Summary Against Modern Thought: How Psychics & Witches Really Work

Summary Against Modern Thought: How Psychics & Witches Really Work

Previous post.

We’re not talking abracadabra here, but the real workings of supernatural, somethings called paranormal, powers.


1 Now, it remains to investigate where the arts of magic get their efficacy. Indeed, this can easily be thought out if attention is paid to their method of operation.

2 As a matter of fact, in their performances they use certain significant words in order to produce given effects. But a word, as endowed with meaning, has no force except as derived from some understanding: either from the understanding of the speaker or from the understanding of the one to whom it is spoken.

As an example of such dependence on the understanding of the speaker, suppose an intellect is of such great power that a thing can be caused by its act of conception, and that the function of the spoken word is to present, in some way, this conception to the effects that are produced.

As an example of dependence on the understanding of the person to whom the speech is directed, take the case of a listener who is induced to do something, through the reception in his intellect of the meaning of the word.

Now, it cannot be claimed that these meaningful words spoken by magicians get their efficacy from the understanding of the speaker. Indeed, since power results from essence, a diversity of power manifests a diversity of essential principles. But the intellect of men in general is so disposed that its knowledge is caused by things, instead of it being able to cause things by its act of conception. So, if there be any men who, by their own power, can change things by the words which express their intellectual thought, they will belong to a different species and will be called men in an equivocal sense.

Notes Indeed, “being able to cause things by its act of conception” is the modern conceit of man.

3 Moreover, the power to do something is not acquired by study, but only the knowledge of what to do. Now, some men acquire through study the ability to produce these magical performances. So, there is no special power in them to produce effects of this kind, but only knowledge.

4 Now, if someone says that men like this, in distinction from other men, receive the aforesaid power from birth, due to the power of the stars, so that, no matter how much instruction is given to other men, if they do not possess this from birth, they cannot be successful in works of this kind, our first answer must be that the celestial bodies are not able to make an impression on the understanding, as we showed above. Therefore, no intellect can receive from the power of the stars such a power that the expression of its thought through speech is capable of producing something.

Notes In other words, astrology (in this sense) is not true.

5 But, if it be said that even the imagination produces something when it utters meaningful words, and that the celestial bodies can make an impression on this utterance since this action is performed by means of a bodily organ, this cannot be true in regard to all the effects produced by these arts. It has been shown that not all of these effects can be produced by the power of the stars. Neither, then, can a man receive from the power of the stars this power to produce such effects.

6 So, we are left with the conclusion that effects of this kind are accomplished by some understanding to which the speech of the person uttering these words is addressed. An indication of this fact is that meaningful words such as the magicians use are called invocations, supplications, adjurations, or even commands, implying that one person is speaking to another.

7 Again, in the practices of this art they use certain symbols and specially shaped figures. Now, shape is the principle of neither action nor passion; if it were, mathematical bodies would be active and passive. Hence, it is not possible to dispose matter by special figures so that it will be receptive to a natural effect. So, the magicians do not use figures as dispositions. The conclusion remains, then, that they may use them only as signs, for there is no third possibility. Now, we do not use signs except in regard to other intelligent beings.

Therefore, the arts of magic get their efficacy from another intelligent being to whom the speech of the magician is addressed.

Notes Re-read that last sentence again.

8 Now, if someone says that some figures are proper to certain celestial bodies, and so lower bodies are marked by certain figures for the reception of the influences of the celestial bodies, this does not seem a reasonable answer. In fact, a patient is not ordered to the reception of the influence of an agent, unless it be because it is in potency. So, only those things whereby a thing becomes potential, in some way, determine it to receive a special impression.

But matter is not disposed by figures so that it is in potency to any form, because figure, according to its rational meaning, abstracts from all sensible matter and form, for it is a mathematical object. Therefore, a body is not determined by figures or symbols for the reception of any influence from a celestial body.

9 Moreover, certain figures are assigned as proper to celestial bodies, as their effects; for the shapes of lower bodies are caused by the celestial bodies. But the aforesaid arts do not use characters or figures like the effects of celestial bodies. Rather, they are the productions of man, working by means of art. So, the assigning of certain figures as proper to celestial bodies seems to contribute nothing to the discussion.

10 Furthermore, as we have shown, natural matter is not in any way disposed toward form by figures. So, the bodies on which these figures are put have the same readiness to receive the celestial influence as any other bodies of the same species. Now, the fact that a thing acts on one of a group of things equally disposed, because of something specially assigned to that agent which is to be found on that object and not on another, is not indicative of an agent which acts by natural necessity, but, rather, of one which acts through will. It is clear, then, that arts of this sort which use figures to produce certain effects do not get their efficacy from a natural agent, but from some intellectual substance that acts through understanding.

11 Indeed, the very name that they give to such figures demonstrates this point, for they call them characters. As a matter of fact, a character is a sign. By this usage we are given to understand that they do not use these figures except as signs addressed to some intellectual nature.

Notes That last sentence you read above is amplified here.

12 However, since figures are like specific forms for art objects, some person could say that nothing prevents the construction of a figure, which specifies an image, as result of some power due to celestial influence, not as a figure, but as it specifies the artifact which obtains its power from the stars. However, concerning the letters with which something is written on an image, and the other characters, nothing else can be said than that they are signs. Hence, they are directed only to some intellect. This is also shown by the offerings, prostrations, and other similar practices which they use, for they can be nothing but signs of reverence addressed to some intellectual nature.


