Black Magic paraphernalia in Nigeria
2. Etymology and Definitions
3. Sympathetic Magic
4. Origins of magic
5. The Anthropology of Magic
6. Magic in Prehistory
7. Ritual and Magic
8. Esoteric Magic
9. Magic and Religion
10. Folklore and Magic
Magic as a social phenomenon has been a basic, persistent and familiar aspect in all folk cultures. The essence of magic or magical practice is the attempt by people, or their shamans and magicians, to manipulate the spiritual and natural forces that they believed surrounded them. The intention was to manage, bend to their own volition, to what was perceived as the numinous and the paranormal. In this sense magic can be defined as “…connection with events imagined to be constant and to depend upon the agency of some thing or activity possessing an efficacious quality or force…” (Read, 1920).
Magic, as a means to influence and therefore try and control external reality, came before religion. Religion worships unseen deities, they are invisible supernatural entities. The ancient deities that required propitiation through sacrifice and ritualised practice. Contemporary magic is seen in terms of alchemy, astrology, the cabala, and the hermetic or high magic. The hermetic element is derived from Hermes Trismegithus, and since antiquity the “…sophisticated forms of mysticism that relied on written notations and formulas have been called hermetic magic.” (Stevens, 1996).
2. Etymology and Definition.
The concept of magic and sorcery depends on a primitive association of ideas. Magic is a belief or system of concepts that asserts humans have the potential, using supernatural, paranormal or mystical methods such as sacrifice, invocations, spells and prayers, to control or influence supernatural powers as well as the natural environment. This system of beliefs that claimed humans could employ symbolic communication to control natural forces without spiritual help, prompted many scholars to say “…magic is the outcome of an erroneous view of nature and causation, we class as magic the belief in sympathetic influence…” (Thomas (1904).
Etymologically the word ‘magic’ is derived from the term magique in 14th century Old French which in turn comes from the Latin magicus and the magikos of Greek. It is in reference to the divinations and magical practices of the Zoroastrian astrologer priests of the Magians, the Magi. Magical practice of a beneficial type is referred to as ‘white magic’, and magic that involves diabolic or blood rituals is called ‘red’. The term ‘black magic’ refers to practices involving the devil. Evil or black magic in contemporary sources is often called sorcery. In classificatory terms magic can be subdivided into five headings: magic as a practice; witchcraft and shamanism; theurgic magic; incantation; and divination (Thomas, 1904).
The term sorcery was first mentioned around 1300 AD being derived from the sorcerie of Old French. The Latin word sortiarius comes from the root sors meaning ‘fate’. The word ‘sorcery’ was never elucidated by Sir James Frazer but he “…uses that term for any instance of the practice of magic.” (Stevens, 1996). Nonetheless sorcery as the practice of ‘one who influences fate’ was perceived as a psychical rather than physical influence. In other words sorcery implies the use of spells. In addition the word sorceress was extant by the 14th century whereas the term sorcerer was known only from 1526.
Mana is a word that appears in many Polynesian cultures and can mean powerful forces of nature and a manifestation of the invisible supernatural and the paranormal. The Polynesian and Melanesian concept of mana as “…impersonal supernatural force” (Mauss, 1972) has parallels in other cultures. Accepted parallels of the presumed phenomenon of mana can be found with the orenda of the Iroquois, the manitou of the Algonquin, the wakau of the Sioux. In Malay there is kramat, the concept of brahma in India, and the Greek dynamis. Therefore it becomes obvious “…that the word magic is used to include a confused mass of beliefs and practices…” (Thomas, 1904). For Sir George Frazer magic was a form of ‘savage science’ but magic was actually in this sense was non-existent.
3. Sympathetic Magic
Historically “…magical remedies, rituals and explanations which were passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next…as a narrative of folk or religious discourse.” (Williams, 1999). This is an demonstrates the persistence of the effect of oral transmission of belief even after the original reason for the belief has long ceased to exist. The theory of sympathetic magic, similarity and contagion originated with the works of Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941), the Scottish anthropologist who influenced the early progress of modern studies in comparative religion and mythology. Indeed, it was Frazer in The Golden Bough (1911) who “…elaborated on Tylor’s notions of association of ideas and in his elucidation of ‘sympathetic magic…” (Stevens, 1996).
