MAGNETISM AND MAGNETIC THERAPY
(Investigator 146, 2012
dollars a year is now spent on "magnet therapy" which is claimed to
eliminate many symptoms and diseases. Basic scientific principles
indicate that all of this money is wasted." (Flamm, 2006, p. 26).
"science" of the
ancient pre-scientific world was really nothing more than a bizarre
combination of religious and primitive superstitious beliefs. The
"scientists of that age (philosophers) believed that all life had been
created by, and from, a mysterious animating energy that was often used
by some deity to animate lifeless material, e.g. "...God formed man
of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of
life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7). Some believed
that, at the mundane level, the earthly sphere, everything was filled
with this life-force, even the rocks and minerals. Normally, however
these latter substances remained inert, for although they did possess
the life-force it was their nature to be immobile and to lack the power
to "create" life.
was however one
exception to this rule, this was the substance known as lodestones
which appeared to have the ability to "animate" (or "gave life") to
iron by attracting it towards itself. This led to the belief amongst
many of the ancients, particularly Animists such as Thales, Anaxagoras
and Aristotle, that lodestones were actually "alive" and possessed a
spirit or soul that was related to the divine or celestial powers.
(Barnes, 1979, p. 7)
believed to be composed of a quintessential superlunary material, their
magnetic energy was considered to be an exception to the normal laws
that governed the mundane world. This celestial attribution of
lodestones may have come from the fact that lodestones were often found
in meteorites, or were formed by lightning striking bodies of
magnetite; such origins leading to the erroneous conclusions that
lodestones either, came from the heavens, or else, were imbued with
heavenly energy. Their "celestial origins" gave rise to the belief that
their magnetic qualities were closely connected to the heavenly
astrological influences that were projected down to the Earth below.
reinforced by the observations that, even when lodestones were reduced
to small slivers and floated on water, each piece continued to point
north, to that mysterious region of the Earth associated with the
arrival of celestial energy. This suggested to the ancients that
lodestones retained a "memory" of their celestial origins, and, as
Barrett (1801) noted, it was widely believed that this strange magnetic
power had been, "...ordained for the use of man, and for the curing
of the various disorders incident to human nature..." (p. 11)
ancient times sickness
and disease was considered to be a depletion of vital energy in the
body, and so, it must have seemed logical to conclude that, since
lodestones could project a life-force into other substances then
perhaps they could also project their energy into the sick.
scientific understanding of the principles of magnetism the ancients
appear to have concluded that just as the life-force of lodestones
could "give life" to iron it might also be able to replace the depleted
energy levels of the sick body, reanimating them, and perhaps, at the
same time in a manner similar to which they could attract iron,
lodestones might also "attract" the sickness out of the body. According
to Cassileth (1998), by the twelfth century, lodestones were being used
to treat such ailments as gout, arthritis, baldness and a variety of
other health problems. They were even claimed to alleviate melancholy
and to possess aphrodisiac powers. (p. 299)
it is generally
agreed that Paracelsus, (1493-1541), was the first physician known to
use "magnets" for healing, while he probably did use lodestones, more
generally, when he spoke of using "magnets" for healing purposes, it
appears he was using the term metaphorically, to refer to "biological
the Macrocosm-Microcosm, a concept in which events upon the Earth were
influenced by the larger events in the cosmos. As such, humans were
perceived as a "minute cosmos", "... a reproduction in miniature of the
earth, having, like it, the poles and magnetic properties.” (Spence,
2003, p. 216) On this basis Paracelsus appears to have assumed that the
forces of the macrocosm applied to human inhabitants of the Earth, the
mundane world; for Paracelsus the principal cosmic force was the
Archeus, a universal life-force, "...the power which contains the
essence of life and character of everything." (Hartmann, 1896, p. 31)
He perceived the Archeus as a form of universal energy, a
life-principle, that could enter inanimate material and not only give
it life, but also an innate form of intelligence; in this fashion it
served for the individual's lifetime as a host body, a temporary
physical "vehicle" for the Archeus. (Wood, 2005, pp. 15-16). Yet
despite giving life to this substance, the Archeus always remained a
separate entity. In time it would return to its place of origin in the
heavens, discarding the former body which, like all earthly substances,
would decay and return to dust.
