A talk about Supernatural Powers

The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena that are not subject to the laws of nature. By definition, a supernatural manifestation or event requires a violation of physical law believed to have been attributed to non-physical entities, such as angels, demons, gods, poltergeists, etc. It also includes claimed abilities embodied in or provided by such beings, including magic, telekinesis, levitation, precognition, and extrasensory perception.

The philosophy of naturalism contends that all phenomena are scientifically explicable and nothing exists beyond the natural world, and as such approaches supernatural claims with skepticism.

Historically, supernatural powers have been invoked to explain phenomena as diverse as lightning, seasons, and the human senses which today are understood scientifically. The supernatural is featured in folklore and religious contexts,[4] but can also feature as an explanation in more secular contexts, as in the cases of superstitions or belief in the paranormal.

Etymology and history of the concept

Occurring as both an adjective and a noun, descendants of the modern English compound supernatural enter the language from two sources: via Middle French (supernaturel) and directly from the Middle French's term's ancestor, post-Classical Latin (supernaturalis). Post-classical Latin supernaturalis first occurs in the 6th century, composed of the Latin prefix super- and nātūrālis (see nature). The earliest known appearance of the word in the English language occurs in a Middle English translation of Catherine of Siena's Dialogue (orcherd of Syon, around 1425; Þei haue not þanne þe supernaturel lyȝt ne þe liȝt of kunnynge, bycause þei vndirstoden it not). The semantic value of the term has shifted over the history of its use. Originally the term referred exclusively to Christian understandings of the world. For example, as an adjective, the term can mean "belonging to a realm or system that transcends nature, as that of divine, magical, or ghostly beings; attributed to or thought to reveal some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature; occult, paranormal" or "more than what is natural or ordinary; unnaturally or extraordinarily great; abnormal, extraordinary". Obsolete uses include "of, relating to, or dealing with metaphysics". As a noun, the term can mean "a supernatural being", with a particularly strong history of employment in relation to entities from the mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Dialogues from Neoplatonic philosophy in the third century AD contributed to the development of the concept of the supernatural via Christian theology in later centuries.

The term nature had existed since antiquity with Latin authors like Augustine using the word and its cognates at least 600 times in the City of God. In the medieval period, "nature" had ten different meanings and "natural" had eleven different meanings. Peter Lombard, a medieval scholastic in the 12th century, asked about causes that are beyond nature, in that how there could be causes that were God's alone. He used the term praeter naturam in his writings.

In the scholastic period, Thomas Aquinas classified miracles into three categories: "above nature", "beyond nature", and "against nature". In doing so, he sharpened the distinction between nature and miracles more than the early Church Fathers had done. As a result, he had created a dichotomy of sorts of the natural and supernatural.

Though the phrase supra naturam was used since the 4th century AD, it was in the 1200s that Thomas Aquinas used the term "supernaturalis", however, this term had to wait until the end of the medieval period before it became more popularly used. The discussions on "nature" from the scholastic period were diverse and unsettled with some postulating that even miracles are natural and that natural magic was a natural part of the world.

Epistemology and metaphysics

The metaphysical considerations of the existence of the supernatural can be difficult to approach as an exercise in philosophy or theology because any dependencies on its antithesis, the natural, will ultimately have to be inverted or rejected. One complicating factor is that there is disagreement about the definition of "natural" and the limits of naturalism. Concepts in the supernatural domain are closely related to concepts in religious spirituality and occultism or spiritualism.

For sometimes we use the word nature for that Author of nature whom the schoolmen, harshly enough, call Natura naturans, as when it is said that nature hath made man partly corporeal and partly immaterial. Sometimes we mean by the nature of a thing the essence, or that which the schoolmen scruple not to call the quiddity of a thing, namely, the attribute or attributes on whose score it is what it is, whether the thing be corporeal or not, as when we attempt to define the nature of an angle, or of a triangle, or of a fluid body, as such. Sometimes we take nature for an internal principle of motion, as when we say that a stone let fall in the air is by nature carried towards the centre of the earth, and, on the contrary, that fire or flame does naturally move upwards toward the firmament. Sometimes we understand by nature the established course of things, as when we say that nature makes the night succeed the day, nature hath made respiration necessary to the life of men. Sometimes we take nature for an aggregate of powers belonging to a body, especially a living one, as when physicians say that nature is strong or weak or spent, or that in such or such diseases nature left to herself will do the cure. Sometimes we take nature for the universe, or system of the corporeal works of God, as when it is said of a phoenix, or a chimaera, that there is no such thing in nature, i.e. in the world. And sometimes too, and that most commonly, we would express by nature a semi-deity or other strange kind of being, such as this discourse examines the notion of. And besides these more absolute acceptions, if I may so call them, of the word nature, it has divers others (more relative), as nature is wont to be set or in opposition or contradistinction to other things, as when we say of a stone when it falls downwards that it does it by a natural motion, but that if it be thrown upwards its motion that way is violent. So chemists distinguish vitriol into natural and fictitious, or made by art, i.e. by the intervention of human power or skill; so it is said that water, kept suspended in a sucking pump, is not in its natural place, as that is which is stagnant in the well. We say also that wicked men are still in the state of nature, but the regenerate in a state of grace; that cures wrought by medicines are natural operations; but the miraculous ones wrought by Christ and his apostles were supernatural.

