Obi and Placebo Affect

The reading that interested me the most this week was “African Religions in Colonial Jamaica” and more specifically, the author’s take on Obei and how it affected the people who believed in it. Edwards makes it extremely obvious that he believes that Obi-men/women were just very good at spooking people, to the point of murder. “The oldest and most crafty are those who usually attract the greatest devotion and confidence; those whose hoary heads, and somewhat peculiarly harsh and forbidding in their aspect, together with a skill in plants of the medicinal and poisonous species, have qualified them for the exercise of this art” (pg 21). The idea seems to be that every black person in Jamaica was so thoroughly convinced of the skill of the Obi-men that their own minds caused them to fall ill in some sort of horrific placebo effect, mostly because of a combination of “they look creepy,” “they’re good at plants,” and extremely firm religious belief.

What interests me about this is that I believe you could make the same argument for just about any religion/spirituality. Christians believe in miracles because of their firm religious beliefs, and from an outsiders perspective, miracles might generally occur due to chance, coincidence, or placebo effect. Wiccan magic can very clearly be seen to be placebo from an outsider’s perspective, although since most magic tends to be of the “trying to gain self-confidence” variety, this isn’t really a problem, as they can still say that the magic worked, much like obi.

To me, what it boils down to is that any religion that believes in a supernatural ability to change ordinary circumstances could easily be perceived as placebo– but it could just as easily be real and interconnected with the same ideals of the other religions that do the same. This doesn’t really have a moral, I just think it’s cool.

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