this physical substance that had been given temporary life by the
Archeus, as the mumia, and inferred that while the Archeus was
present in this physical body, the mumia, "absorbed" some of
the life-energy of the Archeus, and that the mumia even retained some
of this life-energy for a short time after death, or, in any bodily
residue, such as blood, hair, nail cuttings, excremental material, and
urine that was separated from the body. It was believed that when such
bodily detritus was dried it became, "...hungry to attract vitality
again". (Hartmann, 1896, p. 187)
believed by many to be an overabundance of vitality, it seemed logical
that mumia could be used to draw out this excess of energy that was
causing the sickness, for, just as, "A magnet may be prepared from
iron that will attract iron...a magnet may be prepared out of some
vital substance that will attract vitality. Such a magnet is called the
"magnes microscopi" and it is prepared out of substances that have
remained for a time in the human body and are penetrated by his
vitality." (Hartmann, 1993, p. 138)
appears that the
"magnets" Paracelsus used were primarily of a biological nature,
prepared from human detritus, and, as described above, were used to
sympathetically attract sickness out of the body, in a similar fashion
to a magnet attracting iron.
that as this special "magnet" drew out the disease, at the same time,
the inflammation in that area would be relieved by a "...
superabundance of magnetism carried to that place by the rush of the
blood." (Hartmann, 1896, p. 188)
step in the
process was to dispose of the biological magnet and the diseased matter
it contained. The material was disposed of, usually buried, and, as it
slowly rotted away, so too the patient's sickness was thought to
gradually disappear. As Hartmann (1896) noted, it was quite common, "
... especially in Mohammedan countries, to see packages lying in the
road tied together with a string. On opening them, hair, bloody rags,
excrements, etc. will be found." (p. 188)
originate this form of treatment; he merely developed a variation of
the ancient technique of "transference". Since the ancients believed
that sickness was as an actual physical substance, an ethereal "fluid"
like substance, that could be planted in the human body at the whim of
evil spirits, or by a magician or witch using spells or curses; it must
have made sense to assume that if it could be implanted it could also
be "transferred" out of the sick. However, since the sickness was
perceived as being "alive" it could not simply be released into the
air, for it would find another victim to enter. This meant that it had
to be transferred into another living body, usually an animal. Thus, in
ancient Mesopotamia the sick would place a loaf of bread on their head
and recited a sacred incantation three times, the loaf was then wiped
over their body from head to feet, and the loaf then thrown to an
animal; if the animal ate the loaf the evil would be transferred to
that creature; this was the reasoning behind the Biblical reference in
which an evil spirit is expelled from a possessed man and transferred
into a herd of pigs. (Mark 5:11-13) During the Middle Ages there were
tales of the Caladrius, a mythical lark, that was brought to the bed of
the sick, if the illness was to be fatal the bird would turn its back
on the sufferer, however, if they were going to recover it would face
the patient, absorb the disease, and then, "...fly with it towards
the sun, vomit it into the upper atmosphere and allow it to disperse.
This would restore the patient to health. [Clark, 1975, p. 109]
mentioned, the transference technique used by Paracelsus was to take
the "magnet" and mix it with soil in a pot in which were seeds that had
a "homogeneous" relationship to the disease. Each day the diseased
organ was washed, transferring the disease into the water, which was
then poured into the pot, "transferring" the disease into the seeds.
The seeds were then planted in the ground and, as the plant grew
larger, the disease would decrease, until once the plant was fully
grown, the disease would disappear. Using such methods Paracelsus
claimed to have treated a variety of physical disorders, including the
falling sickness, (epilepsy), discharges from the eyes, ear and nose,
fistulas, ruptures, jaundice, dropsy (oedema), hysteria, and even
cancer. While the logic behind his therapy seems rather primitive, it
is very likely that, for some, the treatment was effective, not because
of magnetism, but because of suggestion and the placebo effect.
basis of the concept
of transference was an ancient belief that, since everything in the
cosmos had been created by a single "divine" entity, all parts were
inexorably linked to every other part by a sympathetic (positive), or
antipathic (negative), connection, "...we affirm there is a natural
sympathy and antipathy amongst all things throughout the whole
universe," (Barrett, 1801, p. 5).
