Better known as magical ideation and magical thinking, what Eric Paumgarten called “the tendency to believe that wishing it so makes it so.” Robert Todd Carroll says it is “the metaphysical belief that like affects like.”
Magical thinking is how very young children understand the world. Sympathetic magic is the motivation for any type of sacrifice, such as prisoners of war, children, wives, animals, crops, etc., and the bloodletting of Mayan and Aztec kings.
Most of J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough is a study of sympathetic magic. For Frazer the basis of magical thinking was similarity (“like affects like”), and contagion (items previously in physical contact somehow maintain a connection long after physical contact ceases).
A McFengshui practitioner in California gives this advice to women in toxic, potentially deadly relationships:
… even before you call the help lines, place a formerly favorite photo of the two of you in the freezer. … That puts the relationship in the deep freeze. … Do not wrap the photo around food you plan to eat. Your emotions about the situation are attached to the photo. You definitely don’t want to eat food that has been infused with your pain, sadness, disappointment and possibly fear.
— Kathleen Tumpane (Desert Sun October 18, 2008)
Tumpane believes that putting a photograph of a toxic relationship in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator can somehow affect a real-world relationship (similarity). She also believes that wrapping a photo around frozen food, and later eating the food, can transfer “pain, sadness, disappointment and possibly fear” to someone (contagion).
Magical thinking makes you feel better, but it cannot affect the world. Dangerous situations (like a toxic relationship) are not the circumstances to be relying on a type of thinking you discarded before you entered school.
It is unethical and immoral for anyone to advise that someone use magical thinking rather than call a help line or escape from a potentially lethal situation.
A reliance on magical thinking is also a warning sign of a high potential for mental illness.
People who endorse magical ideation, ranging from the innocuous (occasional fear of stepping on sidewalk cracks) to the outlandish (TV broadcasters know when you’re watching), are more likely to have psychosis or develop it later in their lives.
— Matthew Hutson: “Magical Thinking.” Psychology Today Magazine Mar/Apr 2008