Magic (paranormal)

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Magic or sorcery is the use of rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language with the aim of exploiting supernatural forces.[1][2]:6–7[3][4]:24 The term magic has a variety of meanings, and there is no widely agreed upon definition of what it is or how it can be used.

Religious scholars have defined magic in many different ways. One approach, associated with the anthropologists Edward Tylor and James G. Frazer, has magic and science be opposites. An alternative approach, associated with the sociologists Marcel Mauss and Emile Durkheim, pits magic against religion, arguing that the former takes place in private, while the latter is a communal and organized activity. Many scholars of religion have rejected the utility of the term magic, and became less popular within scholarship since the 1990s.

The term magic comes from the Old Persian magu, a word that applied to a form of religious functionary about which little is known. During the late sixth and early fifth centuries BCE, this term was adopted into Ancient Greek, where it was used with negative connotations, to apply to religious rites that were regarded as fraudulent, unconventional, and dangerous. This meaning of the term was then adopted by Latin in the first century BCE. The concept was then incorporated into Christian theology during the first century CE, where magic was associated with demons and thus defined against religion. This concept was pervasive throughout the Middle Ages, although in the early modern period Italian humanists reinterpreted the term in a positive sense to establish the idea of natural magic. Both negative and positive understandings of the term were retained in Western culture over the following centuries, with the former largely influencing early academic usages of the word.

Throughout Western history, there have been examples of individuals claiming to be practitioners of magic and referring to themselves as magicians. This trend has proliferated in the modern period, with a growing number of magicians appearing within the esoteric milieu. Following British esotericist Aleister Crowley, these modern magicians typically perceived magic to be a force that can bring about changes in the physical universe through the application of the willpower of the magician.


"Magic has often been dismissed as either primitive and irrational and therefore alien to modern society, as inherently opposed to the Judeo-Christian traditions of the West, or as incompatible with religion in general. These antipathetic sentiments are deeply embedded in Western culture, and the term magic has typically been used to describe non-mainstream beliefs and practices—non-Christians, heretics, non-Westerners, indigenous, ancient or 'primitive' cultures—any that might be considered 'Other.' The image of magic as inherently linked with the Other has functioned as an important factor in the construction of the self-identity of Western culture, for by defining magic as something alien, exotic, primitive, evil, deviant or even ridiculous, our society also makes a tacit statement as to its self-perceptions."

– Historian of religion Henrik Bogdan[5]

Scholars of religion have failed to agree on a definition of what "magic" is.[6] The subject has been one of intense dispute, with some scholars criticizing the validity of the term in the first place.[6] Even among those throughout history who have described themselves as "magicians", there has been no common understanding of what "magic" is.[7]

There has been some debate among scholars as to whether to use the term 'magic' at all. The scholar of religion Jonathan Z. Smith for example argued that it had no utility as an etic term that scholars should use.[8] Religious historian Wouter Hanegraaff agreed, stating that "the term "magic" is an important object of historical research, but not intended for doing research."[9] The scholars of religion Berndt-Christian Otto and Michael Stausberg suggested that it would be perfectly possible for scholars to talk about amulets, curses, healing procedures and other components often regarded as 'magical' in Western culture without any recourse to the concept of 'magic' itself.[10] Since the 1990s its usage among scholars has declined.[8]

Within Western culture, magic has been linked to the idea of the Other.[5] Using the term 'magic' when discussing non-Western cultures or pre-modern forms of Western society raises problems, as it may impose Western categories that are alien to them.[11] Alternately, this term implies that all categories of magic are ethnocentric and that such Western preconceptions are an unavoidable component of scholarly research.[11]

"Magic" is one of the most heavily theorized concepts in the study of religion.[12] Many different definitions of "magic" have been offered by scholars, although—according to the historian of religion Wouter Hanegraaff—these can be understood as variations of a small number of heavily influential theories.[12]

Intellectualist approach[edit]

The intellectualist approach to defining "magic" is associated with two prominent British anthropologists, Edward Tylor and James G. Frazer.[13] This was an approach that viewed "magic" as being the theoretical opposite of science,[14] which came to preoccupy much anthropological thought on the subject.[15]

Tylor and Frazer, the primary anthropologists associated with the intellectualist interpretation of "magic".