the basis of
contagious or "sympathetic magic" the belief that there is a "...magical
sympathy, which is supposed to exist between a man and any severed
portion of his person, such as his hair or nails..." (Frazer, 1959,
p. 31) It was believed this sympathetic process could be used to both
harm and heal; one of the strangest applications of this theory was
that of the physician Johannes Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644) who in
1621, described how wounds could be cured by a substance known as the
weapon salve. The bizarre aspect of his theory was that the salve was
not applied to the injury itself but to the weapon that had inflicted
the injury. Even if the victim and the weapon were separated by a great
distance, it made no difference for the "sympathetic connection" was
considered to be so powerful, it could "bridge" any distance!
bizarre beliefs concerning lodestones and magnetism. The mysterious
magnetic energy was not only claimed to be an effective form of
contraceptive, but when placed on the navel of a pregnant woman, it
would ensure an easy delivery, and was used especially in cases of
difficult deliveries, (Lindberg, 1978, p. 420). Because magnetic energy
could be negated by garlic or onions, sailors on many ships, were
forbidden to eat these vegetables, for fear that their breath should
"demagnetise" the compass needles. Giambattista delia Porta
(1543-1615), an Italian physiognomist, claimed in his book, Magiae
Naturalis Libri, that a lodestone could be used to determine the
faithfulness of a wife. Placed under her pillow, if she was faithful,
she would be drawn to her husband, embracing him during her sleep;
however, the stone would repel an unfaithful wife, rolling her out of
the marriage bed. Other version claimed that, if she had been
unfaithful, the stone would cause her to unwittingly confess her sins
in her sleep.
who had studied magnetism scientifically, finally explained in his
book, De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete
Tellure, ("On the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies, and on That Great Magnet
the Earth"), that what attracted compass needles was the Earth
itself, (magnus ipse est globus terrestris). (Livingston, 1996, p. 27)
He dismissed many of the irrational claims about the mystical powers of
lodestones as nonsense, asserting they would not cause unchaste wives
to fall out of bed, neither would they, when ground into a plaster,
draw large iron objects from the body, cure headaches, or, when used
with incantations, cure insanity.
the use of "magnetism" as an alternative form of therapy was Dr. Franz
Mesmer. In 1766, while studying for a third doctorate, in medicine, he
submitted a paper entitled, De planetarum influxu, (The Influences
of the Planets on the Human Body), which examined the traditional
astrological belief "…that the planets exercised an influence upon
the human body through the instrumentality of a universal fluid, a kind
of impalpable and invisible gas in which all bodies were immersed."
(Zweig, 1932, p. 19) He assumed this healing "fluid" was universally
present, throughout the cosmos and so called it, gravitas universalis,
believed that, like
gravity, it exerted an actual force upon the entire physical sphere.
However, after gaining his doctorate he moved on to other areas and
soon forgot the concept. It was not until about 1774 that he was to
recall this earlier work. Having established himself as a highly
regarded doctor in Vienna, he learned that his friend, the astronomer
Father Maximilian Hell, had successfully cured the sick wife of a
distinguished visitor to Vienna using a magnet.
treatment, Mesmer visited the lady and having established the validity
of her cure he decided to investigate the healing power of magnets for
himself; to this end he obtained several magnets from Father Hell. It
was apparently around this time that he recalled his earlier thesis on gravitas
universalis, and he concluded that he must have been in error and
that the healing power of the magnets suggested that the universal
force might be magnetic in origin rather than gravitational as he had
the next decade as
he used magnets for healing, he evolved the 'fluidic' theory of 'animal
magnetism' in which he concluded that everything in the universe,
including humans, were connected with, and filled with an invisible
fluid that contained magnetic properties, and that when this fluid
became depleted or out of balance within the body, the particular
individual would experience sickness and poor health.
treatments were a combination of various arcane beliefs and techniques;
as Shor (1979) noted, they combined astrology, mysticism, vitalism,
traditional faith healing methods, the laying on of hands, with, "...a
disguised version of medieval demonic exorcism." [p. 20]. Yet,
while his ideas concerning animal magnetism were total nonsense, the
fact was that his treatments were generally effective.
were not due to animal magnetism, to mesmerism, or to any other
theories of Mesmer; what was affecting these cures was the overwhelming
influence on his patients of the power of suggestion. This same
principle continues to be the basis of most forms of alternative
healing, and explains why, despite their lack of theoretical validity
and their use of useless substances, they can, and do, cure certain
individuals! Essentially what Mesmer had done was to rediscover the
ancient art of trance induction and how to apply suggestion to the
healing process, ideas that although known for thousands of years, were
not really understood.
