The Danger of Popular Memes and Ancient Wisdom

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How well-meaning, non-scientific memes can slow your learning.

A friend asks:

When you do healing technique, how do you keep from messing up your own energy? Particularly when you’re working with someone with a terminal illness?

This a popular meme, but it’s not a real concern. Energy healing is about shifting the energy signature of living tissue (the “biofield”). Shifting someone else’s biofield doesn’t affect your own, just like massaging someone’s neck doesn’t create knots in your neck.

But where does that meme come from? Here’s my best guess: If you imagine energy healing as transferring some finite quantity of “health,” then the healer would have to get sicker to make the person healthier.

When I started this post, I’d intended to refute the “health transfer” idea. But I realized that, while inaccurate, it’s actually an honest attempt to explain some problems healers can face:

First, energy healing takes focus, and it requires engaging ethereal muscles. In new healers, those ethereal muscles aren’t strong yet, which is tiring in a different way than playing a sport or taking an exam. If a healer isn’t consciously aware of their ethereal muscles, they’ll experience an unusual fatigue but not understand why.

Second, just like you can cause side effects in the person you’re working with, you can cause side effects in yourself. It happened to me, too: When I started practicing energy healing, I’d build the healing energy in my own body. Everything I did to the other person, I also did to myself. Combine that with an inexperienced healer using slightly-off energy signatures, and you can get headaches, nausea, fatigue, and similar problems. I mostly avoided those, but I’d already been using energy for a decade.

(New healers: Remember, none of these side effects are serious, and most go away if you return your energy to normal afterwards.)

The healer, perhaps new, perhaps experienced and teaching new healers, sees these problems. When they work with a tired person, they also become deeply fatigued. When they work with someone with a headache, they too sometimes develop headaches. An explanation is needed, and it sounds so simple to say that the health and illness are transferred.

A trained scientist will do two things. First, they’ll ask, “How might that work? What mechanism?” And they’ll notice how really, incredibly complicated this would be to implement. Second, they’ll try as hard as we can to refute an idea, knowing that an idea they cannot refute is probably true. They’ll ask, “Are there times when I work with an injury, but do not get the symptoms myself afterwards? Does the level of headache I get afterward correlate with the level of headache my client had? Do I ever get headaches when the client had none?”

But that takes training, and experience, and a desire to be accurate rather than think you’re right. That’s hard. I don’t always live up to that goal, and I don’t know anyone who does.

But most people don’t do that. The default for humans not trained in science is to look for confirmation, thinking of times when they worked with a particularly bad headache and got a nasty headache themselves, or times when they worked with an aching knee and then (coincidentally) had their own knee ache. It’s called confirmation bias.

Of course, they don’t consciously say, “I’d rather feel right than be accurate, so I’ll ignore evidence.” The human brain just does it automatically and unconsciously.

They repeat their stories, and their warnings, intending to help other healers avoid these problems. And the story, “I worked with this person, then got the condition they had” is so compelling. Much more fun than, “I worked with this person, then nothing else happened.” And it gets retold, each retelling adding to the perceived evidence, until “health transfer” becomes a meme, implicit in our beliefs without ever being explicitly taught.

There is no villain to this story. Just common, very human errors.

This is the danger in trusting popular memes. I suspect it’s also a danger of trusting ancient wisdom.

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10 Responses to “The Danger of Popular Memes and Ancient Wisdom”

  1. Sonia says:

    Do you mean by meme, that one does feel the others pain and therefor thinks he has copied the cellprogramming onto his own cells?
    And if one can ignite a cell reprogramming on one another why can’t there exist a reprogramming the other way round if the “healer” does not notice fully what he is doing… would the intention to copy be needed to make a change òn the cells of the healer?

    • Hi Sonia, a meme is an idea that’s become shared within a culture, that most people are aware of without necessarily knowing the origin.

      This meme is that healing sick people will somehow make you sick, that you will take part of their illness into yourself.

      And you are correct, there are quite a few errors the healer can make that will create side effects for them. They wouldn’t need to intend those side effects — if a person places energy with a certain signature into their tissue, that energy will do what it does, regardless of what they want / intend it to do.

  2. Ananael Qaa says:

    This is a very old idea, that healing involves some expenditure of energy from a finite pool. The oldest form of it that I’ve come across is in Taoism, which dates back to 2700 BCE. In Taoist Qigong, “energy” is treated as a sort of substance, so it follows logically that if you transfer Qi to another person it has to come from somewhere. But in my experience as a Qigong practitioner that’s not a very accurate explanation.

    Until the modern era magical systems evolved organically rather than following the best possible approximation of the scientific method, and even today a lot of that is still going on. It’s likely that ancient practitioners of Qigong experienced some of the side effects you cite and attributed them to “energy loss” rather than some sort of signature disruption or imbalance. This is especially with the common cognitive bias of the “just-world assumption,” which basically assumes that for every gain there should be a corresponding loss. It’s also true that when the ancient systems were being developed, healers probably did come down with illnesses more often because they were spending more time around sick people and were being exposed to diseases in the process.