Frazer opined that if “…we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to action each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely my imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not.” (Frazer, 1933).
Early healing was “…supposed to be attained by the homeopathic principle that like cures like.” (Ettlinger, 1943). In the view of Frazer sympathetic magic or the Law of Sympathy “…can be subdivided into its two branches. Firstly, Homeopathic Magic or the Law of Similarity, and secondly Contagious Magic or the Law of Contact.” (Frazer, 1933). It follows that charms based on the Law of Contact or Contagion can be described as Contagious Magic. The categorisation of magic into sympathetic magic is the logic upon which all magic is based, and all magical acts “..may be reduced to one or other of these two principles.” (Krappe, 1930).
Moreover, with regard to the mystique of charms and amulets, they encompass a “…particular kind of mediation, and interplay between authoritative knowledge (science) and enchantment (magic).” (Macdonald, 2005). Essentially ‘primitive’ magic is based on the idea “…that by creating the illusion that you control reality, you can actually control it.” (Thomson, 1973). In other words amulets, charms, and talismans represent the appreciation and practice of personal sympathetic or homeopathic magic by the individual.
4. Origins of Magic
Magic has its origins in the history of a caste or clan of priests in ancient Medea and Persia. These initial ‘magicians’ were the Magi of Zoroastrianism. The word ‘magi’ is a Greek term that possesses a number of meanings. The Magi were followers of Zoroastrianism and its belief in the supreme god called Ahura Mazda. This ancient religion was founded in the first millennium BC by Zoroaster (Zarathrustra).
The Magi of ancient Persia were credited with great occult powers which were said to originate with the ancient Indian Brahmins. Zoroastrians spread their religion and practices to ancient Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. A large number of magical papyri have been discovered in Egypt with Cptic and Demotic texts in Alexandria and Greece. These ideas were incorporated into the hermetic nature of Hellenistic religion with strong elements of magic and its practice found in the Greek mystery religions.
The cabbala or kabbalah is from the Hebrew qabbala or kabbalah words meaning ‘accepted tradition’, from ancient Jewish oral lore and history. Originating in the 11th and 12th centuries the Kabbalah is a mystical Jewish theological and metaphysical system. The Kabbala or Cabbala comprises two threads of development encompassing the ‘practical’ and ‘the ‘theoretical’.
The practical aspect includes prayers, meditation and performing pious acts, whereas the theoretical aspect is aimed at discovering the hidden mysteries of the scriptures. Consisting of secret and mystic doctrines the Kabbalah reflects the older teachings of the Neoplatonists and Neopythgoreans. Those who guarded the secrets of the Cabbala were believed to possess the powers of magical practice.
Syncretism of Cabala, Alchemy and Astrology. Germany (1616).
The medieval Cabbalists were primarily occupied with deciphering charms, searching for the ‘philosophers stone’, analysing mystical anagrams, as well as prophecy and prognostication. In addition they were believed to attempt, or create the illusion, of establishing contact and relations with the dead.
5. The Anthropology and Magic
The “…ethnological meaning of magic…” implies “…beliefs in the use of symbols to control forces in nature.” (Stevens, 1996). The definition and interpretation of magic, in anthropology, recognises the practices and beliefs aimed at intervention to control natural processes. Belief in magic was always at its most ingrained in situations of uncertainty which made it “…one of the most pernicious delusions that ever vexed mankind.” (Tylor, 1871). For a number of ethnologists anthropologists magic is is a “…precursor of science in the sense that the logic on which it is built is a precursor of the logic which is ate the base of all scientific work.” (Krappe, 1930).
