Home EducationThe Real Science Behind the Magic and Mystery of the Occult
EducationBy Joe Burgett -

In this article, we will be diving into the Occult. Of course, this is a very broad term and we’re using it as such. We will be discussing the world of witchcraft as well as medium work, voodoo, and much more. There are many names for those in these fields from Witches and Wizards to Wiccans, Druids, Psychics, and several others. It is important that you differentiate between them all, as they are not the same. Truly, there is a lot of magic and mystery in the occult that will differ among them.

Some might assume that everyone in the occult worships Satan or the Devil. But this is actually not true. There are some that do, yes. However, there are others who are atheists, pagans, or worship other deities. This is not unlike some other religions you see today. In this article, we will also be discussing magical religions too. We will be breaking down, scientifically, how a lot of the occult concepts happen or work mostly. To do that, we will start with history then get to how they do some of their most notable acts. Let’s dive into all of that now!

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False Understanding Of “Witch”

While you might have learned in the past that there were many people that were sentenced to death for being a witch, this is both true and false. This did actually happened off and on from the 1600s through the 1800s in the early United States. This also happened in other parts of the world, especially Europe. The most well-known example of this happened in Salem, Massachusetts. A few girls in 1692 claimed to be possessed by the devil, then went around naming specific women as witches.

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This led to the Salem Witch Trials, a period when several women in the town were investigated for their role in witchcraft. To this day, no significant evidence of witchcraft was truly uncovered. However, the trials led to 19 women being hung for the apparent “crime” of witchcraft. These instances were not as common as you might assume, but the fact that occurred at all is terrible. These women were not witches, in the modern or historical sense of the term.

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Actual Witches

While this will also be the same for wizards and other Wiccans, the term witch involves a woman who practices witchcraft. It is not merely a female that knows how to do a card trick. Rather, a witch will practice or cast spells often used for a specific purpose. Since many witches go about this differently, it is tough to give you an accurate way every single one goes about doing things. However, the main concept is to often say words (often like a prayer) and/or put together some type of elixir.

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This special stuff they make could come in the form of a powder, liquid, and even gas. Of course, that means the application of them will differ obviously depending on the purpose. There are times when chants might occur, but that is not always the case honestly. Many modern witches also do not wear the infamous black cloak and none of them ride around on brooms. Cloaks are still worn by some, but that is more of a ceremonial thing and very old school.

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Magic vs Magick

While we often know the term “magic” today, there was once an archaic way of spelling the term known as “magick.” A lot of people believe the difference breaks down to the fact that one side treats the world as fake and as a performance. The other side treats it all as real. But it is a bit more delicate than that. The term “magick” in the newer form technically comes from Aleister Crowley. He founded the religion of “Thelema.”

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Thelema was pretty much just an esoteric and occult social or spiritual philosophy, but it was also a religious movement. Of course, in it, they practiced magic. Crowley claimed himself to be a new age prophet, because that never turned out badly, right? He changed the “magic” word back to the archaic “magick” within his religion for a specific purpose. Hexagrams, or six-sided shapes we see a lot in the occult today. The extra “k” gave us six letters to match the hexagram. Just remember, “magick” is part of religion. But “magic” is part of a performance or the regular form of magic concepts.

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Zoroastrianism

The first time we really had a chance to see magic in any religious format occurred under Zoroastrianism. This is technically the world’s oldest, surviving religion. While organized religion goes back to around 10,000 BCE, most of those religions are no longer practiced. Zoroastrianism goes back to around the 5th Century BCE and was formed by the self-proclaimed “prophet,” Zoroaster. The religion is still practiced by nearly 200,000 people in the world today.

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The Ancient Greeks claim Zoroaster was “the founder of Magi.” Some even claim he invented magic and even astrology, but the latter is highly unlikely. Yet after Zoroaster, it is stated that people began using astrology to determine many things, even how to treat illnesses. To them, magic was an attempt to control the environment or yourself but means that are untestable through a series of charms or spells. This was the first instance we saw such things in a religious context but forms of magic were used before this. However, this was more often than not referred to as “sorcery.”

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Religion And Magic Were Often Separated In Ancient Times For Good Reason

In spite of what many might have seen from Zoroaster, magic and religion were not exactly common in the B.C. period. In fact, the Greeks and Romans were not always fans of magic. Magic became such a problem for them that laws were passed in several Greek or Roman cities that outlawed the use of it. People doing anything considered to be magical or in any way connected to it could be sentenced to their end. This led many newer religions to avoid the use of magic entirely.

