Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Negative sympathy, hosepipe bans and weather magic - a few whimsical thoughts


Once upon a time we used to turn to the magician for the resolution of our weather problems – most usually for the summoning of rain. Todat drought is solved by the announcement of a hosepipe ban.

As Fraser points out control of the weather is a central requirement of a wizard:

Thus, for example, in a village near Dorpat, in Russia, when rain was much wanted, three men used to climb up the fir-trees of an old sacred grove. One of them drummed with a hammer on a kettle or small cask to imitate thunder; the second knocked two fire-brands together and made the sparks fly, to imitate lightning; and the third, who was called "the rain-maker," had a bunch of twigs with which he sprinkled water from a vessel on all sides. To put an end to drought and bring down rain, women and girls of the village of Ploska are wont to go naked by night to the boundaries of the village and there pour water on the ground. In Halmahera, or Gilolo, a large island to the west of New Guinea, a wizard makes rain by dipping a branch of a particular kind of tree in water and then scattering the moisture from the dripping bough over the ground. In New Britain the rain-maker wraps some leaves of a red and green striped creeper in a banana-leaf, moistens the bundle with water, and buries it in the ground; then he imitates with his mouth the plashing of rain.

This is sympathetic magic – the imitation of rain brings on the reality of the storm. Sometimes it works – in as much as the wizard’s actions are followed by rain (we need not get all sceptical and worry about cause). Now we find a modern phenomenon – negative sympathy. Whether it’s the appointment of Dennis Howell as Minister for Drought – a magic trick that brought the great drought of 1976 to an abrupt end – or the impact of hosepipe bans on the weather, this seems to have the effect of summoning rain. It’s almost as if the act of doing something to save water offends the rain gods.

And as we know offending the rain gods can prove something of a problem.


1 comment:

Pam Nash said...

Only you could make me feel better about being in the hosepipe ban region - I knew it would hurt me not to be able to water the garden, but I never thought I'd suffer angst from not being able to clean my dusty, bird deposited car. I really need to get out more! ;)