    The traditional Taoist approach to sexuality is another area where the “energy loss” model is incorrectly applied, just as with healing. It likely evolved organically from observations that people who had lots of sex tended to get sick and die more often than people who did not. But we now know today that the mechanism is more likely that people who were highly sexually active were exposed to more sexually transmitted diseases in a time when those diseases were poorly understood. Controlling for those factors, modern scientific research has shown a small health benefit to frequent sexual activity with no biological signs whatsoever of the “energy loss” that the Taoist model would predict.

    • George says:

      The “just-world assumption” is absolutely everywhere. Ideas about “deserving” and, more abstractly, “capacity” and “allotment” are soaked into our culture, and in many magickal worldviews.

      From experimentation, it seems to me that if you are suffering from such side-effects, you are ‘intending’ all wrong.

      If you adopt a metaphor of moving stuff from you to the patient, you will indeed likely suffer a backlash. You have implicitly intended that as part of the processes. If you adopt a metaphor of creation, much less so.

    • That’s really interesting about the “just world assumption.” I’ve seen the concept, hadn’t applied it here. It makes sense. Thanks!

  3. simon says:

    Clearly i’m far more motivated to believe that you can NOT attune yourself to the energy signature of a cancer sufferer. That, having brought yourself into resonance with it you can NOT begin to unwittingly generate a ‘cancerous energy signature’ in your own body. I want to be with you on this one.

    I’m just not so sure….

    We may obviously not agree on this but here’s another ‘meme’ to consider:

    Take European Radiasthesia (Chaumery Balizal etc) and its modern development Biogeometry. The vibrational resonance theory outlined there is quite complex and I don’t claim to understand all of it by any means: And I know the ‘new age’ has somewhat co-opted the term vibration and resonance but the concept seems more precise here- with specific predictions.

    The researcher Chaumery spent a lot of time working around deliberately designed shapes which were supposed to emit a strong ‘vertical negative green’ vibrational quality. He even created large shapes to put above his bed. Modern Bio-geometry has since come to view the vertical negative green vibrational quality as harmful to the human system when over-exposed to it. And we know that one morning Chaumery was found dead lying beneath his shapes, the post-mortem revealing no disease or anything other than very sudden severe dehydration. A coincidence? Perhaps.

    On the positive side its seems that in controlled experiments Biogeometry have leveraged beneficial vibrational qualities to cause highly statistically significant increases in the growth rates of potatoes, chickens and apples as well as manipulating vertical negative green quality to completely halt the growth of bacteria. In these cases the only variable is the addition of a geometric shape to the apple tree, potato or bacteria culture. (You would probably be better placed than me to actually read the nitty gritty details of some of the research papers.!research-projects/cmif) – shame they haven’t produced a bit more research but – as i’m sure you know – the funds are not always there.

    It wouldn’t be correct to view the process here as some kind of ‘substance’ called vertical negative green or ‘horizontal red’ transferring from the unremarkable wood or plastic shape into the into the potatoes/ bacteria.

    From the Bio-geometry perspective its a process of bringing the potatoes more into resonance with the desired vibrational quality. In this case geometric shapes are the method of leveraging this resonance process (based on extensive experiments over 40 years of testing the relationship of shape to detected vibrational quality.) That’s a somewhat simplistic version but best I can do for now.

    Shapes are just one way that these vibrational qualities are generated. Human emotions could be another another, a diseased organ yet another. In this model there is potential for healers to unwittingly bring themselves into resonance with vertical negative green and other less beneficial virbational qualities for too long in a number of ways.

    Of course none of this means that treating a mentally ill person or cancer sufferer would automatically bring you into resonance with their condition. In most cases it probably won’t. Whilst we might be able to isolate the effects more easily when dealing with a controlled environment of shapes and potatoes its not easy at all when dealing with the immensely complex, messy interaction of the mind and body of healer and patient.

    Without becoming paranoid or fear filled I tend to opt for the precautionary principle here – and bear in mind that there may at least be something to this.

    • Hi Simon, it sounds like we roughly agree:
      – Doing a healing wrong can cause side effects in the healer
      – That doesn’t mean they’re somehow “absorbing the illness,” it just means that doing it wrong can cause problems

      In your scenario, it sounds like the healer is using a symbol to channel healing energy. I’d call this a sigil with some ethereal software tied to it, but let’s not get bogged down in terms.

      It sounds like focusing on the symbol triggers the healing energy, and that sometimes the healer will also focus on the symbol, bringing the energy into their own body. Which, indeed, can cause side effects in the healer.

      This is actually a good thing to keep in mind in some of my future work. As I develop healing techniques, it would be useful to program them into ethereal software, then tie that particular command to a sigil, so it can be used even by people who can’t consciously use ethereal software. But I’ll need a safeguard so it doesn’t trigger accidentally.

  4. Interesting article, which illustrates that how someone approaches a given magical operation influences their experience of that operation. That’s why it’s worthwhile to really examine if your approach is accurate or something you are buying into that nonetheless could be changed if you’re willing to challenge what you know or think you know.

  5. […] the Magick of Thought Blog, Mike recently shared a post about the Danger of Popular Memes and Ancient Wisdom and how the blind acceptance of ideas and practices can cause the practitioner to avoid ask […]

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