Magic which, for Sir James Frazer, was the earliest stage in the evolution from religious belief to scientific thought was “…once universal belief in a mystical power of which magic, spiritual power…the sacred are the manifestations…” (Stevens, 1991). Despite its ancient commonality it was eventually stressed that magic was rooted in a mistaken association of ideas “…mistaking an ideal for a real connection.” (Stevens, 1996), which was characteristic of “…the lowest known stages of civilisation.” (Tylor, 1971). The use of magic that involves certain ingredients or objects once in contact with the objectified individual is termed contagious magic.
6. Magic in Prehistory
During the prehistoric era people did not differentiate between the main classes of phenomena – namely the supernatural or mysterious and the familiar or natural. Magic developed into the belief that the individual power of the shaman, shamanka, or magician could influence the natural processes by the efficacious use of spells and sacred rites. In other words the ability and power of the shaman enable him or her to persuade spirits entities conform to his will. The implication contained within the shamanic belief is that the power of the practitioner is derived from a spiritual communication.
Shamanism however implies that the influence is not inherent in the practitioner or magician but is “…derived by initiation or other ceremonies from a store of force…” (Thomas, 1904). Witchcraft however posits that the source of the power of the shaman or magician is either permanently or temporarily obtained from a spirit entity. Essentially this means that the influence of human magicians over natural events depends on spiritual response.aid independent of the clan or tribe. A belief in a spirit domain was elemental to shamanism and was just as elemental to the early development of prehistoric communities. Archaeologically it is also relevant that shamanic practice and belief characterised much of Babylonian and Egyptian pictographs.
The classic division of sympathetic magic is into two principles of thought (Frazer, 1978), with (1) like produces like and thus effect resembles cause, and the things once in contact continue to act on each other (Ucko, 1967). The theory of sympathetic magic is based upon a “…proposed relationship of identity between an image and its subject.” (Pearson, 2002), therefore acting on an image equates with acting upon a person or animal represented. For Upper Palaeolithic people there were two major aspects of sympathetic magic – hunting and fertility magic (Ucko, 1967).
Magic rests upon the principle “…that by creating the illusion that you can control reality you can actually control it.” (Thomson, 1978). Cave art, as a magico-religious function, served sympathetic magic which (1) depends upon belief that similarity or relationship equates with identity, and (2) that anything down to an image or related part will affect the thing itself (Hawkes, 1965). The three main aims of magical practice are hunting, fertility, and destruction (Pearson, 2002). As a guide to action “…the ideology of magic embodies the valuable truth that the external world can in fact be changed by man’s subjective attitude towards it.” (Thomson, 1978).
Prehistoric cave art as enacted rituals is an example of Palaeolithic sympathetic magic, and probably represents the acting out of a hunting expedition that is yet to happen. Modern theoretical interpretations of cave paintings are based upon studies of recent and contemporary hunter-gatherers. In other words the paintings are “…associated with the magic of the hunt.” (Campbell, 1991). The cave paintings are credited to Palaeolithic shamans who, in a state of trance, descend into the darkness of the caves to create images as a consecration of the animal to be hunted. In these remote and isolated sanctuaries the shamans create works of art in a “…participation mystique…” (Campbell, 1991), and ritual magical ceremony. Moreover, it must not be assumed that cave paintings were the work of men when many may be the result of female creativity. The variability of the subject images, of both hunted animals and predators, as well as human hand prints suggests a totemic aspect and participation in the ritual.
Hunting magic, by possessing the image of the desired animal thereby possesses the animal itself (Pearson, 2002), and was applied to great hunted herbivores – bison, horses, aurochs, ibex and deer. Destructive magic was applied to animals dangerous to humans – felines and bears. Upper Palaeolithic images rest upon the premises of sympathetic magic, within the scenario that magical arts have a utilitarian objective in aiding survival (Pearson, 2002), therefore totemic magic is the pictorially dramatic representation of the sacred animal driven by the “…implicit theory of the kinship of all forms of life.” (Thomson, 1978). Hunting involves also a sexual division of labour – with mobile hunters being male (Malinowski, 1913; Bancroft, 1875); females immobile due to pregnancy and lactation (Zuckerman, 1936). With hunting positing a division of labour within matrilineal descent the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilineality would preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times.