In his 1871 book Primitive Culture, Tylor characterized magic as beliefs based on "the error of mistaking ideal analogy for real analogy".[16] In Tylor's view, "primitive man, having come to associate in thought those things which he found by experience to be connected in fact, proceeded erroneously to invert this action, and to conclude that association in thought must involve similar connection in reality. He thus attempted to discover, to foretell, and to cause events by means of processes which we can now see to have only an ideal significance".[17]

Tylor's ideas were adopted and simplified by Frazer.[17] He used the term "magic" to mean sympathetic magic, describing it as a practice relying on the magician's belief "that things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy", something which he described as "an invisible ether".[17] He further divided this "magic" into two forms, the "homeopathic (imitative, mimetic)" and the "contagious".[17][18] Frazer characterized a belief in "magic" as a major stage in humanity's cultural development, describing it as part of a tripartite division in which magic came first, "religion" came second, and eventually "science" came third.[17]

Others, such as N. W. Thomas[19] and Sigmund Freud have rejected this explanation. Freud explains that "the associated theory of magic merely explains the paths along which magic proceeds; it does not explain its true essence, namely the misunderstanding which leads it to replace the laws of nature by psychological ones".[20]:83 Freud emphasizes that what led primitive men to come up with magic is the power of wishes: "His wishes are accompanied by a motor impulse, the will, which is later destined to alter the whole face of the earth in order to satisfy his wishes. This motor impulse is at first employed to give a representation of the satisfying situation in such a way that it becomes possible to experience the satisfaction by means of what might be described as motor hallucinations. This kind of representation of a satisfied wish is quite comparable to children's play, which succeeds their earlier purely sensory technique of satisfaction. [...] As time goes on, the psychological accent shifts from the motives for the magical act on to the measures by which it is carried out—that is, on to the act itself. [...] It thus comes to appear as though it is the magical act itself which, owing to its similarity with the desired result, alone determines the occurrence of that result."[20]:84

Functionalist approach[edit]

The functionalist approach to defining "magic" is associated with the French sociologists Marcel Mauss and Emile Durkheim.[21] In this approach, "magic" is understood as being the theoretical opposite of "religion".[22]

Mauss used the term "magic" in reference to "any rite that is not part of an organized cult: a rite that is private, secret, mysterious, and ultimately tending towards one that is forbidden".[21] Therefore, Mauss deliberately rejected the intellectualist approach promoted by Frazer, believing that it was inappropriate to restrict the term "magic" to sympathetic magic, as Frazer had done.[17] By saying that "magic" was inherently non-social, Mauss had been influenced by the traditional Christian understandings of the concept.[23] Mauss' ideas were adopted by Durkheim in his 1912 book Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. (Elementary Forms of Religious Life)[17] Durkheim described magic as being inherently anti-social, existing in contrast to what he referred to as a "Church," the religious beliefs shared by a social group; in his words, "There is no Church of magic."[22] Durkheim also expressed the view that "there is something inherently anti-religious about the maneuvers of the magician".[22]

Scholars have criticized the idea that 'magic' can be differentiated from 'religion' into two separate categories.[24] Nevertheless, this distinction is still often made by scholars discussing this topic.[24]

Etymology and conceptual development[edit]

Ancient and medieval world[edit]

One of the earliest surviving accounts of the Persian mágoi was provided by the Greek historian Herodotus

The etymology of the term magic can be traced back to the ancient language of Old Persian, which used the term magu, rendered as maguš ("magician") and mágoi ("magicians").[25] The etymology of this particular Persian term is unclear,[26] although it appeared to refer to some form of religious functionary.[27] A number of ancient Greek authors discussed these Iranian mágoi in their works. Among those to do so was the historian Herodotus, who claimed that the mágoi were one of seven Median tribes and that they served as functionaries at the court of the Achaemenid Empire, where they acted as advisers to the king.[26] According to Herotodus, these Iranian mágoi were also in charge of various religious rites, namely sacrifices and the interpretation of dreams.[26]