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It is also the very reason some of the most notable acts of magic often happened in the wilderness. These people needed to meet in places where they would not break local laws or be found out. Therefore, they had no choice but to get far away from any major city or town. It was not just the Greeks and Romans that did not like this, but several English and Irish cities frowned on it too. Now you know. There is an ancient reason some of the major occult activities happen in the middle of nowhere. This remoteness likely led to a lot of the magic and mystery in the occult that we all assume happens but isn’t true.

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The Importance Of The Amulet

A lot of people will wear an amulet if they are cosplaying as a witch. The magic and mystery in the occult can be compelling, so we don’t blame them. Yet there is a historical and even scientific reason for ancient amulets. Amulets come in all different sizes, but the ancients more commonly used “textual amulets.” They were used to carry around spells, as they could be opened and closed. Some amulets had spells written right on them too.

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Witches would carry around some of their most important spells inside their amulet. We know this to be true due to discovering amulets on the bodies of long-deceased witches that had spells inside. One might wonder, why would they need to carry around spells they likely performed often? Two reasons. Getting a spell wrong could potentially cause the entire spell to not work. Another reason, to some, was a belief that anything on your person could be carried into the next life or death.

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Protection Concepts

Now comes the fun part when we dive into how stuff works. For some, this might strengthen their beliefs about the magic and mystery in the occult. To others, it might make you question things. In the case of “protection,” this might fall under something called “white magic.” If black magic was used to harm people, then white magic would be used to keep us safe. Protection spells or concepts were employed by the ancient occult groups.

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Apotropaic magic was used by witches, wizards, or sorcerers to ward off evil influences or harm. Since the male member was often symbolized power and violent force, amulets might be made in the image of one. Sometimes, specific texts were assumed to be powerful. Both were used to keep problems away, however, none of these things do anything. Rather, it is all psychological. The belief that they work is ultimately why they do, and belief can be very powerful for people.

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Spells

Spells heavily vary, so we know we’re going to be leaving stuff out in this section. However, we will do our best to explain this area. Basically, spells might simply be something that a magic practitioner will speak, sing, or chant. The idea for some of this is just like the material on protection. You’re working on the “belief” that they will do something. Yet a spell itself is not really going to help anyone or anything. There is a psychological element to everything.

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You’re being guided by the person or group performing the spell to buy into things, and this will work a lot like how things might work in the Christian Church. When someone lays hands on you and “heals” you of something, it can spike adrenaline and feel-good senses. This can start a sensation that feels like healing, but it isn’t. At times, magic practitioners are actively trying to hypnotize people too. Which will then allow their words to have an even great effect psychologically.

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Potions

Spells and Potions are often connected. This is important because potions can be helpful on their own without the need for an actual spell. Most of the time, in history we’ve seen potions or elixirs work very well for a lot of different things. Best of all, you do not even need the “belief” they will work. Some actually just do a great job. For example, cannabis can help with pain problems and even seizures. If this was added to a potion, chances are, it could help someone complaining of pain issues.

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For those unaware, the invention of antibiotics was revolutionary. But before this, we actually treated viruses and infections by simply treating the side effects. The same occurs with potions. Antibiotics do not rid your body of infection anyway, they also treat the symptoms of an infection. Your body fights off the actual infection via your immune system, the same as it does with a virus. Potions in ancient times could limit symptoms, making them useful.

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Pharmakeia

Speaking of potions, the Greeks actually used the word “Pharmakeia” as an all-encompassing word to describe witches, wizards, sorcerers, or anyone in the occult at the time. Yet the magic and mystery in the occult of the day eventually made its way into the medical world. Due to several potions actually working, eventually, people began to experiment with some of them to see how they worked. That was when we found that they could treat issues people dealt with, legitimately.

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Thus, the word “Pharmakeia” would go on to be what the word “Pharmacy” was based on. Yes, that place you go to get prescriptions your doctor writes for you. While a pharmacy does not carry occult potions, they do carry medicine. Since medication originates from ancient potions and elixirs, the pharmaceutical industry should thank the occult for that one. Of course, potions are still used among witches and wizards today. But they are often homeopathic like the original potions were, with a close similarity to things like essential oils. Therefore, they are not as effective today.