Mesmer's cures had nothing whatsoever to do with "magnetism" was soon
realized. In 1784 King Louis XVI appointed a commission which included
such notables as Lavoisier and Guillotin, while Benjamin Franklin, the
American Ambassador was elected as the commission President, to
investigate the claims being made by Mesmer and his followers.
McConkey and Barnier
(1991) noted, the Commission soon concluded that although Mesmer and
his followers could produce cures, they had absolutely nothing
whatsoever to do with any mysterious 'magnetic' force or so-called
animal magnetism; rather they were primarily the result of the
subject's beliefs and expectations which were activated by suggestions
by the Mesmerist.
discovery for it confirmed just how important human suggestibility and
imagination were in the healing process. Even today such findings offer
a more logical explanation for the operation of alternative and
complimentary therapies where the "medicines" themselves generally play
no role in the cure other than to provide an expectation that they will
produce a cure; such a process is now known as the placebo effect.
there had been many who had rejected Mesmer's claims concerning the
so-called animal magnetism, and, in 1813, Abbe Jose Custodio di Faria
openly claimed that the effects of mesmerism were not the result of
some mysterious magnetic fluid but were in fact an aspect of human
behaviour, a form of suggestion. He claimed that, rather than being
"magnetized", patients were falling into a condition of "lucid sleep"
and he demonstrated how individuals could be easily placed into a
trance, without magnets, simply by sitting them down and commanding
them to concentrate, and to go to sleep.
centuries were the glory days of the unfettered commercialism of quack
electrical products and ideas. Two of the most famous magnetic
practitioners of that age were Dr. James Graham and Dr. Elisha Perkins.
In the 1760's Dr. James Graham lived in America where he became
conversant with the electrical theories of the day; he became convinced
that electricity and magnetism offered the panacea to cure all human
illness. Returning to England in 1775 he began to offer the public
access to his marvelous electrical cures, (these were generally
electric shocks delivered through a headset or a "magnetic throne"),
and then, in 1779, he opened his popular Temple of Health and Hymen.
For two guineas visitors could wander through the richly perfumed and
decorated rooms of the ornately decorated building. They could listen
to relaxing music played by ensembles, examine the electrical machines,
purchase a range of his "electrical" medicines, or even listen to a
talk by Dr, Graham himself extolling the marvels of his magnetic and
electrical cures. There is little doubt that much of the attraction of
the temple came from the presence of attractive young women in flimsy
costumes, posing provocatively as classical nymphs, and engaging in
erotic performances amongst the statues.
noted, of all the various electric and magnetic contraptions, all aimed
at a gullible public, the most famous, and most popular, was his
"celestial bed". Widely advertised as a means of sexual therapy the bed
was 3.65 metres (12 feet) by 2.75 meters (9 feet),
glass pillars within which musical instruments provided celestial
sounds...Advertised as a cure for sterility the bed derived most of its
power from fifteen hundred pounds weight of artificial and compound of
magnets" (Livingston, 1996, p. 211 ).
wishing to boost
their sexual performance, and especially those wishing to father an
exceptional child, could spend a period of time on the bed for a fee of
£50. Although a vast amount of money in those days, so popular
was the celestial bed that even when Dr. Graham increased the fee to an
amount of £500 there was still no shortage of customers.
Dr. Elisha Perkins appears to have been acquainted with the various
18th century experiments into electricity and, according to Young
(1972), was conversant with the work of Galvani. In the 1780's, while
cutting the leg of a dead frog, Galvani had accidentally touched the
brass hook holding the leg with his steel scalpel, causing the leg to
twitch; this reaction convinced Galvani that this response was due to
the presence of animal magnetism within the dead frog.