During the late sixth and early fifth centuries BCE, the Iranian maguš was Graecicized and introduced into the ancient Greek language as μάγος and μάγείά.[26] In doing so it underwent a transformation of meaning, gaining negative connotations, with the magos being regarded as a charlatan whose ritual practices were fraudulent, strange, unconventional, and dangerous.[26] This change in meaning was influenced by the military conflicts that the Greek city-states were then engaged in against the Persian Empire.[26] In this context, the term makes appearances in such surviving text as Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Hippocrates' De morbo sacro, and Gorgias' Encomium of Helen.[26]

In the first century BCE, the Greek concept of the magos was adopted into Latin and used by a number of ancient Roman writers as magus and magia.[26] The Roman use of the term was similar to that of the Greeks, but placed greater emphasis on the judicial application of it.[26] Within the Roman Empire, laws would be introduced criminalising things regarded as "magic".[28]

In the first century CE, the idea of 'magic' was then absorbed by early Christian authors, who incorporated it into their developing Christian theology.[28] They retained the Graeco-Roman negative connotations of the term and enhanced them by incorporating conceptual patterns borrowed by Jewish thought.[28] Thus, for early Christian writers like Augustine of Hippo, 'magic' was not merely fraudulent and unsanctioned ritual practices, it was the very opposite of 'religion' because it relied upon cooperation from demons, the henchmen of Satan.[28] Ever since, the idea that 'magic' is something defined in opposition to 'religion' has been pervasive throughout Western culture.[6] Christian theologians believed that there were multiple different forms of 'magic', the majority of which were types of divination.[29] For instance, Isidore of Seville listed geomancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, and pyromancy as forms of 'magic' alongside enchantment and ligatures.[30]

Modern world[edit]

During the early modern period, the concept of magic underwent a more positive reassessment through the development of the concept of magia naturalis ("natural magic").[28] This was a term introduced and developed by two Italian humanists, Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.[28] For them, magia was viewed as an elemental force pervading many natural processes,[28] and thus was fundamentally distinct from the mainstream Christian idea of demonic magic.[31] Their ideas influenced an array of later philosophers and writers, among them Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno, Johannes Reuchlin, and Johannes Trithemius.[28] According to the historian Richard Kieckhefer, the concept of magia naturalis took "firm hold in European culture" during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,[32] although did not supplant traditional attitudes toward 'magic' in the West, which remained largely negative.[33]

While the proponents of magia naturalis insisted that this did not rely on the actions of demons, critics disagreed, arguing that the demons had simply deceived these magicians.[34] By the seventeenth century the concept of magia naturalis had moved in increasingly 'naturalistic' directions, with the distinctions between it and science becoming blurred.[35] The validity of magia naturalis as a concept for understanding the universe then came under increasing criticism during the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.[33]

With the development of academia in the nineteenth century, a number of scholars adopted the traditional, negative concept of 'magic'.[33] That they chose to do so was not inevitable, for they could have followed the example adopted by prominent esotericists active at the time like Helena Blavatsky who had chosen to use the term and concept of 'magic' in a non-negative sense.[33] The scholarly application of 'magic' as a sui generis category that can be applied to any socio-cultural context was linked the promotion of modernity to both Western and non-Western audiences.[36]

Common features of magical practice[edit]


See also: Theurgy

Magical rituals are the precisely defined actions (including speech) used to work magic. Bronisław Malinowski describes ritual language as possessing a high "coefficient of weirdness" in that the language used in rituals is archaic and out of the ordinary. This he ascribes to the need for to create a mindset that fosters belief in the ritual.[37][page needed] However, S. J. Tambiah notes that even if the power of the ritual is said to reside in the words, "[they] only become effective if uttered in the special context of other actions."[38] These other actions typically consist of gestures, possibly performed with special objects at a particular place or time. Object, location, and performer may require purification beforehand, a condition that parallels the felicity conditions J. L. Austin requires of performative utterances.[39][page needed]

Émile Durkheim stresses the importance of rituals as a tool to achieve "collective effervescence" which serves to support the unification of society. On the other hand, some psychologists compare such rituals to obsessive-compulsive rituals, noting that intentional focus falls on the lower level of representation of simple gestures,[40] which demotes the intended outcome as the emphasis is placed more on the ritual process than on the connection between the ritual and the ultimate goal.

