How much magic?
Perhaps we should propose a licensing procedure, whereby, like any other profession, practitioners of these arts would have to pass some tests showing that they perform what they advertise. Anecdotes, even multiple similar anecdotes, are funny and interesting, but we need real data. Otherwise, we allow vulnerable victims to be fed to this hungry money, prestige and power machine, and we allow them credibility to continue with our blessings.
Here is an example of the weakness of anecdotes.
Suppose 10,000 people take a remedy "X" for a certain disease. 10 of these patients report that they are completely healed after they took remedy X. And another 25 say that they have had some positive effect, after they took it.
Scenario A: Scientific conclusion:
The remedy is ineffective. It has a 0.1% cure rate and a 0.35% overall improvement rate. These might be the result of natural remission, misdiagnosis, or other factors. This data has been filtered for the placebo effect by controlled double blind tests against a placebo control group. The placebo effect is known to be as high as 30% in medicine, and much higher in matters of faith and religion.
Scenario B: Anecdotal conclusion:
We have 10 people, Chaim, Shmuel, Yosi ... who were completely cured by this miracle remedy X, and 25 people who definitely felt better and will probably be healed soon. Chaim said, "I've never felt anything like it. Right after I took the remedy, I felt tingly and then the pain just disappeared. Subsequent MRI's were all clear." Shmuel and Yosi reported similar effects.
Note: We have no verification that they have the disease beforehand nor any proof that they do not have it afterwards, other than their own say so. We have no knowledge of any other treatments that the person might be undergoing, nor do we know anything about their lifestyle or any other factors that might affect the illness. We have no knowledge of the 9965 people who took the remedy under the same circumstances and report that it did not work, because it is not an anecdote worth retelling. We do not even know if the people who were healed took the remedy or not, other than their say so.
While the example here is from medicine, it can be applied to any area of truth seeking.
What do we do about magic and superstition that has filtered into halacha? Is it yiras shamayim to:
cut your fingernails alternately
burn the clippings
avoid making kiddush in the first hour when Mars is influencing
count people "not one, not two" or "hoshiya es amecha"
hang amulets of "shir hamalos" on a newborn's crib
pour off the first drop of liquid in a cup to ward off demons
If we de-emphasize it, metaphorize it, or just plain sweep it under the carpet, does it help our rational outlook? If we emphasize and support it in the face of a scoffing world, does it somehow make us more frum, more yirei shamayim, more pnimiusdik?
I'll have to stop, this has been a long, but perhaps productive post, kein eyin hora (spit, spit).