  1. Gordon Claycomb

    Hey Mat, I have personally witnessed 2 cases of precise remote viewing, seen people successfully “divine/douse” for water and muscle strength test for individual appropriateness of certain medicines-How? BTSOM(e). Gordon C.

  2. DAV

    Now, it remains to investigate where the arts of magic get their efficacy. …
    Therefore, the arts of magic get their efficacy from another intelligent being to whom the speech of the magician is addressed.

    He is seriously talking about REAL magicians and witches??
    This is what you get when pondering without evidence.

  3. @DAV: Yes, he is. I’ve been saying off and on that the difference between fantasy (arcane) magic and real magic is that fantasy magic (e.g. in Harry Potter) is something anyone with the proper skills, materials, and proclivities may do, and the morality of the act is dependent not upon the means, but the desired end. Thus, combat magic is generally morally neutral, magic for healing generally good, and magic for torture or mind control unforgivably evil.
    In the real world, magic is a bargain with a supernatural creature. You serve its interests, and it serves your ends. God and His angels do not make this bargain; you give Him love and worship as a duty, and He provides the graces to handle anything as a gift. Only the devil and his angels make these bargains, and it’s worth noting that all the magical practices outlawed in Deuteronomy were Canaanite religious practices.

  4. As late as the seventeenth and maybe eighteenth century, people routinely made a distinction between “natural magic” and “supernatural magic”. Natural magic was things like magnetism, alchemy, various superstitions about how to breed unrelated species to get chimera, etc. Supernatural magic involved demonic powers. Here Aquinas seems to be identifying “magic” with supernatural magic. I was wondering if in his day there was some dispute about whether magic done with words and signs is supernatural and he was arguing the case that it is, or was he just arguing for existing church doctrine?

  5. JTLiuzza

    Thanks for this post. God bless the guys who threw the idols into the Tiber. Rome is infested. Stay confessed.

  6. Bill_R

    What would Aquinas think of an iPad and Siri? I draw signs and/or speak into the air to cause things to happen.

    Clarke’s third law: ” Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

  7. Gail Finke

    DAV: he wrote in an age and country where people believed there were real magicians – as people in many countries do now. And he is talking about what these people actually did or claimed to do. Either they did things that really worked magic, or they put on a show and did nothing. He shows first that human beings do not have ability to do magic, and then that things they did to “do magic” (incantations, writing or symbols, etc.) either cannot actually do anything, OR can communicate to other beings that in theory can do magic. These are the logical possibilities, and there’s no reason to scorn him for thinking them out just because you grew up in a time and place when the default supposition (not proved or disproved, but what “everyone knows”) is that there isn’t any magic. Everyone does not “know” this. As I said before, many people in many countries right now believe there are really magicians – voodoo and Santeria are only a few of these belief systems making inroads into the United States. And they are by no means quaint, positive practices. Moreover, by this reasoning they New Agey stuff with crystals, etc., is just the same thing but with people not even knowing what they’re doing. If there aren’t any other beings, then no harm done. But if there are, it’s a really bad idea.

  8. DAV

    @Gail Finke
    there’s no reason to scorn him for thinking them out

    I’m not. It’s been claimed that philosophy doesn’t need verification. I’m pointing to the fallacy that a logical conclusion must describe reality. In this case, he’s detailing how something that doesn’t exist works and not IF it exists this is how it would work. He clearly believed it existed. If he got this wrong, what else did he get wrong? Philosophy needs independent verification just like any other theory. It’s not even close to Gospel.

  9. JTLiuzza

    “He clearly believed it existed.”

    It doesn’t?

  10. Anyone who knows anything about Wicca knows that that magick is basically a Pagan prayer. This is not news. The big question is whether the being addressed are:
    1) Evil demons, as the Christians believe it
    2) Pagan gods, spirits etc. who aren’t necessarily so bad
    3) Neither, but rather it is about a psychological effect in the caster or the target.

    About the later option. Even the atheist has to admit that when Christians pray, it has some effect. Not a physical, but a psychological one. They pray for moral fortitude to overcome a temptation and they often get it. He would deduce that for some reason the human brain is so furnished, that “Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, grant me strength” works better than “I really want to be strong”. Similarly, most magick is about healing and divination. It means it can be entirely psychological, the first case would turn on the self-healing thingamajicks in the human body, like a placebo effect, the second would simply bring into consciousness details that were suppressed into the subconscious.

    WHY would be the human brain so strangely furnished is a pretty good question. One possibility would be that speech evolved first for communication and things like we can also use words for thinking (talking with ourselves inside our heads) is later and secondary. So “gimme dat, please” is closer to the original purpose for the evolution of speech than “I think I am gonna do this”.

  11. swordfishtrombone

    It’s easy to laugh at this nonsense about ‘real’ magic, but it’s worth pointing out that Aquinas, through his ignorance, was helping to prop up an idea which led to thousands of completely innocent women being put to death as witches.

  12. mharko

    “it’s worth pointing out that [your name here], through his ignorance, was helping to prop up an idea”

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