Magical symbols[edit]

Helm of Awe (ægishjálmr) - magical symbol worn by Vikings for invincibility. Modern day use by Ásatrú followers for protection.

Anthropologists, such as Sir James Frazer (1854–1938), have characterized the implementation of symbols into two primary categories: the "principle of similarity", and the "principle of contagion". He further categorized these principles as falling under "sympathetic magic" and "contagious magic" and asserted that these concepts were "general or generic laws of thought which were misapplied in magic".[2]:52

Principle of similarity[edit]

The principle of similarity, also known as the "association of ideas", which falls under the category of sympathetic magic, is the thought that if a certain result follows a certain action, then that action must be responsible for the result. Therefore, if one is to perform this action again, the same result can again be expected. A classic example of this is the rooster that heralds the rising of the sun: when a rooster crows, it is a response to the sun's rising but this interpretation can be inverted if the observer believes in the law of similarity (which would suggest that it is a least possible the sunrise follows - or is caused by - the crowing of the rooster). In other words,[2]:45

Principle of contagion[edit]

Another primary type of magical thinking includes the principle of contagion. This principle suggests that once two objects come into contact with each other, they will continue to affect each other even after the contact between them has been broken.

An example given by Tambiah relates to adoption: among some American Indians when a child is adopted, his or her adoptive mother will pull the child through some of her clothes, symbolically representing the birth process and thereby associating the child with herself,[2]:59 thereby 'becomes' hers emotionally even though their relationship is not biological. As Claude Lévi-Strauss put it the birth "would consist, therefore, in making explicit a situation originally existing on the emotional level and in rendering acceptable to the mind pains which the body refuses to tolerate...the woman believes in the myth and belongs to a society which believes in it."[41]

Symbols, for many cultures that use magic, are seen as a type of technology: native peoples might use symbols and symbolic actions to bring about change and improvements in the same way as those from advanced cultures use advanced irrigation techniques to promote soil fertility and crop growth. Michael Brown discusses the use of nantag stones among the Aguaruna as being similar to this type of "technology".[42]

Magical language[edit]

The performance of magic almost always involves the use of language. Whether spoken out loud or unspoken, words are frequently used to access or guide magical power.

In "The Magical Power of Words" (1968) S. J. Tambiah argues that the connection between language and magic is due to a belief in the inherent ability of words to influence the universe. Bronisław Malinowski, in Coral Gardens and their Magic (1935), suggests that this belief is an extension of man's basic use of language to describe his surroundings, in which "the knowledge of the right words, appropriate phrases and the more highly developed forms of speech, gives man a power over and above his own limited field of personal action."[37]:235

Magical speech is, therefore, a ritual act and is of equal or even greater importance to the performance of magic than non-verbal acts.[38]:175–176 However, not all speech is considered magical. Only certain words and phrases or words spoken in a specific context are considered to have magical power.[38]:176

Magical language, according to C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards's (1923) categories of speech, is distinct from scientific language because it is emotive and it converts words into symbols for emotions. On the other hand, in scientific language, words are tied to specific meanings and refer to an objective external reality.[38]:188 Magical language is therefore particularly adept at constructing metaphors that establish symbols and link magical rituals to the world.[38]:189

Malinowski argues that "the language of magic is sacred, set and used for an entirely different purpose to that of ordinary life",[37]:213 the two forms of language being differentiated through word choice, grammar, style, or by the use of specific phrases or forms: spells, songs, blessings, or chants. Sacred modes of language often employ archaic words and forms in an attempt to invoke the purity or "truth" of a religious or a cultural "golden age", the usage of Hebrew in Judaism being cited as an example.[38]:182

Another potential source of the power of words is their secrecy and exclusivity: very sacred language is differentiated enough from common language that it is incomprehensible to the majority of the population and it can only be used and interpreted by specialized practitioners (magicians, priests, shamans, even mullahs).[37]:228[38]:178

In this respect, Tambiah argues that magical languages violate the primary function of language: communication.[38]:179 Yet adherents of magic are still able to use and to value the magical function of words by believing in the inherent power of the words themselves and in the meaning that they must provide for those who do understand them.

