So You Want to be a Witch Doctor?

If you wish to become a successful witch doctor, you must be the first in your tribe to discover a pattern in the natural order. For instance, imagine yourself as a member of a tribe of savages, your tribe as the inhabitants of a dismal swamp, and the swamp as home to a hideous black snake, the bite of which kills men at a rate of 1:2. Being slightly more observant than the other savages, you notice that, within two days of being bitten, the feet of a doomed man emit a faint but peculiar odor, whereas a glutinous yellow slime coats the inner eyelid of a man on his way to recovery.

If you were a modern doctor, you would publish your findings; but a witch doctor keeps his findings to himself.

This is because a man in possession of esoteric knowledge can devise some hocus pocus that makes it appear that he—the man in possession of the esoteric knowledge—is the master of natural processes and the cause of natural events. A witch doctor would, for instance, devise some hocus pocus to make it appear that he—the witch doctor—caused the men with the slimy eyelids to recover. And that poor chap with the smelly feet would give him a chance to show astonishing powers of prescience when he declared that the chap was doomed (for reasons highly discreditable to the chap).

Now imagine yourself as a member of a civilization in which there are two classes, patrician and plebeian, and in which young plebeians become patricians with some regularity. Let us say at a rate of 1:5. Most people around you see the rising young plebeians as beneficiaries of good luck, or perhaps of Mephistophelian art and conspiracy, but you have discovered the esoteric knowledge that, in almost every case, there is a peculiar odor about the feet of a young plebeian who will rise.

And since you are a witch doctor, you keep this esoteric knowledge to yourself.

All that remains, is for you is to discretely sniff the feet of young plebeians (rejecting those whose feet do not smell for reasons discreditable to them), and then perform some hocus pocus that makes it appear that you have caused the selected plebeians to rise.

You might, for instance, sequester them for four years in a facility of your own design and administration. While they are there, you might herd them into great halls and subject them to impressive mumbo jumbo. You might require them to undertake bizarre hijinks unlike anything countenanced or even considered in the world outside.

You might put them through something very much like a college education.


* * * * *

If I were such a witch doctor, I would never dispense with the hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo and hijinks, since doing so might cause some to wonder if I was not myself dispensable. A superfluous man must be an active man, since the less a man actually does, the more he must appear to do. A witch doctor may be a fraud, but he cannot be lazy and he must not sit still. If he’s not dancing and shaking his rattle, people begin to wonder if something else might be driving the evil spirits away.

So in this institution for the elevation of young plebeians, some time must be set aside for the witch doctors to rattle and dance. But there is no reason to get carried away and annoy the young plebeians, who are, after all, rising naturally and on their own, by the sheer smell of their feet. A witch doctor must make himself appear indispensible, but he cannot risk being remembered as a nuisance, or leaving a bad taste in the mouths of prospective donors.

So outside of the halls where the hocus pocus is performed, the witch doctor’s institution will be a sort of Shangri La. In the years that follow, the risen plebian should be haunted by the memory of it, so that late in life he will reach for his checkbook and scrawl out a gift. Persuaded that he owes everything to the elevating power of the witch doctor, he will be suffused with gratitude; maudlin with memories of long-legged coeds sunning on the bosky quad, he will be choked with sentiment. The check is signed. The gift is given.

As I said before, this is sort of like a college. Only here we are talking about witch doctors.

6 thoughts on “So You Want to be a Witch Doctor?

  1. Great piece, almost want the plebeian analogy to come to life as a short story of satire. How do we get the plebeian to uncover the truth about the witch doctor? It seems plebeian awareness may be the only hope for the tribe?

  2. Pingback: So You Want to be a Witch Doctor? | Reaction Times

  3. I was going to write that we might encourage the Jesuits to organize a mission to witch-doctor land, as they once organized a mission to the savages of Paraguay, but then I remembered that the contemporary Jesuits are just another tribe of witch doctors. All professions these days seem to be tribes of witch doctors.

  4. The cultural factors aside, witch doctoring is a booming employment sector in a postindustrial economy. When the robots do all the work, what’s left for us is largely hocus-pocus.

  5. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 05/26/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores


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