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Omens

Omens are really common in mythology but since the magic and mystery in the occult is just as ancient as some mythological stories, it should be obvious that they’d cross over a bit. An omen is often used to describe an upcoming event of some type, usually the end of something or someone. For example, an omen might be that a leader from a country will be ended by an assassin. The hope is that this will never happen, but that omen is purposely vague. It does not give a time, nor who, especially not where. Sometimes it does get more specific, especially in ancient omens.

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But this usually only occurs when discussing a King or Queen of land within the same landlocked territory. The occult also uses omens, but typically they have been connected to events that were also vague. For example, things like plagues were predicted by occultists. However, science tells us that major viruses or plagues will happen and end up causing a lot of lives to pass. We cannot stop them from happening, even today, we can only limit their effects. Since they are going to happen, it’s sort of easy to predict. Thus, an omen like that is really just using scientific obviousness, not magic, to predict.

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Oracles

Perhaps the most famous of the oracles in world history would likely be the Oracle of Delphi. This was the name of the high priestess at the Temple of Apollo in Greece (also called the Pythia). The Oracle was always a real person, with the very first operating around the 8th Century BCE. The Oracle continued here until the 4th Century AD. It is obvious that the person operating as the Oracle changed quite often over the years, and there is a major story behind that for another time. In any case, the Oracle of Delphi lucked out.

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Whoever played the role had informants that operated from all over. This allowed them to be well informed. On top of this, their very advice or counsel could lead to things happening. This is why many assume some were paid off or threatened to deliver the advice someone wanted them to give. Thus, they could predict other future events. Since major leaders consulted the Oracle, she could easily manipulate the results in her favor. Of course, this is just one Oracle. There are literally hundreds more that all did the exact same things. There was nothing mysterious or magical about them.

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Psychics

While the magic and mystery in the occult tend to involve some clairvoyance at times, this is not always agreed upon by the community. How are psychics able to predict things or know what we’re about to do, even what we’re thinking? In some ways, this can be done with the power of suggestion. Mentalists use it on stage all the time. By knowing how to do mentalism, you can implant an idea psychologically without the person knowing you’re doing it. This is a trick that uses literal science and isn’t magical in the slightest, but it can come off like it is.

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On top of this, you will help to fill in a lot of the blanks for them. For example, let’s say you’re asking them how you’ll do at a new job. They will have you speak and take key things that mean something to you, and will then use this to help you know something. But how do they find people in law enforcement stuff? Good question. They don’t. Psychics make educated guesses and sometimes they end up being right. They look at cases differently from officers, talk to family, etc. They basically use a form of detective work.

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Mediums

Funny enough, mediums do pretty much the same thing that psychics do. They just do it from another angle. The magician Harry Houdini hated mediums and traveled around literally debunking them and any other occult member that claimed they could talk to the dead. The magic and mystery in the occult make many, even still, look to mediums as a source to talk to their long-gone loved ones. Houdini hated this because he felt these people took advantage of people’s emotions.

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Most who seek out mediums tend to do so just after someone close to them passes, usually out of grief. Mediums do the same sort of readings that psychics do. Basically, they’ll just say things in a leading way and getting you to fill in the blanks about a person for them. This will then lead to the medium “connecting” to someone in the afterlife. Some like to give a small light show or use a crystal ball when doing it to add to the mystery. It’s all meaningless and they are not speaking for your loved one. It’s all a con. On top of this, even some within other sectors of the occult do not buy the medium stuff either.

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Intuitives

While Intuitives should not be part of this list, they are technically part of the occult. Although the magic and mystery in the occult rarely involve real science, this is actually one that does. The reason it lands within the occult is due to the fact that people practice as professional Intuitives. You might know these people by another name, Empaths. There are people who scientifically speaking, “can” feel your pain. Well, kind of. This is something some struggle with, in fact. There are some nurses in hospitals who will see someone come into the ER with pain and will slowly be able to feel it.

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Funny enough, they are not feeling the “real” pain of the person. Their brain is tricking them, as it sees someone else reacting to something and will react in a similar way. It is similar to how a person with Tourettes will copy another person having a Tourette’s twitch. Yet the ones in it for the money will claim to be able to feel one’s emotions and will get images, feelings, or thoughts about the person they are with. Just like with mediums and psychics, they are getting you to fill in a lot of the blanks. However, it is possible that they can be empathic of any anger or sadness you’re experiencing. But many can do that.