This leads Tambiah to conclude that "the remarkable disjunction between sacred and profane language which exists as a general fact is not necessarily linked to the need to embody sacred words in an exclusive language."[38]:182

Merseburger Zaubersprüche.jpg


The "Magician" card from a 15th-century tarot deck.

A magician is any practitioner of magic, even if they are specialists or common practitioners who do not consider themselves to be magicians.[4]:25

Among the Azande, for example, in order to question an oracle, a man must have both the physical oracle (poison, or a washboard, for example), and knowledge of the words and the rites needed to make the object function.[43][page needed]

A variety of personal traits may be credited with giving magical power, and frequently they are associated with an unusual birth into the world.[44]

Post-birth experiences are also believed to convey magical power, an example being that the survival of a near-death illness may be taken as evidence of their power as a healer. For example, in Bali, a medium's survival is proof of her association with a patron deity and therefore her ability to communicate with other gods and spirits.[45]

However, the most common method of identifying, differentiating, and establishing magical practitioners from common people is by initiation. By means of rites the magician's relationship to the supernatural and his entry into a closed professional class is established (often through rituals that simulate death and rebirth into a new life).[4]:41–44

Given the exclusivity of the criteria needed to become a magician, much magic is performed by specialists,[4]:26 laypeople being limited to some simple magical rituals that relate to everyday living. Thus, in situations of particular importance, especially when health or major life events are concerned, a specialist magician will often be consulted.[46]

The powers of both specialist and common magicians are determined by culturally accepted standards of the sources and the breadth of magic: a magician cannot simply invent or claim new magic. In practice, the magician is only as powerful as his peers believe him to be.[4]:33, 40

In different cultures, various types of magicians may be classified on their abilities, their sources of power, on moral considerations and hence categorized as sorcerer, wizard, witch, healer et cetera.[47]


Main article: Witchcraft

Witchcraft means the practice of, and belief in, magical skills and abilities that are able to be exercised individually, by designated social groups, or by persons with the necessary esoteric knowledge. In non-scientific societies, perceived magical attack is an idea sometimes employed to explain personal or societal misfortune.[48]

In anthropological and historical contexts this is often termed witchcraft or sorcery, and the perceived attackers "witches" or "sorcerers". Their maleficium - a term that applies to any magical act intended to cause harm or death to people or property - is often seen as a biological trait or an acquired skill.[49]

Known members of the community may be accused as witches, or the witches may be perceived as supernatural, non-human entities.[48] In early modern Europe and Britain such accusations led to the executions of tens of thousands of people, who were seen to be in league with Satan. Those accused of being satanic 'witches' were often practitioners of (usually benign) folk magic.[48][50][51][52][53][page needed] (The English term 'witch' being used, on occasion, as a purely descriptive term without its pejorative sense to describe such practitioners, and includes both male and female practitioners).[51]


Anthropological and psychological origins[edit]

Psychological theories of magic[edit]

Further information: Transpersonal psychology

Psychological theories of magic treat magic as a personal phenomenon intended to meet individual needs, as opposed to a social phenomenon serving a collective purpose. The explanatory power of magic should not be underestimated, however. Both in the past and in the modern world, magical belief systems can provide explanations for otherwise difficult or impossible to understand phenomena while providing a spiritual and metaphysical grounding for the individual. Furthermore, as both Brian Feltham and Scott E. Hendrix argue, magical beliefs need not represent a form of irrationality, nor should they be viewed as incompatible with modern views of the world.[54][page needed]

Theories on the relationship of magic, science, art, and religion[edit]