Mimetic dance increases the power of the hunter and ceremonies for species propagation are “…performed at the opening of the breeding season at a prescribed spot, called the totem centre, on the hunting ground of the clan to which the totem belongs.” (Thomson, 1978). Clansmen are forbidden to eat but not kill, but there are exceptions, with the headman obliged to eat a little to get the totem inside him to work his magic (Spencer, 1904). The interpretation of Palaeolithic art has been used “…as evidence of beliefs in the efficacy of magic…” (Ucko, 1967), therefore there was Upper Palaeolithic sympathetic magical practice, as well as the allusion, to totemic beliefs. An increase ritual represents the growth of the totem and includes dances by disguised performers who mimic the species, because mimicry of a successful operation is the essence of magic (Thomson, 1978).
Magic is employed to useful animals – reindeer, bison, horse, and hunted for food, plus magic associated with dangerous animals – bear and lion (Grazioli, 1960). Therefore the exteriorisation of art for the “…reproduction of visual reality by the need to attain practical ends.” (Grazioli, 1960). Countless bison, horses, oxen, ibexes, reindeer are engraved or painted with weapons transfixing bodies, arrows and javelins fly around animal figures at Lascaux (Grazioli, 1960). At Niaux animals are painted stuck by arrows, with a carved bison with engraved arrows, another with engraved wounds. At Montespan a horse engraved on clay is pockmarked with spear thrust holes, and images of wounded animals are plentiful. Magic practices are related to capture of prey portraying nets and traps (often painted next to animals) with associated animal figures. In addition hand-prints mean taking possession of prey in connection with animal images.
Fertility magic is “…thought to assist the procreation of useful species by depicting pregnant females or animals of opposite sex in pre-coupling scenes.” (Pearson, 2002), and Breuil (1965) interpreted Palaeolithic art as a reflection of fertility and hunting magic. Sympathetic magic is the basis of Palaeolithic art, the cave is the sanctuary where magic is used for reproductive rites, destruction of predators, and increase ceremonies for animals and human beings (Ucko, 1967). Upper Palaeolithic artists imaged animals to symbolise earth’s cyclic rebirth creating a “…mystic rapport with the animals, a rapport negotiated by their shamans, and cemented by their paintings.” (Krupp, 1997). Fertility magic plus hunting magic usually combined as one overall sympathetic magic interpretation, therefore “…totemic and fertility magic interpretations are most clearly related (Ucko, 1967). Scenes of hunting as pictorial magic are found worldwide.
7. Ritual and Magic
The object of magical practice is to achieve a specific and desired effect. Magical rites, actions and objects have a dual purpose of either being offensive or defensive. Magical practice is imbued with a sense of the sacred. The most well known form of magic is the formulaic ritual described as a spell, indeed “…most magic acts are accompanied by words, usually a magic song. The very etymology of the word group derived from Latin incantare testifies to this state of affairs.” (Krappe, 1930). Rituals are those magical practices that are not seen as spells, as magical ceremonies that are not only associated and compounded with purification rituals but also taboos. In essence rituals are focussed on the divine to achieve spiritual purification or communion.
Spells consist of, and incorporate the power of written or uttered formulae, as well as objects made of various ingredients. In other words the use of natural objects and elements, often comprising magical implements such as spells talismans and rituals. The aim and function of a talisman is to serve as an offensive charm. Spells as analogues of charms are often accompanied by rituals. Incantations, similarly with amulets, have the purpose of being defensive charms. Their defensive purpose is accomplished by being chanted as words. Indeed, the origin of spells derived from the practice of prayer.
Divination has the purpose of discovering what will be. It is the art and practice of using means of which “…picture the future in the present…are glimpses of eternity periodically available to society…” (Stewart, 1994). In terms of magic and time divination is “…often based upon magic, a fact which has undoubtedly strengthened the opposition of the church to that pseudoscience.” (Krappe, 1930). The aim of necromancy, which is concerned with summoning and conversing with the spirits of dead ancestors, is to seek communion and aid of those spirits.
