Ken Wheeler tells us that focusing our attention on icons and talismans magically attracts evil spirits. Find out why science debunks this notion and why it would take a lot more than magic to make it stick.
In his classic work, Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung writes, “Man uses the spoken or written word to express the meaning of what he wants to convey. His language is full of symbols, but also often employs signs or images that are not strictly descriptive.”
Jung defines a symbol as a familiar word, name, or picture that also “possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional or obvious meaning.” There’s something hidden, vague or unexplained about our symbols.
There are countless abstract concepts that come to our minds, and we use symbols to express them. Symbols are also a convenient shorthand (the fancy word is hermeneutic) that allow us to express an elaborate idea with just a phrase or a picture.
Symbols Are Central to Human Culture
Symbols are central to human culture. They play a crucial role in our progress as a species, and without them we’d probably still be living in the Stone Age.
None of this sits well with Ken Wheeler. He looks upon symbols as “talismans” and “icons,” and views them as part of “the genuine magic of true metaphysics.” He seems to have arrived at this conclusion by stumbling on the magical thinking embraced by the philosopher Iamblicus as part of his superstitious medieval practice called theurgy.
The Angry Photographer clings to an odd double standard. He rejects and ridicules what he calls “woo-woo and whackadoodle nonsense” like crystals, Bigfoot, and unicorns, while promoting his beliefs in theurgy, ghosts, the ether, dowsing, and other paranormal phenomena as “undeniably true.”
Calls Icon and Talisman Effect “Magic by Any Definition”
According to the YouTuber behind Theoria Apophasis, icons and talismans can “bend the will of millions of people.” He argues that this supposed effect is “magic by any definition.”
For example, Ken Wheeler believes in Ouija boards. He’s quick to clarify that he doesn’t believe the board or the planchette (pointing device) possess intrinsic magical powers.
Instead, the Angry Photographer argues that the Ouija board is a type of talisman. By providing us with a point of focus, it can evoke evil spirits and wreak havoc.
Says Ouija Boards Invoke Evil Spirits and Wreak Havoc
As evidence, the Theoria Apophasis host tells a story about a house in Missouri in which, according to him, a boy with a Ouija board created a “portal to disembodied beings.” The Angry Photographer says that the house, which he claims inspired the movie The Exorcist, was inundated with evil spirits and remains haunted to this very day.
As always, Ken Wheeler doesn’t have his facts straight. The urban legend to which he’s referring supposedly took place in Cottage City, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., and not in Missouri.
Although the troubled boy spent some time in St. Louis, Missouri, mainly for treatment at St. Louis University, nobody claims anything supernatural took place in the house where he stayed in that city. All the relevant incidents took place in Maryland or at the university.
Homeowners Had No “Encounters with the Supernatural”
As for that Maryland house, a couple purchased it recently for a bargain price due to its reputation among gullible people. Speaking to The Washingtonian, they report absolutely no “encounters with the supernatural,” and they view the story behind their home with humour. It’s not “haunted to this day” as Ken Wheeler insists.
So much for Ouija boards. The Angry Photographer also leads us all the way back to ancient Egypt to try to make his point about iconography.
According to the Theoria Apophasis creator, Egyptian hieroglyphs represent the “metaphysical iconography of the priest class” in that culture. He insists that everyday Egyptians didn’t use the hieroglyphic language.
Insists Everyday Egyptians Didn’t Use Hieroglyphs
Since virtually no one other than professional scribes could write in the ancient world, we’d have to concede that ordinary Egyptians didn’t write with hieroglyphs. Being illiterate, they didn’t write at all.
Even so, Ken Wheeler is wrong about Egyptian hieroglyphs. These characters originally expressed the common language of the Egyptian people.
Some hieroglyphic characters are simple pictures of the object they represent. Others represent sounds, exactly like the letters of our alphabet, and a third type of character clarifies the meaning of the character beside it.
Hieroglyphs Were Written Language of Business in Egypt
Egyptian hieroglyphs were the first de facto written language of business in early Ancient Egypt. They weren’t some esoteric mystery language depicting talismanic symbols for worship by religious priests and clerics.
The Angry Photographer seems to have picked up this mistaken belief by reading neoplatonists from the Middle Ages. They were under the mistaken impression that Egyptian hieroglyphs were artistic representations of esoteric ideas. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which announced the same political decree in hieroglyphs, a more modern language called Demotic, and Greek, for every literate person to read, falsified this hypothesis.
The Theoria Apophasis host also points to Nazi iconography as evidence for his notion of metaphysical magic. In particular, he mentions that the swastika is a “Buddhist standard for the solar absolute.”