S. J. Tambiah[edit]

According to Stanley Tambiah, magic, science, and religion all have their own "quality of rationality", and have been influenced by politics and ideology.[2]:2 As opposed to religion, Tambiah suggests that mankind has a much more personal control over events. Science, according to Tambiah, is "a system of behavior by which man acquires mastery of the environment."[2]:8

Much of the debate between religion and magic originated during the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church was attacked for its doctrine of transubstantiation because it was considered a type of sacramental magic. Furthermore, the possibility of anything happening outside of God's purpose was denied. Spells[55] were viewed as ineffective and blasphemous, because religion required belief in "a conscious agent who could be deflected from this purpose by prayer and supplication".[2]:19 During the Renaissance, magic was less stigmatized even though it was done in secret and therefore considered "the occult". Renaissance magic was based on cosmology, and its powers were said to be derived from the stars and the alignment of the planets. Newton himself began his work in mathematics because he wanted to see "whether judicial astrology had any claim to validity."[2]:28

Bronisław Malinowski[edit]

Main article: Bronisław Malinowski

In his essay "Magic, Science, and Religion", Bronisław Malinowski contends that every person, no matter how primitive, uses both magic and science. To make this distinction he breaks up this category into the "sacred" and the "profane"[56]:17 or "magic/religion" and science. He theorizes that feelings of reverence and awe rely on observation of nature and a dependence on its regularity. This observation and reasoning about nature are a type of science. Magic and science both have definite aims to help "human instincts, needs, and pursuits".[56]:86

To end his essay, Malinowski poses the question, "why magic?". He writes, "Magic supplies primitive man with a number of ready-made rituals, acts, and beliefs, with a definite mental and practical technique which serves to bridge over the dangerous gaps in every important pursuit or critical situation.".[56]:90

Robin Horton[edit]

Robin Horton compared the magical and religious thinking of non-modernized cultures with western scientific thought. He argues that both traditional beliefs and western science are applications of "theoretical thinking".[57] The common form, function, and purpose of these theoretical idioms are therefore structured and explained by eight main characteristics of this type of thought:

  1. In all cultures, the majority of human experience can be explained by common sense. The purpose then of theory is to explain forces that operate behind and within the commonsense world. Theory should impose order and reason on everyday life by attributing a cause to a few select forces.[57][page needed]
  2. Theories also help place events in a causal context that is greater than common sense alone can provide, because commonsense causation is inherently limited by what we see and experience. Theoretical formulations are therefore used as intermediaries to link natural effects to natural causes.[57][page needed]
  3. "Common sense and theory have complementary roles in everyday life."[57][page needed] Common sense is more handy and useful for a wide range of everyday circumstances, but occasionally there are circumstances that can only be explained using a wider causal vision, so a jump to theory is made.
  4. "Levels of theory vary with context."[57][page needed] There are widely and narrowly encompassing theories, and the individual can usually choose which to use in order to understand and explain a situation as is deemed appropriate.
  5. All theory breaks up aspects of commonsense events, abstracts them and then reintegrates them into the common usage and understanding.[57][page needed]
  6. Theory is usually created by analogy between unexplained and familiar phenomena.[57]:146
  7. When theory is based on analogy between explained and unexplained observations, "generally only a limited aspect of the familiar phenomena is incorporated into (the) explanatory model".[57][page needed] It is this process of abstraction that contributes to the ability of theories to transcend common sense explanation. For example, gods have the quality of spirituality by the omission of many common aspects of human life.
  8. Once a theoretical model has been established, it is often modified to explain contradictory data so that it may no longer represent the analogy on which it was based.[57][page needed]

While both traditional beliefs and western science are based on theoretical thought, Horton argues that the differences between these knowledge systems in practice and form are due to their states in open and closed cultures.[57][page needed]


Classical antiquity[edit]

Hecate, the ancient Greek goddess of magic.