Astrology is the study of the associated or supposed influence of the planets and stars. The practice of prophecy is the art of augury. Divination using playing cards is called cartomancy. As with reading the Tarot deck the practice of divination includes chiromancy or palmistry, dowsing, scrying, and the casting of runes. The use of stones is termed lithomancy. There is also fortune telling, omen interpretation, and geomancy which is divination employing lines and figures. Other elements of these ‘artes magicae’ are nigromancy and demonology and ‘black magic’, hydromancy, aeromancy or divination by air, as well as divination by fire or flame called pyromancy.
Magicians base their belief on a number of principles, which assert the existence of invisible natural forces such as spiritual intervention, and mystical powers being a component of all things. Manipulation and magical control is achieved by symbols representing the object to be manipulated. In essence this represents the basis of sympathetic magic. Control is supposedly achieved by using cosmic forces, deep meditation or concentration, trance, or seeking mana or numen in the so-called subconscious.
Magic Circle (1886). J. W. Waterhouse. Public domain.
Even though its origin is unknown the so-called ‘Magic Circle’ can be traced back over five millennia. As an ancient symbol it resembles that of the circle forms by a serpent with its tail in its mouth. In ancient magical practice “…the motif of the magic circle that protects against the devil is in fact common in the world of folklore.” (Stewart, 1994). With regard to medieval magic the belief in the “…nefarious powers of witches and wizards is or course considerably older and no doubt goes back into Indo-European times…” (Krappe, 1930).
Solomonic Magic Circle with Triangle of Conjuration.
The primitive ritual circle and an important component of the “…magical ceremonial was drawing of the magic circle which formed the spiritual barrier…” (Thompson, 1927), and the “…cosmological principles that underpinned it were formalised in late antique magical practice…” (Stewart, 1994). The magic circle employed by early magicians was a medieval development. Hindu magicians in prehistoric India created circles made of black pebbles or red lead to defend against encroachment by demons.
The magic circle, used to create and formalise a ritual and sacred place, and operationalised by the neo-Platonists, appears “…prominently in rituals for keeping away demonic and other malevolent forces.” (Stewart, 1994). A vital and integral component of the later ‘magic circle’ is the development known as the pentacle.
Example of a modern pentacle. Public domain.
An important item in the armoury of the magician is the pentacle, however the “…origin of the five cornered figure, and how it came to be used as a symbol of magic is unknown…is variously called a pentogram, pentangle, pentalpha or pentagon of Euclid.” (Stewart, 1994).
8. Esoteric Magic
The term ‘esotericism’, derived from ‘esoteros’, means ‘pertaining to the innermost’ or simply ‘inner’ and is the scholarly study of esoteric religious movements, practices and beliefs. There are many occult and magical traditions under the umbrella of esoteric religion, and philosophies, that include astrology, the Kaballah, mysticism, theosophy. freemasonry, spiritualism and hermeticism, which we “…seem to know now that esoteric and magical modes of thinking are faulty.” (Heva, 2010). Indeed, guardian or protectors gods and goddesses concerned with magic are often referred to as ‘hermetic deities’ or ‘spirit guides’.
Esoteric magic seem concerned with modes of thinking and practice that involve highly specialised concerns such as: exploring the hidden meanings of symbols; the presence of a supernatural or divine ‘life force’; the belief that there is connection between an invisible and visible cosmos; that personal and spiritual transmutation can be achieved by magical powers ; and thus access to spiritual awareness and knowledge is achievable through esoteric means.
Initially magical practice employed arcane symbols to summon spirits in combination with incantations and magical spells to involve those spirits. In addition to ritual equipment and magic wands the magician protected himself from harm within a ‘magic circle’. Early magic was described as “…mystical mentality…” and in terms of a “…law of participation.” (Levy-Bruhl, 1923). This scholar insisted upon stressing a difference between ‘pre-logical’ primitive magical thinking and the developed and civilised ‘logical’ mentality. As a branch of esoteric magic and practice alchemy has come to be “…popularly associated with the transmutation of metals and the discovery of the philosopher’s stone (the elixir of life)…” (Heva, 2010).
