Last night I went to a fascinating discussion between two authors at the final event of the Warwick Words summer festival. The talk was held in the beautiful 15th century Great Hall of the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick.
Ian Mathie, author of Sorcerers and Orange Peel, spoke about his travels in remote African communities over many years and his experiences of spiritual power among the witchdoctors, some of which he believed could not be explained in rational terms. He was being challenged by the sceptical James Andrew Taylor, biographer, former TV journalist and author of Walking Wounded, an acclaimed biography of poet Vernon Scannell.
Each author gave his point of view upon the existence of the paranormal and the supernatural, then the debate was thrown open to the audience. I was interested to note that several among those who spoke from the audience had extensive experience of Africa, and that the general feeling among them seemed to be open-minded/sympathetic towards Ian Mathie’s point of view. I had expected many more sceptics. One questioner asked “What is reality?”
Andrew Taylor said reality was what he could experience with his senses. Then the questioner pointed out that our view of reality changes all the time; our reality in 2014 would have been considered unbelievable one hundred years ago; microscopic reality is unknown to the majority of us; and we are unable to say what new “realities” may become commonplace to those who live a hundred years in the future, that we now consider impossible.
Andrew Taylor made three intriguing points. He said:
1) he would only consider something to be “reality” if it was repeatable in laboratory conditions.
2) he considered “magic” to be lazy; the way things are achieved in the “real” world is far more complex and interesting.
3) everything Ian Mathie had witnessed in traditional communities in Africa, which appeared to be achieved by supernatural power, he would say is all down to “the power of suggestion”.
I later asked Ian Mathie whether he saw anything equivalent to “the local witchdoctor” or “wise man/woman” anywhere in our contemporary English society.
He said no – and this is because most of us in our western culture have such a reductionist, rationalist outlook upon the world, that we are not open to such supernatural power.
I too have been drawn to Africa in a number of ways over the years, mostly through books, without ever having visited the continent; and I learned that Ian Mathie had met Laurens Van Der Post, as I too have done. See my blog post on Van Der Post here.
In my forthcoming psycho-spiritual suspense novel A Passionate Spirit:
1) one of my principal characters wields such supernatural power – in the heart of a contemporary English community.
2) the test of the reality of her power is met; she repeats her apparently supernatural acts over and over again.
3) her power is not taken seriously by those who we might consider most likely to be alert to it – in our society.
If you are interested in these things – the existence of supernatural/spiritual power, versus the rationalist outlook of our Western society – or have experiences or views about it, I invite your comments.