Ancient Greek scholarship of the 20th century, almost certainly influenced by Christianising preconceptions of the meanings of magic and religion, and the wish to establish Greek culture as the foundation of Western rationality, developed a theory of ancient Greek magic as primitive and insignificant, and thereby essentially separate from Homeric, communal ("polis") religion. Since the last decade of the century, however, recognising the ubiquity and respectability of acts such as katadesmoi ("binding spells"), described as "magic" by modern and ancient observers alike, scholars have been compelled to abandon this viewpoint.[58]:90–95 The Greek word mageuo ("practise magic") itself derives from the word Magos, originally simply the Greek name for a Persian tribe known for practising religion.[59] Non-civic "mystery cults" have been similarly re-evaluated:[58]:97–98

the choices which lay outside the range of cults did not just add additional options to the civic menu, but ... sometimes incorporated critiques of the civic cults and Panhellenic myths or were genuine alternatives to them.

— Simon Price, Religions of the Ancient Greeks (1999)[60]

Katadesmoi (Latin: defixiones)), curses inscribed on wax or lead tablets and buried underground, were frequently executed by all strata of Greek society, sometimes to protect the entire polis.[58]:95–96 Communal curses carried out in public declined after the Greek classical period, but private curses remained common throughout antiquity.[61] They were distinguished as magical by their individualistic, instrumental and sinister qualities.[58]:96 These qualities, and their perceived deviation from inherently mutable cultural constructs of normality, most clearly delineate ancient magic from the religious rituals of which they form a part.[58]:102–103

A large number of magical papyri, in Greek, Coptic, and Demotic, have been recovered and translated.[62][page needed] They contain early instances of:

The practice of magic was banned in the late Roman world, and the Codex Theodosianus (438 AD) states:[65]

If any wizard therefore or person imbued with magical contamination who is called by custom of the people a magician...should be apprehended in my retinue, or in that of the Caesar, he shall not escape punishment and torture by the protection of his rank.

Middle Ages[edit]

Ars Magica or magic is a major component and supporting contribution to the belief and practice of spiritual, and in many cases, physical healing throughout the Middle Ages. Emanating from many modern interpretations lies a trail of misconceptions about magic, one of the largest revolving around wickedness or the existence of nefarious beings who practice it. These misinterpretations stem from numerous acts or rituals that have been performed throughout antiquity, and due to their exoticism from the commoner's perspective, the rituals invoked uneasiness and an even stronger sense of dismissal.[66][67]

One societal force in the Middle Ages more powerful than the singular commoner, the Christian Church, rejected magic as a whole because it was viewed as a means of tampering with the natural world in a supernatural manner associated with the biblical verses of Deuteronomy 18:9-12. Despite the many negative connotations which surround the term magic, there exist many elements that are seen in a divine or holy light.[68]

The various yet sparse healers of the Middle Ages were among the few, if not the only, proponents of a positive impression of magic. One of the most famous healers of this time was Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Her healing abilities were so sought after that many individuals, healthy and ill alike, would travel great distances to be blessed by her.[69]

Modern historians of medicine along with the people of the Middle Ages both possess no straightforward answer as to where her abilities derived from; however, many of these historians argue or speculate that they are related to mental visions of which recorded documents, such as her three volumes of visionary theology, depict. The volumes include: Scivias, ("Know the Ways"), Liber Vitae Meritorum, ("Book of Life's Merits"), and Liber Divinorum Operum ("Book of Divine Works").[69]

Diversified instruments or rituals used in medieval magic include, but are not limited to: various amulets, talismans, potions, as well as specific chants, dances, prayers. Along with these rituals are the adversely imbued notions of demonic participation which influence of them. The idea that magic was devised, taught, and worked by demons would have seemed reasonable to anyone who read the Greek magical papyri or the Sefer-ha-Razim and found that healing magic appeared alongside rituals for killing people, gaining wealth, or personal advantage, and coercing women into sexual submission.[67] Archaeology is contributing to a fuller understanding of ritual practices performed in the home, on the body and in monastic and church settings.[70][71][page needed]


