culture. There, however, as we have seen in the online practices, the magical beliefs are charged with enough reproductive power to withstand the key resistance against them.

Conclusion: the new monopoly over magical thinking

As it became clear in the course of the analysis, the diagnosed by Subbotsky monopoly of the official religion over magical beliefs practically does not function as such in the Bulgarian web environment. “High” religious beliefs have been displaced and even colonized by the popular noninstitutionalized magical beliefs. At first glance, the eclecticism characterizing these popular beliefs does not allow for the monopolization of magical thinking – there isn’t a center to shape and channel the magical resources.

But is it possible to think of eclecticism itself as a monopolizing factor? And, which is possibly the center generating this eclecticism?

Let us sum up the basic conclusions of the analysis presented above:

First, both models for structuring the magical resources on the net – magazine content and participation in discussions – are situated in a more general context where the collage-like combination of content is the norm. This norm is set by the characteristics of the media environment (magazine tabloidization and “yellow” press exploitation of the magical beliefs; the endorsement of eclecticism by the web portals; the participation of users in the collaging of magical resources), and at the same time it is premised on the development of magical syncretism in a social and historical aspect (folk Christianity, the ambiguous socialist attitude towards religion and esoterics, the post-socialist “liberation” of magical knowledge).

Second, in both models the plurality of the thematic accents serves the aspiration for taking more solid positions in the field of the popular.

Third, the more aggressive of the two approaches is the magazine-type of content. The reason – there is usually market positioning and user traffic behind this model that need to be capitalized on. This is the case with the online portals and online media such as Razkritia.com, but also with the online sale of magical services (to mention only the clairvoyant Katia who is an expert in seeing past and future events, removing negative energy and astral possession, hand drawing of energy shields, interpreting dreams, coding of amulets, talismans and runes, coffee divination, astrology).

Fourth, the model of user participation through sharing examples from the magical reality affirms itself as the most reliable source for content updating. Personal reality stories appear to be a valuable capital for the reproduction of magical beliefs which are otherwise based on old magical knowledge that is difficult to modernize. It is indicative that print editions, exploiting the interest towards the paranormal, go online where interactivity facilitates the fresh reader stories’ feed to a maximal degree (i.e. Lichna drama or Vrachka [Fortuneteller] that informs us that the newspaper is already available online at www.blitz.bg).

Fifth, magical thinking online is not at all a phenomenon born by the new technologies. Internet is an environment for the unfolding of processes of older origin whose most recent escalation happens firstly in the traditional media (mass media, cinema, literature). A vivid illustration in this aspect is offered by the video social network VBox7 where the search of video clips with tags “superstitions”, “spells”, “psychics”, “clairvoyants”, “astrology” results in numerous clips from television and movie production. It is precisely the “clipped” TV shows and TV series that are the most watched among the above mentioned theme tags (a significant generator of user interest is the “Yasnovidtsi [Clairvoyants]” show on bTV, as well as the TV tabloid of Nova television “Goreshto [Hot]”).

These major points lead to the conclusion that the decentralized magical eclecticism on the net is actually structured by analogy and in convergence with the magazine tabloidization of the media discourse. If there is a new monopoly over magical thinking, then it is of the tabloid-magical type. It is based on the principles of commercialization and of individual consumption (of magical knowledge and magical services). This situation lacks a stable center to inscribe the magical beliefs into a large-scale sustainable political project. Instead, the tabloid-magical monopoly is not only constantly defocusing itself but also constantly reproducing itself in its pluralities. And since most appreciated in the demand and supply of magical resources are the fast and tangible results, magical solutions easily replace one another. That is why each potential attempt for political use of the popular magical beliefs would get support only if it promises an easily attainable well-being with tangible practical effects. Similar support would be rather short-termed and would readily turn to other more attractive and cheaper magical proposals.

A positive feature of the tabloid-magical monopoly is that, thus constructed, it can hardly turn into a basis for radical or fanatical projects. This in a sense is a warrant for political safety. At the same time, though, the advance of the tabloid-magical principle can hardly enable the construction of a collective ideological project. Because before they occur, both fanatism and the ideological purpose risk being disintegrated in the search for pragmatized magical ways for achieving individual success – quickly, easily, and even at a discount:

Katya

 

Until 31.01.2012 each SMS with a code “mist 2012” will receive an extensive answer in two sms’s! [visited on 10.01.2012]

 

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Avramov, Lych. 1959. Informatsia za izpulnenie reshenieto na Politbiuro na CK na BKP “Otnosno merkite za zasilvane i podobriavane na ateisticheskata propaganda v stranata”
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Belogusheva, Goritsa and Justine Toms. 2003. Purvite v bulgraskia Internet [The pioneers in the Bulgarian Internet]. Sofia: Ciela.

Faivre, Antoine. 1994. Access to Western Esotericism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Hutson, Matthew. 2008. Magical Thinking. In: Psychology Today, 01.03.2008.

Iordanov, Ruslan. 2012.  I adut treperi pred kukerite [Even hell sudders at the sight of the mummers]. In: Standart, 16.01.2012.

Krastev, Nikolay. 2005. Molitvi razvaliat magii v plovdivskia hram “Sv. Petka” [Prayers undo spells in the “St. Petka” Church in Plovdiv]. In: Monitor, 01.10.2005.

Liutova, Evelina, 2006. Iasnovidstvoto e nauchno dokazano [Clairvoyance is scientifically proved]. In: Blitz, 02.06.2006.

Nushev, Kostadin. 2011. Hristiansto, okultism i magia. Tsurkvata i ezicheskite ritualni praktiki  [Christianity, occultism and magic. The church and the pagan ritual practices]. Center for the study of new religious movements, 17.03.2011.

Subbotsky, Eugene. 2010. Magic and the Mind. Mechanisms, Functions, and Development of Magical Thinking and Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tenev, Stanimir. 2012. Nova opasna magia – omagiosvat v neta [A new dangerous magic – spell cast on the net]. In: Razkritia.com, 16.01.2012.

Tserovska, Karolina. 2010. Momichentse izpada v coma – vikalo Dama Pika! [A girl in a coma after summoning the Queen of Spades!]. In: Razkritia.com, 29.04.2010.

[NA]. 2011. Magical Thinking. The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

 

Nikoleta Daskalova is a doctoral student in comparative media studies at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia. Her research interests are in the areas of new media, political communication, media anthropology. She is experienced in coordinating academic projects on the media in Southeast Europe and the media in Bulgaria.

 

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[1]  The specific uses of magical thinking as a characteristic of the irrational fear and schizophrenia in clinical psychology and medicine are not within the purpose of this text.

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