An American Mystagogue

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies




by Ariana Perez

“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”

~W.I. Thomas, the Thomas Theorem 

“Every theory is a self-fulfilling prophecy that orders experience into the framework it provides.”

~ Ruth Hubbard 

Ever repeat a word in your head, or out loud, enough times so that it seemed foreign, clumsy, or just plain strange? The word ‘prediction’ is like that for me. Ever since I started tapping into the etymology of words to try to get a better grasp on how they’ve been used in the past, and trying to mark their eventual growth, I reflexively dissect words into their prefixes and suffixes. It wasn’t until one day I noticed that prediction is self explanatory. Pre-Diction. Speaking of the future. Not so strange. At least, I thought. Until one day I stumbled across something known as the Golem effect. The Golem effect is essentially the phenomena that when individuals have lower expectations placed on them either by authority figures or themselves, they actually do worse; essentially, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The Golem effect, as well as its logical opposite the Pygmalion effect (which works the opposite way, with higher expectations being placed and actualized) are two sides of a concept that humans have been aware of, and using to the advantage and disadvantage of themselves and others for a very long time. In fact, self-fulfilling prophecy could be asserted as one of the fundamental properties of human magic. What is a spell, anyway? Or an incantation? An enchantment? A charm? The etymology alludes to the historical idea of magic, and its mediums, as opposed to the more modern, media based aesthetic of thinking of magic as firing fireballs out of your hand, Dungeons and Dragons style, or magic being akin to the television show series “Charmed” that was so popular years ago. Each word has its root in language, in voice or symbols representative of things.

And is it so hard to see the very idea of a spell being something ‘spoken into existence’? While it may not be as romantic as other ideas on how such things work, self-fulfilling prophecy is a far cry from impotent. Think about some of the things we speak into existence, that we make real by consequence of our belief. Nothing powerful right? Except law, money, and societal moors and folkways, things that shape our reality’s foundations.

The Thomas Theorem, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” was formulated by sociologist William Isaac Thomas in 1928 and serves to underline the power of talking things into manifestation. It essentially posits that if you believe something to be real, regardless of whether or not it could be said to be ‘objectively’ real, it becomes ‘real’ by virtue of the consequences that are begotten from the belief. And while many may bemoan that the idea one is simply ‘self-suggesting’ as boring, or mundane, I would remind them that this has some evidence of being the root of magical practices the world over. Believing in things in a way so that they perpetuate themselves into existence, sounds like magic to me, even if its completely within the natural realm.

~ Seth Moris