Nothing Specifically Buddhist About a Swastika
There’s nothing specifically Buddhist about a swastika. The symbol is more than 7,000 years old, and has turned up in the ruins of Troy and in prehistoric Germany.
The same symbol can mean completely different things in different cultural contexts. The swastika is now the ultimate symbol of evil in the modern western world, while Asians still consider it a symbol of good luck. They proudly display it at Diwali, their Festival of Light, for example.
The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit “svastika,” which means “well-being.” Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Odinists all use this symbol throughout Eurasia. One wonders why Ken Wheeler wants to pin a swastika on the Buddhists, although he bitterly disagrees with them about Buddhist souls.
Claims Swastika is Another Form of Talisman
The YouTuber behind Theoria Apophasis claims that the swastika is another form of talisman. He believes that the swastika became a “point of focus” for Germans in the 1930s, causing the Second World War and the Holocaust. All because people thought a bent cross looked intriguing?
Ken Wheeler takes this simplistic explanation for World War II even further. He makes the death-defying leap of logic that “all wars are spiritual wars.”
Social scientists tell us that wars take place because every nation has a basic need for security, and there is no global institution to ensure it for them. This need for national security manifests itself in many ways.
Causes of War Have Nothing to Do With Spirits or Talismans
Manifestations can include territorial and economic gain, sectarianism, nationalism, revenge, revolution, and pre-emptive war, among others. None of these causes of war have anything to do with spirits, symbols, icons, or talismans. They stem from conflicting national security interests.
Drawing on theurgy’s emphasis on charms and divination, Ken Wheeler also believes in water witching or dowsing. That’s the practice of using a forked stick or a pair of L-shaped wires to decide where to dig a well.
In most places where agriculture is practical, there are aquifers underneath virtually any piece of ground you choose. Scientific studies show that dowsers fare no better than random chance at finding these groundwater sources.
Claims Dowsing Rods Magically Help Us Find Water Deposits
The Angry Photographer maintains that, although dowsing rods themselves contain no magic, they’re yet another kind of talisman. Water witchers use them as a point of focus, magically enabling them to sense subsurface water deposits.
This “magic” offers no advantage over simply guessing. So, the simplest explanation that covers all the facts is there’s no magic involved in the dowsing process, just blind luck.
The Theoria Apophasis host even goes so far as to claim that Christian iconography is subject to the same magical effect. He cites 2 Corinthians 4:4, and Colossians 1:15 as proof.
As Always, Ken Wheeler is Misinterpreting Scripture
As always, Ken Wheeler is misinterpreting scripture. These two passages simply refer to Jesus as the image of God. Paul and other early Christians shunned magicians and followed the Second Commandment’s prohibition against creating graven images, such as talismans.
Yet, there’s something even more peculiar about the Angry Photographer’s aversion to talismans. He goes on to single out corporate trademarks as examples of icons, suggesting that they too attract evil spirits.
He asserts, incorrectly, that sewing machine manufacturer the Singer Company went bankrupt at some point and that a Chinese company spent a fortune to buy their iconic brand. The truth is that the Singer Company Limited remains an American-owned, going concern based just outside Nashville in La Vergne, Tennessee.
Calls Corporate Trademarks Evil, Has Nikon Tattoo
Kentucky Ken’s aversion to corporate trademarks is odd given that he has a Nikon logo tattoo. Has this iconic trademark overpowered him, causing his hostile and irrational reviews of photography gear?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, (DSM-5) provides a more likely explanation. DSM-5 defines “magical thinking” as “The erroneous belief that one’s thoughts, words, or actions will cause or prevent a specific outcome in some way that defies commonly understood laws of cause and effect.”
Psychiatrists tell us that magical thinking is a common feature of delusions, including those resulting from “Delusional Disorder, Grandiose Type.” As noted under Who’s Ken Wheeler?, this diagnosis “applies when the central theme of the delusion is the conviction of having some great (but unrecognized) talent or insight or having made some important discovery.”
DSM-5 Calls Magical Thinking Delusional
Believing that one has gifted insight into how icons and talismans connect us with the spirit world seems consistent with this guideline. The fact that delusions of grandeur often have a form of religious content seems like a clincher.
There’s nothing magical or diabolical about our use of symbols. They’re simply the way we express meaning to one another.
Focusing on a Symbol Doesn’t Attract Evil Spirits
Focusing on a symbol doesn’t attract evil spirits or lead us down the wrong path. Without our symbols, our civilization would collapse.
It’s going to take a lot more than magic for Ken Wheeler to make any of these unsubstantiated claims stick.
Metaphysics of Ikons and Talismans
Honey, We Bought the Exorcist House!
Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs
Dowsing: The Pseudoscience of Water Witching
The Origin of the Swastika
Singer Company Limited
Magical Thinking: Causes Functions and Examples