Circe Invidiosa (1892). J. W. Waterhouse.
An important feature of religion is the universal of ‘magical thinking’ which occurs in various cultural forms. In the form of shamanism, mimetic practices, and organised religion magic is prevalent, or has been, in all societies. Magical thinking can be described as ‘associative thinking’ which Sir E. B. Tylor regarded as pre-logical thinking. There was no distinction made between magic and religious practice in the pre-monotheistic religions. Magical thinking is a form of causal reasoning that includes all magical systems. The causal basis is that the mind can be used to exert an effect on external reality. This is association based reasoning called the ‘magician’s folly’ whereby and ideal or imaginary connection is mistaken for a real one. In other words the magician believes that items linked by association can influence each other by virtue of their similarity (Evans-Pritchard, 1976).
Magical thinking postulates that a correlation exists between utterances, or spells, practical acts, and specific events. In essence words and sound are believed to possess the ability or potential to affect external reality directly (Gluckwich, 1997). This includes the use of symbols, prayers, chants and incantations, or mystical phrases, in the belief that the world can be changed.
The use of symbols, which represent or substitute for an identity, implies that there is a symbolic component of magical thinking. The symbolism of magical thinking is aimed at the achieving of a desired state. For Sir James Frazer such thinking was mimetic. The theory is that the use of symbols can be used to alter the psycho-physical state of involved participants. The believers in magic, according to Frazer, thought reality and the whole world functioned according to mimetic or homeopathic principles. (Frazer, 1933).
With reference to numerology it was Pythagoras who viewed numbers as influential principles. His belief was that numbers possessed a mystical value, as well as size and quality, that was linked to cosmic influences. The idea that numbers have magical properties has persisted since ancient times and is derived chiefly from Hindu, Arabic, Chinese and Jewish traditions. (Thompson, 1927). Numerology contains elements of many early cultures that include Babylon, China, Egypt, Hellenistic Alexandria, as well as the Hindu Vedas, the Hebrew Kabbalah, as well as Gnosticism and mysticism (Schimmel, 1993).
The mystical study of ‘magical numbers’ led the their symbolism being used interpretively in divination. This form of divination is based on the belief that there is a mystical, special and divive link between a specific number and certain events (Schimmel, 1993). Numerology is comprised of many beliefs and systems from a number of traditions. The underlying unifying belief is that numbers are a part of astrology, divination and therefore the paranormal.
Certain numbers occur regularly in magic, sorcery and folklore beliefs. The Holy or Trinity number is that of three. It represents a beginning, a middle, and an end. A combination in other terms of body, mind and spirit whose enemies are the world, flesh and the devil. The number three as the perfect harmony as the union of unity and diversity. The number four is the Pythagorean sacred number. the root of all numbers. It is the square number the four seasons and the four elements of earth. air, fire and water. Seven is the mystical and sacred number venerated in religion as the vehicle of human life. Highly regarded in ancient societies it represented seven day, nights, known planets, colours, metals and the ages of man.
Nine was the crooked number of Pythagoras and in Greek is called the diapason, the diapente or diatron. It was sacred to the nine Muses and, as the trinity of the trinities seen as the perfect unity. This explains why the number nine is a mystical number connected to wisdom, mystery and spiritual knowledge. The trinity represented perfect unity, whereas 2 x 3 was the perfect dual, and 3 x 3 the perfect plural. Number thirteen, or ‘unlucky thirteen’ is the numeral of change, misfortune as well as signifying destruction and death, which still persists in folklore.
Fetishism is the belief that objects are possessed of magical properties and is a common occurrence in all pre-industrial communities. For example an idol is an object that is assumed to have powers that are supernatural in origin. Idols are man-made objects that has been invested with powers. Possession of a fetish object means that a spirit has been appropriated by its emblem. In this sense the fetish represents the services of the spirit entity. Etymologically the term fetish refers to a name given to amulets by Portuguese voyagers to the Guinea coast of west Africa. Hence the Portuguese word fetico or feitico which means ‘charm’ or ‘sorcery’. In French it is fetiche. The Latin root is facticius meaning ‘artificial’ and facere meaning ‘to make’.
