How Do Prayers And Rituals Work

This story begins with a prayer. A rather unconventional one. To a rather unconventional deity:

Asphaulta, Asphaulta, goddess of grace, please will you grant me a parking space?


Let's hear the author, and probably the sole user, of this prayer, Jabinaise (who is, btw, an atheist) to explain it for us:

When I go to the super market I say this little prayer (I know, atheist blasphemy). This is said with the implied intention of getting not only a parking space, but a good one, preferably up front. When I say this little wish, some of the time I get a space right up front, sometimes a little further back, rarely though do I not get one.

God's Parking Space photo by Willem J. Poolen

Jabinaise argues that the result of the prayer is that he tends to remember positive outcomes and forget the negative ones. As a result, his perception differs from the actual statistics. Which of course, counts a lot. But that might not be all there is. 

Yes, I'm saying that Asphaulta prayer might work.

Because magic is not what you've learned from the movies

Yes, I know that you might have been thinking that magic is dealing with some sort of supernatural powers or whatever. Truth to be told I can't even imagine what supernatural is supposed to mean. Funny thing is that many of the magic practitioners also think there is some supernatural mumbo-jumbo behind it. Understanding the inner mechanism is not essential in this case. 

Prayer like this (and it's not just prayers, it could be a huge variety of actions) actually mobilize the mind towards finding a better parking space. As you know, large part of tasks like finding parking space is done below the conscious level (you'd gone crazy otherwise) so this is just a way to activate and employ your mental mechanisms to a certain purpose.

To find a parking space, you need to employ perception and a bit of organization in your cruising the parking lot. Sure, you can do that on conscious level, but many things our brains do are better done if we don't interfere consciously and cause mental blocks by "overconcentrating". Small magic ritual or prayer does the job without the ill-effects. It just sends the message where needed and let the brain do the rest. It simply activates the auto-pilot. 

It's not just prayers. Some people do the prayers, some paint or dance, some have more or less elaborate rituals. It all depends on personal preference and complexity of the task. It would be kind of cumbersome to draw circles in ground and sacrifice a rooster every time you have trouble finding a parking space. 

Every magic has limitations

I spoiled the fun now, haven't I?

Use some common sense and you'll realize that it's not just your wish and power of your brain that can change the outside world (or even your inner world) just because you want it to be changed. Sometimes, there's no god so powerful to make you a parking space. Or whatever your soul is longing for. 

Don't be silly believing that your bedtime prayer for world peace will make greedy politicians and insane generals stop bombing poor countries in the morning. But that prayer might bring some peace in you and make your actions serve the aim better. Changing yourself is a great first step towards changing the world. You know that Gandhi's quote, right?

So, what makes the magic work?

Well, that's a million dollars question. One that won't be answered here.

But practice helps. Also, learning. And more practice. Good thing about all those entities that people pray to is that more you ask from them, the friendlier they get. In religious terms that's called devotion, but you might think of it as exercise. It's, more or less, the same thing. 

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  • Magic works around perception. If I perceive that Asphaulta is good, and that she will give me a parking space, I am going to go out of my way to try to uphold her good name. Whether this translates to taking another turn in the parking lot or, my earlier assertion, that it is a matter of selective attention on positive outcomes it still turns out with the same belief in Asphaulta. So I say all glory to Asphaulta! 
    P.S. Magic isn't really magic… it's illusion, and sometimes delusion.

  • Large part of our existence is perception. 
    I'll argue against illusion/delusion thing, as well as I will argue against supernatural things. Large part of magic is just psychology. People tend to fire illusion and supernatural explanations too easily. When they see somebody who does something extraordinary they suspect it's cheating or some "magical" bullshit. It's much easier to o that way than to realize that somebody spent a hell lot of effort practicing their skills. 

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