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Tarot Card Readers and Astrologers

We should be very clear here. In the realm of magic and mystery in the occult, astrology is a major part. However, tarot card reading is not exactly part of the occult. There are many who just use it for fun and do not take it seriously. We should state that we are not talking about those people. Rather, we are discussing those who do this with the intention of deceiving or push the claim that tarot reading is real. Your horoscope is purposely relatable and vague, and your sign means nothing really.

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Why is it that so many assume it’s real stuff to base our day or life on then? Because, as we mentioned, belief is a powerful thing. If a parent believes something, it is likely they will teach that to their children and they will teach theirs. That has led astrology, in spite of its pseudoscience, to be popular. Tarot reading is just like your horoscope. It is simply more detailed about you or a specific thing you ask about. It’s all only works on the belief that you think it’s real, without that, and the actions you take to live it out, nothing will connect.

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Druidism

Druidism is very popular even to this day due to the interesting look and history of this occult group. On an interesting note, when people think about the magic and mystery in the occult, they are likely thinking about things druids are known for. The original versions were all over Europe, especially in the early AD periods. They tend to be part of Celtic lore, and even have a connection to Norse mythology. They are quite similar to some of the others, like witches, but they differ a bit. Druids were known for not only using magic to heal but also to hurt.

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They rely on the combination of contact with the spirit world and holistic medications. Their meds often helped to heal but they were also used to poison and/or end people. One of the most popular things they did was employ the use of brain-altering inhalants. Sometimes it was thrown like a grenade at a person or simply blown into their face. The person would basically go into a psychedelic trip and the druid would become a monster or whatever they needed to be to trick a person into doing what they wanted. The drugs they employed were highly effective at making people fear them.

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Voodoo

Voodoo is something you might have seen in the southern United States, specifically in Louisiana. There is a reason for this, as voodoo came from overseas with a significant twist on the older African Shaman magic. To be fair, there are many religions connected to the world of voodoo, and all operate differently with what they do. In Louisiana Voodoo, there is no higher deity connected but there is a deep connection to the spirit world. Voodoo rituals tend to be somewhat similar to a witch’s, but the song they sing will determine the “spell” they are looking to do.

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In Voodoo, there is also a very common use of charms that are used to help people. They are usually employed for protection, such as from harm or sickness. You might also see some used to help with nightmares too. Of course, the most well-known part of Voodoo is the dolls (which we’ll get to soon) as well as cards that have various meanings. Overall, Voodoo works similar to Druidism. The idea is to alter someone psychologically. Sometimes, this can be done with simply hypnosis techniques but others need more priming. That is when a potion or inhalent might be used to make someone more suggestible.

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Voodoo Dolls

When you think about the magic and mystery in the occult, everyone immediately will think of Voodoo Dolls. There is a good reason for this, they are incredibly popular. You can find random dolls like them on sale worldwide too. Funny enough, they did not begin as a part of Voodoo magic. Rather, they are from witchcraft in Europe. Known as “poppets,” they were used the exact same way Voodoo Dolls are used. The dolls represent a person; you’d either bless or curse the person via the poppet. On an interesting note, they are rarely used in Voodoo which is why many like to call them “curse dolls” in the occult.

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When used in Voodoo, they are often meant to heal, never harm. How exactly did they work though? The general idea was that a doll would be made to represent a person and one might insert a needle or sharp object into the doll. The hope would be to harm the person represented by the doll. In Voodoo, there might be attempted blessings on the doll in an effort to heal the person or keep them from harm. However, none of these dolls actually do anything. They are specifically meant for the person that is upset with or worried about a person, and the doll helps them to cope with that. Again, it’s all psychological here.

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Crystals

The magic and mystery in the occult are vast and involves a lot of things. Crystals, for one, are actually fairly new. At least, the ones you see most often today. We want to be fair to this because there is some legitimacy in crystals from a scientific standpoint. However, it’s not much. They basically work using the placebo effect. For those unaware, the placebo effect comes from when we began doing human trials on pharmaceutical drugs. You needed to test if a drug worked properly, so you needed some people to take the medication while others did not.

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The ones that do not are referred to as the “control” group. This very group will be given a sugar pill or placebo. It will not treat anything. Drug researchers will compare what people with the drug claims versus what people say not on the drug. It might shock you, but some people not on the placebo will claim it is working for them. Hence the placebo effect, the idea that something that does nothing is working only because you believe it will. Unlike other stuff, there isn’t any hypnosis, implanting, or adrenaline rush behind it. The researchers do nothing except give the placebo to them.