while treating a
female patient with painful ankles Perkins gently drew the blade of a
penknife down from her calf to the ankle and, to his surprise the pain
disappeared. After some experimentation, including using an iron comb
to cure headaches, Perkins became convinced that the cause of much of
his patients' illness was the presence of an excessive amount of the
magnetic animal fluid in their bodies, and that by using a metallic
object to "draw out" this excess energy from their bodies, they would
various everyday metal objects, in 1796 he designed a pair of metal
implements, his "Perkins Metallic Tractors" which he claimed could
successfully "attract" this excessive magnetic fluid from the body of
patients. He patented these devices, receiving the first medical patent
ever issued in the United States.
tractors were each 8
cm. long, tapering from a rounded end to a narrow point, flat on one
side and rounded on the other; one was gold coloured the other silver.
claimed they were
made of a special "secret" metal alloy, they were in fact simply made
from steel and brass. These tractors were used alternatively, touched
to the painful area of the body first, then moved around in this
general area for about twenty minutes, always moving outwards from the
central area of pain, "drawing" the pain away from the epicentre to
"discharge" it in the outer regions.
the Connecticut medical association in the following year for "delusive
quackery", his tractors were an immediate success. They were
investigated by a number of doctors in the United States and Denmark,
who issued favourable reports on their effectiveness. So popular were
they that they were soon being exported to Britain by his son Benjamin.
after his death
in 1799, certain British doctors questioned their effectiveness and in
that same year Dr. John Haygarth made up a set of wooden tractors,
painted to look like the originals and treated five rheumatic patients
with them. Four of these patients reported significant relief from
their pain. After the experiment was repeated again, using "genuine"
tractors, and the results were found to be the same, it was realized
that the tractors really did nothing other than to activate the
imagination of the patients. After Dr. Haygarth published his findings
in a text entitled "On the Imagination as a Cause and as a Cure of
Disorders of the Body" the appeal of the tractors in Britain
diminished, however, they remained popular in the United States until
the death of Benjamin in 1810.
centuries saw the large scale marketing of numerous quack electrical
and magnetic devices. Designed to be used on every part of the body;
they included magnetic insoles, often advertised as "foot batteries",
an electro-magnetic collar designed to be worn around the neck, (this
gained the epithet of "the Magic Horse Collar" — McCoy, 2000, p. 37),
the Magnecoil, that produced a "magnetic field" to promote perfect
elimination, the Electropoise, essentially a length of brass pipe
closed at both ends with a piece of wire attached, leading to an
electrode mounted on a strap for attachment to the wrist or ankle. So
popular was this device that its "inventor" Hercules Sanche, soon
replaced it with an "advanced" model, the Oxydonor, that was shorter in
length and, as McCoy noted, "...contained a stick of carbon
(instead of being empty) and sold for $35 instead of $10." (p. 46).
So popular was this product that it was soon copied by competitors who
marketed their products under various names including Dr. Filloon's
Oxybon, the Farador, the Oxypathor, the Thermo-Ozone Generator, and the
Radial Active Appliance.
featured in Sears catalogues during the late 1800s with magnetic
undergarments available for many parts of the body, these included
caps, throat and lung shields, belts for both men and women, lower
leggings, mittens, knee caps and insoles. One company, Thacher Magnetic
Shield Company boasted their "shields" contained, "...eight hundred
powerful Magnetic Storage Batteries...guaranteed to hold their power."
(McCoy, 2000, p. 36)
variety of bogus
magnetic products continued to attract large numbers of gullible
buyers. Magnetic ankle, knee, elbow, shoulder and back supports,
necklaces, bracelets insoles and even one for the penis to enhance
sexual potency. A range of devices claimed to "magnetize" water and
other liquids, to enhance their quality and purity, are also readily
available. One product, the Shooter Buddy, a magnetic receptacle for
holding bottles or individual glasses of wine, claims their products,
which contain powerful Neodymium
rare Earth magnets, "... replicates ten years of slow aging in just
a few days. The longer a beverage remains, the greater the effect."