Further information: Renaissance magic

Renaissance humanism saw a resurgence in hermeticism and Neo-Platonic varieties of ceremonial magic. The Renaissance, on the other hand, saw the rise of science, in such forms as the dethronement of the Ptolemaic theory of the universe, the distinction of astronomy from astrology, and of chemistry from alchemy.[72][page needed]

The seven artes magicae or artes prohibitae or arts prohibited by canon law by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456 were: nigromancy (which included "black magic" and "demonology"), geomancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, pyromancy, chiromancy, and scapulimancy and their sevenfold partition emulated the artes liberales and artes mechanicae. Both bourgeoisie and nobility in the 15th and 16th century showed a great fascination with these arts, which exerted an exotic charm by their ascription to Arabic, Jewish, Gypsy, and Egyptian sources, and the popularity of white magic increased. However, there was great uncertainty in distinguishing practices of superstition, occultism, and perfectly sound scholarly knowledge or pious ritual. The intellectual and spiritual tensions erupted in the Early Modern witch craze, further reinforced by the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation, especially in Germany, England, and Scotland.[72][page needed]


Sorcery is a legal concept in Papua New Guinea law, which differentiates between legal good magic, such as healing and fertility, and illegal black magic, held responsible for unexplained deaths.[73]

Modern Western magic[edit]

Concepts of modern magic are often heavily influenced by the ideas of Aleister Crowley

Modern Western magic has challenged widely-held preconceptions about contemporary religion and spirituality.[74] For many, and perhaps most, modern Western magicians, the goal of magic is deemed to be personal spiritual development.[75]

The polemical discourses about magic influenced the self-understanding of modern magicians, a number of whom—such as Aleister Crowley and Julius Evola—were well versed in academic literature on the subject.[76]

These modern Western concepts of magic rely on a belief in correspondences connected to an unknown occult force that permeates the universe.[77] As noted by Hanegraaff, this operated according to "a new meaning of "magic", which could not possibly have existed in earlier periods, precisely because it is elaborated in reaction to the "disenchantment of the world"."[77]

According to scholar of religion Henrik Bogdan, "arguably the best known emic definition" of the term "magic" was provided by Crowley.[76] Crowley—who favoured the spelling "magick" over "magic"[78]—was of the view that "Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will".[76] Crowley's definition influenced that of subsequent magicians.[76] Dion Fortune of the Fraternity of the Inner Light for instance stated that "Magic is the art of changing consciousness according to Will".[76] Gerald Gardner, the founder of Gardnerian Wicca, stated that magic was "attempting to cause the physically unusual",[76] while Anton LaVey, the founder of LaVeyan Satanism, described magic as "the change in situations or events in accordance with one's will, which would, using normally acceptable methods, be unchangeable."[76]

The perception of magic as a form of self-development is central to the way that magical practices have been adopted into forms of modern Paganism and the New Age phenomenon.[75]

One significant development within modern Western magical practices has been sex magic.[75] This was a practice promoted in the writings of Paschal Beverly Randolph and subsequently exerted a strong interest on occultist magicians like Crowley and Theodor Reuss.[75]

See also[edit]


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Bremmer, Jan N. (2002). "The Birth of the Term "Magic"". In Jan N. Bremmer and Jan R. Veenstra (eds.). The Metamorphosis of Magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period. Leuven: Peeters. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-9042912274. 
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Cunningham, Graham (1999). Religion and Magic: Approaches and Theories. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0748610136. 
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2006). "Magic I: Introduction". In Wouter J. Hanegraaff (ed.). Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. Brill. pp. 716–719. ISBN 978-9004152311. 
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2006b). "Magic V: 18th-20th Century". In Wouter J. Hanegraaff (ed.). Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. Brill. pp. 738–744. ISBN 978-9004152311. 
Hanegraaff, Wouter (2012). Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521196215. 
Kieckhefer, Richard (2000). Magic in the Middle Ages (second ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521785761. 
Otto, Berndt-Christian; Stausberg, Michael (2013). Defining Magic: A Reader. Durham: Equinox. ISBN 978-1908049803. 
Styers, Randall (2004). Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195169416. 

External links[edit]

Quotations related to Magic at Wikiquote