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Interpretation Of Dreams Or Signs

This type of thing has a connection in every major religion, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Therefore, it should not in any way be shocking that occult religions also practice the idea of interpreting dreams or signs. When it comes to the magic and mystery in the occult though, the way they might go about this will differ. For example, a person in the occult might slaughter an animal and use its blood or organs to tell the future or find out something specific. In Christianity, Joseph helped the Pharoah determine what his dreams meant.

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He used basically psychology to help him find out what the nightmares were all about, but he did not have to do much else. Today, we know dreams are technically part of the subconscious. They only occur when a person reaches REM sleep too. In this stage, our brain is high functioning as the body sleeps. Life experiences within dreams link to “theta activity,” which often happens when our brain uses an emotional memory within the dream. Our emotions rule our brains awake or asleep, so it is possible you might dream something if you have trouble with it awake. Psychologists actually help with this often these days.

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Curses/Hexes

Curses or Hexes might be one of the most common things connected to the magic and mystery in the occult, but not for the reasons you might assume. Curses are not real, and they are completely based on your specific belief in them. However, some wanted to go the extra mile with this. While it has happened in the 21st Century at times, it used to be that a person “cursed” would be followed by someone. That person might try to make bad things happen to them for a while in an attempt to make the curse real. Other times, you did not even need that to happen.

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A person might develop their own belief that a curse is real and will suddenly cause their own harm without realizing it. Every major religion has some form of curse referenced, including those within the occult. But they all work the same. Someone wishes misfortune upon someone else, that’s it. The hope is that they will not want the curse and will beg for forgiveness or give the person what they want. Affecting a person psychologically like this can be powerful. Just know, curses have never been real, our brains are though. Sadly, they are sadly easy to manipulate sometimes.

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Possession

When you think about the demonic side of the occult, you’re likely going to go directly to possession. This can come in a few different forms, however. Just to make sure we’re all clear here, the idea of possession is when someone’s body is “taken over” by someone else, usually from the spiritual world. Those who have claimed to have been possessed in the past will say they are missing memories, sometimes even waking up in odd places. They will have perceptual distortions and feel like they simply are not in control. These people might also claim they were hyper-suggestable.

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The latter means that a person might think or believe something to be the case as if it was programmed. The reason for all of this? More often than not, psychological drugs or a mental disorder. There have been stories of people with sleep abnormalities where they’d go to bed and somehow sleepwalk competently, even sleep drive. The person might use drugs and/or alcohol at this time. If a person has such an abnormality, they will not act as they normally would. They’d be highly suggestible, and it would make sense that they did not remember anything too.

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Ouija Boards

We know, you likely fear the Ouija Board or maybe you’ve seen one in action. It is likely what made you buy into the magic and mystery in the occult, to begin with. When things moved to spell out something to you, it felt powerful. As if some sort of force from beyond was trying to communicate with you. Maybe a loved one? Historical figure? We wish we could tell you that this was the case, but it’s not. It’s all, yet again, down to our brains playing tricks on us.

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Ouija boards work through the ideomotor effect. This is a process when usually a thought or mental image makes us “reflexive” to something. It causes a muscular reaction, sometimes minor, and the person this happens to have no idea it’s happening. This also works in some regarding the very idea of pain, where they will reflexively act by preparing to be hit with something. All of this happens with the board too, where the idea someone is communicating with us causes us to move but our brain does not recognize we are the one moving the board along.

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Parapsychology

We should be fair here, and state that while they are connected somewhat, the magic and mystery in the occult is not “technically” connected to parapsychology. They can coexist alongside one another as well as completely away from each other. This connects somewhat to psychic phenomena, mostly via extrasensory perception as well as telepathy, psychokinesis, and psychometry. It is also commonly connected to near-eath experiences too.

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However, literally, nothing in parapsychology has proven to be real and is complete pseudoscience. The science journals that do discuss them are often niche or small, and not notable. More than a century of research has been done on this field and each time, nothing could be proven scientifically. Usually, any activity that occurred needed to be done in a darkened area or use “smoke and mirror” tactics. All of this was an attempt to hide how their concepts were done. For extrasensory material, doctored claims were made but when checked again, results could not be replicated every single time.

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