How does this marvelous process occur, we are told that the magnetic
field realigns the particles in the beverage! Another similar product
mentioned by Allen (2004) was the “Wine Clip" a device containing "six
rare earth magnets" which is clipped onto the neck of a wine bottle; it
is claimed by its manufacturer that, as the wine is poured these
magnets, "... break down the 'large molecules" of red wine's
impurities and tannins as the wine passes through the magnetic field"
product are magnetic woolen underlays, which contain a number of
magnets. This is placed under a bed-sheet and, according to the
pseudo-scientific advertising, since blood contains iron, it will be
attracted by the magnets in the underlay, and as the person sleeps, the
magnets will draw oxygenated blood into the painful areas of the body,
reducing pain and providing physical relief. How the magnets can be so
specific as to only draw blood into the painful areas is never
if the magnets
could attract the blood in this way, one would expect the blood to pool
in the areas adjacent to the magnetic fields, effectively blocking the
flow of blood in the body, fortunately, this does not occur, for, as
Livingston (1998) indicated, the iron in blood, unlike metallic iron,
consists, "…of isolated iron atoms within large haemoglobin
molecules...and remains magnetically independent." (p. 30), in
other words, the iron in human blood is not attracted by magnets!
tests on the
intensity of the magnetic fields of these underlays reveal that no
electromagnetic energy actually passes through the fleece, thus, any
relief experienced by the individual, is entirely imaginary. So, rather
than pay hundreds of dollars for these worthless products, anyone who
feels the need for such therapy is advised to place a number of fridge
magnets underneath their bed sheet; while these will have absolutely no
effect whatsoever, this is exactly the same effect as the more
expensive underlay, and at least, it is a much more economical option!
studies into the effectiveness of static magnets as a treatment for
various health disorders indicate quite clearly that such magnets do
nothing, other than to act as a placebo. Indeed as Finegold and Flamm
(2006) pointed out, if magnets could affect humans, the massive
electromagnetic fields created by modern medical equipment, such as
magnetic resonance imaging machines (MRI) would have a very noticeable
effect on the bodies of patients, yet the fact is, "...the much
higher magnetic fields of MRI show neither ill nor healing effects."
suggest magnets can have a healing effect, there are often
methodological flaws in such studies. For example, when testing real
magnets against sham magnets, subjects tend to test the "magnets" by
checking if they will pick up small metal objects such as pins; if they
fail to do so, they know the magnets are not real.
Hinman, Ford and
Heyl (2002) indicated that placing static magnets over painful knee
joints for a period of two weeks did appear to indicate a reduction in
reported pain levels and enhanced movement, the actual agent
responsible for these changes was not clear, and, as often occurs in
such studies, it was suggested that further research was required to
determine the actual physiological mechanisms responsible for this
found in studies on the effectiveness of magnets for therapeutic
is that the
results for those groups using genuine magnets and sham magnets are
invariably so similar that it is impossible to distinguish between
them; thus, in a study on carpal tunnel syndrome pain Finegold (1999)
reported that while both groups of subjects, those using either magnets
or sham-magnets, reported a decreased level of pain, there was no
statistical difference between the results from both groups. Such
results strongly support the idea that the agent of change is the
influence of suggestion and the subsequent placebo effect, rather than
the magnets themselves. Similarly Carter, Hall, Aspy and Mold (2002)
delivery of a
unipolar static magnetic field through a magnetized device directly
applied to the point of greatest wrist pain resulted in no significant
difference in relief of pain when compared with an identical placebo
device." (p. 40)
magnetic therapy is
often claimed to be an ideal treatment for lower back pain, Collacott,
Zimmermann, White and Rindone (2000) found the magnets had no effect on
pain relief in this area.
observed, any claims that magnets can produce positive therapeutic
effects, "...should still be regarded with considerable scepticism"
(p. 30). He concluded that many of the testimonials concerning magnetic
healing can be attributed to the placebo effect, or other reasons, such
as the physical support provided to parts of the body by the various
supports in which the magnets are located.
examination of the
use of literature relating to the use of magnetic products, from
Hellenic times to the present, Basford (2002) noted that while
electricity and magnetism has always remained popular throughout
history as a means of therapy, they have always appealed more to those
involved in pseudoscience and to an "unsophisticated" public. Orthodox
practitioners have tended to view such ideas as little more that
popular fads, and, lacking any objective evidence of efficacy, have
rejected, and continue to reject, such ideas as having no place in
legitimate medical practice.
noted, "Contemporary claims for alternative uses of electricity as
therapy have not been substantiated." (p. 301) Possibly the most
worthwhile advice concerning magnetic therapy comes from Choice
magazine; in an article on magnetic therapy they concluded, "Based on
the evidence so far, Choice would recommend giving static magnet
therapy a miss. (Choice, 2004, p. 24)
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