Researching the Magic: Witches, Healers, and New Age

Judit Kis-Halas, a folklorist and a visiting lecturer at UT from Pecs University in Hungary,  studies mysterious stuff – witchcraft, healing practices, and magic. She started her research in early modern Europe and gradually became immersed in contemporary New Age practices.

Judit Kis-Halas

Judit Kis-Halas: People feel abandoned in a huge, bureaucratic medical care system. Photo by Inga Külmoja.

Judit kindly agreed to share some of her research insights in a podcast interview (listen below), so we headed to the blooming UT Botanical Garden to sit down and talk. The garden buzzed with life, causing us to pause several times and look for quieter spots; in the end we found ourselves far by the riverside. Hopefully all those external sounds of life in our recording aren’t too distracting and you will enjoy hearing the birds singing – quite in line with the animated world concept – and, above all, enjoy Judit’s story and explanations.

Our starting point was a big ‘why’: Why in the contemporary world of advanced, high-tech medicine and science do people still turn to traditional healing and witchcraft?

According to Judit, medicine is deemed insufficient, as patients fail to see through to the process of the medical cure and don’t understand what is going on. As medicine has become so high-tech, scientific, and difficult to comprehend, people don’t feel involved in the healing process. Contemporary magical practices compensate for this, offering active participation and explanations.

Also, healing practices are holistic, aiming to restore the wholeness of one’s body, mind, and spirit. They offer an alternative to people who feel abandoned in a huge, bureaucratic medical care system.

Judit researches contemporary magic through fieldwork and participation; she paid her first research visit to a diviner in her neighboring village in Hungary, presenting herself as a folklorist. ‘Healers took me as a disciple’, she said, explaining that they found such a framework to let them share their practice. However, sometimes the roles switched, and Judit found herself treated as a patient.

In addition to old traditional ways, contemporary healers often apply different energy healing techniques. Again, these are based on holistic principles and belief that everything in the world is animated through some kind of energy; thus, the cure should focus on restoring energy balance. Other New Age techniques include reiki healing, psychotronics, psychic surgery, breathwork, different kinds of massage, laying on of hands, and so on and so forth. The best healers are equipped with a variety of techniques and are able to select the most appropriate method for each individual patient.

How does one become a witch or a healer? Judit says that while they mostly look like everyday people, there are some common ways of entering the world of magic. This can come through disappointment with the Christian worldview or with consumerist society values. In many cases, a crisis in one’s private life initiates a quest for a new path and brings people to magic.

Somewhat paradoxically, in Judit’s view the aim of contemporary magical practices is not a spiritual quest, but one to improve one’s self and gain better quality of life, driven by  rather commercial and individualistic values.

Listen to the podcast interview on magic:

Tuhala Witches' Well

Tuhala Witches’ Well in Estonia starts ‘boiling’ in spring. Image credit: EAS.

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