— Robert Boyle, A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature .

The term "supernatural" is often used interchangeably with paranormal or preternatural — the latter typically limited to an adjective for describing abilities which appear to exceed what is possible within the boundaries of the laws of physics. Epistemologically, the relationship between the supernatural and the natural is indistinct in terms of natural phenomena that, ex hypothesi, violate the laws of nature, in so far as such laws are realistically accountable. Parapsychologists use the term psi to refer to an assumed unitary force underlying the phenomena they study. Psi is defined in the Journal of Parapsychology as "personal factors or processes in nature which transcend accepted laws" (1948: 311) and "which are non-physical in nature" (1962:310), and it is used to cover both extrasensory perception (ESP), an "awareness of or response to an external event or influence not apprehended by sensory means" (1962:309) or inferred from sensory knowledge, and psychokinesis (PK), "the direct influence exerted on a physical system by a subject without any known intermediate energy or instrumentation" (1945:305). — Michael Winkelman, Current Anthropology.

Supporters of supernatural explanations believe that past, present, and future complexities and mysteries of the universe cannot be explained solely by naturalistic means and argue that it is reasonable to assume that a non-natural entity or entities resolve the unexplained. In contrast, detractors appeal to empiricism as a counter using historical examples of mysteries that had been supposed by some to require supernatural attribution later explained through naturalistic means. Views on the "supernatural" vary, for example, it may be seen as: indistinct from nature.

From this perspective, some events occur according to the laws of nature, and others occur according to a separate set of principles external to known nature. For example, in Scholasticism, it was believed that God was capable of performing any miracle so long as it didn't lead to a logical contradiction.

Some religions posit immanent deities, however, and do not have a tradition analogous to the supernatural; some believe that everything anyone experiences occurs by the will (occasionalism), in the mind (Neoplatonism), or as a part (nondualism) of a more fundamental divine reality (platonism). incorrect human attribution. In this view, all events have natural and only natural causes. They believe that human beings ascribe supernatural attributes to purely natural events, such as lightning, rainbows, floods, and the origin of life.

Religious practices and magic

Both magic and religion contain rituals. Most cultures have or have had in their past some form of magical tradition that recognizes a shamanistic interconnectedness of spirit.

This may have been long ago, as a folk tradition that died out with the establishment of a major world religion, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, or it may still co-exist with that world religion. Coptic Christians were writing magical spells from the 1st to 12th centuries. Magical thinking in various forms is a cultural universal and an important aspect of religion. Magic is prevalent in all societies, regardless of whether they have organized religion or more general systems of animism or shamanism.

Religion and magic became conceptually separated with the development of western monotheism, where the distinction arose between supernatural events sanctioned by mainstream religious doctrine (miracles) and magic rooted in folk belief or occult speculation. In pre-monotheistic religious traditions, there is no fundamental distinction between religious practice and magic; tutelary deities concerned with magic are sometimes called hermetic deities or spirit guides.

Names of the gods

There is a long-standing belief in the power of true names, this often descends from the magical belief that knowing a being's true name grants power over it. If names have power, then knowing the name of a god regarded as supreme in religion should grant the greatest power of all.

This belief is reflected in traditional Wicca, where the names of the Goddess and the Horned God - the two supreme deities in Wicca - are usually held as a secret to be revealed only to initiates. This belief is also reflected in ancient Judaism, which used the Tetragrammaton (YHWH, usually translated as "Lord" in small caps) to refer to God in the Tanakh. The same belief is seen in Hinduism, but with different conclusions; rather, attaining transcendence and the power of God is seen as a good thing. Thus, some Hindus chant the name of their favourite deities as often as possible, the most common being Krishna.

Magic and Abrahamic religion

Magic and Abrahamic religions have had a somewhat checkered past. The King James Version of the Bible included the famous translation "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18), and Saul is rebuked by God for seeking advice from a diviner who could contact spirits. On the other hand, seemingly magical signs are documented in the Bible: For example, both the staff of Pharaoh's sorcerers as well as the staff of Moses and Aaron could be turned into snakes (Exodus 7:8-13).

However, as Scott Noegel points out, the critical difference between the magic of Pharaoh's magicians and the non-magic of Moses is in the means by which the staff becomes a snake. For the Pharaoh's magicians, they employed "their secret arts" whereas Moses merely throws down his staff to turn it into a snake. To an ancient Egyptian, the startling difference would have been that Moses neither employed secret arts nor magical words. In the Torah, Noegel points out that YHWH does not need magical rituals to act.

The words 'witch' and 'witchcraft' appear in some English versions of the Bible. One verse that is probably responsible for more deaths of suspected witches than any other passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is Exodus 22:18.[citation needed] In the King James Version, this reads: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." The precise meaning of the Hebrew word mechshepha (root kashaph) here translated as 'witch' and in some other modern versions, 'sorceress', is uncertain. In the Septuagint it was translated as pharmakeia, meaning 'pharmacy', and on this basis, Reginald Scot claimed in the 16th century that 'witch' was an incorrect translation and poisoners were intended.