Another aspect of esoteric magical practice is sex magic which overlaps with witchcraft. Originating with the ideas and practices of Aleister Crowley, who regarded sexual activity as the supreme magical power, orgasm was seen as a magical instrument and means. Practitioners, in their spiritual objectives, employ various types of ritualised sexual activity. The underlying concept of sex magic is that sexual energy has a potency and controlled power that can transcend the real world as it is seen. The harnessing of sexual arousal and orgasm is aimed at magical control. An example is the Wiccan Great Rite where sex magic can be the ritualised simulation of, or actual, intercourse.
9. Magic and Religion
Emile Durkheim (1915) viewed religion as a social phenomenon whereas magic was individual, an individualistic practice and belief. In other words religion was the antithesis of magic. The practice of magic was seen in polarity as either bad ‘black’ magic or as good or ‘white magic’. The functionalist social anthropologist Malinowski (1948) placed his attention on magic and religion both being sacred as well as both being sanctioned by taboos and underpinned by myth. In other words his interpretation centred on the individual.
Belief in ghosts, gods or spirits describes animism in its purest form. Manipulation of these entities who work directly is the aim of animistic practices.With regard to the antiquity of magic it is believed that it is simpler than animism. Magic consists of a universal system of world-wide belief that is found amongst peoples whose idea of animism is poorly developed (Read, 1920). However for Sir George Frazer religion was characterised as “…rites into which propitiation or worship enters, and regards all others as magical.” (Thomas, 1904).
In consideration of religion, magic and ritual the implication is that prayers a god, a goddess or other spiritual entity to pray to. Therefore, in this context magical thinking has its similarities to belief in religion and its associated rituals. Prayer, sacrifice and supplication or asking the divine for help, are akin to magical thinking, and it is where the “…curious mixture of religion and magic opens up the problem of medieval belief in witchcraft.” (Scott, 1830). The most common form of supplication is prayer to the god or goddess.
Contemporary and modern social and cultural anthropology avers that there is a continuity between magic and the development of religious belief. Both Frazer and Malinowski attempted to prove that ‘magical thinking’ is a form of either proto-science or even pseudoscience. It follows that in the sense the magical tradition, shown by shamanism, the belief of both magic and religion is an interconnectedness of spirit. Controversial within both magic and religion is the practice of sacrifice, both animal and human. A sacrifice would have been offered to a supernatural entity in the form of a demon, a god, or ancestor. The purpose was to obtain the intervention of the spirit in order to aid the community.
10. Folklore and Magic
Animistic folk religion echoed in modern folklore involved a communion between a shaman, witch doctor or magician with the spirit dimension. The practice appears to be universal amongst all early and prehistoric communities, implying that “…esoteric thought and folk beliefs can be taken to reflect particular modes of perceiving the world and engaging with it…” (Heva, 2010). This is true for ancient Egypt and Babylon. It is a feature found with the aborigines of Australia and the Maoris of New Zealand. The phenomenon is found amongst the rainforest tribes of South America as well as the tribes living in the African bush. As well as the Maya, Incas, Aztecs it also existed amongst the pagans of Europe.
Magic within fairy tales which have an enduring magical feature, folk tales and folklore consist of stories and legends about heroes, of enchanted people in the form of animals, and acts of magical aimed at securing the marvellous and the wondrous. Folk belief in terms of magical practice or belief often includes rain making and weather forecasting. As such they can be classified as mimetic magic where magical rituals and actions are not aimed at the intervention by the supernatural. Therefore we have, prima facie, charms for wind, sun and rain which implies that “…esoteric traditions, and broadly similar ideas expressed in folk beliefs, can actually help us to understand how people have perceived and engaged with the anural world in the post-medieval past.” This points to the study of magic in terms of material culture.
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